I was going to introduce Anthony and Amanda by way of a salute to the Pyreneen Death March* that we unwittingly dragged them on during their stay with us, but I’ve thought better of it. What I would rather say to start, is that these two are quite simply, remarkable people. They have a mix of unpretentiousness and optimism that is refreshing and rare.
Amanda Johnson is Lecturer in Creative Writingat the University of Melbourne, Australia. She is the author of the novel Eugene Falls and the poetry collection, The Wind-up Birdman of Moorabool Street. Anthony Lynch is founder and Publisher of Whitmore Press and the author of Redfin, a widely acclaimed collection of short stories as well as Night Train a collection of poetry that I find myself regularly dipping into. I would highly recommend all of these if you can get your hands on them. Here is their account of their month-long stay at Bordeneuve:
We spent 25 peaceful and productive days at Bordeneuve during which we enjoyed the most sustained period of writing we had had in months if not years. Amanda worked on a postcolonial historical novel dealing with one of the first women to journey by boat from France to Van Diemen’s Land (later, Tasmania), Anthony on a collection of interconnected short stories engaging with notions of ‘home’.
Bordeneuve proved an ideal (and idyllic!) setting for writing. We quickly established a routine of writing in the morning, breaking for morning coffee and then lunch garnered from organic treats bought at the St Girons market, continuing writing (or revising) in the afternoon, and come evening enjoying a meal with our hosts Noelle and Karl, who night after night provided magnificent dinners and warm, intelligent company.
The accommodation proved perfect. The huge upstairs bedroom cum writing space with its natural light, long, generous desk – room enough to spread out books, laptops, coffee cups and still have a football field of elbow room to either side of us – was exactly what we needed. Roomy enough to feel we each had our own working space (literally and metaphorically), but with enough proximity to be able to say: ‘Can you listen to this? Does this work? ‘No, it doesn’t.’ ‘Great, thanks.’
And, we had only to walk a few metres to be out on the balcony, usually accompanied by one or two cats dozing in the sun, to read or revise a draft. Alternatively, we could make our way out to the back of the ‘barn’ (a name that doesn’t quite do the centuries-old structure justice) and sit at a table and chairs to work, surrounded by Noelle’s veggie patch, her two chickens pecking at the earth.
The quiet and the lush green of the immediate, forested surroundings and the blue-grey of the distant Pyrenees will stay with us. When we needed unchaining from the page or screen we would walk the long, stony driveway that led to and from Bordeneuve. Or we took a path off to the side, through a field and forest and around the perimeter of the neighbouring castle (it’s not often in Australia you have a neighbouring castle). Sometimes this let us ruminate on any impasse we might have reached in our writing.
Throughout our visit, Noelle and Karl were brilliant hosts. Attentive, generous, and taking us with them on forays into neighbouring towns and villages. Yet giving us quiet and space to work. We miss them, and Bordeneuve. We hope one day to come back.
– Anthony Lynch and Amanda Frances Johnson (Victoria, Australia)
And here is a poem, graciously shared by Anthony:
We sold our plot, our huddle of goats.
A man took and counted our money
and we became that prohibited order.
We left at night. The boat
was small and made of wood,
our amenity a plastic bucket.
The crew spat and pointed,
the sea grew wide
and in this way we progressed.
We fed on small things:
a weevil of rice, a bone of bread.
We moaned ourselves
to half-sleep. We saw
too much and too little
of water. Our craft
assumed strange angles
to day and night.
Bits of us broke
off and fell into the ocean.
One woman wept nightly for her husband, searched the chopped sea
for his severed
hands. After 15 days the heartbeat
of engine gave out and we were tossed by silence.
After 20 days one of us
jumped and swam for land.
The sea moved in. Our eyes
scratched the horizon for a miracle.
A current locked us in its arm.
They found us open-eyed,
mute and shadowy. Laid out,
some of us tread the air
as if we might walk on water.
*It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I opened the email containing Amanda and Anthony’s blog contribution. I was certain, dead certain, that they would mention the walk. The Walk. After having read it (and not a word of The Walk!) I almost feel it is unjust. So I must give a brief account, a tribute to Anthony and Amanda’s adventurous and courageous sensibilities: Our little mountain meander was meant to be just that…a picnic surrounded by beautiful peaks, maybe a token dusting of snow, a handful of the last myrtille of the season. “The guide books says its difficult, but they always exaggerate” I pronounced, expert for 10 seconds on guide books “I’m sure we’ll be fine.” What followed was the steepest, most unrelenting, grueling climb we had ever done – we ran into many a hiker who abandoned the cause mid-route. Nary a plateau, not even a little jog downwards. Up, up, relentlessly up. You get the idea. I think it was at the top that we decided that the official name for this hike should have “Death March” somewhere in the title. We didn’t even complete the last leg, as it seemed to require swinging, Tarzan-like, down a chain to a lake, with no apparent solution for getting back up the chain. We settled for a high grassy patch, in lieu of the lake, for our picnic. We were unexpectedly much higher than most of the surrounding peaks. In fact, we were looking down quite a few of them. We spent a blissful, lazy hour munching blueberries and wild raspberries, smearing ripe goat’s cheese on nut bread and watching kites wheel above us. We finally summoned the courage to lurch downhill and ended the day with a toast to courage and tenaciousness at a little mountain auberge.