Fantastic French Vacation – Part3 Nohant

Garden

What? Nohant? Where is it? That was the reaction I got from most people including the French. After mentioning George Sand, most French responded positively. George Sand was a 19th century French novelist and feminist. Yes, feminist, and George was a lady. Born to an aristocrat father and a commoner mother, George Sand was an interesting and controversial character. She was a talented writer and a path blazer in promoting equality between men and women. Defying social decorum, conventions of her days and risking her privileges as an upper class woman, she dressed up as a man would in those days for the freedom to go about, smoked cigar publicly and lived a “rash” social life as some would call. She divorced her husband at the price of loosing steady income from him and brazenly pursued love. The great love of her life was probably Chopin, a relationship that lasted the longest, 10 years, and her last love affair.

And it was through Chopin that I learned about George Sand. Chopin, admired by so many as “Poet of Piano”, is one of my favorite composers. Consistently in his music, I find romantic tenderness and certain powerful fervor coming together beautifully. Fantasy Impromtu, Ballade No. 1, Revolution Etude Op. 10 No. 12, Nocturne in E Flat Major, Op. 9 No. 2, Waltz in C-Sharp Minor Op. 64 No. 2 and Etude Op. 10 No. 3 – “Tristesse”, so on, never fail to arrest and touch me. Although stricken with lung disease for most of his adult life, he was incredibly prolific, tirelessly turning out master pieces until the disease claimed his life at age thirty nine.

Years ago, when I had been a Chopin fan for a while, I stumbled across Impromptu, a movie based on Chopin and George Sand’s story and there I learnt about George Sand for the first time. Regardless how much or how little truth there is in this fictionalized story, it is well made and intriguing. It sparked my interest to learn more about both Chopin and Gorge Sand. I gained tremendous respect for Chopin, his genius, the eternal treasure he left for mankind and the person that he was. While I admire George Sand, I am ambivalent towards some of her conducts, especially in the last year of their relationship and in Chopin’s last days. And even they did split two years before Chopin’s death, what could have prevented her from lending him a helping hand in his dying days or attending his funeral? Despite my qualm of George Sand and my dislike for the sad ending to their affair, she remains in my mind the extraordinary being that she was and I envy her of her enormous energy.

Nohant, situated between Tours and Sarlat, would be conveniently on the way and I made up my mind to visit George Sand House Museum.

Nohant is a tiny little, quaint village about two hour’s drive from Tours and Saint-Chartier, where we stayed, is a neighboring village that is only a tiny little larger. Situated amongst paddocks and large golden fields, these villages are idyllically pretty and serene. When we arrived at Saint-Chartier at about 6:30PM, there was barely any car on the roads. We passed houses and fields but saw no other people, except cows and horses lolling or hanging out by the roadside, till we reached our hotel, Chateau De La Vallee Bleue.

Cows and horse lolling and hanging out-Note the baby horse(White)

Nohant

Chateau De La Vallee Bleue was built by a wealthy doctor who was George Sand’s personal physician and moved here so he could be next door to his patient, George Sand. The elegant house has been converted into hotel and restaurant. The current owner, who checked us out the next day, has run the place for the last 25 years. In George Sand’s days, she and her friends including Chopin and Frank Liszt were frequent visitors to this house. Therefore the rooms were named after George Sand, Chopin, Frank Liszt, etc. Imagine the thrill I felt when we were given no other but Room Chopin! I did not request it ahead of time. It was just meant to be.

Chateau De La Vallee Bleue

Room Chopin – Note Chopin’s portrait above the bed

At 7:20pm, George Sand House Museum was already closed. There was a concert to be held that night in the former sheep barn and a group of people in evening cocktail attire was gathering in the court yard. I probably would have attended the concert if I knew if ahead of time and arranged it so. As it was, we returned to Chateau De La Vallee Bleue for our dinner reservation. With soft piano music playing in the background, dinner at Chateau De La Vallee Bleue’s elegant dining room was super. First we were surprised by some bite-sized, baked hor d’oeuvres and then, again unexpected by us, pureed curry lentil soup served cold in a small cone shape glasses were brought up to us, which was refreshingly new. Wanting something on the lighter side that day, I ordered a veggie platter, the only veggie dish on menu, and anticipated a variety of veggies prepared in the same flavor, but I got a true platter, several different types of vegetables prepared separately and severed up in a variety of cut and flavor. It seemed awful lot of work was put in to turn that dish out of those vegetables. But what seems to me a painstaking effort is probably common place here, as evidenced by our waitress’s casual tone when she replied, “That is just how we do it”.

Chateau De La Vallee Bleue’s dining room

Vegetable Platter – French Beans, butter squash, potatoes, zucchini, eggplant, mushroom, etc.

We returned to George Sand House the next morning. The house faces out to a court yard. Behind the house there is a small forest, to its right a garden and the cemetery where George Sand was buried and to the left, a group of building, former barn house, etc., formed a separate court yard. Access to the garden is free during opening ours. The entrance to the house however remains closed for only group tour is available at each hour. Tours are narrated in French and we were given English pamphlet. Our guide speaks English and I was able to ask questions. Photo taking is not allowed inside the house. Behind the centrally located front door is a grand staircase with ceiling above and walls around decorated in angelical themed painting of blue and white sky. One large portrait of a glamorous lady hung on one wall, which I found out to be that of George Sand’s granddaughter. Heirless, she donated her estate to the ‘nation’. Dining hall where George Sand often entertained her friends is lively and elegant with family portraits decorating the walls and windows of views of green woods. A small theater is set up in one corner of the house. One room upstairs was converted to accommodate Chopin’s work with its door padded as insulation.

George Sand House

Garden

I was drawn to Nohant for its association with two remarkable figures and I realized my mission was accomplished as I found traces of Chopin and George Sand and evidence of their happier time together.

Stay tuned, next post to come will be on Dordogne.

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