IN 2014 THIS BLOG WILL BE…WELL WHEN I GET AROUND TO IT…
FRIDAY OCTOBER 24TH
Couldn’t resist this – and nor should you if you have the opportunity to see JEAN-PAUL GAULTIER’S exhibition, currently on in Melbourne at the NGV.
I am lucky enough to own a couple of his ready to wears (cheap on sale at New York’s Century Twenty One) and they are actually wearable…unlike some of these, but those on display truly are works of art…
You even get to have your very own Anna Wintour moment in the front row of a pretend fashion show. Can I tick that off my bucket list now?
Despite looking totally authentic, no animals died (well I don’t think so) in the making of the leopard skin number…up close they are tiny beads/sequins. Absolutely stunning!
Oh, and the mannequins have faces beamed onto them that move the man himself talks to you…
FRIDAY 17TH JANUARY
Shopping in Paris
I had to complete the set. Rome in April last year, New York pre-Christmas, London in the Christmas- New Year hiatus and now as our vacation (so called in the USA and I have been practising my French here and vacances is more like the Americans than out holiday) ends…Paris.
I have shopped in Paris before, many times, but I have to confess I have yet to get a handle on it. The excuse used to be that they didn’t speak English or understand my bad, Australian accented French. But now all the Parisians speak English and while I would like to (and need) the practice, I can’t put them through the agony. So no excuses as to not knowing the price, where to get the forms for the tax return (if you can bear the queues at the airport) and I have been coming here too long to say I don’t know where to go. But truly I don’t.
I have walked the streets where you have to push a bell to enter the hallowed halls of the Couture houses, even plucked the nerve to push them, enter, and pretend that three costumes only on the rack are going to be enough for me to drool over and get the cheque book out for. These items don’t have price tags and Madame and I both know I would pass out if she told me. It’s not that I don’t have genuine Thierry Mugler, Jean Paul Gaultier, Galliano and Versace (though I have more of their perfume than their clothes) but I have their ready to wear variety. I am, like most of the world, not on the list to sit next to the current Vogue editor or Anna Wintour , Victoria Beckham and Gwyneth Paultrow at the Season’s show.
I have on previous trips (the times when the sales are not on; there are regimented times for these and probably rules about how much they are allowed to discount. France is the country of red tape and maximum benefit for the shop stewards rather than the shopper) decided Galleries Layfette has been too expensive and searched for something else. I have found shopping centres, one at least which was positively basic and ordinaire and not selling anything that the Parisienne women I saw were wearing. I also found somewhere underground (Les Halles) where I might find things my children would wear (and that I could afford).
But today I thought I would return to Galleries Layfette. I mean the map has them all over it, the only thing I can locate without reading glasses though I am familiar enough with Paris that this is where me feet lead me, no matter which new arrondissment my husband thinks we need to try out a new hotel in. Me, I’d choose Esmeralda opposite Notre Dame on the left bank. Quaint, poet sized over priced rooms but what the hell. It’s Paris. I’ve yet to have a room I could swing a cat in. Not that I would but I often end up with cat pictures, clocks, and ornaments from the one shop for cute things I would highly recommend, in fact several shops in one street, the only street really, on the island you get to from Notre Dame, near also the bridge with all the locks on it left my lovers. Another overpriced too small hotel there I adore too; Deux Isles.
So Galeries Layfayette. On par size wise with Bloomingdales, smaller than Macy’s and larger than Liberty, and glitzier than any of these, at sales time it’s akin to feeling like you are in the middle of a herd of bison at mating time. Not pretty. I say bison because you can hear the Americans shouting directions over each other, but I have been away from Australia long enough that it is their accents that I pick out and that grate. Do I really sound like that? And they are hopping around a plenty. One rather imagines that the French know better, that there is somewhere else they go and get the real the real bargains.
It is day four of the sales (soldes). Everything is open on Sunday for this very reason. My husband has decided a hotel (called L’Hotel) new street in the sixth, and I have to waste several moments in it. However small it is exquisite in leopard skin (matches my hat, gloves and lingerie…) and they are incredibly accommodating. They have just the restaurant for us and send us off with a map. We are distant enough from the tourist hub that when we have oysters (the only thing on the menu and in a shop the size of a postage stamp) we are surrounded by locals (including a young group who had perhaps started the day in Amsterdam if you get my meaning…) and the oysters are excellent and the Chablis crisp and big the way I like it. But GF is looking a long way away…
Then I happen on some streets off Bvld St Germaine, all with Soldes signs and excited French women. I go in. I could take virtually anything. Exactly the stuff I like, one size it seems- mine. The prices are…bloody brilliant. I arrived in New York on carry-on and left that way because the kids took the extra suitcase home. London wasn’t a problem because we were on the Eurostar. Tomorrow returning? Okay I will have to check luggage and it’s time for another Camino (planning the next one to Rome) to remind me I don’t need so many clothes.
FRIDAY JANUARY 10TH
Shopping in London
It’s January 3rd and the Christmas decorations are still up and it’s grey, a bit dreary and raining. It is London after all. But I have to be honest, it was a crisp clear sky yesterday and I was just in New York and though there was a heat wave there for a few days, when it was cold it was colder than London currently is. The subway is a lot cheaper than the underground though, so if you can’t walk because of the weather then the pounds start disappearing (the paper ones, not the ones from too much plum pudding…eve the Indian restaurant here had plum pudding for dessert, albeit with yoghurt!). Sadly the Aussie dollar isn’t as strong as when I was last here so the 1400€ (two and a half thousand dollars, maybe two thousand American) camel cashmere coat in Harrods was just going to have to stay there for someone else. Wasn’t it?
I have had a bit of a hankering for a camel cashmere for a couple of years. In New York I bought a bargain Tommy Hilfinger dress and then had to buy the faun boots, and the longing for the camel cashmere returned. The bargain dress was about to cost a lot more…I couldn’t find anything I liked in New York so I thought London would solve my problem, a camel cashmere is after all one of those British classics. And had I wanted to mortgage the house and sell the car Harrods would have solved it. I thought about this. After all, who would need the house? I could just curl up and sleep in the perfect coat. It would also have been worth it to slam the credit card and see the look on the snooty woman server who almost wrestled the coat off me when I said I wouldn’t take it if it wasn’t on sale (the other side of the rack had 40% off). My husband (bless him) said go for it…my compensation for his book (which would be paying for it) doing better than mine.
So today I resolved to scour Regent St and Liberty and if I couldn’t find an alternative, the 1400€ would be mine. With regards Liberty, there is something kind of quaint about rickety store floors in a Tudor mansion when you are browsing Stella McCartney and Vintage. Even if you have to have elbows out and be a sumo wrestler to make it inside. Maybe there is another entrance rather than the notebook shop but neither I nor half the population of London (and a million tourists) could find it.
I eventually found one that had I not been to Harrods, would have been fine. In Hugo Boss (I hadn’t even known they had a women’s section) and half price sale. Fitted beautifully, the only negative was a belt and the loops it went through that I would have to remove. A quarter of the price. But the Harrods’ coat was calling. So onto the tube I go, battle rain, and then wander lost in Harrods. Where had that coat been only yesterday? There was a panic it had gone (there had only been one my size, but as it was new season I figured there would be more). Finally, after retracing the exact steps, there it was. Only it wasn’t nearly as good as I had remembered it. Not now compared to the Boss one at a quarter of the price.
So back on the tube (another ten dollars but in a good cause…Australians who have been to London can never complain again about Melbourne’s Myki card), through the rain (it had got worse, naturally) and there it was. The Boss camel cashmere coat. Fitting perfectly but…minus a clasp. I wasn’t sure I needed it, and another 10% less later it was mine. So was the top in the shop I had passed, and I was still 900€ in front. Now that is a shopping success ( I love the coat too, better still, and it is perfect with the Tommy Hilfinger bargain…)
FRIDAY DECEMBER 27TH
Shopping in New York
New York isn’t the fashion capital of the world. Let’s just get that straight from the start. Far too many international tourists in reeboks and jeans (and denim with denim). And American tourists confused that you can’t wear shorts in New York in December even if you can all year in Florida. But it may be the shopping capital of the world. What the hell, IS the shopping capital of the world.
It was looking bad (or good, depending on perspective) for a while. My 21 year old daughter milling around Century 21 looking like she’d rather be wearing the tutu I had to bribe her to stay in for the photo when she was three, rather than wear anything in this store. This is saying something. Like there are racks and racks of designer label. UK, USA, European. Okay, its true they don’t look great piled on the racks and true also that the really good stuff never makes it here because it gets bought on the first round. But still.
Things got worse when we meandered down 34th (having emerged empty handed from Macys… really??? It’s the biggest department store in the world!) and the only store she got excited about was one which had UGG boots. OMG. They are Australian and considered bogan. We CANNOT come all the way to New York to buy a product from home that we wouldn’t wear there. We did. Okay, not UGG UGG exactly, and it was very cold and we did need something in the snow I suppose.
But then Christmas was pending and I said I CAN’T BELIEVE YOU CAN’T FIND ANYTHING TO WEAR IN ALL OF NEW YORK. NOONE IS GOING TO BE SYMPATHETIC.
This was probably the wrong thing to say. My son announced that their return tickets allowed two items of luggage (they had been allowed only one of the way) and my daughter’s eyes lit up. It was all down hill from there.
Did you know we have Victoria’s Secret in Sydney but not Melbourne? And about two hundred outlets in New York. As there are of Sephora (how did that woman convince me to buy that eyeliner??? I’m not 21 any more….). then there were the clothes. Suddenly everything fitted. Looked good and we couldn’t live without them. But given it was winter here they were also bulky. Like two pairs of full length boots (hell, one were the exact red of my favourite leather coat I got in Rome….), and the sale on the wool dress was amazing.
Now I just have to decide what’s going back to Aus with the kids and what I will need in the UK and France. It’s still cold there…and I am on carry on…
FRIDAY AUGUST 16TH
Ingredients for a Perfect Fancy Dress Party
I have long agonised over this. The right theme, the cocktail recipes, the invitation list. But there always seems to be lots of people who don’t turn up dressed up, only drink water or should be drinking water because they are driving and don’t. To say nothing of the mess after which leaves me thinking was it all worth it?
My daughter’s 21st got close (but I should have drunk more water), but there was still the mess, and though the Tarzans and Janes were gorgeous they froze, and I just can’t get my head around onesies (the all in one outfits that I used to put the kids in to sleep when they were babies. Ok, they were jungle themed but kind of floppy and didn’t do anyone justice.
But then last night (Friday in Perth where I am currently) I went to the perfect cocktail party. Well, only champagne and wine, but really with my alcohol tolerance just as well.
Not in my home- non mess!
Away at a conference so no one driving!
Theme turned out not important at all. I had been uninspired by ‘Nautical’ and boy, was I shown up! Didn’t think I’d ever go to a fancy dress party where I was underdressed. Pirates, wenches with off the shoulder blouses, corsets and lush feathers and lace, sea witches, bathing beauties from several centuries (worn with Chutzpah!)
I barely knew anyone but hell that didn’t matter. Fun group of friendly people … what else could you wish for?
This was my first Romance Writer’s of Australia Fancy Dress party but I hope it won’t be my last. Next year…well as soon as the theme is announced, I’ll be on it!
And any conference that gives way this many books as well as chocolates, and serves tons of champagne, has my vote!
FRIDAY JUNE 14TH
One of the things I most love about winter (right after snuggling up in a front of a roaring log fire with a good book while the rain is pelting down outside) are the clothes. Coats, hats, scarves gloves: all of these wonderful extras that have no place in the sticky humid summer months. And boots; particularly boots. I have had to move to flats since January because of a back problem and have been through so many of the wretched things, one after another giving me blisters, and while being very “in” still making me moan every time I saw myself in the mirror. They make my feet double in size (I am a standard seven and a half), emphasize my bunions and worse- they just aren’t chic. Maybe Audrey Hepburn (or Carrie Mulligan in current terms, aka Daisy in The Great Gatsby) can look elegant in them, but it doesn’t work for me. Didn’t help my back any either; had the operation anyway after months of suffering.
So−boots. Glorious boots, some of which to my relief, have flat or close to no heels. I suddenly have choice again. The elegant black ankle boots I bought in Scotland, of even the heavy funky faun ones also purchased in the far north of the planet (with a climate like Scotland’s it isn’t a surprise they know something about dressing for the cold. I can only put the kilt down as a female plot to use the breeze to lessen their men’s ardour).
And coats. I am in love with the red trench coat above I bought in a tiny boutique in a Rome street two months ago. It’s warm, classy and even water proof. What’s not to like? On the weekends with the heavy Scottish boots I drag out the clunky brown sheepskin from New York and fantasize about picking my way over new snow in the big apple and jumping over the puddles at the intersections- what I was doing a couple of years ago and plan to be doing again this Christmas.
And gloves. While I get chilblains I seem to have accumulated a vast array of different coloured fingerless gloves. Hot pink and red ones from the Hobart market, dusky yellow a gift from a Woodend girlfriend, black ones that regularly get lost and are replaced and of course the ones that do have a bit that goes over the fingers, bought in Peru, that saw me along the 2000km of the Camino de Santiago.
Right now? There’s a fire and a book so all else is irrelevant. But the sheepskin and boots are there if I need to wander across the misty moors (in my mind) or tackle the more practical bog of Lancefield carefully missing the cowpats. Won’t be any time soon…
FRIDAY APRIL 26TH
Milano & Roma fashion… Yes the Italians Really do Know How to Dress
There is a certain something about clothes shopping in the glitz of Fifth Avenue, and the excitement of finding amongst the stacks of leftovers from the sales, just the perfect fitting Gucci or Dolce & Gabbano or Versace at a perfect price, in Century Twenty One in New York. Cruising London the excitement is more about the quirkiness of some of their stores (particularly if it isn’t clothes you are after), but now a lot of them have made it around the world, with the exception of the elegance of Liberty and the flash of Harrods (once is enough), there are just too many all familiar chains. Or clothes that are very well English. Tweed isn’t my thing. Paris? Well all those minimalist stores and the prices are rather daunting…
When I was invited to the Milan and Rome book launches of The Rosie Project (L’amore é un difetto meraviglioso) I was a little worried about my lack of Italian (Italian men are so dark and gorgeous, maybe even as hot as Argentinean men – see Embedded for more details!) – though they are more forgiving of accents compared to the French and in the past waving hands and adding ‘o’s to the end of the French or English equivalent has usually worked eventually( I probably just wore them down). But then I got really worried. Whatever was I going to wear?
Lucky I had just the right number (well several) because even at the train station in Milano (not usually the most salubrious of places) I noticed all the women had perfect eyebrows and I had to run for the tweezers (possibly less of an issue for a blonde but still…). Then as I fell over the line of scooters that everyone seems to ride to work, the stick thin women getting off them in skirts, stockings and high heels, well looked like they’d come to work via the beautician.
Ambling down Manzoni towards the Duomo (I mean how can you shop seriously when you turn around and are dazzled by this amazing bit of architecture?) every shop window just oozed effortless style. The only negative (and so Italian) was that all the women in the street wearing it as effortlessly also had cigarette in hand. Someone seems to have forgotten to tell them it’s so not chic (the French have heard the message, but then maybe the Italians take religion more seriously given the Popes proximity and think it will giving them some protection).
It is raining, which encourages time in the shops. Shame about that. Finding the New York Century Twenty One equivalent makes my day. Unlike New York though it seems my size is not the one left over (the Italians are chic and half-starved despite the pasta & gelato). Anyone for a Large?
But I do find a few Jean Paul Gaultiers and an Italian label I don’t know in brilliant orange and celebrating shoes (how can I say no…and to the pair of shoes too?).
Then we arrive in Rome for five delicious days, all but one holiday. I had vague ideas about a day trip to Florence (it’s only an hour in the train) but our hotel is right next to Pantheon, and well…there are all these amazing shops. Day one I got lost wandering through a maze of cobblestone streets and piazza’s …all full of elegant, yes you guessed it – clothes shops. Amazing number of them for men, the most elegant jackets that I could search for in Melbourne and maybe find one I’d get my husband- here I could take just about them all.
Then Day Two, an amble down the Via Del Corso…magico!!! (Okay this word might be Spanish or a make-up but it really was!). In a long stretch only two chain stores (chain stores are just soooo dispiriting to shop in), one being Zara which had taken over a block (and the world). But everywhere else? Wonderful stores, tiny shops, leather jackets, fabulous window displays … today I take the visa card. I’d better buy a new bag too!
FRIDAY APRIL 12TH
The British have a reputation for being a little eccentric. There were the Grouse hunters looking a little like Sherlock Holmes when I was here last year in Yorkshire and now in London…a lobster suit? Okay it was in aid of a book launch (The Rosie Project where hero Don Tillman has a very poor dress sense but does look like Gregory Peck and eats the lobster, not dresses as one). At least the after party was a tad more elegant at the trendy and bustling Wolseley…
FRIDAY FEBRUARY 22ND
Writers and Fashion – an Oxymoron?
The day hasn’t started well. Or rather it has just started far too early. Arrived in Perth at what seemed like a perfectly reasonable time (time for a cocktail) but things went downhill from there. Cocktails have a habit of that. Really though I blame the time difference. Who would ever have thought a three hour time difference from one side of the country to the other could create such havoc?
I’m a bit disorientated anyway. I am here as an aspiring writer rather than a journalist covering the Perth Writers’ Festival, a gig I may well have got in a former life working for Coco. In the bar I looked wistfully over at the media camp. You can pick them immediately. Unlike the authors and would be authors who have thin arms and pasty expressions and who enter blinking in the light and looking more disorientated than a three hour time difference would account for, the media have taken over the corner and attracting moths to the flame.
This lot are a mix of TV and print journalists. Remembering now that February is a short month and that therefore my fashion blog is due today (another reason the day hasn’t started well) my mind turns to them. There are the trim elegantly understated self aware ones (the TV journalists) like Jennifer Byrne from First Tuesday Book Club and then the shaggy statement making would be authors who write beautifully and at time scathingly. The authors walk around them carefully. But it’s safe currently, they are in regroup and the pack isn’t going to swarm. Yet. I like shaggy I decided. One of them…well in another life I would have enjoyed his company!
Honestly writers as a group don’t inspire as fashionistas. There are some obvious exceptions. Tara Moss (ex-model) who was photographed with a python around her neck (can’t remember what if anything else she was wearing). Or possibly Lynda La Plante (ex-actress). And Jackie Collins is Joan Collins’s sister so that has to count for something.
But in general? Think middle aged men and women at their typewriters not Hemmingway. In the documentary of romance writers I saw they wore cardigans and slippers. It’s possible that some of them here still are.
I’m being unfair. Anna Funder is here somewhere (she’s doing the closing address). I’m sure she’s sitting in an elegant cocktail bar looking gorgeous (yes you are picking up a small amount of jealousy). Jared Diamond is probably still on the plane but if he is here he’ll have a do not disturb on his door (more than a three hour time to the USA). He doesn’t need to dress well; he’s an anthropologist. Toni Jordan (writer of Addition) is at the bar and looking decidedly smart and bright eyed with a double gin and Graeme Simsion (new author, of The Rosie Project) with a margarita (features in the questionnaire about his main character at www.therosieproject.com.au – I took the answer to me preferred drink as my second margarita) and ordering martinis is trying to marry business man (previous life) with author. The Tshirt is top range Armani.
So what am I going to wear to the festival today as I plough my way through comedy with Simsion and thrillers with LA Larkin (who I haven’t met but I’m fancying in a trench coat and hat)? Probably the leopard skin number. After all I’m more Tara Moss at heart than any of the others…
FRIDAY JANUARY 25TH
The Jewels of the Duchess of Windsor …
I had a friend who relate a story to me once. A woman had come into her antique shop and commented on the (very large) diamond on her finger.
“I was always taught it was crass not wear large jewellery before evening,” the woman reportedly said.
My friend, an angelic faced woman who married well and often (but to be fair earned a good deal in her own right) replied “Oh yes I used to say that before I could afford them too.”
I think she would have got on well with the Duchess of Windsor who reportedly said ‘You can’t be too thin or too rich.”
But when it comes to large (and lot of) jewellery it would be hard to rival the late Duchess of Windsor whose husband gave up the crown for her (but arguably not the jewels). It sounds terribly romantic and I gather Edward was besotted by Mrs Wallis Simpson. But other literature I’ve read (this book here but one) doesn’t necessarily paint this picture and after giving up a kingdom maybe he didn’t have anything else to do but be besotted (other than swan around with Hitler for a while).
Regardless of personal feelings towards either of them (and as I never met them I don’t have any) her jewellery collection was rather stunning. Not much of an emerald fan myself but the engagement ring pictures here was HUGE. Took up most of the distance from knuckle to first joint. I’m having to supress the urge to say the crass line…but then when this little (well not THAT little, its just in the background in this photo!) number in blue arrived for Christmas, styled as a smaller (more elegant!) version I might have to just hold my tongue…You’re going to have to read Exclusiveto find out if it was Jeffrey or Gabriel who gave it to me…
Jewellery is meant to be romantic but finding a man who gets that! I have a girlfriend whose partner once gave her a toilet seat for her birthday (okay it had shells embedded in it BUT really!)
Maybe a Liz Taylor necklace next year??? A girl can dream but in keeping with my antique shop owning friend, I might keep writing in hope to pay a little towards it at least.
Jewellery in this blog includes that supplied by Imogene at Roy’s Antiques in Cliftoon Hill and Gillian Hilman design
The Book pictured is by Culme and Rayner
Friday December 28th
Friday- What to Wear to a New Year’s Eve Party
This may be particularly relevant if your partner fails to get instructions about dress code. Jeffrey and Gabriel don’t consider it important. They always look so God damn gorgeous somewhere just short of black tie and a little more than smart casual, that every woman can’t keep their eyes off them. They don’t seem to understand that we mere mortals need some direction. Naturally I want to be well dressed, but only slightly overdressed. It’s very bad form to go somewhere in a ball gown where everyone else is in jeans and t-shirt (or visa versa) even if they are designer jeans.
Last year it was a private party at people I had never met. We were in Sydney. I’m thinking hot, Harbor views. Except this was indoors and I needed treatment for chilblains afterwards. I think the hostess (a Brit) was trying to recreate London at this time of year.
Many years ago I brought in the New Year in a field in France with our own fire crackers. It was an even greater chilblain moment but at least I was in full ski gear, only a problem when holding the champagne glass. A lot of champagne was wasted on that field. Another evening in Paris was much the same only no champagne on the street after an exorbitant meal on the Champs Elysee (the price doubled this night) and alas no fireworks. Hundreds lined the streets and the Paris government in their infinite wisdom decided no fireworks and not to bother telling anyone.
