It is very, very strange to be back here; a feeling akin to visiting the place of one’s upbringing, eerily familiar yet disorienting. Perhaps it was the two Atavan and two bottles (mini!)of wine I had during the course of the seven-step journey: 2 x car rides, 1x 280 kph train ride, 1x bus ride and 3 different planes. Needless to say that all went by in an easy flash.
Unfortunately I seem to have a bad case of jet-lag, something I don’t usually experience coming in this direction. I have been awake until 5 am. most nights. Even though I don’t go to bed that early, my body is wondering what on earth I am trying to do urging it to sleep. So I spend my days fighting off the urge to fall asleep and not feeling much like working. The upside of so many hours awake in the wee sma’ hours is that my brain defaults to working out plot points despite my desperation for it to stop and get some sleep. So all has not been lost on the work front. I am only 1 day behind my schedule of a minimum of 4 new pages a day.
So it’s been a bit tough to get settled and the weather hasn’t helped. It has rained every day, the wind is strong and cold and we had a terrific storm on Thursday with thunder and lightening. So I have been cooped up and it’s left me wondering why I have come this far to have a) sleepless nights, b) constant fatigue, c) pressure to get my head down and d) miserable weather. The only up side is that I am writing a section which takes place in November 1916 when the weather was particularly cruel I comfort myself knowing I am not sleeping outdoors in a muddy trench and am not in danger of frostbite or getting shot at. And I have a hot water bottle! I guess I should be grateful that my current mood is in tune with my characters. Another good thing is I am reading The War of Art -Break through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles by Steven Pressfield who wrote The Legend Of Baggar Vance. It’s by far the best book I have picked up on procrastination and other writerly battles.
However . . at 1pm this afternoon, the rain stopped, the wind died down and I walked for over an hour to the next village and back, feeling warm for the first time since I came and was quite happy getting back to my computer.
It’s interesting watching all the hoop-la in the run-up to the final stage of the Presidential election (next Sunday). It’s down to 2: Nicholas Sarkhozy, the current president and Francois Hollande, the socialist challenger. Everyone I have spoken to here is mad keen for Hollande to win. The champagne is already chilling. I’ll be happy with warm weather and a productive week. (But I won’t refuse any champagne on offer).
It’s been gloomy, misty and cold this past week and with a true literary pathetic fallacy, it’s somewhat a reflection of my mood.
A few days ago it hit me hard that I will be leaving this wonderful sanctuary in a little over a week. Although the draw to be with family and friends is strong, my days here have settled into a wonderful rhythm:
However my main focus now is a big push to get as much of my story down even if it’s drivel and will require hours of rewrites, so it will be heads down for the next week.
I did have a break this week when Jacques managed to sneak me onto a list of people in the Picardy tourist industry who were being treated to a day out to educate them about the region. The focus of the trip was around a painter called Alfred Manessier who among other things had created in the 80s the wonderful stained glass windows at a church in Abbeville which is NW of Amiens towards the coast. Among the guides for the day was his daughter who showed us his birthplace, his tomb (see picture below) and of course the windows. After lunch and 3 glasses of wine (2 bottles -1 red, 1 white – were already on the table when we got to the restaurant to be shared among each group of 6!), we were taken all the way to the coast to the Baie de Somme area. Very beautiful and I’m sure it is a wonderful beach place in the summer but it was freezing cold so we hopped out for a quick look then back on the bus and home. Had a nice wee nap on the way home – could it have been the wine at lunch? Hmm.
This week there is another trip which I will likely go on and I would like to have a day in Paris and walk the St. Germain area but writing may not permit – and hey, I’ll be back.
A tout a l’heure!
The sunshine of the past week has gone and in its place we have mists and drizzly rain. Rather gloomy or ‘triste” (sad) the man at the gas station remarked yesterday. But hey, I’m not here to get a suntan. When you’re poking about in museums and walking over fields where trenches once were, it adds to the sombre memory of all the horror that took place in this area.
