A Love Story for Valentine’s Day – “Juliet”

JULIET

(From the collection of short stories, Seven Tales of Love.)

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Howard Ashbury strolled along Columbus Avenue, enjoying the fine weather – autumn in New York – a welcome break from the gray of Seattle. Something about the pulse of the city, the charm of the Upper West Side, brought back his younger self, and he felt happy, hopeful. He stopped in front of a little café, and, though it was too early for dinner, he decided to go in. He would read the new script over a glass of wine.

As he entered, he took in the exposed brick walls, the long windows, the candles just being lit in the softening light. Then his heart gave a little lurch when he saw her sitting there – Anna Avilov, his old Juliet. Suddenly, the twenty years since the production of Romeo and Juliet in San Francisco vanished.

My God, he thought. She’s as beautiful as ever. There she sat, with a dreamy look in her eyes, pen poised in her hand as she searched for some word or phrase. She wore her hair loosely swept up, and the shimmering aquamarine blouse caught the color of her eyes. What was she searching for – some hidden world of beauty? What did she see?

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Howard felt the old chivalrous urge to help her.

But Anna had never needed anyone. He remembered how they were all in love with her, in love with the beauty and charm she possessed. Men and women alike took to her, as did the audience. They all wanted some of whatever it was she exuded – to possess it, to be in its presence, however briefly. He remembered how she had felt pulled down by that hungry need from everyone, and had shied away from the very attention the other actors sought.

Perhaps feeling his gaze, Anna looked over at him. Their eyes met, and her brow furrowed as she tried to place him.

Howard gave a small, wry smile. Have I changed so much? he wondered.

He walked over to her. “Hello, Juliet,” he said, hoping the name would bring back the memory of him. He waited a beat. “Don’t you remember your old stage manager?”

Anna’s eye widened as she gasped. “Howard!” She jumped up and hugged him. “I can’t believe it! Oh, how wonderful! Can you sit with me? I just can’t believe it!” In between each exclamation she searched his face, stepping back a bit to take in the changes.

He had forgotten how petite she was. She had to stand on her toes to kiss his cheek.

Howard pulled out the chair across from her, and waited for her to take her seat. He then sat down.

They ordered a bottle of wine. As Howard crossed his legs and turned the saltshaker around in his fingers, Anna clapped her hands in delight.

“Oh! You still wear red socks. You haven’t changed. Not a bit. Still so handsome and dapper!”

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Howard smiled, realizing that it was ridiculous for her words to mean so much to him. But his recent failed affair had left him wounded and unsure of himself.

They talked and laughed and caught up on the last twenty years. Howard told her that he was still working as a stage manager, the last twelve years in Seattle. He described some of the more memorable productions.

Anna filled him in on the rather haphazard path she had taken. When she moved to New York eighteen years ago, she had found work as an off-off-Broadway actress, filling in the gaps between shows with waitressing and temping. The years since had been marked by a variety of unrelated jobs, a bit of travel, and, ten years ago, the meeting of her husband.

Howard was disappointed to hear that she had given up acting after she married. But Anna said it was writing that she had always felt more at home with.

“Yes, I remember that. You were always writing during rehearsals. What was it you used to say? That you were trying to create the world you were forever in search of. Have you found it? Or have you created it?”

Anna laughed. “Neither, I’m afraid. It still eludes me.”

“And are you still interested in theater?”

“Yes, of course.” She glanced at her watch. “As a matter of fact, my husband has tickets for tonight. Dinner, and then Chekhov. He’s picking me up here. I’m so happy you’ll be able to meet him.”

She went on to say that she had written some one-act plays and was working on a screenplay. As he listened, he observed the old air of wistfulness about her.

After two hours of talking, Howard noticed that evening had crept closer to their window. The candles on the tables and the lights outside shone brighter now, against the dark. That artful thrill of early evening filled the air, and shone from the faces of the couples filling the tables next to them, and from people hurrying by outside – the thrill that the night might hold something wonderful.

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Howard knew that her husband would be there soon to take her to dinner, yet there was so much more he wanted to know. He gave a small ironic smile; she still had the power to stir up a hunger in her audience. He poured the last of the wine into their glasses and asked if she remembered William Chase.

