Driving to and from the hospital at Poitiers I would be reminded that this was a landscape known to man for a long time, and that my preoccupations were nothing new under the sun.
Megaliths abounded in that area; menhirs and dolmens, bearing witness to the antiquity of the human presence – and how many more would there have been had they not been destroyed by forces of, successively, religion and agriculture.
In the commune where I first lived a dolmen had been blown up as late as 1912…..it was ‘in the way’.
North of Taize was a group of four…one clearly visible from the road, that Roman road from Poitiers to Nantes which was frequented by St. Hilaire of Poitiers, Apostle of Poitou and his follower, St. Martin of Tours in the fourth century A.D.
The church of Noize, now standing out in the fields far from the village, was named for St.Martin.
Its earlier parts date from the tenth century A.D, and it is supposed that, like many Christian sites, it took the place of a pagan temple…but I can’t imagine that either St.Hilaire or St. Martin would have left such a temple untouched.
Normally I would have driven on..to the hospital outside Poitiers at La Miletrie, and with some time to spare would have visited the Baptistry of St. Jean, said to have been founded by St.Hilaire in the period when baptism by immersion was the rule…but today I will turn aside between Taize and Noize to go to Oiron, via Bilazais.
Bilazais is today, as it always was, an undistinguished little village……but it could have made its fortune had an entrepreneur taken it in hand in the great days of the spa, at the end of the nineteenth century. Its waters were the equal of those at Bareges in the Pyrenees…but in the late nineteenth century it was easier to go from Paris to Bareges than to Bilazais…so the fountains of Bilazais slumbered on…the source no longer even used for the health of the old people in the almshouses in Oiron, just up the road.
Those almshouses had been founded by Madame de Montespan.….once the mistress of the Sun King Louis XIV…. when, retired from the court, she took up residence at the Chateau d’Oiron.
An ambitious woman, she had succeeded in becoming the king’s mistress by pretending to befriend the then holder of the title, Louise de la Valliere, and – with or without the aid of black magic – had succeeded in supplanting her.
The relationship was so notorious that in 1675 the Church refused to allow the king to take communion at Easter unless he parted from his favourite…..and eventually the his Most Christian Majesty agreed to the separation….which lasted no time at all and once reunited added two more illegitimate children to the quiverful already produced between them.
In her turn she was to be supplanted…first by a silly girl who died in mysterious circumstances….then by the woman she had hired to bring up the brood of royal bastards, Mme. Scarron, whose aim was to draw the King back onto the path of virtue….and did it so well that after the death of the Queen Louis married her.
But the Sun King was courteous where women were concerned….he would raise his hat in their presence whether the woman be countess or chambermaid…..and Mme. de Montespan was not banished from Versailles.
She remained at court until her children, now legitimised to the fury of the aristocracy, made splendid marriages and only then did she retire from public life. Comforted by a generous pension she turned her attention to improving her chances in the afterlife by taking to religion and good works. Thus the almshouses at Oiron.
Louis XIV had a sense of his own worth which attached to anyone to whom he had given marks of favour: the glamour of his attachment extended to seeing that his favourites – and ex favourites – were respected.
Francois Hollande, President of the French Republic, has a well developed sense of his own worth too….at his recent meeting with the Pope in the Vatican he had his backside well anchored to a chair while the other Francis was still on his feet. Someone should tell him that one may be an atheist without being impolite.
But the signs were there….at the handover of power he turned on his heel to enter the Elysee Palace, leaving Sarkozy and his wife to find their own way to their car, which may have been the inspiration for Carla Bruni-Sarkozy’s song…Le Pingouin.
I don’t propose to inflict it on you….you can look it up for yourselves on Youtube….but the penguin of the title is popularly supposed to be Francois Hollande.
A clumsy gait, but a superior air; sure of himself; a sly narcissistic cheapskate; and cold hearted to those around him.
Judge for yourselves….
But he is scarcely the Sun King, our Hollandouille: where the former would have raised his hat to his former mistress the latter could only manage…..the finger.