Thursday, October 31, 2013

My last day near Anduze was a perfect autumn day. Sunny and cool and as crisp as it gets in that region. I just wanted to walk and walk among the trees, so I went to a place famous to the area (called the Bambooserie) --a bamboo forest. Stunning! Many different facets, but my favorites were a thick grove or forest of bamboo and a large zen garden. The landscaping was so soft, based around a meandering stream and an undulating pond. Japanese maples in their fall redness, a bridge, the deep peace and gentleness of the land. What a great farewell gift from the land--and the landscape designers. I had never been around so much bamboo. There are many varieties--my favorites were those with golden trunks. The trees are very tall, and grow thick and close together. Many trees from one, like the aspens.
Today, our trip to Paris. Relatively smooth considering the ridiculous size of our suitcases. I do love trains. So soothing. But it felt strange to leave. We said farewell to our guardian peaks as they had taken such good care of us.
Now, in Paris, I am so happy just to be here. I somehow feel more like myself here than anywhere else I have ever been, tho I would be hard put to expand verbally on that. My apartment is my dream of a garret, on the 7th floor, looking out over the rooftops of Paris and Notre Dame. On a clear day, one can see all the way to Sacre Coeur. Much rain in the forecast, but I know I will still walk and walk and walk! And then there is the famous bakery only next door. Long lines of people out the door of this boulangerie. I know I will give them my share of business!  