New Hampshire deep in snow at Mt Washington – cold (we were driving back to New York in the ongoing snowstorm later ) with horse drawn sleighs singing “I’m dreaming of a White Christmas” is also there in the memory but it really limits what you can wear because there has to be so many layers if you are traveling between places.
Read about the hotter versions in the Were-devils of Tasmania series!
It has an advantage of being warmer. French friends in a pool after a BBQ of seafood in true Australian style has to be a favorite looking back. Limits what you wear because there’s less required, but there are so many fun flimsy dresses to choose from….and the bikini…
Friday December 21st
It is probably something to do at the end of every season but somehow as the weather is getting warmer here in Aus, it seems a clean out is more in order. I am much less likely to hang on to the coat or winter dress I didn’t wear last season when it makes me hot just looking at it. Trouble is though, when you juggle a life between the two hemispheres you have to remind yourself it really does get cold in New York even if the last winter in Aus did not require brushing the dust off the fur coat (fake of course…).
The rule from the fashionistas is if you didn’t wear it last season, you won’t next. Put in the donate pile.
If the buy was a mistake, a hedonistic loss of reason, a dive into the latest completely mad idea (I am thinking all platform shoes may fit this after nearly breaking an ankle), then this is relatively easy to do. There are other things so much harder to let go of…the first little black handbag dress, the Manolos (which will be enshrined if they become unwearable because I have broken my ankles on the platform shoes), the white denim Sass & Bide jacket I got for a song…
There are positives to keeping everything. Sometime raiding my mother’s wardrobe (she is a hoarder) can be extremely rewarding. It helps being the same size. For retro seventies and eighties parties her wardrobe is better than the local retro shop, largely because she spent so much and quality holds it lines. You still do have to get over the idea of being psychedelic (whoever thought this was a good idea?), “flowing” (hippy really isn’t me) and not so sure about crochet.
So I look at my wardrobe. No crochet or flowing. There is a lot of overflowing however. It looks rather crammed. I have to thin it somehow. Or maybe…I just need a bigger wardrobe. I’ll ask for one for Christmas…
Friday December 14th
What was I thinking?
Firstly it was 32 degrees Celsius (ninety five or so Fahrenheit) in the shade. So I decided to drive into the air-conditioned car park. Fool proof plan. Except the air-conditioning in the car wasn’t working, it had a black roof and though soft top, it is currently stuck on waiting for the part from Germany. First time the Germans have shown considerable inefficiency. Maybe they are snowed in.
Then there are the Christmas road works and the fact that everyone else like me is making a mad dash for the shops before the schools break up (probably the same in New York except for my mother who has ordered everything from Saks and Bloomingdales and will have them all delivered).
Why is it that suddenly no one can drive close to Christmas? Or at least not park?
Having finally made it into the shopping center I immediately want to do all this on-line. On any line anywhere but here. There are wall to wall people. In one shop, one of those that looks like it should be an under two dollar shop and has lots of not much that is of any use, they are three people deep around each shelf. Next door they are lining up for shoulder massages. I can understand why.
I suddenly realize I have no idea what to buy anyone. My girlfriend with the boyfriend in soaps has broken up with him but this might be too much of a reminder. The big book stores are all closed.
Why didn’t I write a list? Okay I probably would have forgotten to bring it, but I might have remembered something off it…
Then of course most will have to be mailed. How did I forget this minor point? Postal expenses are exhorbitant here and unreliable at the other end any time of year, let alone Christmas. FedEx I guess…
Then I get the vision. It’s a goat and a chicken. Oxfam send them to needy people and a card to the person I have nominated it as their present. Great for all the friends who have everything and more money than me anyway and we can all feel a bit better about the incredible Christmas indulgence.
And for the rest? Amazon! Direct to them. So many great books to choose from!
I start to relax. I sit down and order a wine and start to make out next year’s list of what to do and not do.
1. Do not shop in December under any circumstances (The Boxing Day special may be an exception but I doubt it). If you really have to remember an air conditioend car and don’t wear high heels – my feet are killing me already).
5. Give everyone a cat (Pirate as you can see was less than impressed with being given away but there are lots of animals in shelters who need good homes. But then that was how they ended there- Animals aren’t just for Christmas!
6. Tell everyone in Aus you’re in New York or UK and visa versa. Might decrease the Christmas Day family traumas too…
I notice how many (80% I calculated) of the stores are aimed at 15-35 year old women and most of them are clothes. Excellent. I’m set for the afternoon. Just a little indulgence…
Friday December 7th
Slipping in to Something More Comfortable…
It evokes such wonderful images but there are so few opportunities to use the line…even if you’re an erotic romance writer it is a tad cliché. But to use it in real life (and writing erotic romance real life and the stories do sometimes blur) you need to be sure to actually have something to slip in to!
In my latest book, a mainstream love story, the heroine is 45 so when she slips into something more comfortable she has to ensure she puts her hands over her head (she washes her hair to help believability) to get gravity to aid her cause. But luckily in the erotic romance Stephanie (of the Stephanie Beauman series) is 28-30 and doesn’t have the gravity problem yet which is probably just as well because she has quite a few encounters! She slips into bodices and stocking (cover of Embedded), down to her underwear (Exposé) and a little black number (Exclusive).
In Were-Devils’ Curse Becc isn’t really a slip into something more comfortable person (and besides Tassie is cold, though Jesse and Jarrod warm her up in front of a fire) and in Were-Devils’ Revenge Gabriella is on a tropical resort island so a bikini…or swimming naked…seems more appropriate.
But for me (okay and Stephanie in Exclusive when sharing the penthouse with Jeffrey, really is thinking of Barbara Stanwyck and something long white and silky…oh she so had class!
Friday November 30th
The Language of Jewellery
Jewellery, and I’m talking special items here, not the plastic earrings from the market, is one of those intensely personal things. It says something about you, but it also says if you’re listening, something to you. There is of course the meanings assigned to some stones- pearls I was told meant tears (and yes the relationship with the man who bought me my one and only long since lost set of pearls ended in tears). There is also the months of the year and their assigned stone and the wedding anniversaries.
I have a friend who was convinced that jewellery took something on from the owner, and I confess I have a couple of items which seem to emit a vibe. But the medallion was one I was told the Czar gave to his troops and we all know how well that ended so I’m certain it’s all psychological on my part! The other item is a heavy snake ring and it’s probably the sheer weight of it that makes me so aware of it! But my friend “reads” rings−she read my engagement ring (see below, and if you want to know whether it was from Jeffrey of Gabriel you’ll have to read Exclusive to find out!) and said I was destined for happiness and success, so when she offered to read another friends who was having a bad time I thought whatever the good oil was would cheer her up.
Beware of ring readers! She said this ring was a ring from a really unhappy marriage (okay, she was right but it seemed a little harsh). My friend left their partner the next day!!! I’m not sure what happened to the ring…
Friday November 23rd
Sydney Fashion Statements
It’s Sydney and summer is coming. Which means it’s mild and pleasant and you want to soak in the sun (not too hot, so you don’t get too many concerned stares or frank glares from those slip slop slap people crusading against melanomas) and get those Vitamin D levels up. In Brisbane you’re already dashing for shade and freezing indoors and in Melbourne, well you need ready access to all of the wardrobe at all times, with plenty of layers.
I have a cocktail party –everyone seems to have one, something to do with getting in before Christmas but it’s not even December−but one of those ones that I have to go straight to from dinner after, so decisions decisions…really I think there is somewhat of the New York edginess to Sydney which probably accounts for why I feel so comfortable here. So I’ll probably wear the orange number I got in the Time Warner center when I was there in June. Orange is the color everywhere (even in black focused Melbourne it can be spotted). The trouble with travelling so much is that the orange swatch watch that goes so well with it is…well somewhere else.
We eat at Flying Fish, a restaurant down the end of a wharf facing the Harbor Bridge with the reputation for great food at ridiculous prices. Actually the seafood tasting menu wasn’t that expensive and it was fabulous. The waiters were remarkably casual and pleasant. Maybe not New York after all.
But what were people wearing? Well it was hard to get excited about any fashion statements being made here. The cocktail party was elegant and understated, but once out in the real world, even an expensive restaurant (that did divine blackberry and lemongrass margaritas incidentally) then Aussie casual prevailed.
The table by the window had a short dark haired woman that looked straight out of the 1950’s with her wide belt and flared skirt. Must have been watching Mad Men. But she did look neat. On the other hand the large woman in the shortest baby doll dress I had ever seen needed to take stock. The man behind her certainly did when she bent over. He looked like he was going to pass out.
Friday November 16th
Book Covers-What Should the Heroine Wear?
Or not wear…
I have now five book cover posters of Simone Sinna’s erotica on my wall. Surrounding a large poster of Rudolph Valentino dressed as a sheik staring into the eyes of his heroine. This heroine is wearing a good deal more than “Stephanie” in the three Stephanie Beauman covers (Embedded, Exposé & Exclusive. Becc in Were-Devils’ Curse is a little over dressed in a long sleeved white shirt (but the two bare chested men make up for this). In Were-Devils’ Revenge Gabriella is more in keeping with the Beauman series.
So how do they decide what the cover girl wears? This is a job I could get into (imagine putting it down on your entry visa coming into the USA. Job: dresser for the sexy cover girls and guys on erotica).
The author certainly puts in their ideas and are allowed to have a “definitely do not want” specification. You get to describe the heroine and hero(es). This seems to be loosely adhered to (though Gabriella in the book has dark red hair and on the cover she’s brunette). They are meant to be romance and erotica, so this heads the attire towards the light on. Negligees (Were-Devils’ Revenge and Exclusive) or underwear (Embedded, Exposé). I have this fantasy that there is a studio attached to Siren where they do the photos and attached to it is an ENORMOUS wardrobe with every combination and possibility of every negligee, corset and stocking pair ever designed, with a few historical variations for the period books. In this fantasy I get lost there. Drift through aisles of black lace, flimsy red fluff and white satin. Though none of the heroines seemed to have shoes (we can’t see their feet) in my fantasy there is a shoe section as well. Lots of Manolo Blaniks and Jimmy Choos. Killer heels, strappy numbers and over the knee boots.
The men’s section? Pretty small. But looking at Valentino maybe they do have the sheiks head gear and I’m a sucker for long black boots and a long black coat…
Friday November 9th
What to Wear−A Cocktail Party at the Zoo
It was to raise money for a good cause, and we got to hear the very charming and amusing Michael Palin speak about fish (as in one called Wanda), elephants and Brazil, the latter the topic of his latest book and BBC series. We also got to buy fluffy soft toys, and participate in the auction. Gabriel (Embedded & Exclusive) didn’t buy the most entertaining item- dinner (at a top restaurant) with two zoo keepers, both 30ish and 6ft 3in. And very cute…actually given there was a very impassioned talk about the pending extinction of the Tasmanian Devil by the Zoo’s CEO then I rather think it should have been Simone buying the night out…
It was hard not to look at these two hunks and think of Lincoln and Kael, the heroes in the third of the Were-Devils of Tasmania series… Mac and Mitch who are in Were-Devils’ Revenge out on December 3rd at Siren are more physical and very well built…these two were bright and cute and hunky with a definite sense of humour. Maybe I should have let Gabriel…oh well too late now.
So back to the question- what to wear? I wasn’t given a dress code and hadn’t ever been to a cocktail party in the zoo grounds (surrounded initially by Meerkats, they are soooo cute). The weather in true Melbourne style was variable. Not a night for a strapless number unless you had layers and then, what’s the point? Then there’s always the possibility of being outrageous. Going as Jane for instance (of Tarzan fame).
The crew seemed to have outrageous under wraps. The band with the python around the bassoon and safari outfits (possibly the only good use of a Safari outfit) and Tarzan and Jane with sprayed on outfits (this is an exaggeration) at least didn’t use much paint or much to the imagination. The celebrity chefs at least looked like chefs and Michael Palin was neat casual.
We did have one dinner suit, half the men in open necks and half with ties. The women? Ranged from the frock from Target (ugh) to elegant and understated. No ball gowns- the zoo doesn’t really lend itself to that. Despite being Melbourne Cup week, no hats either.
That’s me in the little black number…
Myself? Little black numbers (and black is Melbourne’s colour) come into their own on an occasion like this. A little white blouse underneath to pick the colour up, an elegant gold line in the tapering to the shin and some gold Victorian earrings (thanks to Katherine at Roys’Antiques in Clifton Hill) and the only other thing a girl needs is a glass of champagne…
(Okay it isn’t really me I’m a blonde. Simone maybe??? It’s out December 3rd at Siren!)
Friday November 2nd
Halloween Costumes, Cakes and G-strings from Simone
Okay I was thinking I would miss not being in New York this year for their fabulous Halloween parade (though I nearly got crushed in the last one) but given Sandy I have reassessed and while Australians Halloween is pretty tame, probably better under the circumstances. Actually Halloween doesn’t exist. We did get a couple of kids asking for chocolate but it was because they watch too much TV and forgot where they lived.
However, it doesn’t mean that one can’t be inspired in some ways. Goth? I have the right hair and there are some great black outfits (such a Melbourne colour) but it’s starting to make me look old. Or maybe that’s my husband’s writing class. He read an excerpt out of a work in progress, about middle aged (40’s) couple who had a wild affair in their twenties and reconnect. She is a 45 year old slim attractive ex actress. The class, including an older woman and a 45ish year old female teacher refused to believe that any woman over 40 would wear a G string.
I am only just able to write about it- still speechless. What do they do/think women over 40 do? Just give up and wear granny pants and start knitting? I think I started wearing a G string well into my thirties. There are still some very sexy older women including a lot of actresses (hence making this 45 year old G string negligee wearing actress even more plausible) and the rest of us who still get occasional whistles and appreciation from men in our age range who don’t feel the need to pretend they are 23. I go to the gym. There are women there with G strings, all ages. Research shows that even well into their fifties, women enjoy sex and being sexy (and doing all the associated things) when they have a new relationship, and it is the 40 and 50 year olds (if not 60’s) that keep the swingers clubs alive. I checked one out (purely research). They really do exist.
Okay I’m feeling a lot better now. So now, no Goth. I’m currently writing the final of the Were-Devils of Tasmania series and the heroine is a female were-devil (I’ve had the males up to now). So I’m tempted. But okay I’m getting old, instead of going out dressed up I had much more fun making green icing and helping my daughter with Halloween cakes…check ‘em out! Note in particular the top central one – a were-devil not were-wolf as it has white steaks and yellow-brown eyes! Check out Were-Devil’s curse on www.bookstrand.com/simone-sinna or more details and reviews under books on this website
Friday October 26th
Swimsuits- To Be or Not to Bikini…
With spring has come some wonderful warm weather and like people everywhere anxious to cast off the memory of winter, any sunshine and off comes the tops and the parks and beaches start to fill with people trying to tan up before summer. Or for those who have heard the Slip Slop Slap message, a quick top up of their vitamin D levels. Australia might have higher skin cancer rates than Iceland and Scandinavia but they have lower depression rates.
So what does one wear to the beach or sit by the pool in? Hat and long sleeves? A swim suit and block out?
My observation suggests that the desire to be a color other than white heads people to the latter with a careful (or not so careful in the French and Italian Riviera) juggling of thirty plus alternating with five plus and the occasional coconut oil fry up. Girls – well just want to be girls. In France I went swimming in the Riviera with Jean-Luc (read Exclusive – he’s a hot French Formula One driver) and the women with me were golden brown (from frying, not natural pigment alone) and were wearing the itsy bitsy bikinis that their stick thin bodies did more than justice to.
But what if you’re white or/and let’s say don’t have a BMI under 25?
In the States, and probably Australia, I don’t think anyone looks in the mirror. Or they do through rose colored glasses. Brits worry about their butts, Aussies look at their abdomens and Americans? Well like everything else, love me as I am. Earlier this week a New York student’s video of her generous proportions went viral and led to a debate on body image. It’s a tough one- we need to accept who we are and shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of weight or judge on body shape, but we also have to be realistic and try to eat healthily and be a BMI 18-25 (very low is not better than very high health wise!). Otherwise our health and the health dollar will suffer.
Me? Well right now I’m too busy to go to the beach and I don’t really like sand. A quick dip in the pool and at the moment it’s too cool to hang around wet. Saves worrying. But I am quite certain wine has less calories than beer…
How to Manage When Overdressed
This sadly happens more often than it should. We’re meant to learn from our mistakes, right? You’d reckon wouldn’t you?
The first time was at a friend’s wedding. I was maybe twenty, she was nineteen. No, she wasn’t pregnant. I was probably behaving badly. Her parents had this picture of me as trouble. You know, you get labelled and you move to fit it? Well when you’re old or mature enough not to I guess you don’t but I was neither. So trouble arrived. My friend was cool though I have to say her husband has forever looked at me as though I might burst out into a Lambada at any moment. For those of you who remember the Lambada, no, I wasn’t in a very short skirt. More Mortisha Adams or actually Barbie in the tight dress that flared at the bottom and you could only shuffle in.
Next time? Well they blur. I was mostly with a gay (male) friend and it didn’t matter. I mean someone gives you a bright yellow Versace, you have to find somewhere to wear it, right? So I picked a gay bar where a Mel Gibson (of thirty years ago) look alike was doing a strip tease on the bar. To say nothing of the tearooms the following weekend. Okay. The eighty something year old proprietor nearly ran into the wall after being blinded.
The most recent? Mmm well it would be good to say hasn’t happened in years but…well we were going to a cocktail party in London and Jeffrey said his ex might be there. It’s not as if I think he’s going to run off with her or anything, it must be just something about the word ‘ex’ that induces bad behaviour. I forgot the British are well, shall we say, understated? I’m sure they were just muttering “well what do expect from someone from New York” or maybe in the eye roll was the implicit American of course.
What the hell. Jeffrey and I are all over the pages of the papers not the ex. And if there wasn’t much material in this little sensation, well they charged by what was missing rather than what was there. My friend said it best when someone said to her that it was so uncultured to wear big diamonds in the morning. My friend replied:
“That’s what I used to say before I could afford them.”
Stephanie appears in the Stephanie Beauman series, Embedded, Expose and Exclusive as an undercover reporter. Available at Bookstrand and Amazon.
Friday October 12th
Simone and Socks
It’s very hard to get excited about socks. Despite stores devoted almost entirely to them, a colorful array, the diversity of short, very short, long, over the knee, bushwalking, boot or shoe socks and the possibilities of stocking, wool, cotton or polyester, at the end of the day, a sock is a sock. It goes on your feet and the only people that get excited about feet are masseurs and podiatrists and usually in a negative way. The rest of us ignore them until they give us problems. The only time I’ve ever paid them much attention was walking the Camino de Santiago (see Exposé) and I had to wash socks every night in order to avoid blisters (it worked). The outdoor walking socks were great too, though hard to dry if there wasn’t a heater at night and it rained all day. This was common on the recent Coast to Coast walk in England.
Despite all these sock varieties and possibilities and shops devoted to the humble foot, there is yet to be a sock that is fashionable for women. Over the knee? I don’t think so. I don’t think Stephanie (Embedded, Exposé &Exclusive) ever admits to wearing them but as she wears jeans I guess she wears those stocking-boot socks. Not wearing them is not cool either. I had a boss once who wore Italian suits and shoes without socks because he thought it made him appear European. It did, but not in the way he was aiming for. Peasants (I’m thinking southern Italy) probably have smelly feet too after a day of picking olives.
Becc on the other hand (Were-Devils’ Curse) almost certainly does. Sensible ones for field work in the wilds of Tasmania. Though with two hot men to herself she doesn’t have them on often…
And my socks? Well the one thing you can guarantee about socks is that they’ll go missing. One only. Washing machines eat them with a frightening veracity (someone needs to write a story called the Abominable Washing Machine or Revenge of the Sock). Dryers accept them demurely and perform magic tricks defying science. No matter how many you buy the same you won’t end up with two that match. And just as you give up and throw the one out, its partner will turn up. Most recently carefully attached to a new top that had so much static all the ones of each pair were lined along it. Unfortunately it was new because I had bought it in the Northern hemisphere and by the time the temperature was right to wear it down south…I’d thrown the other halves out. It’s not even that the excuse to go sock buying is one I can greet with joy. Maybe I need to do sock buying online. In bulk.
Friday October 5th
Fashion just can’t be ignored in Paris. I’m not talking about the shows, which certainly ensure fashion is forefront, whether you are at them in the front row or seeing the latest Jean Paul Gaultier splashed across the newspapers, but rather the streets, the cafes and restaurants. We need to separate first the locals however from the tourists, and in September while the July onslaught of Americans has died down there are enough hints of good weather for the diehards to still be here. Tourists never dress well, or at least tourists with a capital T do not. Those who are here on business or whose familiarity with Paris is such that they drop the visit into conversation without thinking, dress well enough, sometimes too well, thinking that the true Parsiennes are elegant and that they must wear Labels.
Parisiennes are elegant, but in an understated way that is hard to emulate. They don’t wear Labels. They don’t dress to look chic – they just are! While there may be a Label involved, they will be certain that the label doesn’t show (and remove it if it does). Men can get away with loafers and a casually flung scarf and not be gay. They will have one expensive item paired with the tried and true from last seasons. They will have found the Bargain that looks just like the real thing and smile whimsically when you ask if it is.
Even the older lady that nearly knocked me over on her bicycle looked impeccable. The orange stripes on her bag, on her shoulder, matched the bars of the bike.
In a top Paris restaurant you are just as likely to find the men in T-shirts as you are a suit. There isn’t the stuffiness found elsewhere in the world, certainly not that which I found in England, where the level of stuffiness of the clubs is ‘please don’t come if you don’t have a Rolex’ (see Exclusive for my run in with one particular club. Jeffrey I have to say though, perhaps because he didn’t come from money, has pretty much perfected the understated elegance. He does have a Rolex though).
Friday 28th September
Fashion for Grouse Shooters
I’d like to start off by making it very clear. I’m a New Yorker. We don’t have Grouse so I don’t shoot them. Despite many Americans affair with fire arms, I am not one of them. However I happened to be in North Yorkshire and was invited to a Grouse shoot. I immediately imagined standing on the lawn of a fine establishment probably built before the Puritans arrived in the USA, sipping sherry (probably horribly sweet) and talking about the weather and the mess the House of Lords was in, while the men wandered around in the next meadow peering into bushes and shaking their heads ruefully. I was wrong.
Firstly it starts off far too early to be having sherry. It involves SUV’s bumping down old railway lines, dogs, muddy paths between heather with the last blush of pink and then a lot of banging. There is a local hatchery that churns out 20,000 birds a year for this ‘sport’. As there were a lot of slow birds (who have a wonderful warble) I was glad they weren’t in danger of becoming extinct but also in danger of needing that sherry regardless of time of day. I don’t think Hemmingway and I would have got on. This is not for me.
