Monday, 3 October 2022

Let Them Eat Cake

  While this phrase might have been wrongly attributed to Queen Marie Antoinette during the French Revolution, she certainly was not high on the popularity stakes!

To mark two important October events during the Revolution, my novel, Spirit of Lost Angels, is on sale for only 99c/p at all ebook retailers.

Get your copy for only 99c/p HERE

 

1.    The first important event I wanted to mark was the death of Marie Antoinette on 16th October, 1793. At 12h15, several weeks before her 38th birthday, she was guillotined on the Place de la Révolution (known today as Place de la Concorde).



The second important event took place on October 5th, 1789 and is known as the October March or the Women’s March on Versailles and was one of the first defining events of the French Revolution. It all began as women on the Paris marketplaces protested about the impossibly high price of bread. This grew into a thousand-strong group of angry and determined Parisians who beseiged the Palace of Versailles. They successfully placed their demands on King Louis XV1 as, the following day, the crowd forced the king and his family to return with them to Paris.



Here is an extract of this event from Chapter 41 of Spirit of Lost Angels...


On that October morning, three months after the fall of the Bastille, an uneasy calm hung over the streets of Paris. It was as if the prison storming had been only the first small wave of discontent, and that some great seism was gathering force, ready to break apart and swamp the entire country.

I had not found Rubie. The words of all the people I spoke to echoed in my head like one continuous drumbeat.

Perished … dead … deceased.

I was almost convinced my daughter hadn’t survived her journey from the orphanage to the wet-nurse. Claudine was right, in the fug of my exhausted brain the night the Bastille burned, I had simply imagined Rubie.

Dawn was quiet and chilly, the little shops still shuttered, as Aurore and I joined my salon friends––Sophie, Olympe and Manon––and the rest of the women marching along the slop-damp cobbles to the low beat of a solitary drum.

When it came light, there were still no coaches or presentable souls about, besides a few clerks hurrying to their offices. All the gardeners though, mounted on their nags, baskets empty as they headed out of town, gaped at the communal stride of hundreds, perhaps thousands, of women.

‘Neither our mayor, Jean-Sylvian Bailly, nor General Lafayette can ensure we have bread!’ Olympe, our self-elected representative, proclaimed to the group who had gathered in front of the Hôtel de Ville. ‘They are withholding bread to crush our spirits!’ She flung an arm in the direction of a bakery shop, and its “No Bread” sign.

‘String them up from the streetlights!’ a woman shouted back.

‘Since the men of our city are unable to put bread on our tables,’ Olympe continued, ‘the women of Paris will march upon Versailles and demand bread.’

‘Let’s go and see the baker, and the baker’s wife!’ a woman shrieked.

A hail of cheers and applause smothered her words, children blew bugles and rang bells, and an even greater knot of women assembled in the Tuileries gardens.

The sky turned dark and cloudy as we marched along the Cours de la Reine with our makeshift weapons: pitchforks, broomsticks, pikes and swords. Six drummers headed our procession, alongside two women riding on cannons. We all boasted the tricolour cockade and carried leafy branches, as we had three months earlier when we took the Bastille.

‘Are we truly going to fire cannons on the palace?’ Aurore said.

‘Of course not,’ I said with a wry smile. ‘We have no powder. They’re only for effect.’

‘What a pity,’ she said. ‘How I would love to see the Austrian whore blown to bits!’

Aurore reminded me of that enraged lioness from Les Barreaux de la Liberté, back arched and tail swishing. ‘However can I calm this hate you carry inside?’ I said.

‘I’ll be calm the day I see the Queen’s head roll,’ Aurore said, striding out ahead as we approached the Barrière des Bonshommes tollhouse.

‘We certainly must fight for what is rightfully ours,’ Olympe said, ‘but like a woman, Aurore, who uses her head, and not like a man, who uses only his stiff cock!’

Laughter and giggles rose from the crowd as we marched on, through steadily falling rain.

Dusk fell and Sophie handed around hunks of cheese and cold meat, and that rain-drenched food seemed the best thing I’d tasted.

Flanked by friends, I couldn’t help feeling imbued with their energy and determination throughout that rainy day, but as we approached the royal palace, my foreboding grew.

‘If slander and malice could kill, blood would flow knee-high in this place,’ I said.

