Ç’est lieu magique

11 JAN 2017

The buzzing sound lets me know that I have entered in the proper door code. I push open the exterior door to gain entry into the “smoking room.” This room’s primary purpose is to prevent the weather from invading the house, however, it exists now as a smoker’s retreat, not quite outside, but certainly not inside. The second door leads into an entryway complete with marble tiles, red-carpeted stone stairs, oil-on-canvas portraits, wood paneling, and a floor-to-ceiling mirror. The door to the left leads to the Grand-salon. It is currently closed for renovations. Work on an old château like this is ever ongoing.

The door to the right leads to the Salon Rouge. This room stretches from the front of the château to the back. The four floor-to-ceiling windows let in plenty of daylight. The three radiators warm the room. The fireplace, unused so far as I know, is constructed of red and white marble with a clock, stopped, embedded in the mantle. Above, the dark wood panel holds a bust of Countess Melanie de Pourtalès, much more on her later, and at the very top, engraved is the number MDCCCLXIV. To the right and the left, there are two wall sconces each bearing two faux-candle lamps. Just a bit further to the left is the penciled portrait of a young man. He tucks his left hand in his coat jacket, reminiscent of Napoleon, and he holds his cane in his right. Back over to the right of the fireplace hangs the portrait of a young woman. This is a copy; the original by Franz Xaver Winterhalter resides at none other than the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. I see her in profile with her head turned slightly toward the painter or the onlooker in this case. Her white dress with blue ribbons and accents informs me of her wealth, status, and era. Her eyes inform me of her strength and resolve. This is Countess Melanie de Pourtalès (again, much more on her later, perhaps another entry altogether. She deserves as much at least).

I take note of the self-playing baby grand piano, powered by 3.5 inch floppy disks, and the comfortable seats and tables with room for at least 18, before heading on into the reception room. This is opposite the entryway. This is a small room where, had I had either, I can place my umbrella and cane. There is a table with pamphlets and brochures on tours and museums.

Further on into the house and just to the right, there is the library. No château would be complete without it’s own library. I really like this one. It is relatively small compared to what one may imagine. Two shelves are filled with books. At eye level on down there is an array of books, mostly in English, and telling of the various types of students that visit the château. There are books on hospitality and service, history and politics, art and literature. The higher shelves, the ones in which you will need to use the ladder to reach, support the ancestors of the internet, encyclopedias. Two dark wood tables are pushed together in the center of the room to form a square. Eight cushioned chairs bear a striped and paisley stitching in green. The fireplace is shuttered. The radiator is on.

Back out into Reception and Salon Rouge, then the entryway, I head up the stairs. A statue of two small children playing decorates the first landing. A few steps to the left, another landing, then a few more steps to the left sees me on the first floor. I am facing the front of the château for the sake of direction, and what I can see is the Destination Travel Agency office directly ahead, the Leibrecht’s apartment to the right. The Leibrechts are our hosts and Uli Leibrecht founded the program (CEPA) which has brought so many students to her home. On the left is the hallway to another office and the Friedrich Schiller classroom. One of the more curious artifacts in the hall is a chess set of Chinese inspiration. Dragons are carved into the wooden outline. The board is made up of the typical black squares, but instead of white squares, there are scenes from Chinese life. I am no expert, but I assume the images portray sometime in the 1800s, perhaps earlier. One set of chess pieces is a light green, missing one pawn and a knight it would seem. The other set is red and missing a pawn as well. The material reminds of the dentistry mold that my great-grandfather used to mold and carve little dogs out of.

The hallway doglegs (dogleg = deadends, then shifts a little to the side, then continues on straight) to the right. Where it stops in the middle, there are steps up to the second floor (U.S. third floor) rooms, and they go down to Reception. I continue along the hallway to the CEPA office, the Franz Liszt classroom, and a couple student bedrooms. Through a door at the end of this hall, there is another flight of stairs, down to the breakfast room and up to more student rooms. Continuing, I get to the hall with my room and a few other student rooms. Further on, this house is quite large, the hall ends in a lounge for students, a student kitchen, a computer lab, and the program coordinator apartments.

I step into my room and throw my backpack onto the bed. I set my Chromebook on the desk and get to writing. The Wi-Fi is a little spotty here, but I can usually find a nice place to sit and connect online. I sit out on the balcony when it is not too cold. The pigeons do not seem to mind.

The Château de Pourtalès is more than I could have imagined. I have been here now one week and not yet seen every room or explored every corner. To think that I am a guest of the same house which once invited Alexandra of Denmark, the Princess of Wales, and many other distinguished guests, really lets the history of this place become more of a reality in the present rather than some vague story of the long lost past. The house’s history, which is a journal entry sure to come, can be felt in this magic place.

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