The writing has been going in fits (small) and starts( many but not necessarily long-lived) as I’ve been able to get out and about quite a bit, thanks to Jacques and his little Citroen. He jokes that he is at my service as chauffeur, guide, French teacher, cook, translator etc. but in truth it is no joke as he has been exceptional at all of the above.
Saturday I went to Corbie, about 12kms away, on the hunt for a hospital that was here in 1916 (but of course is long gone) but at the tourist office, I was given the name of a man who will help me find it. He was phoned but unfortunately was ill that day but I shall email him. I was also given the name of a woman a forty-minute drive from here who apparently is a great source of information. Another synchronistic even among many that pile up here. I already had this woman’s name in my notebook from a couple of years ago when I saw her on television program about archaeological digs around the Somme.
So yesterday I was off to Auchonvillers (or Ocean Villas as the British soldiers called it) to meet Avril. And sure enough there in her back yard was the actual trench the archaeologists had excavated! We had a great talk over a cup of tea (she is from Glouchestershire). The cellar of her house was a Dressing station and her old barn which is now a tea room ( she runs a large guest house) was a stretcher-bearers’ post. Amazing! Plus, a man whose book I was able to unearth at the reading room at the Imperial War Museum in London 6 weeks ago in visiting here to give a lecture/walking tour on Sunday. So that’s where I will be, tramping across the front line of July 1916. Plus another man is coming on the 15th to her house who has just written a book based on a WW1 diary. And he comes from . .. . DUNDEE, my home town.
Do you think the universe is telling me something or what? I think it is reading me a story, word for word for me to follow.
This week, I was also at the WW1 museum in Peronne which is probably the best of its kind, attended the English conversation class again and had a wonderful dinner (my first authentic pot-au-feu) in a 300 year old farmhouse, the home of friends of Jacques.
So now it’s heads down today.
Re the photo:
we harvested the apple tree on what turned out to be the last sunny day.
Today is Toussaints – all Saint’s Day and it is a holiday. I was going to go to Amiens today and visit the Jules Verne house. He married a woman from Amiens and then settled there until he died. I never knew that. But being a holiday ( the schools have neen off for 2 weeks, not quite sure why that is) everything will be closed so I will slog away at the computer and go tomorrow.
Halloween is a non-event here. A friend I have made explained to me that they tried to make it like in N.A, tried to commercialize it but the French wouldn’t have it, so ne marche pas – it’s didn’t take off! Everyone seems relieved. Being a bit of a Halloween grinch, I commend their actions!
Now that November has come I’ll have to get organized if I am to see much else around here and even Paris and maybe other cities too. I leave for Penn in Buckinghamshire (30 miles west of London) where my cousins live on the 3oth. I am so settled here in many ways that it seems alarming almost that I have only a month left.
I wished I’d felt like that last week as it was not the best. In retrospect I think I may have had a bug or been abusing my body by drinking too much coffee. Most of last week, I would feel very woozy, shaky, had a stomach upset and was frozen all the time (finally finding a pharmacy that sold hotwater bottles helped). The upshot was I was very tired and very consumed with bodily processes rather than inspired to do much writing which in turn was a bit of a downer. Sunday was a bad day with all of this, the saving grace being Jacques invited me to have lunch with his son, wife and baby and his daughter who were all visiting for the holiday wekend. What interesting and warm people. At one point we sat around the table while I held the baby, Thomas, the son, played the guitar and everyone sang a song. This is how it goes. Everyone sings to one person in turn and sings the same line: Person’s name – I love you. Among my friends you’re the one I will never forget. So when it came to my turn – Diana (and everyone is looking and smiling at me) je t’aime. Parmi mes amis, je ne t’oublie -I could hardly contain my missing of all of you, my family and friends. So after a few tears in my own space, furious writing in my journal and coming upwith the theory that it was the coffee – regular which I never drink – that was the culprit casuing my health to go wonky, everything has gone well. Or it might have been the catharsis of tears and writing!
