The Romance of Travel: Carcassonne

Carcassonne distance

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.

Pinterest 1

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.

C26

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.

C14

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.

C7

Pinterest 2

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.

school museum crop (1)

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.

C19

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.

C40

C30

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.

Carcassonne dream (1)

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

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bookstores

bookstore

The longer nights and cooler temperatures of autumn are perfect for browsing through a good bookstore — and leaving with an armful of books.

Bookshop 4

“There were fewer finer things in life … than spending time perusing the shelves of a good bookshop.” ― George Mann

bookstore

“The truly wide taste in reading is that which enables a man to find something for his needs on the sixpenny tray outside any secondhand bookshop.” ― C.S. Lewis

Bookshop 1

“To my mind there is nothing so beautiful or so provocative as a secondhand bookstore.”
―Lionel Barrymore

 

“Perhaps that is the best way to say it: printed books are magical, and real bookshops keep that magic alive.” ― Jen Campbell

Bookshop 5 window

“Books are an escape route. A refuge…. a tunnel to the outside world. A glimmer of something beyond.”―Chloe Coles

 

“Reality doesn’t always give us the life that we desire, but we can always find what we desire between the pages of books.”― Adelise M. Cullens

porch books

Happy reading!

 

 

The Romance of Travel – Italy

 

Country road

A friend of mine recently returned from two weeks in Europe. She took writing and drawing classes in Italy, spending most of her time on the Amalfi coast.

Amalfi

Her pictures and stories filled my head with dreams — and plans. I’m long overdue for some traveling, and Italy has been beckoning for quite some time.

Verona fall

 

 

 

 

 

“Italy is a dream that keeps returning for the rest of your life.” — Anna Akhmatova

Chianti

 

“You may have the universe if I may have Italy.” — Giuseppe Verdi.

Bobbio

 

Travel opens the mind, fills the soul, and touches the heart. It allows you step out of your daily routine and see the world afresh.

open window and hills

 

 

Summer Yellow

Yellow 7

Though there are many colors of summer, yellow — bright and cheerful — stands out as the emblematic color of the warmer months. Perhaps because it’s the color of the sun and sunflowers, dandelions and lemonade, and other associations with hot summer days.

lemon arbor

“Indicating sunshine during the Renaissance to being one of the primary colours of Cubist art, yellow finds an intrinsic place in literature, allegory and symbolism.

Representing light, hope, happiness, and wisdom, yellow is meant to evoke optimism or natural light with an airy, radiant atmosphere.   ” — http://www.architecturaldigest.com

Yellow 29

“How wonderful yellow is. It stands for the sun.” — Vincent Van Gogh

Yellow 3

“Few artists in history have been known for their use of yellow,  though J.M.W. Turner and Vincent Van Gogh are the most notable exceptions” — most famously, Van Gogh’s depictions of the sunflowers and fields of Arles, and Turner’s “sublime and sun-lit seascapes.” http://www.artsy.net

Yellow 4

Yellow 5

“We find from experience that yellow excites a warm and agreeable impression….The eye is gladdened, the heart expanded and cheered, a glow seems at once to breathe toward us.” — Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Yellow 22

“The yellow glistens.
It glistens with various yellows,
Citrons, oranges and greens
Flowering over the skin.” — Wallace Stevens

Yellow 27

“The road to the City of Emeralds is paved with yellow brick.” –L. Frank Baum

Yellow 25

 

 

Books and Flowers

flowers and books

The grouping of books with flowers is a poetic one — whether it’s a studied composition, an impromptu arrangement, or simply a flower used as a bookmark. Both books and flowers serve as portals to worlds of beauty, meaning, and pleasure. The pairing is made more poignant by the contrast of one being ephemeral, the other ever-lasting.

“With freedom, books, flowers, and the moon, who could not be happy?” – Oscar Wilde

books and flowers 11

“With a few flowers in my garden, half a dozen pictures and some books, I live without envy.” – Lope de Vega

GH 1e

“Flowers lead to books, which leads to thinking and not thinking, which leads to more flowers and music, music. Then many more flowers and more books.” – Maira Kalman

books and flowers 5

“Here’s to fresh coffee, sunshine, morning walks, blooming flowers, good books and all the other simple but glorious pleasures of life.” – (I’m not sure who said this, but I couldn’t agree more.)

