Around the Clos de l’Echo with Arnaud Couly, 2018
Arnaud Couly and I looked across from our vantage point to the ancient walls that stood opposite. Behind us, to the north, there stretched a gently undulating sea of vines, running back across the plateau of Chinon, slowly dipping down out of sight, to the point where Vitis vinifera gives way to scrubby arable land. Facing south as we were, however, the view was rather more spectacular. Here the plateau fell away, the land sloping steeply downwards, and this little south-facing hillside was naturally planted with vines. Opposite us, on the other side of the road that ran along the bottom of the slope, slowly emerging from the morning mist, were the ancient walls of the Fortresse Royale of Chinon and the Tour de l’Horloge (clock tower) behind. This ancient château dates at the very least to the 11th century, although it has been heavily restored since I first laid eyes on it back in the 1990s.
We were standing, for those who have not already figured it out, on the edge of the Clos de l’Echo, and we can have only been there a minute or two before Arnaud (pictured below, with the vines, château walls and clock tower behind) decided to demonstrate exactly why this vineyard is so named. Taking a deep breath, he bellowed a few words at the walls opposite, and a split-second later these same words came bouncing back at us across the void. It was surprising just how clearly the returning message could be perceived, crisply enunciated by these towering walls of centuries-old stone and mortar.
The ease with which these echoes can be provoked has been known for a very long time. Tradition has, explained Arnaud, it that young men would stand here and enquire of the walls whether or not their lovers were faithful. They would shout across;
“Les femmes de Chinon, sont-elles fidèles?”
The query translates as “Are the women of Chinon faithful?”, and the walls would reply “elles?”, as if to verify the intent of he who would question them. The young men would then have to reply thus;
“Oui, les femmes de Chinon.”
Which of course translates as “Yes, the women of Chinon”, to which the walls would of course reply “Non”, which I suspect needs no translation.
I resisted the temptation to have a go myself and instead turned my attention to the vines that swept all around us. But before I come to that, I am aware I have started this account of my visit in the middle. Let me first backtrack an hour or so, to the beginning.