Sunday, October 29, 2023

Book review of Damson Skies and Dragonflies by Lindy Viandier

French Village Diaries book review Damson Skies and Dragonflies Lindy Viandier
Damson Skies and Dragonflies by Lindy Viandier

Damson Skies and Dragonflies by Lindy Viandier

It is always exciting to find a good memoir about life in France but finding myself in the pages of Lindy’s Damson Skies and Dragonflies, gave me so much more than I was expecting. 


Lindy is married to a Frenchman, and together they split their time between Paris and their 300-year-old rural bolthole in the Burgundian countryside, Les Libellules (the dragonflies). As they snatch precious time away from Paris, this book is packed full of Lindy’s wonderful descriptions in her vignettes of life in the countryside. She also explains better than most the cultural differences, traditions and unique French ways of doing things, and these parts often had me grinning away. 


There is always something to do at Les Libellules, and Monsieur Viandier is usually tackling multiple jobs at a time, interrupted in the most pleasurable way by neighbours dropping by to share a coffee or aperitif, proof they have been embraced by their local community. For Lindy, time in the Burgundian countryside means the natural world that surrounds them easily becomes the focus for her camera and her writing. It was her descriptions of the birds, wildflowers, butterflies and dragonflies who visit them that were some of my favourite pages of this memoir.


I often feel when reading a good novel, that as the action builds towards the end I’m torn between binge-reading and wanting to slowly savour what remains of the book. I don’t normally feel this same sense of loss as a memoir comes to an end, but I did with this book. I knew I was going to miss my evenings spent enjoying the changes of seasons and pace of life at Les Libellules with Lindy, her husband, Pussy Willow and the others.


The great news is that Lindy has written a second book to keep me going over winter, Mellow Mists and Walnut Wine.

You can also find Lindy over at We Love Memoirs Facebook Group where she shares lots of the photos she loves to take of life at Les Libellules. 

Monday, October 23, 2023

Rendez-vous with the Festival Polar de Cognac

French Village Diaries Festival Polar de Cognac Rendez-Vous Avec Le Crime
Cognac Crime Festival

Festival Polar de Cognac


Last Thursday evening we went out. We finished work, we dressed up, well I discarded my cosy leggings on the bed and found jeans, a blouse and some jewellery, and we got in the car to drive to Cognac, an hour away. This was already way more excitement than we are used to for a week night.


Cognac was holding its 28th crime festival, Le Festival Polar de Cognac. This brings together novels, comic books, films and television series for a four-day festival of screenings, book sales and meet the author/stars events, that culminates with a prize-giving ceremony on the Sunday.

French Village Diaries Festival Polar de Cognac Rendez-Vous Avec Le Crime
Rare night out excitement at the Festival Polar de Cognac


Our date was with Rendez-Vous avec le Crime 2, “Le mouton noir”, the third of three films selected for the television series prize. This is the French TV adaptation of Date With Malice, book two in Julia Chapman’s Dales Detective series of novels. I’ve been friends with Julia, thanks to this blog, for many years, even lunching with her in York back in 2014. Adrian and I have read all her books in English and watched the first of the TV films last Christmas, on France 3, with English subtitles. We couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to watch this one, on a big screen, so close to home. 


We opted for the free tickets but could have bought a Priority Pass that would have given us queue-free VIP access to all events. As we would only be there for one screening, a short queue up the back staircase, that was decorated with delicate stained-glass windows, wasn’t an issue. The theatre had filled up nicely by the time we got in, but we easily found two seats a few rows back from the front, which we sunk into nicely. They were the cosiest, softest cinema seats I’d ever sat in, like a bright red velvety hug, that was great until a hot flush snuck up on me during the film. Looking around, we think we were some of the youngest in the audience and from the chatter we’d overheard on the staircase, probably the only non-locals and likely the only British too. Even before we’d sat down, I’d fallen in love with the venue when I read the fabulous sign warning that no eating is allowed during the film, including sweets or my absolute pet hate, chewing gum.