“Of course, I do! Benvolio. Or was it Balthasar? You’d think I’d remember.” She looked above his head, scanning the stage of so long ago, squinting ever so slightly, as if the stage lights were still in her eyes.

Howard also wondered how she could forget. “Benvolio,” he said. “And so terribly in love with you.”

Anna nodded. “Benvolio. Of course.” She took a sip of wine. “Whatever became of him? Do you know?”

“Yes, as a matter of fact, I ran into him last year in Portland. He became a lawyer, of all things.”

“A lawyer?” Anna asked, surprised. “Good for him.”

Howard had always wondered if Anna was aware of the effect she had on people. He thought it unfair that beauty could so effortlessly cause pain to others. He recognized his buried resentment, mixed with admiration, for all the things she represented to him. He had never wanted to sweep her into his arms, or make love to her. Rather, he had wanted to be like her, to move through the world with such power and beauty and ease.

Howard would later blame the wine for making him press on as he did. His words came out almost accusingly. “William told me that he never really got over you.”

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Anna leaned slightly back, as if in defense. Her full lips shaped her words as she spoke.

“Well, there was never anything between us. I certainly never encouraged him. I guessed he had feelings for me, but you know how that is – how often that happens in an emotionally charged cast.”

Howard nodded and looked down. The image of the beautiful Roberto filled his mind: how their eyes had met across the stage, how their love had developed, those first perfect months. With bitterness, he remembered the torch he had carried for Roberto, long years after being rejected.

“You know,” said Howard, allowing some of his resentment to creep into his tone, “William always thought it was because of his height. He thought you never took him seriously.”

This was actually Howard’s belief, but he assumed this must be the case since William had been strikingly handsome. “That was one of the reasons he went into law, he said. More weight – or height, in his case.”

Howard waited for her answer. He wanted to know whether he had been correct all these years in attributing to Anna a certain small-mindedness; or whether he had ungenerously projected onto her the reasons for his own unrequited loves.

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Again, Anna squinted into the past. “Yes. I remember him saying something about that once. He invited me to dinner, but I just wasn’t interested. He asked if it was because of his height. I think I laughed out loud at such a ridiculous notion. I didn’t have the heart to tell him it was his whininess that made him unattractive. It was so off-putting. Do you remember? He complained about everything and everyone.”

Anna swirled the wine around in her glass and smiled. “Besides, I’ve always preferred short men. A better fit, you know.”

Howard snapped upright in surprise – both by her candor, and by his mistaken assumption. He had always believed that height was one of those universally desired attributes – attributes that he, for the most part, did not possess.

He responded with a simple, “Oh?” and began turning the saltshaker around again. His thoughts tripped over themselves as he attempted to reorganize them, realizing that he had indeed misjudged Anna – and perhaps his own beloved – all these years.

Anna spoke as if merely stating a fact, but a sly seductiveness played about her lips.

“Yes, whether kissing when standing, or cuddling at night, or…” Her aquamarine blouse shimmered in the candlelight as she gave a light shrug.

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Howard quickly replayed the arguments with Roberto. He had always assumed that Roberto had rejected him because of his age, ethnicity, or some other quality over which he had no control. For the first time, the thought gripped him: What if Roberto had simply found him boring? Or, God forbid, whiny?

Then, as if on cue and choreographed to maximize the insight into his own failed affairs, in walked Anna’s husband – short, if not shorter, than William Chase. He was equally as handsome, though, Howard had to admit, in a more genial manner.

Anna’s whole being surged with pleasure at the sight of her husband’s flashing smile and warm eyes. She stood to embrace him – in a comfortable fit, Howard noticed – and introduced them.

As she slipped on her wrap, the three of them spoke briefly and exchanged business cards. Howard declined the invitation to join them for dinner but promised to stay in touch.

Anna and her husband waved good-bye and left the café.

Howard sat back down at the table and tried to put his ruffled thoughts back in order, tapping the saltshaker up and down. As he shook his head at life’s vanities and wretched misunderstandings, the beautiful Anna Avilov tapped on the window and blew him a kiss, her arm linked with that of her Romeo.

