The Past and the Present on a French Vacation

I love this photo I took on my trip to France. For me, it’s less about the monument and more about the moment. I’ll show you more photos of my visit to the castle, but this one reminds me to slow down.

I was in Amboise, in France’s Loire Valley. Alone, I took an outdoor table at this bar. A sign advertised their healthy smoothies, but I had stopped there for the view and a glass of wine.

A senior couple chatted with the waiter, who may have been the owner. I waited to be served as a French person would. I willed myself to be patient and relax. The couple seemed to be townspeople and longtime friends with the waiter. After a couple of minutes, they told him, “A demain,” (until tomorrow), and they left. They seemed very happy. It was a sunny but chilly Friday evening, the beginning of a three-day weekend for the May Day holiday.

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The Loire Valley is chateau (castle) country. Happily, it’s also wine country. I asked for a local wine. The one waiter brought it and said it was from three or four kilometers upriver. He left and returned with free hors d’oeuvres, a nice surprise. I just had to take this picture, with the river, the chateau, the wine, and the adorable free appetizers. I savored the moment.

I am on a tiny island.

I’m looking at a royal chateau, the home of kings and queens.

One of the world’s most brilliant people is buried in that little chapel.

This wine is really good.

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Here is the same chateau in a closer photo. I had visited it the day before and took the following pictures.

The elegant palace sits high above buildings that include my hotel. The castle is high so the guards could see any large boats that might threaten the king and queen.

The castle wall spans the width of this picture. I’ll take you up and over, but first, notice three landmarks in the above photo. You see the row of flags on the right and the spire of a small chapel behind the flags. On the left, above the top of the wall, are the shrubs and trees of the castle garden.

Let’s go up! Here is the garden, on the right.

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We are high above the river.

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The royal chateau is shown in the photo above. The genius buried in the little chapel…

…is Leonardo da Vinci.

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The famous Italian painter and scientist is buried beside a royal chateau in France.

King Francois I (Francis the First) was a young admirer and friend of Leonardo. When the king was twenty-two, he brought the aging Leonardo to Amboise and housed him in the nearby Chateau du Clos Lucé. Leonardo brought his unfinished Mona Lisa when he moved to France, and it is now in Paris.

The king visited Leonardo very frequently. He had a tunnel built between the two chateaux so he could visit in bad weather. He simply wanted to talk to this amazing genius.

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King Francis I, at about the time he brought Leonardo da Vinci to France.

Leonardo spent the last three years of his life here, perfecting his inventions. Some are on display at Clos Lucé and, seasonally, at Leonardo da Vinci Park. Leonardo was also an architect, theatrical director and party planner for the king’s court.

The photo of the other chateau, the king’s chateau, brings back memories of a lovely moment. I hope you have many wonderful moments this holiday season and throughout 2018.

On June 1, 2017, I posted about Villandry Chateau.

Happy Holidays!

Boothill Graveyard

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The first graveyard in Tombstone, Arizona, shows the violent side of the Old West. For the second time, Women Writing the West has brought me to Tucson, and Tombstone draws me like a magnet although it is seventy miles away. Last week I went twice. My only visit to this famous cemetery was just before Halloween.

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Boothill contains those who died in the first years of the silver-mining boomtown of Tombstone. It’s now on the National Register of Historic Places, and visitors are given a pamphlet with details of the dead. Who says historical research is dull?

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Mr. Killeen was shot by Frank Leslie in a disagreement over Killeen’s wife. The recently widowed Mrs. Killeen married her husband’s murderer.

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Three-fingered Jack Dunlap was robbing a train when a guard shot him. Dunlap’s partners in crime left him, and he named them before he died.

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George Johnson did not realize the horse he bought was stolen.

Outlaws and respectable folk, prostitutes and strangers rest in peace. Margarita, a dance hall girl (who probably kept her last name secret), was stabbed by another, who went by the name of Gold Dollar. They had argued about a man.

Victims of diphtheria. Suicides, many of them women. Accidents, including in mines. One well-dressed stranger was found dead in an abandoned shaft.

Many murdered. Death by hanging, legally and illegally.

 

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Outlaws killed in the shooting at the O.K. Corral.

 

Tombstone is the site of the famous gunfight at the O.K. Corral, where Wyatt Earp and his brothers, along with Doc Holliday, killed three outlaws in a gang. They rest here, together. Two were brothers.

They say that those who live by the sword, die by the sword.

I was shaken. I did not find it spooky, only sobering. I’ll leave you with a little graveyard humor. Lester Moore was a Wells Fargo agent and argued with a man over a package. Both died, but I’m sure Moore got the better epitaph.