Beautiful blue

blue ocean

“Blue, darkly, deeply, beautifully blue.” – Robert Southey

blue mosque

“Blue color is everlastingly appointed by the deity to be a source of delight.” – John Ruskin

blue cathedral rectangle

“A certain blue enters your soul.” – Henri Matisse

Ultramarine – “The most perfect of all colors,” Cennino Cennini

“Sometimes called ‘true blue,’ ultramarine is made from the semiprecious gemstone lapis lazuli, which for centuries could only be found in a single mountain range in Afghanistan.

Lapis first appeared as a pigment in the 6th century. Around 700 years later, the pigment traveled to Venice and soon became the most sought-after color in medieval Europe. For centuries, the cost of lapis rivaled the price of gold.

lapis painting 1600

Legend has it that Michelangelo left his painting The Entombment (1500–01) unfinished because he could not generate the funds to buy ultramarine blue. Raphael used the pigment scarcely, applying it above base layers of azurite when depicting the Virgin Mary’s blue robe. The Baroque master Vermeer, on the other hand, bought the color in spades, so much so that his indulgence pushed his family into debt.” http://www.artsy.net

Indigo is a natural dye rather than a pigment for painting. It was used to color fabrics, clothing, yarns, and luxurious tapestries. Unlike lapis lazuli, whose rarity drove its high prices, the indigo crop could be grown in excess and produced across the world, from India to South Carolina.

blue thread

Commonly considered a shade of blue, indigo is not a separate color in its own right, so why does it get its own band in the rainbow?

Indigo dyeing was especially popular in England, home to physicist Sir Isaac Newton. Newton believed that the rainbow should consist of seven distinct colors to match the seven days of the week, the seven notes in the musical scale, and the seven known planets. Confronting the fact that the rainbow only displayed five unique colors, Newton pushed indigo, along with orange, much to the dismay of some contemporary scientists.” www.artsy.net

“Jean fabric was first produced in Genoa, Italy, in the 17th century; the French city of Nimes copied the technique shortly after (“de Nimes” aka “denim”). The cotton twill fabric, dyed with indigo, was sturdy and washable, making it perfect for workers.” www.artsandculture.google.com 

“Blue has more complex and contradictory meanings than any other color.

blue glasses

Dark blue: trust, dignity, intelligence, authority

Bright blue: cleanliness, strength, dependability, coolness
(The origin of these meanings arise from the qualities of the ocean and inland waters, most of which are more tangible.)

Light (sky) blue: peace, serenity, ethereal, spiritual, infinity
(The origin of these meanings is the intangible aspects of the sky.)

Most blues convey a sense of trust, loyalty, cleanliness, and understanding. On the other hand, blue evolved as symbol of depression in American culture. “Singing the blues” and feeling blue” are good examples of the complexity of color symbolism and how it has been evolved in different cultures.” http://www.colormatters.com

“Pink for girls and blue for boys is a surprisingly recent tendency. Even as late as 1927 some fashion stores recommended pink for boys.” http://www.express.co.uk

blue stucco ornament

For a fascinating book on color, read Victoria Finlay’s books.

Finlay book
Color: A Natural History of the Palette by Victoria Finlay  Link: http://a.co/bfRUBxs

 

Images from my Pinterest board on color

Valentine’s Day

Valentine blowup

“I love you not only for what you are, but for what I am when I am with you.” – Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

 

“Each time you happen to me all over again.” – Edith Wharton

V piano roses

“In case you ever foolishly forget, I am never not thinking of you.” – Virginia Woolf

 

 

“All, everything that I understand, I understand only because I love.”  – Leo Tolstoy

 

 

“To love or have loved, that is enough. Ask nothing further. There is no other pearl to be found in the dark folds of life.” – Victor Hugo

V Amour petals

 “I wish you to know that you have been the last dream of my soul.” – Charles Dickens

 

 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year to all my followers and supporters!

May 2018 bring you closer to your dreams. 

