Twenty-four Hours At Fontevraud Abbey

Oct. 12, 2019:

In the quiet of the Grand-Moûtier at Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud, the wind carried on it the constant whisper of a thousand years.

I sat, regretful in my exhale, as the Abbey sleeps.

It is the silence when I am the most terrified and at peace. I lingered on the waxing moon, just three days short of full release, and shook.

This place—this holy, sacred, venomous, cruel place—soothed me in the darkness, and I submit.

Midnight, at Fontevraud.

The twenty-four hours I spent in seclusion at Fontevraud reshaped me as a person and also reshaped the storyline of Woman On The Wall in profound sorts of ways.

It was here that I learned of the legacy of the Boubons, of the underground river of Fontevraud, the cloisters, the immense power of the Abbess of Fontevraud, and the remarkable features of this place that help us all reach beyond the veil.

It is my hope to return to Fontevraud soon and spend a significant amount of time doing some serious study of the site, as it has emerged as the Mother House—the pivot point—which every story/novel that comes from my work on the Woman On The Wall will revolve.

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The moon rising over Fontevraud

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The galleries of the Grand-Moûtier

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The Grand-Moûtier

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L’eglise abbaye

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Royal crypt

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In the refectory

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Walking the galleries at Midnight

 

Atop The Ramparts at Château Royal d’Amboise

Amidst all of the revelations brought about by my trip to the Loire Valley, there were some lovely scenes that simply stole my breath.

The grounds of Château Royal d’Amboise near the hunting lodge proved simple for the most part.

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It was, however, the ramparts which provoked majestic ooooos and ahhhhhhs.

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One of the most remarkable qualities of the royal residence is only about a fifth of what it once remains intact. Imagine what it must have been like, its towering presence over Amboise and the Loire River, five-hundred years ago.

I like to imagine that da Vinci and Melzi sat in a tower long the victim of time and treachery painting elegant women with the Loire in the background.

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Meanwhile, the tiny town of Amboise bustles below:

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The Grimoires of Fontevraud

Curious items discovered at ‘l’Abbaye Royale de Fontevraud.

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Grimoires of Fontevraud

I’m honestly not sure I will ever be more in love with a place than I was with Fontevraud and all of its mysteries.

I got to the point with the novel-writing today where it first appears in the book and am slightly swoony.

Now, to decipher these magical texts.

Atop The World With Da Vinci

“Can’t you see it?” she asked me.

“I’ve been walking for like an hour and I’m exhausted. I’m going to sit on this bench over here for about two days,” I told my ephemeral guide.

“Perfect. Right over there. Nope, one more bench over. There, you got it.”

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I gasped.

There, at a tiny grove of trees just above the marked remains of where the Château Royal d’Amboise used to extend into a far greater complex than what remains today, I could see what she offered up.

A new whispering in my ears began to shift from mere chatter to a conversation overheard and a vision of an old man alongside two others stationed at wooden easels. Amongst the shady plane trees and Gary oak, he guided their hands to sketch and capture the scene in front of them.

I stepped forward to take a closer look, and a young woman stretched her neck around the closest easel to make sure I saw her.

A quiet wave.

A knowing, modest smile.

The old man waived a gentle finger at her and everyone returned to their work. Something pricking me on the shoulder forced me out of the vision and around staring back at the river.

An arched bridge.

A wild river.

Rugged hills and shifting light.

I caught a glimpse of the landscape they had been painting in the background.

By the time I turned back around, the group of painters had vanished from view, but not from my own knowing of who I’d had the chance to watch at work that day—Melzi, Salaí, and their Master.  Who was their muse? What else had they learned to paint on that hill in the magical light of Amboise?

Just beyond it on the trail, it would seem others may have a bit of a sense as I dd that something truly remarkable took place there.

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My guide pointed out that it is marked in plain sight, for those of us who know to use as a guide.

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I nodded and acknowledged her gift, then suddenly stood.

My attention redirected itself by force, and I moved toward what appeared to be the remains of a moat or battlement at the top of the castle where I was offered another vision.

This time men and women fled a burning castle, but it was too late. The bodies piled up, filling the space, the screams and panic swarming my senses until my mind snapped back and I stood in the sunshine shaking.

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It would take a week for me to understand the final message of that time at the top of the world with da Vinci.

My guide spoke in a solemn tone, offering up an explanation of what I’d seen.

“Not even his power could stop what came for us.”

I Died Here

I  found myself staring into the remains of a place I didn’t know existed.

