Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Carcassonne, The medieval walled city

A year ago at this time I was in France.

I did not think that I would still be reconstructing my trip in my online journal a year later.

However, that means that my recollections will be far more detailed than if I had composed them that same day when I was exhausted and feeling obligated to post something.

The day we traveled to Carcassonne was on a Monday. I had a list of certain sites that I had to visit and several had restrictions as to which day we would be visiting them. For example, Toulouse had English language walking tours only on Saturdays.

I had originally planned on having us travel to Peyrepertuse the Monday after we arrived in the Midi-Pyrenees. The thing is - while this was a research trip for me - we looked at it as a vacation as well.

That meant we did not want to use an alarm clock to wake up. And because we were now on the western edge of a time zone as opposed to being on the eastern edge of the Pacific time zone, the sun rose later in the morning than we are used to in California.

So we woke up later than I would have liked. By the time we finished breakfast, I looked at the clock and realized to travel the distance to get to Peyrepertuse we should have already been on the road at least an hour before.

I instituted Plan B.

We would be going to Carcassonne instead, even though I was aware that the Museum of Chivalry, Arms and Archery was closed on Mondays.

I wanted to visit Carcassonne because it dates back to the time of the Romans and was definitely around in one form or another during the time of Charlemagne.

One thing that would have been a deal breaker was depending on whether there were English language tours available that day. I called and asked. Talking to someone in person using hacked-up French and having them have a tenuous grasp of English is challenging enough, talking to someone over the phone using hacked-up French is entering another level of difficulty.

After being transferred to about three people, I finally spoke to someone who was able to answer my questions. Yes, they had English language tours of the castle every day. No, I did not need a reservation.

I did not realize it at the time, but that phone call and my question about reservations made the difference as to whether or not my husband and I would be allowed to join the tour group.

We set off at about 10:30 and hoped it would not take us too long to get there.

We were still naïve and trusted our GPS to find the best route. We plugged in our destination and followed the directions Garmin gave us.

It drew a convoluted path that defied logic. Rather than cruising at 100 km/hr or so on the autoroute we were driving down narrow country lanes and traversing traffic circles in small villages.

I kept glancing at the Michelin map and wondering when we would finally get at the autoroute and why we were given such a convoluted route. After about 45 minutes, we decided to override the Garmin because we still needed to get past Toulouse which seemed to be taking far too long.

While I enjoyed viewing the picturesque French countryside, I was getting a bit anxious at the time spent traveling. One thing that was inescapable was that ruins were everywhere. Here is a building that may have been a house at one time, but it is beyond even the "fixer upper" moniker in real estate. It also looks as if some of stones have been taken elsewhere.

The idea of recycling used building materials for newer projects happened in the medieval village of Carcassonne itself. That was part of the problem that faced architect Viollet le-Duc when he was put in charge of restoring the medieval walled city. The townspeople of the lower village of Carcassonne had been using the old fortress as their own "stone quarry" for years.

Here are some old pictures that were taken of Carcassonne before its restoration. (These pictures are on display within the castle itself. Therefore these are my pictures of the old photographs.)

As we neared our exit, we could see the ancient walled fortress looming in the distance clearly visible from the autoroute.

The sight was impressive.

The walls, the towers and ramparts project an image of power and strength.

Ah, but as we approached our destination we were given another surprise by our Garmin. It totally butchered the name and we were puzzled when we heard something that sounded like "Sit-tay May Day Vale."

It took a beat before I realized it meant: cité médiéval.

Then I winced.

However, we were happy to have arrived and it only took us about two hours and change to get there. It was crowded and parking was at a premium, but thankfully we were visiting on a weekday and it was not in the high season. I hesitate to think of how large the crowds are during July and August.

Here is a diagram of the medieval city for you to get an idea of the scope of its fortifications.

As we entered into Carcassonne, we were greeted by a statue of their legendary Dame Carcas. (More on that later.)

The medieval city of Carcassonne was featured in the climax of the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Filmmakers can try to dress the set to give the impression of a time long ago, but that would not stop continuity problems from cropping up that might ruin a shot.

Such as airplanes coming into view.

After arriving we walked around a little, then found a quiet spot to eat the picnic lunch we brought with us.

We still had time before the 2 pm English language walking tour of the castle and so we walked around the city. There are numerous gift shops and restaurants lining the streets of the medieval walled city.

Here is one of the streets outside the castle which gives you the feeling of entering the past.

According to the official website there are 120 people who actually reside within that ancient site. I was trying to absorb history as I walked in this ancient place, but I kept being reminded of being in the 21st century when cars would beep in order to pass on the roads.

