Sunday April 13 would be the official big day for the Livre et Vin festival here in Saumur--thanks to Bouvet Ladubay keeping this event alive and even expanding it to national stature--but Friday night opened with a very special, private reception on the grounds of the Abbaye Fontevraud, with--yes Bouvet Ladubay's beautiful sparkling wines being served--but also a French president's daughter, Mazarine Pingeot, as the guest of honor.
Mazarine Pingeot is a professor, an author, a mom. After seeing her here and there at various events, and being right next to her one night later as I mentioned that in Austin there are cocktails with mezcal AND absinthe (subtle gasp from the group), I get that she is a remarkably regular person. And in reading her book that I would buy later that night, that becomes even more clear. But the panel discussion that evening over dinner, was all quite clever and very literary: critics and authors addressed Mazarine's work, her father's writing, and her status now in French culture ever since her existence was made known to the French general public (read the story here). It was heady stuff.
Another star of the night, in addition to Mazarine Pingeot, was the Abbey itself. Not very often is it open at night. Some public art and theatrical spectacles taking advantage of the light and shadows of this special place occur there from time to time, but tonight we had the place to ourselves (aside from a few artists in residence there).
The Abbaye Fontevraud is in Fontevraud, a village of 1500 inhabitants (per the mayor herself). The Abbaye appears to be re-inventing itself, over and over again, keeping itself relevant in a region--a nation--of numerous architectural and geographical wonders. The web site itself was enough to draw me in. The old, the magestic, and the highly spiritual are all combined with shocking hot pink accents. It works. And if you do not know the story about Eleanor of Aquitaine, you should. She was, um, high-spirited one could say. She is recognized as the most powerful woman in feudal Europe. She spent her last days at the Abbaye Fontevraud.
The picturesque village of Fontevraud, from the color of the special limestone (tufa), which is everywhere is this region, to the color of the shutters (pale shades of sage) also must conform to historical niceties. The effect is charming, as it is for most architecturally controlled historic districts--all the way down to the beautifully paved streets, re-done to look old.
But Friday was not so much for the history of Fontevraud and its Abbey, but the place as backdrop for a dinner event, which began with an aperitif on a vast expanse of lawn.
There was of course Bouvet Ladubay for our elegant beverage, Bouvet Ladubay being a favorite sponsor of many Austin-Angers events, i.e., SxSW just last month.
As lovely as all that was, out there on the lawn on a cool evening, especially hearing Madame le Maire of Fontevraud explain to a friend and me how historical preservation funding works in France, it was eventually time to go inside for the "Cafe Litteraire."
I get now that a "cafe litteraire" is the name for a certain type of ritual: a very pleasant interlude for erudite literary conversation accompanied by food and beverage, or just a beverage or just food. We had a lovely little meal for this special evening at Fontevraud, at the Alienor Cafe, while listening to Mazarine.
I did not have to regret for long that I had not thought to buy a book for Mazarine to sign: there were books there for purchase, which she graciously signed.
After hearing her discuss over dinner the poetry of everyday things, and the agony and ecstasy in the monotony of everyday life, I had to get her book, "les invasions quotidiennes."
Mazarine Pingeot signing books.
For a special treat as part of the overall VIP treatment, there was a late-night tour of the Abbey--or Eleanor at least.
Close to midnight things really started winding down. Time to head home to Saumur. When I returned to my lovely hotel, the Hotel Saint-Pierre, there was a gift waiting for me in my room.
Between that and my new book signed by a French president's daughter, this was, I thought then, quite a good end to a pretty great day in France.
Little did I know that the next two days would be even better.