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Live French Saints – Part Three


Ruined Beauty - Limited Edition Photographic Art by Christopher Strong



Authors Note : Although I can’t promisePART ONE  and/or TWO  could add to your enjoyment/interest/understanding of  this missive.


While DA BG’S “raison d’etre is always to film his memorable meetings with marvellous people(like the Toussaints) – this voyage he was also on a photographic mission. The subject: Ruined Chateaus.

When this become common knowledge, Marie-Andre offered to tour me around the ones she knew. Several of which were not on my pre-tour research radar.

And so, since Bernard was off to play golf(active retirement, remember?) I was willingly kidnapped.( After all, how can you refuse your hostess?)

What impressed me most that day were not the chateaus.  But the attitude of Marie Andre. She was never bored or fidgety while I trolled for photo opps.  Happily doing her own thing, enjoying the scenery AND pointing out possible points of view overlooked by the exotic stranger from the far away lands. Contrast this to one of my ex -girlfriends who always brought a book along on our wilderness walks!

After several marvy Chateau gems, Marie Andre suggested lunch. (my arm twisted again!) Happily our “petite resto” had an outdoor terrace.  The deserted kind.  Perfect for  a weary, hungry photographic team.

On the route home, we scooped up some REALLY fresh butter and milk from a local farmer. One of the great joys of country life. Food treated with respect – not chemicals. (interesting concept -wot?)

The fact that Marie Andre’s enthusiasum for my “pile of ancient stones” project had not waned, came when I discovered what appeared on the internet to be the Mother of all ruined chateaus. It was a decent train ride away. Outside of a major city. When I announced my intention  to add this jewel to my photographic crown, Marie Andre ‘phoned a pal in that town, who then offered to treat me to a resturant meal and, more importantly, a bed. High Cotton! No long train ride TWICE on the day!

That was the good news. The bad, was the Chateau. It was a total LLLLLLLOSER! Bearing almost NO resemblance to it’s internet counterpart. And to add insult to photographic injury, surrounded by a high wire fence. WHY? Who would want to go on anyway?

But that wasn’t the worst of the bad. The worst was that I would have to, and did do the long train ride twice on the same day. Because my hostess -to -be was not off work until 7pm, and it was now barely noon. With (now) no other reason to be here, and facing 6 hours of nothing, I decided to return to villa Toussaint.

Bad decision. I never met my gracious hostess-to-be. Who that night, dined alone.

As Mr. Sinatra warbled : “Regrets…..I’ve had a few.”

Part Four -Next Time.


What are ya thinkin’?




Live French Saints – Part Two



Author’s note : PART ONE of this gripping opus may be insightful/interesting/inspirational/revelatory…or not.

One of my great unhearlded talents is the ability to arrive just before the meal. (Be it lunch or dinner. As for breakfast – I’m already there.) Proof that this mojo is unconscious is the fact that after sufficiently drooling over my sunken-tub equipped palace – lunch arrived.

It was Chicken Jim. But not as we know it. An Asian  recipe. Spicy but nicey. The wine however, although from the east, was not mysterious. Cote de Bourg 1996.

As we chomped and slurped, even before they groked my cinematic mission, Bernard and Marie Andre made it clear that  their hospitality did not have a “best before” date attached.

After lunch Bernard toured me down his “Hall of Guitars.” Not, dear reader, a flowery figure of speech – but an existential reality. The Hall began at the junction of the living room and the kitchen, continued down past the laundry room, finally spilling out into the garage.

Both sides of the hall walls were festooned with every varitey of guitars – electric and acoustic -including a ’56 les Paul Special.  (Can you say: Rare ?) I once owned one of these, but “traded up” to something else. If I had it now and sold it, I would be living for a year or two  in a Moroccan Villa .(with servants) Oh well!

The program for that night was a music (not rock) concert a fair distance away. “Would I like to go?” was the (uneeded) question. My quandry was the obvious one. Cash!  I doubted even my emergency bike repair fund could help me here. And, of course, after all their hospitality , I wouldn’t expect them to pay my way.

So – what to do? Fortunately, Marie Andre to the rescue: “I’m not sure there are still places available.” Ok – I demured. Let’s see what happens.

