Bonjour Carcassonne! HWB and I arrived here on Wednesday after a week travelling by train from Prague with pit stops in Munich and Lyon. Our enjoyment was slightly hampered by HWB succumbing to my Egyptian flu (proper flu, not mere man flu!) but we had a great time despite this setback. I could rave on about the delights of weißes Bier and pretzels at the Hofbräuhaus and the wonders of the Roman amphitheatre in Fourvière, but as previously established this is not a travel blog, so I will spare you the rant.
Wednesday was May Day and as we set out from Lyon train station we came across dozens of vendors selling small bunches of lily of the valley.
Apparently, it is a tradition on this day to offer a sprig of muguet to loved ones as a token of luck and prosperity for the year ahead, so of course HWB felt impelled to present me with a small posy. It is sitting now on my desk along with my other items of inspiration (more later).
Carcassonne, and our apartment, are everything we could have imagined. The view from my writing desk is every bit as stupendous as anticipated. Today it is very clear and I can see the snow capped peaks of the Pyrenees Mountains in the distance as well as the nearer and even more breathtaking prospect of La Cité (the walled citadel). It’s been freezing cold and we’ve both been sniffing, shivering and sneezing so we haven’t yet explored this wonder – a delight to be anticipated. I understand there will be jousting tournaments in July …
We have made a few exploratory forays around the Bastide Saint-Louis, the old town which is our home, and the most fabulous feature so far is the farmer’s market held in the Place Carnot each Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. It is here that I have most tested my rudimentary French which seems to be sufficient for commerce if not yet for conversation.
The market is jam-packed with mouth watering goodies and we have launched ourselves on the local cuisine with gusto! I’ve never seen so many varieties of heirloom tomatoes (in fabulously wonky shapes), asparagus with the girth of a broom handle, mountains of artisnal baguettes, vats of olives prepared to old family recipes, honey scented with the herbs of the garrigue, a plethora of mouthwatering sausages and hams and strawberries that actually taste like strawberries. And don’t even start me on the cheeses! We came home with a satisfyingly bulging bag of treasures and some irises just for pure spring pleasure.
And so, being unpacked, well-stocked and acclimatised, the long-anticipated moment arrived. It was time for the writing to begin (insert slowly intensifying drum-roll here).
My first act was to create the requisite ambience and set up my desk with all of my aides to creativity. In addition to my Inner Critic, mocked-up novel, lapis lazuli egg, Thoreau mousepad and writers’ notebook I’ve added two new items garnered on my travels.
The first is a small statue of the Egyptian god Thoth. This ibis-headed deity was the god of writing, magic and wisdom and he is often portrayed with stylus and papyrus in hand. Very sensibly, writing in ancient Egypt was considered a sacred profession and there was a Prayer to Thoth that writers intoned to call down his inspiration. It opens thus: “Come to me, Thoth, O noble Ibis. O god who longs for Khmunu, O dispatch-writer of the Ennead, the great one of Unu. Come to me that you may give advice and make me skillful in your office.” I don’t anticipate intoning the prayer of Thoth, but I like his poised pen and beaky face and the reminder he brings of the higher purpose I’m striving to achieve here.
My second treasure was found in an obscure manuscript shop in the back streets of Vieux Lyon. It is a hand-tinted 1880 engraving of a falcon and it leapt out the stack and insisted on coming with me. I’m still devoted to my eagles, but my protagonist Tessa Falkner has got a bit of a falcon thing going on, so it’s really for her.
And now for the question hanging on everyone’s lips. Have I written?
Indeed I have! I am proud to report that the word count currently stands at 3919 – or almost 5% of my projected output for an 80,000 word novel. When the moment came to put fingers to keyboard I suffered no existential crisis. My lost voice was found and the words bubbled forth in a happy and abundant flow. I’m not writing deathless prose, but I’m quietly content with what I have achieved so far. It’s only the first step in what remains a quite long journey, but I my intent and focus are strong and I’m eager for more.
In closing today, I’d like to add a sound track to today’s blog. Since arriving in France I’ve had Édith Piaf’s immortal song swirling in an endless loop in my head. I’ve sung it, whistled it, hummed it:
Quand il me prend dans ses bras
Il me parle tout bas
Je vois la vie en rose
I’m deeply thankful, profoundly conscious of how lucky I am, and brimming with hope and possibility. La vie en rose indeed …