IV: Orange

French gardening was invented because a king loved oranges.

quartidi, the 24th of Brumaire, Year CCXXXI
Oranges. Photo by Graphic Node / Unsplash

Good morning. Today is quartidi, the 24th of Brumaire, Year CCXXXI. We celebrate l'orange, the citrus fruit that conquered the world.

Which came first, the color or the fruit? The answer might seem obvious, because colors just exist and fruits have to evolve, but in this case, it was the fruit that brought attention to the color. Prior to the arrival of oranges in Europe, the Latin languages had no set-aside color word for orange, nor was it considered a main color on the level of red and yellow and the others, but a shade. This seems impossible, but consider that indigo is also in the rainbow and hasn't made the leap to canonical color in most cultures – colors need good PR to get on the basic list, and the delicious taste of citrus fruit did this for orange.

Usually, when we think of France fighting multiple wars with someone, it's England or Germany, but half a millennium ago, the French just couldn't stop invading Italy. Charles VIII "The Affable" was king, and he took a decidedly non-affable attitude toward Naples, which wasn't handing its throne to him the way daddy promised, so he went and conquered the entire Italian peninsula.

He came home to rest a bit in Amboise, a small market town southwest of Paris by about a day's ride on the banks of the Loire. It was a favorite haunt of the court in those days, and Charles had two affable chateaux there – the Château d'Amboise, where he lived, and the Château Gaillard, which he wanted to trick out to look just like the villas he had seen in Italy while passing by with his conquering army.

To do this, he brought the world's smartest monk back with him and commanded, "Grow me oranges." He also employed 22 Italian painters to decorate the place with Renaissance portraiture. Then, while walking from one room to another at Château d'Amboise, he hit his head on a doorway and died. He was 28.