And welcome to the first addition of ~
“Romance With France”
What can you expect? Well, don’t let the title fool you, it may start out a tad frilly, flirty and silly but I plan on delving deep into some very interesting topics, mainly on the subject of France. But not the whole country, no offence France, I love you dearly in your entirety but I’m focusing more on a very particular part which is tres riche in history and many an intriguing and foreboding mystery! Truth be told, not much has to do with romance here.., not in the true love-dovey “mon amour chou chou” sense of the word, even though the French are rather famous for romance or so I hear… but this is a whole other kettle of coq au vin!
The Overview And Backstory
For those who don’t know me, I am an actress, filmmaker, poet/spoken word performer, writer, French history enthusiast and passionate researcher of many mysteries mainly pertaining to a certain region of southern France. And I suffer from an inexplicable and arguably unhealthy love and obsession for this place! I’ve tried the 12 step program, the French patch, hypnotism but “non” dice, I’m officially addicted and fiercely proud of it! Though this is nothing new, born and raised in New France (Quebec), I suppose the influence was all around me from birth. Though truth be told, Quebec is a VERY different beast with it’s on customs and traditions, even the language sounds completely different. Just ask anyone in France, they would be more than “happy” to elaborate!
Yet, since I was very young, something beckoned me to return to a place I had never been, my homeland of France, even though I was born in Montreal, Quebec…. tres bizarre! And little did I know what kind of trouble this burning passion of mine would get me into! And that, mes amies, is a very long and complicated story. So hear goes nothing, something and everything in between! So, hold onto your berets, pull up a chaise, grab a cafe au lait and let’s get this bizarre and romance rolling! Part one is the backstory and then le fun will really begin to heat up and just so you know, this story is ongoing so there will many new and interesting events to add, especially in the coming days!
“The First time France And I locked Eyes…It was Pure Magic!”
The first time I stepped onto French soil, in this lifetime anyway… was in the south, Cannes to be exact. I stepped off the Crystal Harmony Cruise ship excitedly, all those years ago and thought I had died and gone to heaven! I was finally in FRANCE!!! Ooooo LA LA! Cue the French national anthem! Slap on a beret and drive the locals batty! I was also carrying my beloved first child… so unfortunately France made me a tad nauseous as well, but then again, everything made me nauseous! Clouds, umbrellas, tree bark, jazz, paperclips and definitely cruise ships….
I loved Cannes…it was tropical, picturesque! Ohhh the beach, the sparkling sea…the historic Carlton Hotel, quaint little shops, happy tourists and very cranky locals! Jacques Brel blaring in every tourist cafe, his ever famous heart-wrenching suicidal hit….”Ne Me Quit Pas” (Don’t leave me)!! It was French paradise but how much could I possibly see in a few hours before that annoying boat whistle would screech and I had to pull a Cary Grant and race back to the ship, leaving poor Grand-mama Janou behind (An Affair to Remember for those who are not hopeless romantics like me!) I knew there was so much more to discover and I had every intention on returning swiftly! Sans question! And continue this mysterious and alluring romance with Monsieur La France! Oui oui.
Next stop, gay Pariii, the city of lights, a few years later! It was my birthday, October 31st, Halloween! (yes be afraid, be very afraid!) It was just as stunning as I had imagined, I had never in my life felt more at home! Alarm bells began to sound, something stirred deep within which I was expecting but not prepared for. My heart raced, my cheeks flushed, I had that come-hither look in my eye. I was even poutier than usual. I was thrilled yet morose. Indifferent yet enthralled, over-joyed yet peeved. What the hell was wrong with me?? Could this be love? Food poisoning? Or just the unmistakable stench of French cheese at every turn!
I was in trouble, my French DNA was starting to bubble, toil and boil! Or was it something else? How could a place I had never been to feel so very familiar to me? Perhaps the ghosts of lifetime’s past were trying to warn me to run from this newly rediscovered love affair and never return! Perhaps I should have listened! But sadly I was already “French Toast!”