So I turned my attention to the fashion, because there was most definitely one associated with this activity. In jeans and a tweed jacket and sweater I got by, but only just. The fashion rules seemed to be more for the men however, of which the party primarily consisted. So English. Fawn and brown, cap (one was wearing a Sherlock Holmes number but I think this was a mistake), and shirts with dark brown pads presumably to rest the rifles against. I felt like I was in an episode of Downton Abbey.
I suppose I should try a day at the cricket and a hunt next to complete the English sporting experience…
Friday 21st September
Fashion for Walkers- a comment from Simone on the Coast to Coast Walk
This is an oxymoron. Enough said…
It really is very hard to maintain any sense of looking anything other than, well, wet. Muddy is a variation, which when rinsing out the plastic over pants that make me look like a beginner skier, extends to the entire bathroom and any other clothes that may be around.
You can get light boots that don’t make your feet look enormous. If it was sunny maybe in designer shorts (do they dry easily on a heater?) and shirt you might look fetching. If you are young it’d be that gangly all leg look that might even attract positive attention.They tried this in Martin Sheen’s film on the Camino, but that was Spain and it was warm! This is not the situation however on the Coast to Coast in Yorkshire. Rugged up in thermals, fleeces, and gore-tex you coudl be 20 or 80 and it’d be hard to tell. I have to face it, this is why I wrote about Stephanie as being on the film crew on the Camino De Santiago rather than as a walker.
I would also like to add that there is no such thing as water proof boots, coats, gloves. Enough rain and I promise you, they all leak. I’ve tested it out. Wet socks are the norm. My goretex jacket to be fair has kept my body warm and dry but the rain goes down the arms and ensures that even if the water doesn’t go into your glove, they will eventually succumb to the torrent.
Friday 14th September
Fashion in English Pubs
I’m currently at the White Lion Pub in Paterdale. This is in the Lakes District of England. Let me clarify, it is called the Lakes District because of the lakes. I had had this vague idea that lakes got their water from snow melting somewhere else. Wrong. It gets its water because it rains, constantly. The only fashion issue really is how to stay dry if one needs to leave the safe confines of the ancient pub one finds oneself in. Like this one, where Wordsworth was apparently here when told Nelson died. You know, the one that was warring with Napoleon, the short Frenchman who couldn’t find a sling.
I am in the corner of the pub under the TV. This is the only place that wifi works. It’s great it has wifi at all because mostly in the area their is no mobile phone service. If putting in the service requires outdoor activity then all is explained. It rains too much to do anything. Above me Judi Dench is learning to cook and entering a competition for ale pie. This is a regualr at all pubs I haven’t tried yet. Given I don’t like ale it’s well down the list but given the South Afrcan wine doesn’t arrive until tomorrow and the Chliean is rubbish and I don’t want Aussie, the list is bare….
There are a lot of walkers here. This presumably explains the fashion sense. Or lack of it. Okay, if they’re straight off the Coast to Coast walk they’ll be in soaking walking gear. But as many have their luggage carried, can’t they slip into something a little more…fashionable?
Then again a lot of the accents around me are English, and they aren’t all walkers. We have men in loafers, white socks and cardigans. Ooop the winner woman just walked in. Older female, long floral skirt, green shirt about to burst open over her ample cleavage and the ubiquitious cardie.
The owner is waiting for the busload and we get thrown out. I imagine the dress sense will deteriorate…
Friday 7th September
Dressing for Cocktails
There was once a time when a cocktail party meant an after five number with a small hat and gloves, and cocktails were actually served. Now days, or at least in Australia a cocktail party means champagne (occasionally with a dash of peach and more recently a sugared hibiscus but regrettably usually neither, which would be fine if it was French but it’s usually Aussie sparkling, just not quite the same) and as for dress, well anything goes. In Melbourne mostly this means something black. Sydney at least has sunshine and color.
But right now I’m in Hong Kong staying at the Upper House. Dinner at the China Club (members and friends only and more than a dash of colonial feel) and then cocktails (real cocktails) at Café Gray Deluxe. Been there since 2009 so not a reference to Christian Gray (as in Fifty Shades).
One thing about Hong Kong is that it is glamorous. Women waft past me in in designer label and I want to rush back to my room and hope if I look long enough in my luggage a Versace will materialize. I’m thinking Versace because women are thin, elegant and color looks wonderful against jet black hair. Given I’m blond and no Versace packed I’ll make do with the understated black and white number I’m wearing. But if we go to the races, a hat is I think a must. Meantime I’ll concentrate on the view and the wasabi martini…
Friday 31st August
I’m thinking 1980’s. Big hair and probably a porn star. Must have been the boots I saw once in a second hand shop. Platforms and lots of leopard print and the model had on leopard skin hot pants. 1970’s I guess. Not good.
My stepsister went to a party where the theme was ‘It shouldn’t have been put together.” Anything leopard skin probably would have got the point across, but as usual she invaded my wardrobe and sadly managed to find things I had forgotten about. They really did need to be forgotten about. Then she put them all on together. I am glad I’m not still working at Coco. If anyone found out we were related I’d have lost all credibility. Not for her wearing them, for having owned them.
I think I’ll stick to leopard print underwear…
Friday 24th August
Aging Gracefully or Disgracefully?
Or How short can your skirt be and does it matter how old you are?
by SIMONE SINNA
With the death of Helen Gurley Brown in the last week (editor/founder of Cosmo), and the ongoing debate about Fifty Shades of Grey the paper has been full of varying opinions about whether these influences helped or hinder women. Are we all at the mercy of the cosmetic companies, is this all a plot to have us pleasing men, is it our own inherent insecurities and is all we need a good man (or not so good, just as long as they’re rich?).
Darcy, Grey and rich dark brooding men (Gabriel de Romanos and Jeffrey Carroway in my Stephanie Beauman trilogy) in romance fiction still fare well in some quarters. In Grey’s taste he had the taste on clothes so not only didn’t Anastasia Steel have to worry about her bedroom performance (one reviewer suggested this as a reason for the attraction of her virginal status though I’m inclined to think many Americans like this view of women in general as if fits in with the Puritanical origins of the country) she didn’t have to oworry about which designer label to choose. Of course she was only 23 and the wear was for the bedroom so aging and length of her skirt wasn’t an issue.
Helen Gurley Brown reached a ripe old age and did so like Catherine Deneuve and the aging French female TV weather and news reporters that are highly regarded. Phyllis Diller on the other hand took to growing old in the disgraceful camp when last on TV and while it was part of the comedian act, so was the fact she was a woman and she had no intention of becoming ‘invisible’ as she went over the magic ‘45’ into that ‘certain age’ category. Both women ulitmately were their own people and if they chose to have plastic surgery or not, use cosemtics or not- well I think they had the right to do so. How do you ensure though that younger more vulnerable women aren’t adversely influenced?
I am currently writing a novel where the heroine is 45. It’s a romance (not erotica) among other things. It was being discussed in my husband’s writing class – and one guy piped up that she couldn’t possibly be wearing tight jeans and heels because that’d be gross. He was 21. I guess his Mum is 45. But really?I think we may need to work on men too! I read somewhere that mini-skirts were the prerogative of the under 30’s (in case the guy whistling got a shock when his eyes hit the face and found it wasn’t some ‘chick’). My daughter borrows my tight jeans and heels so I guess I’m going to be there with Phyllis. If I get to 95 guess I can do what I damn well please…
Friday 17th August
Winter is wonderful for fashion and as much as I like warm climates, living in somewhere like Queensland, you really miss the wonderful extras of winter clothing- hats (see last week), scarves (nest week maybe) and gloves.
Gloves can be annoying but they can be equally as essential and a definite fashion statement. Think of the Queen and hers. Okay, maybe don’t think too hard but they are a statement. Michael Jackson and his one. Grace Kelly and those divine long elegant ones. I have several pairs like this and so few places to wear them! Also you have to think about whether you put the rings on top or underneath. If the former you’re stuck with them on all night and they invariably end up covered in champagne and some sort of cocktail sauce. Therefore they need to be black (as in Simone’s AVI!)
But winter gloves have a lot more versatility. There’s usually an attached coat that must have pockets or else the gloves won’t last long. And when you think you’ve lost them next season this is the first place to check- all the pockets of your coats. You may find a lot of other interesting things as well if you’re anything like me…
I had a brief period of interest in fingerless gloves which overcome the sauce, juggling keys etc problem but alas it’s my fingers that need them. Particularly in New York! Alright I still wear the fluffy pink ones that go with the matching hat (last weeks photo).
Current favourites? Can’t go past red gloves…though I like the fluffy ones too… (no animal was harmed in the making of these gloves!)
Friday 10th August
Gym Bunnies …
It has been said that when I hit the ski slopes I look more ski bunny (you know, head to foot white fluff) than well shall we say serious skier? The mulled wine is actually one on the day’s highlights (and significantly improves my skiing).
But when it comes to the gym I mean business. This is investment in future health and there’s the whole routine the personal trainer set out for me… (I don’t think they meant me to do the routines more than once, do you?). I go to the city gym though and while not exactly elite I am mixing with the Director of the Australian Ballet (who is seriously fit) and I want to look serious. So the question is- what to wear?
There’s no bunnies here let me tell you. No fluff and I seem to be the only person colour coordinated. Pink, okay. Most people look like they are trying not to be noticed even the ones with well-toned bodies and who seem fit. Is it like the back pack thing- that the cool kids only use one strap? The better you look the more you pretend you don’t (the French take the badges off their expensive cars to down play things but I’ve never thought this was an Aussie thing). There’s men that wear leggings under their shorts, men who wear very little and should and those who wear very little and are as wide as they are tall but it’s all muscle.
Still better than what I saw one of my colleagues goes running in. Like jogging, not just late to the office, but he was in a business shirt and baggy shorts. He doesn’t see the need to buy a special outfit- but then he doesn’t see the need for jacket either…
Myself? Well the right attire is needed to put you in the mood and as the Olympics come to an end, seeing their outfits- well let’s just hope it helped with speed because by and large they weren’t beautiful (particularly beach volley ball outfits!). Me? I get too have a pink, yellow, purple…well anything that encourages exercise, right?
Winter Hats – let’s try again!
Okay last week got a little out of control. But it’s still cold and I’m still wearing hats! They’ve even made it into a book shop in Gertrude St (Fitzroy, Vic, Aus) but these are warm fuzzy and fun.
Probably the place you see the most fun ones (and warm) is on the ski-fields though some of the wild jester hats are at best impractical of maybe they ski better than I do! Have managed to get a photo of the fun fluffy pink number- they’re in front. It gets hot indoors though.
When I was on the Camino de Santiago (Martin Sheen’s movie covers the 800km haul across Spain), this one was 2000km from central France, through (not just over!) the Pyrenees and then the coastal route we started in winter and it was cold. (You can read about this on Simone’s blog on Tuesdays when there isn’t a Grand Prix, or as fiction via a making of a film in Exposé). Winter in Europe or Northern Us is seriously cold and the hat is not just needed it’s essential! Think Dr Zhivago and the icicles in the ‘summer’ home…
In Europe I had a thick sheepskin coat and matching brown hat and scarf (over the door and to the left of same photo). And I needed it! Opinion about fur coats and animals aside, you can see why people appreciate their warmth and everything that evolution has contributed! In Australia it just isn’t that cold. Not the biting to the centre of one’s being type cold. Occasional exceptions!
August Friday 27th July
When I was living in New York, a hat was a given in winter, for men and women. It wasn’t necessarily a fashion statement (okay, it was for me) but rather an essential part of the wardrobe to prevent heat loss. In Melbourne it’s cold, but not so cold that you can’t make do with a scarf or a turned up coat collar if you have to. So a hat has to be a conscious decision- and what a fun one!
Berets- my favorite is pink and fluffy and has matching fingerless gloves and I’d show a picture but having a computer meltdown (ahhhh brand new one) and having to do this from someone else’s after a margarita as I am off interstate tomorrow. Will try for next week with hats from great Gertude St hat shop!
Men wore hats in New York too, here only my psychiatrist friend wears one and he’s Irish so the beret looks right!
Friday 20th July
While it’s true I wouldn’t like the corsets, nor the bustle, there is something rather majestic about Victorian outfits that are of the modern variety. I’m thinking Bellatrix Lestrange, the bad mad woman from Harry Potter. If you’re in any doubt because the mad is putting you off the outfit, watch the episode, I think the last one, where Hermione is still is Bellatrix’s clothes when she returns to herself after one of those spells (the one she got wrong in an earlier episode and ended as a cat).
I was reminded of this when my younger stepsister went out to a recent fancy dress party with a Harry Potter theme. She rummaged around in my wardrobe and decided Bellatrix was it. Amazing what you can do with contemporary clothes. The boots were easy- see last weeks post as I have boots for all occasions. These boots are oldies but goodies, black mid calf length lace ups. When they were new (and I was wearing them) a woman at a party came up and told me she loved them. She was looking at th man I was with at the time so this might not be entirely reliable. But they do look very Bellatrix and surprisingly Victorian.
Next my stepsister found the bodice. What wardrobe doesn’t have one? This was bought to wear as the strapless top to a skirt that flared, but combined with a long black skirt, and a Thierry Mugler black jacket that comes in at the waist with long laces, all that was needed was a good hair teasing! Though see earlier post, the cape could have been added too. I have got a great photo of Victorian goths in capes stalking the streets of Whitby at Halloween.
Simone did a blog on Wednesday on hoarding. Okay, I confess I hoard clothes. I may never have thrown anything out unless it was full of holes, ripped and faded beyond recognition. It makes for easy fancy dress options….
Friday 13th July
Boots: almost enough for you to want it to stay winter
I love boots. Firstly they seem to fit me and be comfortable, something I can’t say for any number of stilettos strappy things in my shoe cupboard (Manolos excepted). They’re warm and dry. They last. And there are plenty of varieties. Here are some of the wilder ones in the range after the daily wear brown and blacks. The pale pink ones (bought in Oxford) with the lace up the back you wouldn’t want to walk in puddles in but elegant!
The Bloomingdales over the knee ones from last season, okay they slip in the snow but back in Australia not so much of a problem. The cowboy boots do make me feel a bit fancy dress but though I got these ones in Canada, they are a bit like the stars and stripes pair I wear to the Texan ball in the finale of Exclusive (now out at Siren). The final pair? German of course…and definitely inspire a bit of Goth….most appropriate maybe for Friday 13th?
Fashion though the Ages
I still swoon slightly when I watch Gone with the Wind. Partly at Rhett Butler (not Clark Gable please note) but also at Scarlett O’Hara’s wardrobe. That white dress she opens the movie in…is divine. To be fair it is made clear even in the movie how impractical clothes in that era were. The corsets, not being able to eat and breath, the skirt tipping up 180 degrees with the wire frame underneath to how the frilly underwear. But they were beautiful. But loads of petticoats would also have impeded progress- look at how they had to ride horses! (I wonder what the stats are re deaths and injuries second to being sidesaddle?)
Move forward a hundred and fifty years and we’re all in jeans. Practical, comfortable and I’d like shares. But they don’t give you that swooning moment. Even on the catwalk of the couture shows the ‘ohs’ and ‘ahs’ are for show stagemanship and outrage, not beauty. Christian Dior probably had it with the ‘new’ look of the fifties but that was because women were desperate for beauty after years of war deprivation. I hope we don’t need another war to get us to the same stage.
It is true though that you can get away with a lot in 2012. No you couldn’t wear a Scarlett O’Hara hoop dress and pantaloons (though you’d get away with the pantaloons as a fashion statement) except to a fancy dress but twenties? Yep, have in my cupboard such a dress complete with long frills. All you have to do is add the band around your head.
Thirites and forties? I have a long sleek black silk skirt circa 1940. Noone had ever thought it out of place. Many of my hats, though modern, could also be circa same time. Even the 1820’s Josephine style (hanging from just below the breast line) has been in fashion, albeit shorter (never took this one up, makes you look pregnant which is okay if you are but not otherwise).
So it seems I’ll have to whisk back to Venezia for carnival to wear the big ballroom number and in the meantime rejoice in our choices. The modern Western women is undoubtedly the luckiest in history.
Lady Gaga is currently in Melbourne doing five concerts, more than anywhere else in Australia, including Sydney which of course is bigger. Does this say something about Melburnians? Possibly. Though I’m not a particular Lady Gaga fan I was in Hartford Connecticut a couple of years ago when she was doing a concert, and her fans brought life to somewhere (and it may have just been where I was eating) that otherwise I wouldn’t really have bothered with.
Likewise the fans here have been on TV and in the paper, as of more wildly dressed than her, though probably not as wild as her concert. Can you really sing with someone trying to simulate sex with you? Mmm…
But getting the joy de vie from dressing up- well that I can identify with! I went through a Madonna phase at one stage. Around the time of the Lady Gaga concert in Connecticut I was living in New York and there was a 25 year anniversary playing of Desperately Seeking Susan that the stars – Rosanna Arquette and Aidan Quinn, not Madonna- turned up to (looking hot given the passing of a quarter century) and did Q&A. Okay the film wasn’t Academy award stuff and a lot of people deride Madonna’s acting ability (I thought she should have got an Academy award for Evita– she was sensational). But there was something quite magic about it and when I first saw it was fun being inspired by the zany fashion sense. I did it with chunky jewellery, hats and a leather jacket, but the phase was short- this really wasn’t me, even in high school.
So go for it guys- even if I don’t like what you’re wearing, it’s bright interesting anf un. The world is way too serious and we need something to lighten us all up!
Academic Couture: Is there such a thing?
My lecturers were never exactly well dressed. Most were quite young or quite old. The younger ones were supporting themselves through a PhD and thus poor, so jeans and shirt were about it. The older ones, particularly the tenured ones, made an art form out of shabby. Those jackets with patches on the elbows? Well that’s because they needed them. Cuffs also looked worse for wear.
So with this in mind perhaps seeing the freshman arriving on campus for the first time at University of Minnesota shouldn’t have been a surprise. Well apart from making me feel old. Or maybe being led around wit name tags on is a guaranteed way of taking years off you. They seemed to have decided that they’d blend in with the lecturers (the young ones). Or maybe it was in that desperate effort that only freshmen can feel, to manage looking totally like everyone else. I’m sure the guys put on their jeans, look in the mirror and try to work out just how far down their butt their jeans should be. And then work the belt accordingly. If I was to yell out and say “Hey why don’t you tighten the belt” I’d be greeted with a “you are so not cool” look and a brief moment (freshman only) about whether I was right or maybe I was being sarcastic and they should go lower?
Easier, this day only, for women. Hard to go wrong with low rider jeans and a Tshirt. Shoes – well the low risk option is runners, but you can tell who will join the elite women’s cappa right here. Some women (okay I confess) just can’t be seen out in anything but heels. Not that this is guarantee of anything of course (apart from bunions). I managed to fall over spectacularly in my first lecture in front of the Dean, and second level down below the Plastic set is fine by me. I was in California as a freshman so I suspect there were different rules – maybe everyone in runners is fine in Minnesota.
The rest of my undergrad degree I recall as being a little like Mean Girls meets Legally Blonde. There were definitely some (women) who dressed to be remembered. Then there were some who didn’t but will be remembered never-the-less. I suspect at our reunion, nothing will have changed. The Queenbee when I last saw her, still looks incredibly hot (and unlike mean girls, was actually smart and friendly). The dag is still trying to save the world and doesn’t pay much attention. And the academic? Well she’s post PhD but isn’t tenured so she’s busy fading into the background. No high heels in sight.
Shopping In New York: Platforms, Ugh boots, gumboots and new stores
The negative- wall to wall people. God NY is busy in June!
The positives – everything else! Okay Aussie dollar not doing as well as it was last time I was here, but prices aren’t too bad, though I haven’t been anywhere near the Manolo Blahnik or Jimmy Choo shop it’s true. And I didn’t look at the price on the Fendi handbags (but aren’t they to die for?).
Actually I’m a bit over shoes at the moment. Or rather the shoes that are in the shops. They look great – in fact these ‘American’ ones (below left) would go brilliantly with an outfit I wore to a ball in Texas (see Exclusive – the Texas GP finale- hopefully coming out in a month or so). But…who can walk in them? And I needed to do a Tango…
All shoes seem to currently have an inch or two of padding under the sole. I feel I am floating or rather tottering over life rather than being in touch. I value my ankles too much…
Then there’s the gum boots (English call them wellingtons I think). You know, plastic or rubber boots for mucking out stables? Playing in puddles as a kid? Well they are the rage here. I get it in winter, though you’d have to wear thermal socks to stop your feet freezing (and then they’d bake indoors). But in June? Even if it is wet. What are these people thinking?
Better I guess than the Ugh boots. Seeing they are a fashion statement in New York I have to say is a little funny. In Australia only Bogans wear them. Think Kath and Kim (the Brits) or trailer trash (Americans).
Oni and Joe Fresh (started selling clothes in a green grocer shop hence the name) are the newest shops since I was last here. Oniqlo is Japanese on the corner of 5th and 53rd, downstairs your average 5th Ave modern aiming for the 20’s year old market. Then you take the very long escalators and the store goes on and on forever. Cheap T-shirts? This is the place to go.
Walking: Can you still be fashionable?
Common sense would of course say no. This is why the automobile was invented. To get us – and our wardrobes– from point A to point B. Walking is good for us, yes, but a stroll into and around town is about all I’d personally consider necessary. Spending a few days post Monaco Grand Prix in France, it would seem that French women agree. They are racing to get their baguettes from the bakery and probably don’t eat very much of them, but they are racing back to their cars. I note in the little town we are having lunch in that they are also racing to the green grocer. There are a lot of myths about why French women don’t get fat – having spent quite a bit of time in the country I am certain it’s because they eat well and moderately. If they buy tarts at the bakery it’s not for them, or if they do indulge at a dinner party they have a mere sliver. And they don’t ‘walk’ distances that require them to be anything less than fashionable.
Now the Germans are different. A group of 50’s plus German women walk past us with back packs and their scallop shells attached (I am in a village along the Camino de Santiago de Compostella, see Exposé for the story of how we filmed the walk). They look sensible, practical. They’ve read the books about light trousers, layers, good shoes and socks. Nut fashionable they are not. If they bump into Mr Right they just aren’t going to be prepared. At least decent underwear is light, small and dries easily (and must always match– as every French woman knows… see Two Lipsticks and a Lover by Helen Firth).
Now this is the possibility of wearing shorts and a top if the weather is hot enough that you might be able to get away with. Shoes are a problem though, so you need to take a pair for the evening. Even the most ordinary clothes can be overlooked if you’re in high heels. When Simone walked the Camino (2038 km) her husband carried them all the way to San Sebastian so she could go to Arzak (which also features in Exposé). She carried the dress though– and this really is where women’s clothes come into their own. Everyone needs a little black or red number that weighs nothing and hangs out perfectly after being squashed in luggage or a back pack. The only way to walk….
