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  • Shelley Dark

11. a stroke of luck

Today was a diamond. We had a wonderful stroke of luck. I can't wait to tell you!

But first let me show you our hotel. It's called La Berbisey, and it's a private home owned by Marie Hélène Joffroy and her husband. From the street it's a double red door with a creeper growing along the top. Inside is a cobblestone courtyard, with flowering roses, Judas trees, and potted azaleas. Behind the arches on the left is a heated swimming pool. To get to it, you go down some stairs in the building on the right, walk through a subterranean tunnel under the cobblestones, and come up again!

We can smell this flowering rose from our window above and the balcony opens off our bedroom. It's a quick five minute walk to the centre of town.

I love the colour scheme.

With grey silk curtains and taupe shutters.

Last night after I finished my post, I thought I'd have a quick shower before bed. It was like something out of a French comedy. John was sound asleep. In the shower cubicle on the wall in front of me were three round knobs. One had a red button on it, with numbers, I guessed to dial the water temperature. Without getting in, I turned the tap above it. Water shot out of a jet on the wall to my left, in front of my nose. It hit the hand-held shower nozzle on the other wall. I had to reach through the spray to try to turn it off. Which made that nozzle stop and the shower start, sending water all over me outside the cubicle. I hopped in. I turned the knob quickly again and there were more nozzles on the wall on my right! They starting spouting, hitting the recessed shelf on the other side, filling it with water. By this time, my glasses were fogging up. I tried the middle knob and the overhead rain shower started. The jets were all dribbling. I couldn't help laughing out loud. Thank goodness the water wasn't hot.

I managed to have a shower at a nice temperature without really knowing how I did it. This morning before I woke, John discovered the intricacies for himself. I still don't know what to do.

There's a study with sofa and chairs in a large herringbone pattern, a cabriole leg desk with taupe leather inlay, and taupe silk lamps.

The sitting room downstairs.

And the breakfast room.

Yesterday we went to the Tourist Information Centre to buy the Owl Walk booklet. It has maps and descriptions which match brass plaques set into the footpath. Best value couple of euro you could imagine. We've been surprised by just how beautiful Dijon is.

This couple were deep in conversation in the Jardin Darcy park. There's a copy of the 'white bear' here by Francois Pompom. Some of his works are held by the Fine Arts Museum, not on display at the moment unfortunately because there's a huge renovation going on for the next three years.

This art nouveau building with mushroom cap roofline was a real surprise. It was designed by Louis Perreau who also designed the very conservative Post Office next door.

The strawberries at the green grocer across the way are in season and looked very sweet.

This is the Place François Rude after the famous Dijon sculptor who was responsible for the famous bas relief sculpture on the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.

The local theatre in the neo-classical style popular at the beginning of the twentieth century.

This church is now the local library.

Do you remember Philippe the Good when we were in Beaune? The one who built the hospital for the poor?

He was one of a succession of four powerful dukes from a 'junior' branch of the House of Valois who ruled Burgundy from 1363 until 1477. There were Philippe the Bold, John the Fearless, Philippe the Good and Charles the Bold. They were such dangerous rivals to the king of France that at the end of the male lineage, Louis XVI of France confiscated their territory, stripping descendants of future power.

Their palace is now the Musée des Beaux Arts. Although only one quarter of it is open because of scaffolding and renovations, it took hours to see everything.

When we were looking for the entrance, not an easy task with the work going on, we stumbled on this beautifully painted panelling in the palace which quite took my breath away.

This is the the Salles des Gardes which showcases the magnificent tombs of Philip the Bold (far tomb) and John the Fearless (his son) and his wife.

Phillip the Bold had managed an uneasy truce with the French king during his lifetime. His son John succeeded him and arranged the murder of his cousin, the Duke of Orleans, the brother of the king. The Duke of Orleans was actually ruling because the king had bipolar disorder. And it was said he'd had an affair with John's wife.

John then had a meeting with the king's son, his deadly enemy, to discuss peace. He was advised against going.

They agreed to meet in the middle of a bridge, where a room had been constructed for this purpose. Each was to take 10 men inside with them. The story is that when inside, he put his hand on his sword handle, and one of the Dauphin's men asked 'You would put your hand on your sword in the presence of the Dauphin?'. John was struck in the face with an axe and then stabbed to death.

Sounds more like a dreadful soapie doesn't it?

The tombs are supported by hundreds of mourners like this, alabaster sculptures by famous Flemish artisans. The detail is unbelievable.

This is a poor photo of what is reputed to be Joan of Arc's sword. There were other two handed swords there which were over 5 feet tall!