Back To The Palace At Last
Of course I boarded the train and zipped over to Versailles and OMG!!!!!!! What a palace! “Hi Honey, I’m home!!” No such thing as too fancy! It’s perfect!! I’ll take it!! Except for the hundreds of tourists milling about, they kind of bugged me. I found le grand palais a tad claustrophobic and uninviting to be honest, perhaps the walls still retained some residue from the not so good old days of the revolution… and the next one which followed and the one which followed after that. Good times. Thanks Napoleon.
Yet, when I arrived at the front entrance of Le Petit Trianon palace, Marie Antoinette’s little getaway on the palace grounds, where her and the dashing Swedish Count Axel de Fersen were rumoured to have snuck off to from time to time, but who I am to gossip? (I’ll save that for later). It had such an amazing energy, couldn’t help but leap for joy! There was a much more jovial ambiance there, how do you say? Joie de vivre. And I got to see thee original of that famous portrait of la belle reine painted by the ever popular artist of the day, Elizabeth Vigee LeBrun which I just so happen to have a reproduction of in my dining room which is one of my favourite possessions in the entire world! And yes, like a total 6 year old brat, when the security guard wasn’t looking, I leaned in and touched the frame, sshhh…we’re not sure if that may be punishable by death in France! You know how the French can be!
Something inside me stirred but what? I felt as though I had been there before, but now stronger than ever before. Certain places made me so very sad, other places I skipped around like a giddy school girl, then there was the temple of love….ahhh l’amourrrrrrr….. I took so many pictures, convinced I would be needing them one day, for that film I hadn’t made yet, or thought of or even dreamed would ever be possible. Oh yee of little faith!
Something about Marie Antoinette also rattled me. Oh yes her end haunts me, even traumatizes me as I write now. I’ve imagined her horse drawn cart ride through the city of Paris all those years ago. The thoughts which must have been flashing through her head, the fear of what would become of her two young children, her sweet son and once future king, le Dauphin and her poor daughter Madame Royale, both so young and imprisoned by total blood thirsty barbaric lunatics. As a mother I cannot even imagine that pain and anguish.
I often think of that horrid moment as she nervously climbed up the scaffold to that all too efficient killing machine, La Guillotine, knowing full well her end was inevitably near. And ohhh, don’t even try saying she deserved it. I will have none of it!! I don’t believe anyone deserves that fate, peasant nor queen, nor anyone in between. I could write a book on what I feel really happened during the revolution, the story which no one wants you to know. A story which perpetuates today on many levels. Trust me, it had nothing to do with the fact that the poor people of France were starving and revolting against the monarchy. Starving peasants could not bring down a monarchy, that takes money, skill, planning, scheming and most of all power.
Back To Paris – Present Day
I feverishly scribbled a poem at my hotel that night, down in the bar at the Intercontinental just past Place Vendome, near Le Louvre. With some angry sheik having a suspicious meeting at the next table, yelling in Arabic. His several bodyguards eyeing me suspiciously, hands in their jackets, at the ready, as if at any moment I might pull a La Femme Nakita and beat him to death with my notebook and pen. Don’t flatter yourself Monsieur Le Sheik, I had far bigger poissons to fry!
Alas “Forgotten Queen” the poem was born! The poetic life story of Marie Antoinette flowed like creme caramel from my plume. I felt like somehow I had paid homage to my poor maligned queen by writing about her. And little did I know what an adventure I was embarking upon with that poem, one which would change the course of my life forever!
Poetry, the dreaded “P”word was once revered as a true art form with mystical powers and the ability to access certain sacred knowledge passed down from those before us. Yet now, people roll their eyes and run like the wind at the mere mention of it! Yet, truth be told, it has a way of opening doors or portals if you will to other realms or dimensions, which are normally firmly sealed shut. Those soulful poetic verses stream together and seem to poke pinholes within the very fabric or veil, beyond this realm, so to speak, into other dimensions, allowing the truth-filled light to peak into the otherwise darkened oblivion of our normal every day reality. Just ask the Troubadours or the Sufis!