Clothes for Travel
I like clothes. A lot. I also like to travel. But after losing one bag to the black pit also known as Heathrow and another with LLIAT (Luggage Left In Another Town…), to say nothing of the trials of travel, I have been convinced of the merits of travelling on hand luggage.
Which creates a quandary. How does one pack enough clothes for a 3-4 week trip that covers casual walking to elegant dining?
One option: buy and cast off as you go.
Okay, can’t do that one as my budget won’t allow it, and besides I grow very attached to some of the clothes I have queued for, found for a song, been given or just plain fallen in love with.
It helps travelling in Summer. Clothes are lighter, no coats needed (though you can carry one of these separately). It’s worse if you travel from Europe in Winter to an island in the Southern hemisphere all in one go.
It also helps being a woman, because all of the clothes I chose to travel with can be squashed into a ball and still hang out as wearable without an iron. G-strings also take up no space though if tucked in a round everything else, they tend to fly out everywhere, always a problem if customs decide to go through the case.
The best advice though is to decide on a compatible colour theme. You can’t take too many jackets so the one(s) you do have need to go with everything. Black jackets always good for this.
Shoes are the biggest problem – generally I have the ones I wear on the plane and a very light pair of Reebox for walking and exercise. Resist the temptation for more!
Remember also – you can always buy another bag and return with checked luggage….
The Romance of a Cape
There is something about a Cape.
When I put this cape on in a tiny shop in Venice in February at the time of Carnivale I was transported back to another time. The sheer weight and warmth of the fabric encloses and hides you, protecting you from the world. In the dimly light foggy Venice nights with narrow laneways and masked revellers, there seems to be much to be protected from.
Venice at Carnivale must be the Mecca for historical romance writers. The city if so weighed down with history it’s sinking, and in Winter (Carnivale being an exception) there are fewer tourists and the pollution less obvious. This is the city of Casanova and the Bridge of Sighs, as well as other amazing oddities such as the Peggy Guggenheim museum that I discocered by accident while winding around back streets. After a European tour of Madonna’s and Child paintings (I will be happy never to see another ever again) the sudden burst of modern art was an inspiring breath of fresh air. In the setting of Carnivale though some paintings took on a more sinister air.
Max Ernst who was Guggenheim’s lover painted his other secret lover into his paintings and the sexual tension and at times confronting images seem to fit well into the highly charged atmosphere. I have never been but I believe there is some events (invitation only and not cheap) which border on recreation of a time long past where sexual predilections are catered for and where beneath the cape men and women are not as they seem.
I wander the dark streets protected by my cape, rugged up against the cold, and walk past high walls with occasional glances into courtyards and homes beyond. If only those walls could talk.
Why is it that guys don’t like dressing up? At best they grumbling take the opt out option of black tie with varying degrees of grace, depending on whether they own the required attire.
I once attended a ball where the dress code was Wild West theme, with the opt out option available, theoretically for both genders. The women all dressed up. Who hasn’t secretly wanted to be the Bar maid with the heart of gold or better still one of the dancing girls doing the can-can? Okay there is a bit of getting your head around this. My girlfriend’s son (aged eight) visiting Disneyland in Paris knew the can-can was French so that was okay. That everyone was speaking French kind of made sense too – in France, French dance after all. What was harder to fathom was why this was called the (American) Wild West. I think my friend explained via way of French pirates in New Orleans (had to fit in with the Pirates of the Caribbean ride after all) and that they kept heading inland…
Anyway, there we were all dressed up in frills and feather boas but the men? Dinner suits. Didn’t they all play Cowboys and Indians as kids?
It was worse at another ball, jungle theme. Given that the waiters and waitresses were dressed up as Tarzan and Jane. Okay I confess I did too (and won the best dressed prize for the night, given to me by one of the very hot Tarzans – pity I don’t drink beer). Most women went for jungle flavour rather than skimpy, it was a ball after all. My poor father though had been pressured to enter the spirit of things (its tough for politicians) and he and my stepmother were both decked out in safari outfits. Mmmm….
My younger sister frequently attends fancy dress – I’ve seen a selection of young women with long legs in cop, teacher and French maid outfits that I think were meant for another occasion entirely. Last week she went as mini mouse and I think her mother sighed in relief. Her partner went as a SWAT team member (ie normal clothes, with a plastic gun and handcuffs that were confiscated at the door).
The one fancy dress scenario I have seen enter into with gusto is the hookers and deviates balls – the men with flare are generally gay though. I guess the dress up gene is linked with the feminine side and as I like my men macho, what the hell. Black Tie is pretty damn good.
Anyone who has read anything about Stephanie Beauman will know she likes her men well dressed and polished. I have a particular fondness for men in Black Tie (it can make the most ordinary man attractive). But part of liking men dressed up is the contrast to how they are the rest of the time. Which is mostly not good.
I wrote an article once on schizophrenia and the psychiatrist I was interviewing said that when they first started in psychiatry in the 80’s lipstick half way up the chin on a woman and trousers with the crutch at the knees in men (as well as shaved heads in either gender) was almost diagnostic of the disorder.
I would suggest no more – or if it is half the male population under the age of 25 has schizophrenia (to keep things accurate I should point out that the rate is 1% of the population has schizophrenia, same in both genders).
So fashion has for the last few years made a positive out of men not having hips and being too lazy/forgetful/cheap to buy belts. And it’s been a huge bonus for underwear manufacturers – they no longer have to pay so much to advertise as the population is doing it for them, Bonds, Calvin Klein, and Rio there on the streets like a walking billboard.
As for the shaved head- well between it being ‘in’ to be bald rather than thin in patches (unless you’re Shane Warne) or to shave your head for charity, to say nothing of the effects of chemo, no one can really make an intelligent comment about male hair so I’ll leave it alone (except to say Shane Warne’s hair is okay but OMG what makes him think a plastic face is attractive? For the Americans he’s an ex-cricketer who’s had a mid life crisis. Seems we’re stuck with him and actress/celebrity girlfriend Liz Hurley as they just bought a property in Melbourne).
Men in suits seem to continue to head the best dressed look, however stupid and uncomfortable ties may be (and it’s not that we girls don’t suffer). I think men just need the discipline – like the work protocol takes over from where their mother’s left off. Whatever it takes- at least I haven’t seen suit trousers with the crutch at the knees…yet….
Roses and Chocolate Blog Hop and Giveaway STARTS TONIGHT! Not exactly fashion but what every fashionable woman wants to be seen with….
Starting at one min after midnight today, it’s up and running until one minute before midnight on the 9th May! Try and read all the blogs, there’ll be some great giveaways and who doesn’t like Roses, chocolates and pressies!!!
For a chance at a copy of one of two short erotic story collections (print) published by Stringybark, Between the Sheets or Heat Wave of ’76 (Australia only) or a copy of Embedded (erotic romance suspense, ePub or lit version) then just leave a comment on my website saying why you like or don’t like roses and chocolates! Winners notified by email/tweet/facebook (and asked for address via email for books to be sent) on May 10th.
You can also enter by tweeting @simonesinna with chocolates and roses in the message or via facebook, but maximum of three entries per person!
Be sure to see Monday’s blog on this topic- a Romantic Short Story Called the Language of Roses
From Stephanie Beauman on this topic:
What’s not to like???
Roses are the flower of romance and look beautiful and the better ones, smell even better. They add a special flavour to the night out with a special man and then fill the apartment with fragrance for (if you’re lucky) a couple of weeks afterwards to remind you.
Chocolates? Well in my mind I get stuck in that chocolate shop in the film/book Chocolat. One of the highlights of France, and when I was in Cluny filming (see Exposé, recently released sequel to Embedded) they have a shop there that didn’t have Johnny Depp dropping in but otherwise captured the tone well. To say nothing of the flavor of the chocolates!!! The chocolate fountain in the window, the wonderful white and dark chocolate slabs with dried fruit (they must be healthy, right?) and then there are the desserts as well…
Okay just to clarify from the outset, when I say stockings I also mean pantyhose. But how erotic is it to title something Pantyhose? Makes me think of bank robbers rather than shadows of the bedroom where garter belts are slowly being unfastened. True, pantyhose have to be edged or ripped off rather than sexily undone and dropped, but as there are some fabulously sexy stockings of the pantyhose variety on the market, I prefer to put this group (those pictured for instance) together rather than with the more utilitarian ‘tights’ that one wears to keep warm if in a dress.
What is it about this type of stocking? Women in the 50’s and post-war saved up for a pair and repaired and re-repaired them, such a desirable thing that they were. They feel good, make no mistake. The feeling of silk even if it is cotton or nylon, the sheerness as they pull over flesh and help make the worst looking legs half respectable. The naughtiness of them. Well of mine- some with “garters” in the design, or tight look low down giving away to hints of flesh further up the leg. The designers are thinking sex, make no mistake.
In true 50’s style the price remains high, just to make as truly appreciate them- and die when they get a ladder as we put them on for the first time. How many dollars have been waste in moments like this? Like last night’s ones, sheer black with flames up the legs. Alas now also with ladders accompanying them. Too painful to think about.
As the Grand Prix circuit edges closer to Paris I guess I’ll just have to drop into Gallerie Layfayette to replace them…
The Wonder of Jewellery
I had to buy a present for my girlfriend last week (see Ball Gowns and Major Birthdays below) and what better way to find one that go and see another girlfriend who has a jewellery business? Of course I love the antique jewellery I have (see the earlier Faberge red drops!) from Katherine and Roy’s Antiques but modern jewellery can be quite fantastic and Gillian (gillianhillmandesign.com) has a great array of earrings, rings and necklaces, using gold and white gold, emeralds, rubies, pearls (some great Aussie ones) and a lot more unusual things.
For my friend I ended up with an onyx necklace with a beautiful black Tahitian pearl. But I couldn’t leave with out these earrings… One is from art clay which gets baked and then painted with gold, the other is gold and white gold and dangles daintily….
Ball Gowns and Birthdays
Tomorrow night is a friend’s birthday. A major birthday. Big enough that it requires an ‘occasion’. Not that it isn’t always nice to have someone making a fuss of you. My 29th? With Gabriel, champagne, dinner with white table clothes and silver service – but in the open air with the sunset behind Uluru also known as Ayer’s rock, an amazing monolith standing alone in the middle of the Australian desert. My 30th (see Exposé which was released as an ebook on April 10th www.bookstrand.com/simone-sinna ) was at Arzak restaurant in San Sebastián in Spain (amazing- the chef’s daughter had just got an award the day we went) with one of Hollywood’s heart throbs.
Other Major birthdays I’ve been to? Simone’s after one of her (nonerotic) books was turned into a full length screen play and filmed over six months and then shown at a proper cinema complete with limo, red carpet and photographers. And awards presented to the actors (and they weren’t all bad though Simone needs to stick to writing…) presented by the Actor’s guild. While the movie had a serious theme (the book had got to the last phase at Random house) the bloopers didn’t … and the out-takes did include some, well, M rated moments.
Simone’s husband was taken by helicopter to a rural getaway one year and another a surprise party in a three star French restaurant. One year they went to El Bulli when it was the best restaurant in the world and now sadly doesn’t exist.
Probably all topped by the party my girlfriend who is a fire dancer and acrobat got paid to entertain at. Located on an island for a 40th where about 500 guests were served constant top level champagne and sent home with Rolex watches.
Okay so tomorrow night it’s my girlfriends and it’s black tie and ball gowns. So what to wear? I’m usually overdressed compared to everyone else (okay so I like to dress up, practically live at Century 21 when in NY and my mother indulges me. What’s a girl to say?). I’d like to wear the dress I wore to the Grand Prix ball (in Exclusive, just accepted by Siren) but unfortunately I couldn’t afford it and had to give it back to Tiara.
Women just so don’t do ball gowns these days. And then as it’s someone else’s birthday, you have to be sure you aren’t going to upstage them. Bit like not wearing white to a weddings (though originally that is exactly what the bridesmaids did wear in order to distract evil spirits away from the bride). Being in Melbourne everyone is bound to wear black. It’s a Melbourne thing. No, not Goth, just traditional conservative. Me? I’d rather like some colour. Maybe this?
6th April Easter- Good Friday
On Play Boy Bunnies …and other fluff and feathers
Great. High Heffernan finds another way of exploiting women by selling us all night attire with bunnies on them. He must be having a real giggle. Trouble is they … well the bunny is rather cute. I was in a aerobics competition once wearing a bunny outfit and it was great for ease of movement. If my tail hadn’t fallen off I might have even won. Well maybe not. I have a feeling I was considered frivolous by one of the judges who had that “we’re serious about exercise” look.
So I don’t have a bunny costume anymore. Or a playboy towel, purse, key ring, underwear or night wear. Let’s face it. There are classier alternatives.
The teddy, basque, bodice with garters and stockings, negligee… the things your boyfriend or husband gives you when you really want a new iPhone or coffee machine. Particularly when they bought a size 6 and you’re a 16. (When my size 18 girlfriend was out on the town she gave me all her presents. They really don’t stretch that far).
…other fluff and feathers
So don’t wait for them to buy the sexy lingerie – surprise them and buy it for yourself. Take a girlfriend, it’s fun. Fluff, feathers and fancy dress for the bedroom. One girlfriend bought me this amazing see through blue flimsy negligee that makes me feel like I’m Marlene Dietrich. The men who have seen me in it weren’t carrying guns either…Cops and nurses are a bit passé but better than bunnies. At my half-sister’s recent 15th birthday all the girls were in variations of this theme. With legs that go on forever and looking years older. Wow, watch out men of the future from this lot!
Living away from home (New York) in a country where there is a female prime minister (Australia) has got me thinking about women in politics and what they wear.
Firstly it’s an issue. It is something that comes up. Julia Gillard is constantly being derided (she does her best but she does need guidance about how to minimise rather than maximise her ample hips) and made fun of in a recent TV series. Before her it was Joan Kirner (a previous State premier) and her polka dots and leader of the democrats red chiffon number of the front page of the woman’s weekly. Why? Because they really are bad dressers (jury is out on this)? Because Vogue hasn’t made it out here (no)? Because they’re female (yes)? I have to say I rather like the Governor General’s numbers (even if she does have a man’s name, Quentin, she is defintiely female and very colourful).
Aside from anything else, this country is culturally well, ocker. Lay back, deriding of most things, a bit cynical, a bit anti-establishment. They did after all come from the convicts. Women were Sheilas and in the outback they still are. But then we’ve got cowboys in the States…
So are we any better in the States? Not really- just different. I don’t think I have seen any US female politician in anything other than a pant’s suit. The male politician’s wives wear skirts and jackets on the campaign trail but the female politicians never show their legs. Neither do female academics. There is a almost unbreakable rule – women if they want power must show no sexuality. Not be men, but be devoid of anything that – good heavens, might distract the fellow male politicians or remind people they are women. It’s as if there is something terrifying about femininity. That the power of the mother and seductress might somehow be released in the halls of power.
UK didn’t do much better with Maggie. Whatever else you say about her, the fact that you got to see her in a dress made you think more Dame Edna Everage…
The Italians had a politician who went to the other extreme and campaigned topless. Probably don’t need to go there.
Why can’t we follow France’s model? No not with respect to the men (Dominique Strauss-Kahn is perhaps a great model for everything we don’t want male politicians to be). I’m thinking Christine Legarde. She’s obviously very capable, didn’t sleep her way into power but she’s clearly woman and hasn’t compromised this. Elegant, smart and yes you do get to see her legs.
Now these are my type of earrings. They look simple but once probably had the signature of Fabergé. Enamel and they look as they look like new.
I found Roy’s Antiques in Clifton Hill (Melbourne) and he’s a Russophile. Russian icons, silver – and these earrings. Or rather he had them until they came into my possession… Better still they came with a story, apparently the property of a Russian countess who escaped to the US, but not until after a childhood where she hung out with the royal family. The ones that didn’t make it out. Better still, Roy (the quintessential antique shop owner, slightly starchy, impeccably dressed and spoken and a fountain of knowledge) found a book the good Countess Olga Woronoff had written and got me a copy- circa 1932. Essentially an early biography complete with photos. Not of the earrings sadly but a gorgeous photo of her at about ten with her father, and her family with the Russian royal children.
Wearing the earrings I can close my eyes and pretend just for a moment (a moment with no Bolsheviks around) I am a continent away in another time.
Grand Prix Couture
What does a girl wear to the Grand Prix?
Okay there are those among you who will reply nothing (…meaning don’t go). Not everyone gets excited by the first rev of the engine. It’s probably more of a mystery to women in particular. I’m inclined to think from my own experience that if you don’t get bitten early you never will. There has to be someone back in your formative (er sexually formative) history that you link with the sound. Then forever after when you hear the rev, it just goes straight to your groin. Well it does to mine.
It was my first crush. I was fourteen, he was sixteen. Okay the GP was the Monaco one and if you’re going to start somewhere this is kind of starting at the top, hard to improve from there. Particularly as the race was amazing. The main record was that only three cars finished!
Move forward sixteen years or so and here I am in Australia for the Melbourne GP (you can read more about this later in the year when Exclusive comes out). And the issue is – what to wear. Yesterday (Thursday) when they were doing the fly overs and Formula Ford and Porsche races it rained on and off all day, but was also hot and sticky. Not that I’m complaining too much as in New York it wasn’t getting over 16 C. But how to keep dry but stay elegant?
Not sure these grid girls have got it right but at least they are trying!
Just hoping that the weather will be better for the weekend and I can show a bit of leg and get some sun! Otherwise, well jeans it is and the only question is which Tshirt I’m going to by. I do like the red Ferrari one but given the two Aussies (Mark Webber and Daniel Ricciardo are in Red Bull senior and junior (Torro Rosso) maybe I should support them. Maybe one of each of the teams and change them is I get wet…
A Little Bit of Fluff and Fun
Isn’t fluff and fun what fashion is meant to be about? It was International Women’s Day yesterday and it’s great all the wonderful things women have done but lets not lose the ability to do a Cyndy Lauper…
Sometimes girls just want to have fun
It has apparently been the hottest Australian summer in 11 years. The wettest too, given 75% of New South Wales is either under water or under threat of being so. Luckily for flimsy little numbers like this for those hot sultry evenings drinking cocktails on the terrace looking out over Sydney Harbour …Could have come from Tiara Mancini (The Hot House in Embedded…) but is a Gabrielle which is nice given the hot man in my life in Embedded is Gabriel…
As I’m moving back to New York (Exposé coming out next month) I guess I’ll only have to pack it away until June…
I gave this as a present to Simone…a bit over the top for me but very her.
I had a very Fitzroy experience when I stayed with her in Melbourne; cocktails at The Everleigh on the corner of Gertrude and Napier (new, upstairs and very New York, felt quite homesick), tapas at Anáda, also on Gertrude (great tapas, sherry and great service from Kelly, Jamie (he’s the one with his hair in the bun) and David at the bar). Finished off the evening a few doors down at Enoteca being well looked after by Brigitte and Jamie with a wide choices of great reds by the glass.
Ears are even better than ceilings for some chandeliers…
Coffee next morning at the happening place De Clieu (corner George and Gertrude) and then wandered down to buy these earrings at Metal Couture (www.metalcouture.com).
I adore hats. Living in Australia they take on a different meaning. Slip slop slap anti-skin cancer program seems to have led to (shudder) caps with handkerchiefs at the back. Very useful I’m sure but these are not the hats to which I refer! Nor do I include Fascinators, a favourite at last year’s Melbourne Cup, though they are not without attraction.
No, I mean hats. Like this one. A little dusty perhaps but true Victorian Gothic. Something to lose yourself in. Something that makes a statement. Not great in the wind, but the Slip Slop Slap people would love it…
Thank God for Australian weather! Alright it is a little wet at times (well under water up North) but the glorious warmth of summer means you can bring all those gorgeous little numbers out. The ones that cost a fortune and you wonder why given the lack of material constituting them.
Actually this one was a bargain, by Gripp.
And it most certainly does. Grip…
This one was what I wore in Argentina at Gabriel’s house when I seduced Miguel in front of him…
Sometimes I like to be noticed. Okay maybe a lot of the time. What better way to do it than with clothes?
In ‘Embedded’ this dress when worn to the Melbourne Cup (What sort of city has a public holiday for a Horse Race?) is described as a Gaultier. This was a slight exaggeration. Well, actually not true. But I’m sure this dress would inspire JPG if he saw it though…
Miguel certainly appreciated it…
There is a fabulous fashion precinct in Melbourne- Gertrude and into Smith St Fitzroy. Bit grungy and definitely trendy, the stores with new designers hover around the fashion school just off Gertrude in George St. One is even down in Gore St opposite the Pub where ‘Offspring’ is filmed. Anyway, this dress came from one of the designers that was showing her stuff there (though has now moved). It’s wild!
Designers. I met my fair share when I was working for Coco and I have to say that in general time is better spent with their clothing than them. There is something about the fashion industry that seems to combine unstable dynamite, metamphetamines and narcissism and then takes a whisk to it. No, actually egg beaters on full throttle. Not that shoppers are much better waiting for the doors to open on sale day.
Favorites? Lots and ever changing. Though I’m out of the fashion industry now, being in Australia has given me a chance to try a whole new country of designers. The weather generally being so good (well there has been a bit of rain admittedly), there’s lots of opportunities for pool and yacht parties…
Versace was one of my old favorites and this dress is the original – Gianni that is. It’s like wearing air…soft caresses occasionally reminding you not to panic, you aren’t naked. And he did like color- Donatella has certainly kept that going!
This one I picked up in Saks, Fifth Ave.
The dress you’re never going to forget.
Okay I really needed a proper photographer for this, but you get the idea. Every woman has one. Maybe it’s the wedding dress. The dress you met your partner in. The dress you first took off for your partner…
Mine is the first dress I bought from the first fashion show I ever went to. It was wild. In a circus tent, there were uncaged leopards (ok, on leases) and some very, very sexy models just in ‘out there’ clothes. I couldn’t resist this dress. It was also the dress that made me realize the power of sex appeal and how what you wear and how you feel makes it ooze out of you. This was a very successful dress on all fronts…
My strong suggestion is that if you’re female and under sixty (and even a few people over) – get a pair before you die! If you wait too long they might be the cause of your death. Okay they do mould to your feet like they were sprayed on, and yes you do feel like a million dollars and yes you could take on Sarah Jessica Parker. But let’s get real. Blanik was Chinese in a previous life and responsible for feet binding. This is not what our feet are meant to do! I’m getting (horror, horror) bunions. The bank account (well had my mother not helped out…) would have been cause for suicide and had I been older when I walked in the them after a snow storm last year in the Big Apple, I would surely have ended up in Bellevue. Possibly the morgue (and I’ve read about the Morgue in Linda Fairstein’s novel (or was it Patricia Cornwell?). Not somewhere to have a date).
