Oh, the Places I Write!

Our Kaysersberg flat

I’ve been taking every spare moment of late to finish my second novel (and begin the sequel to THE STONE MANOR), so my blog has sat dormant. With Book One of my YA Fantasy ready for an agent, I thought it might be interesting to backtrack a few of the many enchanting places I sat creating this fairy tale. It began in our cozy flat in the Alsatian village of Kayserberg, the setting for the novel. The village, not the flat. That’s our building. The ground floor is the restaurant, the next three floors are apartments. Ours is on the top floor, sitting up under the eaves. It was the old family flat, so lots of room, full kitchen, lovely antique furnishings, fantastic views.

Jean Jacques restaurant

This is the enchanting restaurant on the ground floor of our building, Le Capucin. It was home to my writing fits on numerous occasions. I ate more tarte flambée than should be allowed, but then I was in Alsace. If you are ever in Kaysersberg, which everyone should be at least once in their life, stop in and eat. Tell Jean Jacques and Gabrielle, I sent you. They are enchanting! More about them later.

Me writing in front of Kaysersberg apartment

When not writing inside the restaurant, I might be found outside in their sidewalk cafe area.

Me writing in kitchen in Kaysersberg

Some days I chose to stay in our flat and write at the kitchen table.

Me writing at bakery in Kaysersberg

Just down from our building was a trendy little French cafe. If the weather was nice, which it was often, I could be found here, trying to focus on my writing and not on the people around me.

Me writing at favorite bakery in Kaysersberg

A bit further down the street is my very favorite pâtisserie, Au Péché Mignon. Have you noticed a pattern? I eat, and I write. Why wouldn’t I? Right? The chocolate pastries are legendary. It’s a good thing our flat was on the 4th floor. Lots of walking, climbing, walking some more. And then we eat.

Me writing on bench Kaysersberg

Another of my favorite places to write was on this bench, above the village, near the chateau ruins. I would say this one does not have to do with food, but I think we actually picnic’d here.

Me writing at apartment in WF

When I was first diagnosed with Lymphoma in 2012, we got an apartment in Wichita Falls, Texas to be near our daughter and her family and near my oncologist in Grapevine. When we weren’t in Europe training and traveling for Young Life, I was here. And when I had moments of clarity and small windows of creativity, I would write . . . this fairy tale. I believe this story, this Alsatian tale, has been a therapeutic exercise for me, a means of escape through difficult times. There were days I killed off characters, and it was the right thing to do. I felt guilty the first time it happened because, as is often the case, she didn’t deserve it. I loved creating a world of my own making, some parts of it drawn from history, some drawn from folklore told me by people from our village, and some from my own imagination. I love being a writer!

My writing studio

We are no longer in that little apartment, a place that became my sanctuary. We now live right around the corner from our daughter in a lovely home. A gift to our family from God when we weren’t looking for it because we didn’t know we needed it. A few months after buying the home and moving in, our daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, this is where I write in those spare moments when we are in Texas and not in Europe, my very own space. It is as quirky and eccentric as I am.

The End screen Amélie

It is where I typed this. Book One has come to an end and is waiting to be discovered and given wings. I am very attached to this story because of the life I lived while writing it. Amélie and I have gone through a lot together. I am so grateful she introduced herself to me in that enchanted village in France. I have loved telling her story so far, and I can’t wait to continue the adventure that is her life in Book Two.

The smoke rising from lavender candle

And now, we wait.

 

Latest on Amélie!

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I’ve finished the manuscript for Amélie: An Alsatian Tale (Book One)! FYI, this is a working title. It is currently being read by several Beta readers. Then, time to edit once again, and again, and again. I’m still up in the air on whether to continue my path of indie publishing or wander down that rocky road of traditional publishing. Decision to come soon. Input welcome.

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As this novel sits and marinates, I’ve begun the sequel to The Stone Manor! It’s been great fun to reconnect with my old friends, Mairi, Kathryn and Duncan, Beth, Ian, and Sean. Angus wondered why I’d taken so long to get back to them. Then, there are the new characters I’m meeting for the first time. I hope you’ll love them all as much as I do. For now, back to writing!

Taking Legends and Making Them My Own: The Invisible Castle of Lac Blanc

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There are many legends in the region of Alsace, France. One that I have embraced and made my own, weaving it into my latest work of fiction, transpired in and around Lac Blanc (White Lake). This beautiful pristine lake is nestled inside a glacial cirque and sits atop one of the Vosges Mountains at 3,458 feet (1054 meters) in Haut-Rhin, France. It’s counterpart Lac Noir (Black Lake) sits just below at 3,130 feet.

