Tag Archives: France

Salvaging the Masterpiece – Friday Fictioners.

Nancy was an artist and a dreamer. After visiting Monet’s garden, she was determined to transform her slimy, mosquito-infested pond into a masterpiece. Harry Hemsworth, reputedly a cousin of the legendary Thor, was doing the work, and naturally Nancy had to supervise.

Finally, the first lily had opened, and her art class was coming in the morning. The cake was just out of the oven, when her grandson burst through the backdoor clutching her precious lily: “Nanna, I brought you a flower.”

Nancy was dying inside, but tried to smile. Hopefully, Harry could sticky tape it back on.

98 words.

….

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields. PHOTO PROMPT © David Stewart.

Best wishes,

Rowena

An Unlucky Star…Friday Fictioneers.

The doors of Alcatraz slammed shut on Jack’s trip, and the key turned one way and wouldn’t turn back. Indeed, that damned key was jammed in the keyhole. Wouldn’t budge.
Jack was 16 years old and about to launch out of the nest on the school trip of a lifetime… Sydney, Berlin, Munich, Rome, Pompeii., Paris. Then, it all went up in smoke thanks to the coronavirus. Why did it have to happen now? Right at this very moment in time? Gran was right. We were born under an unlucky star.

Now, all he had was his new cap:”Stay Home”.

13th March, 2020

100 Words exactly.

…..

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff-Fields. This week’s featured image was kindly provided by  © Jan Wayne Fields.

This story is more fact than fiction. Just over a month ago, our son was supposed to be flying out of Sydney’s Kingsford-Smith International Airport bound for Berlin on a school history excursion. It was a strange thing sending him on this trip, because my husband and I haven’t been overseas since our honeymoon almost 20 years ago. Of course, it would’ve been nice to go ourselves. However, sometimes you make those sacrifices as parents, the same way mine have done for me through the years. You’d give your kids the shirt off your back at times. Besides, our son’s been through a lot due to my health most of his life and I sort of viewed this trip as a kind of compensation package. Yet, it wasn’t guilt money. It was a gift straight from the heart, especially for that blond curley-haired 3 years old who saw me looking absolutely wrecked in hospital and asked: “Mummy better?”

I felt absolutely shattered when the trip was cancelled. That this very special treasure we’ve all but handed over to him was smashed to smithereens and destroyed.

That was on the 2nd of March when the NSW Health Department banned all out of state travel due to the coronavirus. It was at least a week before the WHO declared a pandemic, and while we were starting to think that the trip might be cancelled, it still seemed a bit premature when the axe fell. However, their decision was on the money. A day or two later, the coronavirus struck Italy with a vengeance, and the rest as they say, was history. We are very thankful that the trip was cancelled and the group wasn’t overseas when this all happened. Indeed, like the rest of us, he’s had to stay home along with mum, dad and his sister. In many ways, he should be thanking his lucky stars and yet…

I guess there a lot us out there wanting to hit the coronavirus over the head with a baseball bat and put it out of action. You can add us to the list, but our concerns go beyond the loss of his trip. We’re very aware of all the people who’ve lost their lives and the grief of their family and friends. Each and every one was loved and cherished. I have acute lung issues and know many people who are equally vulnerable as well as our seniors. We all keep hoping it will all just blow over, but it seems to have a mind of it’s own.

I hope you and yours are well and safe and please take care.

Best wishes,

Rowena

PS I’m sorry I’ve been away for so long. I started researching my Great Great Uncle’s service in France during WWI and the project snowballed into a pending book (which still has a very long way to go!!)

A-Z April Blogging Challenge- Theme Reveal – Places I’ve Been.

Once again, yours truly is completely unprepared for the annual A-Z April Blogging Challenge, despite fervid vows to “Be Prepared” next year and have all my posts written up in advance. Well, I guess my disorganized, last minute response could well be in keeping  with the theme of today…April Fool’s Day. Last night, I decided to change direction from ANZAC Soldiers serving in France during WWI to a photography travel series covering places I’ve been. I chose this theme because much of our world is currently in some form of social isolation at home and any form of travel has been outlawed and a plane has become a rare sight.

So, let me introduce myself.

Rowena 2018

My name’s Rowena Curtin and I’m no longer a 40 something writer, researcher, wife, mother, photographer and poor impersonation of a violinist. I am now 50. However, let’s be quite clear. I haven’t become 50 something YET!!!

Family

The Family at Christmas 2019

The other cast members here are my husband Geoff and two teenagers simply known as Mr and Miss. Geoff is currently working from home having conference calls and the like from our kitchen dining area which has now become his office. Our kids are doing schoolwork from home until the end of the week when they go on holidays. Our daughter has also been turning our kitchen into a dance studio right through dinner time and then there are the three dogs who are overjoyed to have all their ball and stick throwers at home. So, as you can see. Our place is rather cozy at the moment and will be for the unpredictable future.

