The train out of Paris was inexplicably delayed by fifty minutes, but nonetheless I was promptly met at the Saint Pierre des Corps station just outside Tours by my cousin, Philip, and family friend, Thomas. I felt a little nauseous sitting in the back of Thomas' Peugeot, not necessarily because of his driving but more so because after months of biking and taking the Metro I am no longer used to being in cars. Minutes later we left the highway and began trundling along over unlit country roads although this didn't seem to faze the driver; Thomas only went faster, zooming past gaunt leafless trees and, at one point, a wild boar.
I had thought Philip was joking when he said I was to stay at a château because there were too many guests for the "modest" three-bedroom country home of his father's friends. But no, Le Val d'Aulnay, or so the sixteenth century mansion is called, turned out to be the stuff of high-end lifestyle magazines: simultaneously rustic, luxurious, and yet entirely livable. (Actually, in the dark, it was more like something out of a ghost hunting show on the Travel Channel, but in the daytime - sublime).
The country surrounding Azay-le-Rideau, the nearest commune, is the type of place where people are so few and far between that it is perfectly normal not to lock the house at night or when you go out; where if you turn the shower on the water might just be warm enough not to get contact hypothermia if you let it run while you brush your teeth, check email, fold clothes, and perhaps read a novel.
But it's supremely quiet and peaceful. When I stepped out of the car the evening I arrived from the city and looked up, I realized that it was the first time I had seen the stars since moving to Europe. Previously, the only time I could recall seeing a sky nearly as perfect was my last night at Stanford.
On that particular occasion I had climbed up to the roof of the quad with a boy, and together we sat on the red tile roof, admiring the way that the light and air pollution of Silicon Valley made the mid-summer sky awash with color. We kissed, perched three stories up in our vantage point above the palm trees, and when I get homesick I think back to that moment.
More of Azay-le-Rideau and the surrounding area here.