Yes, that trip and a few trips after that were fabulous, decadent, 5 star restaurants and hotels. Tres chic shopping, the famous Regine’s night club, me, sporting a ridiculous amount of plumage! Museums, Cathedrals, Notre Dame in particular was quite the experience, the Paris opera house, good God that was stunning! All the fun tourist stuff but something was missing. There was the underbelly, that thing called truth which I was seeking yet not quite finding. There was something brewing beneath the surface which I couldn’t quite put my French manicure on. I could hear the whisperings but could not quite understand the language, thought that would come in time.
You see, mes amies, when I was a wee one, back on that farm in southern Quebec, I had an odd issue. I insisted, at the tender age of 3 or 4 that I did not belong there, I demanded to be returned to the land where the castles were far far away, across a vast ocean! I demanded my name be changed at once to Bianca and loathed my own name! (Later I would find out that my name actually meant “The Grey Fort” or castle.) I convinced myself that I had a well-to-do family who was frantically searching heaven and Earth to find me! A precocious child, so they called me. “Different” was mentioned often, odd, strange, unique if I was lucky! But what in Le Dieu’s name possessed a 3 or 4 year old farm girl to have such a notion? Over active imagination they said…a tad dramatic they said, whomever “they” were, had a very valid point. I was certainly not your typical garden variety, egg collecting, cow feeding, vegetable picking, manure shovelling, farm girl. This cow girl had ideas, dreams, visions, memories, gifts, strange views on life and beyond. Was it a mere coincidence that every house we lived in growing up as haunted? Really? Ok, so perhaps I was an odd duckling, Maman was right!
But back to France, Paris was awesome but where oh where were my castles? This mysterious land with Castles upon every hill? Yes I found the palaces, those were mind-blowing but that was different! Those who know me, know exactly where I am going with this, those who don’t, you’ll just have to wait! There was another location I had yet to discover upon the French map but it would take me some time to sort out the coordinates and navigate through the turbulent seas of life, family, my acting career, all sorts of trials, tribulations, personal revolutions, some awesomeness and some not so awesomeness, before I would find myself at ” Le Chateau de Ground Zero.”
Lights, Camera, ACTION!
And yes, I finally did shoot the film about Marie Antoinette – Let Them Eat – and that was quite the adventure! And it all came from that one little poem I had written years earlier in Paris. I managed to gather up a meagre budget and somehow pulled off recreating my own little French revolution in a small rural town in upstate New York (where I lived at the time)! It certainly gave the locals something to chat about down by the ok cow coral. I even made headlines in the local paper! (The Press Republican) Doggonit! Stardom at last!
I still have no idea how I pulled it off with so many crazy things going wrong. I was convinced the shoot was cursed by the ghosts of revolutions past. There was even a mutiny among the crew, the smell of death was in the air. Those who don’t know, film crews can be tricky, they can turn on a dime. But sheer determination and hard work on the part of a very tired and fed up cast and crew, (even the one’s who drove me to the brink of insanity) we did it, got it in the can as they say and no one lost their head! And I won’t even get into how I managed to smuggle my cast, crew and equipment across the American border, (blink blink) there are some secrets I shall take to the grave!
The all time low was when my romantic lead, Axel de Fersen, out of nowhere decided to up and walk off the set and head north back to Canada. Nothing bad happened, no argument, he just left. My heart sank as I realized he took with him the much needed ending of my film which we had yet to shoot. If you watched the above scene, you will see that he didn’t quite live up to his promise! 🙂 All was lost or so it appeared. Though always the consummate professional, I kept a stiff upper lip, adjusted my diamond tiara, took a deep breath and when no one was looking, I repeatedly smashed my powdered wig against a stone wall. These are the days they don’t tell you about on Entertainment Tonight! The shoot was challenging, merely 4 insanely long days when we needed at least 12 but we managed and pulled off a miracle. I was so proud of my cast and crew and relieved that no one killed me. I neglected to mention, both Satan and God (portrayed as female, of course) made an appearance in the film which may explain the many conflicts.