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An Early 1900s Mansion with Modern Amenities

Portland’s Pittock Mansion was built in 1914 by Henry Pittock, owner and publisher of The Oregonian newspaper, and his wife Georgiana.

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The architect’s drawings are on display.
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The central staircase shown in the architect’s drawing.

Henry was given the newspaper as a gift because he worked there, as a typesetter, for no wages, only room and board.  The newspaper’s previous owner wanted out of the media business, and he was impressed by Henry’s hard work, so he gave him The Oregonian. At the helm, Henry made it very successful. Today, it is the largest news organization in the Pacific Northwest.

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The Pittock Mansion is 16,000 square feet. An extended family of ten lived there, with a staff of four.

The mansion sits in a forest above Portland. Henry and his daughters were avid hikers and constructed trails on the property. Georgiana, however, was not so keen on moving from a nice Portland neighborhood to this more remote location. To persuade her, Henry hired a chauffeur to drive Georgiana to town whatever she wanted. Sometimes, the chauffeur drove Georgiana’s friends to the mansion, and the ladies enjoyed sewing together in her sewing room.  Georgiana was the founder and fundraiser for many charities and cultural organizations in Portland. She was very active in women’s causes. Henry also promised her an elevator.

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Elevator

Henry knew he would have to sweeten the pot for servants, too. By 1914, keeping female servants was a problem. Women were being hired to work in offices, shops and factories, and because they worked in the city, they could enjoy their leisure time there.

With a central vacuum system–the envy of most of us today–the servants had only to carry the hose and nozzle from room to room.

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A vacuum cleaner did not have to be lugged around the house. At right, a hole for a vacuum hose, and at left, its on/off switch.

 

It was important to keep a good cook happy. The spacious kitchen had a rubber floor that was easy on the legs and feet. It also had a window with a spectacular view.

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6082370 - view of portland, oregon from pittock mansion.

The home was built with central heating, a new invention, with not just one thermostat, but many.

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The refrigerator was an entire room. Look at the thick, heavy door. They grew their own vegetables.

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Some rooms and the hall were built with indirect lighting.

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The ceiling in the room below is silver leaf.

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For himself, Henry built a shower with all the bells and whistles.

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Henry’s shower.

The Pittock Mansion, now owned by the City of Portland, is open to the public, and you can picnic in front of the view.

 

 

 

Love in France: The Garden of Villandry Chateau

Weeks ago I was in France, eager to visit the famed gardens of Villandry chateau. I became captivated by the story of the couple–neither of them French–who bought the chateau in 1906 and restored it.

They met in Paris, in the laboratory of Professor Charles Richet. Richet would go on to win the Nobel prize in medicine.

Ann Coleman was in her early twenties, a Bryn Mawr College graduate from a wealthy family of American Industrialists. Joachim Carvallo was a Spaniard. He had grown up poor after his bankrupt father abandoned the family. Both Joachim and Ann had lost their mothers when they were children.

The two young scientists had different temperaments. Ann was introverted and resisted the roles for the women of her time. Joachim was “very romantic and enthusiastic in his loves and hates,” wrote Professor Richet.

The passionate Spaniard and independent-minded American sparred over the ongoing Spanish-American War. Then they fell in love.

Seven years after they became Mr. and Mrs. Carvallo, they bought a 1536 chateau in France’s Loire Valley.

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The chateau is still in the Carvallo family. They keep these photos of Ann and Joachim on the piano.

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The chateau interior was remodeled in the late 18th century by owner Marquis de Castellance.

The Carvallos Recreate a Long-Lost Garden

Joachim amassed an important collection of 17th Century Spanish art. Ann enjoyed all types of needlework and became skilled in them.

Together, they researched what their simple garden had looked like in the 16th century. They consulted books of the period. Digging in the garden yielded the remains of foundations and drains.

They transformed their grassy fields, shrubs and trees back into a spectacular Renaissance garden.

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In this image, the foreground is the Ornamental Garden, also called the Love Garden. It is in front of the fenced stream, which turns into a moat.

The four squares of geometric patterns symbolize different types of love. You can see the entire Passionate Love square next to the white planters with trees. This square has shapes that suggest dancing and broken hearts.

To the left is the Tender Love square. It has heart shapes filled with flowers, pink right now. They are separated by flame shapes, and the center has hedges that represent masks worn at balls. The other squares are Flighty Love (half is shown here) and Tragic Love.

Above the fenced stream is the organic Vegetable Garden, which includes flower beds. Here is map of this garden, including colors, for this spring:

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The vegetable garden and its flowers. The tower (“keep”) on the right is much older than the rest of the 1536 chateau.
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The Love Garden

There is also a maze and a serene Water Garden with lawn, fountains, and a large pond shaped like a Louis XV mirror.

