Author Archives: Katharine Whitcomb

Albi Seeing Ya in Barcelona

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It takes a while to get somewhere else from Labastide Esparbairenque because first you have to get out of the forest and the mountains—the roads are steep and twisty-turny and about half a lane wide. I was able to take a road trip to the medieval city of Albi, about 2+ hours to the north. Albi is the heart of the Cathar resistance to the Pope. In the 15th century the Catholic Church built this enormous red stone fortress of a catehdral to impress the church's great power upon the resistors. The cathedral is a formidable Gothic pile—the 1400's version of shock and awe.

This hand-painted ceiling in the cathedral in Albi has never been retouched. Plus, I got to see saint's skulls in the cathedral—that was a new one for me.

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I also went on a whirlwind road trip to Barcelona. I had never been to Spain before. It turned out, though, that we just got to have some lunch, walk around the beautiful Born district—full of cobbled streets, little shops and parks and do a forced march to Gaudi's Sograta Familia.  To the right is my buddy Jaclyn, checking the map. The forced march was not her fault!

Here I am in the Born District with pistachio gelato--my favorite!

Here I am in the Born District with pistachio gelato--my favorite!

L’ Oeuf Magnifique

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Today we drove up the mountain north of St. Julien to do LAND ART with the artist Christophe Eppe. Homer couldn't come with us. He would have been in the way.

Two of our sculptures began as spheres and then collapsed. It was a little discouraging. On the left, Christophe checks out our ultimately successful rock egg. On the right, Jaclyn, Christophe, and me after all of us completed the egg.

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Homer Ain’t Slow

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Trail Running in Labastide Esparbairenque! I really didn't ever imagine that I would come to France and get a lot of practice running mountain trails. It turns out that this is the perfect area for high mountain, un-peopled, untrampled, awesome, endless trails.

The air is dry and clear, and the trails with southern exposure are very warm in September. Homer, the English water spaniel (I think), likes to come with me. Homer is like the wind. He runs twice as far as I do—always circling around and up into the woods, in front of me and behind me.

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The views are astounding—big gorges and valleys extending through forests as far as you can see. Homer reminds me how light a body can be!

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Espar?

La Muse in Labastide Esparbairenque

Even the flight attendant on my Air France flight who was from the Languedoc had trouble pronouncing the name of the town which was my destination. But after missing my first flight to Toulouse, then barely making my train to Carcassonne, I was picked up at the train station by John Fanning, the director of La Muse. La Muse is a Writer's and Artist's Retreat in the Aude "department" in the Languedoc region of Southern France.

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I was so pleased to be given a residency here. The above left is the hallway to my room, while the right shows the street side of La Muse. To the immediate left is the back, which faces the valley. When the weather is warm, the patio is a great place for dinner. The town is in the middle of the "Black Mountain" region, basically in the middle of a huge chestnut and pine forest—no one ever knows what part of France I am talking about when I try to describe it. Check it out on the map!

Hey Dude! Is that my langoustine ravioli?

More reasons to love Paris:

5. Dead king's heads in the Musee du Moyen Age (Medieval Museum)

6. Walking through streets forever trying to find the aforementioned Musee and one crosses the street into Luxembourg Garden (below right).

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7. Sitting down at lunch  at Le Comptoir with complete strangers and getting invited to visit them in New Zealand<./p>

8. On Rue de Bourgogne (very short street) there is a wonderful little hotel AND a bar called Club des Poetes (Poet's Club)—did you all get that??? My street had a Poet's Club!!!

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9. This representational portrait (below, left; very unusual for the time—most art was religious) in the Musee du Moyen Age, which became my favorite photo from this trip so far and 10. The last macaron

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Paris doesn't suck at all if you greet everyone you meet politely and show that you appreciate what is around you. I was treated beautifully and everyone made little jokes with me. Maybe at me too, but I didn't know!I tried to speak French whenever I could--which was not much. I ate by myself in nice restaurants and got great service and nice seats. What really cracked me up is that I come from a little town in central Washington state where it is notoriously hard to get dates—and I hadn't even made it off the subway before I got hit on by "Emil." I had slept in my clothes all night, had chocolate gateau smeared on my jeans and my greasy hair was hanging in my face. Emil showed me how to find the Magenta line to the Haussman station, told me he liked Obama and asked me if I wanted to go sightseeing with him. I said Non, but thank you (I have a sweet boyfriend) and he said in perfect English: "You are very welcome. It was nice to talk to you. Obama is better than George Bush."

Hey Dude! Where’s my macaron?

Reasons Why Paris Doesn't Suck

macaron-louvre 1. Jet-lagged as I was, I located macarons within the first three hours I was in Paris along with a big baguette sandwich and a "Coke Light." I just had to walk into Boulangerie Eric Kayser and point! My first photo on the ground in Paris was this caramel de sel macaron in front of the Louvre.

2. I stumbled into line at the Musee D'Orsay, where I had forgotten how much I loved this sculpture: Charles Cordier--Negre du Sudan

3. Views like the one below. After a much needed shower and nap, I ran to the Eiffel Tower (having overslept and nearly missing my ticket time).

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4. Dinner at Les Cocottes sitting at the bar.

Poetry is Cool Part Deux

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Welcome to Southern France, where for the next two and a half weeks I am at La Muse Artists' and Writers' Retreat in the Languedoc village of Labastide Esparbairenque. I am lucky to be on a sabbatical from my job as a writing professor at Central Washington University and very lucky to be here at La Muse right now.

My friend in the photo above, Homer, La Muse's pet spaniel, has been accompanying me on my long runs on the mountain roads that surround the village. I will be blogging about poetry, writing, running, food, animals and other loves of my life. There will be a daily poem and a running journal. Say hello!