A most sublime day, Part Two
Trip Start Sep 25, 2012
22Trip End Oct 16, 2012
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In all the times we had walked up to the church the doors had never been open. So we never saw details of the gloomy interior through the small window openings. There were hints of a mural, but we weren't quite sure. But now we had a digital flash camera; astoundingly, when we lived in France they barely existed
From the Chapelle we walked through brambles and steep rock hillsides to the ruins of the formidable Château de la Reine Jeanne—Queen Jane’s castle. When we lived here the locals told us that it was built 700 years ago to imprison poor Queen Jane, though no one could tell us who she was, or the nature of her offense. So, using the principle of retrospective tourism, I looked her up. La Reine Jeanne was born in 1326 in what is now Italy. Her sovereignty was extensive: she was Queen of Naples, Sicily and Jerusalem, and Comtesse of Provence, Forcalquier, and Piedmont. Her court was "notable for its extravagant collection of exotic animals and servants of various origins, including Turkish, Saracen, and African." I take that to mean that both her animal and servant collections were quite international.
At the tender age of eight, “for reasons of state,” Queen Jane was married to her cousin, Andrew of Hungary. Andrew’s age was even more tender—he was six! Because these were treacherous times, Andrew’s mother gave him a magic ring to protect him from death “by blade or poison.” But despite the ring, Andrew was eventually murdered by Louis of Taranto, who according to the web site was “a violent and cruel man.” Cleverly, Andrew was “strangled by a cord and flung from a window,” thereby circumventing the ring’s protective powers. Thus Jane became a widow as the age of nineteen.
Very quickly thereafter Queen Jane married Louis himself, perhaps in self-defense
La Reine Jeanne was a Queen without honor in her own country—she was said to be very poorly regarded in her native Naples. In other parts of her realm, however, the populace felt quite differently. Though she apparently visited Provence only a single time (she went to Avignon), there she was said to be “the incarnation of a dream, a living symbol of beauty and poetry.” Thus, many Provençal castles, chapels, palaces, gardens, and roads were built for her. Very sadly, “she doubtless never visited any of them.” Clearly the Château de la Reine Jeanne here in Vence falls into that category. But to look on the positive side, that means she was never really held prisoner there.
Though perhaps not quite as sombre as the castle of Muro, the Château de la Reine Jeanne is still not particularly uplifting. There is no roof, and the walls are crumbling. It looks like one minor earthquake, or even a good mistral, could completely finish it off
Annie and I were particularly eager to revisit the Château, and introduce Manfred and Carole to it. On the lowest level, near a corner of the room, was a mysterious sketch that someone had grafittied on the rock wall. We called it “Jesus and the aliens.” It was a strange and evocative depiction of Jesus, in black silhouette, on the cross with a cluster of large-headed creatures, also in black, below the cross beneath a big blue dome. We were eager to see if, after a decade, it was still there.
Well, it was. And by our memories it was remarkably unchanged, except for one very disturbing thing: although the cross itself was largely still intact, the figure of Jesus had been mostly scratched out. Besides the immediately obvious question of why anyone would have done such a desecration, a host of other questions were raised in my mind. Could my memory of ten years ago been wrong, and Jesus had always been scratched out? As I was learning on this trip to the past, memory is not reliable—especially at my age! But I gave myself the benefit of the doubt and assumed that the scratching out had indeed occurred after we last saw it. When might it have happened? As opposed to most types of change with the passage of time, which involve a slow fading of structure or function, this had obviously been an abrupt event. Had it happened the day after we last saw the drawing ten years ago? Or was it done just two weeks ago? Absolutely no way of knowing. Somehow the fact that this horrible change was a discrete event rather than a slow and more or less inevitable change made it even more disturbing. [After returning home I resurrected the photos we took 10 years ago—see the comparisons below.]
As dusk approached we walked back down the path to the pedestal-formerly-occupied- by-César’s-thumb and drove to Tourrettes-sur-Loup