Villandry is one of many chateaus in the Loire Valley, but it has the most beautiful garden. This is wine country, not far from Paris.

I had to take photos in driving rain! Still, I did not want to leave. For lovely photos of the entire gardens, here is Villandry’s virtual tour. I’d love to hear your comment.

The Startling Personal Finances of Professor T.S.C. Lowe

A bold entrepreneur and scientist, Thaddeus S.C. Lowe (1832-1913) made fortunes and lost them. It is almost the due date for filing 2016 income taxes, so some of us are taking a hard look at our saving and spending. The story of Professor Lowe’s fortunes is a cautionary tale.

He was a scientist with little formal education. Because he ran away from home as a boy, his schooling ended with the fourth grade. Nonetheless, people called him Professor Lowe. The title Professor was not reserved for those who taught in colleges or had advanced degrees. Professor Thaddeus Lowe held over 200 patents.

A Chemist Becomes Rich and Suffers Losses

Lowe made one of his fortunes after pressurizing ammonia to make refrigerated railway cars and steamships. His first refrigerated steamship was a financial success.  He invested in more ships, but some were too large to enter shallow-water ports. Lowe’s personal losses totaled $87,000, a huge sum in the late 1800s.

The Lowe Water-Gas Process improved gas and made it more affordable. Gas was used to light homes as well as heat them. Lowe made a fortune producing and selling water gas and manufacturing appliances. These included stoves, heaters and fireplaces. The gas company he owned, however, was a financial failure. Same with a hotel he owned that showcased water gas.

A discouraged Lowe came to California and, too energetic to retire, founded a bank and invested in real estate. He lived in a mansion on Pasadena’s Millionaires’ Row, at 955 South Orange Grove Avenue. It was reported to be the largest residence in the country at the time and sat on fifteen acres.

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Professor Lowe’s home in Pasadena. For scale, note the open structure, a porte cochere, at right here and featured in the photo below.

 

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The same porte cochere dwarfs a buggy and team of horses.

The mansion even had a four-story observatory. Lowe lived there with his wife and younger children (they had ten in all), looked out at the steep mountains, and dreamed big.

Lowe’s Railway to the Clouds

The Mount Lowe Railway was an engineering challenge because of steep grades and crumbling surface rock, but Lowe would not take “no” for an answer. The railway was built by D.J. Macpherson with Lowe as the financial backer. Visitors enjoyed the thrilling ride and ate and stayed at hotels Lowe built on the mountain. He also built an observatory near the top of the railway.

Although the railway and hotels were popular, it lost money at a time when Professor Lowe had other financial problems. It opened in 1893, at the start of a recession that would last years.

By 1898, Professor Lowe’s debts totaled over $200,000, and he had to declare bankruptcy. By then, Lowe’s huge mansion was owned by his neighbor Adolphus Busch, the beer magnate. The railroad was acquired by Henry Huntington’s Pacific Electric Railway and operated for decades.

Although he lost this fortune, Lowe counted his blessings. He explained that his Mount Lowe Railway was ten years ahead of its time. He said that he was glad he had a mountain named in his honor, something that money couldn’t buy.

Back to the lab. Professor Lowe developed a method to convert crude oil to gas and coke. He put it in production, but he did not charge enough to make and sustain profits.

The good professor died nearly penniless in his daughter’s Pasadena home. At the time, he was planning a gas-powered luxury airship.

Lowe’s Early Career:  Balloonist and Lincoln’s Chief Aeronaut

From the time he was young, Lowe was a balloonist. When the Civil War broke out, he offered to help the Union. President Lincoln wrote a note to General Scott to “see Lowe once more about his balloon.”  Lowe acquired the note and treasured it for the rest of his life. Lowe became Chief Aeronaut of the Union Forces, a civilian position.

Lowe ascended in a balloon and looked down upon Confederate troops in the distance. He observed their movements and telegraphed this intelligence information to Union soldiers below. A wire connected the telegraph in the balloon to the one on the ground.

Special thanks to the Mount Lowe Preservation Society Inc. and the Pasadena Museum of History.

I’ll post on the first of the month starting June 1.

 

 

 

 

From Realistic to Abstract: Picasso’s “States of Mind” on Display

Picasso saw things differently. On January 2, the Tournament of Roses Parade will pass Norton Simon Museum.

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The grandstands at left have platforms for cameras.

What were the steps in Picasso’s mind when he looked at a person or animal, drew it, and changed it into an abstract image? What were the steps on paper?  In a current exhibit, a likeness of his companion becomes abstract over a series of ten lithographs. There is a longer series of a picture of a bull. When I saw these along the wall, I just had to see them one on top of another. I’ve done that in these videos.

