Monday, October 20, 2008

Puycelsi, l'un des plus beaux villages en France

In the process of reconstructing my trip to France, I have now come to our visit to Puycelsi.

I had tried balancing our trips from the home base of a cottage near Monclar-de-Quercy so that I did not schedule long roads trips one day after another. The previous day we had visited the medieval walled city of Carcassonne and so for this Tuesday I wanted to visit something closeby.

Our day started at a slower pace than the previous ones and I had to take into account that in France (outside major cities such as Paris) that everything other than restaurants are closed between noon and two. Since we had such a late start I knew we would be arriving around that two hour black out period, so I needed to choose someplace that I would not need to ask anyone any questions.

I chose to visit Puycelsi as our first stop of our day.

Puycelsi was a fun visit because I am not using as a location in my novel. It was disqualified because there is another town nearby that fits into my timeline better. Bruniquel dates back to the time of the Romans and Puycelsi was founded in the eleventh century, well after the time of Charlemagne. Whenever possible I used settings that were present at the time of my story, but I had to make a few exceptions when my plot needs trumped reality.

The poet Ariosto in his epic poem Orlando Furioso concealed an enchanted castle inside a forest that was "close" to Montauban. In looking at maps, it is difficult to overlook the massive Forêt de Grésigne due east of Montauban. The various locales chosen to use in my adaptation had this vast forest as its focal point.

My itinerary for that Tuesday was to do some sightseeing in Puycelsi, drive through the Forêt de Grésigne and then arrive at Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val where I could do my fact finding mission. (We had gone to Saint Antonin two days before just to attend their farmers market, but had not discovered the historic sites such as the vestiges of their abbey dating back to the time of Pepin le Bref.)

That was my plan, but things did not work out that way.

Anyway, looking at two dimensional maps does not give you the full sense of what awaits you.

Puycelsi is a hilltop village and here is what we saw while climbing the road and first spied our destination.

Here is a closer shot of that village that has been declared by France to be one of its most beautiful villages or les plus beaux villages.

To earn that designation a village has to go through a selection process that consists of four stages and one of the first qualifications is that it must have less than 2,000 residents and at least two historical monuments.

Puycelsi is a beautiful village.

The wall surrounding the village once had a dozen towers as part of its fortifications.

Here you can see the remaining wall and get a sense of the panoramic view of the valley floor below as well as the forest.

Next to that same wall were a few parked cars. People who live in medieval villages still require modern conveniences such as cars and a place to park them. (We had to park in a visitors lot outside the village proper.)

Here is a private garden behind a residence. Imagine living here and being able to see for miles from your bedroom window.

The brickwork on this dwelling made me nervous. To my eyes it appears that the stones have shifted since they were laid and I wonder about its structural integrity. Then again, that is not my problem!

Here you can see an old stairway whose stones have become worn over the centuries, but it is still used to traverse around the village.

I love the sundial on the side of this building.

And the simple beauty of colorful flowers scaling a wall.

Here is the Chateau du Capitaine Royal...

and its historical marker.

This is the Chapel de Saint Roch which now houses the tourist office. Because we visited between noon and two, it was closed.

Here is its entrance and you can see a statue dedicated to Saint Roch.

A closer shot of another obscure saint that I had never heard of before.

Due to the wonders of the internet, I have discovered that Saint Roch is not only a patron saint of dogs and dog lovers, but of pestilence. He also goes by the name of Rock, Rocco, Rollox, Roque and Rochus. Saint Roch had been born to French nobility, but left that behind as he dedicated himself to treating the sick. In doing so, he became infected with the plague as well and a dog befriended the pious man which wound up leading to his recovery.

He also had a birthmark with the sign of a cross on his chest.

As you look down from Puycelsi you can see the village of Larroque, which I believe might also be named after that dog loving saint.

If you look closely you can also see hay that had been harvested into big rolls near the road.

Here is another breathtaking panoramic view as seen from the top of Puycelsi.

Here is an historical marker affixed to the old Chapel de Saint Roch detailing the origins of Puycelsi to around the year 1000.

Later we wound up driving past the small town of Larroque and here is the same village shown previously but from ground level.

Here are the gray and orange colored hills over the town of Larroque.

After leaving Puycelsi, we started on my planned excursion through the forest.

I had discovered a large map of the forest in the plethora of tourist guides collected by our hosts and left in the cottage. I was certain that I could navigate our way through the complex maze of paths crisscrossing through the woods.

:shakes head:

I could never figure out where we were on that huge thing. And the Michelin map did not help either.

