April 15, 2014 § Leave a comment
Quotidiana connoisseur Patrick Madden guest blogs on his (almost) tour of Montaigne’s Tower:
The first goal on the Madden Family European Road Trip Vacation (after my semester directing a study abroad program in Madrid) was my own pilgrimage to Montaigne’s tower in the Perigord region east of Bordeaux. We arrived after a long day in the car and were surprised to find a chain blocking the entrance. Turns out the site was closed not just on Mondays, as David Lazar had warned me, but on Tuesdays as well. After a few minutes of pleading in fake French, I got to speak to the gardener, who spoke English, and who graciously led us on a tour of the grounds, including some wild- and tame-life encounters (birds, lizards, a snake, and several donkeys). I told him how I was a disciple of Montaigne, wrote my own essays, was editing a book paying homage to the master essayist. He said he wasn’t much for reading Montaigne, but he sure liked caring for the plant life around his place. Laurent’s patience and kindness were extraordinary, and as my family turned finally to leave, he gave me, a lifelong teetotaler, a bottle of Chateau Michel de Montaigne wine (2001 vintage). In all, it was an utterly pleasant afternoon, despite my getting so close but failing to visit the tower.
The way I figure, I can take this thwarted pilgrimage two ways. I can be disappointed, upset, what have you, or I can do like an essayist and use what really happened to my benefit. Like Alexander Smith said of Montaigne:
Each event of his past life he considers a fact of nature; creditable or the reverse, there it is; sometimes to be speculated upon, not in the least to be regretted. If it is worth nothing else, it may be made the subject of an essay
Or as Paul says (in my paraphrased appropriation):
All things work to the good of them that love the essay.
When I set out, I had hoped to see with my own eyes the inscriptions in the beams of Montaigne’s library. Sure. But had I joined a regular tour, I’d never have met Laurent. I’d have been processed through the attraction like so many glassy-eyed high-school kids. I’d have paused and examined, yes, and I’d have taken some pictures, but I did those things anyway, from outside the walls, and one of the things I considered is this:
That there’s something appropriate about being stymied in an essayistic quest, because essays were never about completing things; they distrust the very notion of tidy endings. Much better, it seems to me now, that I missed the dusty tower and instead strolled the grounds with the gardener, who, like the Great Dead Man he and I serve, contains within him the entire human condition.
And, as my friend Brent Rowland pointed out, with my Rush T-shirt on, “this is the most Pat Madden of all Pat Madden photos ever taken.” When I go back in a few decades, trying to make it in the tower, I’ll be sure to carry a volleyball for the picture, so I can out-Pat-Madden even this one.