When Jena and I first arrived at La Muse on Friday January 9th, we were shown into the kitchen in order to put away our groceries.
On our way up the mountain, John, our host, had explained that they had some musicians from England staying at La Muse until Sunday. Jessie and her band had been working on some new material. I was excited to meet them as I had started my performing in British folk clubs back in the late sixties.
Well, as we entered the kitchen, all four band members were standing around making tea. One tall young man offered us a cup. He was introduced as Charlie.
As the day progressed I went into the library area to check out the books, as I had just finfshed reading my one and only book. I think I have mentioned that I believe in travelling light. :-)
Charlie joined me at the shelves and we got talking. He was interested that I was from the west coat of BC, as he had read a great book on builders of the Pacific North West, perhaps it was Builders of the Pacific Coast. It was a book about natural building. Well of course, I had to tell him all about the cob house I am in the process of building on Mayne Island. We had a great chat about Ianto Evans and the gurus of natural building.
Later in the day I joined the young musicians as they sat in front of the fireplace in the library. It came up in conversation that I was looking for a good book to read and Charlie offered me his book, Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, saying he had really enjoyed it.
I took the book from him and sat looking at the cover. After a few moments I opened it up. There inside was a name, written in pencil. "Charlie Stewart."
As I looked at the writing the wheels started to turn. I glanced up at Charlie, who smiled at me. I blurted out, '"Are you from Downham Market?"
He looked kind of surprised and answered tentatively. "yes"
I looked at him again and said, "I think I was your teacher!"
He said he went to Clackclose School, the little old one, not the big one, and I said that was where I taught.
I was Mrs Southwell then.
After a pause, and looking as flabberghasted as I felt, he said, "Yes, I think you were my teacher!"
By this time Jessie was jumping up and down with disbelief and I literally couldn't sit still, This was such an absolutely amazing coincidence.
Then he said something that really moved me. He said he remembered doing something special in my class. How there was a star of the week, and the other kids got to say nice things about the star and that I would write down the kind word sentences. Then the star got to cut them out along with their name in bubble letters and stick them on a big piece of paper to be hung on the wall. He said he had loved that so much. It was his favourtite thing about being in my class. I was so happy to hear that and I told him I still do kind words in my class.
It was so amazing; he said that he had just been telling Jessie about doing that in school when he was little and that it was his favourite memory of Primary School. I thought my heart would burst with joy on hearing this.
I just felt this was a pefect meeting. The fact I had Charlie in my class the year of the first earth summit in Brazil, the year I made my Growing up Green album. It seemed so fitting as he is so interested in permaculture and the like. He was also there when I had the kids think of something they could do for the earth and write it on a leaf to put on the tree of life in our hallway. Then they all wrote letters to the Prime Minister asking him what he was doing to help the environment. As they had put their home addresses on their letters, they each got letters from the government delivered to their door. We actually had our picture in the local paper, holding up our letters. lol So, you never know, perhaps my teaching has impacted other children in this way too.
But aside from the coincidences around how Charlie and I connected on a personal level as adults, it was also serendipitous that I should meet Charlie, out of all my past students. Our family was connected to his family on several levels, I used to go for women's evenings at his mums house, and these were important occasions for me as I was new to Downham at the time, with few friends. His mother was very welcoming to me. Also, my two oldest daughters used to babysit Charlie and his dad was our dentist and put braces on my daughters teeth. So, it really blew me away to meet him here at a retreat in the south of France. And he plays the banjo and is into folk music. It was just too magical for words. It came right out of left field. :-)
After the initial discovery, more magical elements became obvious. The fact that Charlie's girlfriend Jessie had only just written Charlie's name in the book that morning as she was doodling around. If she hadn't done that I would have had no reasson to remember Charlie Stewart. If I hadn't mentioned I was looking for a book he wouldn't have offered me his. If I hadn't opened it in his presence, the connection might never have occurred. I just love how the universe works in this way. Click, click, click.
He was a very special child and grew into a very special man. :-) Meeting him again in this way made me very happy and grateful.
Just as a sidenote, the book mark I am travelling with has this written on it:
"One hundred years form now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much I had in my bank account, nor what my clothes looked like. But the world may be a little better because I was important in the life of a child. " Well the world can also be a little better because a child can be important in the life of an adult. :-)
Friday evening, Kerry, the other half of the La Muse team, cooked us a delicious dinner to welcome the new writers.
Miranda and Bridget had arrived by then, and we sat down with Jessie, Charlie, Hels and Spencer, along with Jena, myself and John. We ate by candlelight with the fire warming the room. It was a wonderful eveing filled with laughter and chatter. What a great start to my time at La Muse.
Saturday morning John gave us the tour of the kitchen and the domestic set up for our time at La Muse. Then we headed out for our introductory walk around the village of Labastide Esparbairenque, such a big name for a small village. He pointed out the various pathways and routes to us. As we walked he told us of the opportunities to explore the mountain trails and how to get to the other villages.
We walked down the hill to the natural spring that flows from the mountain. We passed an elderly man pushing his wheeled trolly containing a water container as he headed down to the spring. John explained how most people use the spring for their drinking water. Also there are lots of elderly residents here, and he reckons that walking the hills probably contributes to their longevity.
Just before the spring I spotted these flowers blooming in January. :-)
We all filled our water bottles at the spring. What an experience.
John's dog Homer, also enjoys the refreshing water.
On our way back John pointed out the bee hives placed on the side of the mountain opposite us. You can just spot them in a row, hidden amongst the trees.
On our way back up the hill, we met another resident, Ernest, and had a chat with him.
The way the houses sit on the hillside is quite extraordinary. The roads in Labastide are really paths, not roads.
We waited until Tuesday for our writers gathering to share the books we had brought and to discuss our hopes and aspirations for our time at La Muse. This was so Sara could be with us, she had not been able to come until then due to a family illness.
We had all been asked to bring two books with us to donate to the library. One that explained where we came from, and one that had inspired us in some way.
Our meeting started off with a delicious feast of crepes prepared by John.
Here is Kerry pouring the coffee.
Sara started the sharing.
But that is another story.