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This view across the lake shows the rocky white shoreline surrounding the water. 

One of the legends states there is an invisible castle that appears only to those who are pure of heart and mind. It rises up out of the waters and extends a walkway for the righteous one. I was told by someone who lives nearby that “once upon a time” a young man who was pure of heart came upon the castle and when he crossed the walkway he met a beautiful young woman who resided within the castle walls. They immediately fell in love and lived “happily ever after” under the water of the lake in the castle. Stuff of legends, people.

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In my novel, at the far end of the lake, Coventina’s castle appears to Ursula who is hiding behind the rowan trees, watching her brother Lancelot play along the shoreline. Then, four hundred years later it appears again to Ursula as she brings her daughter to meet Coventina, the Lady of the Lake. Yes, I said four hundred years later. And, yes, I said Lancelot. I love that Arthurian legends abound in this part of France.

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This is a photo taken of the opposite end of the lake. The large granite tower to the left is known as Château Hans. It has its own stories to tell, for another time, perhaps.

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The day we drove up to the lake the wind was howling. This is the fourth and final attempt to have my picture taken. I grabbed my hair, wound it tight and held it down, but to no avail. It would not be tamed. Thus, with my wild hair flying this way and that, a story formed in my head. I walked along the shoreline and tried hard as I might to see the invisible castle. It did not appear! No righteousness of my own to bring it forth. No surprise there, but disappointed all the same. So I did what all fiction writers do. I used my imagination, and voila, the castle presented itself to me. It was at that very moment I met the Lady of the Lake, and we have been friends ever since.

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She introduced me to the Enchanted Wood that surrounded Lac Blanc. We have taken a number of walks through the forest, and of late she showed me the hidden Hermitage where old knights retire and spend the last of their days.

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As I said goodbye to Lac Blanc, I knelt down and picked up a small rose quartz stone along the water’s edge. A stone of remembrance, as is my habit. I looked into the crystal waters hoping for a glimpse of something otherworldly. It was then another tale came to mind, of water horses, who would take you for a ride into the depths of the lake from which you could never return. I stood, put the stone in my pocket and walked rather quickly to the car. Yes, I would live to see another day, write another chapter.

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Once back in Kaysersberg at our little apartment, I grabbed my notebook, ordered a cup of hot chocolate from Jean Jacques and put pen to paper. It has been a year since that day at Lac Blanc. The scenes are finally where they belong, in chapter form. And, I continue to listen as my characters reveal what happens next. I promise you it is as much a surprise to me as it will be to you, someday, when you read the novel.

 

Chapelle Saint-Michele: What Lies Beneath

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Ossuary/crypt underneath Chapelle Saint-Michele

What you need to know is this; I was screaming inside my head while I took the above photo. That being said, if you can see beyond the thick spider webs across the glass inside the crypt there is a metal grate holding in piles and piles of something.

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I moved closer to the door, still screaming, to get a closer shot and this is the pic. More screaming. It appears someone with coral-ish pants and white shoes is standing inside the crypt, and even inside the cage. I look down, oh wait, that’s my reflection (although my shoes aren’t white). Screaming ceases, for the moment. But, still can’t quite make out what all that stuff is behind the metal cage.

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I try the other door, locked, but look what’s at the opposite end of the crypt. A beautiful stained glass window and what must have been an altar area. Hmm.

At this point, I decide to walk outside the village wall to try to get a better view from the other windows. It’s a lovely day and a very short walk, so join me won’t you?

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We’re now on the outer wall, looking through the windows. If you look closely you can see the walls are painted, murals, trim, all faint images.

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Look. There’s a lovely tree motif on the base of the ribbed vault. And there’s a sign. In Alsatian, which is similar to German. It says something about it being right to be near the master with a date of 1463. If you look closer you can see that these are BONES. Lots and lots of skulls, what appear to be arm and leg bones. I’m officially creeped out.

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Let me distract you for a moment with another pic of the lovely murals on the ceiling and archways. Okay, it’s time for a bit of research to find out why all these skeletal remains were put here in 1463. Maybe there’s something about it inside the chapel above us. Let’s check it out. We’ll have to walk back around through the gate that leads into the village. Follow me.

