A murderous weekend

Cara Black

As we said our good byes at a bus stop, the successful American mystery writer, Cara Black, stumbled back, “Wait! your mother-in-law lives near Nohant, Mary Kay told me. I’m dying to go to George Sand’s house and I’m in town until Thursday. Are you up for an adventure?” Two days later I found myself alone on a dark autumn morning, driving through France with a woman I’d only known for twenty minutes. A stranger who spends her life plotting murder.

Maison George SandDuring our introduction over coffee, I asked Cara where she’s from and discovered that we’d been neighbors in San Francisco. She’d carpooled with my close friend (also a successful author) Allison Bartlett and she knows my aunt (you guessed it) Victoria Zackheim. Our connection was feeling spooky…

The sun just started to rise as we headed out of Paris. Three hours later, Cara’s ears were ringing from the incessant jabbering of her chauffeur (yes, moi) we pulled up to Mama French’s door in Chateauroux and whisked her off to lunch. Cara is intrigued by the rumours of withcraft and traditional healers in the Berry region. Over lunch she couldn’t resist peppering our hostess with questions… Was it true? Had she ever known of a witch? Solicited the services of a healer?  Mama French’s face went white and her mouth closed tight as a button. When Cara excused herself from the table Mama Fr leaned over and whispered that all those stories give the Berrichons a bad reputation in France. It was NOT a discussion to be had with outsiders, especially not in public and certainly not with published authors who may include that kind of damaging information in thier 15th mystery novel! We left our meal full of food, but without any leads.

Screen shot 2013-10-30 at 12.04.57 PMAs we drove along, Cara told me more about Amiée Leduc, her Parisian private detective who wears three inch heels, flashy nail polish and drives a pink Vespa as she solves morbid crimes in every quartier of Paris. I learned how to find the most mysterious crime scenes and plot the most gruesome murders.

Eglise George Sand NohantWe arrived in the tiny hamlet of Nohant, eerie bag pipe music wafting through the deserted square as we visited the graveyard and a church with wide ropes draped to the side, perfect for ringing the church bells, or hanging a man. George Sands home was lovely, but creepy, everything left intact, exactly as it had been when she died in 1876, despite living there herself, until 1971!

Chateau SarzayA small detour and we found ourselves visiting the privately owned medieval fortress of Sarzay where the owner has spent the past thirty years rebuilding the chateau, stone by stone, filling it with taxidermed animals and ancient weaponry. I think Cara’s knees went weak as we entered the Salles des Gardes, and there, spread out on a table the size of my living room was a collection of killing devices centuries old. There were no rope barriers, no supervision. Just a mystery writer, a photographer and an unlimited opportunity for gore.

The weather had been unseasonably warm, but the blue summer skies suddenly turned a vivid yellow, then black. Without warning, torrential rains start to pour down we found ourselves scrambling to descend the 14th centurywinding staircase, with narrow, uneven steps and without any light. There was a scream as a pigeon swooped past, a gasp as a step was missed. Outside, we made a mad dash for the car and headed into the prematurely early night to find our lodgings.

Screen shot 2013-10-30 at 12.08.12 PMThe rain turned to hail, pelting our windshield faster than the wipers clear our view. Large, swampy drainage ditches that lined the road made pulling over impossible. The GPS led us through twisting, hilly lands getting us to Vigoulant where we followed the sign pointing to the Moulin de Barre. We drove up the hill. And up and up, without seeing a single sign of life. A large tree branch (or was it a tree?) had fallen and barred the road. Cara ran put into the pitch black of the night and was relived to find that is was a light branch, easy to remove. The trees started to form a low, narrow canopy and tall grasses grew between the wheel ruts in the mud. The mud? We’d gone beyond the roads and were now on a narrow chemin. We called our hosts, made a u-turn and headed back down the hill where our host Geoff stood under an umbrella with his flash light to guide us in. We hadn’t noticed any lights because sometime during the day, someone had ripped the light fixture from their sign. Was it intentional? Had they known we were coming?

to be continued…

Introducing// Words&Wine

thannk you to Mary Kay of Out and About in Paris for this photo...

thank you to Mary Kay of Out and About in Paris for this photo…

Last spring I hosted an author reading in our home and wrote about it here, telling the world about my dream to host a literary salon. Usually, dreams don’t just come true, you’ve got to make them happen. When I heard that author Juliette Sobanet was coming to Paris, it was the perfect opportunity to take things one step further.

SO I reached out to my friend and blogger par excellence, Ella Coquine and asked her to co-host a reading with me. Not only did she agree, but she came up with the greatest name… Words&Wine.

Ella came early to help me set the scene, adding tea lights and flowered table cloths for an ambiance that was clearly inspired by our author’s romantic novels. Nearly 30 avid readers and writers showed up, each one bringing a snack or drink to share. The table was over flowing with goodness; a Kiwi onion dip, Swiss-American tapenade, Reine Claude plums, automnal dahlias, a wine from the Jura that made a Frenchman nearly swoon, seasonal salads, and a scrumptous cake flavored with fleur d’oranger.

After an hour of eating, meeting and greeting, we were ready for some reading… Juliette took center stage her latest novel, Dancing with Paris firm in hand. She was seated on a velvet divan that Ella had known would be the ideal setting for a reading that involved, murder, intrigue and a dashing stranger. Juliette left us on a cliff hanger and I know for a fact that Amazon did a brisk business that evening, from women wanting to know how it ended…

After the reading, Juliette opened up the floor for discussion, candidly answering questions about her life and her journey to becoming a successful author. She told us that when she was 15 she just knew she had to come to France, master French and become a French professor. I saw heads bob in agreement, at least half a dozen other women identifying with that feeling of being a young girl, in the middle of nowhere and for no logical reason what so ever, falling head over heels in love with this foreign land.

It was an inspirational evening. One that made a few dreams come true.

Merci to EllaCoquine, Juliette Sobanet and everyone who joined us last night!!

For photos of the event, visit Out and About in Paris’ album

If you’d like to be invited to future Words&Wine events, don’t be shy! Contact me at sabesphoto (au) yahoo (you know the symbol) com.


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