Does it get any more eccentric? A 19th century, highly decorated French naval officer, who wore make up, trained as an acrobat, performed in a circus, traveled the world, seduced a Turkish harem lady, wrote novels to great acclaim, became a member of the Academie Francaise and converted his modest French town house into a mosque, also featuring a medieval dining room and an opium den. His pen name is Pierre Loti and his home town was Rochefort, a small provincial town located between Bordeaux and La Rochelle.
In the aptly name Rue Pierre Loti, I finally found La Maison Loti, the novelist’s town house. The state of the building is very fragile which is why groups of only 10 people are admitted at any one time and prior booking is essential. Photography inside the house is not allowed. The tour starts off with a conventionally furnished living room, dark carved furniture, dark red velvet on the walls and family portraits everywhere, just following the fashion of the 19th century bourgeoisie. Followed by a somewhat lighter dining room and then…you pass through a heavy velvet curtain and are bawled over, because you step into a medieval banquet hall. The ceiling roars up three stories high, the walls are covered with Flamish tapestries, an enormous carved dining table surrounded by chairs takes up the middle of the room and a carved stone staircase leads up to a gallery. All of a sudden you are in another world where Loti used to throw lavish parties for his Parisian literary friends, among them the ‘divine’ Sarah Bernhard who had to attend in period costume and were only allowed to converse in medieval French.
And the wonders continue. Next comes his oriental fantasy, a large room decorated as a Turkish mosque, with blue tiled walls, divans, carpets and, as the center piece, the stele and portrait of his beloved Aziyade, the Turkish woman he fell in love with and never forgot. Loti used to wear Turkish clothes and his servant had to sing out the Islam prayers whilst he knelt on the prayer rug and meditated. Further ‘meditation’ took place in the smaller adjacent opium den, where Loti found inspiration and recreation, smoking one of his many opium pipes.
In stark contrast to these lavish fantasies is his bedroom, nearly bare, white walls and a very narrow bed with his seaman’s chest, a small writing desk and his officer’s insignia as the only decorations.
The tour ends with a visit to a small but beautiful garden. Truly a sight not to be missed.
For reservations call: +33 546829190