And lest we forget the big premiere in Montreal, it went off without a hitch, the film was a huge success and I was absolutely tickled pink…. so pink in fact that I turned blue when the standing ovation turned to suffocation. For what seemed like no good reason, I went into severe anaphylactic shock immediately after I took my final bow (how poetic) then rushed frantically by ambulance to the E.R with my airways nearly sealed shut….really? Was that absolutely necessary? The party sandwiches were under suspicion as the guilty… party, though time would alas reveal the true culprit. It was far more sinister than we could ever have imagined! Though there would be numerous more near death experiences before we could pinpoint the perpetrator.
I then released it to DVD for all the world to see….well maybe not the whole world but it did create quite the buzz in the Marie Antoinette online circles which is kind of something. It got rave reviews after the premiere in Beverly Hills at the famed Friar’s Club! Oddly, Sophia Coppola had produced a film about Marie Antoinette at the exact same time which kind of assisted my publicist in spreading the word! Each critic who reviewed it drew comparisons and surprisingly had some lovely things to say about my little home grown labour of love! I was glowing with pride!
And then I started meeting some very interesting people… those who would guide me and steer me in the right direction. In one of the Marie Antoinette forums I met a lovely author by the name of Elena Maria Vidal who wrote an amazing booked called “Madame Royale” who was Marie Antoinette’s daughter and only known survivor from the family. Although some say le dauphin, her son, escaped and was taken to New France and raised on a Mowhawk native American reservation though the rumours were plentiful after the revolution so it’s anyone’s guess. It was there that I discovered a not so famous royal by the name of La Duchesse de Berry. Though truth be told I was rather familiar with her already, having met her in several vivid dreams over the years. She was Princess of the two Siclilies and married Le Duc de Berry, the future king of France after the restoration of the monarchy. Though while pregnant with their second child, (le Comte de Chombord), her husband was murdered on the steps of the Opera house, stabbed and bled to death in her arms. So very tragic though not all that uncommon for those who bore the weight of the crown atop their heads and had royal blood coursing through their veins. Always enemies at the gate to contend with.
Reading about her was like visiting an old friend, I tried for years to put a name to the face, after so many bizarre dreams and finally here she was! There is another chapter to this story, the one which started it all, the one which led me to try my luck at past life regression years earlier though that story is a book in of itself and read literally like an Italian opera but we’ll save that for another time.
Her story leapt off the page like I was hearing old stories of a dear friend, from the good and the not so good old days. Including her endearing and enduring love affair with the dashing and smoulderingly handsome Italian Count, Ettore Lucchesi-Pali from her homeland of Italia. She even was imprisoned at La Citadelle de blaye in France during her exile when she attempted to single-handedly claim the French throne for her young son Henri – Le Comte de Chombord. The stories of her and Marie Antoinette, her great aunt seemed eerily parallel, mirroring each other and so very familiar to me.
I met so many interesting people online during that time, people who saw my film and reached out to tell me their thoughts, feelings and opinions. Many claimed to have a strange connection to the story and were rather moved by my film. I was humbled by the response for the most part. There was another chapter in the book Madame Royale which would have the biggest and most profound impact on me, one might say it was that chapter that in a round about way has led me to the point I am at now. The author traveled back in time to a not overly talked about passage in history, most have never heard of and some wish they could forget. I for one shall never forget, now that I know. Hearing their name, hearing of their fate and all which happened during that black stain in France’s history would alter my path forever. This was the missing link… the game changer, this was the new direction which would send me navigating south, far away from the lovely palace of Versailles and Paris to a remote region very foreign to me, yet would quickly become like home, even more than my own home in many regards. And so begins this new journey…. to a far off medieval land which appears lost in time.