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https://www.amazon.com/dp/1946229105/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_U_5I0rCbK1RQTQ7

Paula’s gift store – Valentines Day

In The Garden House, Miranda’s friend and neighbor, Paula, is the owner of several gift shops. They are filled with vintage jewelry, antiques, and old china from flea markets, garage sales, and estate sales, as well as a few hand-crafted items.

Throughout the year, Miranda contributes wreaths and bouquets from her garden to add to Paula’s displays,

and at certain holidays, like Valentine’s Day, she creates mini-bouquets to be given as gifts.

Valentine’s Day is Miranda’s favorite time of year to shop at Paula’s gift stores. She always discovers some small treasure to add to her home,

or to give as a gift, especially to her daughter, Clara.

Paula’s shops offer a sense of discovery, and delight in adding small touches of beauty to the home.

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Color, Magnificent Color

RAINBOW HUES FOR THE COLD AND GRAY OF JANUARY

(from my Pinterest board on color)

“Color is a power which directly influences the soul.” ~Wassily Kandinsky

“Color! What a deep and mysterious language, the language of dreams.” – Paul Gauguin

“Mere color…can speak to the soul in a thousand different ways.” ~Oscar Wilde

“Colors speak all languages.” – Joseph Addison

“Adding color to your life brings beauty, richness, and depth.” – Anonymous

“Color is the fruit of life.” Guillaume Appolinaire

“Color provokes a psychic vibration…which acts on every part of the human body.” Wassily Kandinsky

“Colour stops me in the street, invites me to breathe it in and take it with me.” Suzanne Partridge

Color—like sound and scent—is just an invention of the human mind responding to waves and particles that are moving in particular patterns through the universe—and poets should not thank nature but themselves for the beauty and the rainbows they see around them.” ― Victoria Finlay

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Pyrenees and Pilgrimage, Part 2 – Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port

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In the foothills of the French Pyrenees lies the small Basque village of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. The winding Nive river runs through the town and is crossed by several picturesque bridges.

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With the town’s steep cobblestoned streets, timbered buildings, medieval stone structures, and abundance of flowers, the village must be one of the prettiest in France.

 

 

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The village itself is very small and can be walked in a few hours.  The steep cobbled rue de la Citadelle forms the heart of the village and is lined with shops, inns, and restaurants. A stroll through the town offers a close-up view of the medieval city gate — the Porte d’Espagne — and the 14th-century Gothic cathedral. The architecture in this old section is picturesque with arched doorways, tiled roofs, shutters, and charming details —

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St. Jean carving

all set against stunning views of the valley and mountains.

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There are several walking trails around the area for longer excursions, such as the one along the medieval city wall. This path eventually leads to the citadelle, high atop the village.

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The citadelle was built in the 12th century to protect the river and the crossing route over the Pyrenees.

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The site near the chateau and fortifications offers magnificent views of the mountains and valley, and the village below.

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The citadelle protected the mountain pathway to Spain — the Roncevaux Pass — making Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port an important point on the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela — also known as the Way of Saint James, the Camino de Santiago, or simply, the Camino.

For those departing from Paris or elsewhere in France, the route was referred to as the French Way. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port was the pilgrims’ last stop before beginning the arduous trek through the Pyrenees. Pied-de-Port means “foot of the pass.”

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The city of Santiago de Compostela in northwest Spain “has its origin in the shrine of Saint James the Great, now the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela, as the destination of the Way of St. James, a leading Catholic pilgrimage route since the 9th century.” (wikipedia.org)

Today it is also popular with hikers and cyclists. According to caminoways.com, the French Way is the most popular of all the routes, with over 177,000 pilgrims making the journey every year. Approximately 34,000 pilgrims choose Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port as their starting point.

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(en.wikipedia.org)

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Several shops along the rue de Citadelle sell gear for the trek, including walking staffs or hiking poles. A rhythmic “click, click” sound made by the pilgrims and their walking sticks can be heard in the Camino towns along the route.

Two symbols are found throughout the town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port — on shops, menus, clothing, and souvenirs  — the lauburu, or Basque Cross,

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and the clamshell, the symbol of pilgrimage.