Lady at Ocean Beach

Lady at Ocean Beach, Umina, NSW.

By the way, we live at Umina Beach just North of Sydney Australia. The beach is only a short walk away, which has been a blessed escape hatch from being imprisoned at home. Well, being stuck at home hasn’t quite become a prison yet. So, perhaps I was exaggerating things just a little for creative effect. However, whichever way you look at it. The world as we know it right now is hardly situation normal.

Of course, we’ll be travelling around the world alphabetically. However, there will be a particular emphasis on revisiting my 1992 backpacking trip around Europe where I landed in Amsterdam and then caught a train to Koln (Cologne) in Germany and onto Heidelberg, where I ultimately ended up living for roughly 6 months with a local family which was the experience of a lifetime. I also spent a week in Berlin living in what had been an East Berlin student house which still had all the authentic “interior design”. Then, I spent two weeks in Mons which included seeing Van Gough’s house nearby. There was about 6 weeks in Paris, a weekend in Florence and a week in London. It has become the trip of a lifetime, despite my desire to get back. Added salt to the wound, was when our son’s 3 week school history tour of Europe was cancelled due to the Coronavirus. He was due to be there now, but my goodness! We’re so glad he’s home.

So, I invite you to join me for these vicarious travels and I hope these photos and stories lift you out of the coronacrisis and possibly even taken you to your happy place. Indeed, that is the hope for myself.

Moreover, if you are doing the Blogging A-Z April Challenge, please leave a link to your theme reveal in the comments below.

Stay tuned!

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Weekend Coffee Share – 10th February, 2020.

Welcome to Another Weekend Coffee Share!

I should preempt today’s coffee share with a few “Glub! Glub! Glubs” because after surviving extreme bush fires and choking smoke, we’re now experiencing damaging heavy rain and winds and flooding. Indeed, you don’t even need to live near a river to be affected and today our daughter had a day off school because a tree had fallen across power lines and the school was also flooded. Her older brother wasn’t impressed. He had to go to school.  As far as the impact on us is concerned, our back room which is one of those atmospheric indoor-outdoor rooms with Laserlite to let in the balmy light, leaked like a sieve. This is the third time we’ve had to virtually everything out of the room. The last two times, hail had peppered holes through the roof like machine  gun fire. This time there were numerous gaps for no explained reason and my husband superhero that is, had to get up on the roof armed with goodness knows what goopy sealand stuff and paint to seal it up. I told my son that’s what his job will be when he grows up. Something tells me our daughter will never get up there in her pointe shoes and she’ll need to find equality in other areas, especially something which doesn’t involve removing spiders from the house!

Without any further ado, I’d better check whether you’d like tea, coffee, hot chocolate or some other beverage of choice. I thought you might like to join me and dig into one of these biscuit sandwiches I found at a cafe in Newtown, Sydney today. It was absolutely scrumptiously divine  with rich butter cream in between two chocolate biscuits dipped in sprinkles for a bit of festive colour and crunch. Wow! I feel like getting straight back on the train for more, except the trains were out today after the storm so I’ll have to exercise some uncharacteristic patience.  Meanwhile, I’ve sitting next to a chunky caramel kit kat. Have you tried one of these? I’m a recent convert and they’re sooo good!

So how are you and what have you been up to?

King Street Newtown historic

Last Monday, I met up my friend Stephen who was part of a group of friends I had in my early 20s and we’d largely lost touch I got married and moved a little North to the Central Coast, which is part of Greater Sydney. We met up at Sydney’s Central Station and caught the train to Newtown which is 4 kms South-West of the CBD. Traditionally, it’s had a large student population and was rather grungy and bohemian. However, now it’s become highly expensive and let’s just say the place has had a face lift. Stephen and I found a cafe where I found the biscuit and walked down King Street onto City Road past Sydney University. .

 

We had planned to go to a lecture but I’d mixed up the date and we were a month early. So, we went out for dinner at a Chinese restaurant off Broadway, called the Holy Duck. It was wonderful and we had a cocktail each. To be more about our adventure, click HERE

My adventures researching the stories of WWI to gain a better understanding of our family’s involvement and what happened in general continues. This project has been like jumping off a cliff clutching an octopus. I just keep ploughing deeper and deeper with no idea where the next soldier’s letter will take me. It’s been a real confirmation of that old proverb…”everybody has a story”. It’s interesting rebuilding the story of WWI through the eyes of the little people. Privates who had no say in what happened and were simply flotsam and jetsam ordered around by top brass or shot at by the enemy. However, they still had concerns of their own like the rest of us and reading through y husband’s Great Uncle Ralph’s diary, right before the Battle of Amiens which proved to be a critical turning point in the war, he’s writing about not getting mail for awhile with the underlying implication that he was missing home. Or, perhaps there was a certain someone we don’t know about who he was missing in a special way. That said, he does express hope that the war will soon be over: “Let us hope that Providence will be kind to us this stunt and enable us to make a move that will go a long way towards winding up this ghastly business.”