HADRIAN’S WALL WALK SEPTEMBER 2014 – In the Footsteps of Emperor Hadrian or …Looking for a Pile of (Special!) Old Rocks
Day 8: Carlisle to Bowness on Solway; 27km
If I had been told a week or two before setting out on this walk we would do it without any rain, would not need wet weather gear at all and we’d need suntan lotion I’d have laughed and thought you delusional (after all, at much the same time of year, two years ago, we pretty much swam the Coast to Coast, only a little south). When we left France only a week earlier the weather had started to look a little more optimistic, but I still left the hat there and packed a beanie and thermal that had been left from a previous trip. Of course I didn’t use it!
Another glorious sunny day as we wove our way out of Carlisle along the river Eden, it was a nice start, mostly easy walking with only small ups and downs. Past the church (right) that sits exactly where the wall used too be…
By later in the morning though the flat straight three mile “plod” through the salt marshes was tedious and when we later took a wrong turn (and extra half mile to the total) we just wanted to get to the end. A welcome ale (in my case G&T) at the Hope and Anchor in Port Carlisle after a number of earlier options proved closed (thanks to the honesty box refreshments we found that kept us going), then the final mile to Bowness and our last night with the views over to Scotland. The body felt today was far too much!
Day 7 Brampton to Carlisle: 18km
After a lovely evening at the elegant Oakwood Park Hotel (really a guest house but has a bar and does meals) we were picked up and delivered back to the track. Another sunny day, albeit chilly morning, the walk was a gentle stroll through pastures, meandering along the river and into the biggest town we’d seen since Newcastle. The walking was about as easy as walking can be—particularly given how blessed we were with the weather. Entering Carlisle through the park, our room wasn’t ready, so we wandered into town for a coffee. Even on Sunday afternoon a lot of shops in the mall were open. Mostly an old world feel, with ancient walls surrounding, but a touch of real working town here too.
Day 6: Gilsland to Wallston (Brampton) 14km
The rain that fell overnight is long gone as we head out for (unbelievably) our 6th rain free day! Gilsland is known as the spa on the wall and there is soon plenty of wall to see…though somehow we take a wrong turn and find ourselves herding sheep (and doing a rather good job I must say). For only the second time on the trip our GPS is out and we trudge along a road (downhill) to connect with the path—and plenty more bits of wall. Undulating country gives rise to mostly flat, easy walking. It’s Saturday and there are plenty of others, some out for day walks, mostly in the other direction. A few pretty streams, rest stops with picnic tables and in one place an honesty box with drinks available. No need to stop long, though we wait for our taxi transfer to Brampton (3 miles off track, as not enough accommodation at this point) at the Wallston tea house which was sadly closed. Our generous hostess at Oakwood Park Hotel makes us tea in a quaint lounge room, with hens, ducks and geese (and one large turkey, not Christmas dinner I hope) strolling around on manicured lawns outside.
Day 5: Gibbs Farm to Gilsland; 16km
Another gorgeous day, though rain had been forecast for later so we set out early—thanks to having no cooked breakfast and walking back to the track, which added to the original “short day”.
The first section continued in much the same manner as how we finished off yesterday, walking along a high ridge with lots of ups and downs. Then it eased off to more gentle undulating countryside and easier walking. The path took us past more wall and turret base, across pastures and quarries (one with a welcome icecream stop) before gently leading us into Gisland where we have a night at the pub, The Samson Inn.
Day Four: Wall to Steel Rigg (Gibbs Farm); 24km
They said it was only 19km…but we started and ended off track and we clocked up the extra km. And felt them. Until now it had been largely flat with the occasional gentle rise and fall. Not so today. The wall—and we finally got to see great chunks of it, remnants of towers (okay a few stones around the base)—was built along a ridge, and a ridge we walked. Up, down. And up again. Some steep parts, enough to feel it. In spots the wall was on top of cliffs and I can’t imagine the Scots bothering anyone there! Finally we were also off the road and felt truly in remote countryside. In sections grass is growing atop the wall, and you can see in stretch ahead, so some great photo spots too. Weather sunny and warm! Even got a bit pink on the shoulders. Now? Muscles getting a well-earned rest, washing in the machine and then the B&B transport us to the pub. Rumour had it, it might be a dry one…but fortunately that applied only to the nearby Visitor’s Centre. A great steak pie to be had at the Twice Brewed Inn!
Day Three: Corbridge (Robin Hood’s Inn) to Wall
After upsetting our B&B host by wanting breakfast at 7.30 (we only have cereal…), though if we hadn’t the Americans would have also (they had a cooked breakfast), we were dropped off back by the Inn at 8.30 ready for one of the shorter days of the walk. Ended up just short of 15km, a little off track at the end to get to Hadrian’s Pub in Wall (wonder where they got that name from…), it started foggy but as promised, this had blown off by lunchtime to another sunny day! I’m not expecting it to last, but it is nice!
Today was the day of stiles and gates (nine to get around one farm!), of pasture and woods, and though never far from the sound of cars and lorries, there was the sense of being in the countryside. We even got to see a lump of wall, though the “mound” which was apparently unique version of dirt piled up by Hadrian’s soldiers, looked well…like a lump of dirt to me.
Feet, back, legs all travelling well. But tomorrow is meant to be 19km and by my calculations (we start off a couple of kms off route and end the same way), it’ll be closer to 24km. In the days we did the end of the Camino, that would have been a piece of cake. But now? With rain, and apparently lots of hills? Guess we’ll have to wait and see!
Day Two: Newburn to Robin Hood Inn (Corbridge)
The morning dawns brilliant blue skies and sunshine; even more amazingly, this maintains most of the day! Today is a shorter one, a mere 15km, and surprisingly my aches and pains don’t seem too bad. It’s also largely flat, and mostly not on asphalt so the feet manage better today. We get to see a good chunk of Hadrian’s Wall – 3 metres wide but only a stone or two high. Better than where it has been covered by the road-which is mostly! A challenge for later archaeologists. We wind through the occasional village and mostly along fields, never far from the road and often having to block out the sound of cars and lorries on the A route (and overhead planes-seemed to be one every time I got the flip video camera out.
From Robin Hood’s Inn we are picked up due to lack of accommodation on the track (it is apparently the busy time but we haven’t seen many walkers, a few in the opposite direction, the 4 Oregonians who are with our tour company and are going slower than us so we will lose them in a couple of days when they take time off) and a Dutch couple. Mostly older people.
We’ve finished walking by lunchtime so have time to do a pub crawl to check out the beer gardens, as well as the shops in Corbridge. The most amazing meringues in the bakery—huge!
Millenium bridge Newcastle
For the first time in two years (and post a disc prolapse and operation) I have donned by walking boots again and set out from Wallsend (near Newcastle-on-Tyne) to follow in the footsteps of Emperor Hadrian who put a wall across the top of UK in AD 122 to keep out the Scots…
Bad enough thinking about walking given the back. For the previous three weeks I have been constantly at the Ostepaths, Masseur and Pilates class. I can barely turn over in bed without the neck freezing and my back saying a loud I DON’T THINK SO! But there is also the little issue of the last walk (The Coast to Coast) I practically had to swim. England is green for a reason. Last week the area we are walking had top temps of 14 Celsius and yes, rain every day. Walking in Ireland (Way of Kerry) wasn’t much better. Third time lucky???
So we arrived last night in Whitley Bay (and had a great Indian feed, but the English group next to us ordered chips with their curry. Really?) and …it rained. Not going to let that stop us! An early start with a Ploughman’s lunch (and very good it was), a quick trip on the Metro …back doing okay so far…and there we were at Wallsend. yes, where the wall ends. A bit still left…
The path hugs the Tyne river and took us through Newcastle with its amazing series of bridges, ship building remnants of a glorious past in flour and coal, on and on. Nineteen kilometres. Feet a bit sore. Feeling good. Just thought I’d take a wee nap-no problem. But getting up? OMG. I am a hundred years old. I need a back op. My osteo. A masseur. HELP!
Husband ushers me (slowly) to the pub. He does a beer tasting. Me? Gin and Tonic. Brilliant. Why didn’t someone suggest that before I wasted money on all that healthy stuff? ….mmm….we’ll see tomorrow!
THIS BLOG FOLLOWS OUR WALK FROM CLUNY,
FRANCE TO SANTIAGO, SPAIN
ALONG A LESSER KNOWN CAMINO DE SANTIAGO DE
– 87 DAYS AND 2038KM
You can read a fiction (erotic romance adventure) along the same route- Expose by Simone Sinna, on Amazon here
We are doing Bordeaux to San Sebastian on the Camino in August – September this year! -Look Out for it then!
The Assisi walk planned sometime in the future when we have a spare nine weeks!
This is now complete for Cluny to Santiago – Enjoy
Day 87 (May 14 2011): Arrived at Our Final Destination–
It was nearly three months ago that we had set out, thinking maybe we’d make it to Le Puy (twice as far as we had ever walked before) and then thinking maybe St Jean Pied de Port. Instead we had made it from central France, leaving our own home just as the early pilgrims had, in the middle of a wintery February, up through the Pyrenees then via Camino de la Costa and Camino Primatevo to reach the cathedral where (myth has it) St James’s head is buried.
We had been told before we left we would get blisters. We were told to wear light boots’ we did, and no blisters resulted. We carried our clothes all the way, had over ninety stamps to prove our status. We had also been told we would cry when we got there.
There was a steady of stream of walkers (and cyclists) now, Santiago closing in, the final section along roads before hitting the old town and the final cobble-stoned stretch to the Cathedral. Musicians, buskers, serenaded us in. The Cathedral loomed ahead, stunning both inside and out. I dropped my pack and sat. And yes, I did cry.
It was and had been the most taxing physical thing I had ever tackled. It was also the most spiritual, most amazing experience, to rely only on my legs to take me 2038km (as our GPS told us). I had barely had contact with Australia, no emails, and only weekly contact with our children; they were the only thing of my ‘real’ world I had missed and thought about. I had thought a different place each night would become irritating and destabilsing, as sometimes touring in a car can be. I was wrong. I thought I might get bored, I was wrong. I thought I might have a religious experience and at first I thought I was wrong. But looking back at video of the monks chanting in Conques cathedral, now as part of a six minute video I have made, to a Gregorian chant, I think maybe I did. Certainly at a spiritual level the walk turned me upside down, though it has taken me time to realise just how profoundly.
I used to buy lots of clothes. Now I rarely do.
I used to work full time, obsessed with the next achievement. Before I left Europe, after the walk, I had negotiated part time and now work two days a week in my old job- one I still love and am passionate about, but I have time for other things now.
I had wanted to be a writer, started hundreds of stories left unfinished as a child (mostly only first paragraphs) and maybe three truly awful hand written manuscripts at about 14. Then two submitted manuscripts in my thirties (with good feedback from the writer’s manuscript assessment service), one of which got an agent and to the last phase at Random House.
After the Camino I sent in a manuscript for an erotic romance suspense I had finished during my sabbatical. It was accepted and there have been nine more under Simone Sinna. Now I have a psychological thriller Medea’s Curse due out January 2015, under my real name.
I can thank the Camino, and all it taught me.
I hope to have published, with my husband, Walk to the Stars, a fiction version of our Camino.
And next year, or maybe the year after, walk out from our house in France and this time follow the dove – to Assisi and then Rome.
Day 86: Rua 34km
It was a longish day and flat, through forests smelling of Eucalypt and reminding me of home. With only one more day to Santiago, home was now on my mind, but I had no urgent need to be there either psychologically or practically. I was still totally immersed in this walk, mesmerized by the chemin. If we’d had more time, I think we might seriously have considered walking all the way back to our house in France from where we started. I was feeling physically brilliant, muscular calves I barely recognized on the video clips we were taking, a little slimmer than normal (and I’m not big to begin with) and totally out of contact with social media, email and work. I was only missing my kids, and maybe the cat.
There was as yesterday, now on the Camino Frances, many more people, including those selling fruit and rinks along the way. Towns were full of pilgrims drinking and eating and waving to those passing. Occasionally the cycle path met us and these pilgrims whizzed past. To get the certificate one had to walk 100km – or cycle 200km. As we got closer, the church mindful of “cheats” – one would think that God would know, but I gather the Spanish put it on their CV to help get jobs, so it is so they can’t be hoodwinked – now required us to get two stamps a day. We noticed more than once people ducking out of cars into churches to get these stamps. Sad.
We ate well on our last night, knowing now that even if we had to crawl on our hands and knees we would get there, and felt strangely content. I didn’t know then what I know now: just how much this walk had changed me.
Day 85: Melide 28km May 12th
Today after studiously taking the longest hilliest Camino we could find (through central France, then the Pyrenees to the coastal route and finally to Camino primatevo) in part for the views but mainly to avoid the crowds, for our last two days of the Camino we joined the masses. In Melide the collide; here as well as those of us descending south west along the Camino Primatevo, are those coming from the East on the Camino Frances from St Jean Pied au Port; four weeks across Spain for them, longer for us who were last at St Jean on day 47 (April 4th) where we had a day off (and one other in San Sebastian). On the Primatevo with the improving weather we had got used to seeing the Chicas and our eight Sapnish men at dinner, and occasionally on the trail. But that hadn’t prepared us for the sudden onslaught of walkers and cyclists that confronted us wandering around Melide. The days walk had been longish, gently undulating; in a bigger town full of people there was more walking looking for our accommodation, drinks with a couple of cyclists and then pulpa with the Chicas. Mama Chica had been on the Camino Frances previously and knew where to go; a bustling restaurant with long tables and bench seats had pilgrims eating octopus all day and night it seemed. Crusty bread and steaming hot pulpa pulled from great vats, cut briskly and sprinkled with paprika. Never had octopus and rosé wine tasted so good.
Day 84 San Roman da Retorta 20km
It was a leisurely day walking where we bumped into the Spanish men in pairs at different times along the track. Very different to the start of our walk, we were now seeing people and talking each day about how they were finding the walking and why they were doing it. Mostly English was enough, though we had a hilarious non-conversation with a Spanish man, not one of the eight, who kept repeating Primatevo (the name of the path we were on) when I was trying to say our names. Turned out Primatevo is a name and it was his!
The day ended at a Albergue where we had coffee with a group of walkers; but it didn’t take reservations and was full as was the other we had tried. So for the first time we had a bit of a taste of the bustle and rush for beds of the Camino Frances. We weren’t about to walk nine kilometres extra off track so the owners of the hotel in San Roman, well used to this, came and picked up. It was weird being in a car after so long on foot! Town was definitely working town not tourist; just a place to sleep and eat (more non-conversation with Primatevo over dinner).
Day 83 Lugo 33.2 km May 10
A big day but not a hard one as it was mostly descent…right up until the end of the day, when we found Lugo was on a hill. One of the bigger towns we had been to we walked up past the hostel with everyone friendly and waving us in…only to spend an hour wandering around trying to find an information office to tell us where the hotel we had booked was. This included finding the seedier side of Lugo … We then found our hotel was, yes, back the way we had come and down the hill, outside the walled town. By the time dinner came we were too tired to contemplate another walk up so contented ourselves at a local hotel and an early night.
Day 82 O Cadavo Baliera 25.4km May 9th
Despite a hangover (how many bottles did those Spanish men buy us…?) I was feeling remarkably energetic. Even the inevitable climbs (smaller than some days but noticeable all the same) didn’t alter the skip. Nice weather, some off road trails hugging stone fences, forests and some towns, ones with cemeteries on the road (complete with mausoleums and yellow arrows for us on their walls!) were all part of the day. We were meeting other walkers on occasion and stopping for chats, exchanging stories. No one had walked quite as fare as us (later after returning home I found some locals who did London to Rome, much the same distance and much faster, but they has a certain wistful look when we regaled them with tales of literally having plenty of time to enjoy and soak in the scenery). I felt amazingly lucky, fit and healthy and walking felt like what I was meant to be doing. The end now only days away had us both wishing we could keep going.
Day 81 A Fonsagrada 25.7km May 8th
In distance it didn’t seem so much but by the end walking up to the town on the hill nearly killed me. The weather didn’t help, though seeing the Chicas walking under umbrellas was entertaining (who brings an umbrella on a long distance walk??? No wonder their bags were heavy and needed taxi transportation!) A day of climbing (what a surprise!!! …not). On the hills we traversed we became very familiar with the Wind Turbines and though I would have preferred the countryside without them, there was a certain graciousness about them that we got used to. Having arrived in a town of bars we finally found one with space for a crowd and had pulpa with the Chicas, and met up with the eight Spanish men who did two weeks of the Camino each year, seven walking and the rotating eighth driving with the bags. Not much English but lots of wine, singing and feeling good!
Day 80 Grandas de Salime 19.4km May 7th
We were now only a week away from Santiago but other than an occasional pang of ‘I’m not sure I want to stop’ we remained mesmerized by the chemin. I had never felt so fit and healthy in my life. The aches of my bunions had long passed, the knee had had its one flare up and behaved, I was eating less in the warmer weather and my weight was low and my calves wide! No distance worried me and nor amazingly did the hills. There was a smallish (400m) climb and a more careful (not point aggravating our knees!) descent of 900m along a winding path, spectacular views of hills and valleys shrouded in cloud, lakes and weirs and a stop at a bar for icecream where we found an Aussie bar tender. Weather? Well I was still using my wet weather gear but temperatures were mild. We found ourselves at the end of the day in an old town whose name made me think of Aladdin more than Spain. It was a small enough town that we soon bumped into the Chicas, our Brazilian friends, and joined with them for wine and pizzas. Their English was getting better- my Portuguese had a long way to go, well behind my scant Spanish.
Day 79 Berducedo 16km May 6th
It was a short day but never-the-less had a 600m climb, and as it was a day of wildflowers, it gave us plenty of time to enjoy them. It was perhaps the most magic day walking we had. The paths were mostly well marked and through gorgeous countryside well away from roads. There were picturesque views, from purple and yellow flowers to mountains covered in purple heather. One of the many lessons of the Camino – to be amazed by nature’s beauty. We stayed upstairs in the Albergue near the church while our Brazilian friends had the downstairs dormitory. We wandered into town to find everyone returning from a funeral, which filled the bars for a while! But after drinks we went to a famous restaurant for the region, specializing in slow food. Wonderful!
Day 78: Pola de Allande 27.5km May 5th
We aren’t finished with the hills just yet in seems! A day where for every up there was a down…and then another up! Six to eight hundred metres we enjoyed pleasant views over farm land before coming into a medium sized town, prettily located on a river. Our hotel (Nueve Allandesa) was more than reasonably priced, the room elegant and antique filled. The restaurant was a value packed five course…except I had to pass on the black pudding (it doesn’t taste any good no matter what country you are having it in). Better though- real coffee!
Day 77: Tineo 20.5km May 4th
There was a five hundred metre climb…(rule one of the Camino- there is always a climb). Today we walked through dairy country, following these cows for quite some time! Weather looked like it was going to turn wild, but passed us by. The windmills are part of the scenery here and though not as beautiful as nature, there is something about them that is easy to accept. Perhaps that is us now…each day brings something new, something different and we are open to it all.
Day 76 Salas: 22.3km May 3rd
Today after a wet start we had nice weather and all the variety that we had grown used to in Spain with regards to Terrain. N routes and under freeways, roaming around with our new Brazilian friends and making use of their Spanish (seemed to be their second language rather than English for at least two of them) to get directions when we were confronted with two opposing arrows and at another time when one official one was covered and a make shift one went elsewhere. As always we were in good hands (I suspect either way would get us there and the do-gooders were helping us with a short cut). Along country lanes and overgrown paths workman were removing trees that had fallen across the path; everyone was helping us getter closer to Santiago.
Day75: Grado 27km May 2nd
The first day of the primitevo started pretty much in the way we had become accustomed to; in rain. Because we were starting in the city centre, complete with old churches and a myriad of cobblestone streets, we had another common start; wandering around looking for scallop shells, or what was more common in Spain, hand drawn yellow arrows. We always felt somewhat at the mercy of these unofficial signs. In Australia we would be fairly sure some kids would have ensured we went around in circles. Happily this never occurred on the Camino. We did never-the-less take some time to escape the towns boundaries, and not before being approached by one drunk and a beggar, something we hadn’t seen to this point, perhaps because we had avoided large cities as much as possible.
The trail itself held enough delights from the previous century to soon make us forget this; shepherds clearing their cows off the path for us as they had for centuries, and the original cobblestone s themselves speaking a thousand stories long past.
This was the day where we met with the chicas, five Brazilian women (or rather four women and one chica, the daughter of the group leader). We were to see quite a bit of this group and over the next two weeks get much more of a sense of what the Camino Frances might be like. A lot of camaraderie and partying! The leader had done the full Camino Frances in the past and now led a group through a different section each year- it was the first for her 19 year old daughter. We met them at a lunch spot after a particularly long hill. Looking at thsize of the leader’s pack it was miracle she made it at all! Much later as we searched Grado (a sort of industrial average town) we found the oldest of the Chicas (late 50’s) at our hotel asking if we had seen the Chicas. We don’t speak Portuguese and she didn’t speak English but we worked it out. They made it eventually…but after this their packs went by taxi…
Day 74: Camino Primitevo Oviedo 17.5 km May 1
Today marked an end and a beginning; the end of the coastal Camino in truth had been some time ago but the days between the coast and Oviedo had some sense that in modern times some one had sort a way to connect and that the route may or may not have had any ancient pilgrims along it. Of course this is true of the whole route; often the true pilgrims took the fastest direct way, and that was where the freeways now were. Though in Spain there had been more freeways than I would have liked mostly the chemin and the camino avoided them. Occasionally there were moments of feeling the ghosts of our forebears, like in Conques where the path deviated massively to accommodate some (in ancient times) free food, accommodation and a blessing (the latter probably needed given the risk of starvation, infection and then being attacked by Moors or general riff raff. We had passed plenty of sites of pelerine hospitals in France but less so in Spain. I figured they’d died before they got here; of cold if nothing else. They wouldn’t of had the sort of superior equipment and clothes we had (to say nothing of the excellent accommodation and wine and food).
The beginning was of the oldest camino, the Primitevo, and as we came into Oveido (putting aside the roadworks which sent up onto bitumen wrestling for space with the cars) it seemed the perfect place to start. The old section is cobblestoned and our hostel was in the heart of it, a room (to ourselves) up stairs. After dumping our bags, as it had been a short day, there was plenty of time to explore the churches and shops. There were more tourists here, some but not all pelerins, so there were plenty of bars and restaurants touting for our custom. Now Santiago seemed no distance at all.