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Today, the weather has finally turned. . .temps only in the low sixties. It has been unseasonably balmy until now. Yesterday, the sun came out and it was 74 degrees, so we went back to the lovely small city of Uzes. Something special about the place. Coral once contemplated living there. It was such a beautiful day and I was filled with a deep sense of perfection and beauty, wherever I looked. I took about a zillion photos, because I wanted to capture all that wonder. Everything is still as green as mid-summer, thick green, tho some trees have lost their leaves and the blow tantalizingly on the warm breeze. The trees are so old, so enormous, so full.
Chestnut trees are ubiquitous, something we now miss in N. America, which makes them especially wonderful to me. Everyone gathers chestnuts. They are in the forest, underfoot on the trails and sidewalks, everywhere. It is the season of roasted chestnuts, peeled and preserved chestnuts, chestnut soups, chestnut pates, chestnut everything. They are sweet and delicious and I am thoroughly enjoying my share.  
So much of what one needs for food grows wildly and abundantly here, including, herbs. It is a rich land. Today, beginning the packing and cleaning process as we leave early on Thursday. It will feel a little strange to leave, as it has been a both a home base and home. But not a good place to stay when the air turns cold. 400-year-old thick stone walls, very cold.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thanks much to everyone who has given me feedback on these posts. (Elaine, I just found your comments! No one else has figured out how to do it!) It is a labor of love, but still, it is nice to know someone is reading all this!
First, since some of you have asked, here is my current schedule. Back up to Paris on Thursday (the 31st). Then in Paris until Nov. 11, when I return to Santa Fe. In Santa Fe until Nov. 15, when I go to Marin County (CA) to visit my sister and brother-in-law. Staying in Marin until Nov. 29 or 30. Then back to Santa Fe until the CSL Zion Retreat (De. 6-9) where I hope to see some of you. Then, finally, back to Santa Fe to try and find a new home. I must admit I am really looking forward to that possibility.
Back to the present, or at least the last few days. On Friday, Coral and I headed south and west, where we found our long lost friend the sun! Hooray! We drove through a large area along the southern edge of France called the Camargue, a large, flat area of delta and marshland. It is famous for, among other things, French cowboys who raise bulls for the still popular bullfights (we saw a field of bulls in the grassland) and their white horses, one of the most ancient breed of horses around. Flamingoes, too, tho we did not see any, and gypsies, and those Lakota descendants, wherever they are.    
Then we started winding up into the hills of Provence, much greener, but with plant life and trees that sometimes felt like the northern CA coast. Then, a serious up hill climb into the mist covered mountains--more hairpin turns (Coral is doing most of the driving) and fantastic views into the valleys and gorges. Finally, we arrive at the small town of Plan D'Aups, which I think largely exists to support visitors to the nearby grotto (La Baume Ste. Marie), a famous place of pilgrimage for popes, kings and the rest of us, over many centuries.    
We had an amazing lunch (as usual), simple food cooked brilliantly. The waitress brought us a tiny but delicious serving of soup, which Coral told me is called an "amuse bouche." I love that idea.
Then, on the grotto. As we approached, we saw a simple structure, built into the mountain, high above us. Mist moved in an around the peaks. Beautiful and mysterious. We walked through a green field and entered the wonderful woods. We walked a wide, well-maintained path up and up through woods exquisitely autumn, leaves just turning, falling and dancing in the breeze.Deep silence and magic. Our path, called the The King;sWay" was originally constructed for popes and kings to make this pilgrimage. It felt so good just to be hiking in the woods. Then we came to the structure, climbing many stairs to reach the grotto. The story is that Mary Magdalene, whom nearly everyone in France believes came to France after the death of Christ, carrying his teachings here, (many also believe carrying his children here) spent her last years here (some say thirty years) and is buried here. A relic of her remains was found here  (or the finder believed this was hers) and is housed in the "church." Thus it became a famous pilgrimage site.
I use quotes around the word "church," because the main structure is an enormous cave, with a water source. And most of you know how I love caves! It is huge. The Dominicans, 4 of whom live up here, maintain the place and conduct mass, etc., have constructed an altar and pews and put some stairs in to create a "bottom floor." Any number of people could have lived here comfortably. The place is so sacred and silent and beautiful.  I loved it. Wonderful meditation there, and a monk with the sweetest smile and a lovely voice chanting in French. I highly recommend that you put it on your must do list, should you ever come to France. I was so happy there. Peaceful, silent walk down through the woods, listening to the trees whisper and the autumn breeze tell of the winter to come. Then down through the mountains, driving once again on twisting roads through richly wooded country and on to Aix-en-Provence.
This was not my favorite place, tho I enjoyed the sunshine and Coral enjoyed one last shopping spree. I was glad to leave.
Saturday, mid-afternoon, we drove to the coast to Ste. Marie de la Mer, where Mary Magdalene is believed to have landed with Mary Jacobine, Mary Salome. Maximin and, some believe, her children, as well as Sara, an Egyptian servant, honored here as the black madonna, and much beloved by the large gypsy community. The sea air alone was worth the journey. It is a funky, seaside town, dedicated to tourism, with a wonderful beach and fantastic air. There is a finality about reaching the coast, in terms of journeys. An ancient church, too, of course, where Mary Jacobine and Mary Salome are believed to be buried. It doesn't really matter whether these things are true or not. Centuries of people coming to pray has made the places beautiful and sacred. At any rate, I found my own answers to these things when I meditated in the church, and that is good enough for me.
A long drive home. Greeted by rain in Anduze.
Today, was about laundry and domestics and surrendering to the sleepiness in this ancient land.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

The last two days were quiet ones. On Wednesday, we drove through the most beautiful country--mountains and rushing rivers and endless green as we headed back to see Andre and Nouriya and Laurent. Such wonderful people and an opportunity to discover how bad my French is, alas. Gave them sessions and made friends forever, with yet one more invitation to come and stay. They really do live in some version of heaven, eating mostly what they grow, gather in  the woods or hunt. Andre is a fabulous cook and works miracles with these simple ingredients. It's chestnut season and we have received many plus chestnut soup. They are delicious! The sun even came out for a few hours. Oh la la!  
Have bee feeling extremely humidity logged. . .sleepy.
Today, the sweet market in Anduze with all the food fresh out of the earth (or out of the cow or goat!)
Tomorrow our journey south. Looking forward to it!

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

A quiet day yesterday. More rain and humidity drenched, drinkable air. We went back to beautiful Uzes and wandered around the town It felt like the beginning of real fall and I loved it. There is a  big central plaza, ancient bricks under foot and chestnut trees donating their leaves to the ground in a gentle wind. So peaceful. Then back to Anduze, where both Coral and I realized how fortunate we are to be here. Surrounded by mountains and just the right size. Sitting outside in a local restaurant at night, fountain behind us, river nearby, leaves falling.
Today we wind our back up the mountain to see and hopefully help Andree and Nouriya again.
Friday and Saturday is our last big adventure in southern France, on the Mary Magdalene route. More on that as it unfolds.
On Oct. 31, I go back up to Paris for 10 days. . .a solo journey this time, and then back to Santa Fe on Nov. 11.    