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“Since the scallop is native to the coast of Galicia, the shell also became a memento, a physical proof of having completed the pilgrimage to Santiago….The shells also had a practical purpose: they were a handy and light replacement for a bowl so the pilgrims could use them to hold their food and drink on their long journey….Medieval pilgrims often wore a scallop shell attached to their cloaks or hats during their journey” (caminoways.com), as shown on this tapestry in the village’s small museum.

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The image of the scallop can be found on several inns and shops of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port,

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along with images of medieval pilgrims.

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Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is a tiny town with a long name and a long history. For centuries, it has been a crossroads for travelers and pilgrims, and still offers its charm and beauty for the tourists and pilgrims of today.

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Happy New Year!

In the Christmastime series, Lillian collects Victorian cards and displays them on her mantel for the holidays. Below are a few cards that might have been part of her collection, along with a few Victorian sentiments ushering in the New Year.

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“Ring out the old, ring in the new, Ring, happy bells, across the snow…”
― Alfred Tennyson

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“Only a night from old to new! Only a night, and so much wrought!” ―Helen Hunt Jackson

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“So may the New Year be a happy one to you, happy to many more whose happiness depends on you!” ― Charles Dickens

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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Mrs. Kuntzman’s Kitchen

In the Christmastime series, Mrs. Kuntzman, the elderly babysitter for Tommy and Gabriel, plays a role from beginning to end. Her presence and her cooking infuse the books with a sense of holiday coziness and warmth.

They saw [Mrs. Kuntzman] standing at the door of her brownstone, waiting to welcome them. She was in her late sixties, gray-haired and a bit stooped, and utterly grandmotherly in her affection for Tommy and Gabriel. Even though Lillian had told her it wasn’t necessary, she often had pancakes or cobbler…freshly made for the boys. (Christmastime 1940)

“And,” said Mrs. Kuntzman, holding up a finger – she went to the kitchen and returned with a plate covered with a red and white checked napkin – “I have extra strudel for youse. Still warm. I always make too much.” (Christmastime 1940)

“We brought apples for you from my sister’s orchard. And some cherry preserves.”

“Ach, good! I make cherry krapfen for Tommy and Gabriel. Those boys love donuts best of all.” (Christmastime 1941)

“[Mrs. Kuntzman’s] been supplying me with strudel and cherry krapfen for the spotters all week.” She dropped her voice to add, “Though we’ve renamed them Yankee Cobbler and Allied Donuts. In the same way the restaurants have renamed spaghetti – Liberty Noodles, they call them.’”

“Yes, I’ve seen that,” laughed Lillian.

“And she’s promised one of her famous Christollens. Hmm. I’ll have to come up with another name for it.” (Christmastime 1941)

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Lillian looked at [Mrs. Kuntzman’s] knobby hand against the flour-dusted red apron, the smiling eyes and nearly white hair, and felt a rush of affection for this woman who had become like a grandmother to Tommy and Gabriel – watching over them before and after school, baking treats for them, praising their schoolwork, offering words of comfort.

“And the soup will help,” Mrs. Kuntzman added. “Love in a jar. I don’t want our Tommy sad.”(Christmastime 1942)

Mrs. Kuntzman opened the door, wearing a red Christmas apron with a pattern of poinsettias. The smell of butter and cinnamon and cloves greeted them. (Christmastime 1943)

When Lillian knocked at the babysitter’s door, Mrs. Kuntzman greeted her with a tin of freshly baked cookies.

“These are ones we didn’t eat,” she said, laughing along with Tommy and Gabriel. (Christmastime 1943)

Mrs. Kuntzman opened her door to the young playwrights, and they were greeted by her smiling face, her flour-dusted green apron, and a warm waft of cinnamon and apples.

“Come in, come in! I have apple strudel for youse all, fresh from the oven!” (Christmastime 1944)

Christmas — in the details

The scent of pine, a shimmering ornament, a melody from a Christmas carol running through your mind — part of the magic of Christmastime is in the small details that pervade the season.

