September 2006

Six years of high school French and a “Learn to Speak French in only One Hour a Day” course on compact disc have not prepared me for the verbal challenge of investigating the booths set up at the Hazelnut Festival in the village of Lavelanet in the Midi-Pyrenees Region of southern France.

I wake this morning to a sky that is grey with the promise of rain. Before breakfast I walk outside and round the block to check if the café/bar is open yet. It is not. Today is a “day off” from the travel part of the course and time for us to focus on our writing. Sydney and Stephanie decide to go for a long hike. I decide to write.

The sudden banging of a wooden shutter somewhere in the house wakes me at 4 am. The branches of the tall palm tree outside my window scratch at the surface of the glass as the wind drives them wildly up and down. The weather is changing. Wind and rain will punctuate our visit to le marche in Limoux today, in contrast to the sun that beat down on the dry soil of the vineyards at Brugairolles.

Today’s agenda was to visit two wineries at Brugairolles, 26 km from Carcassone, capital of the Languedoc-Rousillon region. We drove through Fanjeaux, a hilltop village, pausing briefly outside a Benedictine church to survey the surroundings. The Benedictines were the Catholic order that slaughtered the Cathars.

We are based in the tiny village of Leran which is located roughly midway between the larger towns of Mirepoix and Lavelanet, in the Ariège department of the Pyrénnées-Orientale region of France. It borders on the Languedoc Roussillon region and our food related adventures encompass travel in both these regions.

Although I love most foods there are a few that are on my hit list and I shudder at the thought of them. One is cilantro. Another is half of the entire group of legumes. Since accuracy is important to a nonfiction writer, I looked up legumes in the on line “Cook’s Thesaurus”. There a legume is defined as “plants that have pods with tidy rows of seeds inside. This category includes beans, peas, lentils, and peanuts”. For some bizarre reason, nature or nurture – don’t know, while I love peanuts and peas, beans and lentils are among my least favorite foods. Actually pea soup is also something I dislike. It’s something to do with texture, I suspect.

Today we visited the Chateau Abbey at Camon where Peter and Katie Lawton have created a welcoming environment and exquisitely decorated bedrooms in a restored 16th century Benedictine Abbey. Parts of the building date back to the 9th century. From a terrace there is a panoramic view of the green fields and trees of the surrounding valley.

After my somewhat traumatic day of travel yesterday I slept like a Jill-in-her-great-bed in Vancouver. In other words I was in bed by just before midnight, read for about half an hour and then I finally realized why people say out like a light. It was a toss-up whether I or the bedside light were out first.

After my somewhat traumatic day of travel yesterday I slept like a Jill-in-her-great-bed in Vancouver. In other words I was in bed by just before midnight, read for about half an hour and then I finally realized why people say out like a light. It was a toss-up whether I or the bedside light were out first.

I absolutely should not have sat back complacently in the comfortable Gatwick Express seats and thought how smoothly my travel has gone so far. For sure the little travel demons read my mind and said “aha – definitely time to stir things up”.

Of course, just as I have begun to feel comfortable moving around in my “hood”, it is time to leave. Some thoughts on departing from London today.

Of the major English Romantic poets I generally prefer the work of John Keats to that of Percy Shelley- but not when it comes to hairdryers. Think about it. When you are impatiently trying to brush and comb your wet hair into some semblance of dryness and order, what would you prefer?

LONDON: England: The difficulty I had with Shakespeare's "Antony and Cleopatra" when I first studied it about five years ago was not resolved when I saw a Vancouver production that same year, and today's production at the Shakespeare Globe Theatre in fact exacerbated the problem.

LONDON: England: I chose to end my too brief sojourn in London's West End Theatreland with a musical, "Avenue Q" and what a great choice. From the moment the high energy music jolted the audience to silence and the first song began I knew this was going to be a fun evening. When the first question raised in song is "what do you with a B.A. in English?" and the inhabitants, new and old, of Avenue Q agree of that "it sucks to be me" you know that nothing is sacred and no one will be spared in this irreverent fast paced show.

