Because of my hotel mishap in Les Maries, I had an extra day at my disposal. I decided to use that as an opportunity to spend a night in Arles.
Arles has a reputation for being one of the most charming cities in Southern France; and boy does it live up to its reputation! Teeming with life and verve, Arles was the final home and inspiration for some of van Gogh’s most famous paintings. It sits along the Rhone and has been colonized by many peoples, most notably, the Romans. It at once feels very Italian, complete with fully intact Roman Amphitheater, yet oozes French charm.
Hotel Musee, my hotel for the night, provided me with the perfect backdrop to complete my French Country Dream. Chic and warm and cozy, my room smelled of lavender. Aged green shutters opened up to a glorious view of the quaint patio below, adorned with jasmine and roses and climbing vines, terracotta tiles and cast iron patio furniture.
I spent the evening walking in a dream world. I found a neighborhood cafe and quickly made myself at home. A glass of wine and fondue, and viola, my life was complete.
I awoke the next morning and with a sadness in my heart, made my way to Nimes.
Nimes is also a former Roman colony, but has the underlying feeling of brute force, lacking the quaint charm of Arles. I stayed an uneventful night there before heading to my final pilgrim site of Carcassonne.
Carcassonne Cite is a fortified medieval city embodying, among other historically important events and peoples, the wisdom of the Cathars and Templars.
After plopping my stuff in the hotel, I decided to spend the rest of the afternoon exploring the Medieval Castle at the heart of the city. I made my way over the ancient bridge connecting the Ville Basse with the Cite. I explored the park on either side of the river, quietly listening to the hushed voices of the city’s Guardians. Following their lead, I sat near the river, digging my hands into the moist earth, absorbing the centuries of history that traversed this land.
Feeling the Call of the Castle, I made my way to an ancient pathway that once welcomed returning heroes to the castle. Overgrown with weeds and wildflowers, remnants of the acient stone way remain. I looked up and felt the brute strength it took to build these walls. I felt the sweat of hundreds of men who spent their lives in service of the Kingdom to build this place. And then I felt Him; the Knight who had returned from battle longing to be in the embrace of his secret lover. His presence so strong, I wondered, was that me in a past life?
A force larger than me compelled me forward along the path. No longer in use, I wondered if I had discovered a secret portal to another realm. I climbed and to my surprise found myself at an entry point along the first layer of castle walls.
Slits in the stone walls taught me about medieval warfare.
A large wooden door called me toward it. And in its embrace, I remembered; I remembered what it was like to be Her, the Princess or Nobelwoman awaiting her Knight in secret. Their love affair forbidden. In a flash, the entirety of their romance and tragic end came into my consciousness as I felt her anticipation and her pain. Every corner I turned contained more memories of them. Their hopes and dreams, their love. But in the end, they were torn apart.
And all I could hear her say in my heart was, “I am sorry my love. Please forgive me. I am so sorry.” Tears flooded my eyes as I felt immense pain for the hurt I caused this man and myself.
And so, with the urging of Mary, I prepared myself to do a ceremony in remembrance and to release this past trauma. I didn’t know where or how, but I knew it would come to me in time.
I toured the contours of the castle. I explored the Basilica of Sainte Nazaire discovering a magnificent life-size marble engraving of a Knight Templar, keepers of the Cathar traditions. At the right of this Knight stood a statue of Santa Anna, my Patron Saint, sitting with her daughter, The Virgin Mary. Stained glass windows contained the symbols and messages of a suppressed wisdom.
For dinner, I splurged on a fabulous pork cassoulet, famous cuisine from the region.
The sun setting, I decided to head home. However, my path took me just along the outside of the castle walls. Heeding her call, Mary had found a place for the ceremony where the last remaining orange and pink rays of sun illuminated the wall.
Not-so-elegantly, I awkwardly waded through the tall grass and reached out toward the castle wall. I pulled out my stones -which I had found earlier by the river- and looked out over the town below. Crying, I asked for forgiveness and felt the burden lifted from my spirit.
Upon my descent, I took the same route down as I had up. Acknowledging that this was the last time I would ever need to walk these steps, I left a poppy in the wall as a remembrance of our love. A gift I would have left him long ago.
As I reached the base, just before stepping into the car parking lot, I turned to look up once more at the castle. In my mind’s eye, I could see them waiving me goodbye. Happy and liberated, they were free to live in their bliss for eternity, and I free to find my own.
That night, I slept well. With two more days left, and many sites still to visit, I strangely felt at peace and wondered what the next days would bring.