‘With no one spared the treachery and deception, least of all the King and Queen,’ Sophie said, as we plodded on, cold and drenched, down the broad alley leading to the palace.

‘Look, they’ve drawn the gates across the entrance,’ Manon said. ‘They must have had word we were coming.’

‘Good, let the Queen tremble in her golden nightgown,’ Aurore said. ‘Let her shit herself with fear!’

We all laughed––a shivery laugh––as we joined in the chant from the palace gardens: ‘Du pain, du pain, du pain,’a monotonous drone against the cold drizzle.

A group of fifteen chosen women, Olympe amongst them, disappeared into the palace to appear before the King, to voice the grain-hoarding rumours.

When we heard nothing from inside, a band of women, more agitated than the rest, broke off from the crowd. Brandishing their clubs and meat-cleavers, and calling for the blood of the Austrian whore, they stormed into the palace.

‘We’ll fricassee her liver!’ a woman shouted.

‘I’ll make lace out of her bowels!’ Aurore shrieked, joining the angry mob.

‘No, don’t go inside, it’s too dangerous.’ I tried to clutch onto Aurore’s sleeve, but she shrugged my hand off and I could do nothing to stop her belligerent determination.

Musket fire rang out from within. I jumped, a hand over my breast.

‘Please, let Aurore be safe. Let them all be safe.’

‘She’ll be all right. Aurore’s a fighter,’ Sophie said, swiping a hand across her brow and streaking it with dirt. Her dress clinging to her drenched skin, she looked a very different Sophie to the one who received her friends from a milk bath.

We heard more shots, and reeled back in a great human tide as the bloodied bodies of several women were thrown out into the courtyard.

I gagged on my meagre stomach contents, as we picked our way through them, searching the lifeless faces.

‘None of them is Aurore or Olympe,’ Manon said. ‘They’re not here. They must still be inside.’

‘I’d so hoped this could be peaceful,’ I said. ‘That we could voice our concerns in serenity.’

‘Serenity?’ Manon shook her head. ‘No, Rubie, the women are too angry, and starving.’

Everybody joined in the chant for the King to show himself, ‘Le Roi, le Roi!’

The King appeared on the balcony and smiled down on the crowd in the palace courtyard. He promised bread to his loyal subjects, and there rose a cheer of ‘Vive le Roi!

‘How absurd,’ I said, ‘that we cheer when some of us have already fallen.’

La Reine au balcon, la Reine au balcon!

The Queen stepped onto the balcony in her night-robe. I tried not to smile with the irony as I recalled my childhood dream of meeting a real princess. Marie Antoinette’s face a chalky mask, as if frozen in terror of her people’s hatred, I was certain the poorest peasant girl wouldn’t dream of being this princess.

We all knew Marie Antoinette loathed the Marquis de Lafayette, regarding him as a symbol of the revolution, but the General stood by her side––a liberal aristocrat with the unenviable position of reconciling the mob and the Queen.

‘Shoot the whore!’ a woman cried. People pointed muskets and pikes at her.

For minutes, the air was taut with nervous tension and an expectant kind of silence.

Lafayette remained still, though obviously aware he would be forced to shield the Queen if the people started firing. Then in a dramatic, unprecedented gesture, he turned, took her hand, bowed low and kissed her fingertips.

Vive Lafayette!’ the crowd shouted.

For no other reason than perhaps impressed by her bravery in the face of a hated crowd, everyone rose in a collective roar, ‘Vive la Reine!

Marie Antoinette seemed to fall against Lafayette with relief, before a bodyguard ushered her back inside.

The King agreed to move the royal family from Versailles to Paris, and most of the women began the long trudge home to inform the Parisians of the King’s promises of bread.



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Sunday, 31 July 2022

A Tale of the Flesh

Whilst writing my latest novel, Lake of Echoes, I took inspiration from a magazine article I wrote several years ago about the annual blood peach festival of Soucieu-en-Jarrest. This festival features in Chapter 24 of the book.

Lake of Echoes is currently on promotion for 99c/p for just a few days.

Get your copy HERE
 
 
 


A Tale of the Flesh

By Liza Perrat



A wide banner yawns into the soughing air.

You are cordially invited to our blood peach fair. Sunday September 8. Discover the blood peach in all its guises in Soucieu–en-Jarrest, where the Romans once roamed.