It seemed like a simple enough plan, yet it was not. Here is one sign that we saw, but I did not want to take either direction. I thought that the fork in the road I sought would only be a little farther ahead.

Soon we found ourselves on a rural path with sharp gravel stones and my husband began grumbling about the potential of our tires getting punctured and stuck in the wilderness with no cell phone coverage to call for help.

The day before I had lost confidence in our GPS system in devising a route that would take us from Point A to Point B without sending us on goat paths.

We drove around and around in the forest without really seeing much other than tall trees.

Any thoughts I had of possibly scheduling a horse back ride in the forest went out the window as I assumed that Scott would not want to set foot anywhere near the Forêt de Grésigne again during that trip.

If nothing else, it made me realize that even though my heroine should have a strong sense of direction that it would not be implausible for her to get lost in a dense forest if she was exhausted and dehydrated. I was neither exhausted or dehydrated and I had two maps and a GPS unit, but I still became flummoxed.

It was the only time during our whole trip that I was uncertain which way to go. It was an unpleasant feeling and my husband's nerves were rubbed raw by this experience.

Ultimately we came out on the south end of the forest on the opposite side of Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val and I decided that it would take too long to visit that village that day.

We still had some time for information gathering, and so I chose to use the remaining time to visit Bruniquel since it was nearby. It was named after a Visigothic princess who once made the village her home. She married a grandson of Clovis and became known as Queen Brunehaut (Brunhilda). She had been regent of Austrasia three times in her life and a portion of her life story was chronicled by Gregory of Tours' History of the Franks.

After learning Brunehaut's life story, any fanciful thoughts I had as a child of what it would be like to be a princess is no longer in the realm of "fairy tale" but instead more in the realm of Greek or Shakespearean tragedy.

Her story of power, betrayal, vengeance and tragic demise as well as pictures of Bruniquel I shall save for another day.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Carcassonne, Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus

In the last installment of my travelogue series, I promised to blog on the church in the medieval walled city of Carcassonne. I wanted to do that separately since I had enough material and pictures to warrant its own post.

The church goes by a few different names. Here is the sign posted outside its entrance declaring that it is the Basilique des Saints Nazaire et Celse.

The English language handout I acquired inside gives the name of the Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus. Unfortunately they did not have anything detailing the stories of those saints, but I found a lengthy tale online from a Catholic forum. Another online source has Saint Nazarius as being an abbot during the time of Clotaire and is said to have "attacked the heathendom on the southern coast of France."

The handout suggests that the earliest church on that site was built during the 6th century during the "reign of Theodoric, regent for the Kingdom of the Wisigoths (sic)." It then states that the first written mention of this church was in 925 when Bishop Gimer was transfering the "Episcopal See from St. Mary and Savior's church in the surrounding country, to the church of St. Nazaire with the city walls."

The church has been renovated many times and it is said Pope Urban II stayed in Carcassonne for five days in June 1096 after having made his infamous call for the crusades in Clermont. While in Carcassonne, he blessed the materials that were used for the Romanesque building.

The plan called for a single nave, 2 side aisles, an apse with 3 chapels and the transept. The Romaneque nave adopts a disposition frequently observed in churches of the Bas-Languedoc: Barrel vaulting with doubled arches (nave), and barrel vaulting again for the especially narrow side aisles. The 2 side vaults act as buttresses for the central vault.

Here you can see the narrow barrel vaults on the side aisles.

The handout also points out that visitors should note the alternating round and squared columns.

The history of France, and particularly the south of France, is of a series of conquests. After the defeat of Carcassonne by Simon de Montfort, the king of France wanted this Romanesque church to be replaced with a Gothic one. However, the funds ran low and rather than tear down the entire structure, it was amended.

Here is my favorite picture as it shows the seams of where the pointed Gothic arches meet the rounded Romanesque arches.

Outside the church you can see that there are still remnants of it being a "work in progress." The scaffolding alone suggests that they are actively trying to restore aspects of the edifice.

But inside you do not get the sense of construction. It is a place of worship and quiet contemplation.

Here is a picture of the North facing rose window which dates from the 13th century.

Here is another shot at a slightly different angle showing off the architecture of the building more.
Here is the South facing rose window which dates to the 14th century.

More beautiful stained glass.

Then on the floor I saw this tombstone. The handout has several mentioned, and so I am unsure who this image is supposed to represent.

Here is a baptismal font in front of a statue of Jeanne d'Arc.

And a close up of the Maid of Orleans.

This church remained a cathedral until 1803 when the Episcopal See was transfered to St. Michael's church in the modern Carcassonne. Later Pope Leo XIII made St. Nazaire into a Lesser Basilica.

