Monday, October 29, 2012

Unstuck in Time

Le Fort Saint-André - Villeneuve-lez-Avignon
Like Vonnegut's Billy Pilgrim, I have become  unstuck in time, randomly experiencing the events of my trip with no idea of what part I will visit or re-live next. I have taken this blog from Carmel's house in the Lot to Helene's house in Villeneuve-lez-Avignon in one giant leap, without a chronological transition. I have time traveled from the 21st century to the 13th, from 2012 to 1991, all in the blink of an eye. It is as if the mistral, which is blowing wildly today, has whisked me through time and space in an Alice in Wonderlandish fashion.
Le Chartreuse -Villeneuve-lez-Avignon

As I write, I feel as if I am looking out from the covers of a hand bound, medieval book written in  one of the small cells of Le Chartreuse, an ancient Carthusian monastery built by Pope Innocent IV in the late 1300s. Today it is a historical monument, and the 40 small monastic cells are reserved for writers and artists in residence. As fate would have it, I have my own little writing space in the  Chartreuse without going through the stiff, selection process! Our friend, Helene, lives inside the walls of the Chartreuse in what used to be a granary. It is a very narrow, deep, and high house, attached to the seven others that make up Rue des Greniers. Her bedroom looks out onto one of the gardens in the cloistered monastery, and mine looks out on Rue des Greniers with Fort Saint-André off to my left. The Fort was built in the 1200s to defend France from the forces of the invading Holy Roman Empire. You can feel the history in those walls, almost hear the frantic voices and the clinking of armor as the battles raged. At night, when no one is looking, I put on my paper knight's helmet and cardboard sword, and take my rightful place in Villeneuve as Duke Deek IV! Thus far I have not been wounded nor I have injured anyone else. I am considering starting the Order of Pacifist Knights Templar, an organization that could rewrite the history of the crusades! While we were living in France in the early 90s, we visited the fort with Joa and Quena. As any good parents would, we tried to make it a educational experience for our kids, sharing what we knew about the Middle Ages in the south of France. It backfired a bit with Quena, however. There are holes in the side of the rampart walls which, we explained, served as latrines for the soldiers stationed there. No plumbing, just a straight drop about 100 feet down to the earth below. Quena was scared half to death, and would not go anywhere near them, fearing that she would either contract the plague or fall many meters to a very unpleasant death on the stained rocks below. Another child marked for life by the good intentions of her parents.

A poem of a house
Marie & Helene "decompressing"
Villeneuve was one of Marie's favorite places in Provence. She loved Helene's house and the medieval village that surrounded it. It was here that she would come to "decompress" after her sketching workshops in La Coste or Pont St. Esprit. Her sketch to the left calls it "un vrai poeme la maison" (a true poem of a house). And it is, its pale blue door and shutters contrasting against the azure blue sky and verdant green of the vine shading the entryway. Marie would sit against the wall directly opposite Helene's house and sketch whatever caught her eye at the moment. There was so much color, so much history, so much beauty, it was hard to stop sketching! I apologize, Marie, these scans do  them no justice, but they do help tell the story.
"I want to feel it all, capture everything"
La Ferme de l'Avellan - Lacoste
And there is a story to tell. Being back in Provence again has unleashed a myriad of memories and nostalgic feelings. It was here in the early 90s that Marie wrote her first book, Les Quatres Saisons en Provence. It was here that the idea for her sketching workshops was conceived and where she fearlessly organized her first one in Lacoste, not knowing what to expect. Provence was the beginning of "un nouveau chemin" for Marie, one that changed her life and mine. The years pass, but the memories do not fade. They are sketched in my mind in permanent ink, moments captured spontaneously that are so vivid and colorful they can only get better. Like the soft blue shutters and doors of Provence, they only become warmer with age.

The mistral continues to blow relentlessly through the narrow streets of Le Chartreuse. In the distance I hear the bugle calling from the Fort Saint-André. That can only mean another attack in progress, time for Duke Deek to don his paper helmet and cardboard sword and try to pacify the combatants.
A duke's work is never done. Goodbye 21st century, the mistral has caught me once again. More later (I hope!)             Duke Deek IV

Whoa! Was that a white rabbit I just saw flying past me in this tunnel?

Monday, October 22, 2012

A New Road to Travel

Deux chevaux, my dream car in France
After a fruitful and memorable summer 2012, I have decided to Move on a bit further down the road. I left Oregon on October 5th with my first stop being Paris, France, home of Lance Armstrong’s infamous Tour de France doping scandal. Luckily, I did not wear my US Postal Service cycling jersey as I had intended before leaving Oregon. Instead I stuck a pack on unfiltered Gauloises cigarettes in my shirt pocket, wrapped a silk, lavender scarf around my neck, flashed my French passport, and passed customs without notice. One can never be too careful when it comes to preserving national integrity. (see link below)

Deek frolicking in le Jardin du Luxembourg
 I arrived in Paris too late to catch the train to my friend Carmel’s house, so I spent the night at the Hotel Sunny, a clean two star hotel on Boulevard du Port Royal on the edge of the Quartier Latin, close to the metro St. Michel. Marie and I rarely stopped in Paris, opting to “bite the bullet” and take the train directly to Brittany.  But I love exploring Paris, and this trip gave me one night and a full morning to wander around and absorb what I could. Le Boulevard du Port Royal is full of small cafes and restaurants, and even though dining by myself is not one of my favorite things, I decided I must do it for the sake of those friends who might read this blog. How could I hope to have any credibility with my readers if I did not indulge a bit in the culinary delights that France has to offer? Besides, indulging is something I do quite well! The things that a person will do for friends! That night I came across a small Lebanese restaurant on Rue St. Marcel where I had a plate of eight different Lebanese delights, a glass of tasty red wine (filled to the brim the way I like it), a plate of warm pita bread, a double serving of baklava, and un petit cafe express, for twelve Euros! My stay in France is already worth the trip! Anything from here on out is frosting on the cake.
 The next morning I headed off to le Jardin du Luxembourg, a beautiful, green space in the center of Paris where I spent a few hours frolicking and sketching. It was a gray, autumn day, and I decided to thank Marie for opening the door of France to me by doing a sketch in her honor. Being true to her belief that sketching is not about producing beautiful drawings, but about capturing a moment, this is what I did that morning. 
Chez Carmel, Cazals, le Lot
Later that afternoon I boarded the train in le Gare d'Austerlitz with destination Gourdon, the nearest stop to Carmel's place in Cazals. And Voila! that is where this posting stops, pulling up in front of Carmel's house in anticipation of an apero of good French wine, creamy goat cheese on a fresh baguette, and some fine conversation with a dear friend.