Monday, October 21, 2013

Lots of rain, yesterday, today and for several more days. . .like something one dreamed about in Santa Fe in mid-summer! The air is so thick with moisture. Everything intensely green, layers and layers of green and every shade of green. I had forgotten that this existed.
Yesterday, we went round and round on the roads to the small mountain village of St. Etienne and then way up the mountain on hairpin turns and semi-washed out roads to the home of Diane's friends: Andree, Nouriya and son Laurent ( a brillian potter). It felt like we had driven right out of the known world, but their home was so beautiful and  comfortable, wih huge picture windows, a flagstone patio and enorous, well-equipped kitchen. They had constructed every last bit of it themselves, including making the furniture. I was hugely impressed. The views of the valley and river below and the sometimes-terraced, sometimes-wild mountains were phenomenal. A piece of heaven, really.
So many people in France live really close to the earth, to the seasons, to the earth's gifts of beauty and nourishment, a way of life which, despite TV and the Internet, is grounded in tradition and adapted to natural cycles and all that such a life demands. . .and it is demanding.
Andree & Nouriya had both studied with a holy man from the Cheyenne River reservation many years ago, which is pretty amazing, since that is where the Chargers live. The man had come to France to set up a summer camp for young people. . .it had 12 lodges. When Andree had his first sweat, he said his life turned upside down and inside out. Obviously, a very strong connection and he loves his pipe. The camp went well, but then the French man who was handling the finances ran off wth the money and the whole thing folded. Very sad. Betrayed again, even here and in modern times.
Andree was having a heath problem, so I offered to help becos they felt like a brother and sister, and there was enough change and success, that I will go back to help Nouriya as well on Wednesday.
They cooked us a fabulous traditional Cevenol meal. Andree is a super chef. Laurent wants to come to Santa Fe and study with NA potters.  They invited us to stay whenever we came back. I am accumulating invitations!!  
Today we wandered around Ales, nothing much to say about that. Tonite , dinner with yet more friends of Diane.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Yesterday was a slow, quiet day, catching up on the usual silly things and planning out the rest of my journey here,making reservations, etc. Then a lovely walk in hte forest near the ancient indigenous ruins again. The forest really does feel enchanted, like walking into a chldhood fairytale. Then a late night run through the rainy night to Nimes to pick up Diane and pick up our train tickets. Everything is a learning prcoess and we manage to make every possible mistake! We have done som wild things, like driving into a lane getting off a "motorway" that only accepted credit cards (European!) and then having to back up and get severa lanes over to pay in cash, only to realize that the earlier machine hadeaten  our ticket and cars lining up behind us, etc. Whoa!
Wonderful to have Diane here and she has turned on the heat. What a relief. I have come out of frozen mode. The first day of a week of rain. Wandered through Anduze buying food for a feast with friends. Diane is a gourmet cook, Coral and I chopped and cleaned like good sous chefs for several hours while Diane cooked and something outrageously delicious appeared. Discovering new foods--quinces and giant wild mushrooms--and. . .    Then off to dinner with a group of Welsh and British friends. Lots of fun. The group included two professional walking guides who take groups all over, including the wild mountains of Georgia (Russian). Heard all about the French certification program for guides, hugely arduous, including 10 days of snow time in the Alpes, learning mountain rescue and survival techniques. I love the superfluid mix of peoples and cultures that has arisen since the Eurozone was established and Europeans can live and travel anywhere in the zone.
Found out that the south of France (Camargue area) has a Lakota community, descendants of  the people who came over here with the Buffalo Bill show and decided to stay. Amazing!
Tomorrow we visit Diane's friend Andre who studied with a Lakota man and has a pipe. Also amazing. He is also a gourmer chef. More outrageous food on the way.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thursday night. Where did the time go?
I will have to retrace our steps all the way back to Sunday. Sunday's highlight was an early birthday celebration for Kathryn. It turns out that our favorite restaurant in all of France so far is right in our little mountain town of Anduze. Fantastic vegetarian food. Each day something different. . .at least 5 different delicious vegetables creatively cooked on each plate and looking beautiful of course. Then we took a train ride through part of the Cevennes mountains, crossing gorges and clear rivers. This would be a heavenly place in the summer, with endless mountain hikes and places to camp and swim.
Monday, we drove Kathryn to the train station in Nimes. She is greatly missed! Then Coral and I drove to Arles, once home to Vincent Van Gogh and the site of many of his paintings. I tried to follow the tourist route from site to site for his paintings, but gave up. Let's just say that the light there is special and spectacular and it is  easy to see why Van Gogh loved it there, between the light and the Rhone River. Arles is a wonderful town, with absolutely no straight lines. Round and round we wandered through the ancient and beautiful circular streets, always aware of the sky, the light, the soft clouds, the water. It is one of my favorite places so far. And how I love Van Gogh!
Tuesday was a rainy day. The moisture so thick in the air, I felt like I was drinking it. The streets of Anduze were totally deserted. We walked here and there in the drizzle and then home for a quiet day.
Wednesday, we went to Pont du Gard and Avignon. Pont du Gard was a place of perfection. Some- times the way that the water (here, the crystal clear river) earth (cliffs and riverside) and heaven (soft clouds) meet, is almost too exquisite for words. There are many wonderful hiking trails there along the river and up the cliffs and we may go back. . .but we are in for a lot of rain. There is  a museum there  which shows how the Romans built this enormous structure (the biggest aqueduct they ever constructed), most of which is underground, carrying water from the town of Uzes to the city of Nimes. The engineering is so brilliant and precise. I still am awed that they could construct this system over a thousand years ago.
Then, we drive to Avignon, another lovely city, and once the home to French popes. I love the Medieval architecture and am jealous of the women who got to wear beautifully embroidered and colored long velvet robes or dresses. I want one. We looked at everything from the outside as there are many entrance fees and we had already paid quite a lot for Pont du Gard. It was good enough, tho we may go back.
Yesterday and today were warm, sunny and gorgeous,., which is fortunate, becos we have lots of rain coming. We went to the outdoor market day in Anduze. Such lovely food, fresh from the earth. People here really live so close to the earth. I enjoy that.  A hike through the woods  in the afternoon, and lots of laundry, taking advantage of the sun to dry it.
Diane comes tomorrow and we will meet her friends, including a French healer who studied with a Lakota medicine man!      

