Beauty & the Beholder

Châteaux and Roman ruins, I have discovered, tend to be on hills. And I, you might be surprised to learn, carry a lot of baggage. The two are not an ideal combination, but the winding road up to Château de Bussy-Rabutin, 8km off my Canal de Bourgogne route, is lined with crumbling stone houses, red-tiled roofs, and colourful floral abandon. And at the top of the ascent, Frugat-&-Thé, where a podgy but utterly sweet Frenchman still wears tight jeans and sports a single earring, welcomes the lone cyclist with ice water and old blues and rock in English. “I don’t know what happened to music after 1975,” he confides softly, while serving a complimentary slice of traditional pain d’épices – spice cake flavoured with honey and orange – with the café allongé I’ve ordered to while away the time till the chateau opens again for the afternoon.
He is cheered from his musical lamentations by the delighted discovery that he can now list Africa as one of the sources of his restaurant clientele.
This morning a truly entertaining “interpretation centre” (we don’t call things “museums” these days) at Alésia brought me up to speed on my Roman and Gaul battle history, ensuring I’ll be able to read Asterix and Obelix with authority in the future. And I’ll be able to throw in Vercingétorix, for good measure.
The château opens and I at peace. There is a tranquility there, a calm beyond the mere facts. Heightened by contrast:  messages I trade with friend Christi reveal she is hunkered down in a war zone in South Sudan.
If my pictures of the interior of that château – as well as blog posts from previous days – seem overtly focussed on women with their breasts hanging out, that’s not only because I think the feminine torso is exquisitely beautiful, but the French never seem to have exhibited a great deal of modesty in these matters. And also, significantly, because I’m deeply and personally interested in the perception and portrayal of women’s beauty through the ages. And over their ages.
It’s not only the amount of flesh revealed that gets my attention. It’s their amount of flesh. Not an iota of Victorian prudishness in any of the galleries I’ve visited these past days. And no significant penchant for slenderness. Which is gratefully noticed by those of us whose own flesh waxes and wanes with the seasons.
Mine browns and fades too. Right now, an alabaster torso contrasts notably with berry-browning limbs, despite lashings of sunscreen. And so, in celebration of feminine beauty, for a bit of sun on a white body, and mostly for the pure, unadulterated delight of cool air’s touch on my skin, I ride the next 30km shirtless. (Though not topless.) I don’t think the French object.

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