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For a little bit of perspective, the ancient and WWI and WWII cemetery is just to our left. The chapel is straight ahead, and the ossuary where we were standing earlier with all the cobwebbed glass is just to the right.

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After climbing the old steps inside the cemetery, I discover this upper door is locked. I was hoping to discover some secret passageway inside with more adventures. But I guess they will remain a secret, and we will have to use the main entrance. The chapel is quite lovely inside, and I would post more photos but they have a glass wall, with a locked door keeping us from touching anything inside or getting a decent pic.

I researched this chapel and ossuary online and in books and discovered it was rebuilt in 1463. I have yet to find a specific date earlier than this, but it was sometime in the 1200s. The painting inside the ossuary is dated 1514. These resources say the bones are from the village cemetery that had been placed outside the wall of the village in 1511. However, when I asked people who live in Kaysersberg today, they tell me these are the bones of the people who died in the plague that struck the city in the 1400s. There were so many they piled them up inside the ossuary.  I like their story much better! So, this is my tale. There was a terrible plague (the Plague Cross, dated 1511, can still be scene in the ancient cemetery next to the chapel), and the bodies were all buried outside the village. At a later point, it was decided to retrieve these poor bones and give them a final resting place near their Master underneath the chapel, a sacred burial place. I wonder what this crypt is like on October 31.

What do you think?

 

Kidnapped by Characters: Caught Up in the Story

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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.

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(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.

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(Her place is last building on the right just at the gate.)

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(View of north gate from outside village walls. Castle keep beyond wall.)

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

Picking Grapes: No Stomping Allowed

Bucket of Grapes Oct

Hello friends! This is the goal, just so you know. Fill your bucket with grapes, again, and again, and again, until the boss says it’s time to go home.

Once again, telling people you’re doing research for a novel you’re writing opens a plethora of doors. When we met Pierre Thomann last spring, and he gave us the private tour of his chapel, I was elated. Then, I discovered a Pinot Gris Grand Cru among his cadre of wines that tasted like the nectar of the gods. He began explaining about growing grapes and the whole wine making process once I told him I needed to know for my story. I decided to be brave and ask if it would be possible, when we returned in the fall, to pick grapes in his vineyards. HE SAID YES!

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(My grape-harvesting buddies.)

So here we are picking grapes the last week of harvest. This was the day to pick Gewurztraminier Grand Cru grapes. (Say that 5 times really fast.) Jim and I met Pierre and his wife, Titia, at their home/shop in Kaysersberg and drove up into the vineyards. We were paired up with someone to pick along side. I scored and got Titia. Maybe she thought I would need more help. After a very quick lesson in what was good enough to pick and what was not, we began.

Me picking grapes Oct

(Me in my new French headband.)

This is not a job for the faint of back. It was a beautiful sunny day. There we were in a vineyard, with a French vineyard owner, and his family, and his workers picking grapes. And they were all speaking French and laughing, and it was like we were in a movie. A very lovely movie. Someone came along fairly often checking our bucket and replacing it when it was full.  The buckets were then taken to a large bin on a trailer. The owner and his son would take each grape one by one, inspect them, and drop only the perfect ones into the bin. This, among many other things, makes a grape good enough to be a Grand Cru.

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Jim and I picked enough grapes between us in one afternoon to make 200+ bottles of wine. Not bad for a couple of newbies. We did all take a break mid-pick. At which point all the smart phones came out of pockets and lots of photos were taken with the crazy American writer and her husband, who volunteered to pick grapes for free for the purpose of research. So what I thought was romantic and such an adventure, was for them life as they know it. And this is why I write fiction. Taking people who believe they are living ordinary lives and making them appear fantastic, romantic, legendary.

Me & Pierre at his shop

(Me and Pierre in his wine shop.)

After picking grapes, we went to visit Pierre again and bought some of my favorite wine. He then took us on a tour of the inner courtyard, where the chapel sits. He explained that his family has been in the wine business since 1525. They started as wine barrel makers and obtained vineyards by 1600. This business has passed from father to son since 1525! His great grandparents married and joined vineyards. His great grandmother was a Saltzman (good French name), thus the business name Saltzman-Thomann. Pierre’s grandmother was niece of the Abbess of the Abbey of Alspach, here in Alsace. (How about that for a lovely alliteration.)  Because of said grandmother, their family inherited this property in the 1700s, with the chapel and the building that was the original Abbey, built in the 1300s.

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(The staff of the Abbess of Alspach from 1700s. It is displayed on the wall in the chapel.)