You’re ahead of me again, aren’t you? What happened was: Tickets WERE available, one WAS purchased without consulting me. Marie Andre , not crazy about the long drive and arriving in the wee small hours, would be guarding  the fort.

At apero time, a gaggle of Bernard’s friends(a gaggle being more than four less than fourteen) arrived to imbibe and blah, blah. Then, to horse – and off to the fair!

The concert, in three words : Fab,Gear AND Groovy. We had good(‘tho not front row) seats, the sound was perfect. And – no riots!

Post concert we decamped to a nearby watering hole and got sufficiently watered down. Although, I hasten to add, well within the limits of responsible driving.

Arriving back at Villa Toussaint, weary but content, we were greeted by a “heat and eat” meal (pasta – what else?) Marie Andre had prepared.

That was the good news. The bad was that there appeared to be only a quarter bottle of wine left. Bernard went in search of reinforcements. Returning with half a bottle. Provisions assured. We chowed down. Then bedded down.

Not bad, wot? – my first 24 hours with this saintly duo?

Part Three – Next Time.


What are ya thinkin’?

Live French Saints – part one




French Country Travel Life Saints are everywhere here. Down every obscure byway. In villages and cities. Always ready willing and able to effortlessly shower you with their self-less help and hospitality.

As you would expect, I’ve met many in my zillion and a half years of surfing the French Country Backroads. But two of the best I’m still in touch with. Is it just a coincidence that they share the same surname as the famous French religious celebration – “Toussaint?” (All Saints)

Whatever your take on coincidental veritie – Bernard and Marie-Andre Toussaint are the real saintly deal.

Example: They’re driving along a Northern  country road  and stop to offer a ride to a not too young heavily backpacked couple.

When the Toussaints find out this couple’s mission is to WALK to the South of France(can you say: “EXTREME?”) They kidnap them for two weeks of saintly R ‘n R at the Toussaint sanctuary.

My introduction to the natural goodness of Bernard and Marie-Andre began on a drizzly autumn day. One that was definitely promising to accelerate it’s quantity and force soon.

While, admittedly not the brightest light in the intellectual sky, I do have enough sense to come in out of the rain.! And Bernard and Marie-Andre’s door did look inviting. To be clear – not just “convenient” but inviting.

Was it the way the house was nestled in a mini-park with tall trees? It’s position farthest away from the road? The circular “come hither” driveway?

No idea. But it definitely called to me. And I answered the call. Marie-Andre answered my knock. With an instant genuine smile. And before I could say word one, She stated the obvious: “You’re all wet…..come in…”

Now, wouldn’t  most people’s first reaction be: “Who is this tall, wet stranger with a guitar on his back? And why is he knocking on our door?”

And if they were inclined to be hospitable, wouldn’t most folks say: “you’re all wet…..so take off your wet stuff before you come in?”

Bernard was quickly summonded and introduced. He quickly introduced me to some of his dry clothes.

Then, as you would expect, the obvious question for the exotic stranger from the far away lands: “Are you hungry?”

A former air traffic control supervisor, Bernard had taken an early retirement. An Active one. Tennis, Photography (winner of several Nikon competitions) playing guitar in a 50’s music rock n’ roll band with other retirees. Appropriately, and whimsically named “The Old Rabbit Skins.” Before retirement, add solo rock climbing (the chalky hands and no net kind) and motorcycle riding. The latter ended voluntarily.

Marie-Andre was a former solo acrobatic pilot. So – you can probably guess where and how they met. Can you not? Sadly, unlike Bernard ‘s voluntary “fini” to motorcycling, Marie Andre had a mandatory end to her solo flight career. You gotta quit at 50. (the diminishing reflexes thing.)

Since it was ordained that I would be spending the night Marie-Andre escorted me to my room. But, it wasn’t a room. It was a SUITE! Think large living room with huge sunken tub, monster bed, two adjoining wash basins with seperate mirrors, small cozy terrace with a view onto  the other side of their not so mini-park. (Catch yer breath yet?)

Saints. Gotta love ’em – yeah?

Part Two – Next Time


What are ya thinkin’?