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Travel log Maigret's journeys in France
Paray-le-Frésil - 2
l'Affaire Saint-Fiacre - 1
Paray-le-Frésil - Châteauneuf-sur-Loire - Sancerre - Arpajon / Avrainville - Dizy - Givet - Meung-sur-Loire - Ingrannes - Poissy/Orgeval - Nemours/Glandelles - St.-Fargeau - Le-Coudray-Montceaux - Morsang-sur-Seine - Vichy - Jeumont
Home Page - summary of works - Travel log (main page) - l'Affaire Saint-Fiacre - 1
The castle
The castle of Paray-le-Frésil was built by the de Tracy family, probably during the reign of Louis XIII (1610 - 1643). Because the building was destroyed by fire two times - during the French revolution (1789 - 1794) it was set to fire and in 1968 it burned down by accident - important documents have gone lost so that the exact building dates are unknown. This also means that the dining room, where the drama in the novel unfolds, doesn't exist anymore.
The castle is built with the typical approach of that period, a somewhat incoherent style with the use of Italian and Flemish elements.
The outer walls are in yellow and brown bricks in a cross-hatched pattern. Perhaps this sorted a nice effect when the building was new but after so many centuries and two fires, it looks somewhat shoddy.
"On the left, a lane bordered with oak trees"
Approaching the castle through the main-entrance lane it gives a rather gloomy impression. It's a large building, but the flight of steps to the main door is minute. It is only by walking around the building that I realize that the front façade is on the other side. Looking at the front the castle is much more grand and architecturally properly shaped. The main towers on both sides are more prominent and the entrance steps have a certain grandeur.
Back-façade of the castle of Paray, coming from the village.
The outbuildings on the castle grounds. Front of the castle of Paray.
The castle is surrounded by wide-ranging grounds. To the right, looking at the front, are the outbuildings, a large farm of which a part is now a "gête" (holiday cottage) and an other part is a stud-farm. The remaining buildings are in ruins. In front of the castle is a lake and a small swimming pool.
Meeting a Marquis
Everything is quiet and deserted when I arrive at the castle. On the landing in the front I see some plastic garden furniture and two empty bottles of beer on a table. The old labrador that lies dozing in the sun is clearly no watchdog. When I arrive he looks at me by raising one eyelid without even lifting his head from the ground.
Suddenly an older lady comes out of a sidedoor to put some laundry on a clothes-line. I approach the lady and introduce myself, explain to her why I'm there and ask if it would be all right if I take some pictures.
"Ah oui, Simenon, venez avec moi monsieur" (Oh yes, Simenon, follow me sir).
She brings me in to a hall with beautiful antique furniture, deer antlers on the wall and a collection of at least 20 horse-riding hats.
"Si vous voulez attendre une minute, je vais avertir monsieur de Tracy" (If you'll wait here for a moment, I will notify monsieur de Tracy).
Did I hear this right?
Did she say monsieur de Tracy?
A man enters the hall and approaches me with his hand reached out, ready to shake mine. I shake his hand and say my name, he answers "de Tracy".
I never realized that the château still could be occupied by the de Tracy-family and I certainly didn't expect to meet a member of the family.
This man appears to be Claude Marquis d'Estutt de Tracy, the son of Raymond de Tracy, employer of Simenon in 1923. He tells me that I can go wherever I want on the premises to take photos and that I can ask him anything. Of course I wasn't prepared for this encounter, so I stand there dumbfounded for a moment and I don't know immediately what to ask him. But Claude de Tracy turns out to be a very amiable man. A real aristocrat, his posture, self-confident in his manners and friendly. Maybe a little unconventional, but that goes with his descent. A typical presence for a man of nobility. When I ask him if I can take a photo of him, he doesn't hesitate: "Mais bien sûr" (But of course).
He tells me the story of his father and Simenon. I'm acquainted with most of it but it is nice to hear it told by someone involved.
He didn't meet Simenon himself because he was born in 1934. After Simenon left his position with the Marquis they kept in contact by way of writing, but he doesn't think they ever met again. He tells me the history of the castle as far as it is known.