22 kilometers west of Lyon, home to reputed wines, fruit and vegetables, the village of

Soucieu–en–Jarrest nestles in a valley of the Coteaux du Lyonnais (Lyonnaise hills), minding its own business. And on the first Sunday of every September its business is the blood peach.

“So what’s the big deal about peaches?” I ask a local farmer. 
 


“Not just a peach, Madame,” he answers, as if I have personally insulted him. “Our Eastern-born, flavourful fruit with flesh the color of blood. Traditionally blood peaches grew next to the vineyards,” he explains. “They were easy to grow and susceptible to many of the same diseases as the local vines. But the signs of disease are quicker to develop and more obvious on peach trees than on the vines. So, violà, the vine growers would plant peach trees next to their vineyards to warn them of potential problems.”

So, with its questionable history as martyr for the cause, I ask myself if the humble blood peach can now hold its head high as a separate identity?

As Soucieu-en-Jarrest’s 3,000 or so inhabitants and a wealth of fair visitors loudly proclaim its independence, I am certain that the blood peach does retain its place in the arboricultural patrimony of the Coteaux Du Lyonnais, as it has done since the XV11 century.

An explosion of pink geraniums, a sign advertising soupe aux choux and the ruins of the fortified enclosure lost in the revolution announce the village entrance. Fearing a revolution of the intestinal kind, I decline the cabbage soup and head straight for the fruit.

Like a beagle hot on a rabbit trail, my nose takes me to the freshly-baked chaussons, or stewed blood peach slippers, commonly called turnovers. Golden pastries are lined up like, er … slippers, in a dormitory.

“They’re so easy to make,” Marie, the stall holder tells me, aligning her jars of blood peach jam. “Just spread the stewed fruit over the pastry, fold it in half and pop it in the oven for twenty minutes.” 
 


Alongside the turnovers, an elderly man toils over an army-sized steel pot of stewing peaches. His wife breaks up fruit, throwing it into the bubbling magenta mélange. Flicking away stray hair strands, she streaks her face pink and soon resembles an ancient warrior swathed in war paint. 
 


“Stewed peaches take 30 to 45 minutes to cook. For jam it’s one hour,” she informs me.

“And don’t peel the fruit for stewing or for jam,” she warns, waving her wooden spoon threateningly in my direction.

To avoid being crushed like the local wine grapes, I dodge a purple clown on stilts. In his ungainly wake, a troop of majorettes files past. I skip out of the firing line of thrashing pink and green pom-poms and take cover in the stall selling crates of blood peaches, nectar and wine.

A wine maker offers me a glass of white. “You can smell the peaches and apples, n’est-ce pas, Madame?”

“Mmn, delicious,” I say with a nod, savouring the intense, yet charming aroma.

“If Madame would care to try the red too? An exquisite blend of blackberry, blackcurrant and raspberry,” he tells me.

“Sure,” I answer, thinking, and why not the rosé too, while I’m at it?

Finally, nicely mellowed, I thank him and begrudgingly leave Monsieur to his more serious buyers.

“One crate of blood peaches please,” I say to the farmer, whose white apron looks like a

kindergarten finger-painting masterpiece. He hands me a crate, the rounded fruit sticking up like rows of pink baby’s bottoms. “That’s five Euros, Madame.”

Juggling my crate on one arm and slurping a creamy double blood peach sorbet cone in the other, the anonymous voice behind the loudspeaker interrupts the rural conviviality, announcing the folkloric dance group.

Meandering over to the ancient stone front of the Town Hall, I see the Groupe Folklorique de Thurins, a neighbouring commune, is already swinging. Traditional red and yellow skirts flounce as their black lederhosen–clad partners whirl them around the wooden stage. 
 


Sitting cross-legged, the children are unusually quiet. Blood peach ice cream dribbles down their chins, onto their T-shirts and, captivated by the dancers, they nearly miss the start of storytime. We herd the children into the Soucieu library, where a storyteller dressed in a toga recounts a tale of Roman intrigue.

“In forty-three BC, Lyon was the capital of Gaul. It was called Lugdunum and stayed this way for three centuries. The Romans got their water from four aqueducts. These canals were over two hundred kilometers long.” The whites of young eyes flash in the darkened room and the children listen in awed silence as the storyteller unfolds her tale of stolen jewels, culminating in a bloody sword duel atop an aqueduct tower.