With nothing special planned till this evening when I go to see “A Voyage round my Father at the Wyndham’s Theatre, some more sightseeing was in order. With a limited amount of time, I thought I would take a tour and see where I wanted to spend my last free day in London tomorrow.

The first English class I took when I went back to do my BA at UBC five years ago was a six-credit evening course on Shakespeare. So naturally one of the to-dos on my list for London was to see the recreated Globe Theatre. I decided to catch a Wednesday matinee of Antony and Cleopatra, one of the twelve plays and numerous poems I actually studied for my class.

Just to clarify. This column is not about rabble rousing, greenhouse gases or salacious sex but I will get to the hot beds later. The column is however about something that has perplexed me since I last stayed in an English hotel, in Hull more than eight years ago. The question goes something like this...

LONDON: England: Voyage round my Father" is an autobiographical play by John Mortimer, English barrister turned prolific novelist and playwright, and probably best known for the books and TV series "Rumpole of the Bailey". I really did not know what to expect but was interested to see that the audience was significantly different in age from that at the two previous productions that I saw.

I pass bookstore after bookstore and theatre after theatre as I roam around the West End . My kind of place. I restrain myself from getting carried away buying books. I have one small suitcase for checked luggage and my back pack for my lap top. This is not a trip for acquiring things - except new experiences. At the Crime and Mystery Bookstore on Charing Cross Road however, discipline breaks down and I leave the store with a signed copy of the latest Dick Francis novel. Not even in paperback – poor bulging suitcase.

In that strange unpredictable mix of physiological traits that our genes produce for everyone there are positives and negatives. In my case my hair resolutely refuses to do the usual aging thing and go grey or white. Instead it sends out tiny silver threads every now and again so in certain lighting it looks as though I have very subtle highlights. Saved me a fortune in hairdresser bills. That’s a positive.

Despite seemingly endless procrastination about getting organized for the trip and despite many welcome phone interruptions, here I am in the Air Canada Lounge more than two and a half hours before the flight. And in answer to those who habitually have to grab the tail of the plane as it is lifting off and who tease me about getting to the airport days before the flight crew, I say “well guess who has time to make a real head start on her travelogue (or travelblog, if you will).”

I am writing this from my compact, and mercifully cool, hotel room in Soho.

The high in London today is 28 C and I have done a lot of moving around dragging my “light” luggage. Since my natural habitat is probably somewhere close to Antarctica or maybe Siberia, I find the air conditioning most welcome.

Does anyone actually get packed and organized days before they are due to leave on a trip? Somehow each time I vow I will plan more efficiently and then I find myself scrambling at the last minute to get everything finished.

VANCOUVER, B.C. - Today's "fringeing" had an added fun dimension for me. Introducing a new audience member to the pleasures of live theatre and hopefully starting her on the road to many more entertaining theatre experiences.

VANCOUVER, B.C. - The Vancouver Fringe Festival opened on Thursday on Granville Island and at other associated venues. One of the most exciting aspects of the Fringe is the variety of performances presented. Add the suspense of not knowing what level of work to expect, stir it up with the energy and buzz of dozens of performers, crew, audience, family and friends and you have a recipe for a fun time. The three performances I saw certainly represented a cross section of shows.

Henrik Ibsen's dramatic poem, "Peer Gynt", is one of those iconic works that almost everyone knows of, but very few have read. Sort of like Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past". In anticipation of Blackbird Theatre's production of Errol Durbach's "Peer Gynt" adaptation, and not having a copy of the adapted script, I took out several different translations of Ibsen's original play from UBC library to garner some insight into what it means to be Gyntish.

LONDON, ENGLAND - I did not get to see Willy Russell's "Blood Brothers" during its Canadian run and I missed it on Broadway. But I am so very glad that I did not miss it here in London. It is a moving musical drama and this is a quality production.