French Village Diaries Festival Polar de Cognac Rendez-Vous Avec Le Crime
Some of the cast and crew of Rendez-Vous Avec Le Crime 2


The evening began with an introduction and a few words from some of the production team as well as two of the actors, where we learned it was an avant premiere, so the first ever showing and not even the cast had yet seen the finished film, what a privilege for us, even without the priority pass, I felt like a VIP. The lights dimmed, the film started, and the low hubbub that built around us seemed to agree with our confused looks – they were showing the wrong film. It was easy to imagine the furtive fumbling going on in the projection room as we were left staring at a blank screen, before the man with the mic appeared back on stage to apologise. For the first time in 28 years, two films with identical running times were on the schedule, and one of them had been downloaded twice! He promised it would only be a short wait while they ‘found’ the correct film, which it was, and soon we were whisked off to the wilds of Brittany.


There was enough of a gasp of shock from the audience when the killer was revealed, to lead me to think that not many of them had read the books, but the enthusiastic clapping at the end was proof they had enjoyed it. With a French cast and location, it has an obvious French feel to it, but while it may lack a bit of Yorkshire heritage, it hasn’t lost any of the wit, humour or chemistry of the original books we both love. 


On Sunday night, it was lovely to read that the Grand Prix for the television series category had gone to Rendez-Vous Avec Le Crime 2, a well-deserved win and we will enjoy watching it again when it comes to France 3. I know that there is also a UK based production company who are looking into making a version for British TV, set in Yorkshire, which is fabulous news.


I am 100% sure that even though Adrian is known to indulge my many whims that take us to some weird and wonderful places, he wouldn’t have been up for a two-hour round trip, on a dark and biblically wet night after work just to watch a French film, unless it was based on a Julia Chapman book. 


Ed is now working for a film festival in Poitiers, so it is rather remiss of us that this was our first taste of a festival, but it won’t be our last.


Saturday, October 21, 2023

Book review of Snow Days With You by Leonie Mack

French Village Diaries book review Snow Days With You Leonie Mack
Snow Days With You by Leonie Mack

Snow Days With You by Leonie Mack 

When Luna Rowntree gets an unexpected and life-changing legacy from a man she’s never met, she’s determined to find out why – even if it is Christmas Day and her family are expecting her.

So, with only her mother’s ashes for company – it’s a long story, but Luna knows her mother would have wanted to come on the adventure too – Luna sets off in her trusty Astra to the skiing resort in Chamonix, where her mysterious benefactor had lived.


But her little car isn’t designed for driving through snow-covered mountains, and when she runs out of fuel heart-breakingly close to Chamonix, Luna is relieved to be saved by her very own knight-in-shining armour. Well, knight in mountain rescue uniform anyway.


Yannick is charmed and baffled by Luna’s mission, and before he knows it, he has agreed to help. But Yannick has his own secrets calling him from the mountains, and his own reasons to run away. As he helps Luna understand her past he realises he has to face his as well if he’s ever going to risk opening his heart to love

French Village Diaries book review Snow Days With You Leonie Mack
Snow Days With You by Leonie Mack


My Review

This book was a festive feast from the first chapter. I felt for Luna as soon as she arrived in Chamonix, alone and totally unprepared for the alpine weather, on a mission to find out about her mysterious benefactor. 


Fate led her to Sylvia’s shop, where she soon found herself welcomed, and by helping her new friend with some English lessons, she also finds a purpose to stay, and the opportunity to meet people who could assist her on her enquiry. She has a lot to learn about the harsh reality of life in the mountains and the perilous work of the Gendarme rescue squad, but she soon finds herself embraced by their community.


Yannick had an air of sadness about him that tugged at my heartstrings, and I enjoyed discovering his story almost as much as I did the unravelling of Luna’s mysterious past. 


This is a winter romance with a difference as it is not just set in a ski resort, it takes you to the heart of the mountains and the people who risk their lives to keep others safe. There is adrenalin, fear, and heart stopping emotions in this book, but the humour and warmth of the romance bubbling away under the layers of warm clothing, kept me turning the pages.


If you love the mountains in winter, treat yourself to Snow Days With You as I am sure you will enjoy it. 


Purchase Links 

Universal link  

French Village Diaries book review Snow Days With You Leonie Mack
Leonie Mack


Author Bio 


Leonie Mack is an author of romantic comedies with great international locations. Having lived in London for many years her home is now in Germany with her husband and three children. Leonie loves train travel, medieval towns, hiking and happy endings!


