All above in La Tour du Pin, staging post for Chambéry, and a gentle introduction, for a while, to the sun.
It is as simple as the sun coming out in a town that is big enough, but not too big: charm comes rushing down from the, very new, mountains and streams all around. Even the tallest chateau of the Dukes of Savoy, or most hi-tech Mediatéque Rousseau, is not quite tall enough to hide the fact this is alpine territory. Chambéry: home of Rousseau and Favre.
There really are blue distant hills, and heat.
Patrick retires next January, after living here in Chambéry for the past 17 years. He is a financial consultant, not yet fully understanding what retirement will mean. He and his wife are moving south next year, to the place they’ve had near Cassis for a dozen years. The children are gone, one is in Geneva, the other Canada, so why not?
During the last months here Patrick is filming the city, his memory on digi-cam: we meet close to the Duke’s palace. Built in the time when Savoy was as promiscuous, or as bad at defending itself, as a Venetian courtesan. “The old town, they’ve done marvellous things in restoration, particularly as this whole area is built on rivers,” he says. “They built on wooden poles, drilled deep, and now…it’s fantastic. A lovely city. And the style, very special, Savoyard, like Italy. Like Piedmont. All around the city you find courtyards and squares hidden away, it’s not like most of France. For a time the Turin Shroud was here, did you know?”
Wiki did; I didn’t.
Tom had big adventures getting this far; without the pleasures of the tunnel, or the train, he was already climbing mountains. (and it is worth remembering that in this pre-Rousseau, and very pre-Romantic era, mountains were thought evil, pagan, places of evil spirits and thoroughly bad times).
“I went from Pont de Beauvoisin about halfe an houre after sixe of the clocke in the morning, the eight day of June being Wednesday, and came to the foote of the Mountaine Aiguebelette which is the first Alpe, about ten of the clocke in the morning. A little on this side of the mountaine there is a poore village called Aiguebelle where we stayed a little to refresh our selves before we ascended the Mountaine. I observed an exceeding great standing poole a little on this side the Mountaine on the left hand thereof.
The things that I observed betwixt Pont de Beauvoisin, and the foote of the Mountaine were these. I saw divers red snails of an extraordinary length and greatnesse, such as I never saw before. Barely almost ripe to be cut, whereas in England they seldome cut the rathest before the beginning of August, which is almost two moneths after. Likewise I saw such wonderful abundance of chestnutte trees, that I marvailed what they did with the fruit thereof: it was told me that they fedde their swine therewith.
I ascended the Mountaine Aiguebelette about ten of the clocke in the morning a foote, and came to the foote of the other side of it towards Chambéry, about one of the clocke. Betwixt which places I take it to be about some two miles, that is a mile and a halfe to the toppe of the Mountaine, and from the toppe to the foote of the descent half a mile. I went up a foote, and delivered my horse to another to ride for me, because I thought it was more dangerous to ride then to goe a foote, though indeede all my other companions did ride: but then this accident happened to me. Certaine poore fellows which get their living especially by carrying men in chairs from the toppe of the hill to te foot thereof towards Chambéry, made a bargaine with some of my company, to carry them down in chaires, when they came to the toppe of the Mountaine, so that I kept them company towards the toppe. But they being desirous to get some money of me, lead me such an extreme pace towards the toppe, that how much soever I laboured to keepe them company I could not possibly performe it: The reason why they led such a pace, was, because they hoped that I would give them some consideration to be carryed in a chaire to the toppe, rather than I would leese their company, and so consequently my way also, which is almost impossible for a stranger to find alone by himselfe, by reason of the innumerable turnings and windings thereof, being on every side beset with infinite abundance of trees. So that at last finding that faintnesse in my selfe that I was not able to follow any longer, thous I would even break my hart with striving, I compounded with them for a cardakew which is eighteen pence English, to be carryed to the toppe of the Mountaine, which was t the least half a mile from the place where I mounted the chaire. This was the manner of their carrying me: They did put two slender poles through certaine woodden rings, which were at the foure corners of the chaire, and so carried me on their shoulders sitting in the chaire, one before, another behinde: but such was the miserable paines that the poore slaves willingly undetooke: for the gain of that cardakew, that I would not have done the like for five hundred. The wayes were exceeding difficult in regard of the steepnesse and hardnesse thereof, for they were al rocky, petricosae & salebrosae, and so uneven that a man could hardly find any sure footing on them…
…Then might I justly and truly say, that which I could never before, that I was above some of the clouds. For though that mountain be not by the sixth part so high as some others of them: yet certainly it was a great way above some of the clowdes. For I saw many of them very plainly on the sides of the Mountaine beneath me.
I mounted my horse againe about one of the clock at the foote of the mountaine, on the other side towards Chambéry, so that I was about three houres going betwixt the two feete on both sides, being but two miles distant. From the place where I mounted my horse I had two miles to Chambéry, and came thither about two of the clocke in the afternoone…
“It is a shame the Duke’s Palace is closed today; next week there are great shows here,” Patrick says. “If you can get up into the bell tower, it is marvellous. And the cathedral, in the centre, look up…you will see something special.”
I tell Patrick about Tom. “That is great, that is travel. And he came here: think of that. It is easier than thinking about my retirement.” He laughs, films a little more in the bright-white sun, and returns to his wife, waiting patiently.
With sun comes the realization I’m au Sud, in a way: life is – like more northern Lyon – lively and outdoor here, even when the inevitable 4pm thunderstorm kicks in as it has done every day for three weeks. Jean Jacques Rousseau came here from Geneva, I’ll write when I’ve seen his house, but it is no surprise that he formed his ideas here: nature is very present. Town and country feel very close – in harmony even.
Solar power plays a big role in Chambéry and the hinterlands; environmental concerns are plain. And Patrick is correct, Italy’s shadow is here to be felt in the architecture.
Or perhaps it is just the sun, a little solar power on white arms that have been shackled in rain-resistant leather for too long.