The biggest incongruity to me was the walled city had a Best Western Hotel, along with seeing their courtesy vehicle repeatedly during the day.

I suppose if it was a bed and breakfast and they had horse drawn carriages that conveyed luggage, I would not have had the same negative reaction.

I enjoyed staying in Paris at an historic hotel that was an active hospital, but I dislike the idea of a Best Western in Carcassonne. I regard it as sacrilegious as champagne in a can.

Here I am posing in the same archway as seen above.

We also visited the Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus, but I will save that for another post.

We arrived at the castle gates a few minutes early to buy our tickets. I was taken aback when the ticket attendant told me that the English language tour was full. The next tour would be at 6 pm.

That was unacceptable for it would mean that we would arrive back to our rental cottage late at night and well after dark, plus it would change our dinner plans.

So I argued the point. And this is where my previous phone call and being told that I did not need a reservation saved me.

The woman used her walkie talkie and talking with several people before she reluctantly put our names down on the list and handed me two tickets.

I had not meant to be difficult, but I had been told to buy those tickets as soon as we arrived in the town we would have done so. I followed the directions as best as I could, and was not about to be penalized for it.

Here is the outside of the castle. You can see the moat, two towers and hoardings on the top of the walls.

Check out the numerous arrow slits you would be facing should you be an invader trying to cross the bridge over the moat.

Here was the portion of the castle that belonged to the Trencavels who were in power at the time of the Cathars. The posts in midair demonstrate that there used to be a floor that has long since fallen away.

Here is another image of that large space from a different angle to give you a sense of its size.

According to a marker - this floor has a Roman mosaic under it that dates back to the first century A.D. Then in the twelfth century it was used as a chapel, but was demolished in the 18th century.

Our tour guide regaled us with stories of the history of Carcassonne. She told us that some of the ramparts and a portion of the surrounding wall dates back to the time of the Romans.

The town of Carcassone was also a site of great historical relevance in regard to the persecution of the Cathars (also known as the Albigensian heresy). That religious war was bloody and involved a large swath of southern France in the Languedoc-Rousillon region.

The novel Labyrinth by Kate Mosse is set in Carcassonne and describes the siege by Simon de Montfort's forces that defeated Vicomte Raymond Trencavel and the massacre of the Cathars. Our guide was happy to mention the book during the tour and recommend it.

She also suggested that the name Trencavel literally meant "well cut."

Well, now. Too bad they did not have any images - paintings, statues, whatever - of the Trencavels to allow modern audiences to judge that hypothesis.

Going further we walked on several walls surrounding the castle and were able to look through arrow slits. Consider the people you see serving as potential targets.

Here are two pictures of the castle from the viewpoint of the towers.

As we were walking the walls we were shown what was referred to as "murder holes."

Later we saw a supply of rounded rocks which would have been used as weapons to throw down those holes on potential invaders.

Inside the castle on the second floor there was a mural that had been painted over. At one point someone discovered the hidden mural and great care was taken to remove the layers of paint that had removed it from sight.

Here is another view and supposedly the round shields are to denote the Saracens.

Here is another view of the mural with a statue of the suffering Jesus in the foreground.

I am not sure who these man are supposed to be, but I love the detail in their faces.

Our tour guide, Marie, mentioned the legend regarding the naming of Carcassonne being in honor of a woman named Dame Carcas having outwitted Charlemagne. Here I am standing next to Marie.

I challenged her on the legend as not being based on history. She then shrugged her shoulders and smiled.

If you look around Carcassonne you can find the legend and the real history.

Here's the legend:

Here is the old sculpture that was replaced. You can see why since it is unrecognizable.

There is even a road named after Dame Carcas in Carcassonne.

I mentioned that there is some discussion of the history without the legend of resisting Charles the Great.

Here you can see a marker which states that the name dates back to 70 B.C. Centuries before Charlemagne was a twinkle in Pepin le Bref's eye.

Even the official website for Carcassonne admits to the origins of the town's name.

The oldest traces of man - 6th century B.C.- were found on the promontory where the Cité lies. Around 300 B.C., the Volques Tectosages brought the Iberians of Languedoc to submission. In 122 B.C., the Romans conquered the Provence and the Languedoc. They fortified the oppidum which took the name of Carcaso, and occupied our region until the middle of the 5th century. The Visigoths then became the masters of Spain and the Languedoc. The Cité remained in their hands from 460 to 725 A.D. In the spring of 725, the Saracens took the Cité. They were driven away in 759 by Pépin le Bref, king of the Franks.