Claude Marquis d'Estutt de Tracy
When I mention that I saw their family's castle in Tracy, near Sancerre, he divulges that his sister lives there. She is the Comtesse d'Assay (married with the count of Assay). Their son is managing the family estate. From other sources I hear that this estate is still quite important.
After exploring the grounds I return to the marquis to thank him for his welcome. When I leave he doesn't say "see you later" (au revoir) or "until the next time" (à la prochaine), the customary greetings in French, but he says "I hope to see you again soon" (A bientôt, j'espére). This distinguishing tinge is characteristic I suppose for this sympathetic gentleman.
The town of Moulins (22800 inh.) is mentioned in several Maigret-novels. Situated 290 km (180 mi) south of Paris and 180 km (111 mi) north of Lyon, it already has somewhat of the atmosphere of the Midi. The weather was very nice when I was there and people seemed to take life a little more at ease than further to the north of the country. Taking their time to have a pleasant lunch or having an aperitif on one of the many terraces.
Moulins is not really a large town but it gives a city-like impression. There is a small but very nice historical center with some very old buildings and houses (13th - 15th century). The town was of some importance in French history because from the15th century on it was the residence of the Dukes of Bourbon who would occupy for a long period of time, the throne of the Kingdom of France.
The church of "Notre Dame" in Moulins.
The Hôtel the Paris in Moulins.
In the novel L'Affaire Saint-Fiacre the "Café de Paris" plays a role. This café could be the present-day "Hôtel de Paris". Simenon situated it in Moulins' main street. The Rue de Paris, where the present-day "Hôtel de Paris" is to be found, could be regarded as the main street because it lies on the axis on which also the town Hal and the cathedral are sited, near to the historical center.
In other novels however (Les mémoires de Maigret, L'ami d'enfance de Maigret) we learn more about Maigret's childhood and the town of Moulins. In Les mémoires the Maigret (Maigret's Memoirs) he goes to high school, for a few years, in Moulins. In L'ami de l'enfance de Maigret (Maigret's Boyhood Friend) the school is even specified: The "Lycée de Banville". And definitely, in reality there is a "Lycée Theodore de Banville" in Moulins.
It is situated 12, Cours Vincent D'Indy, on the brim of Moulins' inner-city. It's a high school as all others. Of the original school only the entrance gate remains, the other buildings are modern. It's a large school, it covers an entire block.
I arrive at the entrance gate at 3.00 P.M. Hundreds of students are gathered in front of the gate, talking,
Maigret's school in Moulins The "de Banville" high school in Moulins.
playing, smoking and waiting for the buses to take them home.
I consider that if I don't want to provoke a load of ironic and embarrassing comments of a few hundred unleashed adolescents..., this maybe not the right moment to take some photos of the school. Being sensible as always, I enter the nearest café to have a glass of wine and I wait until most of the young crowd is gone home.
In the same novel, Maigret discloses that he had a crush on Florentin's - his boyhood friend - sister. She worked in the fancy pastry shop of her parents as a shop assistant. Young Maigret went to buy tartlets there, only to pilfer a glance of the girl. According to the story, the shop was located opposite the cathedral. A survey on site shows that facing the entrance of the church there is a centuries old ruin of a fortress.
On the back of the cathedral though, I find two bakeries. One is a plain bakery shop. The other must be what I'm looking for: : "Fossey - Patissier, Choclatier, Glacier, Confiseur" ( maker of pastries, fine chocolates, ice creams and fine sweets).
The pastry shop opposite the Catherdral.
Paray-le-Frésil - Châteauneuf-sur-Loire - Sancerre - Arpajon / Avrainville - Dizy - Givet - Meung-sur-Loire - Ingrannes - Poissy/Orgeval - Nemours/Glandelles - St.-Fargeau - Le-Coudray-Montceaux - Morsang-sur-Seine - Vichy - Jeumont
Home Page - summary of works - Travel log (main page)