So yesterday morning, no coffee! And a request in for decaf which arrived this morning. Et Voila no more problems! Plus it was incredibly sunny yesterday so I was warm and when Jacques arrived with an armful of letters written by an Englishman during the 60s and 70s to a person he had met in this village in the month before the Battle of the Somme my day was definitely looking up.These letter ( about 2 dozen of them) were so eoquent and full of the feelingn and experiences of a young man in 1916 who witnessed so much horror. What a treasure and a stroke of luck for me. As Jacques said, “I think you find the right place here, yes?” I was so inspired to write after that. I have 3 chapters mapped out and wrote like a fiend yesterday all day.
In the evening I was invited in for dinner again. So another wonderful evening with good food, wine, new friends, appetizers in front of a fire, and even some real French converation it was a great and fruitful day.
My apologies for not including photos here but I apparently did not pack the cable I need to upload photos from my camera but thanks, Sharon, for the helpful hints anyway.
More writing today and maybe Jules Verne tomorrow.
My heartfelt thanks to all of you who have sent emails and Skyped. It truly is because of you this special time is possible.
Yesterday was my extraverted day! Very good for me to be pulled out of my head where I have been buried all week. Busy, busy! Jacques and Anni invited me for lunch and what a feast. I guess it is fairly usual on le weekend to have the main meal in the middle of the day. At 1.30 I was settled in front of a roaring fire (despite much sunshine, the air outside is quite chilly), sipping Sauternes and sampling appetizers: smoked salmon with apple (from the apple tree in the garden, of course), little toasts smothered in olive oil and tomato paste, slices of sausage. We lifted a toast to the French Rugby team who sadly had just been beaten by one point by New Zealand in the world cup final. After that on to a fabulous red Bordeaux with the main course of roasted marinated chicken and sweet potatoes . Sounds quite ordinary but the way Anni had used herbs and spices made all the food taste so special and so French. Dessert was an apple and apricot tart followed by strong coffee. All delicious!!
Of course after that, it wasn’t possibly to get straight back to the computer and do some work so I went for a fifty minute walk along the country roads in a circle around Allonville. The sun became very warm and I happily walked off any possible detrimental effects of all the wine.
I had 3 Skype phone calls in the evening, from Leanne, Linsey and Cynthia. So thank you all for connecting with me. It sure made me feel more ‘normal’ and tuned into my more extraverted nature.
So after all that social activity, I needed some down time! Thanks Barbara (Surplus) for downloading all that stuff from British TV onto my computer. I think it was 2 years ago! It has been great for me to watch a program or 2 before going to bed.
I am very content here. I’m not lonely as Jacques is in the main part of the house and we see a lot of each other. Every morning since I got settled , we meet in ‘my’ living room to have conversation in French, read French poetry and short stories written during WW1 by a French doctor/writer called Georges Dehumel (I think I will check this name). Has anyone heard of him? He writes very beautiful short pieces. Anyway, it is helping my French a lot and raising my confidence around speaking but I still have a long, long way to go.
Now I must get some work done as later on I will have to ride into Querrieu for some groceries – 4 kms there all downhill so of course the uphill ride back feels like 10kms.
Can anyone give me some hints about putting photos on the blog?
Bonjour a ma famille et aux mes amis
My brain is swirling with the french language so I’m going to give it a rest and relate the last few days here in English.
I am sitting facing the window in my writing/living room here in the village of Allonville near Amiens. You can see both the inside and outside of my new little home at http://www.lestroisplumes.fr. It is as charming as the pictures and I have totally lucked out in choosing this place. The sun is shining today but it is chilly outside. I am looking at an tree laden down with apples, the branches resting on the ground from their burden. Piled up around me are books, pamphlets and magazines which Jacques my host has lent me. He shares my interest in the history of WW1 and arrives at my door everyday with more stuff for me to read. Apparently when I have done with the current pile there is more in the attic, including some actual WW1 newspapers! I could happily sit and read these all day, successfully avoiding actually having to write anything new. Now we have added a French lesson every day so I will have to be very disciplined to come home with lots of new chapters.
Another great distraction. . . he has now lent me a bike and I am off now to cycle to Querrieu, the next village which has some shops. My non-writing excuse is that I need some new batteries for my mouse and I am seduced by the romantic notion of cycling along a French country road, complete with basket on the front of the bike.