We wanted another taste of the countryside after our weekend in Normandy, so we got on a train to Tours, rented a car, and took off driving east. We'd seen many of the major chateaux of the Loire valley before, but the closest one to where we were staying was one I'd never heard of before, Chaumont-sur-Loire.
Right off the road along the river, you walk up a long, long slope to find yourself crossing thick green lawns studded with contemporary art pieces including spiraling hedges and enormous huts made of twigs, and then you reach a castle so well preserved and so beautifully maintained that you could move in today.
The carvings are sharp and fresh. The stained glass is beautiful and enhances the views.
The history of the place is written in the armorial crests that include many royals.
All is perfection. Or so it appears.
And then at one point you choose to follow a sign through a door and you find yourself in a different chateau, one that you aren't supposed to see, and one where the stained glass tells of different things.
This is the backstage, the part that visitors don't know about and that remodeling crews have not touched. This is the part where the artist who goes by the single name of Sarkis has chosen to install his art. For Chaumont he has made stained glass panels to hang in the windows of the rooms where the old draperies are folded on the floor,
where the mismatched pieces of armor and old halberds and arquebuses have lain for centuries.
The walls have been untouched for nearly as long and strips of 19th century wallpaper hang from walls originally built in the 15th century.
Sarkis has constructed leaded panes with images that bear some strange relation to the rooms. There are images of people, or works of art, of the interior of the dome of Hagia Sofia, of sleeping dogs, or painted tribesmen.
These corridors go on and on and the feeling of displacement becomes stronger and stronger as you no longer see the chateau you thought you were seeing but instead the long-neglected and dilapidated "real" chateau, the skeleton under the sumptuous flesh.
An uncovered window gives a glimpse of the river bank below.
And in another room, the leaded glass offers the same view.
The hidden corridors go on and on.
And quite suddenly you find yourself back on the threshold of that other chateau, the one you started in and you thought was lost to you.
Click here for the website of the Chateau Chaumont-sur-Loire and then click on the video showing Sarkis and work and explaining his vision. It's in French but worth seeing, even for those who aren't fluent.