NY8

“There are two mistakes one can make along the road to truth — not going all the way, and not starting.” – Buddha

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” – Lao Tzu

NY16

 “The greatest masterpieces were once only pigments on a palette.” – Henry Hoskins

”The beginnings of all things are small.” – Cicero

“To begin, begin.” ― William Wordsworth

 

The autumn leaves are falling like rain…

autumn mist and leaves

There’s a poem I’ve come across over the years that is simple, beautiful, and lyrical. It seems to find expression in different times, in slightly different wording. All the versions are evocative, stirring up rich images and emotions.

The autumn leaves are falling like rain,
Although my neighbors are all barbarians,
And you, you are a thousand miles away,
There are always two cups at my table.   – Tang Dynasty poem

In this version, most likely translated from the original, I imagine a rugged landscape,

rugged autumn

 

 

 

 

 

 

perhaps the Great Wall of China,

GW China autumn

and a cup of tea.

Chinese teacup

A quick search reveals a few remarkable facts about the period the poem was written in: “China’s Tang Dynasty, 618-907, is often considered the Golden Age of Chinese poetry. During this period, poetry was an important part of social life at all levels of society. Scholars were required to master poetry for the civil service exams, but the art was theoretically available to everyone. Tang poetry has had an ongoing influence on world literature.” (Wikipedia)

However, there are other, similar versions of the poem. Perhaps the poem has been been translated in various ways throughout the years, or perhaps different poets were moved by the universality of the poem and reworked it for their time and place.

For example, this later version about an earlier period, is said to describe the far reaches of Britannia under Roman rule:

Here at the frontier 
There are fallen gods 
And my neighbours 
Are all barbarians 
Although you 
Are thousands of miles away 
There will always be on my table 
Your cup.

Different imagery comes to mind: the wall morphs to Hadrian’s Wall, the landscape shifts to bleak highlands. I imagine damp cloaks, stomping horses, tents pitched next to a sputtering campfire.

And more recently, these lines, close to the original, appear in John Fowles’ The Magus:

“Here at the frontier there are falling leaves; although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, You are a thousand miles away. There are always two cups at my table.”

rainy leaves window

All the versions suggest forced separation – perhaps by war, conquest, travel of some sort – contrasted with the memory of friendship, the comforts of home, civility.  They speak of longing, memory, and the hope for future togetherness. And most of all, they express that it’s the simple things in life that have the greatest pull on us.

 

 

 

 

October

autumn lake

There’s an old green-covered book I open this time of year. The spine is split in some parts, the lettering on the cover is faded. It’s a book of poems by Robert Frost that my mother gave to me in high school. It was already worn back then. I don’t know if she bought it used somewhere around town or if someone made a gift of it to her years before. It wasn’t a formal presentation or given to mark a special occasion. It was like the other things she gave to us – a sort of “here’s something you might enjoy,” or “take a look at this.” Items that would simply appear on our dressers without any note at all – Classic Comics for my brothers, a porcelain bluebird for my sister’s collection, a red maple leaf, an exotic stamp off a letter from her brother who traveled widely. Things that would delight, pique our curiosity, entertain, or answer to inner longings.

The book of poems resonated deeply with me, especially the ones in the beginning of the book from the section “A Boy’s Will.” The autumn poems in particular became the ones that most spoke to me. “October” might have been the first poem I ever memorized, outside of school assignments. I memorized it because I wanted the words inside me, I wanted to walk through an autumn day and have the words at the ready: “O hushed October morning mild, Thy leaves have ripened to the fall, Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild, Should waste them all.”

CP autumn bridge

These many years later, the words are still there. As I walk through the neighborhood or cut through Central Park, a solitary leaf might float down from a tree on a mild autumn day, and I hear the words: “Release one leaf at break of day, At noon release another leaf.” The birds in the autumn sky might caw and without any prompting my heart recites: “The crows above the forest call; Tomorrow they may form and go.”

CP yellow elms

The simple book of poems remains the touchstone of autumn for me – it embodies the solitary, the nostalgia and memories of other Octobers, and the deep connection of inner yearning with outer seasonal beauty.

book with leaves

(Thank goodness Robert Frost didn’t stop at October. His poem “My November Guest” soon became my favorite.)

yellow leaf on bench