In the 1200’s, deep within the heart of Languedoc, France, ( then Occitania), the Roman Catholic church waged a tyrannical savage crusade against a peaceful Christian sect they referred to as the Cathars or les bonhommes, the good men or good Christians. These people lived quietly, they disturbed no one, they were healers, very spiritual, who lived modestly, yet to the church they were a threat. They had a more gnostic view of Christianity which was not in favour with Pope Innocent lll, thus he and the church, with the assistance and backing of the French King, would deem them heretics whom, so said the Pope, needed to be cleansed of their sins or in simpler terms, barbarically and systematically hunted, tortured beyond what the average mind can comprehend, interrogated, butchered or burnt alive at the stake. I had a difficult time getting through most of the terribly disturbing stories. They shook me to the core. They resonated deep within in a way which was rather foreign to me and I didn’t enjoy it. As a very compassionate and empathetic person, I am unable to comprehend causing others pain nor suffering, thus hearing the grotesque tales of them butchering young children or throwing people upon the pyre to suffer an agonizing death is just beyond what my heart can bare. Even now I feel compelled to hold back on the stories for I just can’t stomach the thought of bringing those actions back to life in print, they don’t deserve the attention but I feel strongly that the Cathars story both deserves and needs to be remembered now. And incredibly, the foothills of the stunning picturesque Pyrenees mountains are literally covered in what are now the ruins of their mighty Cathar Castles, les Chateau Cathares, still standing proud and majestic yet show the scars of past conquests. And thus, after a life time of searching, I found the land where the castles were! Those dreams of castles under siege, those beautiful mountainous views, that longing, that deep sadness for something I didn’t understand just got a whole lot clearer. And I knew, without question, I needed to return in haste and figure out this mystery enfin.
But there was something else brewing in the cassoulet pot, what I didn’t mention as of yet were the bizarre, haunting and even traumatizing dreams of the woman in the white dress or as we say in French, La Dame Blanche, how did she factor into this tale? And why was she haunting the hell out of me? I was intent on sorting this mystery out. As I did some research, I stumbled upon a place, a place like no other and nothing….and I mean NOTHING could prepare me for what I would soon be unraveling, detangling, unearthing and discovering. And apparently I wasn’t the only one with this bizarre interest/connection. Oh no! There were many of us on similar quests and we all seemed to be bizarrely inter- connected, whether we liked it or not in ways which seemed to defy logic or even at times sanity! I realized that I had been in fact writing about this place without realizing it, it was right underneath my nose yet remained in the sinister shadows until I was good and ready to find it.
At first glance it appears to be a rather unassuming quaint little pin prick on the southern end of the French map but looks can be deceiving! There are so many strange legends and tall tales attached to this place that it defies all logic. Of course Dan Brown eluded to it in his bestseller “DaVinci Code” which of course was fiction yet, there were more than a few tidbits which rang true. He didn’t mention Rennes-le-Chateau by name but he might as well of. His story was eerily similar to a well known book called Holy Blood Holy Grail written by Michael Baigent, Richard Leigh and Henry Lincoln which claims to be anything but fiction. It speaks of a royal bloodline of Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene and how this little town and the surrounding area factors in and holds sacred clues to this forbidden mystery. Even the landscape it’s self tells it’s own bizarre and mystical story in what is referred to as sacred geometry, which our dear friend and tireless researcher Henry Lincoln, co-author of Holy Blood Holy Grail has pointed out in many books which followed. It’s as if nothing about this place is random, everything appears to have a certain order for deliberate reasons. Literally the whole landscape of this area is telling us an ancient story, but what? Oh but the real truth lays far deeper beneath the surface, so to speak and much more complicated. Its like peeling back the many layers of a seemingly infinite onion, the more layers you peel, the more layers appear and the more confusing the story becomes. One must take a leap of faith to go down this mystical path and just let go of all you think you may know and allow yourself to plunge headlong off the logical ledge of everyday reality into a murky, bizarre and mysterious abyss. And this, mes amies, I will be delving into in much more detail in future blogs but for now, just a quick overview for those not yet familiar. And a fun little video montage I put together from this mysterious town so you see it up close and personal.