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French Village Diaries book review Snow Days With You Leonie Mack
Snow Days With You by Leonie Mack 

Friday, October 13, 2023

The mysterious markings in the round tower of the château

French Village Diaries superstitions, mystical marks and secrets of the Château de Javarzay
Château de Javarzay

Superstitions, mystical marks and secrets of the Château de Javarzay

It is Friday 13th October, so it seemed an appropriate date to write about some mysterious marks carved into the stonework at the Château de Javarzay and the secrets or superstitions behind them. 


One of the things I enjoy most about working at the château is speaking to the visitors, both welcoming them in, and chatting about their visit afterwards. Everyone sees something different in the museum that piques their interest and whenever I’m asked a question I don’t have the answer to, I dig around until I’ve found one, and add it to my memory bank. 


In April last year, I spotted a collection of different circular marks carved into the stonework in a window recess of the round tower. I traced them with my fingers and took photos, but it wasn’t until this September when a visitor asked what they represented and how old they were, that I thought to investigate them further.

French Village Diaries superstitions, mystical marks and secrets of the Château de Javarzay
Mysterious circular marks at the Château de Javarzay


Stonemason marks

My first point of call was to chat to some of the volunteers who’ve been part of the château since the 1980’s, and this gave me a few different answers, although like me, no one had ever given them much thought. Some believed they were stonemason’s marks, so likely dating back to the early 1500’s when the château was built, but one pointed me in the direction of a book written about another interesting property in Chef-Boutonne, Le Logis de la Pirounelle, or the alchemist’s house. More about that later.


It is not uncommon to find marks left by masons in the stonework of old buildings, either used to identify who had worked on a stone, to ensure they were paid, or to determine which stones were to be placed next to each other and which way around. This YouTube clip from the University of Warwick, that my colleague Paul found, explains this really well. The masons used a tool like a pair of compasses, but with two points, so circular designs, like the ones we have at the château are common. While this is probably the most logical explanation, I’m not convinced. We have lots of stones with no visible marks, all over the château, so why in just one window recess can we see so many different circular designs, some even carved into the same piece of stone? I guess it could have been an apprentice mason, experimenting with his tools, but my fantasy head disappeared off into another direction.

French Village Diaries superstitions, mystical marks and secrets of the Château de Javarzay sacred geometry
Circular markings at Château de Javarzay


The Renaissance and sacred geometry

The château dates from the early French Renaissance period, with building work beginning in 1513. The Renaissance is an era associated with artists, intellectuals and humanists, including Leonardo da Vinci, who was invited to France by King François I in 1516. As well as being given the Château Clos Lucé, in Amboise, the title of “Premier Painter and Engineer and Architect of the King” was bestowed upon him, and he remained in France until his death in 1519. One of Leonardo’s celebrated works is the Vitruvian Man, his study of the perfectly proportioned man, drawn within a circle and a square, using mathematics and geometry. This led me into the world of sacred geometry. In this ancient science, symbolic and sacred meanings are given to geometric shapes, in an attempt to explain the energy patterns that create and unify all things.

French Village Diaries superstitions, mystical marks and secrets of the Château de Javarzay sacred geometry Apotropiac marks seed of life flower of life
A Flower of Life?


The Seed of Life

Some of our markings look similar to the seed of life, where six circles are equally overlapped, giving the seventh, inner circle or the flower of life, six petals. We have a carving of a circle with the six petals and another of five circles within a sixth. It is the interconnecting of the circles that is one of the most important concepts of the Seed of Life, representing that we are all part of a larger, interconnected whole. Associated with the number seven, that has links to spirituality and different cultures and religions, the seed of life represents the seven stages of creation, but as more circles can be added, it also displays the concept that there is always more to create. 


Mandalas, the geometric symbols that are found in both Hinduism and Buddhism, often use interconnecting circles to represent the spiritual journey, to create a focal point for meditation, or to emphasise impermanence and non-attachment. Buddhist monks will draw out elaborate mandalas as part of their worship, that are then destroyed in a fraction of the time it took to create them. Thanks to Kate at Phoenix Yoga for helping me understand this a little better.