Next in my series will be the hilltop village of Puycelsi overlooking the vast Forêt de Grésigne.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

First Drafts, Guest Blogging, Book Trailers, and a Movie Review

On Sunday my writers club had their monthly meeting and our guest speaker was Guy Biederman.

The topic of his discussion was "Why I will not write today" and dispeled several myths about the writing process and how writers allow impediments to interfere with their writing. He tossed out that question to the room and there were numerous replies from being too tired, too busy, and nothing to write about. One woman, who was a first time attendee of our meetings, said, "Because I'm afraid of writing crap."

I was not running the meeting and so I had to restrain myself from trying to take the reins of the meeting and interjecting my thoughts to her in response.

The first draft is important to get your thoughts down on paper or in your computer screen even if it is crap. I remember Gillian Roberts saying in a keynote address that writers should not worry about "writing it right, you need to write it down." Later you can fix it.

Anne Lamott has said on more than one occasion that she has never writes anything but "shitty first drafts."

Hallie Ephron said at the recent East of Eden Conference that she hates writing, but loves re-writing. Only after the first draft will she have something to work with and to perfect.

I wanted to share those accumulated bits of wisdom I had heard from other writers over the years and reassure this woman that she should not her first draft. She may find that the first words written are indeed crap, but that in the creative process she might also come up with something inspired. The first she needs to do is get it down on paper and she can fix it later.

However, I was not the guest speaker and did not want to interrupt in order to interject a point because when it comes to writing I have many opinions and insights. Unfortunately, after the meeting I did not get the chance after the meeting to schmooze with her convey my thoughts in response to her statement.

It was an enjoyable meeting and I found this statement by Guy Biederman to be profound: "writing is not therapy, but it is therapeutic."

Onto the subject of guest blogging. My friend Erika Mailman will be guest blogging at Lee Lofland's wonderful Graveyard Shift blog on Wednesday, October 8th. His blog normally deals with police procedurals and anything law enforcement related. This time the subject will be expanded to look at historical interrogations in the form of witch trials and the Malleus Maleficarum which Erika used as inspiration for her novel The Witch's Trinity now available in paperback. Here is a direct link to her post which is chilling.

She will be there all day answering questions, so if you have any in regard to the tests used to determine guilt or innocence of those accused of witchcraft, be sure to post it in the comment trail.

Erika has other events associated with the launch of her paperback including other guest blogging stints, public appearances and a radio interview planned for this month. You can find a list of them here.

Now to book trailers. I wanted to share a wonderful book trailer that I saw yesterday that makes me want to read about a woman from history I had not heard about before. She is Juana of Castile also known as Juana la Loca. She was the sister of Catherine of Aragon (Henry the VIII's first wife) and the mother of the Emperor Charles the V. She was the last queen of Spanish blood and is said to have gone mad over love.

The Last Queen has made the Marin Independent Journal's best seller list and the rights have been sold in nine countries.

Christopher Gortner will be our guest speaker in December for my writers club and I am excited to hear him speak. His topic will be his path to publication which took thirteen years, four agents, and included self-publishing a novel that was later republished by a large publisher.

At one point, he had an agent suggest he adopt a pen name that would make him appear to be a woman. Because it is thought that since women buy most historical novels that they prefer books written by women.

The irony of it all.

Women such as Mary Ann Evans hid behind the masculine pen name George Eliot in order to be published and now a man has been told he needs to hide his true identity in order to be published.


That is why Christopher uses the name C.W. Gortner.

J.K. Rowling had been told that boys prefer male authors and so she was advised to hide her sex behind her initials. As it turns out, I do not think that boys really care if the author is a man or a woman as long as the book is enjoyable.

I feel that women are the same. Write a book that takes me away from my own day-to-day life and I will not care if it was written by a man or a woman.

I feel insulted that such a suggestion was made to an author, especially since we are told time and again that writers must actively promote their books. No writer cannot depend on reviews causing books flying out of the bookstores without working to make sure people know about the book in the first place.

One cannot sit back and depend on the publicity department of a publisher to do that for you.

Nor can you simply hire an independent publicist so they can handle those pesky matters to generate sales while you can devote your time and attention to writing your next book.

Not in today's publishing world.

It is up to the author to push their product.

How is a male author supposed to do that if he has a female pen name?

Guest blogging with a picture of some hot chick might work, but what about when you are scheduled for personal appearances? Do you hire someone to play the part?

And isn't that what made all kinds of people upset with J.T. LeRoy?

I am glad that Christopher has achieved success without having to follow such a suggestion.