The new school year kicked off a week ago. Getting the family and the house ready for this is to be a logistical nightmare. Now that I’ve been studying more of the logistical side of managing a war, I realize the operations side of the household has been sadly lacking. That love isn’t enough to get the troops moving. We need to get all that boring stuff which feminism and equality was supposed to do away with, done. Speaking of this reminds me that I’m intending to have a talk with the kids about equality. How’s this for a bumper slogan…”Equality begins at home”.

Anyway, the start of the new school year, is always when the rubber hits the road with my new year’s resolutions. After all, it’s virtually impossible to stick to just about any resolution during the January holiday period in Australia. We’ve all gone troppo. So, now I’m trying to get into the routine of going for a walk after I drop the kids at school in the morning. I managed to pull it off on the first two mornings. However, on the third, I ran into a friend and went for a talk instead. Since, then I made up for a few walks almost reaching 10,000 steps on my rip to Newtown, although I don’t done much walking since. It’s been raining. Yes, I know it hasn’t necessarily rained all day everyday but it hasn’t exactly been inspiring and like most of us with our best-intentioned resolutions, I’ve fallen off the wagon.

My other resolution is to try to do at least 30 minutes of daily violin practice. This has been rather hit and miss as well. Some nights, I forget. Others, I’ve been too busy and others I simply can’t be bothered.

So, perhaps I need to add reading motivational books to to list of resolutions.

Yet, all the same, there’s another school of motivational thought which is geared well towards limping and impaled failures. That’s the idea that something is better than nothing and not to let a mediocre effort convert to giving up. That the person who cuts back the number of cigarettes is still making progress even if they haven’t quit. That it’s better off to be an imperfect vegan who cuts back their consumption of plastics and fossil fuels than making no change at all. That our instance on perfection, can inherently cause us too fail. I get that. Yet, at the same time, I still want to tick all the boxes. Get everything right.

I know we’re almost heading into March, but how have you been going with your resolutions? Are you still chipping away at them? Or, have you moved on altogether?

Anyway, I thought I’d give us a few motivational quotes to spur us on…

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not: nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not: the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent” – Calvin Coolidge

“If you fall behind, run faster. Never give up, never surrender, and rise up against the odds.” – Jesse Jackson

“Never let your head hang down. Never give up and sit down and grieve. Find another way. And don’t pray when it rains if you don’t pray when the sun shines.” -Richard M. Nixon

“Never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” ―Harriet Beecher Stowe

“There is no failure except in no longer trying.”– Elbert Hubbard

“Success is the sum of small efforts, repeated day in and day out.”

–Robert Collier (1885-1950), American self-help author

 

“It does not matter how slowly you go so long as you do not stop.”Confucius

 

“Never confuse a single defeat with a final defeat.”F. Scott Fitzgerald.

 

Well, I’m not sure whether all those quotes are enough to get me away from my writing to clean up the incredible mess from last night’s storm and leaking roof, but they were encouraging. Indeed, they actually pose a strong argument for ignoring the mess and just keep researching and writing until the book’s done. If only! However, something tells me that could be rather catastrophic on too many fronts. Better have a look at Plan B.

This has been a return to writing for the Weekend Coffee Share hosted by  Eclectic Ali. We’d love you to pop round and join us.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

Maitland Thomas Butler WWI – The Brother Who Missed The Boat.

The research road continues today as we meet up with Maitland Thomas Butler, Maud Butler’s older brother. I introduced you to Maud Butler in a previous post: Jack and Maud.

As you may recall, my Great Great Uncle Jack Quealy served in France during WWI and a few months ago I set out to gain a better understanding of what he went through. A sense of moderate urgency was given to the project, because our son will be visiting Europe in a few months’ time on a school history excursion. They’ll be spending ANZAC Day at Villers Bretonneau and I wanted him to be fully informed about our family members who’d served. There were quite a few, especially Geoff’s Great Uncle Ralph French who was killed in action and he is also part of this project.

Jack Quealy WWI

Great Great Uncle Jack Quealy

My attention initially honed onto an entry in GG Uncle Jack’s service records, which showed he was wounded in action in France on the 28th August, 1916. No further details were given and naturally I wanted to know where he was. This seemed relatively simple at the time with all the resources of the World Wide Web at my fingertips.