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(The former Abbey, later it was a hospital, now a residence.)

The Abbey had an extensive wine cellar and vineyards. It was built around 1440. Across from the Abbey in the courtyard is a doorway that used to lead to the bakery for the Abbey. There is a date of 1580 and the symbol for bakery above the door. Attached to the chapel is the butcher. The sign above its doorway has a date of 1739. As you can see, the Abbey was self-contained. Of course, many people in the valley worked the Abbey lands and paid with their harvests. Tithes were high.

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(Door to ancient bakery. 1580)

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(Door to butcher. 1739)

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(Date and symbol above doorway of butcher shop.)

Finally, Pierre took us into the cellar of the ancient abbey. The original wooden wine barrels are still there. They no longer use these as of several years ago when they changed to stainless steel tanks. When it was time to clean the interior of these barrels. Someone, (Pierre was the one to do this most often.) had to climb inside through an opening 10″ high by 15-18″ wide. He told us he had to raise his hands over his head and put them together like he was diving and go into the barrel, twisting his body as he went. WHAT? I was claustrophobic just listening to him tell about it! Anyway, now they are taking apart the barrels and labeling them piece by piece so they can put them back together somewhere outside the cellar. Pierre also said that during WWII many of the neighbors would come into this cellar along with his family to hide during air raids. We stood in the cellar for a few moments quietly, and I tried to imagine the fear they must have felt. The parents trying to console their children as the sound of war raged outside. Thankfully, only a few houses where destroyed in this small village during the war. The village down the road was not so fortunate. It was leveled. Not a house left standing. Tragic.

Me & Pierre in wine cellar

 

(Pierre and me in front of a wine barrel.)

So there you have it. Just a few snippets from our wine picking adventure last fall. I hope you enjoyed your time with us and will take a moment to feel the stickiness of the grape juice on your fingers. Now breathe in deeply as you raise your hands to your face. Ahh. The sweet smell of the nectar of the gods.

I will end our day’s journey with a few pictures of the vineyards once the harvest has ended. It’s late October and soon the leaves will fall from the vines, and they will sleep through the long winter ahead. Until next time. Bonjour.

Chateau late Oct

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Late Oct

 

Beautiful Landscapes: A Vine for All Seasons

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I have come to love vineyards. Not growing up around them, I had no idea how beautiful they truly are. The Alsatian landscape in France is breathtaking. You cross the Rhine River from Germany, et voilà! You find yourself in the Plain of Alsace. As you travel west you come to the Valley of Kaysersberg. It is the gateway to the Vosges Mountains. Vineyards and orchards cover the hillsides and the valleys. Medieval villages are nestled at the base of the mountains. Everywhere you look is lovely.

Let’s take a visual tour of the seasons of a vineyard.

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The vines can be found sleeping during November and the winter months. Not the vineyard owners, there is still tending to be done. I will admit the landscape takes on a harsher look this time of year. But then, don’t we all.

April

It’s early April, and not much has changed. But the wild flowers are coming up in the grass between the rows. Color is coming to the vineyard.

May

What a difference a month makes. It’s late May, and the storks have returned to Alsace, all the way from Africa, and are enjoying a stroll through the vineyard. Everyone in the valley hopes they’ve brought good luck with them. So the legend goes.

June

It is mid-June and the vines have finished blooming, three weeks early this year, and the grapes are beginning to form. Now is the time to start watching for the wild boar that room the woods. And hey, it’s not their fault. They’ve just been in the forest digging for truffles all day and stuffing themselves. Now there’re thirsty.  So, of course, they need to wander down the hillside into the vineyards for a drink. And what a drink! These aren’t just any grapes. These are the famous Grand Cru variety. Not what you think of as pig food. But then again, these are French pigs.

Chateau vineyard Oct

It’s fall, and harvest is upon us! The vines are full and the grapes are ready. There are normally three weeks of harvest. The final week will be the Verdange Tardive, late harvest grapes . . . sweeeeeeet. Mmm.

So here is where it’s about to get fun. I’d love for you to join me as I learn to harvest grapes. Who wants to help? Just show up with a pair of gloves, rubber are better because the grapes are tender, and by the end of the day you’re hands will be soaked in grape juices. You’ll also need a pair of Wellies (a.k.a. rain boots). Not because it’s going to rain, but because we’ll be walking up and down the aisles of vines, and invariably grapes will fall, and you will step on them. THIS IS WHERE I NEED TO TELL YOU, YOU WILL BE VERY STICKY BY THE END OF THE DAY. GOOD STICKY. And finally, you will need to get you a really cute head band/ribbon to tie back your hair if it’s long. There’s a shop here in the village with a great selection.