French Village Diaries superstitions, mystical marks and secrets of the Château de Javarzay Merkaba stone
Merkaba stone, Javarzay


Merkaba stone

If you think that these explanations are a little way out and spiritual for a five-hundred-year-old château in rural France, I’d probably agree with you if it weren’t for two things. The first is the discovery of a Merkaba stone in the sacristy of St Chartier’s church that is next door to the château. A Merkaba is an eight-pointed, three-dimensional, stone star of David that has links to Jewish mysticism but is also the energy field that surrounds our bodies. Its sacred geometric shape combines opposing energies in perfect balance and learning how to activate our Merkaba, with Prana yogic breathing, can give us a greater sense of well-being, increased intuition and a deeper connection to the universe. The Merkaba stone now lives in the round tower of the château, but my mind boggles as to how it came to be in a catholic church.

French Village Diaries superstitions, mystical marks and secrets of the Château de Javarzay alchemy la pirounelle Chef-Boutonne
La Pirounelle, le logis de l'alchimiste



The second brings me back to the book by Jean-François Grimaud, about La Pirounelle, the alchemist's house, that dates from 1613. Sat on a roundabout, next to the supermarket carpark, La Pirounelle is a turreted house, partially hidden behind a high wall, that has been home to the notaires (lawyers) office, the Gendarmerie (police) but further back in time, Jean Gadouyn, an alchemist. 


Alchemy is the forerunner to chemistry and the ancient science that aimed to discover how to convert metals into gold and find the elixir of life. There are many symbols associated with alchemy and carved into the stonework of La Pirounelle you can find the moon, the tree of life, a monkey, a lion and (more importantly), a six-petaled flower, just like the one at the château. Here it is said to signify to the initiated, the quest of the master of the house.

French Village Diaries superstitions, mystical marks and secrets of the Château de Javarzay alchemy
Château gallery, Dampierre-sur-Boutonne


It seems Jean Gadouyn wasn’t the only alchemist in the area as a little further along the Boutonne river, that runs behind the Château de Javarzay, is Dampierre-sur-Boutonne. Here you can find another Renaissance château, that I have now discovered is known to be an alchemist’s château. We visited it last December, and it was the elaborately carved stone ceiling on its upper gallery, that caught my eye. These carvings are a “masterpiece of French alchemical art” – Nick Inman, A Guide to Mystical France.


Wow, I had no idea that looking into a few interesting circles carved into the stonework of the château would find me dipping my toes into such deep topics, that go way above my comprehension. 

French Village Diaries superstitions, mystical marks and secrets of the Château de Javarzay sacred geometry Apotropiac marks
Circular markings at Château de Javarzay


Apotropaic marks

Paul then came up with another possibility and I have to say, this is the one that I am drawn to the most - apotropaic marks – and no, I’d never come across that word before. These are marks that were carved into woodwork or stone, and normally found around chimneys, windows or other openings, and were believed to be charms to protect the inhabitants from witches and evil spirits. This article from the Guardian newspaper explains all and shows markings identical to what we have at the château. I wouldn’t describe it as an evil spirit, but there is definitely a ghostly presence at the château, but more about ‘her’ another day.


As Halloween approaches and our season comes to an end with a special school holiday code-breaking game, that will fill the château with mini-witches, ghosts and skeletons, on the search for sweets, I’m just hoping these marks will keep me and the château safe when sugar levels rise.


I know I have only scratched the surface here, but I have equipped myself with lots of books to delve further into this over winter, as I attempt to understand the secrets of the château a little better. One of these books, A Guide to Mystical France, by Nick Inman, who I met at a local literary festival, wisely tells me that France is full of symbols, but it is important to understand that an esoteric symbol may have no literal, fixed meaning, dealing as it does with matters that are beyond words. This is a challenge for those of us who want exact answers, but it should enable us to explore, ask questions and stretch our minds in different ways, much like the path these mysterious circles have led me on.

French Village Diaries superstitions, mystical marks and secrets of the Château de Javarzay alchemy la pirounelle Chef-Boutonne Renaissance
Some of my research reading


Do you have any other ideas about what or why these markings are? I would love to hear from you if you do.