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Each day is so rich. I know I am leaving out much, but I hope you at least catch a flavor of the miraculous flow of gifts that each day brings. Friday, cold and cloudy again, but off we went to the Cathar castle of Montsegur.  Incredible climb to the top with spectacular panoramic views from the castle itself. It seems almost impossible that people built this place that felt like an eagle's domain, much less lived and worked there. The whole history of the destruction of the Cathars by the Catholic church is too terrible to tell. You can explore it yourself if you are interested.
Then we went into the town below for lunch at a most charming place, with Medieval tapestries and a garden full of delicate but brilliant flowers.  The Pyrenees were the fantastic background and they are already dusted with snow.
Then our wonderful host Steven took us to a grotto, known only to a relatively few people. All the journeys look short on the map, but the roads wind and wind through the most beautiful country. Rolling, winding, endlessly green. The grotto had a beautiful statue of Mary Magdalene in it, that conveyed as much about her sweetness and humanity as her sacredness. People had left candles and flowers. A special place.
Then rolling and circling to the tiny town of Bernac, where we met friends of Barbara & Steven. What generous, gracious and totally lovely people! They cooked us up a fabulous feast and we all talked and laughed for hours (half in French, half in English). We all felt like we had known each other for years if not lifetimes and exchanged addresses, emails, etc. One of the special blessings of this trip is that I am actually meeting people and making friends. Every French person I have met is so kind and generous, and at least in the Aude, spiritually committed on one path or another.  
On Saturday, Kathryn & Coral went to climb Mt. Bucherac,  a powerful place, but I was drawn to the town and Cathar castle in Puivert. More on that tomorrow night. Gotta get up early and take Kathryn to the train station. She heads home tomorrow.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Thanks again to all of you who have said HI!
I have missed a few days becos when we got to our new abode in La Hourne, we found that the phone and Internet had been knocked out by a big storm off the Cevennes Mts., which we face. Sind the town consists of only about 5 very ancient farmhouses, it does not appear to be a very high priority for getting fixed. . .tho I think eventually.
We live in a very charming but very old farmhouse. . .thick walls, about 400 years old! It is delightful now but will be cold by the end of the month and only one small wood stove to heat 3 floors. Our neighbors are very friendly and delightful. There is a wonderful wooden terrace in front of the house that faces the mountains where we eat our meals. The silence is profound. Right outside the door are endless trails through thick forest and spectacular vistas over the valley to the mountains. We have only just begun to explore. On Tuesday, we went to another part of the nearby forest to explore the "dolmens," ancient places of worship, mostly made of circular piles of rocks. The first felt like a kiva; the second grouping was in 3 contiguous circles which reminded me of Chaco. We sat with all the places and they were full of gifts. Further down the trail, we found 3 contiguous rock circles around trees. We found there the same spectacular Light that is in the birthing cave in Utah--a place for coming and going. It all felt so enchanted, with memories that felt like something out of the hobbits. . .ancient councils of men and elves.
We tend to finish our days by winding down to Anduze for coffee. I seem to be able to eat all things here that I cannot eat at home without consequences. Very strange.
Wednesday we drove to the Aude, Cathar country. It is so beautiful here; I barely have words for it. After getting lost in Narbonne and then Carcasonne, we made it to the home of Stephen Marcus and
Barbara Kroll, two of the most gracious people ever. They gave us a huge feast and made us so totally comfortable. A million thanks. They also helped us figure out the terrain and find some of the many local treasures. We would have had a hard time without their aid. Today we went first to Renne le Chateau, which for me was a place of total perfection. The physical beauty of the town, the spectacular vistas, the gently meandering streets and most of all the little church, where Mary Magdalene is honored. Kathryn, Coral and I all spent a long time there, with our eyes closed. Went back a couple of times. I could have spent days there. I feel like I was given the gift I came to France for and I am very grateful.
Then it started pouring, but we went on to Peyreperteuse, the Cathar castle to which I was most drawn. Despite the pouring rain and wind, we hiked up to the castle (after quite a long ride on very windy mountain roads) and I felt so at home there. I felt like I knew every stone. This was truly the one castle I was meant to visit and I feel very complete. Tho I am sure we will see more tomorrow. Nothing compares to these places so high up they touch the sky. They are full off serenity, despite the terrible massacres. Peyreperteuse was known as the "celestial Carassonne.'
Everyone else in the house is asleep, and now I should join them.  

