The Château Ho

It’s strange that after all this time, she still couldn’t make it. To the Château de Chambord. Something about its inaccessible location (sans a car, at least) seemed destined to evade her–despite it being the most recognizable and important castle in all the Loire. Maybe in all of France when you got right down to it. Jeanne, a native of Toulouse, had, in the past, balked at this sycophantic and plebeian modern love of castles, most especially on the part of American tourists who could never comprehend luxury of this caliber in their own country, synthetic as it was. Yet it was when she started dating Loïc that she began to see the romantic merit of these edifices she had formerly resisted and recoiled from

One day, while in Orléans on a lark, having needed some excuse to get out of the vermin-laden streets of Paris, where she had fled when Loïc took up with another woman in Rouen because she “just really got him” in a way he professed to Jeanne that she never could, she thought back to that day, long ago, when they had journeyed to see it to no avail. They were in the twilight of their relationship, though Jeanne was still blithely unaware of this somehow, women needing some sort of pussy bomb that goes off to detect when dick has recently entered foreign territory. Despite this, Loïc was still too much of a self-involved prick to not require the presence of an obsequious and interested in his every thought woman on excursions such as these. Plus, castle-going had become their tradition at this point. Their sole means of “mixing things up.” Some couples took up sports or threw dinner parties to keep themselves engaged in the relationship, Jeanne and Loïc went to castles. That Jeanne met Loïc while he was finishing his studies at École nationale supérieure d’architecture de Toulouse should have been an indication that he might have such a particular building fetish. She, in her “bohemian” stead as the girl who served him his alcohol at night when he needed a break from the pressures of etching terms like “portcullis” or “wicket” into his brain, got to know him from a different standpoint, the kind that would lead her to believe that maybe he wasn’t some sort of Medieval structurephile.

In fact, at the outset, he did present himself in a manner that suggested having other interests–cinema, literature, changing the world. All generally youth-oriented tasks (adults ain’t got the time for that shit once the pressures of “the grind” and the mental grind of children come into play). It wasn’t until about a month of seeing one another rather regularly that this château obsession started to reveal itself, with Loïc suggesting that they visit the Château de Montbrun as it was, in his assessment, a crime that Jeanne had never seen any major castle in their fair country, relegating herself to the limiting environs of Toulouse like some sort of ignorant townsperson of La Belle et La Bête. Jeanne, finding his railing against her lifestyle at the time “hot” as opposed to what it actually was–belittling–decided to go along with his suggestion, his meticulous mapping out of their three-day long jaunt to this monument to the Middle Ages, where most men’s minds still resided. Since it was slightly over three hours to drive there, Loïc insisted that they should stay for a couple of nights to make the most out of the trek. Jeanne would have been content to come and go, for, as she quickly learned, rich white men made it impossible for the territories they chose to build their castles upon to have anything else interesting to do in said territory. But she was at that phase of the relationship where pleasing Loïc was of the utmost importance to her, so she agreed even though her cash might have been put to better use, like saving up for her ultimate goal of making her escape to Paris. A goal she couldn’t share with anyone in her family lest they mocked her for her dreams. But goals be damned. Loïc wanted to share his love of castles with her, and by God, she was going to let him drench her with this interest to the point where she would eventually usurp him with her own love of them.

The drive itself should have been an indication of how badly things were going to go at Château de Montbrun. It was typically dreary, misting and gray for that desired Wuthering Heights effect. Except instead of making Loïc happy about the tailored experience they were going to have, he fell into a sullen mood, expressing self-loathing for not having better planned the trip for a day when the sun would be out.

“Don’t you see though? This is perfect. Castles should only be viewed in depressing weather conditions.”

“Goes to show what you know…about castles,” he added on lazily at the end of the sentence to soften the blow of his insult.

“It will be fine, stop worrying,” she said, pressing her foot down with the subtle anger that our body chooses to let out of our mind unbeknownst to us at times, such as this one.

“I don’t want it to be ‘fine.’ I want you to understand–really understand–what these structures mean. Not just take a fucking photo of it to prove you’ve been here.”

“I won’t take any photos if that’s what you need for me to prove I’m genuinely ‘understanding,’ okay?”

An hour later, the car broke down. Jeanne hadn’t made any repairs to her aging Peugeot in the five years since she’d had it, buying it with pride at the age of twenty. She didn’t say this out loud to Loïc, but she knew, somewhere deep down, before the trip began, that this might happen. That her car would choose now of all moments to give up on her.

