Going For Baroque In The Dordogne
It takes an old friend with an old friend who has a château in the Dordogne to pry me out of Paris for a long summer weekend. To reach the little town of Celles, we took the TGV (Train à Grande Vitesse) to Angoulêmes (about 2.5 hours), then Texan Audrey Friedman, also known as “la châtelaine” (château inhabitant), picked us up at the station for the 45 minute drive down tiny departmental roads to Celles. The fields lining the route are filled with sunflowers and corn. There is no question why the inhabitants of the Dordogne think it is such a special corner of the earth — its beauty is overwhelming with rolling hills, solid fields of agricultural life and quaint stone villages reminiscent of centuries long past.
Audrey invited us to spend the weekend with her long ago, not realizing that the same weekend would be a reunion with her New York resident daughter, her two teenage granddaughters, a traveling companion of one granddaughter and the companion’s father. A French friend from Paris joined us and we filled almost all of the nine bedrooms.
The restored château is vintage 15th-century built by the family of Dulau d’Allemans, whose name is identified in the letterpress edition of the papers of George Washington. It was a ruin until Audrey, with a master architect from the region who fully understood the character of the house, transformed it into a 21st-century splendor.
The timing was in perfect coordination with a weekend-long music festival entitled “Itinéraire Baroque en Périgord Vert.” Under the artistic direction of Ton Koopman, organist, harpsichordist and conductor of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra, a professor in the Royal Conservatory of the Hague and an Honorary member of the Royal Academy of Music in London, this third edition offered a series of Baroque concerts graced by the “castles, ancient villages, peaceful valleys and wonderful quality of life” in the Dordogne performed in Romanesque churches by renowned musicians.
An ensemble of the Amsterdam Baroque Orchestra opened the festival on Friday evening with a concert at the Eglise de Cercles with Ton Koopman on harpsichord and other musicians on baroque violin, traverso, viola de gamba with a soprano singing three arias. The ancient church had been beautifully restored to a clean, white stone and all sides were filled with patrons of the musical arts from the area and beyond.
On Saturday, one could attend six consecutive concerts in six churches not far from one another. Each concert lasted approximately 30 minutes. We chose to attend only one other at the Eglise de Grand-Brassac with four musicians on cornetto, trombone, dulcian and harpsichord. Again, the church was splendidly restored Romanesque and the setting perfect for the soft harmonious sounds of these rarely heard instruments.
Saturday evening we attended an art opening at Galerie Verticalle, on the upper level above the Bistrot Verticalle in the center of Verteillac of works by local artists, mostly British living in the Dordogne. Little French could be heard among those perusing the art — clearly their compatriot friends who have transplanted themselves in this part of France. Following, we were invited to the home of the President of the organization, Robert-Nicolas Huet, whose large centuries-old estate afforded more than a dozen round tables set outside on the lawn for a sit-down dinner. During dinner, an aria was sung from an upper window and attempt to light fireworks topped off dessert.
We had time on Sunday over a copious brunch to talk with Audrey about her time spent in the Dordogne. She feels very special about this “petit coin” of France — totally at home among both the French and the Expats who have settled there. She is not wont for things to do — there are endless invitations to people’s homes for dinners and other events keeping her hopping from one tiny town to the next. Sitting there at the large square table in the center of her spacious kitchen with a view on the château gardens, we could understand her contentment with her life there.
We were just pulling into Gare de Montparnasse Sunday afternoon as Lance Armstrong was gliding down the Champs-Elysées to his sixth record-breaking victory of the greatest race in cycling, the Tour de France. I wasn’t too worried about missing it this year…I’ve seen him “blur” by a couple of times after standing in the sun and heat with the other fans for more than an hour waiting for that one illustrious moment, which flashes by before you can even get a good shot with a digital camera.
Long-time friend, Jack Lampert (“call me ‘Jacques,'” he says) took this great shot himself, but admitted that he was so busy getting the shot, he didn’t actually see the blur!
A la prochaine…
Editor, Parler Paris
E-mail: [email protected]
P.S. Audrey Friedman rents La Cellete when she’s not there to special families wanting to have it all to themselves. For more information, I can put you in touch with her by emailing: [email protected]