Day 73:Pola de Siero 29km, April 30
Despite the mammoth day yesterday, my feet felt no worse than they had any other morning. We felt bright, refreshed, and keen to walk. A day that was under thirty kilometres wasn’t worth worrying about. Though late spring the weather was still variable and we started with mist until the day cleared and there were hints of sun. I had become much more attune to the weather and all things in nature. A day chasing butterflies, taking in flowers and literally smelling the roses was now part of the routine. Now nature threw something new. Looking at the map I decided that there was a short cut and though signs were a bit dubious, off we went. Where we actually went I can’t really say, and whether or not it was a short cut remains doubtful. But the path took us high (yes, more climbing) above the road where we felt far from anyone. This was particularly important when we found ourselves essentially bushbashing (an Aussie-ism that the Spanish probably wouldn’t appreciate but it had been a long time since anyone had cleared this path. In the early mist with the sun pressing through, we found ourselves surrounded by a magical world of spider webs, stretching over acres of bushes, the dew on them glistening. I have never been a spider fan and it probably helped that the webs were a good deal more evident than the owners, but it was without doubt, spectacular.
With only two weeks to go until we finished, we were now heading inland to join the oldest camino (supposedly)- The Primateva- in Ovedio.
Villaviciosa 41.1 km
When I started this walk the thought of thirty kilometres in a day soon became a fear that took some overcoming. But I did it, and now 30km days were not unusual and I barely gave them second thoughts. But today was going to be 40 kilometres. My husband had given me a choice; two medium days or one hard and one light. This in itself wasn’t what made me choose the latter, it was that the former went with a hostel stop as no other accommodation was available. Early on we risked a couple of hotels (the Pic Priory on day nine a highlight) but we had never had to share a room. Early on this was because no one else was mad enough to be walking in the heart of winter, then the hostels had the option of our own room. This hostel did not, and by now other walkers were a common enough sight, and this hostel large and with a monopoly so we knew we wouldn’t be alone. Don’t get me wrong- the company would have been fine, but I can elbow my husband if he snores (I sleep badly)… the other occupants in a spared room weren’t going to be as easy to deal with. And I get up in the night and I didn’t have a nightie…
So the long day it was. We started at 7.30am. we walked along the sea out of Ribadesella and along the coast and then found we were going the wrong way. Not a good start, though the distance wasn’t great. Hills, yes got them. More sea. Under freeways, passing our fellow walkers who were already at the hostel, feet up, toasting us with beer. We were just over half way. Along freeways, not my favorite. Feet normally dying by twenty kilometres. Rests. Sore again. Time ticking by. Shit another five kilometres? You have to be joking. No he wasn’t.
We get in at 8pm. Exhausted. Thought I would never walk again. Until the second tapa and the first glass of wine… we did it! I can’t stop smiling. Over 41km, and while I am in no hurry to do it again, I know I can. In fact I think I can do anything.
Day 71 Ribadesella 26km April 28
The Camino continued to wind along the Spanish coast this time veering across meadows in order for us to take in a church, past pools full of fish and along roads down to finally take us to one of the larger sea side towns. Spread along the coast and across an inlet there was more people bustling into cafes and stores and we were less of a novelty than we had been in some places. The issue of a bigger town also meant it was harder to find where we were staying but we came in early enough to cruise along the streets until we found it. Seafood and rosé for dinner….naturally.
Day 70 : Celorio 32k Wed Apr 27th
More glorious Spanish coast though the weather was variable and there was still plenty of need for waterproof coats and equipment. A long paved road ensured we also remembered there were lots of hilly sections along the coast. One of the many benefits of the route though was also the access to fresh local seafood and we made the best of it. Dinner in town (along with the rosé) made the 32 km fade quickly into the background. Though feet still hurt after 20 or so, it only took a half hour for them to be as good as new.
Day 69: Unquera 29km, April 26
When we started this walk any distance approximating thirty km made me feel distinctly like not getting out of bed, or if I did, looking for a bus timetable. Now 29km seemed no longer worth worrying about. So much so that we weren’t leaving early anymore, just when we woke and got around to it. We no longer carried lunch either, and though I still needed a snack, both in and breakfast were light. The warmer weather meant our bodies no longer required so much fuel to keep us warm and we were walking I suspect far more efficiently. It had been a long time since I had had any serious twinge of any sort. Santiago was full steam ahead and damn the torpedoes.
Today’s walk included some of the history and reminders of being in Europe, and I soaked it in, mind only on today and where I was, now totally cut off from the world of social media, emails and worries. Husband checked in, I rang the children (grown up ones) once a week, smelt the roses (or equivalent) each day, and now knew how to live in the moment. As we looked at all the stamps in our Camino passport we felt pretty pleased with ourselves. As always we ended with a glass of Rosé and some seafood which wasn’t a bad moment either.
Day 68 Comillas 22.5 km 25.4
We left Santillana Del Mar the same way we arrived- in the rain. Despite this the village was so full of character and the hotel so good it will remain one of the highlights of the trip for me.
It was a nice day walking, as the weather improved a little, not too hilly and a good deal of coastline to enjoy. We were closing in on the time we would be heading more directly to Santiago and off the coast line so I was determined to enjoy every minute of it.
Comillas was a town just back from the coast line, and we stayed at Hotel Esmeralda, a casual hotel where we secured a double room which soon filled with wet clothes. The heaters were working so I had them on trying to dry off some of our stuff. As always I washed our socks- we hadn’t yet had to put on wet or dirty socks and nor had we had blisters. I was certain these facts were associated and wanted to ensure the trend continued!
The restaurant was empty but for us, but the owner and his 75 year old mother kept us entertained, luckily in English as our Spanish still had a long way to go!
Day 67 Santillana Del Mar 21.3km (24th April- Easter Sunday)
It wasn’t hard walking but the rain didn’t help. Nor specially scenic, with a lot of roads, train lines and following miles of pipes. At least with the yellow arrow we knew we were heading the right way!
That drizzly grey that wouldn’t let up. But arriving in Santillana early made up for everything. Both the town and the place we stayed (okay, we splashed out) meant the weather was very secondary. Maybe even helped for the visit to the Spanish Inquisition torture museum where the English translations at least left no room for misogynist ancient Inquisitors! The blurb about the chastity belt in particular…(Stephanie gets locked in the dungeon there in Expose…)
The hotel, Casa del Marques was small, old and beautifully restored, with a bedroom full of antiques, a balcony it was too wet and cold to use and a staircase carved in one piece from what must have once been a truly enormous oak. (I set one of my favourite scenes in Expose here…)
The other highlight was the soda fountains, or rather, cider fountains. Specific to this region, the cider was delivered from great height either by waiters or a help yourself in rounds of three from fountains. A good deal of cider splashed and got lost along the way, but it was loads of fun! Who cared about the rain?
We finished off with Cognac and hot chocolate in a divine library room at the hotel. This was how to live!
Day 66 Mogro/Boo de Pielagos 15km 23.4
One of the things we had been warned about on the Camino (aside from the race for hostel beds and bed bugs if you did the Camino Frances, hence why we didn’t) was the dogs. Early on in France we had the amazing interaction with a slip of a girl singing opera coming out of the fog being dragged by two huge mastiffs; since then there had been a string of dogs who greeted us enthusiastically as we entered and left their territory. Some looked like they were lining us up for dinner but by and large seemed to be more bluff than action. Today every house we walked past seemed to have a dog. At least they were on the other side of the fences…
The Spanish section of the Camino if nothing else was full of variety. While it wasn’t a long or difficult walk, we finished off getting a train. After the boat yesterday this really did seem like cheating, particularly as the neck of water we had to cross (and it was illegal to walk on the train bridge) could have been walked around, just so long as you didn’t mind an extra 20km or so.
We did mind, so train it was. Lucky we arrived in plenty of time. Speaking Spanish to a machine getting a train ticket proved challenging. I have no idea if whatever I bought was the right thing. It was short trip and then our accommodation a homey little hotel with, yes, a great bar…
Day 65 Santander 22km 22nd April
Though not a long walk the distance covered was significant- today we caught a boat. The books assured us this didn’t in any way take away our pilgrim status, but it did feel strange! Prior to the boat there was the 22km mostly on road and bitumen paths through a less rural Spain. Santander was one of the bigger places we stayed, and approaching it by water we had a great view of the hillside covered in hotels and residences, and docks along the waterfront. After a brief rest my husband dragged me out to find a place to eat; though he doesn’t speak Spanish sheer determination and gourmet in the blood led him to work out that there was a great sea food restaurant owned by the father of a famous Spanish footballer Iván de la Pena (I presume soccer, no idea really…).
This added several kilometres to our day as we roamed around dubious looking docklands, then decided it was too early (read deserted- the Spanish eat late) so we went back to the hotel. Before returning and to be fair, enjoying some great fresh fish courtesy of Papa la Pena, we were also lucky enough to catch an Easter parade. To be honest it was rather alarming…it looked like the Klu Kulx Klan had landed, as robed men in pointed hats matched the streets. As I passed a book shop and saw a book about the “amazing” Armada (no mention of its annihilation by the Brits, all we learnt at school…) and thought the Inquisition wasn’t so long ago…
Day 64 Noja: 15 km
Though we might have been much fitter than when we started, the option of a shorter day was not one to say no to. Much later I met a couple who walked much the same distance (the only people I know who had) as us, from London to Rome, over the alps (I guess they got the boat at Dover!). They had done it in less time and were a little dismissive of how slow we had been. But they had had a job to return to and time pressure. As I talked more, there was a sense of a whimsical wish from them that like us they had had time to linger. For them it would have been to enjoy churches and museums. For us it was a sleep in, leisurely breakfast and a long stroll along beaches. Soon we would be turning off the coast and I wanted to enjoy every moment on the beach, watching the gulls hovering over the ocean that lay like blue stain sheets, ripples yet to be straightened out. It was one of the greatest lessons for me of the Camino and one now two years later I haven’t lost. The scallop shell I bought in St Jean I was wearing and still do, was part of my life. I notice the seasons and I stop to smell the roses. On this day it was stopping to feel the sand gritty beneath our feet. One short hill and then in for dinner. After the glass of rosé of course.
Day 63 20 April 26km to Laredo
The weather continued to bless us and for the most part I was in t-shirt and had the bottoms off the trousers, turning them into shorts. The back pack was covered with last night’s washing which no longer dries overnight because the rooms don’t have heaters, We followed the usual yellow arrows placed on the roads, concrete boulders and anywhere else there was space, and it took us through forests, under freeways and then along the picturesque coastline and its rocky beaches and cliff tops beside and ahead of us.
My husband with his rudimentary Spanish had booked us accommodation- then we had the fun of finding it trying to read the Spanish maps in Spanish or French, As usual they had us down, but not as Australians or by name, just the date and with a grin, we were the people who had booked the matrimonial bed.
I was way too tired to be thinking about anything other than that glass of rosé, fish and chips and then sleep.
Day 62 (19 April) 28.2km to Castro Urdiales
This had to be one of my favourite days; given it was nearly thirty kilometres, it shows how far I have come since leaving Cluny! The weather was largely good (a little rain early on) which helped, but what wasn’t to like? This day in many ways typified the difference between this route and the French one (or for that matter the Camino Frances across the top of Spain). Lovely cliff walks with fabulous views of blue, boats and cliffs, occasional beaches, and the wonderful red brick road that was for joggers, cyclists and us…went for something like 20 km, under red bars, over freeways and through countryside. A wonderful piece of something different!
Then not sure if we took the wrong turn or not, but after a stop for a drink (when we don’t have long to go and its sunny, it’s a Gin and Tonic which may have contributed to getting slightly lost…) we were on a path along the cliff that disappeared and we ended up bush bashing into Castro Urdiales. But coming in over the hill to see it was rather magic… and this place is magic. At night the church on the water edge, lit up with an amazing fresco of Madonna and child, was one of only three “religious” experiences I had on the walk (Conques and Santiago the others). What a great town too- we ate more octopus than I thought possible, and savoured the fun and friendly Spanish life around us. This was what the Camino was all about!
Day 61 Portugalete 31 km April 18th (via Bilbao)
We must have been feeling fit. Rather than two shorter days and time to peruse the famous Bilbao Guggenheim we opted for the one long one. Though at another time I would have enjoyed a day of modern art, we were so focused on the walk, our identity so tied up with being pilgrims (of sorts) that we wouldn’t have done the Guggenheim justice.
I had been (briefly) to Bilbao before, en-route to a plane to London and it hadn’t left a particularly favourable impression. More, as I thought about it now, I recalled it being big and wondered how many kilometres of suburbs there would be.
Arriving was a pleasant surprise. The path designers had managed to divert walkers through the park so that the first you see of the town is from the hill above it. By the time you are the bottom you are in it well and truly.
The day was windy and warm, but by the time we were in Bilbao we were protected from the wind and it was hot. We made a detour past the famous museum but didn’t stop; the highlight was in fact the fruit shop where we indulged in huge luscious red strawberries. I can still taste them. The taste had to keep us going for what seemed like never ending hot pavements. Worse, our two maps disagreed, the yellow arrows and scallop shells evaporated and we had to make a decision. Piecing the instructions (one lot in French which we were okay with and the other in Spanish which was not our strength) we decided to follow the river. From the Spanish map it was clear that we were on a river and so was Portugalete. Our GPS was clocking up the km; I was not happy.
Sadly, we found out eventually, it was not the same river. More hot pavements and little about Spain that we were seeing to recommend it. Then we ended up completely lost next to huge freeway, wandering up and down a deserted walkway surrounded by high rise. I was even less happy.
But as always on the Camino, no matter how hot and bothered I was, no matter how much my feet hurt when we finally did find a scallop shell, the glass of Rosé and a tapa made for a short memory. I just hoped tomorrow would take us away from industrial sites and housing estates.
Day 60 Matsa
Though cool when we started the day and quickly warmed up so I made use of the zip off section of my trousers. Walking in shorts was a stark contrast to the winter we started off in and in made us all the more grateful for it as well as a constant reminder of beauty of nature.
Leaving Gernika we walked through more elegant streets than the industrial ones we had entered through, leaving through centuries old walkways. The final streets gave me a little of the Picasso I had been hoping for – albeit it the modern variety. This was to the be the first graffiti of much that would regale us. More urban certainly than the beauty of the French hills, but as I was easing into Spain, sunshine and a different Camino, I saw as much beauty in this and welcomed it.
Day 59 Gernika 17.7km
After a long day yesterday a shorter walk today was welcomed. There was still plenty of hills, a combinations of roads and paths around and through farms and, blessedly, more sunshine. Because the weather was getting warmer it meant that there was rarely heating now in out hotels, so no heaters to dry clothes. As we only had two “spares” in T-shirts and underwear, this meant that M.Sootie’s (the Frenchman who had given us our camino/chemin passports back in Cluny 59 days ago) advice re taking safety pins became vital. It mightn’t have looked glamorous but the t-shirt and underwear pinned to the pack and wafting in the breeze as we walked, was now a fixture.
Gernika was at first disappointing; no sign of Picasso and his famous painting or what inspired it, and more, the town seemed a fairly ordinary working one. But there was some parade on and the locals didn’t bother going back to work after their lunchbreak and the afternoon turned into a wonderful bustling enjoyment of sunshine, food wine and Spanish family life. Our first Tortilla was worth the wait…and the Rosé as always hit the right spot.
Day 58 Bolibar 30.8km (15 April)
After a mere 18.5km yesterday we did nearly double today. I had thought I was fit. But it took until the first wine this night (or maybe the second) to remember this thought. It was long- and very up and down. Ten hours walking! Leaving views of the coast behind we went through forests and farmlands, villages and then kept right on. The weather at least stayed mild and our first glass was outside the hotel/guesthouse, chasing the remaining rays of sunshine. And being remote they at least did us a real dinner, which was all I needed before falling into bed. At least it’s a short one tomorrow!
Day 57 Deba 18.5km (April 14th)
We were now as fit as we had ever been in our lives, and while it soon became clear that the rumours about the Spanish coastal route being hillier than the classic Camino Frances were more than rumours, we were not in the least daunted. The knee that had nearly stopped my husband in the long descent on the Inca trail (and had caused one day of pain for me) were no longer a problem. We walked steadily, if not fast, took few and only brief breaks, and welcomed each day and all it brought.
This day brought glorious coast line, whimsical looks towards England…and yes some hills. We were also getting used to Spanish seaside, here at least with towns built and lived in for practicality rather than their seaside beauty. This also meant that we were spared the tourists and Brighton type of tourist attractions I suspect are present in the southern Spanish coastal towns.
With the worst weather well behind us, we were also enjoying Spring and whether it was because our bodies were now working efficiently, or that we no longer needed fuel to help maintain our body temperature, our appetites plummeted. We tended towards light breakfasts (they were variable in Spain anyway) and often an apple and dried fruit and nuts (when we could get them) were more than enough to get me through the day. The trouble was, the Spanish eat their main meal in the middle of the day…and getting a proper dinner proved to be hard at times. We were told the Spanish ate late, which is true, but this created two problems; one we were too tired to wait up that late (and we wanted to be up early) and on the occasions we did, dinner could still prove a challenge because really the main meal for the day was over, and dinner, even if late, was light. This is the land of the Tapas after all. As out appetites decreased we just went with the flow; tapas would do!
Day 56 to G(u)etaria 13th April 27km
The weather is suddenly magic, the drizzle of yesterday and the fog of two days ago suddenly a distant memory as I strip to a T-shirt when I am walking, and soak in the brilliant sunshine. For the first time the reason we chose the coast walk is abundantly clear. Leaving San Sebastian we walk along the beach, and even the hill up and out can’t dim our enthusiasm. The blossom is out everywhere and the path takes us along the coast line, along cliff tops and then the final long path to Getaria with the sea crashing onto rocks only metres away.
Getaria is full of restaurants; we book into a small family run hotel and wander down (and then up…) the streets to select where to eat. The menu is all the same! They have outside BBQ’s and its fish…or fish. Suites us fine. The fresh fish is delicious!
Day 55 April 12th San Sebastian: Rest Day
For the second (and what will be last) time on the Camino we both have a rest day to enjoy San Sebastian. It’s my birthday; we are staying at the Hotel Maria Christina, which felt odd arriving at in walking gear and back packs (it’s not that sort of hotel!) though the staff were very polite. The previous night we hit the Tapas bars- ecstasy! The range and tastes are amazing and not expensive. I never want to leave! Then the shopping which is magic- mainly for my daughter’s birthday and I will have to ship it all home so a long queue follows at the PO where no one speaks English so I’m not sure it’s ever going to arrive. Tonight we eat at Arzak- the local paper has an article and the female chef (daughter-father combo I think) has just won a prize. She comes and talks to us and luckily speaks English having just been to Aus! The food is sensational! After these two days I’ll need to walk it off…if I can get out of bed tomorrow…
Day 54 Route to San Sebastian 26km
This was our first day on the coast route. After a day of oysters and a walk on the beach and tapas in Hondarribia, I was up early and would have been enthusiastically ready to hit the road, except for the weather. It was raining. Steady, cold, grey rain. Oh well, we were used to this; into our wet weather gear and off we went, leaving through the castle walls and up a path (yes, it is still up in Spain…) and off along the coast.
Well I presume the coast was there. Out map suggested so. The GPS had blue to our right. But we never saw it. Not once. Thick fog made it hard to see more than ten metres in front of us let alone a vista. The yellow arrows (more ubiquitous than scallop shells) at least were large and prominent. The path was steep and narrow in spots and we had to keep our wits to stop from slipping and getting lost. There was no time for sight seeing. At one stage I had to dig my hands in to pull myself up. I vaguely recalled reading that this section was hillier than France. Oh shit.
We passed (and occasionally got close enough to see) towers from wars long passed. I imagined Spanish soldiers watching the Armada leave and then the British boats returning (no idea if this happened, only know the British side of the story). As we picked our way along the paths we heard tinkling of bells. Even the horses had bells around their necks and given the fog I could understand why. My hands were cold, I was wet, and this was not fun…
The fog finally lifted as we came to the top (yes more hills) of a hill and before us lay San Sebastian, nestled into two coves with beach lined cafes. Okay, fun was ahead.
Day 53 13km Hendaye – Hondarribia. SPAIN AT LAST!
I am back walking again, now refreshed. I want to walk to the sea, and from here I am anticipating with some excitement the left turn at the ocean and then the route along the coast to Santiago. It’s only a short day, so we are in no rush. The weather is till nice and we meander along, still with some hills to negotiate. Ahead of us we are catching sight of the ocean until finally we are on the outskirts of Hendaye. It’s a beachside town and it seems a little weird having started in the centre of France to now be seeing ocean. We walk in the sand, I souvenir a tiny shell, and then we celebrate with oysters and Chablis for a late lunch to farewell France. Then we take our first (of which there will be more, legitimately as we’ll find out) of our boat rides and cross to Spain across the bay.
If there is customs they were at lunch. We arrive and check in top a wonderful hotel (read more in Exposé – Stephanie stays there) in the old part of town. After a rest we can’t wait any longer (we were told not to go for tapas until ten but its 8.30 and we’re starved) and we hit the tapas bars. Oh wow! They are great, diverse, fun and cheap. A lot of difference in one boat ride! I sleep well dreaming of all the Spanish wine and tapas ahead of me. And of course the beautiful coast line.
Day 52 GR 10 through the Pyrenees from St Jean to Hondarribia : Birriatou 9.4 27km …including some detours
The rest of our trip all the way to Santiago is now looking very real. Though we have travelled all the way from central France, it is still daunting. All the weeks on the road and still weeks to go. We are on the GR 10 and tomorrow will join the Camino that comes down from Paris through Bordeaux and the Camino del Norte or the Costa route will begin. I still feel I am not quite ready to let go of the holiday and though I enjoyed the amble yesterday the thought of a big day isn’t enticing, particularly when I think of Andre saying we could take a train and still be legitimate- it is only the Camino that counts! So I slack again- my last day of rest, but my husband insists on walking. He just takes a day pack, sets off early and I linger guiltily over breakfast, grab a taxi and cruise into Birriatou. There is a family function in the square I watch for a while, then settle in with a gin and tonic and read some French. It has improved a lot but I am all too aware that in another day I’ll be having to speak Spanish!
My husband is late. Very late. Ten and a half hours walking … lots of hills and poorly signposted. Luckily he had his GPS because he managed to make it into Spain without knowing it and had to find his way back. He has more than one G &T. As the photo shows…it isn’t always that clear where to go!
Day 51April 8th: Sare, a gentle 12km!
After a few days off I am keen to get walking again, particularly given the glorious weather (unseasonal everyone says, but we aren’t complaining!) and that today is a mere 12km! The boots are familiar friends and easier to put on than try and carry attached o a pack as I have for the last two days while husband has been walking with just a day pack.
Having enjoyed the scenery from the balcony restaurant on Hotel Ostape two days ago I am pleased to be on the road and seeing the Pyrenees for myself. We are high but today’s route is kind. Not too many hills, not too long, and a lovely place to stay and eat at the end. And even more special, we catch our first view of the sea! All the way from central east France we have almost made it to the coast! What’s not to like?
