It’s been a massive week here in Carcassonne – this whole experience is becoming richer, more exciting and more intensive as I travel along. I haven’t had a dull moment.
Last Sunday I took another of the excellent winery tours organised by the Office de Tourisme and as well as sampling some excellent vin, we visited a paper mill in Brousse which has been run by the same family for seven generations. The best bit, however, was that I met a fellow writer on the tour, Lainey Cameron, and we hooked up later in the week (more to follow).
I also began my intensive French language classes. After day one I thought I’d made a serious error of judgement. The assessment for the course was an online test, in which I think I performed pretty well as my capabilities for reading and writing French are reasonable. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for my comprehension and speaking skills and I feared I had been placed in a class far beyond my capacities. As the week went on, however, I gained confidence and ended up having a fantastic time with Dominique, the teacher, and my fellow students.
On Thursday we further enhanced our experience by undertaking a çours de cuisine français at a gorgeous boutique hotel called Métairie Montplaisir, about fifteen minutes from Carcassonne. Not only did we learn some secrets of cuisine nicoise with our host and enstructress, Amélie, but we got to eat the products of our labour. Yum!
All this Frenching was heaps of fun, but it significantly increased the pressure on my writing targets. Despite being in class from 9 am. to 12.30 p.m. each day – and losing all of Thursday with the cooking adventure – I have ended the week only 509 words short of my target of 10,000. Yep, I’m very, very close to 70,000 words – which seems incredible – and am now on the homeward run.
The other factor that seriously disrupted my creativity was that I had bad news from home that my gorgeous cat, Bentley, was having seizures. For a couple of days we feared the worst, but my dear friend Hannah, and our lovely Narooma house-sitters have done a valiant job of caring for him, and we are now cautiously hopeful that he will be OK. It was, and remains, agony being here and not being able to look after and reassure him. Bentley’s illness has triggered my first and only bout of serious homesickness.
Friday 21 June is officially the first day of summer here in France and Carcassone celebrates by putting on a Fête de la Musique, with dozens of acts covering the spectrum from traditional and classical to hard rock and jazz. Lainey and I met up in the Place Carnot and had an excellent time sharing our writing experiences while the music and dancing flowed around us, before we bumped into Dominique and her husband Luc, and fellow student Brigitte. It wasn’t planned but we all ended up in my apartment listening to Edith Piaf, drinking wine and laughing and conversing en français. After so long hermitting in my eyrie, this was French living! My only wish was that HWB could have been there to share the fun. It’s not long now ’till he returns from Malta …
Yesterday, I rounded off a huge week with a day trip to the beautiful small city of Perpignan. This town was the capital of the Kingdom of Majorca during the 13th century, and it has a strong Catalan flavour to this day.
I had another fix of castles, towers and markets, with a delicious lunch in the Place de République, and came home exhausted but happy. Once again I have to report something that I never thought I’d say, and it’s that I am suffering from spiral, stone staircase fatigue. The hoof to the top La Castillet did reward me with fabulous views over the old town, but I reflected that I was glad to have been born in the age of the elevator. The endurance of the climb, however, remains a strong metaphor for my writing journey. I just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.
At the Moulin de Papier, my eye was caught by this citation from philosopher, writer and composer Jean- Jacques Rousseau, printed on a sample of the artisnal paper produced by la famille Durand. It pretty much sums up what I feel right now. I am replete with potent experiences that will stay with me forever, whether or not my literary output sees publication.
Throughout July, my town has a massive month-long party, Le Festival de Carcassonne. There will be hundreds of concerts and live music pretty much the whole time, and the town is dressing up for the festivities. With only one more week of writing to go, I’m looking forward to joining in …