Archive for December, 2009

Cirque Des Fées EPISODE 3: Romance behind Walls

As I write pools of amber light and moon-glow reflect in the ripples of sea before me. The twilight in Spain is sumptuous. With barely a cloud in the sky, even in December, the hues of sunset linger for a delicious eternity. The colours caressing the sky remind me of summer and Tip Top orchard fruits icecreams, with all those swirls of peach and raspberry. Actually what really reminds me of summer is my instance of wearing giant Paris Hilton sunglasses. The lenses paint everything gold and convince me it’s more than 14 degrees. A good trick to play on oneself. Hee hee!
But leaving night in the Mediterranean and returning to the last weeks’ adventures in France. It has been years since I’ve kept a diary but I was again inspired to begin one after being caught in awe by the Romance of Walls. Walled cities, walled fortresses, castles inaccessibly bricked off from the outside world. Those stones that were laid in labourers’ blood, then stolen away and used again. But the most gorgeous thing about treading those well-worn steps is imagining the centuries’ pass. The monks who trudged upon them, lovers who fought and cried on them, children who stubbed their toes and screamed upon them. These all might be ancestors of ours. When I first arrived in the UK, a Kiwi girl with eyes as wide as dinner plates, I licked the Roman wall in York. I wanted to absorb such ancient-ness as part of my bodily make up. (Yes, I know I am mad as a hat!). It’s not a practise I can keep up; there is just so much historical wonder in Europe one could get a very sore tongue licking at it all!

Two weeks ago Oli & I discovered the walled village of Mont Saint Michel. This is a sacred rocky isle, nearly detaching itself completely from the mainland at high tide when the sea pours in ‘with the speed of galloping horses’. The Abbey is it’s crowning glory. This is situated on St Michael’s leyline, one of earth’s energy lines, which runs through several other sacred sites and to St Michael’s Mount in Cornwall. Building supposedly began on the Mount originally as a fortress against invasion from the sea – though I wonder if it had some pagan significance before then? What I really love about exploring the Mount is the winding streets crammed with curious little houses and shops that have grown to cater to the Abbey’s many pilgrims. They twist upon each other creating layer upon later of shuttered windows and state roof-tops – reminding me of the Goblin City from the film ‘Labyrinth’.
Apparently the walk to the holy building itself was made steeper to appease the many pilgrims while the monks and nuns have their own quick route up the side!

Carcassone used to be one of the last outposts of France when Spain was three separate kingdoms, and Oli was determined to see it. We arrived at dusk and while driving in loops and circles to find a park I looked up to the hills and something like a ‘What the… holy hell… oh my Wow!’ fell ungracefully out of my mouth. There on the slopes above the town ship stretched a vast collection of walls and turrets, layer upon layer upon layer. A more complete castle than you could find on any film set. And a trail marked ‘Old Cité’ lured one up the hill.
The next day we discovered while wearing my gold hued sunglasses I could smile sweetly and get into the inner fortress courtyard for free. This was built over the 12th and 13th centuries by the Saracens, a palace with close walls fortified against the villagers themselves! Later additions by the conquering French created the outer layers of defensive towers, keeps, moats and murder holes that gave the place such a nasty reputation no one dared to attack it again. Strangely enough I felt more like twirling along its staircases in tiaras and long dresses than boiling invaders in cauldrons of oil. So I did.

The Fortress of Bellegrade loomed up unexpectedly when I was fidgeting with the Sat Nav in the Pyrenees. Having no idea what it was we were both driving up a 45 degree slope to see, we were pretty in awe at the monster that loomed before us. A hulking impenetrable windowless mass only just begins to describe it. Surely any horror film director would cut off his right arm to get the other hand on this thing!
Totally isolated in a bleak and rugged landscape, exposed to the elements on all sides, this mountaintop hideousness stands. Vast, lonely and grey. Was it an ancient military defence post, a grim and doomed prison or bricked up jail for the insane? Perhaps it was all three – but on that bright autumn day the heavy wooden gates were barred and we determined to return in the summer opening months to find out. Off all the walled cities we’ve found in the last few weeks it is this mystery I am most compelled to visit again. The Gothic soul in me bleeds to unravel the full story…