When I was preparing for our 2015 European Renaissance rides I did some research into the history of Italy and France. One of the most influential characters in the French Monarchy of the Middle Ages was King Francoise I. During our trip we came across his extensive legacy right throughout the Loire Valley. I also learned that King Francoise was well known for the extreme size of one of his body parts, so much so in fact that one his alternative names was “Francoise the Grand Nez”. I thought it was a little unfortunate that someone should be remembered throughout history because of his huge honker, but that was the way it went in those early days. I guess it was regarded as being a little inadequate to just give a simple name such as Louis, Georges, Pierre or Gabriel. In order to make sure who you were referring to, it was also required to add an extra descriptive to the name.
I could imagine the roll call in a medieval school classroom might have sounded something like this – “Henry the Horrible, Freddy the Fat, Sally the Silly, Gary the Grumpy, Harry the Hairy, Philip the Flatulent” and so on. I wondered what my name might have been if I had been born about 600 years ago – maybe Dennis the Dimwit ?
Today we decided to visit the Musee de Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Arts) in the centre of Dijon. This museum is actually one of the oldest in France and has an interesting and varied collection of antiquities from Ancient Egypt through to the 19th century. Since we had a free day and since it was wet and rainy outside, we considered that it might be an interesting way to spend a couple of hours.
We grabbed our umbrellas and walked the now familiar short distance to the old town. It was easy enough to find the building, but much more challenging to find the entrance. We wandered around and around the exterior before eventually discovering the unmarked door which accessed the inside of the building. We were also surprised to find that the entrance was Gratuit (free). The lady at the door handed us a plastic bag to hold our dripping umbrellas and we started exploring the fascinating rooms inside the museum.
It did not take us long to meet several other past members of the French royal family – Phillipe the Bold, John the Fearless (not to be confused with John the Scaredy Cat) and also Phillipe the Good. I didn’t know much about what they did to receive these accolades, but their death memorials were certainly impressive.
In the adjoining room we discovered a row of suits of armor. While most were approximately the same size, the one on the end was severely vertically challenged. Although it was an impressive collection of armor, the tiny size gave evidence to the fact that the owner must have only been about 150 cm tall. I wondered what his name might have been – perhaps Michael the Midget ?
As we looked more closely at the metal suits, Maggie made a startling discovery. “Look at his feet”, she said. I did. “They are back to front”, she added. I looked more closely and had to agree with her. It certainly looked as if the left and right feet had been mounted on the wrong legs. Surely the curators could not have made such a terrible mistake, and why had no one else ever noticed such a basic error ???? It was then that the real truth dawned on me. Obviously the owner was not only extremely short, but he also had the rare handicap of having his feet on the wrong legs. I could only assume that this was the famous “Ronald the Wrong Foot”. Well that WAS interesting.
Just before we left the suits of armor, I had another thought. Considering the unfortunate sequence of events which had resulted in both Carol and Fran breaking their legs during the trip, perhaps they should both consider getting fitted for full body armor before setting on our 2016 European rides. It certainly couldn’t hurt.
As we proceeded to the higher floors of the building we came across a series of huge carved 3D dioramas of assorted religious themes. Since these must each have taken thousands of hours of painstaking effort to produce, they could only have been gifts for the royalty. Since the descriptions were all in French, I had to make up my own explanations for what they were used for. I guess in the days before TV, such dioramas provided an entertaining evening diversion for the members of the royal household. On a dull, dark winter’s night in the King’s palace the conversation could have gone something like this….
“What are we going to do tonight Papa ?”, the little princes asked the king.
“I think we should have a look at the new diorama”, the king replied.
“But we saw that diorama last week, don’t you have a new one for us to look at ?”
“But the royal artisans took 17 years to make the last one”, the king added. “And it does show at least 30 different gory ways to die”.
“But dioramas are so boring, I wish one of your subjects would invent social media”.
Life really was tough in those days. Maggie also commented that all the dioramas, paintings and sculptures depicted people who were either being massacred, or who looked as if they were about to be massacred. Didn’t anyone actually smile in the Middle Ages ?
When we exited the museum we noticed that they were setting up some sort of outdoor musical event in the open space. Unfortunately due to the cold and wet conditions, the performance was put on for the benefit of about 7 rather wet looking onlookers. I hate to think how much it must have cost to set up all the sound equipment.
Since we felt that we had eaten in far too many restaurants, that evening we bought food from the nearest supermarket and had our own little party in our apartment. We both enjoyed it immensely. Tomorrow we catch the fast train to Paris and begin the next chapter of our odyssey.