May 14, 2021
First, I discover my main character on a trip
to France in 2018.
Inspiration in Old Vienne
Misty rain came and lifted as I rested on an iron bench, enjoying the soft atmosphere of damp, narrow passages hugging the hillside. Then I saw her, the tallest lady in France. Striding boldly across the wet cobbles, she wore a narrow blue dress beneath her black raincoat, a wide black hat, and high-heeled shoes.
Graceful, confident, tall, and narrow, she smiled down at me and marched on, across those crippling cobbles. She strode past. From the back, her wild silver hair submitted to an audacious yellow bow. She carried ninety years with ease.
Is that yellow ribbon a defiance of a distant or present persecution? Are the heels on cobbles in defiance of advancing age? Is Résistance in her bones? How would such a woman react to recent images that haunt my mind of innocence captured in cages, and the resulting ruin such caging brings?
And so was planted in my heart this seed I have been coaxing for nearly two years. I’m willing those who harvest any blossoms to be moved by her tears.
After seeing this tallest, most beautiful old woman in France, I began to imagine her history as a teenage Jew in France during WWII. In my story she becomes my heroine Rachel Ropfogel. She notices the same house on her escape from Paris to Le Chambon that I had spotted and Duane had photographed after we had returned to the boat and resumed our trip down the Rhone. And In her mind it also becomes a dream sanctuary for life after the war. She imagines it a school and home for children displaced and wounded by conflict and hate.
A little research to find out more about the house by way of a letter to the village of Sainte Colombe where the house is located, gave this answer:
Hello Madam, In 1642, the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary bought a bowling green and an archery site to build a convent. At their command, in 1700, Mathieu Rozier (architect) built a huge boarding school for young girls of "good families", a cloister with wells, and a chapel, along the path of the Rive- Gier-which became St. Mary's Street. At your disposal for further information.
Take care of yourself.
Kindly, Olivier G. (translated from French by Amanda Mendoza)
What an amazing coincidence that a building I noticed by chance and imagined as a school, was actually built to be a school for girls 320 years ago.