Saturday, June 9, 2007

Neighbors who dwell in castles

Here in France, authentic ancient castles abound. And all kinds of manor houses and stately homes have the look and feel of castles. So, in countless villages, it's not unusual to have neighbors who dwell in structures that we might refer to as châteaux. During my recent excursion to Provence, I was particularly impressed (among many other surprises) by the mysterious white castle in Lacoste that once belonged to the famous Marquis de Sade.

Today, it is inhabited by the equally famous Pierre Cardin, genius of haute couture, who is both a familiar neighbor for the village people of Lacoste (including many US students) and the organizer of a summer music and theater festival.

Not far away from Choranche, in a village named La Sône, on the banks of the Isère, I recently visited a fairytale castle that belongs to a friendly ex-pharmacist from Avignon.

The adolescent novelist Françoise Sagan was a friend of the daughter of the former owner, and the present owner informed me that the novelist used the La Sône castle in 1960 as the setting of her play entitled Château in Sweden.

Talking of castles, believe it or not, back in my native Clarence River region in Australia, in the vicinity of Grafton, there's a kind of castle, called Yulgilbar, constructed by German craftsmen for wealthy cattle men named Ogilvie between 1860 and 1866. Historians of architecture would refer to it as a mock-Gothic folly, because it has crenellations of the kind that once played a role in defense.

Here's an old photographic glimpse into the courtyard of Yulgilbar:

During my adolescence, I often heard my father and his beef-cattle friends referring to the huge and prosperous Yulgilbar affair, owned by a great rural pioneer: Samuel Hordern [1909-1960], member of a wealthy Sydney merchandising family. Today, the immense Yulgilbar estate belongs to Hordern's daughter and her husband Baillieu Myer.

If I understand correctly, the original name of the rich land on the banks of the Clarence, belonging to the Bunjalung Aboriginal tribe, was Baryulgil, and the Ogilvie pioneers decided to invert the syllables to obtain a name for their huge property. Much later, in about 1940, descendants of this Aboriginal community were employed as laborers in local asbestos mines. And today, there is distress in this community because of asbestos pollution and poisoning.

Yes, sometimes we have rich neighbors who dwell in castles, while neighbors on the other side of the castle walls lead very different lives. It has always been that way with castles.

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