Publisher's July, 2017
2nd July - a visit from Gilles, the guy who sold me my house here in Couiza, with his new lady Caroline. He kept showing her round the house, saying things like "Val did all this tiling!" It's true, and I painted the courtyard too! When I moved here two years ago all the essentials had been done, and done very well too, by Gilles, but things like painting the walls, though not important for the quality of life (!) had to be done. I was thrilled that Giles thought I had done so well. The courtyard is particularly nice, all peaceful and closed, usually a couple of degrees warmer than the forecast because it is so sheltered.
Gilles and Caroline are amazing people; they live in the hills above Couiza on a hectare of land (2 acres) and are completely self-sufficient, building their own house and growing all their own food. AND a baby will arrive in the Autumn! There's quite a movement towards "green living" among the French in this region and some - like my friends - prefer yoga and meditation to TV.
Sunday 9th July.
Today was the birthday of my little dog Prisca, that is, I adopted her from the SPA a year ago today. I invited some Facebook friends to bring their doggies and some biscuits for a courtyard rendezvous but they were all going to the Alet fête!
So I also went with some friends to be met with a barrier - one has to pay to go in! As all the stalls on the streets were selling things I thought this was a bit much. We decided to have a meal, one had to buy a ticket and queue, when I got to the serving hatch I asked for some wine as well, but they could only sell me a whole bottle for 19€! So I left everything on the counter and went round to the corner shop (opposite the church) where I got a sandwich, and a rice dish, and some rosé for 9€! I suppose I shall be condemned for ever as a skinflint now . . .
Then we went to look around the cathedral complex, but sight-seers were banned because they were rehearsing a show for the evening - and selling tickets for it of course. Generally, the entertainment and costumes were good with many medieval touches, like braziers on the streets cooking snacks and there was a good atmosphere with everybody talking to everybody else in several languages . . . but . . . it was dear.
The garden where we ate our lunch
When I got back to Couiza I took the dog on a five-mile hike up towards the old folk’s home by the river, then had a rosé at the bar St Anne with French friends I had met at the Researchers lunch at Rennes-les-Bains in May. That cheered me up no end - real people who were not actually selling anything!
12th July Barbarian Gold is published at last!
My latest book was finally printed (the proof-correcting had taken a long time, all 250 pages of it!) and had to be delivered to Atelier Empreinte in Rennes-le-Château. An American friend, Cynthia, who was staying in Couiza while she looked for a house, wanted to come to see the famous Rennes-le-Château.
The idea was to show Cynthia around but our first port of call was Chez Lucie, the old Dragon restaurant, as I had promised her a copy of the book immediately it was published and Lucie was thrilled to be the first to buy it. It was the first one I'd dedicated and signed! Then she regaled us with rosé because I had sent her some money when she was crowdfunding to get her restaurant. I had only sent about 10€ but had advertised it on Facebook, and many people responded, so without me, she reckoned, she wouldn't have got enough for her restaurant - which is now doing well, it is all "green" and vegetarian and local produce. She insisted on paying the full price for the book and that I signed it and then poured us another glass of rosé. However, for myself I think the restaurant is doing so well because the food is so good! Lucie is the daughter of Jean-Luc Robin, who wrote a magnificent book that Henry Lincoln translated. (See our books page.) She was brought up as a girl at Rennes-le-Château, which was one of the reasons the restaurant is so important to her.
Then we called in the new Atelier Empreinte, just to say hello to Hélène the owner. In it were some Spanish people who had just bought a copy of the Sacred Journey and were ecstatic that the author was just there beside them! So we had to go and have a drink with them and sign the book. I tried to explain - our only joint language was very simple French - that I am basically a historian but they were thrilled and convinced that meeting me was a sign from Mary Magdalene herself, while Cynthia was waiting for me and Prisca was wondering if she would ever get fed!
Oh, it was nice to be semi-famous for a while after working so hard on the books all winter and spring.
