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Durham, NC 27701

Writing Workshops & Retreats - France, Italy, North Carolina


Chateau Morning

Mimi Herman

Guest Post from April Errickson


It is 7am, time for feet on floor, stumble down the hall, then back again. I shower, dress, arrange my things and try to open the bedroom door without sound. There is no quiet way to leave the gîte. A soft spot in the floor at the head of the stairs starts the multitude of creaks and groans and squeaks, to the front door where the latch kachunks and the foot of the door scrapes across the floor. I look out into the empty space to where the chateau's arm stretches out in front of me. Something above catches my breath, Orion, the constellation that greets me on early morning runs in North Carolina.


The metal grates at my feet make contact with the stone beneath them, and the same low spot where the rains have eroded the gravel, catch my foot and I trip - again before the motion sensor picks up my presence and sends a beacon of light straight into my still dark eyes. My toe catches the first cobble stone - again, and I cross under the ancient stone arch that is overgrown with green vines that I trust thrust into bloom each spring. The scratch of loose sand shifting under my shoes is now the only sound besides a few lonely birds starting their day before sunrise. The looming outline of this castle, chateau, in French is starting to make itself known in the dim reflective light of the distant sunrise.

The knob on the forest green chateau door is in its center. It took days to deftly twist it to unhook the latch on the inside. I swipe the sand off my shoes on the jute mat that rests on the black and white stone tile floor. A spiral staircase to the left beckons me to explore, but the promise of coffee, croissants, pain au chocolate and yogurt is the first order of the day. 


Sometimes I am alone when I enter the chateau, other times when I take a detour to the kitchen, off to the left instead of to the right, in the salon, a lone figure sits before a glowing screen, writing. Wandering into the second salon, another figure reclines on a sunflower colored fainting couch, screen softly glowing there, too. Not wanting to disturb their morning, I head back through the entry hall, into the dining room that is lined with enough chairs for 13 people. An early riser has started the first pot of coffee that was set up the night before. The breakfast routine starts with switching on the remaining two coffee machines filling an aluminum pot with slow flowing water from he tap, turning on the burner that fills the air near me with the smell of gas. I droop the eggs into the water and await the boil, anyone who says a gas stove is hotter than an electric one has not cooked here. I open the fridge to grab the jams and yogurts, the creams and milks and juices. Fresh croissants rest on the counter from prior days' early morning excursions to the boulangerie in town. I set these shatteringly crisp beauties into a reed basket lined with a homemade navy cloth napkin and gather them with the other basket filled with glossy amber pain au chocolat to set them on a sturdy side table in the dining room that could be the same table used for hundreds of years.

Others start to trickle in for coffee, tea and cream. In earnest, now, it is time to set out the breakfast for my fellow writers who have all come to this chateau for the same purpose - the challenge of going places we've never been, both physically in this location, and in our writing.


I'm sitting on a crumbling garden wall overlooking a wild pool of frogs and green algae, being buzzed by bees while tiny white butterflies compete for the same fuchsia blossom. The wind blows through the garden roses that have kept more blooms than I could have expected in the autumn sun. Carpets of moss journey from the slate tile walkway up the tree trunks in the shade. Yellow crocuses rise from the ground, and the Cypress shoot to the blue sky smoked with clouds. A lizard climbs on the back of a snail topiary looking for a high spot to bask. 

Yesterday, I went walking through the perfect rows in the vineyard while a storm blew through. Early autumn leaves swirl overhead, and the trees surrounding the grapes bend toward them, creating an archway overhead to run through. I have to be careful running here, there are mole tunnels that threaten to twist an ankle, but I take it slow, up and around to the packed dirt of the tractor trail that meanders up through the green grass past the bee hives. I continue over the slight incline to a gravel road, 500 years old at least, I was told on my first day here. It is rutted and declines steeply to the narrow road.   

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