In Leonardo Da Vinci’s Garden

In Leonardo Da Vinci’s Garden

I sit in the garden of my Chambre d’Hote in the Loire Valley, and surprisingly I do not feel sad. I just ate my dinner here at the outdoor dining table, a hodgepodge of taboule (which really was couscous – the French don’t seem to know the difference between the two), lentils, chevre cheese- the same exact container I buy at Berkeley Bowl – and some greens and a carrot salad, all purchased at the Carrefour, a French supermarket. Now, for the first time in days, I feel well. I have been feeling exhausted; perhaps Paris does that to you, with its noise and tourists and the subway system in which you have to run up and down stairs.

I went to the Leonardo Da Vinci house this morning. Before coming here, I did not know that Da Vinci died in France. I have yet to understand fully the Mona Lisa myth. At the Louvre last week, I had trouble locating her. And when I finally did find the Grand Gallery, so many people had thronged her, their I-phones held over their heads for a quick snap, that I could not even get a good look at her, let alone understand her power. Did these tourists really know anything about art, or were they simply acting like sheep?

 But today at Leonardo’s chateau, I understood his genius. There were the tanks and the airplanes and the swing bridges he had designed, all in model scale of course, but they gave a hint of his powers of analysis and imagination. He had even designed a canon running on steam. Alas, he just could not make the leap to a steam engine. For that he would have needed a whole scientific revolution which did not exist during the Renaissance. It just goes to show you that scientific advances need a whole movement just like art does.  During the renaissance, so many artists were stimulated by each other.  In fact, Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci were contemporaries.  Both homosexuals, both esthetes, both artists par excellence.  A person cannot do art in isolation.  And the same goes for science. 

I am particularly drawn to Leonardo because he was both an artist and a scientist. Americans often ask me how come I am a writer when I was trained as a physicist. They start talking of right brain and left brain. I tell them that I have only one brain. I tell them that historically there has been a tradition of intellectual individuals pursuing philosophy, literature, mathematics and art. Take Bertrand Russell for example. Not that I want to compare myself with Bertrand Russell.

The Loire Valley is a magical place. And yet I did not make it to most of the sites. What I really enjoy is just sitting in this lovely garden or walking the streets and browsing at little shops. That is what the French countryside is all about, after all.

Finally I am feeling content to be here alone. I never thought I would feel this way. Sometimes, when you have bad company, you realize that your own company is preferable. That is what happened to me on this trip. Now I know why people say that it is better to travel on your own. Because you can take things at your own pace; you can indulge yourself to linger where you want; you can eat when and where and what you want. You can reflect, you can read, you can muse. You can be active or lazy. You can reach out to people. I wish I had learned some French though. I do have the dictionary but the app on my cellphone does not work. And I am afraid to make it work because of fear that it will gobble up all my minutes on the simcard.

 Who would have thought that I would be traveling all alone around France one day? Not in my wildest dreams – or nightmares – would I have imagined such a fate befalling me. But now I realize it is not such a bad fate. There are worst fates than this. Of course it is costing me a pretty penny because I am not sharing the room with another person. But then again, do I really want to share a room with someone? Give up my privacy and my realm? I have been having naps every afternoon, something I perhaps would not be able to do with another person.

Then there is the whole sightseeing mania one gets drawn into when one is with company; one ends up seeing sights that do nothing for one’s soul. But most of all, I am learning to be comfortable with myself. I am learning to cope with a foreign culture on my own. I am learning to survive the trains and all the little inconveniences. And yet I can’t wait to leave this town and embark on another journey tomorrow morning to the Dordognes. Hopefully the hotel there will be as good. Hopefully, I will have just as much of a good time as I did in Amboise. I was so afraid of coming here alone and it turned out so very wonderful!


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