In the air there’s a feeling of Christmas…

The holly and the ivy…

I heard the bells on Christmas Day, their old familiar carols play…

Silver and gold, silver and gold…

The stars are brightly shining…

It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…

How lovely are thy branches…

All is calm, all is bright…

May your days be merry and bright…

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The Pyrenees and Pilgrimage, Part 1 — Lourdes

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The beautiful town of Lourdes, France is located in the foothills of the Pyrenees. Two structures dominate the town and its history — the cathedral of Notre-Dame de Lourdes, situated on the wide, flowing Gave de Pau, and the thousand-year-old fortress, the Chateau-Fort de Lourdes, built on a high rocky bluff.

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Lourdes has a rich and varied history.  Artifacts dating from the prehistoric times to the Roman  have been found in the area, and “the town and its fortress formed a strategic stronghold in medieval times.” (www.Britannica.com)

However, the town is best known as a place of pilgrimage for Catholics the world over, visited by millions every year.

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The identity of Lourdes as a market town, mountains crossroads, and fortified stronghold forever changed in 1858 when a young girl, Bernadette Soubirous, experienced numerous visions of the Virgin Mary in a grotto near the river.

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“The visions were declared authentic by Pope Pius IX in 1862, and veneration of Mary as Our Lady of Lourdes was authorized. The underground spring in the grotto, revealed to Bernadette, was declared to have miraculous qualities, and Lourdes became a major pilgrimage site.” (www.britannica.com)

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Lourdes is an international destination, a place of hope for many who cannot walk or are battling sickness or a chronic condition. They line up to hear mass given in front of the grotto, and fill up bottles with the sacred grotto water from numerous taps. Behind the cathedral, alongside the river, are private bathing rooms where pilgrims line up to bathe in the waters, hoping for a cure or improvement.

 

Even in the offseason, the shops and crowds can make the place seems touristy, but the solemnity with which the pilgrims pray and believe, and the sheer beauty of the place, preserve the sense of the sacred.

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The Gothic-styled cathedral, with its soaring spires and long narrow windows, was built above the grotto in 1876. It is made of the same gray stone as the rock beneath it and seems to have risen directly from it.

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The chateau-fort, which was never conquered, sits high above the town and is today a museum. Like the cathedral, it is made from the gray granite of the Pyrenees and appears to be a continuation of the thrust of rock on which it was built.

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From the fortress top, you can see that the village itself is nestled in the strong arms of the valley mountains. The vantage point offers spectacular views of the town and valley below.

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“The château fort de Lourdes is strategically placed at the entrance to the seven valleys of the Lavedan. The castle’s origins go back to Roman times….The oldest remains date from the 11th and 12th centuries” and were reinforced several times in later centuries. (www.wikipedia.com)

 

“Within its walls there is a botanical garden at the foot of the 14th-century keep, and the Pyrenean Museum.” (en.lourdes-infotourisme.com)

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The museum is filled with artifacts and offers a glimpse into local life of the past centuries. Several exhibits are dedicated to marriage customs, clothing, farming and husbandry, and day-to-day living.

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As daytime draws to a close, the crowds disperse, the sounds of the day shift to the soft sounds of evening, and a tranquil beauty pervades Lourdes.

 

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From one of the bridges over the river, you can look back and see the cathedral and, in the distance, the fort. These two main structures of Lourdes — perhaps representative of two opposing human impulses — today rest comfortably together in the valley town.

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With the church bells ringing, the grotto candles lit, and the lights coming on in the town, you realize that Lourdes is unique — a sacred site of hope and prayer, rich in layers of history — a town born of the awe-inspiring beauty of the Pyrenees.

Annette’s orchard — seasonal charm

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In the Christmastime series, Lillian Hapsey visits her sister, Annette, in upstate New York, close to where they grew up. Annette and her family live on an orchard, which provides Lillian a welcome change from the bustle of Manhattan. Though Lillian only visits once or twice a year, the orchard offers her a wider scope of seasonal beauty and an opportunity to be with family.

Lillian and her boys, Tommy and Gabriel, have fond memories of spending Thanksgiving and Christmas at Annette’s. Depending on the weather, they take hikes through the woods, sometimes taking the logging roads. The boys and their cousins explore the woods and run wild through the orchard, and with the help of their Uncle Bernie, they gather firewood to make bonfires at night, sometimes roasting marshmallows. If there is snow, they go sledding and take sleigh rides.

