Monday, March 08, 2010

Story behind a story

This might only be interesting to me, but I thought I'd share the story behind one of my stories.

In November 2002, my husband and I traveled to France. Our trip to Vezelay inspired my first book (The Pilgrim Glass), and our trip one quiet afternoon to the Cote d'Or influenced a short story called Stone Windows.

We visited an 11th century manor near Gevrey-Chambertin. It claimed to be a winery, but there was no one there. We almost turned around and left, but we finally plucked up our courage and rang the bell. After about a minute, a tiny old woman with very little hair or teeth answered the door and beckoned us in. She sat us down in the 11th century entry hall - antique winemaking equipment and books were strewn haphazardly around the room. We sat politely in two straight-backed chairs, nervous and embarrassed. She hadn't really said much of anything. This woman had to have been in her late 80s and had the most amazing yellow-green eyes; you felt as if she could look right into your soul. And then, she told us her stories.

She had lived in the building since she was married; it belonged to her husband's family. She told us about the Nazis taking the place over in WWII as a stronghold, but leaving soon after because of the ghosts. One of them joined their ranks, having fallen from the top of the tower. She gave us a history of the region, of the Cluny monks, of winemaking. Finally, she chivvied us into the next room, where she and her family would gather. It couldn't have been more different than the drafty, cold entry hall: whitewashed walls, tall windows looking out over the family vineyards and the silvery autumn afternoon. We had to take off our shoes (so as not to scuff the wood floors), and she encouraged us to wander around, including up to that tower. She had the most random and wonderful stuff just lying around - a chain mail shirt, a tile with painting in the local Romanesque style (which she said her daughters would dig up now and again on their property), other mediaeval and Renaissance bric-a-brac.

When we were done wandering, she took us down a spiral staircase (carved by Cluny monks!) into her cellar which smelled like drying apples, where we tasted her wine, which was absolutely lovely, and how could it not be, situated in the best pinot noir terroir in the world? We chatted some more, then left while it was still light, walking back up that amazing carved staircase. I will never forget that afternoon, or Madame.

It was one of the best experiences of my life.

Photo by Craig Allyn Rose


  1. Wonderful post. I find this sort of thing endlessly fascinating.

  2. I am so glad you shared this... Precious memories that lead to a novel, and that photo is fabulous!!

    Ta love... :)))

  3. Definitely the stuff of novels. It's always nice to hear about places that are still very much off the grid.