A grotesque, morbid sensation settled across my shoulders, then a pressure leaned in against my right arm and I stiffened.

“I died here,” a voice whispered.

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Throughout that morning, while I bought roses and baguettes at Le Marché and began my winding procession through the cobblestone streets, the same voice drew me closer.

Having arrived in Amboise less than twenty-four hours earlier, my first walk through town led me to the base of the castle ramparts at Château Royale d’Amboise.

The moment I found myself at the locked gate leading across the small moat, I heard her again: “I died here.”

My mind fickered and scenes of a woman tossed from the tower above, crashing against the pavement, played out over and over. The water stains of rust or wear streaming down from the window tuned to blood and the air bristled with the scent of lilies and life violently exiting.

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The woman who spoke pulled me back into her time and showed me, then nodded, took my hand, and asked me to remember.

“Do not leave me here again,” she said.

At that moment, I’d convinced myself I’d gone crazy, watched too much Outlander, had slipped into some delusional state brought on by jet lag and the ongoing series of serendipitous events leaving me without time to recover from the last.

Whatever it was, Amboise and its royal heritage had long called to me without me listening. In the works for years, The Woman On The Wall only ever had one major setting. This tiny town on the banks of the Loire River drove me right to its edge and there I stood, clear in every way that I returned to a place I’d known in not just one lifetime, but many.

“I died here.”

Did this woman speak of my death or her own? I will never truly know. However, she stayed with me for a long while, weaving me in and out of abandoned space, requesting that I listen and remember them, remember how I used to know them.

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An unnatural urge to rip open the gates of passageways and throw myself into the spaces leading up into the castle took hold and I fought her stories, her words, the places she revealed to me.

I knew who spoke. I knew the voice of Aesmeh. I knew she needed me to know where her life played out. It was as if she’d waited five-hundred years for someone to finally hear her and not run.

Oh, how I wanted to run.

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My own urge to get the hell out of there took over, and I released myself into the street where I wandered, grateful for the lack of interest that anyone else in Amboise seemed to have for those quiet, abandoned places which carried with them the deep resonance of stories much more difficult to hear than one of royal pageantry, art, and afternoons in the garden.

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As my head cleared and the voice faded, I relished the accomplishment of breaking free when there she was.

I told myself it was just a window, one which I’m sure the owner had specially made with the gentle face of a striking ancient woman visible when the sun caught it just right. Maybe she appeared because someone thought it appropriate for this historic royal hamlet. Maybe, she wasn’t done with me.

Her eyes followed me as I moved up and down the row of houses until finally, I collapsed across the street from her and just listened.

“So,” she said. “Let me introduce you to everyone else.”

A Journey Without Expectations

I’d tried desperately to curb my urges, yet preparation for France owned me.

My kids made it clear they wanted no more of this level of obsession.

“All you think about, all you talk about is France, mom,” my oldest daughter kept saying, deservedly irritated that she got little of my focus.  “What are you going to do when you don’t have France anymore?”

“That’s not possible,” I would always reply.

Really, though, I worried.

For three months, I’d immersed myself in planning and research for the novel research to come. I spent three hours a day learning French, surfed French websites, made appointments with French historians, booked tours, packed twelve times, read every book I could. With two weeks to cram it all in, I had to make sure my focus proved laser-sharp, and I wouldn’t walk away from this experience wishing I’d gone and done something different.

I literally planned every moment of every day. Error, jet lag, language barrier, time—none could be a factor. I had sworn off the need to account for any of them.

Ken said I was the Fort Knox of travel planning. Everything right down to what would happen if I caught a cold had a solution in place or a detailed map and itinerary attached to it.

Then, the day before I left, in the middle of working on Woman On The Wall this popped up. Just a little note. Nothing profound. Nothing more than a reminder sliding in while I pounded away at the story of Elijah, the main character:

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It hit me like a brick. What if no moment I’d so carefully mapped out worked out the way I planned? What if I went to France and found nothing? Or something totally different? Or hated it? Or everything went sideways on the first day and the rest of the trip was garbage? What if I couldn’t keep up with my schedule? What if I missed this or that? What would I possibly do?

This was the first solo research trip of my life, and I’d left no room in it to just experience anything, to see where a lead took me, or listen to the wind and follow it.

I could freak out, unable to control it all. Or, I told myself after recovering from the icky, cold sweat I broke into, I could go without any expectations and have faith that all of the work I put in to get there would lead me to experience France in a way in which stories simply blossomed, taking shape without being forced.