When the sisters are together, they take long walks along the country roads, gathering bunches of bittersweet and pine cones. At night, they fix a cup of tea and stay up late talking in front of a crackling fire.

One of the things Lillian most looks forward to is preparing wonderful meals with Annette. Part of their tradition is to make dishes that their mother used to make when they were girls.

To the delight of the children, they also make special seasonal treats — apple cider donuts and caramel apples, holiday cookies, and snow ice cream.

And every time Lillian visits, Annette packs a basket for her to take back home with her, full of wholesome goodness from the orchard: honey and beeswax candles, maple syrup and jars of apple butter, bottled pears, jellies and jams — and apples.

When Lillian returns home to Manhattan, she often adds Annette’s orchard gifts to her breakfast and dinner table — besides being a tasty addition, they serve as a reminder of their days up at the orchard.

Annette’s orchard is a haven for Lillian and her boys — a cozy, welcoming place, full of good food and adventures. For Lillian, it gives her a sense of stepping back into her beloved girlhood days, and is a lovely way for her to enjoy the seasons.

(Photos from Pinterest. You can visit my book boards at: https://www.pinterest.com/lindamahkovec/)

The Romance of Travel: Carcassonne

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For many years I had longed to see the beautiful medieval city of Carcassonne and recently I was able to make that dream come true. Carcassonne did not disappoint.

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Located in the Languedoc region of southern France, Carcassonne is famous for its medieval citadel, La Cité, the largest walled city in Europe, with numerous watchtowers and double-walled fortifications. Languedoc is also famous for its wines and the hilltop city sits high above the surrounding vineyards.

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I arrived Carcassonne in the evening under a near-full moon. The hotel I stayed at was located at the foot of the hill, and I had a magnificent view of the fairytale city from my balcony.

Every day, I crossed the footbridge over the river Aude, climbed the steep cobblestone streets to the top of the hill, and entered the citadel through the lowered drawbridge. I spent hours wandering around the labyrinthine village, climbed the ramparts and spiral stairs of the towers, walked the walls which provided magnificent views of the valley below, and then rested and recharged at its many outdoor cafes.

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Carcassonne was occupied by the Romans and later the Visigoths. Its strategic hilltop location was fortified over the centuries with walls, towers, drawbridge and moat, a fortress, and a cathedral — the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire. Layers and layers of history pervade the stones and gargoyles, the slate roofs and worn steps.

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Today Carcassonne relies heavily on tourism and has several hotels, restaurants, and shops — even a small museum on the history of the French school system.

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The heraldic Occitan cross, which dates back to the 12th century, and the fleur-de-lis hearken back to its medieval history and can be seen throughout the city.

In the fall, Carcassonne has a particular beauty — pensive, tranquil, a bit wistful — and despite the tourists, a few quiet areas can always be found.

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It is at night when the magic of Carcassonne can most be felt — when the years of history fall away and you step into the past. The crenelated ramparts and rounded towers take on an architectural sharpness, accentuated by light and shadow.

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Crossing the drawbridge you can imagine the creak and clang of its chains, and you notice that the sounds inside the walled village are different — quieter, sometimes hushed. The interior of La Cité is softly lit by lampposts. Gold light pours onto the stone walls and archways and illuminates the curves of the cobblestone streets. It becomes a place of shadows and textures, mystery and beauty, drawing you further up into its heart.

Even in the off-season of late October, the hilltop is surprisingly alive at night and the sound of conversation and laughter fill the outdoor cafes that ring the small square at the center. Wandering through the narrow streets, you come across several restaurants and hotels that bid a warm welcome.

Carcassonne sets one to dreaming. Its deep history and beauty inspire, shift your perceptions, and bring about a silent exchange with the past. For many, it is representative of the unattainable — something actual, yet ever elusive. In 1887 Gustave Nadaud wrote a poem called “Carcassonne,” in which an old man dreams of seeing “fair Carcassonne” before he dies. To him, the city embodies the longing for an ideal, a place of profound meaning, an experience that could be his — yet it remains beyond his reach. The final line is “each man has his Carcassonne” — a beautiful distant dream.

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Carcassonne — medieval city, hilltop fortress, fairytale village, a step back in time.