22nd July Went to Anaiya Sophia's wedding! She and Pete (we went together across the Corbières in the spring) had had one of those rapturous all or nothing affairs and were now getting married on Mary Magdalene's day in the château of Rennes-le-Château. This was a spiritual celebration; the legalities had taken place the day before. Anaiya looked ravishing and Pete was nervous!
The ceremony was held in the Salle Visigothique at the château and afterwards a grand reception was held in the Jardin de Marie. I didn't get many photos of the ceremony because my dog Prisca was with me and got bored and knocked over a table, so I had to leave! But here's everyone arriving.
And then the party began!
25th July - hardly had time to catch my breath this month!
Went off with my Narbonne friend Annie Jal for a naturalist's jaunt in the Pyrenees, south from Quillan and through the Gorges de la Pierre Lys.
We stopped in a village called Pont d'Alies for lunch, it was forestry country, I let the dog off the lead and then a forestry chain saw struck up its whine - and Prisca disappeared like lightning! It was over a kilometre before I caught her and by the time I got back Annie had finished her share of the sandwiches and I needed two glasses of wine to calm me down!
We found our destination, Caoussanels, on the map, but luckily Annie had her mobile phone for directions because it was the nearest habitation - 5 km away - to the rare butterfly field and eventually we all met up on a remote track beside a stream.
Annie was having a good time, she caught lots of rare butterflies and later sent me photos of them. Then it was time to go home and we had an even more interesting time on the way back. First of all - les Gorges de St Georges.
Until, at last there was light! Maybe it was the long shadows but I must say I found it all a bit spooky and claustrophobic and was glad to be out in the sunshine again. I wanted to go home! We passed through Axat and St Martin de Lys. But Annie kept stopping to admire standing stones and to photograph rare plants and butterflies. These naturalists are as fanatic as RleC people are!!!!
31st July - the ungrateful dog
My old friend, Olivier from Canet and his sons Julien and Thomas came over, they were camping at Rennes-les-Bains. It was decided they would put their tents up and then we would go to the pizzaria in the main square for supper. Did ever a day turn out so wrong and it was all Prisca’s fault!
She was not impressed by the camping and neither was I. The plots were very small, while the prices were high. Olivier and his boys were putting up 2 tiny tents just inches away from a plot where a huge camping car kept coming in and out. Prisca was pulling and pulling at her lead like a maniac, I picked her up and carried her along the road to a bench on a quiet road beside the river and gradually she started to calm down. There Julien came to find me and said the plan was to go and eat as soon as the tents were sorted, so I followed him back.
No way was Prisca going back into that camping! When we got near she pulled so hard on her lead it slipped out of my hands and she plunged into the river to cross it, presumably hoping to run all the way back to Couiza. Thanks be to someone-up-there, her lead caught on a rock and she was trapped. There was only one way to get her out of the river and that was to take of my shoes and wade in! the water wasn’t deep but the rocks were slippery, but I managed it, and Frisca was deeply humble to be rescued. When I got back to the bank I could not hold the wet dog and climb up the bank at the same time so had to ask for help from a highly amused passer-by!
The watery place of the dog-rescue. Wonderful pizzas, but not for us that night!
I thought this would have subdued Prisca a little (she was glad I rescued her I can tell you) but no, she would not wait quietly in the camping. It was decided that Julien and I would wait at the pizzaria for the other two, with the dog sitting under the table firmly secured in a four-arm-leg-lock. The lady came along and we asked for a glass of wine until our friends joined us. Had we booked? No. Oh in that case we must leave because people who had booked would need the table. Olivier was most put out, he did not want to be driving round the countryside all night looking for somewhere open that would serve us!!!
So it was back to Couiza, where Prisca was thrown unceremoniously into the house without any supper. Then we found the pizzaria was shut at Couiza and the only place open to eat was the bar St Anne. The boys were really fed-up, they wanted to eat in a proper restaurant! Olivier I must say was a tower of patience for his sons. I knew that once they ate or drank something the tension would ease, but how to get them there? In the end everybody got most bad-tempered and strode off in a tantrum but miraculously found themselves at the bar two minutes later, where beers and wine and croque-messieurs saved the day.
Then I got back home to the news that my mother had died that evening. She was 96.