Monday, May 4, 2009

Best Tomb – Leonardo da Vinci

One walks, one sees things. I don’t carry a guidebook, in part because of the weight and volume, in part because a guidebook can’t possible have all the information I might want to know, in part because I don’t want to be guided by someone else’s experience. In this day and age, it’s possible to carry a tiny microcomputer that has pretty much all of the knowledge of the universe as long as there’s a wifi signal, but I don’t want to spend my time attached to such a device, or distracted by it, or reliant on it, or isolated by it. I read ahead of time, rely on the collective knowledge from previous travels through Europe, and talk with locals along the way. Often I’m surprised by what I encounter even though I could have read about it in a guidebook or if I had asked the right person the right question. It’s fun.

When I was walking along the Loire River from Orléans toward Tours, the weather was exceptionally cold and the famed vineyards shrouded in low frozen fog. The multitude of castles loomed in the grayness of the sky, very prettily. I enjoyed the landscape and the villages, and witnessed why the Loire Valley is a UNESCO cultural heritage region. Not bad walking, even in the cold lock of winter.

I got to the town of Amboise early enough in the day to allow me to take a tour of its famous chateau – uncommon for me, but the pilgrim house has no heat, so I was looking for something constructive to do for the rest of the afternoon. I got a good-hearted pilgrim discount on the entrance fee for the asking. It was cold outside, and like most medieval castles, the thick stone walls hardly made it cozy inside. I would have been warm had I spent the balance of the afternoon in one of the may touristic pubs, but that gets old. Inside the gleaming white chateau, after ascending the stone ramp that thousands of knights on horseback used in the past, I made a watercolor of the interior of the Guard’s Hall just because I could stand in front of a roaring fire while I painted. I stood a while longer and read about the history of the castle from the pamphlet. More than the standard cool stuff – lots of kings of France did their thing here, influential battles, fine wine, powerful women - Catherine de Medici called this place home for a while and even raised Mary Queen of Scots here – who knew?

On the grounds is an ornate little chapel named for Saint Hubert, the patron of hunters. Consequently, the animal and forest motif is strongly carved in the white stone. I studied the exterior a bit and read that it’s King Charles VIII and his wife, Anne of Bretagne, carved in worship over the entrance. I did a painting of King Chuck because I noticed that he sports a string of scallop shells around his collar – a sign that he at least supported, if not actually made, a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Rock on, 15th-century dude.

The exceptional cold sent me inside the chapel. Frozen water makes watercolor painting challenging. A grand surprise was seeing the unassuming tomb of none other than Leonardo da Vinci. I didn’t read ahead in the little site plan of the chateau grounds. What luck. In all my travels to Florence and other places where Leo did his thing, I never picked up on where he spent his final days. Here at Amboise, it turns out. In a fine chapel. Behind the chateau, his accommodation as a paid guest of the King, contains scores of his design inventions and writings. It explained why Mona Lisa ended up in France.

I saw a lot of tombs – the whole of the Basilica of Saint Denis north of Paris is a giant graveyard of all the kings and queens of France except Charlemagne. The Church of Saint Eutrope is similarly something of a giant tomb of the Saint, and San Juan de Ortega has a pretty whooey resting place, and all happy surprises to guidebook-less me. If I were to pick a favorite, it would be Leonardo’s, that fellow engineer.

1 comment:

Pim Van Hemmen said...


I've been back-reading your blog entries after listening to all your tales tonight. I did not know that about old Leo. It was good to see you and catch up. Hopefully we will see each other again soon. I will follow you on your African adventure, although I hope you will heed my words about Libya.

Be safe.