Yes. They admit that Charlemagne's daddy was the one at the gates, and that he conquered Carcassonne. At that point, if Charles was outside the gates he was not "the Great" but simply Prince Charles - or Karl for those who prefer the Germanic variant.

I had blogged about my thoughts on the subject of where history ended and legend began and how it relates to the naming of Carcassonne about five months before I went there.

I do not blame the people of Carcassonne for trying to claim some connection with Charlemagne and that the idea that they heroically stood up to this great historical figure, but I wish that people realized it was just a lovely tale but not history.

The townspeople claiming and celebrating such a legend surrounding Charlemagne stands in stark contrast with the city of Montauban. They could lay claim to a literary character that is in the legends of Charlemagne, but unfortunately they do not.

More on that when I discuss my visit to Montauban.

Oh and speaking of the legends of Charlemagne, Matthew Gabriele's book The Legend of Charlemagne in the Middle Ages: Power, Faith and Crusade will soon be published.

Next time I shall show pictures of the basilica.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Social Networking

The other day I started working on the next installment of my France travelogue and realized that I have so many good pictures of Carcassonne that I should split my discussion into two posts. One for the city, the castle and its ramparts and another for the Basilica of Saint Nazaire. I have started cropping and resizing the photos, but those posts will have to wait until another day when I have time to chronicle it properly.

Until then, I thought I would bring up a topic about self-promotion and online social networking since it is something I have been involved with recently.

I have seen exhortations by Joe Konrath for writers to have not only websites and blogs, but to also utilize MySpace, Facebook and the like. (By the way, Joe's fabulous blog A Newbie's Guide to Publishing has been turned into a free PDF file with over 750 pages of tips and advice for writing, promotion, and hard won wisdom. Download it here.

Trying to follow literary blogs, write my own blog as well as write my novel has been challenging to find enough time, but I knew there would come a day when I would join one of those social networking sites.

I had gotten repeated invitations from several of my friends to join LinkedIn and Bebo, I had not responded.

Then I read Aaron Sorkin was going to write a movie about Facebook and that he had joined Facebook for research purposes.

I joined that morning. Because, well, I wanted the opportunity to write to Aaron. For those scratching their heads and going "Aaron who?" - he wrote the play and then screenplay for A Few Good Men, The American President, Malice, and Charlie Wilson's War.

However, I first took notice of him with his television series Sports Night. That was such a great series. It was only on for two seasons, but I loved it and own the boxed set of DVDs. If you have never watched SportsNight, rent a disc from Netflix and enjoy. His comic timing is excellent and then there is a depth to his stories that make them rise above his contemporaries.

Sorkin is truly an amazing writer.

And well, I could not pass up the opportunity to write to Aaron. I had been wanting to do so for a few years over a nitpicky thing from an episode of The West Wing that I wanted to write to him about for years, but had never done so because I did not want my letter to become lost in the NBC mailroom.

So I joined Facebook and posted my message to him on his group Aaron Sorkin & the Facebook Movie. He didn't reply to it, but then again my post was more of a statement than a question.

Either way, that was the nudge that made me join Facebook.

I discovered as I joined that I had many email addresses in my Gmail account of Facebook members. I wound up sending out invitations to them and within minutes I had received confirmations from several people to be my friends. Truly the first few people who replied were my friends.

I also started feathering my online nest with interests and joined other groups. I know this could be a major time sink, but I wanted to spend enough time so that it was more than just the bare minimum of a page.

As I accumulated friends I would look to see if I recognized any of their friends and if so, I would send a notice to add them as a friend. Soon I had a few dozen friends on Facebook. Most I know, but there are others whom I really do not know.

Some were undoubtedly email addresses that I culled from positive reviews from my Harry Potter fanfiction. I am hoping those who liked my past writing will be interested in purchasing a book once I have one published. So this is one of my attempts at cultivating a fanbase.

It was fortuitous that I joined Facebook prior to attending the East of Eden Conference for I wound up adding more friends to my profile from those I met and schmoozed with in Salinas.

One aspect that I found interesting about this social networking thing is that some of my writing colleagues who have belonged to Facebook far longer than I, have only a few friends. Some have only a handful or so.

There is a button to suggest friends for others. My ingrained networking instinct kicked in again as I would suggest those who I thought might know each other already, but were unaware that the other one was also a Facebook member.

Just spreading the love.

Then this past weekend after my writers club meeting I was chatting with Ann Wilkes and she strongly suggested that I join LinkedIn as well.

So I did.