However, working this out was a lot harder than I’d expected. The information captured in service records is very scant, and doesn’t include the more detailed information a researcher like myself desperately craves. I wanted to know exactly where he was. Find that X marks the spot imprinted the very spot where it happened. To my way of thinking, I also assumed he had to be injured in a battle, and I wanted to know more about that too, along with who he was with and finding tales from or about his mates. The old adage “somewhere in France” simply wasn’t enough. I had to know more. Not getting terribly far, I widened my search and soon found myself swimming well out to sea without a paddle. However, finally, all this research is starting to develop some perimeters, and is taking shape.

Maud Butler AWM Robert Fletcher

Maud Butler in uniform on board the Suevic 1915.

It was this wider search which introduced me to an entire cast of fascinating characters,  including  ship stowaway, Maud Butler, who I’ve already explored in previous posts. On 22nd December, 1915 she stowed away on board HMAT A26 Suevic dressed as a soldier as a desperate effort to get to  the front and serve as a nurse.  I’d hoped GG Uncle Jack had caught the same ship. However, as I’ve already explained, he’d already left on board the Aeneas two days before…another detail which wasn’t easy to come by via the route I used. Much to my disappointment, Maud and Jack weren’t even two ships passing in the night.

While Maud Butler’s story is gripping and also has a complexity which draws me in, I was going to put her to one side and continue my research into the troops themselves. However, not wanting to leave a stone unturned, I wanted to check out her brother’s service records. You never know. I thought he could also have a story to tell.

Indeed, when you read accounts of Maud’s “adventure”, her brother is almost pivotal to the story. Private Les Spriggs mentioned them both in a letter dated 25th January, 1916 from the Aerodrome Camp, Heliopolis, which was published on Wednesday 22 March 1916 in the Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette :

“…The first day out at sea there was a girl discovered on board dressed in a uniform. She was trying to get to Egypt to see her brother who was wounded in a hospital. She was put off on to a passing steamer[1].

Maud’s brother was also mentioned in a message in a bottle, which was thrown overboard from the Suevic on the way to the front. The following message was written by Mr. Ted Blakey, of Manly, to his mother and found off the Victorian coast.

“At sea, Saturday, December 25, 1915, 4 p.m. My dear Mum,—I am sending this note by bottle from the Victorian coast. I hope you will get this O.K. We have just finished our Christmas dinner—turkey and pork. Everyone on board is O.K. A girl was found on board dressed as a soldier; she was going to fight with her brother at Gallipoli, Oh, well, good-bye for the present.—I am, your loving son, Ted.[2]

Maud openly denied she was simply going to the front to see her brother. Rather, she spoke about her plans to serve as a nurse after her valiant attempts to sign up with the Red Cross and at Victoria Barracks failed due to inexperience. However, she mentions that her brother is at the front:

“It is not correct that I joined the ship just in sport, to see my brother who is at the front,” said Miss Maud Butler. “My object was to do what I could to help. I wanted to join the Red Cross, and I tried very hard to get accepted. When I failed I bought a khaki suit and stowed away…In fact, it was before my brother went away at all,” continued Miss Butler, who was seen yesterday at the rooms of the Young Women’s Christian Association, “that I wanted to go. He has been at the front for six months.[3]

However, as it turns out, Maud Butler’s brother, Maitland Thomas Butler, was nowhere near the front in December, 1915. While I can’t be sure of his exact whereabouts, I suspect he was living at home with Mum and Dad in Cessnock and working as a miner locally. Born 10th June, 1897 at Coen, Far North Queensland, he was only 18 years old at the time and underage. The legal enlistment age was 21 and men needed to be 19 years of age to go overseas. However, they could get parental consent.

Fast-forwarding to 11th April, 1917, Maitland Thomas Butler enlisted, putting up his age to 21 years one month and also incorrectly stated that “Weston NSW” was his place of birth. However, on 12th April he was “discharged underage” from the Sydney Showgrounds. The stated cause was “letter written by mother”. It looks like his mother had hotfooted it down to Sydney and submitted a statutory declaration stating that “my son Maitland Butler is only 18 years of age. He will be 19 years of age on the 10th June 1917.” It seems a bit rough that a letter from Mum could end the dreams of  a grown man. However, having had her young daughter try to flee overseas to the front, Mrs Rose Butler was clearly putting her foot down. Getting her own troops back in order. As a parent of teenagers myself, I have a great deal of empathy for Rose and Thomas Butler and I can’t help sensing the same iron will and determination in the mother, which was found in the kids.

However, just like sister Maud who didn’t give up on her first attempt and boarded a second troopship in uniform, Maitland Butler didn’t give up on his dream of getting to the front either. On 19th September, 1917 he enlisted again. This time he was more inventive and signed up as “Frank Emerson” at West Maitland. On 19th December, 1917 he embarked for the front onboard A38 Ulysses from Sydney and disembarked on the 13th February, 1918 at Southampton, England.  On 7th July, 1918 he was taken on strength in France by the 2nd Battalion from the 26th reinforcements.