Saturday, October 5, 2013

We finished out our last 2 days in Paris on the museum pass, which means going to as many museums in 2 days as one can manage. Whew! We started at the D'Orsay (Impressionisme and pre- and post- Impressionism). My second visit, but I could never be there too much. In fact, I felt like I would be happy to live there and wake up to all my favorite painters each morning. I got really focussed on Van Gogh again, especially his self-portraits. My sense is that his vision was opening (had opened to) the realms of energy and light, but he just thought that meant he was mad. You can virtually see his  head pressure in his self-portraits. Going to Arles while I am here for sure. Long walk.
Then we wandered in Rodin's gardens. The sculpted plants intermixed with the wild collections of beautiful flowers--his powerful bronzes--the day in general--clouds and  light playing to perfection in the sky. All perfect. Turns out that the beautiful building there that is now a museum was once a church school for the daughters of the elite. It was shut down and taken over by artists, including Rodin, who had studios  and  living quarters there. (Isadora Dunan, Jean Cocteau). The carefully sculpted gardens went wild, which Rodin apparently loved. The whole thing was about to be shut down and bought by the city, but Rodin fought to keep voila! We can enjoy it today.
Finally to the Louvres (which I said I would never visit again--Ha!). Went happily throught the endlessly graceful (how could they carve all that flow into stone?) and sometimes huge and powerful (especially Athena) Greek & Roman sculpture. Felt very fulfilling to wander there. Then to the grand rooms of Napoleon III. The dining room for about 50 people was my favorite. Beautiful paintings (of the hunt) everywhere including the ceiling, of course; gold everywhere and cupids holding  up the fantasticly huge and sparkling crystal chandeliers. Long, magical walk home along the river. So warm. No one in Paris goes to sleep until 2 AM at the earliest.
Museum day 2. . .the Cluny (medieval). I love that whole period (They got to wear beautifully colored velvet robes, yum. That's  for me!) . Loved the building perhaps more than anything in it. The ceilings with geometric patterns of arches  flowing from central pillars. The unicorn tapestries were closed, unfortunately, but others depicting the very nice life of the elite were still there. In this period they depicted as much about their delightful lives, hunting, romancing, bathing, playing in the woods, as all things religious. Finally, walking, walking, walking, across the river to the Pompidou, which was largely closed, so we had ice cream instead. At that point, it was a good tradeoff.
Yesterday, a travel day to Numes. Things went quite smoothly until we started driving to our hotel. We got 2 hours worth of lost. But the place where we are staying is so lovely. A refurbished ancient family estate, well outside the city. I so love Paris, but it is good to be somewhere quiet. I slept like a log. On Sunday, we head up into the mountains, my abode for the next 2 months.    

