Since we’ve been here, Mirinda and Bob had been going on regular walks together and, this morning, I was invited. They showed me the sunflower fields and the houses they both want to buy, the strange children signs without signs of children and the wonderful views across the valley and hills.
After our little walk, we hopped into the car and headed over to a chateau very different to any other of the chateaux we’ve previously visited in France. For one thing, it isn’t inhabited by the shadowy descents of some pompous aristocrat, try to pay their tax. For another, it’s not just a ruin harkening back to the glories that were once French. No, the Chateau des Millandes is different because it was home to the legendary Josephine Baker, in the 20th century.
It was originally built, in 1488, by Francois I de Caument as a romantic gift to his wife, and it’s easy to see why Josephine called it her ‘Sleeping Beauty castle.’ Mind you, a lot of what we see today is more the work of Charles Claverie who bought the place in 1900 and, rather than restore the faded old ruin, basically rebuilt it. Then, of course, Josephine moved in and made a few changes of her own.
While Millandes is a lovely chateau, it’s the remarkable story of Josephine that exudes the entire place. To be fair, there’s an awful lot of her displayed on the walls and floors, including the famous banana belt she wore at the Folies Bergere. Originally born in Missouri, she was spotted in New York by an English woman who was looking for dancers for a Paris revue. And the rest, as they say, is history. Here’s her, well worth a read, Wikipedia entry.
I’m not going to recant the history of Josephine Baker except to say what an amazing woman she was. I’d already heard about her career on the Paris stage but also discovered she made movies, adopted numerous children, served in the French Resistance and spent an awful lot of money.
While her presence is still very much alive at Millandes, there is something even more alive and that’s the birds of prey show. It takes place on the lower terrace every hour (or so).
We joined a crowd of expectant French tourists on slatted benches and were well entertained for 30 minutes by the falcons, eagles and owls handled expertly by Patrick Mercier and his female assistant whose name does not appear in the guide book.
One small chap was a bit dismayed during the ferret bit. As Mr Mercier talked about how the falcon he was holding could swoop down and destroy rodents and other small mammals, his assistant walked around the crowd, showing them a live ferret. This particular small boy patted and fussed over the ferret, making firm friends as small children do.
The ferret was then put into a tube on the ground which fed into a box with a cloth cover over the front, clearly the exit for the ferret to take. The assistant left the ferret and Mr Mercier released the falcon, at the same calling for the ferret to emerge. It had all the makings of a horrific demonstration, more likely to be found in China than the Dordogne.
The little chap was a bit distraught by this time. He was moving closer to the hedged area, his little face a mask of concern for his small furry friend. And then it happened.
A remote controlled and decidedly stuffed bunny rabbit came rolling out of the exit and the falcon swooped down and started pecking at it, furiously. All was well, though the little fellow was still a bit unsure about what had happened to the ferret.
Above is the massive eagle they had flying back and forth across the heads of the crowd. A beautiful bird with an impressive wingspan which almost took off the head of a man watching from the side lines. The eagle didn’t even notice him.
After a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon we headed over to Daglan, a small artistic community not far from the cottage, for a lovely meal at the Petit Paris restaurant. Perfect.