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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Asking

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Following is the shortest story from my collection, Seven Tales of Love.

The Asking

It had been more than twenty years since she had danced. Dancing wasn’t a part of her husband’s character, along with many other things she used to delight in. In the early days, they had moved to music in her apartment. He had tried, for her sake. And yet, in him she had the security that she had never found with anyone else. Before him, there were always the betrayals, small or large, that spoiled her relationships and made her unsure of people. Her marriage was not what she had dreamed of in her youth – but then, neither were the betrayals. At least he was true, devoted, loyal. Rock solid. It had been easy to give up the superficial accessories of love.

So what was this desperate stirring inside her now? This night as she danced to the rhythms of the music, with the man whose hand gently held hers, moving together as if in long familiar ease? Delight, excitement, the thrill of the dance, as in her youth. That dream was supposed to be long dead, long ago replaced with more reassuring, dependable matters. What was it doing so achingly awake in her now – in all of its glittering, hopeful youthfulness?

An alarm shot through her. This feeling did not belong to her, the fiercely loyal woman of unshakable convictions. It was because of the music, surely, the warm breeze, the Old World balconies, the tiny soft lights in the night.

It wasn’t the kindness in his eyes, the flashes of laughter, the protective arm around her shoulder, the earthy connection to the rhythms of life.

No, it was the soft crashing of the waves, the shimmering pink and melon sunset. It was the sly promise that night weaves into its beginning. It was all that – and he was just a part of it, surely.

Unexpectedly, life was offering her a choice. All she had to do was embrace it. The choice was there, offered to her with simple outstretched hands – no demands, nothing but the sweetness of human warmth. The choice to connect with life one more time before age and plodding routine took over for good.

Or, to stay true to her old self, to the woman she thought she was.

This sudden feeling was not part of her code of living. Such a breaking of that code would leave her unsure of anything ever again.

Or, would it open her up to a whole new way of being – once more connected, once more happy and hopeful, her old buried self awake again, bursting into blossom after long dormant years?

Would it be sadder to give in? Or sadder to deny?

Either way was crushing. The question kept rolling in the surf of her mind, along with the feeling that she had recaptured her beauty, her liveliness, the agility and freedom of movement that she thought she had lost.

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Then, slowly, there in her mind, was her husband’s face, there with his gaze – the eyes that always asked, that always expressed love and desire for her. Her heart was pierced with tenderness for him, for all their faults and failures over the years. They were bound, bound – no matter what dreams of beauty might cross her path.

Her excuse was sore feet and age when she declined to dance further, when she took her seat, and watched the other dancers dance under the tiny lights.

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Rather than a vacation to a tropical location, as the story would suggest, the inspiration behind this tale came from a song. One cold winter’s day, after a dull day at work and a frustrating commute home on the subway, I stopped by a Thai restaurant to order takeout. As I sat waiting, staring through the rain-streaked windows at the traffic on the boulevard and the hurrying figures under black umbrellas, a song began to play — Sea, Sand, and Sun (Arnica Montana). And it took me far away — stirring up feelings and images of younger days, beautiful beaches, and the romance of life.

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Seven Tales of Love
by Linda Mahkovec
Amazon Link: http://a.co/20rApfG