If you look throughout history, you will notice a common trend, if someone was “someone,” they undoubtedly found themselves either passing through this remote place or even living there or nearby. I don’t have the complete list available though off the top of my head there was of course Mary Magdalene, the legends are endless though not just in that town but all over the entire region and many monuments to her honour can be found. So it would seem logical that she must have been there at some point and was greatly loved and revered. We will touch upon the church’s smear campaign at a later juncture. Some even say Jesus himself made an appearance though I cannot confirm nor deny said allegation. Of course the Romans were there but they were everywhere. The Visigoths made an appearance, once they sacked Rome and stole a mysterious treasure, where did they go? Yep, you guessed it. Same can be said for the Knight’s Templar whom also got their hands on a mysterious treasure and became incredibly wealthy and powerful overnight. Though they found their treasure in the Holy Land but still managed to make an appearance here. There seems to be a common golden treasure thread in this story. The Merovingian Kings were said to be afoot, especially King Dagobert ll, but that is a much longer longer story which connects to this mystery. Blanche de Castilles was rumoured to have hidden a great treasure in or near this town. This elusive treasure will be mentioned over and over in this story. The mystical Celts were all over that region as well. There’s even rumours of Thomas Jefferson being at least nearby, but I would bet my beret he was there, what was he up to? That we shall delve into later. Oh and remember Le Comte de Chombord? La Duchesse de Berry’s son and last known heir to the French throne? Yes, he would have an interesting link to this place as well. From royalty to politicians, to celebrities, poets, authors, famous painters, singers, mystics, secret societies, government officials from all over, royals, treasure hunters. And many who just ended up there, with no idea why…something just drew them there like unsuspecting moths to a mighty and magnetic flame.
And of course, lest we forget the most famous story of all, one which would captivate and mystify generations to come. The now infamous Catholic priest Berenger Sauniere, the penniless priest of Rennes-le-Chateau, who claimed to have discovered ancient parchments while renovating his run down little church, which then, as legend would go, led him to a mysterious treasure and over night became excessively wealthy, sound familiar? And thus, the tall tales of a vast gold treasure spread like a plague across the globe and many a treasure hunter flocked to find their fortune. It was never revealed what Sauniere actually found though we do have our theories…. but in the years to come, his actions and the actions of those around him were said to be anything but normal nor priestly. He led a father extravagant life for a priest, popular with the ladies as well, he even had a torrid affair with a famous opera singer, Emma Calvet. He left us clues, cyphers, encrypted messages which have intrigued and baffled all who have gotten involved for over a century since. They have even driven many to sheer madness and for several who perhaps got too close to the proverbial flame, either vanished or died mysteriously, including poor Sauniere himself or so they say. But much much more on that later!
Even the nasty Nazis were there during WWll, combing the area and leaving a trail of destruction in their wake. Especially the caves of Mont Bugarach close by, which is a very mysterious mountain with its own folklore and ominous tales of intrigue, mystique and of course mysterious deaths and disappearances. Yet another subject we will be delving into at much greater length.
Otto Rahn, the writer and occult researcher was hired back in the 1930’s by the nazi party to find a treasure in Cathar Country, some say the Ark of the Covenant or even the Holy Grail itself. Though the exact contents of this elusive treasure has never been confirmed, publicly anyway. This would be the same treasure the Catholic church was trying to liberate during the Albigensian Crusade. There are many stories connecting the Cathars with a mysterious treasure as well, which was said to have been hidden in the remote Chateau Montsegur during the last horrific days of the Crusade though it was mysteriously never found. Or the one the Visigoths were said of have brought back from Rome or the one the Knight’s Templar liberated from beneath the Temple Mound and so on. Though perhaps the real treasure has little to do with gold and more to do with….more on that later.
Many say Otto found more than he bargained for and paid the ultimate price, his death was a tad mysterious. Many say he did indeed find something of significance. Some say he may have but concealed it from those murderous monsters because he understood the power it had. I’ll save what I think for future blogs when I delve far more in depth into all these mysteries and so much more with my strange romance with France. We haven’t even begun to scratch the surface! And there will be some very interesting new developments coming up very soon so be sure to come back! But I caution you, once you’ve taken the plunge and been bitten by this mystery’s “Gold Bug,” (homage to my old friend Poe) you may never be the same again!!
Au Revoir mes amies!
And lastly, the romantic extended version of “My Troubadour”, inspired by my romance with southern France. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.