There are times when I find myself surrounded by the beauty of this village, the smell of French pastry, the sounds of their beautiful language, the church bells and the lone accordion player on the street. I love being in the moment. Especially this kind of moment. But then, there are those moments, hours, days, that I am swept up by the characters in my story, and I disappear into Medieval Alsace.
(A wonderful book for a historical perspective.)
My latest research has been about alchemy. So, it is only fitting that Ursula Forestier, the village apothecary/herbalist should lure me into her shop, guiding me carefully to her back room where she has her laboratory. Her shop/home sits at the end of Rue des Forgerones, by the northern gate to the village. Her husband, Kubler, is the royal forester, so their location is perfect. Just beyond the gate lies the forest and the treacherous path leading up the mountain to the castle.
(Her place is last building on the right just at the gate.)
(View of north gate from outside village walls. Castle keep beyond wall.)
This is the entrance to her lane. Her shop and home is just beyond the curve on the right. In the curve on the left, you can find Amélie Daragon at home with her family, her father and older brothers busy working in their forgery. Just before her home is the village miller, Loy Munier. Across the lane is Ansel Chevrier, the local goat herder. His wife, Yoland, runs the shop where the most wonderful cheese may be bought, as well as, wool for the weavers. The final shop along the river on the left belongs to Leon Fleuriot. He, too, is a blacksmith, like Amélie’s father, though he forges common implements for the village and not weaponry. He is the lone survivor of his family after the plague overtook the village some fifty years earlier. But enough about that. Let’s talk about Ursula our village apothecary.
This is her home. The garden is just to the right, where all the herbs are grown. And just out of the picture before we come to the garden is the shop.
If we look closely through the window we just might see her pouring an elixir into a tincture or grinding herbs in a bowl. When we first enter, the tiny bell on the carved wooden door announces our arrival. There is a magnificent Tree of Life fashioned into the wood. If you trace the trunk of the tree with your finger and whisper, “Life to one and all who enter this place,” you will be blessed with good fortune. This is what I’ve been told.
Just inside and along the left wall, glass enclosed cabinets of various shapes and sizes hold all manner of curious things. Oh look, this beautiful white object has a small note that reads, “Unicorn Horn.” And there is a brilliant feather labeled “Bird of Paradise: West Indies.” I could spend hours just gazing at all the treasures in these cabinets. Along the left wall are shelves filled with jars of liquid and baskets of herbs. The marble topped counter sits just in front of these shelves. A scale sits on the left corner and a mortar and pestle to the right. But the real marvel is through the closed door straight ahead. The laboratory. I would let you join us inside, but this is my first trip, and Ursula will not allow anyone else to join us. Secrets lie within. I promise to give you a glimpse in the very near future.
I spoke of the plague earlier. Through this web covered window you can see into the crypt under the Chapelle St Michel. It is locked tight, but oh what lies inside will cause your skin to crawl like the creatures that inhabit it. If you’re brave enough follow me inside. I think it best we visit the crypt in August and not the end of October when its inhabitants might be up and about, as it were. But it will have to wait till next time.