I now have quite a few friends on Facebook and contacts on LinkedIn. If you are on either and would like to friend me, my contact name on both sites is Linda C. McCabe. Be sure to use the middle initial C. or you are likely to meet up with other Linda McCabes. One of which is my cousin Al's wife.

I uploaded the same picture from my blog taken by Cindy Pavlinac, so it should be easy to identify me.

I feel like such a newbie about these things and would love to hear people's thoughts or feedback on these and other social networking sites.

Also, does anyone Twitter? Does anyone follow Twitter? If so...why? Just because it is there does that mean that we have to avail ourselves of it?


Tuesday, September 9, 2008

East of Eden Writers Conference - Wrap Up

This past weekend I was in Steinbeck Country and attended the East of Eden Writers Conference that was organized by the South Bay Writers branch of the California Writers Club.

I find going to writers conferences to be invigorating since I am surrounded by creative minds who are just as obsessed with the written word as I am.

It is also a great opportunity to meet, schmooze and network with other writers. That is only the first part. The follow through after the conference is over is just as important.

For example, four years ago at the East of Eden Conference, I met Lee Lofland. He's a retired detective with over twenty years experience in law enforcement. He is now the proud author of the Macavity nominated book Police Procedure and Investigation: A guide for writers.

We chatted, I made a few networking suggestions for him and we exchanged business cards. He followed up later with an email to me and we have kept in contact ever since.

Whenever I see something that reminds me of what one of my friends is working on, I pass that information on in the hopes of helping them.

With that in mind, a few months back I saw a post about agent Verna Dreisbach on the Guide to Literary Agents blog. All I needed to see was a mention of Verna having a background in law enforcement for me to immediately forward that post to Lee. I knew Lee should get in contact with Verna. She might not become his literary agent, but I was certain they could work together in some capacity.

They are.

Both will be participants in the upcoming Police Writers Academy to be held in April 2009. Lee has the details of that conference on his blog.

So at the East of Eden Conference, Lee returned the favor and introduced me to Verna. He then told her that I was the one responsible for him knowing about her.

After talking with Verna I discovered that she worked in the Sonoma County Sheriff's Department and lived in the town where I now work. 'Tis a small world indeed.

At the first workshop session, I attended Hallie Ephron's discussion about POV and different ways it can be done.

I wound up making a comment in that venue which she liked. Later I ran into her in the hall and she saw me and said, "you seem to know what you are doing." That comment thrilled me as it meant that a published author thought I made a cogent point. Yay, me!

We exchanged business cards and later on, I tried to introduce Lee to Hallie. I did not realize that they were friends already. They both live in the Boston area, and have been friends for awhile.

After dinner and keynote speakers there were late night sessions held at a nearby hotel. I attended one about mystery writing. Lee and Hallie were on a panel with David Corbett and Terri Thayer.

One aspect that I love about the California Writers Club is that we are open to writers of all genres. That means we interact and learn from writers who are working on different styles and conventions of writing. I look at it as cross-pollination of ideas and as the lines of genres blur, I think it is even more important to learn whatever we can from other creative people.

So even though I do not currently write mysteries, I enjoyed hearing this panel of speakers.

Left to right: Terri Thayer, David Corbett, Hallie Ephron, Lee Lofland.

I had a great time listening to the panelists and their freewheeling style. It was informative and entertaining.

David Corbett has a wicked sense of humor and I look forward to reading his book Blood of Paradise which has been nominated for the following awards:

The Edgar

I wish him well and hope that he wins at least one of those awards. David was cracking so many jokes that after the session ended when I had a chance to talk with him, he got a little friendly with me. While Ana Manwaring was trying to figure out how to work my camera, David was grabbing my side. Hence the huge grin on my face.

Here is Ana Manwaring and David "watch his hands" Corbett.

David gave a wonderful and rousing speech the next morning as a keynote speaker about the importance of respecting the genre.

The next morning my new friend Molly Dwyer and I started chatting with people who sat down at our table for breakfast. We soon realized they were "techies" and the conversation was soon on the topic of using the internet to publicize yourself and your writing.

Left to right: Matilda Butler, Martha Alderson, Molly Dwyer and Kendra Bonnett.

And here is Kendra Bonnett explaining about why she Twitters.

At lunch Hallie Ephron spoke about what it was like to have grown up in a family of writers and how that impacted her own confidence in writing.

Now just some pictures of writing friends. Here is Jana McBurney-Lin author of My Half of the Sky.

Here is Dionne Obeso and Charlotte Cook of KOMENAR Publishing.

Here I am with Jordan Rosenfeld. This was her first major literary event for Jordan since she became a mother in June.