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Picasso said, “It took me four years to paint like Raphael, but a lifetime to paint like a child.”

This exhibit, “States of Mind: Picasso Lithographs 1945-1960,”  is on display at Norton Simon Museum, Pasadena, until February 13, 2017.  Also, Van Gogh’s “Bedroom” is there through March 6, on loan from the Art Institute of Chicago. http://NortonSimon.org. Happy New Year!

A Fence Around Her: Lottie Johl

A ghost town is the home of the stories of its past residents.

[This post was written by reader Brigid Amos. Maybe you have seen her comments here. She is the author of a new book,  A Fence Around Her. I’ll let her continue…]

There is something bittersweet about a collection of abandoned homes, businesses, churches and civic buildings, all decaying slowly in a remote location. A visit to such a place always seems to evoke the dashed hopes and bitter disappointments of those who once walked its now-lonely streets, and this is true even if the ghost town is well-maintained and heavily visited, as is Bodie, California, a prosperous gold and silver mining district in the Eastern Sierra that boomed in the 1880s. Of all the stories I’ve read or heard about Bodie, the one that always gets to me is that of Lottie Johl. I find her story so sad and touching that I loosely based a major character in my novel A Fence Around Her on this real-life Bodie resident.

Lottie was a sweet, good-natured woman who found herself, through unfortunate life circumstances and limited employment opportunities, working in a house of ill repute in Bodie’s red-light district. There she met a hard-working German immigrant named Eli Johl. Although he was quite successful as a butcher, he was a lonely bachelor, perhaps due to his limited English skills, and he seemed to be searching for someone to share his life. The woman he found was Lottie, and much to the horror of the respectable people of Bodie, he took her as his legal wife. He built her a comfortable house and furnished it in the best style he could afford. Lottie showed an interest in painting, and Eli bought her an easel, a palette, and brushes, and he kept her well-supplied with oil paints and canvases. Isolated in her opulent parlor, Lottie painted fantastical landscapes. Eli had them elaborately framed in red velvet and gilt and displayed them on the parlor walls, although no one came to their house to look at the paintings, because Lottie was still shunned by society.

Finally, Eli hatched a plan to almost force Lottie upon Bodie society. A masquerade ball was to be held at the Miners Union Hall, and Eli sent Lottie to the event alone, dressed in a white satin gown covered in fake diamonds and pearls, with a matching crown perched on her blond curls. All the men wanted to dance with the lovely lady in the diamond and pearl-encrusted dress, and all the women envied her. The committee assigned to give out the costume awards decided to give the mysterious lady the first prize. But when midnight struck and everyone took off their masks, poor Lottie was abandoned by her dance partner. A member of the committee discreetly asked her to leave, and she went home in humiliation.

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Lottie Johl. Photograph used with permission of the Bodie Foundation.

And if the events of Lottie Johl’s life weren’t sad enough, her death and burial are truly heartbreaking. Lottie felt sick one day (though probably not sick enough to die), and a doctor wrote a prescription. The druggist filled it, and Lottie took the medicine. She was dead by next morning. Instead of the prescribed medicine, the druggist had given her a deadly dose of a toxic substance. It was probably a mistake, but I have to wonder if the druggist took less care in filling the prescription when he saw that it was for Lottie Johl, someone he considered of little importance.

Eli was not allowed to bury his beloved wife inside the fence of the cemetery with the “respectable dead,” so he erected an ornate wrought-iron fence around her grave. He was determined that she would have a much finer fence than the one around the cemetery, so that people would see what a fine woman she was. I think it’s ironic that so many of the people who made Lottie’s life miserable are completely forgotten, while the memory of Lottie Johl lives on.

I felt that it was important to honor the real-life inspiration for Lilly Conoboy, the mother of fourteen-year-old Ruthie Conoboy, the protagonist of my novel A Fence Around Her. I want to make it clear that Lilly is not Lottie. While Lottie was an innocent victim, Lilly brings on her own tragedy. While Lottie seems like someone I might seek out as a friend, Lilly is someone I would avoid if I could do so. But that is what we historical fiction writers do. We take history and turn it into fiction, and the two are not the same. I will always feel gratitude to the historical Lottie Johl for being who she was and leaving behind her story.

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Pamela:  You can read an excerpt of A Fence Around Her, Young Adult Historical Fiction published by Clean Reads, and purchase at the links below.

Amazon 

Barnes and Noble

iTunes

Kobo 

Smashwords  

Brigid and I would like to hear your comment!

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Author and playwright Brigid Amos