Loïc had a mild panic attack on the side of the road while Jeanne walked to the nearest gas station to try to get help, eventually getting them back on track to Château de Montbrun so that they were still vaguely à l’heure to make it to the area without angering their expectant bed and breakfast host.

Like John Cusack soothing Ione Skye in Say Anything with a Peter Gabriel track, Jeanne calmed Loïc down by playing Tame Impala’s Innerspeaker. It was one of the only CDs she had in her car apart from Kid A by Radiohead and Homework by Daft Punk, for it was not always easy to keep current with music when CDs were the medium. And as “Solitude Is Bliss” played, she could see Loïc becoming placated, putty in the hands of Kevin Parker’s voice.

With this hurdle of voiture obstruction out of the way, Jeanne and Loïc could focus on what they had come for. That the Château de Montbrun had been occupied by English royalty during the Hundred Years’ War was of the most interest to Jeanne–the gall of an outsider infiltrating where they shouldn’t be–over the architecture itself, though she would never say as much to Loïc, who was prattling on about the replacement of square towers with round towers in the 1430s that he felt was a travesty against its structural integrity. And as he motioned to one of the stones in the tower to accent his point, presumably, he lost his footing and fell into the wet grass in a comical way that resulted in a squirting sound that sent Jeanne into a bout of laughter, much to his dismay and irritation. So it was fitting that the first and last castles they would visit together (or attempt to in the case of the last one) would be rife with such dramatic events, as though to visibly bookend the fraught and combative dynamic, which began to slowly unravel once Jeanne started to pander less and less to Loïc’s incongruous (and often costly) fixation. Yet whenever she refused to accompany him on one of his trips, he would turn sweet and docile again, somehow managing to coax her out of her original conviction to remain put in Toulouse where she could continue to work and accrue the funds necessary for what was to now be their mutual escape to Paris. So it went on like this for four years, taking Jeanne up to that most terrifying of all ages for women, twenty-nine…

***

In 2015, they drive once more together to see a castle. This time it is that aforementioned evasive Château de Chambord. On the way up, they listen to Currents by Tame Impala, “Eventually” playing in what retrospectively becomes one of the greatest sonic pieces of irony in Jeanne’s life. And as she gets swept up in the lyrical assault of the assurance, “I know that I’ll be happier, and I know you will be too/Eventually,” Loïc proceeds to tell her that sixteenth century châteaux deviated from the once standard model of architecture for castles, which were always heavy on defense mechanisms like moats. Château de Chambord was among the first of its kind to favor a more “aesthetic” approach to castle building–rife with gardens, fountains and other bourgeois pleasantries as orchestrated by the whims of Francis I’s taste. Appropriately, Loïc was the first of the male gender kind to get Jeanne to lower her own defenses, only to make her realize that both she and Francis I were overly trusting twats that should have known better. Except Francis I never had to regret doing away with defenses the way Jeanne does, now serving alcohol in another bar, in another city. Saving her money for the purposes of going to châteaux alone, which has an almost more concentrated amount of romanticism to it than going in a couple.

Tame Impala is always playing somewhere. Just as it is now at a terminal in the train station. SNCF loves nothing more than to fuck with one’s mind, after all. And it adds to the memory of Loïc, she finds, as she gets on the train to Blois from Orléans, where she once tried to catch the frequently “only exists on another plane” bus to Chambord with him, only to be unable to make it to the final–most important–stretch of their journey together (in more ways than one, obviously). She takes a gamble once more on trying, ending up marooned yet again at the same bus stop in Blois. Seeing it fail anew is both a comfort and a bane to Jeanne, who can’t decide if it’s supposed to symbolize that she is doing better or worse without Loïc in her life. Or merely that her pathetic need to re-create the past in some way is decreasing her lifespan to the same level as a denizen of the Moyen Âge. She wonders if his new girl could even remotely grasp the situational irony of the fact that Jeanne is the Rapunzel trapped in a castle built out of memories that can drown with their potency. Except somehow, she doesn’t get to enjoy the part of the story where she is rescued, that aspect being reserved for Loïc’s princesse du moment. And it is in this manner of thinking that, perhaps, her own mentality resides in the Middle Ages as much as any French castle’s architecture.

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