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Well, today I took off on my own. My travel buddies took off to Versailles, and, as with last year, I had no urge to go. I needed to get back into my own personal rhythm, off the tourist rhythm and just enjoy Paris--which I did. I just wandered, which I love to do, discovering new streets, new enchanting configurations of architecture and trees and cobblestone and shops and endlessly curving small streets. Sent time in the Jardin Luxembourg again (it is very close to where I am staying)  and did a very Parisian thing; I just sat and enjoyed the beauty. I was filled with a deep sense of the perfection of things. Such a wonderful feeling. Also observing the perfect ways that human art balanced with Mother Earth's art in the parks to create so much beauty, peace and sensory richness.
The sky was so soft tonite. Walked along the river and took a zillion photos, because the sky and clouds and water and bridges and buildings all came together in such exquisite ways. Still haven't figured out how to share the photos. I'll have to share them all at once when I get home and on my computer.    
Bonjour, mes amis!
Thanks to those of you who have let me know you are enjoying this, because it is a discipline to write regularly. On the other hand, it helps me remember what I am doing.
Yesterday, we spent more time contemplating with the French queens in Jardin du Luxembourg. Quite fun! Then lunch (alas, the first failure in French food. . .kinda yucky). Kathryn & I went to explore Montmartre in a more thorough way, following the guidebook instructions for a change. We found Van Gogh's Paris residence. . .the one he shared with his brother. An interesting neighborhood. Sleaze mixed with an art energy that holds on. This was the same block where the first cancan place existed and the famous Chat Noir, artist hangout. The buildings were beautifully preserved and maintained: the intricately carved balconies with potted geraniums, big windows, leafy streets winding upwards always beckoning you to explore and explore. One could feel what a thoroughly social and delightful place it was to live at the time of Van Gogh.
Climbing and zigzagging upwards towards the magnificent heights of Sacre Coeur, we found more enchanting places. . .Place d'Abesses, a cobblestone enclave with merry-go-round and the only Art Nouveau  church in Paris (maybe anywhere), a whole new take on stained glass. Rosetti in stained glass. Kathryn had a wonderful communion there with St. Theresa de Lisieux, whom she prayed to as a child. Winding and climbing more through cobblestone streets and gardens, we came to a magical spot, where Picasso and others (Modigliani and others) had their studios, many in this one building that was designed like a rabbit warren.  Fabulous views of the city there and such a sweet feeling. Around the corner, more 19th century studios. What a wonderful feeling this area has. The center is a cobblestone circle, with maple trees scattered throughout. Around one more corner, and we came to the home of Erik Satie. What fun it must have been to have all these brilliant beings as neighbors!
Finally, to Sacre Coeur, which continues to feel like home base for me in Paris. It feels like being held in God's heart when I am there. And with that strength, I go out into the world and bring that love with me to share.
Finally, an evening boat ride on the Seine, and watching the lights ofParis come on, a magical time of day, light on the buildings, light on the water, dancing, the Eiffel Tower all lit up sending its beacons over the city.
Sorry I can't seem to transfer the photos here. . .