on returning home from france in 2003

Two weeks in the south of France and Paris. Two weeks exploring the onion-domed Russian Cathedral; Chagall, Monet and Renior paintings; and Van Gogh’s hospital room. Two weeks driving a rented Citroen past vineyards with their ancient, gnarled vines, standing like maimed soldiers in rows fading to pinpoints on the horizon. Two weeks shading our eyes from bursts of red poppies and yellow broom glowing in fields.  Two weeks walking under canopies of plane trees, with their speckled but smooth bark, their amputated branches. Two weeks of palm trees, fig trees and yellow-flowering syringa trees. Two weeks mesmerized by the silhouettes of Florentine cypress trees under a full moon as we drove to Sante Affrique. Two weeks admiring the Pont du Gard and the Abbey de Fontfroide, with stairs worn smooth by centuries of monks’ feet. Two weeks baking in the ochre cliffs of Roussillon, collecting ochre dust on our shoes.  Two weeks climbing a path scented in boxwood to the fortress ruins of Montsegur, where in 1244, the Cathars, a religious sect that renounced worldly goods, were burned en masse in a bonfire at the foot of the pog when they refused to renounce their faith. Two weeks emerging from an underground movie theater on the Champs Elysses, weeping after watching The Hours. Two weeks wandering through Paris: the Latin Quarter, Notre Dame, the Eiffel Tower, the Museé d’Orsay, the Louvre, and the Basilique du Sacré Coeur at Montmartre.

Two weeks eating baguettes, canard confit, foie gras, olives, plump and perfectly red strawberries, croissants, pain du chocolat, galettes, glacé and dessert crêpes. Two weeks drinking pastis, the licorice-flavored drink favored by Hemingway. Two weeks stopping in shops named for the food items sold: fromagerie, boulangerie, charcuterie, boucherie.

Two weeks meandering through markets where vendors offered sun-kissed table linens, cloves of garlic tied in twine, honey (miel de lavande), jellies (confiture de framboise, confiture de rhubarbe), accordions of colorful postcards, old fun junk (brocante), chalkboards framed in whitewashed barn wood, handmade paper, and cheeses of every variety: boursin, brie, cantal, camembert, roquefort, emmental, gruyere.

Two weeks to fumble with a French phrase book and practice our pathetic French and to listen to Paris Combo’s “Living-room,” Bob Marley’s “Buffalo soldier in the heart of America,” Norah Jones singing “Come Away with Me,” and Florent Pagney’s “Ma Liberté de Pense.”

Two weeks to wear blue & cream flowered board pants, apple green capris, flowered sleeveless tops, and jaunty French scarves. Two weeks to stay in bed & breakfasts and pigeon lofts and hotels with lace-curtained windows opening onto balconies.  Two weeks making buck-toothed chipmunk faces into a half mirror in the tiny triangular elevator with silver folding accordion doors in our Paris hotel, and laughing in loose silliness at ourselves.

Two weeks to possess beauty by buying postcards, brochures, a yellow glazed pottery bowl, a square apple green plate, a chintz-patterned box, bars of colorful soap, a tablecloth, scarves, honey, jellies and place mats.

Two weeks to dream of speaking perfect French, looking stylishly Parisian, drinking wine at sidewalk cafés and writing in journals that would eventually become novels.


cliffs of Rousillon


Mike in Rousillon


south of France


field of poppies & broom

While traveling, I captured our journey in a handwritten journal, which I kept in great detail. I even made a few lousy sketches in said journal: sketches of a swimming pool, architectural elements at the Abbey de Fontfroide, and coffee pots at Domaine de Rasigous and at Aurifat. I was obviously fascinated by the many ways people make coffee or keep it warm.  Though I tried to do word-paintings, I felt they fell short, as I didn’t use any psychological descriptions to embody a value or mood of importance.  I felt the need to improve on my skills of observation.

I was too lazy to put care into my writing.  Rather than taking time to sit and observe and reflect, I relied on my camera to capture the beauty I saw, but of course photos never capture the essence of a place. I still failed to use all my senses in descriptions.  Taking so many pictures tends to make one lazy about noticing details.

Because it was 2003, just before the digital print age, I ordered two computer disks made from a few negatives, and the rest of the 18 rolls of film I took, I developed and put carefully into three photo albums.  I started with such great intentions, but by the second of the three albums, I never got around to writing notes.

After all was said and done, I finished a second draft of my novel, including scenes from the Cistercian Abbey of Fontfroide and and Montsegur, the novel titled The Scattering Dreams of Stars that is still unpublished and sitting in a file on my computer.

And I dreamed of going to France again, this time to Paris again and to the north, which we did in 2006.

*May 8-23, 2003*


“ON RETURNING HOME” INVITATION: I invite you to write a post on your own blog about returning home from one particular destination or, alternately, from a long journey encompassing many stops.  How do you linger over your wanderings and create something from them?  How have you changed? Did the place live up to its hype, or was it disappointing? Feel free to address any aspect of your journey and how it influences you upon your return. If you don’t have a blog, I invite you to write in the comments.

For some ideas on this, you can check out the original post about this subject: on returning home.

Include the link in the comments below by Sunday, March 3 at 1:00 p.m. EST.  When I write my post in response to this challenge on Monday, March 4, I’ll include your links in that post.

This will be an ongoing invitation on the first Monday of each month. Feel free to jump in at any time. 🙂

I hope you’ll join in our community. I look forward to reading your posts!

the ~ wander.essence ~ community

I invite you all to settle in and read a few posts from our wandering community.  I promise, you’ll be inspired!

Thanks to all of you who wrote “returning home” posts following intentions you set for yourself.  🙂