Day 50 6th April : Ainhoa 29km
We are still officially off the Camino and looking at today’s GR 10 route I see a steep descent and can’t quite rid myself of the need to rest and recover. I’d have quite happily stayed longer at Hotel Ostape; the weather continued to be magnificent and a late breakfast and a swim had so much appeal I took this up. My husband however was up early and walking. He had thought that the 4km to the hotel would decrease this day’s route but no such luck- he has to back track it all. I pass him in the cab and feel guilty- briefly.
From the photos I see the territory is beautiful but also challenging. The most challenging thing was believing that someone thought it was a good idea to put three full size crosses complete with bodies writhing in agony, on the top of one of the mountains. I guess you can’t account for taste.
Ainhoa is lovely. I explore the town, enjoy the time to think and let the body wonder why it’s got it so easy, then after a five km steep descent my husband joins me for a glass of Rosé in the sunshine and we have an amazing top quality meal. Tomorrow I vow to walk to justify it.
Day 49-Bidderray 6th April 26km: The Pyrenees
Having made it to St Jean where we had originally thought we would finish, we took an extra day to regroup, enjoy the sunshine and the depth of history at this gateway to the Pyrenees and Spain. But we had decided to continue. Pouring over maps we decided quickly that the Camino Frances wasn’t for us – but the coastal route was. The Camino Frances is the commonly used route and the one in The Way (Martin Sheen) and in a number of nonfiction books. They all agree that there are lots of pilgrims, not so enthusiastic Spaniards and hostels you have to race to and can only hope to avoid the bed bugs. This had no appeal to me, even if there was lots of flat sections (which were also boring). The Pyrenees meant Grand Route 10 to the coast where we could pick up the Camino taken from those coming down through Bordeaux or who arrived by boat. It was the hilliest and hardest. Naturally we took it.
I wasn’t feeling ready to go as the evening before came to an end. The religious pelerin with whom we had stayed had talked about the GR 10 disparagingly, that it wasn’t the Camino and therefore if we wanted to do the Coast route we could just take a train. My husband wanted to walk, but the first day was going to be two days combined and on the road and I decided to leave him do it. I took a taxi.
I arrived at our destination thinking I was in heaven. When my husband arrived he did so probably more literally. Having after a long uninteresting walk, he arrived into Bidderay only to find out hotel was four kilometres away- up.
Hotel Ostape is a resort owned by a French chef (read more about it in Exposé) we got our own golf buggy to tour the very hilly terrain, a pool (I had to buy some bathers for the unseasonably warm April) and dinner on the terrace looking out across the beautiful Pyrenees. It was magic.
There would be time for the hard life of a pilgrim…later.
Day 47 , 48 St Jean 23km Mon 4/4
What can one say? We did it. When I had left Cluny there had been a realistic expectation that we would have stopped at Le Puy. Instead, over a thousand km and 47 days later without a break, we arrived where most people begin their Camino. We had already walked further than the Camino Frances, from here to Santiago.
The day was beautiful. A gorgeous spring day with birds singing and flowers blooming at the roadside. The entry into St Jean was everything it should have been. You enter high, passing the cities ramparts and down the cobblestone streets, past the Camino office where our details are recorded. Tiny shops full of Camino t-shirts, chocolates and wine line the streets. But for their contents nothing has changed here in centuries.
I am grateful for one change. The pharmacy. For the last few days I have been bloated and unwell. I am certain I have Giardia. Unfortunately I am allergic to the only treatment I know of.
The pharmacist and I pore over his bible. It is, of course, in French. But Latin and medical names tend to transcend language. He has looked at me sceptically (could be the atrocious accent) but when he finds it he is excited. There is another treatment, a one tablet only version. The name is suspiciously like the one I am allergic to. But I don’t have much choice. I down it and tell my husband to scream for adrenaline if he can’t rouse me.
We book into a top hotel where we will have dinner tomorrow night after the pill has hopefully worked, and enjoy muscles in white wine and a rosé outdoors by the river. We feel fitter and healthier than we ever have and we look at each other in the same instant and know.
‘Santiago’ we toast and laugh. We are only half way.
Day 46 Ostabat 28km Sun 3/4
There’s only one place we can find to stay and even though we will have to share the bathroom at least we’ll have a private room. We are now walking in Basque country and there are reminders in the graffiti on the walls in towns and tunnels in case we hadn’t known. The country itself is rougher underfoot, steep slopes and sheep with narrow faces and thin but sturdy legs. We move through farmer’s fields across styles and through gates. Basque country of not, the scallop shell continues to faithfully take us closer- to St Jean or Santiago we were still not committing.
We watched shepherds guiding sheep through narrow streets as they had for centuries, and then as we closed in to our destination, were greeted by the St Jacques walking club. On a day walk. When we told them we had started in Cluny there was much excitement and chatter. We were congratulated and they stood in two line, poles overhead in an arch, cheering as we went through. It was a special moment, one to make 28km seem little, and indeed, 45 km important, but…we both felt it. Neither of us would feel we deserved this accolade unless… we continued.
Despite the mild weather it was freezing cold as the sun went down over Ostabat. And one of the gas bottles had gas. Our host who took our money (admittedly not much) deposited a bottle of marc and said it would keep us warm. There were a few of us. A French couple, one of whom walked and the other who took the car, dog and guitar and a few others we hadn’t met, some with a little English. One knew there was a hotel open that did dinner. We left the dog and walked up the hill.
We brought the unfinished wine home with us (the Marc would have killed us). With it, the guitar and my husband’s harmonica we managed a few songs (I sadly have a bad memory for lyrics and my husband who knows them all can’t sing to save his life) before falling into our single beds.
I was wearing my thermals and fleece and my teeth were still chattering. As I crawled into my husband’s single bed, certain I would die of exposure, I was not thinking warm thoughts about the owner and his Marc.
Day 45 Lichos 30km Sat 2/4
Another long day – 30km- and it is a distant memory that this was ever a problem. Yes we are still sore at the end of it but it no longer had the power to terrify me. You just take your time. You get there. You recover.
We pass through lightly wooded forests and see strange tree houses with long ladders. Too high to let your children climb. We eventually decide they are for pigeons. Racing we presume but this is out of our realm of expertise. We see no one and no pigeons. Just signs to be quiet and these strange structures.
We are staying tonight in a B&B. Not in the book. The first one in the book recommended them. Friends.
They are standing by their fence looking out for us. Monsieur Basque (we could understand very little of what he said, either local dialect or accent it was hard to tell) and Madame Sweet. They were so excited to host us they couldn’t stop talking. Their enthusiasm was delightful and overcame a lot of the language problems. They showed us their home bottling of fruits and cassoulet in the garage and brought out the unlabeled bottle of wine from their friend (all of the French have an unlabeled bottle from a friend, even Parisians). We eat and sleep and shower with care the next morning. It’s one of those we ‘fell like we are in their homes’ experiences. I guess the good things come with catches.
Day 44 Abbaye de Sauvelarde 32.5km Fri 1/4
Today the chemin’s magic was loud in my ears. Was it because St Jean was so close and there was the temptation of having some of my long service leave at leisure?
But the walk though long – OMG 32 km!!!- was not so hard, and passed as effortlessly as the wisps of cloud, lost on the beauty of the vistas that constantly assaulted us. The Pyrenees seemed tantalisingly close, at our finger tips at each turn ready to take our breath away. In T-shirt and shorts the weather was magic.
There were hills and woods, but they too brought magic, a huge frog paralysed by snake venom, disappearing into the serpent before our amazed eyes. I felt I was in one of those science and nature episodes, but there alive without having to wait for the time photography to capture nature at its most brutal.
Then we stayed at the Abbaye, not quite the Pic Priory nor Conques Abbaye, and the accommodation basic and hostel level for all of the private room, but we ate outside, heard the tale of woe from the proprietors who hadn’t been able to make a go of it and would moving on (in French, my understanding was really getting much better) and drank in the experience. Just in case we were ending it all soon.
Day 43 Uzan Thu 31/3 28km
This was not my finest day. Upset stomach, sore throat and the day finishes off with a bad Madiran. Feeling bad is not enhanced by walking- by knowing you have little choice. Of course had I been really sick my husband would have been on the phone changing bookings, but we are closing in on Ste Jean and the border and I didn’t want to stop now. Besides, feeling unwell in a hotel or B&B just isn’t the same as being at home in front of the TV. It was a long day which didn’t help. The weather was mostly fine and mild and the positives were the pilgrim tree and messages from L’Alchemist although one of these was Tais-Toi (Shut Up)! We saw a wild pheasant yet to make it to someone’s table and a peacock presumably owned by the local farmer. We did get to cook for ourselves but in this B&B the heating had yet to be turned on and it was cold- so early to bed! Next morning we were seen off by Mme Dunk, hence named because of half her toast disappearing into the world’s largest cup of coffee over breakfast. We have found that at French B&B’s when you are asked about what you have for breakfast there is only one answer- coffee or tea. The former is served in a soup bowl.
yes there is a pheasant if you look closelypligrim tree
Day 42 Maison Marsan 22.5 km Wed 30/3
The chemin continued relentlessly through the farmlands, bringing each day new experiences. But every day was bringing us closer to the French- Spanish border, and suddenly, today for the first time we saw it. There in the distance were the snow-capped Pyrenees.
We saw also a new animal- two of them- that had me scouring the internet using my husband’s computer and temperamental dongle. I decided it was an obscure animal introduced to France for its fur that went wild. If not it was a very large weasel or stoat, neither of which I had seen off the pages of Wind in the Willows.
Our journey was encouraged along by quotes from the Alchemist…I had read it and Paul Coehlo’s take on the camino but I hadn’t quite reached his level of spirituality yet. Accepting the inevitable- the chemin- I had acheived though.
We arrived at our accommodation to find we had a palace, or rather a walkers farm variety. Three bedrooms, kitchen laundry and spa bath. I was in this is seconds.
We bought the ingredients for dinner and cooked ourselves. Surrounded by ducks we ate confit and drank local wine and again decided France must surely be the most ideal place to walk. We were already Francophiles, perhaps we were now cheminophiles. Would though we just walk the French section and condemn the Spanish section as ‘too busy’ and ‘too common’? We still hadn’t decided. But there was a lure in those mountains and we both felt it.
Day 41 Aire sur L’Adour 28km Tues 29/3
I’m tired. It’s a week until St Jean Pied de Port where we either finish or at the very least have a day off. Neither of us want a day off yet, because, well what would we do? We’re walkers, not tourists. We can’t carry a book and though occasionally I have devoured one when found in English, I am certainly not about to carry one.
I think in retrospect my ankle decided to give way in protest. I was way too cocky about how my body kept recovering, how well I was doing for a middle aged academic. Okay, I go to the gym but honestly, whatever happens on those machines bears no resemblance to the real world. Trust me. There had been a lot of uneven territory and my boots didn’t have ankle support so maybe this was the ‘I told you so’ from the die hard tragics of heavy boots and twenty kilo packs.
But by the time we got into town I was in pain. Quite a bit. My husband didn’t tell me, but the accommodation was still another km- up (of course). We had thought we’d eat in town, a nice town full of nice shops, but he wisely decided to buy food so we could cook without any more walking. He deposited me in a bar and went off.
It was a nice warm day. The last part of the walk had been a drag through the outskirts, the least favourite of all the walking experiences and inevitable in bid towns (Spain was to be way worse). I all but collapsed on an outside table and eventually a waiter came to see if I was alive and able to pay. I ordered a gin and tonic. To date these had been hard to come by, a quintessentially British drink and I wouldn’t put it past the French to not stock it for precisely that reason. Even if it meant loss of custom. But this waiter sensed my pain (or Aussie accent) and brought one with loads of Gin and loads of glace (initially I think he thought I wanted icecream in it. Probably just the accent).
After the second of these, with the gin in me and the ice on my ankle, I was a new woman. When my husband returned with food I all but skipped up the hill. I was even mellow through our hosts discussion of the religious significance of the walk (it turned out that when my husband had booked, the grilling about the luggage wasn’t because he was trying to sell us a luggage service, but rather he wouldn’t have let us stay had we not been carrying our own stuff!).
In any event, his religious concern and best wishes and the pictures of Jesus over us that night did some good. My ankle was as good as new the next day.
Day 40 Nogaro 20km Mon 28/3
Had this day followed the Cele we may not have ever completed the walk. This was the day we probably deserved having started in winter, but had until now escaped. We had had cold, fog, ice and even snow. It had rained. But it hadn’t rained like this, and there is a reason France is so green.
One of the saving graces was that it was a ‘mere’ 20 km. Believe me, this is better than 25 or 30. But the last few km it was raining so hard we could barely move forward. We had good gear, but by the time we arrived in Nogaro (what was with this name? Some Japanese connection?) we were soaked, inside and out. The plastic lined pack meant our change of clothes was okay, but nothing else was.
Our hotel room was one of the smaller we had. Between that, the shower we soaked in that adjoined the room, the heater going and the sheer amount of moisture on us, it felt like someone had hosed the room down. The walls, everything was wet. And it smelt- well funky. We ate downstairs because it was still raining. Luckily the kitchen was open because I wasn’t going anywhere. When we left the next morning I looked in dismay and the tidal river we left behind and hoped no one needed it that day.
When I look back on the video we took I know it rained a lot. I was often in and out of wet weather gear. But this was the only day like this. Later, when I walked the coast to coast in England, 13 of 16 days were like this. Yes, we were blessed on this walk.
Day 39 Eauze 16.7 Sun 27/3
From the canola fields of the previous day we now walked through vineyards. Given much of our time in France prior to this walk had been in Burgundy and Bordeaux sampling wine, and trips into Beaujolais from our house, it had been a long time without seeing what we had considered was essential France. Now in Spring there was green across the fields of gnarled aged vines, and we paid them silent homage for what we drank each night.
Between and around vineyards we went through gullies and bursts of trees, but mostly we were in the open, France in the hand of the farmers and vigernons. They seemed to be managing well.
Eauze was a town like many other, but after a short day we arrived in time for a late lunch, and ate in a sheltered outdoor setting looking into the towns courtyard. This was in part by choice, but in part because our boots were muddy and give the time we wanted to eat first and wash and rest second. After this we still had time to wander through the tourist shop and regard some of the Abbey’s curiosities, before dinner in a pleasant little restaurant. It wasn’t busy but it was nice to not be eating alone. France and the Chemin were wakening from a winter slumber.
Day 38 Montreal du Gers 20km Sat 26/3
The chemin was now taking us through farming country. There was no sense of wilderness here, any woods small and merely breaking up the fields. But there was still a sense of the ancient, that the farms here had been ploughed and planted in much the same way for centuries. The tractors might have been new, a welcome addition we were sure when regarding the huge chunks of brown soil waiting to be more finely broken down for planting, but the crops and soil were as old as Europe and for a while we were pelerins from times gone by.
We were swallowed up into fields of golden canola, wavering in the wind as the path wove us between fields. We marveled at higher points at the sheer beauty and though they weren’t sunflowers I was reminded briefly of Van Gogh whose paintings had been of land not so far to the east of where we were. Had I been a painter I would have wanted to stop and covered canvas after canvas. Instead the golden stalks whispered into my brain and painted a picture there, where I can return in an instant, sometimes unbidden when I drive past such a field now, or in a lazy warm spring day when I long for peace and the calm that only the camino brings, this is a place to which I return.
We were now into Armagnac territory, and our hosts for the night were farmers, her from her family a heritage of the wine that her husband shared with us as we talked in English. He was Dutch, a puppeteer who had travelled the world with his puppets. These were his heritage, his father’s possession and wisdom, and one which he had used to give information to the resistance in the war in Holland, right in front of the Nazis. It made for a good story and he was both excellent host and story teller.
Day 37 Condom 27.8 km Fri 25/3
Today’s route gave us another choice. It was a shortcut so as far as I was concerned, no choice was required! La Romieu by all accounts was worth a visit, but next time, by car perhaps.
We left Lectoure early. It was going to be a reasonably long day (not made any shorter by wandering around looking for scallop shells) and we liked to get in early and savour some of the afternoon. Despite the previous evenings dessert, I was starving. As we went past the bakery the early morning perfume dragged me out. Straight out of the oven, piping hot and butter oozing everywhere, I was delivered the most prefect pain aux raison every made. I can still taste it. It was heaven.
Later in the day, perhaps because our gastronomic senses had been revived at the restaurant, we went into equal (well almost) ecstasy over a mandarin. Food had taken on a new meaning. We have always loved good food, but now simple food, food our bodies needed and that we had earned, tasted so very much better.
Condom is a big town with varying legends about whether there is any association between the name and its English meaning. If so, it was much later. Its large Cathedral and giant statues of the three musketeers are probably what the locals would prefer it to be remembered by. We also remember a great pizza. The stomach wins again.
Day 36 Lectoure 24.7km Thurs 24/3
St Jean Pied de Port and the French border no longer seem so far away. We watch our progress on maps and boards in villages that show proudly that they are on the Chemin St Jacques and wonder at and celebrate our progress. Today there are long stretches through fields and though there are hills there are less fearsome and we are less scared. I have now in my head a ringing truth. I can walk, I will get there. I think back to how slowly I tackled the first hills in the blistering cold and fog. I am faster now, but if I need to, I can slow and I will get there. Anywhere.
As we head into an un-seasonally warm spring the farmers are out in tractors ploughing their fields. They wave to us and wish us well. Bon Camino is a familiar sound.
The warmth has brought new bars open and we sit in the sun late morning and enjoy a sirop before walking on. The bar owners beautiful sleek black spaniel decides to join us despite our plees and stern looks. We cross busy roads and so does he, my heart is in my stomach watching him and I pray he makes it home safely. He comes with us all the way to Lectoure, more than ten km.
We sit by a lake and eat bread and cheese and salami for lunch and our new friend flops beside us. The birds are now loud and active, the flowers blooming and it is like a different time and place to only four and a half weeks earlier. It is wonderful to live in the moment, and these moments are especially rich with colour and sound.
Lectoure. Like so many of these towns, is on a hill. We pass the cemetery on the way up, full of flowers and lined by pine trees. It is a long slow climb and when we disappear into a hotel- the classiest we have stayed in to date (even if it is called Hotel Bastarde!), I guiltily farewell our friend and wish him well. We eat in style. Pre-dinner drinks in the courtyard bar and then a fine meal in the French tradition. I squeeze in dessert. If anything I am still losing weight so I do so without a hint of guilt and rather think that people should do the Camino rather than join weight watchers.
Day 35 St Antoine 28.9 Wed 23/3
Following on from the 30km break through we are destined to have another. My husband has grimaced and pored over the books but in the end can’t find closer accommodation. It looks like it might be quite a bit over 30km and my feet are unhappy just thinking about it. But through some good luck we were alerted the previous night to an alternative and we take it. It ends up keeping the total under 30, and better still, we walk for much of the morning along a canal. Beautiful, different to anything else to date, and blessedly flat. The sun shines, we find some delightful French day-walkers to practice our French with, and life is truly rather good.
This night we are in a B&B run by a British couple. It’s nice being able to speak English and they are pleasant and tell us all of the local history. They are clearly part of the local ex-pat group even though they speak French. They had retired to France like so many Brits largely for the weather and so their money will last longer, rather than an inherit love of the French. They don’t seem too keen on the local Dutch either.
This area we are told, was rife with resistance fighters in the war. As I have cried my way through Schindler’s List, Boy in the Striped Pyjamas and The Diary of Anne Frank (books and films, to name just a few) and once wrote a story about Violette Szabo a martyred French resistance fighter, this interested me. All the French towns we walked through had war memorials. Many lost in WWI, few in WWII as they gave in early. I am the mother of a son. I get this. In the next village, our hosts told us, the Germans took 20 or so women and children and hung them outside the Mairie. This shakes me. I have seen this in films, read about it happening. But we are walking daily past Mairies. It suddenly brings it very close to home. I wonder how the German walkers cope, what reception they get.
Luckily we eat in the restaurant opposite. I say this because the British are not renowned as chefs, not this generation anyway. We are the only guests but the owner happily opens up for us. The walking season is still a way off he says. Soon. We are happy to take the good weather and not have to share or fight off other would be walkers who might want our rooms. Here there is a shortage of accommodation so it could have been a problem. We consider ourselves lucky and smart for leaving when we did, and wander back over to the other side of the street to bed.
Day 34 Moissac 30km Tue 22/3
The day had to come, and it finally did. The day I had to crack the fear of the thirty km mark. I was in a positive enough mood. I had been walking strongly and no hill had again reduced me to tears. I felt strong, was certain I could do it.
This didn’t mean it was easy. My feet, unlike my bunions, still protested after 15-20km. At one stage it looked like being even worse. A French farmer had a large sign out saying basically anyone walking on his property would be shot. I didn’t take this lightly. I knew a friend of a friend killed when he camped on a French farmers land. Trouble was our map and the GPS both said it went through his field, and any alternative meant another five kilometres. Later we found several had done this. We walked up and down the road anxiously and then dived across the field. No buckshot followed us mercifully.
I knew my feet would be fine by morning but that didn’t make the pain at the end of the day any easier. There had been rumour that this hotel, on the river, did massages. Alas, only in the mornings. I wouldn’t need one then. Worse, the hotel was a km out of the centre and neither of us felt like the full French catastrophe proudly advertised on the board. Five courses? Fois Gras? Not walkers fare. My stomach protested loudly. Louder than my feet.
So we eased our poor feet into runners and walked gingerly back into town. It proved the right decision. All the walkers – and there weren’t many of us- seemed to have aggregated into the one bar. A decidedly non-French bar that did – OMG – Margaritas, Nachos, and burgers with fries! French food is wonderful but this after so long of a French diet was heaven. Better still it was cheap. Jean-Marc of the buggy joined us and if my feet even hot the side walk on the way home, after several Margaritas, I never noticed.
Day 33 Lauzerte 25.5km Mon 21/3
The weather continued to be kind to us, and on longer days in particular, with an extra hour or two on the track, this was appreciated. The chemin took us over miles of farmland stretching forever, fenceless fields that took on a very different shape to the early days out of Cluny. We walked and talked, but mostly listened and watched the chemin around us, savouring France in a way that we never had on any of the many previous trips.
My ear for French I noticed improving. I had pretty much given up any hope that I shall ever speak the language well, but after several tries at language courses and a bit of homework I have enough grammar and vocabulary to read basic articles and carry on my side of a basic conversation (okay the French person would have to be able to cope with a bad accent and words in the wrong order and wrong tense from time to time). I am also brave or stupid enough (especially after a wine) to ramble on regardless- except for one thing. I can never make head or tail of what is said back to me and this unlike my bad French, I find acutely embarrassing. There are only so many times you can say ‘encore’ and ‘lentment’. But this time in France, where as usual I did a lot of the shopping, and got to listen to the many B&B Madames, I was finding I was picking up more, and had more natural guessing ability than my husband. It was a small improvement that of course disappeared as soon as we crossed the boarder into Spain, but for the moment I enjoyed it.