During his time with the 2nd Battalion, Maitland participated in the Allies’ own offensive, launched to the east of Amiens on 8 August 1918. This advance by British and Empire troops was the greatest success in a single day on the Western Front, one that German General Erich Ludendorff described as “the black day of the German Army in this war”. In Mid-September they fought around Menin Road, Belgium which formed part of the wider Third Battle of Ypres. Maitland Butler was later gassed on the 25th September, 1918 rejoining his company on 1st October, 1918. I will expand on his war service at a later date.

Up until this point, you could probably say that Maitland Butler’s service record, while not without its moments, fell inside what you could call the range of “normal soldier behaviour” (a variation on what the kids’ high school refers to as “normal teenage behaviour”). However, not unlike his famous sister and her voyage leaving Australia, Maitland Butler landed in hot water coming home.

ss_euripides_lsOn 6th September, 1919 Maitland Butler embarked for Sydney onboard the Euripides. All went well until he went on shore leave in Durban,  South Africa and failed to return at the end of shore leave on the 1st October. A day later, he was reported AWOL when his ship sailed for Australia at 1318. Almost two weeks later, on 13th October, 1919 he reported to the AIF Office and was charged with:

Charge 1. Neglected to obey troopship orders in that he was not on board HT Euripides at 1318 2.10.19 when she sailed for Australia.

2.AWL from 2200 1.10.19 to 1130 13.10.19 to 1130 13.10.19

He was awarded 168 hours detention & forfeit 28 days pay AA.46.2d by Lt Beveridge in Durban. However, he escaped from escort while being taken to civil gaol for safe custody 1200 and was captured a day later and charged with gambling by the civil police. 12th November, 1919 he embarked in Arrest on S.S. “Chepatow Castle” for Cape Town and four days later he disembaked ex CHEPSTOW CASTLE CAPETOWN & reported to the AIF Depot. Finally, on 20th November, 1919 Maitland Butler embarked onboard HT Nestor for continuation of voyage to Australia & demobilisation.

He was home at last.

After touching base with Maud and Maitland Butler to some extent while out on Research Road, I couldn’t help but parallel their contrasting experiences of travelling to and from the front. Maud went to very great lengths to stowaway on board HMAT 26 Suevic masquerading as a man in soldier’s uniform. Then, there’s her older brother, Maitland Butler, going to equally great lengths to avoid getting onto his ship in Durban and coming home. Either way, the two of them no doubt gave their parents some hefty headaches and they could’ve used a Bex and a good lie down. Or, at the very least, a very strong cup of tea.

Best wishes,

Rowena Curtin

References

[1] Wyalong Advocate and Mining, Agricultural and Pastoral Gazette (NSW : 1900 – 1928), Wednesday 22 March 1916, page 2

[2] Koroit Sentinel and Tower Hill Advocate (Vic. : 1914 – 1918), Saturday 22 January 1916, page 2

[3] Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 – 1918), Wednesday 29 December 1915, page 5

Services records Maitland Thomas Butler.

Wikipaedia.

Ghosts on the Run…Friday Fictioneers 7th June, 2019.

When the Ledoux Family rented out their home in Antibes, they had no idea a couple of famous ghosts would move in along with their heads.

Louis and Marie-Antoinette had evacuated Notre Dame toute de Suite after accidentally sparking the fire which almost turned their beloved Lady into a pile of ash.

Of course, it wasn’t Versailles. However, they loved the beach and their new found freedom. Louis could barely keep his hands off his beloved Queen in her alluring bikini, although didn’t like wearing budgie smugglers* at all!

“Mon Cherie, nobody would ever think to look for us here.”

…..

Don’t ask me where the inspiration for my take on today’s prompt came from, except to say that I was quite taken by the stairs at the front and floating to the top. Stairs like that are not kind to me. By the way, Budgie smugglers is an Australian slang term for men’s tight-fitting Speedo-style swimwear and the term received a lot of press thanks to our former Prime Minister Tony Abbott who was often photographed wearing them. He is a volunteer lifesaver.

This has been another contribution to Friday Fictioneers hosted by Rochelle Wishoff Fields. This week’s prompt was provided by C.E. Ayr. Thanks, C.E.

We’d love you to join us. Every week, Rochelle posts a photo prompt and we respond in 100 words or less and I’ve been quite amazed at what we’ve been able to accomplish in so few words. Makes me ponder the need for the novel.

Best wishes,

Rowena

Je suis Notre Dame…

“To know her, is to love her!”

The Beatles

Thank goodness, this isn’t a eulogy and has become more of an appreciation of our beautiful Notre Dame Cathedral. Indeed, these words are the outpourings of a heart which almost broke yesterday, as the blazing orange flames all but consumed her like a savage beast.  Yet, we’re not grieving her death, but are now grateful that she miraculously survived.

