We are settling in to the lovely Chateau Saint-Martin, high above the Mediterranean on a cliff overlooking the medieval walled village of Vence, not far from Nice. It has been rainy and cool as mists gather and hover over the descending hills, obscuring the sea. The sky looms large and gray, and winds push swirling dark masses from the lower Alps to the coast far below. We are between earth and sky, and as we recover from the time change (nine hours) where night is day and day is night, waking is sleeping, and sleeping is waking, we think we are part of the dark clouds waiting for the sun.
Neighbors are burning in the yards in the valleys below, taking advantage of the wet, and smoke curls into the mists and mixes with the pungent jasmine blooming in joyful disarray unaware of the cold and rain. The jasmine climbs garden walls and arbors, tiny white stars and lush greenery perfuming the damp.
I recall my stories set here at this lovely chateau, inspired by its gracious sense of time gone by, of Fragonard swings and princesses with long flowered skirts, of a more gracious way of living. Time slowed down and we sipped slowly, inhaled lavender, lathered tapenade on crusted rolls. Light filtered through silver tinged olive leaves, the trees hundreds of years old as we sat in ancient orchards on wobbly wrought iron.
In earlier days of the Chateau, there was a rope swing in a meadow, and you would sit on the wooden slat and slide through the air. You would return to your own childhood and you would sigh. There was a heart-shaped pool that President Truman was said to have liked, and Adenauer claimed that the Chateau was the “ante-room of Paradise.” Long ago, as I swung through the soft air on the rope swing I thought it was Paradise itself.
So I wrote stories about Jeanette, thirteen, from San Francisco, who falls in love with the Chateau and with the French manners, the language, the life. The stories tell of her summer here, and her many adventures in the hills above and the islands below. Later, I wrote a novel partially set here as well, Offerings, about a doctor’s search for healing, for herself. Now, watching the dark skies part and glimpsing some sun burning through the mists, I am celebrating not only the publication of Offerings in the last year, but its winning of an Honorable Mention in the Reader Views Literary Awards 2010 and the Bronze Medal in the Independent Publisher Awards 2010 (IPPY). Credit must be shared with the Chateau Saint-Martin and I shall always be thankful to those who continue its gracious traditions.
We wait for the clouds to part, and I consider my current novel-in-progress, the Magdalene Mystery. Hopefully we shall revisit Mary Magdalene’s cave, La Sainte-Baume, and her coffin at the Basilica of Saint Maximin. We shall wander the valleys where she is said to have preached and where hermitages rose up in the fourth and fifth centuries as Saint Cassian sent his monks into these lands of the Magdalene.
The past is the present, and both are the future. We learn who we are, where we must go, and who we are meant to be.
We missed Mass on the Second Sunday after Trinity. We missed the glorious Eucharistic sacrifice. Instead, we said our prayers, inviting the Third Person of the HolyTrinity, God the Holy Spirit, to shape our journey, to lead us. We wait and pray as the clouds part.
I have been blessed to visit this part of the world and watch it change and yet not change. But even more blessed to be able to write about it and to share it with you.