Then at the gala banquet that night I schmoozed with Martha Alderson.

Hallie Ephron then came over to share with us how giddy she was to have met the banquet's keynote speaker Jane Smiley. It is nice to know that everyone can become giddy at meeting someone they admire.

Then here is Hallie posing with me and my "peeps" from my writers club.

Left to right: Me, Hallie Ephron, Ana Manwaring, Kerry Granshaw.

Hallie Ephron and Lee Lofland

Here are the conference organizers as well as keynote speakers.

from left to right: Karen Joy Fowler, Edie Mathews, Kelly Harrison, Jane Smiley, Hallie Ephron

I will leave you with one of my favorite pictures from the conference. It is of me and Lee.

Write on!

The Harry Potter Lexicon Decision

The U.S. District Court Judge Robert P. Patterson issued his ruling in the case Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. et al vs. RDR Books et al. He ruled in favor of J.K. Rowling and against Steve Vander Ark in the matter of book The Harry Potter Lexicon going beyond fair use of copyrighted material and found that it infringed on Rowling's intellectual property rights.

The full 68 page decision can be read here.

I blogged about this case last year when the lawsuit was filed. In that post I was upfront saying that I had met Steve Vander Ark on two occasions and had corresponded with him a few times via email. I classified our relationship as acquaintances, but not as friends.

(I honestly do not think that I rank high enough on his radar screen to be considered as anything more than an acquaintance.)

In that post I had not taken any definitive side on the lawsuit because I felt that there was not enough public information on the case, I knew there was enough legal ambiguity on the issue of fair use and copyright law, and I did not want to take sides based on emotion or out of a sense of loyalty.

Now that the decision has been rendered, I still wish that RDR Books had responded in a more forthcoming manner when they were first contacted by the lawyers from Warner Brothers. For starters, I think they should have provided a copy of the manuscript for review.

If there could have been modifications made to the manuscript at that stage ameliorating objections from Rowling, then the book might have been published without the lawsuit being filed. However, that is a big, "What if?" and it is impossible to go back in time to reverse the events as they happened.

Here is the statement by Jo Rowling on the ruling that appears on Publisher's Weekly online:

“I took no pleasure at all in bringing legal action and am delighted that this issue has been resolved favourably,” said Rowling in a statement. “I went to court to uphold the right of authors everywhere to protect their own original work. The court has upheld that right. The proposed book took an enormous amount of my work and added virtually no original commentary of its own. Now the court has ordered that it must not be published. Many books have been published which offer original insights into the world of Harry Potter. The Lexicon just is not one of them.”

I take that to mean that as long as writers include sufficient original commentary and provide new insights on her series, she will probably not interfere with the publication of companion books.

That is good to know, because I have friends who have published books in the past analyzing the Harry Potter series and are working on future books as well.

I am referring to John Granger's work whose most recent books include How Harry Cast His Spell: The Meaning Behind the Mania for J. K. Rowling's Bestselling Books and The Deathly Hallows Lectures: The Hogwarts Professor Explains the Final Harry Potter Adventure.

I am confident that Rowling will not have a problem with any of Granger's companion titles for he definitely provides analysis and original insight to her work and -- while I may not always agree with his arguments -- his writings are always thought provoking.

The ruling against Vander Ark will stop the Harry Potter Lexicon from being published in book form, but he has another book about the Harry Potter series in the works. His other project is a travel guide for Potter fans. It will be titled: In Search of Harry Potter and has not yet been released.

The Guardian mentions the forthcoming book as:

The independent publisher describes the resulting book as an "extraordinary travel book" which "evokes the myths and magic of Harry Potter". Methuen managing director Peter Tummons said that at present, each chapter includes a "few words" taken from the Harry Potter books themselves. "We've asked for approval but I guess in the end we will probably delete them because it may not come, or be denied." The book is illustrated with Vander Ark's own photos.

I saw Vander Ark's presentation at Sonorus in 2007 and was impressed. He included photos he had taken in Scotland of where he surmised that Hogwarts was located. It even had a sign near a rural train station saying "Keep Out" which since we are only mere Muggles, we would see as opposed to a glorious castle.

I wish Steve well with this publishing venture and that the legal wrangling on these issues will be over for all the parties. I also hope that the fandom does not respond with venom toward anyone. I could not stomach reading many of the comments posted on various fansites that spewed vitriol mostly in the direction of Steve, but some was also directed toward Rowling.

They deserve better.

ETA: After I finished this post I heard a segment on National Public Radio's Talk of the Nation interviewing an intellectual property rights attorney discussing this case. The audio will be available later here.