Like so many of us who have survived horrendous infernos of this magnitude, Notre Dame is still standing, yet all but destroyed.  I am a survivor myself and know that seemingly bottomless grief. Indeed, I have asked these very same questions myself…How did this happen? What has been lost? What is left? What can be done? I have also known that very same, fierce determination to get back on my feet and overcome like so many survivors. We will rebuild. Yet, it still hurts and the pain feels like it has no end. However, somehow you suddenly reach the other end of the rainbow and your ordeal seems like a bad dream, although the scars remain.

Personally, Notre Dame has never just been somewhere I went in Paris. Indeed, our connection has always been personal and it wasn’t just about the building either. No doubt, it’s the same for millions around the world and throughout history and we each have our own story to tell. Indeed, in a strange way and no doubt encouraged by Victor Hugo’s The Hunchback of Notre Dame, she’s almost come to life.  We can almost feel her pulse, her heartbeat and believe she knows and understands us in ways beyond human understanding. Indeed, as I watched those infernal flames blaze with such fury, I could hear her gasping for breath unable to discern whether she wanted to live or to die.

Of course, by now I was also walking through the streets of Paris crying and singing the words of the Hail Mary in solidarity with the people, although I didn’t know the words in French or in English. I didn’t need to. Notre Dame was in my heart. As Notre Dame burned, Paris might have been one of the largest cities in the world, but she was a village once again.

However, who was I kidding? I wasn’t out on the streets with the people of Paris. Rather, I was still stuck here on the other side of the world and couldn’t be there. Of course, it wasn’t quite the same sense of anguish you feel when a loved one is dying and you can’t get back. When you desperately want to hold their hand and say your “I love yous” and goodbyes and miss out. Yet, I still felt the need to vent. Respond. Do something.

So, I did what I could.

DSC_3307

Yesterday, on the way to the Art Gallery of NSW with my daughter, we detoured via Sydney’s St Mary’s Cathedral to pay our respects to the smouldering remains of Notre Dame and her extended global community. Indeed, I needed to pray and being there was the closest I could get to being near Notre Dame.

DSC_3339

Our daughter sitting on the steps of St Mary’s Cathedral on Tuesday. Not quite the same effect as Princess Diana at the Taj Mahal but there’s promise. 

 

Back when my husband first told me the news, I jumped straight out of bed and switched on the TV expecting some kind of mistake. Yet, there she was right before my very eyes…a blazing, orange inferno. Brutal, cruel and almost evil, she was trapped in the flames with no way out. Yet, the valiant fire fighters of Paris, just like those of New York on 9/11, were there fighting to put out the flames and save her from eternal destruction.

Notre Dame! The name says it all, even for me as an Australian.

Scan10296

My backpack and I just before I left. 

On the 13th July, 1992 I arrived at Paris’s Gare du Nord with my backpack and I found my way to the Hotel Henri IV in Rue Saint Jacques only five minutes’ walk from Notre Dame. I stayed there with friends for a few weeks, exploring the city of light and romantic turmoil, while Notre Dame stood seemingly unmoved and her bells chimed.

Being immersed in all that history and architectural grandeur, was an incredible experience for a young Australian experiencing Europe for the first time. We had nothing like it. Unfortunately, the City of Love also turned out to be the City of Heartbreak and despair. Indeed, I’m sure it’s no coincidence that so many philosophers, writers and artists have gathered there. I definitely sensed a dark undercurrent to Paris, and perhaps in this context, Notre Dame needed to be the light.

Rowena Notre Dame

My parents met up with me in Paris and we not only went to Notre Dame, my father and I also had our portraits sketched out the front. While I don’t particularly remember the interior, I still remember going inside and experiencing the most incredible sense of peace…the peace which surpasses human understanding. I also remember feeling it was much cooler inside with a distinct temperature drop. Being July, it was boiling hot outside and perhaps it was a few degrees cooler inside the cathedral. I don’t know. However, this combined with the stained glass windows and subdued lighting did create an ambiance.

Yet, quite aside from that, I could really sense the comforting presence of God. Only a few weeks’ beforehand, my mother’s aunt had passed away. She and Mum were particularly close and brought closer still by Mum’s strict upbringing. So, although we’re not Catholic, we lit a candle for her. Lighting that wick, has always been special. However, it’s felt even sacred since the fire. It was such an incredibly poignant moment. I think we also lit a candle for Mum’s younger sister, Lyn, who’d suddenly been ripped away from us at 36 with double pneumonia. Lyn’s death was one of those wounds which never seemed to heal. Lyn was beautiful, vivacious and so young. Naturally, her death rocked everyone who knew her. It didn’t make sense and we just had to get used to living with our grief.

