5/09/2010

Really, a French castle in the Ozarks!

The French seemingly have come back to renig on the deal they made with Thomas Jefferson in 1803. Well, not really, the Louisiana Purchase transferred ownership of a good portion of Central and South-Eastern United States from France to the U.S. and this new enterprise isn't meant as a return to the days of old, not that way, at least. But it is significant that a trio of French people are erecting a 1300s vintage French castle right here in the Ozarks, on land that was once part of the French colonies.

The first question that comes to mind would be, "Why?" and the answer to that is as complicated as the enterprise itself. (I think the short answer is, "because we can.") I've been waiting to tell this story for nearly 9 months, ever since I first had a tour of the site late last summer. Back then, the groundwork was just beginning, the land had been cleared and the developers didn't want any information released until the project was well underway. So on April 30th, there was a big unveiling of the project. Miss Arkansas came in 4 inch high heels (one wonders...didn't she know it was a construction site??) and sang the national anthem. There were lots of media from far and wide (read the U.S.A. Today story). The Arkansas Director of Tourism came, letters were read from governors, lots of tourism development types came, bus tour companies, etc. It was a big, impressive event.

The fortress is the brainchild of our friends Jean-Marc and Solange Mirat who made a visit back to Gu├ędelon, France in 2008. Quite by accident they met Michel Guyot who was in the process of building a similar castle from the ground up in Burgundy. His castle is scheduled to be completed in 2022. The Mirats made a deal to partner with Guyot to build a castle on the couple’s Arkansas property, near Lead Hill, Arkansas.

This is an interactive project and visitors are encouraged to see and try out weaving, carving and other techniques that were used in the 1300s. The fortress-castle is being built using stone and wood from the property, using techniques authentic to the time period. Stone masons cut and fit the stones, then mix mortar from slaked lime, sand and water and cement the stones in place. (The project has 2 architects and 2 engineers whose jobs it is to ensure authenticity and stability of the structures).

The castle project will take an anticipated 20 years to complete and it's not the completion that's the goal, it is the teaching of the process, the step by step progress, that is the focus. In essence, once it's built, the project is over (they even threatened, whimsically, of tearing it down and starting over again). The attraction is the methods and construction, not the finished product that will bring groups of all ages to tour the progressive construction project. (There is also an authentic, wooden, 1000 a.d. vintage fortress erected on the site, as well, showing the techniques and materials used in the centuries before the 1300s fortress project).

There's a garden, which is my main interest, made of wattle beds, a project that will grow as the main construction grows. There are stone cutters, a squirrel-cage lever system where a worker 'walks" inside the cage, which pulls a rope and raises stones to be set as the 4 ft wide walls go up, along with woodworkers, weavers, spinners, timber cutters and more. I was impressed on the Media Day how well versed the workers were in interpreting their own parts in the project.

Adam, our WWOOFer of 2 seasons ago (more about him here), arrived last week to help get the garden here underway. He's been in the Pacific Northwest working on a production organic farm. With his great help, we have turned the garden from empty beds into fluffed-up, mulched and planted garden. His enthusiasm and interest is always an inspiration. He'll be heading off on another adventure in a few weeks.

We got tickets to see Michael Feldman's Whad'Ya Know? show on Saturday in Springfield. We're long time fans of the show and even though this is Feldman's 4th visit to Springfield, this was the first broadcast we had attended. My editor, Fred Pfister, from The Ozarks Mountaineer magazine was the guest interviewee and Feldman gave lots of good publicity for The Mountaineer. (I've been writing my Ozarks Herbalist column for The Mountaineer since 1992 when I ceased publication of my Ozarks Herbalist newsletter). 

And, the way things sometimes go in circles, 2 of the guests on the show were from the French castle. Billy Williams, one of the stone masons, had Feldman try out his stone cutting skills. Accompanying Williams was Julie Sonveau, the PR director for the castle, explaining the project. Check the castle's website for more information about visiting. I think Feldman and his What'dya Know? staff were touring the castle after the nationally-broadcast radio show was finished.

Now, back to work in the garden, where our castle may be smaller but just as fulfilling.

4 comments:

Steven Anthony said...

wow....that is way cool, a castle;)

Steven Anthony said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Judith said...

I love the idea that "methods and construction are the attraction and not the finished product." There's a life lesson!

Randy and Jamie said...

I want a castle! LOL-- Randy