On this day we met a French walker, an ex-public servant, retired early on a full pension. He was towing his luggage on a cart, something which inspire a future novel but we didn’t know it at the time.
Lauzerte was at the top of a very steep hill. We were staying in another Gite (with single room) and cooking for ourselves. The supermarket was at the bottom of the hill. We decided one walk up was enough and bought supplies, but given this included chicken, vegetables and a bottle of wine, it didn’t make the walk any easier. I was more than happy to find our accommodation and off load it all. But we still had enough energy for a walk (even further up) into town and look around a lovely old town before coming back for a pre-dinner drink in the sun and a robustly tasty and fibre filled dinner.
Day 32 Lascabanes 24.6km Sun 20/3
If the scenery itself wasn’t varied enough- and generally it was- then the variety of towns and places we stayed certainly were. We weren’t overall fans of the B&B’s though this was mainly if the room was in the middle of the home thus giving us little privacy, or we had to eat with Madame which may have been good for my limited French, but was far from relaxing. On the other hand we were largely avoiding hostels (Pic Priory being a worthy exception) because I decided I was too old to not have my own space. I like to sleep and other people snoring weren’t going to add a positive to the experience. I also tend to go to the bathroom at night and as we weren’t carrying pyjamas this would have created its own problem.
Coming across fields into Lascabanes we were looking for a new form of accommodation- a gite. Many of these hadn’t been opened but as we were now heading into walking season many were starting to open their doors. This one provided our own room and bathroom (single beds) as well as dinner.
The Swiss couple pulled up next to the gite as we arrived and invited us to join them for a drink. On the picnic table we enjoyed the last rays of sunshine and drank wine and talked. Their English was excellent and as we hadn’t met many walkers it was a nice change. A few others were to join us for dinner, as did the Swiss, giving themselves a day off cooking, including one male lone walker and two others. They were French and mentioned our pressured pelerin from the previous day. Apparently he was Australian. Typical. The lone male was nursing feet covered in blisters. He was only on his third day. I thought of M Sootie and thanked him for his advice. I rather doubted this young man bothered to wash his socks.
Day 31 Cahors 18.5 Sat19/3
Day of the pressured pelerin.
Today heading into Cahors we knew we would be in a bigger town than we had been for a while. Cahors has featured in a number of historical novels I had read and though I couldn’t recall any details I felt the Cathars, Templars and maybe some French royalty had made appearances.
It was a shortish day which helped keep up my enthusiasm but since the two ‘down’ days on the Cele I had really settled back into the walk without question. I enjoyed the moments of nicer weather, enjoyed the changing scenery, hills and all, and looked forward to whatever each day brought. If it brought less hills that was a bonus. On one hill we were surprised to meet another walker, though meet is an exaggeration. He powered past me and barely mumbled a Bonjour in response to ours. A young man in a hurry.
Coming into Cahors was a steep decline. This my knees joined with my feet in taking exception to. Finding another body part that protested was becoming par for the course but I no longer let it worry me. If it was there in the morning, then I’d think more about it, but most things seemed to be cured with a night’s rest. My bunions, which had been needing regular rests through the day, rather than getting worse (really what else was for them to do- I kept giving them the same punishment?) confounded medical science and was no longer causing me any problems at any time. Go figure.
Our hotel was on the outskirts, on the wrong side of the river that was manned with ancient lookout towers. We wandered in after the usual washing routine, bought fresh fruit at the local market, chose the restaurant for dinner and came back for a rest. The beauty of a shorter day was that my feet objected less and we wandered back across the river for dinner, like any other tourist might.
Day 30 Poudally 24 Fri 18/3
I am walking better and twenty four kilometres is still a good distance but seems doable. As we start at first light we are usually in by mid afternoon and today that is even better as we are staying in a Gite and will be cooking for ourselves. I am fantasizing about vegetables and pasta. Unlike at Pic Priory where we risked being in a dormitory with others, this Gite as many along the way do, offers separate rooms. My husband and I, surprisingly are still enjoying each other’s company and if there are others to talk to, that will be good but not essential. With emphasis on talking to, not sleeping with. I am a light sleeper and other people coming to bed and getting up at different times, to say nothing of the snoring, would keep me up all night. I gather this is common across the main route in Spain and holds no attraction for me. If my husband snores I can elbow him.
The weather is mild and the walk reasonable. We pause in one town looking at the war memorial. As always there are far more men lost in the First World War compared to the second. The French countryside is as always picturesque and when we arrive we rest before preparing dinner, chatting to Germans who are returning having already made it to Santiago. They will be the only people we meet on the entire trip who work further than us. It I hard to gauge how momentous the arrival in Santiago was for them. I guess if you’re only half way it kind of takes away from the impact. They look driven.
For us, four weeks in, we just look at the map and see how much closer we are to the border, to St Jean, which, after all, is where we are heading, isn’t it?
Day 29 Limogne en Quercy 20km Thurs 17/3/11
The next day it was as if the previous two hadn’t existed. I woke up ready to walk and never considered any alternative. I was refreshed and rejuvenated, a mere afternoon off it seemed enough to re-orientate me towards St Jean. My husband was still looking at me occasionally with a worried look, but as far as I was concerned I was enjoying the Camino and what it was throwing at me. Well most of the time.
The path took us again through dark forests, this time lined with ancient stone walls, so thick with moss in spots that it was hard to make the wall out. The hues were of deep green, the mysterious forests of childhood books such as The Faraway Tree, full of elms, oaks and maples that at home are largely relegated to the Botanical gardens.
We were staying in a Chambre d’Hotes, a French B&B, and this was run by another single woman we labeled Madame Daytime TV. She was watching it when we arrived and when we left for dinner. After the worst coffee I had ever had there, it was a blessing we decided we weren’t having dinner with her. Not all the French can cook. She had however, bless her, supplied the guest bathroom with every possible cosmetic from eye liner to shampoo. My hair relished the conditioner, first time for some weeks, and I played with every moisturizer I could lay my hands on. Bliss.
In town, we ate Barbary duck at a wonderful little restaurant and as always drank well. The walk home was in the dark- no street lights, just a small torch light. But we made it, and yes, I said to my husband, I wanted to walk on. This had not been a no go day.
Day 28 Cajarc 14km Wed 16/3/11 Day of the dead Cele.
Knowing we only had 14 km to walk helped a lot. That it was all on the road did not. Quite aside from the effect on our feet, there is something soul destroying about walking on a road passed by cars going where you are but much faster and with less pain. A year later when walking the coast to coast I would opt for the boggy moors, mires and all, despite the inclement weather, rather than walk along a road. Even if it meant several extra kilometres. But I wasn’t at that point yet. As far as I was concerned this was day two of ‘no more’. The end was in sight.
Carjarc was a nice town, a little touristy but not too big. Our motel- and it was just like a motel, the only one we stayed in in France, was basic. Nothing quite worked and though there were cooking facilities the gas didn’t work and there were no pots and pans. The heating however did work.
Finishing early meant there was time to wander the town looking at tourist fare I couldn’t buy. Better still there was a wine bar I could sit in eating cheese, drinking wine and reading the local paper. Even if it was in French it felt like a luxury. I refused to think about the next day or how many extra kilometres over all our venture into the Cele had meant. I just wanted to be a tourist on holiday. The sort where you relaxed rather than walked.
We ate in one of the local restaurants, feeling completely human after an afternoon off. I could see my husband itching to ask how I was feeling about more walking but I was trying to feel nothing at all.
Day 27 Marcilhac sur Cele 25 Tues 15/3 Day of the two dogs and tears on hill.
My spirits were a little better in the morning, but not much. I wasn’t sure what it was I wanted to do, but walking wasn’t it. But there really wasn’t much else to do. So we walked. The path took us high, us and over and along ridges, sometimes in forests and others with spectacular views. There was no one else walking, but we found ourselves company in the form of two large dogs, who decided to attach themselves to us. They were mongrels both, and one would flop next to us when we rested, regarding us with large hopeful eyes. My husband isn’t a big dog fan but we were both worried they were get lost. They followed us despite us yelling and throwing things in their general direction.
Later we found that this is not so strange. In peak season the dogs have a number of walkers to join and do so for the pleasure of the walk that their owners are presumably too busy to do. They know which way to turn, and if ever we were in doubt, unable to find a scallop shell, our new friends were happy to oblige. After more than eight kilometres we came to a town and went to the Mairie. The women there rolled her eyes and yelled “Andiamo! Maison!” and they left. Naturally. We had been yelling the same thing but in English. What were we thinking?
We finally came to a hill that threatened to defeat me. It wasn’t that it was any harder than the others, it was just yet another, and my frame of mind was negative. I burst into tears and stated that yes this was day one of me saying no. I didn’t want to do this any more.
We stayed with the local mayor and his second (or was it third?) wife. He spoke English well, they had a real coffee machine (bliss) and they both cooked. It was a lovely meal and house but the next day loomed. There was an added problem. Despite the assistance of the Mayor and his wife my husband had been unable to find accommodation. One woman was having a baby, another closed and a third didn’t answer. In my current frame of mind if we turned up and there was no accommodation it wouldn’t have been pretty. So my husband scoured the maps and we changed direction, back to the main route taking the main road. The only good news was that it meant the next day would only be 14 km.
VARIANT DE CELE Day 26 Corn 22 (via Beduer) Mon 14/3 Plan Cele 2
At this point in our trip we had arrived at a choice. While the Chemin St Jacques tries to follow the original route, the pelerins weren’t necessarily an obliging lot who did the same thing. Places like Conques they all visited for food and sustenance but between the Abbeys and churches were hills and rivers and many chose different ways to navigate. Our book showed two alternatives and we elected for the variant via the Cele river. I like rivers and think of flat paths beside them. Unfortunately rivers also have a habit of winding between mountains as we were about to find out.
It was at this point I started to wonder why on earth I was doing this. We had planned just to go to Ste Jean Pied de Port but I knew my husband well enough to know that like me he was harbouring a desire to keep going. All the way. This appealed on one level. I had six months long service leave and no real other plans. We could sit in our French farmhouse and read and write and I was sure we would enjoy it. But there was something enticing about saying we walked out of our door one day in central France and ended up on the Northwest coast of Spain.
But I started to question this vague appeal. Who really cared? We weren’t even using staffs that could be buried with us (my husband’s poles just didn’t have the same romance). Who cared if it was 1000 or 2000 km we walked? Already I had blown any previous record well out of the water. I didn’t need to feel I failed if I called it quits at St Jean. Or right here for that matter. No one of us, we had agreed, could pull the plug (unless for injury reason) unless we felt the same way every day for at least four days. My husband was watching me waryily, willing me not to make the call that this was day one.
I didn’t, but though the scenery was lovely I resented every hill. At the end of the day the walk to our B&B was straight up and I wanted to cry. I was really over this.
Our hosts were determined however that this would be our most memorable night. An older couple whose children had left, they did this more for the love of it than the money. Madame whisked away all our dirty clothes and washed everything and then Monsieur delivered dinner worthy of a Michelin star, right down to the dessert with elegant piping over it. I slept well but was still aware of a definite shift. I wasn’t enjoying this any more.
Day 25 Figeac 29km (Sunday 13/3): Hotel St Jacques (with bath) booked
Day of Sangliers and French onion soup.
Today was a long one. Though I had now been on the Chemin nearly four weeks and was enjoying the rhythm of the days, barely giving a thought to the chaos and rush of my usual life (except missing and wondering about our kids), this hadn’t translated to me thinking 30 km in a day was easy. It still loomed over me as an unachievable goal. It took a long time to walk this far, and my feet hurt by 20km let alone any further.
We were heading for Figeac, a medium sized town we had had heard of from Australian friends who romantically had bought a Chateau somewhere outside of the town. We had never visited and looking at where Figeac is on the map compared to anywhere one might reasonably fly into from Australia, this was one of the reasons why. The other reason was that they only had a share of the Chateau and ever since buying it the couple who were on site seemed to be involved in their very own Year in Provence type renovations. But it was turning into a decade…and the Amercian tourists arriving to finance it all was not filling them with joy.
The walk as always was a mix of country and town, with lots of farm land, roads (the bitumen I’m sure wasn’t helping the feet aches) and tracks. The weather was reasonably mild and though a fine drizzle was never far off, it was good walking weather and we had no complaints. The rhythm of the day meant that often we would walk for long periods with little conversation. Our plan to devise the plot and characters for our next book/screenplay was relegated to five minutes at most in the morning. Our mind turned to watching the scallop shells and soaking in our surrounds. Anything else seemed largely irrelevant.
The sanglier, all three of them (wo dark distant dots here…use your imagination…), were not irrelevant. I knew what it was because my daughter’s French book of animals had one in it. There had been one in the local paper as well, to say nothing of the butcher shops where they were prized. I had eaten sanglier terrine and sanglier stew (under a much better French title) but I had never seen one. They are essentially a wild boar and are dangerous. I marvelled at their casual saunter around this farmer’s field. I looked around for the farmer, hoping they knew something I didn’t. I wasn’t specially worried about their welfare but seeing such a magnificent (albeit ugly) animal slaughtered was not my idea of enjoying the French countryside. I was worried about a French farmer with a gun. We hurried on.
The day was every bit as long as I feared. The walk into Figeac along the bitumen road was agony. We found our lovely little hotel by the railway station (up a street in the wrong direction from town) and I fell into the bath and didn’t ever want to move. Dinner was served downstairs but we would have been the only guests in a rather upmarket little place with rich food I didn’t feel like. Which meant a walk.
It seemed like nothing was open. We walked over the river into town and wandered around a deserted town realizing it was a Sunday night. I was ready to give up when we fell over a trendy wine bar of all things, right on the river. We drunk glasses of local wine, and had the best French onion soup ever made. I went to bed happy.
Day 24 Decazeville 22.5 Sat 12/3
There was a reluctance to leave Conques, as if God or the monks were saying ‘this is safe- why go?’ The town was so quintessentially everything that your average Aussie tourist was looking for, it was hard not to think, well, what else is there? Nothing can surpass this!
This was not helped by the fact that the chemin went sharply downhill – and then, naturally, up again. It was slow going, over uneven paths covered in tree roots and strewn with decaying chestnuts. The one incentive was the chapel on the hill, where we knew if we rang its bell, the bells of the Abbaye Ste Foy would reply.
I’m sure it is all automated. But it really didn’t matter. When I was standing in the middle of a remote chestnut forest, by a tiny chapel, peering through the leaves back at the magnificence of Conques, it wouldn’t mattered if Bruce Willis had dropped in. I was in the 10th century and I was a true pilgrim. Or at least I was when those bells rang back at me after I pulled the chain on my side of the mountain.
It was probably just as well. Though the day wasn’t long (a now standard 22.5km) it went up some significant climbs through dying heather, and then across ridges and farmlands where winds threatened to blow us off at times, and at the very least chilled us to the bone. For much of the walk we were high on a ridge passing industrial towns, all the more hard to take after the beauty of Conques. Finally we descended into one, wandered aimlessly, feet sore for all the supposed short day. Our hotel, well located for leaving the next day, was well out of town and a walk was needed to eat. I begrudged every step. It was only a very good pizza, a glass of wine or two and the welcome company of the Swiss that made me think anything good would every happen again on the walk.
Day 23 Fri 11/3/11 Conques 22km
On the map we were heading far further west than we needed in order to get to the border point, St Jean Pied De Port. But the guide books were all clear why we were heading there, and that it was worth it. This was one of the few nights we were spending with a traditional pelerin host. But the monks at the Abbaye Ste Foy had moved with the times. Yes, they had the dormitories but we would have our own room and bathroom (though with single beds!).
The walk was a pleasant one, the usual hills, forests and fields, green and lush and still cold enough for all the occasional daffodil or wildflower, to remind us we were still in Europe barely out of winter, however mild it had been.
We kept thinking we would arrive, expecting a sudden vista to open up before us. But the kilometres ticked over and there was no sign of this famous abbey.
Finally, as we headed down a path through a forest, water cascading over it, we opened out. But instead of an Abbey there was a rather ordinary looking house. Still being built. Ancient abbey this was not. What became apparent was that the path took us up and over and beyond the abbey. We had now come down and had to work our way back. The Abbey, care of the weather in the area, had not been built on the hill but rather hidden on its side, protected as much as it could be.
The guide books were right. Even though I wasn’t here for the religious significance, this town should be on everyone’s list. An A-lister for tourists, religious aficionados and historians as well as camino walkers this town seemed to be in a time warp. Yes there were the tourist shops but every building looked straight out of the ninth century, the abbey and all its buildings dominates the town and gives it the focus that is hard to avoid. The brothers (or fathers?) in age old robes, the huge doors of the abbey I marvel at from the balcony of the bar where I sip wine with the Swiss we had met days earlier, the statue of the martyred 12 old. All are from another place and time and yet there I am, a part of it magically, taken back in time and reliving the lives of those who built the abbey, who died poor and happy or poor and unhappy.
We eat with the monks, a basic, cheap meal (canned Salmon, it’s Friday…) where we help and there appears to be volunteers. Some eating with us are visiting for religious reasons but are not walkers. They come to the blessing ceremony regardless.
It is not in the main cathedral, but rather in a small chapel. I sit in the back, self-consciously atheist. The monks file in. They sing, magically without music, in perfect tune, filling the white walls with its cross and basic windows with magic. In Latin, French, possibly both, I am overcome with the tingling that goes up and down my spine, by the beauty of their voices, the same voices that have sung here day in and out for centuries. I take their (nonreligious) walkers blessing humbly, mindful that they and I have shared something here that transcends this world and mere beliefs. It is about the beauty of all things and all that man can do, and I accept it humbly and gratefully, letting this message of the Camino sit and work into my soul. I am not, like Paul Coelho, likely to have a religious epiphany. But the Camino works in many ways, and this adds to my internal checklist. Conques will always hold a special place in my heart.
We note in the guest book as we leave book that Jocelyn the French women had spent the previous night there, with Lionel the American and Mattias the Belgian boy. It seemed it had been special to them too.
Day 22 Thu 10/3 27.8 km (490km) Golinhac
We start as always with winter hat and gloves that are only removed to sample the fresh croissant as we leave Espalion alongside the river, still covered in the early morning mist. It’s a long day today and I peer at the GPS and see that we are closing in on a total of 500km- tomorrow we will make in enroute to Conques.
After the brief luxury of walking along the river (read flat) we are confronted with a hard climb but at the top are rewarded with panoramic views as we walk across the high plains. The chemin takes us through towns, some with little more than a church, but they are always old and central to the village and village life. More than once we are serenaded through the town or valley by the ringing of the bells that have rung countless times throughout the ages.
The day warms up. As we reach another river we see Estrange (I may not have spelt this properly) and are tantalized by what looks like café’s with tables and chairs in the sun. We are in luck. One is open, and beneath the Chateau or cathedral towering over the town we sit and watch a woman in shorts (we take off the mittens and hat and even jacket but shorts seems extreme) pruning a wisteria. The coffee is great and enough to keep us going along a winding section by the river before the next, inevitable hill.
Day 21 Wed 9/3 24.5km Espalion
The spring in our step at having survived the Aubrac, and having been lucky enough to at this time of year get through it minus snow, was added to by the weather. Still cool in the morning, the sun fought the clouds the won. My frostbitten nose was particularly appreciative.
The chemin took us across fields and through woods, the usual hills and the occasion town. In one the small church had a lovely table and chairs for a picnic but while the shade would have been welcome in midsummer, I took the wall in full sunshine. Around the trees near the church daffodils were out and sitting drinking coffee and resting my feet I took in the change of season and celebrated and appreciated it in a way I hadn’t ever before.
In one of the many books I read on the Camino de Santiago (A Food Lover’s Pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela by Dee Nolan and photographed by Earl Carter, Lantern/Penguin 2010) the author (who herself only did an 11 day section but drove to many places including some of the French section) talked to other walkers and she and they came to the conclusion that the secret of the chemin/camino was time. That suddenly time became yours, and it fitted you rather than the race we have in our usual day to day lives between people and events and stressed further by emails, tweets and Facebook.
As Spring bloomed and I could just sit and enjoy, this truth was never more apparent. We had nothing to worry about except getting to the next
town. We were now bonafide walkers so this didn’t worry us too much (as long as we weren’t going anything close to 30 km) and instead the day was about the surprises, the Mary on the hill (did we really go all the way up this peak just for that???), the castle towering over us as we drank in more sun drinking coffee by the river, the river walk that said ‘no cars’ but they drove along anyway.
My husband had booked the next three days accommodation so our only decision at night would be where to eat. Tonight we would be in Espalion, a large town over a river with stone carvings looking down over walkers, and plenty of choices. We could linger in shops, have pizza or fine cuisine. I would wash as always and put the wet socks and underwear over the heaters where they would be ready in the morning. I would shower and my feet would say please don’t walk around the town (I do anyway) but then settle down to the fine cuisine in our hotel and stagger up to our room after. There is no one to ring, nothing more to think about except the next day and the rolling hills ahead of us.
Day 20 Chely D-Aubrac 17km
We were now right in the heart of the Aubrac about which we had been warned.
‘It is not passable at this time of year!’ authoritatively from the Cluny tourist office.
‘There are roads around,’ said M. Sootie.
‘People have been lost and nearly died.’ And ‘last year there were search parties out’ from fellow walkers.
We were certainly more than happy that we had a GPS. On the windswept plains, which thanks to no snow we were able to traverse without fighting police and SES barriers, any sign of a trail quickly disappeared and we wandered along fence lines looking for a crossing. The GPS showed a trail that as far as we could make out had never existed, certainly not one that made creek and fence crossings any easier. It was bitterly cold, and my nose was soon feeling as numb as my gloved fingers. There was no stopping for rests or food, we needed shelter.
At one stage we saw a scallop shell high on a post. Despite the GPS, it was reassuring. Nearby we found the small hut the lost walkers from the previous season had hauled up in. It was basic, but anything would be better than the Aubrac in a snow storm.
When we finally came off the high plains into a town our guide book assured us was full of cafes, we were cold a desperate for a coffee. Desperate we were to remain. Despite at t\least three, one with a man inside right next to the machine, the message was the same. It is winter, we are closed.
Off the Aubrac plains the weather was a little warmer but by now my nose was in pain. When I finally made it into the small hotel we had booked for the night, it was alternating between red and blue. Dinner at least was only downstairs and we started early, joined by the Swiss couple who we had met and walked but then hitchhiked back for their van in which they slept. Tonight they were eating at the hotel and joined us. Without my black hat they hadn’t recognised me. We were soon enjoying wine, fine food and good company. And celebrating our survival of the Aubrac. Only my nose, clearly with frostbite, had not survived.