No doubt, over the last 856 years, millions have also had such moments where they’ve been  touched by God’s love and this indescribable peace at Notre Dame. Of course, I know this experience isn’t unique to us, although it certainly felt that way. People have prayed for the living, cried for the dead and wrestled with everything in between and Notre Dame has stood as solid as a rock through the French Revolution, two world wars, and hoards of visitors. Indeed, even that blazing infernal couldn’t destroy her completely, but it’s been too close a call.

Yet, she has also suffered terrible neglect, which has taken its toll. As Victor Hugo wrote in The Hunchback of Notre Dame:

 “(I)t is difficult not to sigh, not to wax indignant, before the numberless degradations and mutilations which time and men have both caused the venerable monument to suffer.”

So why was it so difficult to raise the money to restore and maintain this stunning, historic and sacred cathedral, which has always been at the very heart of Paris? It is hard to understand.

However, as we move forward as a global community, we now have the chance to show her the love we’ve always felt, but haven’t sufficiently expressed. She has given us so much, and now it’s our turn to give back in whatever way we can. For some of us, that will be in words or paint while others have been financially blessed.

Notre Dame needs to be that phoenix rising out of the ashes. We need to see that you can rise up from near total destruction, and start over not only as a building but also as individuals and communities. We can get better. Moreover, we also need to restore Notre Dame for future generations who will also be reaching out for God’s love and the peace which surpasses human understanding in an imperfect and often turbulent world.

Have you been to Notre Dame and would like to share your thoughts? Please leave them in the comments.

Best wishes,

Rowena

 

The Eye Beside the Sea, France.

“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.”

Paramahansa Yogananda

“Behind the most beautiful eyes, lay secrets deeper and darker than the mysterious sea..”

-yld

Last night, I was trawling through Facebook, when I stumbled across this fantastic image of a big blue eye staring out to sea with a sense of the ocean being swept up inside and the waves crashing within.

Of course, I had to investigate it further. Investigate it via the only means at my disposal…Google. Sadly, there was no spontaneous trip to France for this little black duck. Yet, coincidently, I’m watching a travel doco set in Paris at this very moment. Well, I was until the ads started up.

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French artist Cece painted “The Eye” on a WWII blockhaus on the beach of Siouville-Hague, Normandy, France. The village of Siouville-Hague is located in North-West France, in the department of Manche in Basse-Normandie.

Normandy Landings

These days, it’s hard to imagine the scenes this blockhaus witnessed during WWII. I have no sense of direction at the best of times and it is difficult for me to get a real sense of the geography and the action it actually witnessed. However, I  gather this blockhaus witnessed The Normandy landings (codenamed Operation Neptune), which led to the liberation of France from the Nazis.

Getting back to the artwork, Cece explained:

“The basic idea was to revitalize an abandoned place full of history: a world war 2 blockhaus, collapsed, almost lying on its side. At first it was about to humanize this place with some poetry : before, the eye of the soldiers were watching the dead coming from the sea, and now there is this big blue eye, looking at the life and moves coming from waves movements, talks and answers , interactions of two creations coming from man and nature .. and then also I’ve wanted to point out the damage that may make human at some sites (into the pupil, the silhouette of the nuclear power plant from la hague).”

Yet, clearly “The Eye” also stands alone, divorced from the past. The eyes are the window to the soul and with this eye staring out and being washed by the sea, it’s redolent with meaning. I would love to stand there on the sand in front of it, peering deeply almost through the eye, and see what comes back to me. What mysteries would be revealed? Would “The Eye” reveal hidden, inner parts of myself? Or, perhaps even lead me into some kind of dance with its creator? Either way, I have no doubt,  that there’d be magic.

“Let my soul smile through my heart and my heart smile through my eyes, that I may scatter rich smiles in sad hearts.”

– Paramahansa Yogananda

Coincidently, a new TV series is about to start up here in Australia. Seasoned journalist, Ray Martin, will be hosting: Look Me In the Eye in which two estranged people sit in silence for five minutes, looking at each other. I’m looking forward to seeing how it pans out. Although we know eye contact is very powerful, is it enough?

By the way, if you have seen this magnificent artwork in the flesh, I’d love to hear what it was like. 

xx Rowena

In the City of Love…Friday Fictioneers.

Kate was tumbleweeding at the Shakespeare Bookshop in Paris. Yet, while she craved the smell of old books and inhaling the very air Hemingway breathed, she had to make love in Paris.

Or, at least be wined and dined by a real Frenchman.

The trouble was that it was July and all the Parisians had fled.

All except Anton, the IT Network Manager, at the Louvre.

“Worst blind date EVER. So, much for Mona Lisa watching! All his showed me was a bunch of cables. Bet he makes love to his laptop.”

That night, Anton added Kate to his database.

….

