Sunday, March 18, 2018

Lazy Sunday in France with Laurette Long

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Laurette Long
Lazy Sunday in France with Laurette Long

Welcome to another #LazySundayinFrance and today I am delighted to welcome author Laurette Long who is taking us to the Tarn and Toulouse for her lazy Sunday.


French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Laurette Long
Lazy Sunday in France Laurette Long

Off to a sybaritic start with coffee and tartines grillées heaped with our neighbour’s confiture de prunes à la menthe – a taste-bud treat. Then a lazy day in front of the fire with a pile of books. Within minutes I’ve travelled back to the Toulouse of 100 years ago, la ville rose, capital of Occitania.
As World War I comes to an end, one man is thinking about the future.

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Laurette Long
Cafés in Toulouse

Dusk was falling over the pink city as Pierre-Georges Latécoère stepped out into the immense square. La Place du Capitole, the heart of Toulouse, was busy at this hour. The cafes under the arcades were filling up with workers and shop girls stopping off for a glass of Lillet or Dubonnet before catching the tram back home. Children shrieked as they dodged between tables, excited chatter filled the air, bursts of laughter from couples strolling arm in arm on their way to the dance halls, and the new craze sweeping the country, the tango.
There was something in the air this spring evening, something uplifting and joyous like the fragrance of the Toulouse violets that Latécoère stopped to buy from the flower seller on the corner. A sense of hope, of optimism, the possibility of starting afresh. A chance, finally, to turn the page on the terrible years that had gone before.

Latécoère was the visionary industrialist who laid the cornerstone of French civil aviation with his ‘Lignes Latécoère’ (later the legendary ‘Aéropostale’). His dream was to open routes carrying the mail from Toulouse to Spain, from Spain across the Mediterranean to North Africa, and finally, the biggest challenge of all, across the mighty Atlantic from Dakar to South America. The bureaucrats declared him mad.

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Laurette Long
Hotel du Grand Balcon, Toulouse

In my imaginary account above, he’s on his way to a boarding house just off the square, l’Hôtel du Grand Balcon, today one of the city’s historic monuments.
It was here, in the 1920s and 1930s, that Latécoère’s young aviators had their lodgings, under the watchful eye of the three genteel Marquez sisters, whose job it was to make sure their intrepid young men were well fed, and, more importantly, got a good night’s sleep before taking to the skies in flimsy machines on missions so perilous that many never returned. Naturally, the intrepid young men, aware that each night may well be their last, persuaded the good sisters to organise impromptu dance evenings in the salon, waited for them to retire, then hoisted their demoiselles over one shoulder and carried them up the creaking staircase for a night of love while their hostesses pretended to slumber.

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Laurette Long
In the Hotel du Grand Balcon

Today in the hotel salon three enormous photographs dominate one wall. Jean Mermoz, Henri Guillaumet, and Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, three of the Ligne’s most famous aviators, one of whom would write a book which has sold more copies than any other apart from the Bible, Le Petit Prince. The three met in Toulouse, became life-long friends, sharing adventures and exploits which, like those of their American counterparts years later - Chuck Yeager, Gus Grissom, John Glenn - became the stuff of legends.

My few words about them today are simply an amuse-gueule, which I hope will whet the appetite of bookworms, history lovers, aviation buffs and Francophiles to find out more.

French Village Diaries #LazySundayinFrance Laurette Long
Room 32, Saint-Exupéry's desk

For those wanting to ‘push the envelope’ why not treat yourself to the out-of-body experience of a night in Saint-Exupéry’s former room? While the rest of the hotel has been renovated, Room 32 has been preserved dans son jus, as close as possible to how it looked when its famous occupant was in residence: the bed with its brass and iron headboard, the twenties furniture, the ancient fireplace with its black marble top. Step across the impressively creaking floorboards to sit at the writing desk by the window and imagine St-Ex himself looking at the same view, dreaming of the books he would write about his camarades and their extraordinary lives: Terre des Hommes, Vol de Nuit.

Vol de Nuit (Night Flight) describes unforgettably those terrible, lonely flights through the vast blackness of the South America night, where pilots braved the unforgiving peaks of the Andes, racing to deliver the mail between Buenos Aires and Patagonia, Chile and Paraguay, yearning for the dawn ‘like a beach of golden sand’.

This year, the 100th centenary of the founding of les Lignes Latécoère, is a time to remember this thrilling chapter in the history of aviation and the men who wrote it, visionaries and heroes.

Lazy Sunday in France for French Village Diaries ©LauretteLong2018

Merci, Jacqui, for inviting me to share a lazy Sunday with you and your readers.

Thank you, Laurette. For this weekend only Laurette’s first novel in the French Summer series, Biarritz Passion, is FREE on kindle. You can read my review of it here and find links to Amazon, and to follow Laurette on social media, below.

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