On Wednesday we visited the Chateau du Clos Lucé, the house and gardens of Leonardo da Vinci. We were given some pamphlets in English to help guide us around the house, the basement with replicas of da Vinci’s inventions, and eventually the gardens that housed working models of some of these prototypes. But instead of using the pamphlet, I found that the most effective way to learn about the house was to become a French first grader. You see when we entered the house, there was a group of French school children on a class trip that entered alongside us. However, their class visit warranted a type of guide that our visit did not: an energetic young woman dressed in medieval clothing that took the children on an interactive tour throughout the house and museum. And as it turns out, the level of sophistication that you use to explain things to first graders turned out to be perfect for practicing my level of French. So as the school group and guide moved through the house, I “coincidentally” moved with them, eavesdropping on the guide’s explanations and practicing my language comprehension. I learned a lot from the guide, and was quite entertained by the way the children interacted with her. The guide would show the kids a painting and a student would exclaim “c’est pour de vrai?!”, which means “that’s real life?!” When the guide asked why da Vinci’s signed his name backwards, one child shouted out “Because that’s how you write in Italian!” (I later learned that da Vinci wrote backwards because he was left handed, and writing right to left instead of left to right prevented him from smudging the ink that he wrote with). I also learned from the tour how many of da Vinci’s inventions were predecessors to machines that we use today, such as the bicycle, the airplane, and the parachute.
After touring the museum, the entire Piette Fam (which is what we’ve dubbed our group, short for the Piette Family) went out to the gardens to embrace our inner first grader as a collective. We played with the prototypes in the gardens and eventually all ended up at a playground in the middle of the garden. Our time at Clos Lucé left me wishing I could stay in da Vinci’s gardens and be a French first grader for just a little longer.