Back in 1992 as a 22 year old backpacker, I spent 6 weeks in Paris, which included doing a reading at the Shakespeare & Company Bookshop. I recently found out that travellers can sleep on the floors of the bookshop in exchange for working in the shop for an hour a day and on the proviso that they read a book a day. These people were called tumbleweeds. You can read more about Shakespeare & Company Here.

This weeks featured image is © Sandra Crook.

xx Rowena

Writing Memoir…Paris Encore!

A few days ago, I started getting stuck back into writing a memoir about my time as an Australian in Paris in the Summer of ’92.  I spent 6 weeks in Paris during a rogue backpacking trip after graduating from university.

The memoir revolves around a solo poetry reading I gave at the Shakespeare & Company Bookshop and spins out from there. It was a time of particularly deep thought and soul searching, not only for me but also most of the recent graduates we met. I’ll add that that there was also falling in love, being dumped and all the usual things that come with scraping up the entrails of your heart off the tarmac after taking a direct hit.

Poetry Reading

Poetry Reading Shakespeare & Company Bookshop, Paris.

At the moment, I’m only at the early planning and dare I say research stage, although I’ve handwritten a few pages a day of actual text. (I usually find handwriting my work helps gets me into the flow).

I had been making great progress on “Paris” about a year ago, until a hail storm peppered holes through the office roof and brutally destroyed my flow. The entire office had to be evacuated and the mess wasn’t pretty.

Anyway, at the moment I’m seriously trying to immerse myself back into my Paris. Kick start all those near-dead neurons and getting the party started.

Unfortunately, I’ve hit a frustrating hitch. I can’t remember the name of the cafe we used to hang out and it is rather central to the plot. So, yesterday I started hitting the problem with every tool at my disposal…from the sledgehammer through to the magnifying glass, but I’m still not convinced that I’ve found it.

Finding the cafe isn’t only hampered by a lot of water under the bridge. I also have no sense of direction and struggle to find my feet, let alone retrace my steps from 24 years ago. Indeed, after all my meanderings yesterday, I was lucky to make it out of the labyrinth alive and am pleased to report that the Minotaur didn’t get me either.

My first step was to dig out my Paris photos for clues.

Immediately, I hit another hitch. The album was missing. I was pretty sure it was readily accessible but with so many photo albums, books, book cases, nooks and crannies, it was looking like mission impossible.  Don’t you hate it when this happens!! As if the frustration isn’t bad enough, there’s also that self-righteous voice in your head saying you should be more organised. Declutter! (That’s where a fly swat comes in handy. Whack! That should do the job!)

Humph!

I try to wing it online and try various Google searches.

Nothing!

Nothing!

Nothing!

Finally, I find the photo album but there’s only one shot of us sitting outside at the cafe. Even after scrutinizing the photo, I can’t find a name anywhere. What I do remember is cheap coffee, not having to pay extra to sit outside and a broad area of outdoor seating. Also, it was on a sweeping corner with plenty of space.

Yet, this physical description fits many cafes.

Fortunately, despite my abysmal sense of direction, I’ve been able to limit the search zone. The cafe is on the Left Bank in Quartier Latin somewhere near Rue Dauphine, the Luxembourg Gardens and St Michel. In retrospect, I’m thinking that was something of a “pedestrian passenger” blindly following my friends to the cafe  without gouging the route into my neuropathways.

Yet, through the fog, there is a glimmer of light.I cross over Pont Neuf into Rue Dauphine in my head. I have a general direction but then the vision suddenly goes dead with no cafe in sight.I simply don’t remember. So, that leaves me playing detective trying to piece together foggy memories, Google searches, walking through the streets on Google maps. I even emailed a friend.

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My feet in the Luxembourg Gardens. Aren’t those flowers spectacular!!

I must’ve been in one of my doggedly persistent moods because I wasn’t going to let it go until I found it. I Googled cafes and boulangeries around St Michel. I consulted Google maps and walked at street view round and around and around the streets of the Left Bank and crossed one by one off my list. Indeed, I was trawling through Google like a crazed stalker and I wasn’t giving up.

By this stage, I was starting to think writing memoir was seriously over-rated and that I should turn this thing into a novel and be done with it. Then, I can simply make everything up without all this arduous digging.

But I’m NOT GIVING UP!!

Instead, I’m off to Paris. Well, I’m off to Paris via Google maps.  As much as I would sort of love to be in Paris and retracing my steps in reality, it doesn’t matter if I get lost in Google maps. Eventually, I’ll make it back to Pont Neuf without being exhausted.

Well, to read about my virtual cafe crawl through Paris, you’ll have to wait for the next installment.

Hey, if you have any idea where the cafe might be, please put me out of my misery!!

PLEASE!!!

Have you spent much time writing memoir or non-fiction? How did it compare to writing fiction?

I’d love to hear from you!

xx Rowena