One of the attendants at the museum reminded us that if we wanted to go up Philippe's tower we'd need to buy a ticket at the Tourist Office. While I was doing it, I noticed a doorway. Inside was the most beautiful little chapel. This carving was on one of of the doors.

I cannot imagine how long the task and how skilful the carvers to do this work.

On the way home we stumbled upon the Salle des Etats, open for some civic event. The attendant asked us in.

What a ceiling! I was just about in sensory overload.

We walked home and weren't inside for 5 minutes when the rain came down.

Lucky we'd bought a bottle of Sancerre on the way home!

We went back to the Beaux Arts Museum this morning. This is a gallery of photos from the treasures there. A small sample. If you'd like more details you can click on a photo and it will bring up a slide show.

We needed a little sustenance during the morning. One each.

We climbed the Tower of Phillip the Good, with fabulous views of the city.

The houses looked like Lego.

Then for our stroke of luck!

After lunch at La Petite Reine, we discussed the one monument we'd missed on the Owl Walk list. The Palais de Justice which was the seat of government of the Dukes of Burgundy. We decided we must find it. I followed my nose and we ended up at the back end of the Law Courts instead of the front. That's when we realised it's more than just an historical monument. They're functioning law courts.

I asked directions from a young woman lawyer in the courtyard. She smiled warmly and started explaining that we had to go around the block, but before she had finished her sentence, she said the equivalent of follow me, and strode into the building. It was the beginning of a real adventure, at a very fast pace.

We were cleared through security, she was given a security card key, and off she went down corridors, through doors, up stairs, down stairs. As we walked I thanked her and asked if she had time for this. Yes, I have a quarter of an hour, she said. And walked faster. On our way we met an older woman, who greeted her warmly. There was an exchange and we walked on. The young woman said over her shoulder, 'She's a magistrate'.

Suddenly she opened a door and we were in the grand hall. I think it's called the Golden Room, but everything was happening so fast we couldn't keep up. I did understand that the ceiling is chestnut.

Next the magistrate we had seen before came out of another door and our young friend said, 'We'll go with her.' She had obviously organised this when they had spoken. Off we went again. Our magistrate friend was an even quicker walker. They both turned to us and put their fingers to their lips. No noise. No photos.

We followed them both into a high ceilinged courtroom. at the front of the room on a raised platform, a judge or magistrate was sitting. A live legal hearing, with lawyers in full regalia standing before her, many others of the cast in legal costume. It felt totally surreal. Five minutes before, we had been out on the street. Now here we were in the middle of a real time drama. John whispered to me, 'This is like a spy movie!' The magistrate was beaming at our astonishment.

After we left the courtroom, our young friend had to go, and we thanked her profusely. We assumed we would leave too. No! Our magistrate said 'Come with me!' We visited the legal library, with lawyers reading, consulting. Each person the magistrate met kissed her fondly. She explained that it's her 20th anniversary of something this week and she's going to Paris for official recognition. An elderly lawyer didn't look tremendously pleased when we walked into the library, but she wasn't at all fazed.

Then the icing on the cake. Through corridors, down hallways. The main court room where murder trials and major court cases are heard. I'm not sure of its name. Where the Président of the Court sits. The most enormous room, with a glass panel enclosure for the accused.

Our magistrate said I might go down and look backwards. We didn't ever find out her name because we were moving so quickly all the time. But she was very jolly and very kind. And a very fast walker.

The amazing carved ceiling.

When I turned to look backwards, John was sitting in the Président's chair, next to our darling magistrate. She called out to me (I think) 'How do you plead?'. 'Je suis innocent!' I answered. She laughed and said 'Well then, you can go.'

I have a beautiful photo of her with John. Both beaming. And I have a lovely one of the young lawyer as well. As quickly as it had all happened, it was over.

Our magistrate said she would show us the front of the building and she did. At the same hectic pace. We followed her out of that arched door on the right, and into the street. She wished us well, we said the same to her, thanked her, and she was gone. We just stared at each other, speechless.

On the way home we saw this old hotel.

And this quiet courtyard.

When we arrived home we heard the news of the Egypt Airlines crash. So very sad.

I've had an email from Heather who is running the writing workshop saying that we shouldn't worry too much about the strikes and demonstrations in Paris. In her words, '...aside from some smashed windows or a burned car around the immediate periphery of the marches, there is no reason to feel worried about personal safety.'

Tomorrow morning we take the train to Paris, arriving at Gare de Lyon. Marie Hélène has enquired for us, and it seems our train will not be affected by the strike. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

So travelling buddies, it's 7am for you. Until tomorrow from our apartment in Paris, I wish you a bonne journée!

shelley dark, writer 

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