Hmmmm.

I promptly dumped my rigid itinerary in the trash, marked the few things that I could not miss, and hopped on the plane with the mindset that anything I faced in those next 14 days would be transformative.

I’ve tried to control nearly everything my whole life. It was time to just experience it all.

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From that moment, I swear it was like the universe offered up its nod of approval, jacked me into the energy of place, and set me on a path to discovery that even I could never have imagined.

France took me in, opened its soul for me to be a part of, and left me a changed woman.

For the next several weeks, I’ll be posting the tales of magick, time travel, serendipity, and the great confluence of modern-day life alongside that of the Renaissance which defined my French sojourn, deeply reshaped the story being told in Woman On The Wall, and brought me to a place at the edge of the veil where I found far more than details for my novel.

I look forward to sharing this experience with all of you.

 

 

Slow Travel

I’ve been circling around this concept of slow travel a lot lately.

It’s not shocking to anyone who has spent literally even one day with me that I am a bit of a doer. Chilling is not my thing.

I’ve got lists and then lists for the lists.

I survive on accomplishment alone.

It’s my insecurity, I get it.

To do is to have a purpose. To chill is to, well . . .

Yet, upon reflection, I’ve begun to understand how my urge to do, do, and then do some more is based almost entirely in the fear that I will somehow be thought of as less, miss out, that I only get one shot at things, and that everyone else is staring at me thinking I’m an idiot unless I am superwoman mounting the to-do list like the queen of everything.

This leads me to France and THIS ARTICLE from Quartzy.com.

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I am taking myself to France in October to, well, chill.

No, do.

No, chill.

No, do.

See, it’s a problem.

I am taking myself to France in October to research The Woman On The Wall. For those of you who don’t know, I’m writing a novel about the true identity of the Mona Lisa that is half epistolary love story and half Indiana Jones-style thriller.

I know, in my head, I am going to Paris and Amboise to chill and get to know the places where the novel is set as well as possible in 14 days. I’m not going to play tourist.

Then, the other part of my head goes bananas. I have like a billion to-dos in Paris in my Google Maps. I can do 12 hours a day in the first two days I get off the plane, right?

This article killed all of my need to do Paris (in a good way), giving me permission to just wander through my quick 72 hours there.

Yes, me and La Gioconda are hooking up.

We’ve already texted.

She’s expecting me.

However, I have now basically just thrown my crazy to the wind and decided that everything else in Paris can just happen.

We’ll see how I fare.

Historical Fiction Book Review – Cleopatra’s Daughter

I go through these phases where I read everything I can on a specific topic or region of the world.

One dark Summer, I read every novel and non-fiction memoir I could find on the Armenian genocide.

Another, I read every gothic horror novel I could get my hands on.

Last Summer, it was death, mystery, and religion in the British countryside.

Way back in 2015, I was spending a WHOOOOLE lot of time mentally in ancient Egypt. It didn’t matter what dynasty, anything Egyptian got devoured by me.

Recently, I’ve been revisiting my Egyptian phase and re-read Michelle Moran’s Cleopatra’s Daughter.

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Here’s the review I wrote on Goodreads the first time around:

Michelle Moran does a remarkable job of recreating ancient Rome after the fall of Egypt, building the intimate relationships that brought the children of Marc Antony and Cleopatra to life.

Selene’s voice is eloquent and pure, full of extremes and her capacity to control her own destiny. With her as the narrator, the story read like a historical peek at the bloody and cruel reign of Augustus through young eyes that understood the world to be anything but good and pure. 

This book struck a deep chord for me as I have always been far more interested in the children of Cleopatra than the great pharaoh herself. I loved getting to know Selene and Alexander, crushed by their defeats and the losses.

It has been a long time since I closed a book after finishing it, sad that I would no longer be able to know more about the people inside.

A masterful recollection from a rare perspective. I recommend it for any lover of ancient historical fiction, especially those that key in on the lives of women. 

This novel still resonates deeply with me, and reading it for the second time was pure joy. In the last four years, characters for my own novels have evolved as a result of learning the history beyond the fiction of this story. One of the most significant characters in my lengthy Sibylline project—Chekka—is based on Mauritanian lineage discovered in the process of curling up in bed with a good book.

I’m not entirely sure where I would be without novels such as this to inspire me to dig deeper into the past, culture, and concepts. Although Moran hasn’t published anything since 2016, I hope she’s got something new in the works as it was rumored that she would be returning to her storytelling roots in Egypt.