:head on desk:


Now onto a subject that disturbs me and I find myself continuing to think about days after first reading it.

Gil Mansergh is another one of my writing friends and among his many talents he reviews movies. He views over three hundred movies a year and he found the movie Towelhead so disturbing that he felt compelled to write an open letter to Alan Ball the screenwriter and director.

In part, Gil wrote:

What were you trying to accomplish when you made this film?

Because whatever you intended your message to be, the inclusion of voyeuristically graphic sex scenes between the dad-next-door and the thirteen-year-old girl make your movie into a pedophile's fantasy come true.

Gil then mentions that he is also a "psychological educator who uses movie clips to teach thousands of teachers, psychologists and other licensed mental health professionals in seminars like 'Sex, Trust and Intimacy,' 'Parenting Teens.' And 'Spousal/Partner Abuse.' "

In these seminars. I use carefully selected clips from some quite controversial films (i.e. Larry Clark's "Kids," Alexander Payne's "Election," and Catherine Hardwicke and Nikki Reed's "Thirteen,") to focus on important topics for discussion including sensuality, sexual identification and sexual abuse.

Gil goes on to describe how in this movie a character methodically ingratiates himself with the teenaged girl until she sees herself as his girlfriend and submits to his sexual advances so that force is unnecessary.

Gil's description of those scenes make me ill.

Movies are powerful because they project images that resonate with our subconscious and their influence can last for years.

I do not think that I could stomach watching such a movie. I like Aaron Eckhart as an actor, but I will not subject myself to watching him play the role of sexual predator of a child.

I would not be entertained, I would be sickened.

I trust that Gil's assessment of the film is spot on and shall spare myself from needing to take a long, hot shower after going to the cinema.

I hope that mentioning this on my blog will spare others from seeing a movie whose content you might not be fully aware of beforehand. Consider yourself forewarned.


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Critiques as a fundraising tool and more...

Moonrat, the anonymous Editorial Assistant, has announced a fundraiser to fight Lymphoma.

You can buy tickets for a raffle to have a critique of a

query letter

a children's picture book manuscript

first chapter of YA/MG manuscript

a partial manuscript (50 pages)

or a full manuscript evaluation.

For those who are not writers or are not interested in a critique you can enter into a raffle to win a book listed from Moonrat's personal library.

The prices for the various raffles are reasonable at only ten and twenty dollars depending on the raffle you enter. The contest runs from today until next Tuesday, October 7th at 8 pm (Eastern Time I assume.) Check out all the rules and such here and be sure to pass on word of this to all your writer friends.

Speaking of critiques, my friend Becky Levine announced on her blog that she just signed a contract with Writers Digest books to write a book currently titled The Critiquer's Survival Guide.


Becky has other good news that a book she and Lee Lofland have been working on is now listed on even though it is not due to be published until July of next year. Cool. Another reason to celebrate.

Onto other news, I wanted to mention that Blogger has a shiny new gizmo that I added to my blog. It is the Java script for Followers. This allows other Blogspot users to display their icons on their favorite Blogger sites as well as have those feeds accumulate in the Blogger dashboard. (You can also still follow those feeds in your Google Reader as well.)

I have been slowly adding myself as a follower for the various Blogspot blogs I follow - even those ones who have not added the "Follower" code yet on their pages. So if you notice on your dashboard that you now have "followers" - one of those might be me. To make your followers visible on your blog you simply have to add that code to your template.

I think this feature is just one more way to share links in the interwebs.

Another recent addition is the Blogrush bar. My friend Ann Wilkes added one several months ago and said
"(i)t helps generate more traffic to your blog. Like Google's Adsense, it looks for similar products. It's like swapping links without doing a thing. If you sign up, be sure to use the link below because I get even more traffic for referrals. It's easy, free, and so far, I've seen no downside."
I have now had Blogrush installed since about June and frankly it has not done much for me at all. Perhaps my titles just are not pithy enough to make many people go, "ooooh, I gotta see that," but I am not ready to jettison the code from my blog either.

Here's the direct link to Blogrush if you would like to test it out on your blog as well and in turn give me a little more referral traffic.

On the last topic of the day, I recently received an email suggesting that I would receive payment or a sample product for posting on my blog an unbiased review of a website. I was curious, especially when I saw the URL.

I clicked on the link and laughed. The URL was www dot UTI dot biz. See I am not even going to put a link to them. I looked at it for about two seconds before shutting it down.

Yes, the UTI stands for "urinary tract infection."


Here's my review:

If you have a bladder infection you should go see a doctor and not a website.