Threading through Soucieu-en-Jarrest, the Garon river still bears evidence of Roman presence in the area. The pillars of the Gier Roman and other Gallo-Roman aqueduct ruins tower the forested Garon valley.

Mildly frightened and unaccustomed to the sunlight, the children emerge from the storytelling rubbing their eyes. As well as telling tales, the Soucieu library has organized a taste contest. Blindfolded in turn, the children must identify each of Soucieu’s produce – summer’s tart apricots, raspberries, strawberries, gooseberries and blackberries. The dark pink juice of May’s cherries rolls down their chins and winter pears and apples are crisp.

They become noticeably less enthusiastic when they reach the vegetables - the bright greens and reds of July and August – zucchini, beans, lettuces and tomatoes, then winter’s cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, endives and pumpkin. 
 
 


The setting sun burns the sky the pink and orange hues of surfer’s swimsuits and the background fair music hovers between classical, jazz, modern and occasionally, the indefinable. Tastes of the whole family are accommodated as it is essentially a family day, with something for everyone.

Strategically placed near the bar, some serious competitors are engaged in a pétanque match. The French take this bowling game as seriously as their wine, precisely measuring questionable distances. Soaking up the last of the summer sun, I sip my tangy blood peach cocktail and watch them exclaiming and waving their arms as the metal ball lands where it should, or shouldn’t.

But if your palate is aghast at the idea of a day of blood peach by-products, do not despair. Dolls from many walks of life, a basket-weaving artisan’s wares, glass blown objects, dried flower arrangements and local honey are also displayed. But the shiny tractor–type and harvest machines parked at the end of the street will constantly remind you that this truly is an agricultural community.

As I taste the surprisingly pleasant union of sweet and bland of the white cheese drowned in blood peach sauce at La ferme du Marjon stall, Mr. Loudspeaker orders the crowd to gather for the grande finale.

“And now ladies and gentlemen, Monsieur and Mademoiselle Blood Peach will be named.” Smiling under their dubious honour, the chosen young couple are loudly applauded, with a few wolf whistles thrown in.

The sun begins its inevitable departure behind the hills and on the cusp of autumn, the crisp air begins to nibble at our bones. Mothers drag sweaters from heavily-laden bags, the party winds down and a playful breeze is heard whispering centuries of farming secrets through Soucieu-en-Jarrest’s orchards and vineyards.

Then, under the benevolent eye of the village mayor, this year’s fair ends with a messy blood peach pie race. 
 



 

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Wednesday, 13 July 2022

Happy #Bastille Day #FrenchRevolution

 


Tomorrow, France celebrates the storming of the Bastille on 14th July, 1789, an important event in Paris during the revolution that had begun two days beforehand. Celebrations are held all over the country, and it is a public holiday. And in the evening, in the rural French village in which I live, a party with fireworks is planned.

To celebrate this epic event, I'm running a limited time 99c/p offer of my novel, Spirit of Lost Angels, part of which takes place during the French Revolution.



 Extract from Chapter 39 of Spirit of Lost Angels…

More and more people massed around the burning fortress, smoke flapping into the grim sky like a hero’s flag. Whole families streamed onto the streets. They brought their children, their dogs, to see the fiery spectacle.

I watched Aurore, caught up in the dancing, chanting revellers, and still I could not entice her away from that bloody, triumphant scene. I was about to leave on my own when I heard, amidst the din, a voice calling.

‘Come, Rubie.’

I spun around, wondering whoever was addressing me. My eyes scanned the knot of unfamiliar faces, but besides Aurore, I knew nobody. I heard the voice again. ‘Rubie.’

Whoever would be calling me? Still I recognised no one, then I glimpsed the face of a young girl wearing a scarlet dress, and my hand flew across my mouth.

She was some distance away, but I could make out the cinnamon-coloured curls. My own ten-year old face. I could have sworn too, she was wearing a necklace––a small angel carving perhaps, threaded onto a strip of leather. I felt giddy, and held Aurore’s arm to stop myself fainting.

The girl had turned from me and was vanishing into the crowd. I started pushing people aside, stepping on feet, shoving my way through the throng.

‘Rubie, Rubie, wait. Wait! Don’t leave me again!’ I thought I would burst with desire, with hope, and with the fear I wouldn’t reach her.

Like the river in a summer drought, the girl receded from me, further and further. Then she was gone.

 

Get your discounted copy of Spirit of Lost Angels HERE

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