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.”

Everyone Needs A Place To Commit Treason

So, there we were—the long-dead woman whose pronouncement shook me to the core and my trembling core.

Now that she’d offered to introduce me to the crew, I had to forgive her for so unabashedly revealing her death to me without my consent.

Apparently, when you are a novelist who’s come to tell their stories, those who’ve waited all of those centuries for you to get it together already know your storyline.

I knew what I wanted: to plot out what Elijah would find in the modern timeline of the novel when she made her way to Amboise. Streetscapes and entry points to the castle made it into the massive journal I’d imagined long before the journey would be an epic record of what showed up. I walked and walked the empty roadways, alleys, dark corners, and abandoned ancient doorways of town as if all other human activity was pushed in some alternative direction while my new friend showed me this path.

In my everyday life, my willingness to push through a half-open metal gate or get down on my hands and knees to see inside a partially sealed-off doorway almost guaranteed unpleasant, if not downright dangerous consequences.

In Amboise, it meant finding myself delivered into new realms of imagination and opportunities for crafting the stories I came to tell. This place, it seemed, welcomed those who sought its secrets. Those who might have otherwise dissented knew better than to silence the spirits that day.

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The Goddess at Le Choiseul

Château Royal d’Amboise today is a mere ruin of the extravagant palace that towered above the banks of the Loire at the beginning of the 16th century. As I traced the base of the ramparts back father and father from the tower where I began, I stumbled across Le Choiseul, and extraordinary site, now a hotel meant to draw in the wealthy traveler. It instead drew me to its courtyard goddess, who sent me up into the hills behind the property to discover the first of several novel locations in the ruins of what I later discovered must have been the enormous halls of the main castle.

Deep inside the base of the tufa structures carved right out of the hillside, the stories called.  What would this complex in stone reveal?

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No signage or historical markers hampered my imagination as I stepped inside the gates of the lowest corridors. Nerves firing, I explored and they vibrated with the hum of wanting to be discovered.

 

Cells? Storage? Ancient homes? Something more? I followed the trail as it moved upward. Within minutes, I stood at the entrance to vast subterranean vaults known as Les Greniers de César. The sunbaked printout clumsily tacked to one of the old wooden doors told a version of what these carved-out silos might have been.

My liminal guide decided to download a whole different version for me.

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Perched upon a bench near a cut in the stone for the better half of two hours, I waited for the visions to drop in, and they did so with expressive clarity.

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My guide introduced me to those with whom I’d long sought to make the acquaintance. Up from the docks where the gabare boats of traders and cabanée boats of fisherman delivered goods, the king’s sister Marguerite made her way to what I deemed The Treasury with little notice from the menagerie dealing in salt, spices, wheat, and coin.

Here, in this place, she bargained for the security of a kingdom we now know nothing of, a kingdom she pledged to serve in the halls of Fontevraud long before she bore the name Queen, as her mother did, and a dozen generations of women before them—the Mother Blood of the Anjou.

Deep within the caverns of The Treasury, men such as da Vinci and Francesco Melzi greeted her upon arrival, and those who traveled at the queen’s side proved the most notable guests ever to have to be ushered onto the grounds of the royal residence in secret through the caves at the base of it.

 

The Treasury showed itself as a rich, effusive secondary story location where women such as Marguerite and Aesmeh bargained to usher in the return of a civilization thought wiped off the Earth nearly two-thousand years earlier. It showed itself as a place where men and women gathered to commit a worthy sort of treason.

Its existence and mysterious origins left me room for my own bargain, allowing me to imagine within the complex the potential for a passage leading to and from the castle existed. I needed it to serve as the means through which Elijah might discover that world for herself. The clarity with which this site settled in my mind as a novel location drove all sorts of other questions. Was the Loire navigable from places such as Saumur? What would boat transportation have looked like? So much more. I wanted confirmation that I should move ahead with including it, although I already knew I would.

As I made my way back down onto the grounds of Le Choiseul, the grove just beyond yet another Greek statue glistened in the afternoon light. Behind it, the remains of an old silo shown, and within it stood a cistern marked with a single patch of cyclamen.

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For those familiar with plant lore, the cyclamen as a truly powerful protective flower which blooms in the cooler months and is affiliated with the Dark Mother Hecate. I found it everywhere in Amboise, particularly in location where evidence of the Sibylline rose up.

Confirmation. The Treasury was in.

My new friends weren’t even close to being done with me that day. We had one more stop at the very top of a hill overlooking the royal residence. it was there I discovered how the relationship between Melzi and Aesmeh blossomed, and what would lead us all to the true identity of the Mona Lisa.

 

 

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 Canadian In France – This Week: Trains, Podcasts, & Private Tours

This past Tuesday marked 90 days until I leave for France.

“Three months!” most people say. “You must chill!”

“Only three months!” I tell them. “So much to do.”

Queue a wee bit of dramatic arc because, well . . .

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Our heroine continues to plan her solitary sojourn to France, and realizes quickly she cannot do it on her own.

She turns to her friends who, in their 40s and 50s, do not suffer from the I-have-not-been-to-Europe affliction. In fact, many of them went in their 30s and only return to North America out of professional and familial obligation.

They clue her into the modern world.

The big thing they helped me realize this week is that the phone is my friend. I’ve never been a HEAVY phone user. My apps are limited to voice dictation for when the muse strikes and I left my notebook in my other bag, Podcasts on archeology, and Moon because I am an astro nerd and like to check out the phases of celestial bodies.

I was having a TERRIBLE time resolving issues around a day trip from Amboise to Saumur when my pal Erin from Erin at Large  popped onto my Facebook feed and suggested Trainline

Boom. I’d found my solution to more than Saumur and downloaded the app to store the tickets. That’s when I realized I could app my way to storing a whole lot of things without paper ticketing. I’m the sort of person who will have copies of documents in multiple places (ease, emergency, back-up). So, this was a big, obvious win for me.

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A lovely friend of mine is traveling to France at the same time, and we’ve been trading bits and pieces on French life for the last little while.

Yesterday, she reminded me that one of our mutual loves – podcasts – would be a great way to brush up on traveling tips, learn more about the regions we are going to, and ignore people on transit during our daily commutes. 🙂

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I have totally fallen in love with The Join Us In France Travel podcast.

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Annie and Elyse are amazing guides, and now I’m plowing through far more than the handful of podcasts from them I “thought” pertained to my travels. Love them. Go check it out.

My first one was Episode 224 on traveling solo as a woman in Paris

Finally, I’ve been contemplating how to best manage my whirlwind 48 hours in Paris. I first considered going full-on tourist, but realized that defeated the purpose of my trip to research Renaissance France, da Vinci, and the sentiment surrounding that time period.

A friend from my early years as a newspaper journalist recommended a private tour, something I hadn’t considered since I don’t usually roll that way. The person she recommended never got back to me, but I am not easily defeated once I’ve decided to explore a certain avenue.

Then, a browse through the indomitable Messy Nessy Chic sent me to  City Unscripted out of the UK, where I began corresponding with a great crew about landing a guide who could show me more off-the-tourist-trail sites around Paris that pertain to my research goals.

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They’ve been wonderful, and while I haven’t booked my tour yet because we’re not done planning, I’m looking forward to a mix of tourist and the unusual as a result.

Ah, France.