So get yourself ready! I’ll see you tomorrow.

 

 

 

The Village: There and Back Again

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(Kaysersberg, Alsace, France. Oct. 2013)

Let me begin by apologizing for the long silence. The Spring has been full of other work. But, I am back in France, and it is time to write! It’s been eight months since we were here last. Not much has changed. Although the weather is nothing the same. We arrived five days ago. Five very long, very hot days. I’ve not gotten much done beyond sitting in front of the fan with a damp cloth draped over my neck in our third floor un-airconditioned apartment. So when I say it was 97º F for a high yesterday, believe it . . . it was HOT.

But last night the clever north wind began to blow, and today is a new day. The sun is shining brightly, but the air has a hint of coolness. And I am thankful. The brain fog has cleared, and once again I hear my characters conversing. Once again, I wander the streets and the castle ruins following their lead.

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(Beatrix. Oct. 2013)

The day we arrived, I was greeted by our friends and neighbors. Beatrix from the shop across the street, Maurice, our red-headed friend, whose family owns the castle property, the lovely woman who runs the antique book store whose name I cannot recall, and our delightful landlords, Jean Jacques and Gabrielle.

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(Maurice. Oct. 2013)

I do love this village and the delightful people who live and/or work here. My biggest regret is my lack of ability to communicate in French. This limits any deep, meaningful conversation. And though I am determined to learn this beautiful language, I fear it will be some time before these conversations can be had. So for now, we talk about everyday life and family, and legends and love. That should be sufficient for the moment.

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(Top: Jean Jacques and Gabrielle in their restaurant. Bottom: The antique book shop. Oct. 2013)

The church bells are tolling as I’m writing, and they remind me of a simpler time when people knew the hour of the day by the clanging of bells. No clocks, no phones, no computers. And people didn’t count by minutes or hours, but by blocks of time, as needed. I could do with some simplification, less micro-management of my time and life. More reflecting, more deep breathing, more observing.

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(Bell tower of Église Set Croix. Oct. 2013)

I intend to post regularly while staying in Kaysersberg. Some writing will resemble mini-village tours, some will be from our time now and some from last October, and some will be about the novel that is currently in process. So sit back, and join me won’t you for our all too brief time in Alsace.

 

 

Finding Yourself Inside The Story

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Luc Grun and me in his studio in Riquewihr, France.

Guess who’s coming to dinner? Our new friends and owners of the apartment we’d rented for the week invited us downstairs one evening to their restaurant to meet some of their best friends. We walked down from our third floor apartment and entered the restaurant. There at the table by the door sat Jean-Jacques, Gabrielle, Isabeth, and Luc. They’d started the party without us. Jim and I sat down, and we were all introduced. I sat next to Luc and Jim sat next to Isabeth. Let the magic begin!

125 La Capucin Restaurant

Inside Le Capucin Restaurant.

Luc is a mathematician, turned linguist, turned painter. He has a deep voice and an infectious laugh! We six spent the evening together, discussing all manor of topics. Our conversation was a constant mixture of French, German, and English. Most of the time all at once. It was like being in a movie, an indie film…French comedy. I love finding myself inside a story. Full of the most amazing characters. People I could never write. Bigger than life. Luc is just such a person. Jim and I drove to Riquewihr a few days later and visited him in his studio. It is a must see if you ever go to this delightful village. He’s on the main walking street mid-way up the hillside. #37. Tell him we sent you.

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Gabrielle and me in Le Capucin Restaurant.

I love finding kindred spirits in unexpected places, though I should have known I was destined to find just such a person in Kaysersberg. In fact, I’m so excited about our new friendship, one that will last a life-time, I’ve decided to take French this summer. I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m laughing as I type this just thinking about summer posts…could be funny.

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One of Gabrielle’s pottery lamps.

Okay, I said she and I were kindred spirits. Look at what she can do with clay! She makes the most wonderful, whimsical lamps. The restaurant is full of them. I’m hoping to place my order when we return in the fall. We will definitely be visiting them at their farmhouse in the mountains near the village. Her studio is there.

