I’m pretty sure most writers have this one on their bucket list: spend a few days writing in solitude in some remote and inspiring location. A few weeks ago, my husband’s company sent him to Paris for literally one meeting (Hollywood makes no sense) and he invited me to tag along. Which I gladly did, because weekend in Paris with my husband, but the whole time, I was plotting my escape to a French castle.
It went like this: A couple of hours on a train, $250 for an AirBnB, and then I’d have four days to work on a novel in Carcassonne.
My charming apartment, complete with antique writing desk, chandelier, and fireplace.
The castle on the hill- very Ed Sheeran.
Carcassonne is fortified medieval town in the south of France, and I imagined I’d spend my days like Belle from Beauty and the Beast, living a provincial life in charming midi dresses, singing to myself about the baker while I skipped home, a notebook under my arm full of freshly-written pages.
That wasn’t what happened. I know, I know I lied on insta stories. I made it seem charming and picturesque and perfect. But you have to understand– there I was, alone, on the other side of the world from my friends and family, and I was dying. Somehow, I managed to simultaneously contract an ear infection and bronchitis the day I arrived. I had to go to the doctor in French– not just in France, but in French. Somehow I managed, and was given about a million antibiotics. So instead of a writing retreat, I convalesced, and it sucked.
After a day of lying miserably in bed, I dragged myself up for a hike to the fortress. It’ll be inspiring, I promised myself, between swallowing ampicillin and hacking up phlegm. And it was beautiful, until I reached the top, where the castle of my instagram dreams turned out to be a tourist’s Disneyland. The place was packed with parka-wearing, suitcase-rolling, DSLR-toting tourists. In the middle of the week. In September. Shops selling plastic swords, restaurants with English menus, water bottles for 3 euro. It was a nightmare.
Here’s an absurdly-posed photo you might recognize from my instagram, that I took with a remote and my DSLR from a strategically chosen tourist-free angle.
So I stumbled back down the hill, taking the hiking trail instead of the tourist route. A couple of plants brushed against my legs, which I hardly noticed, until a few minutes later when they broke out in hives. I snapped a picture of the plant in case it was a deadly poison, then marched miserably back to the pharmacy, where I explained in tortured French that I was allergic to the castle.
Back to bed I went. Total medications at this point: 5. Pages written: 0.
There I was, convalescing in a French fortress. The part of me that wrote Extraordinary Means was secretly having a blast. But the part of me that was trying to write a New Thing while very clearly dying of hives, an ear infection, and bronchitis, was not having fun.
Anyway, I wrote about 2 usable pages, and bought about 100 Euro worth of interesting-looking beauty products from Super Pharma to cheer myself up, and there went my dream of writing a novel in the French countryside. It looked so much better from Instagram, right? But then, everything always does.