This is where I need to tell you that the following day after meeting Luc, we had lunch at the restaurant with two more of their dear friends. A retired couple who were professors of Biology and English. They were delightful! Jean-Jacques prepared a traditional Alsatian dish for us for lunch (which was delicious) and we spent hours eating and talking about life and legends. We talked about how there were many people in the area with the family name Ancel. Now the reason this is important has to do with Arthurian Legends, Sir Lancelot in particular. If you break down his name in French, which he was according to legend, it is L’ancel’ot…Little Ancel. My mind was spinning with ideas for my novel. Sadly, our time had to end, as I had another appointment with a local historian on the other side of the village. We made a date to visit our new professor friends at their farm, which is very near Jean-Jacques and Gabrielle’s home, when we return in the fall. I can hardly wait!

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Me in the doorway of  The Golden Lion Restaurant in Kaysersberg.

Notice the name above the door at the restaurant in the above photo. J. Ancel. Jim and I had walked by this restaurant, next door to our apartment all week long. We decided to try it out our last night in town. We walked in and immediately loved the place. The tables were beautifully set, the light fixtures were iron, there were huge beams across the ceiling, and the food…well, DELICIOUS. As exciting as all this was, I had no idea that fate once again had led me to this very place. The owners of the restaurant were none other than, you guessed it, the Ancel’s. Sir Lancelot’s family. Here I was, inside my own story, and loving it. I giggled like I was a little girl when we first noticed the name on the menu. What a perfect way to end a perfect vacation.

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My room with a view.

As I sit upstairs on my final night in our apartment the church bells are ringing. I open the window and lean out, looking toward the steeple rising above the house tops. It’s dark out, except for the lamplight on the street just below our window. No one is around. The bells are suddenly quiet, and I listen for ancient voices whispering on the street below. I look up at the castle tower and see a loan figure standing in the open window. She waves to me, inviting me to come closer. It’s her story I find myself a part of. Her name is Amélie.

 

Heroes Real and Imagined: Knights Across the Centuries

113 Me and Knight

Knights in Shining Armor are not always what they seem.

In April, we drove to France for lunch. (I love saying that!) We met several friends in Riquewihr, another lovely Alsatian village. After eating something very delicious (I’d like to tell you what it was but I don’t remember. You just need to know that everything I’ve eaten in Alsace has been delicious.), we walked up the main street and looked in the many wonderful shops. I saw this Knight standing in the doorway of one of the stores and knew I had to have my picture taken with him. I say him, though he never spoke to me, nor did he raise his helmet so I could see his face! Anyway, I took the photo and sent it to our grandson, Graham, back in Texas. He and I have this thing about knights and dragons and such. One of the first things I noticed about this particular Knight in Shining Armor was the size of the armor itself. If I stepped up on the platform, it appeared to be just my size. So, this could have belonged to Joan of Arc. Hmm. All this to say, in my new novel, a trusted knight is sent on a dark errand . . . not a shining one at all. His travel takes him across the valley from Kaysersberg to the Rhine, then on to the Black Forest. In order to familiarize myself with the terrain, Jim and I drove in as straight a line as possible to the river. It was a beautiful drive. Looking across the vineyards toward the Vosges mountains and the Chateau du Haut-Koenigsbourg. As you can see the weather was lovely. Cold and rainy. The perfect day for a dark ride east. The first body of water we came to was a small river,

114 Weiss Valley View

Le Fecht.

We’re going to need a small bridge to get across. Wood or stone. More research.

116 Ills River115 Fecht River

Le Fecht.                                                                                                              L’ILL.

Next, we came to the L’ILL river. Even bigger. Bridge or Ferry? Continue the research. A few miles further down the road, we took a side trip from my story in search of a more modern knight. Jim had read there was a monument honoring Audie Murphy in Holzwihr. An intense battle took place in the woods outside the village in WWII, and he saved the day, the village, and much more. A true knight. Do a little research of your own and check it out. Very interesting!

118 JIm Audie Murphy Site117 Audie Murphy Site

Jim next to the Audie Murphy Memorial near Holzwihr, France.

Leaving Holzwihr, we traveled on across the valley to the Rhine River. It’s very industrial along the river in this area today. I was continually asking myself what this all looked like seven hundred years earlier. So many questions. Finding the answers is part of the adventure I find myself a part of.

 

119 Rhein River

The Rhine River bridge at Breisach am Rhein, Germany.

Join me next time for the final days of my writing vacation. I’ll introduce you to Luc. You won’t be disappointed. A current knight  who yields a paint brush in place of a sword!