I bade a silent farewell to Le Presbytere - the 15th century property that seems always to welcome us with open arms, located as it is on the Santiago de Compostela pilgrimage trail. This year's Retreat received a good omen even before I left Heathrow. In ordering breakfast at Pret a manger, I distracted the server by chatting to her and she forgot to include the coffee. When I came to pay she said "there's no charge". Bemused I sat down and looked at my receipt which said: "Joy giveaway". Whether she was called Joy or it was the name given to this discretionary giveaway, my admiration for the brand went up a notch.
This year in the Tarn valley the weather was unseasonable HOT for June. The swimming pool provided a welcome respite after a morning of reflective practice through somatic movement, creative arts and writing, enjoyed under the trees in the garden with the air full of the fragrance of roses in full bloom. Here's one woman's experience who is an HR Manager:
"Mary did a great job to try and meet everyone's individual needs. The surroundings were just fantastic and I loved being with such wonderful, wise women. I will never forget my time there. What it has done for me, to coin an awful phrase, was to lance a boil. And boy, oh boy did that boil need to be lanced! "
"When I got back I felt totally and utterly overwhelmed with everything - my grief for the recent loss of my partner, my son's long-term illness, other losses and also everything that's happened at work. I realised I was so stressed that I went to see a Doctor and, for the first time in my life, have been signed off for two weeks with "stress and bereavement reaction".
"I am giving myself time now to really heal. I do meditation, my writing first thing in the morning as I did on the Retreat. I'm seeing friends occasionally but mainly giving myself the space that's so needed. The Retreat therefore was the tipping point for me to really focus on healing me."
During one of our daily late-afternoon excursions (this one to beautiful Albi), I sat in the palace grounds overlooking the river while the group visited the Toulouse Lautrec museum.
I was gobsmacked because that's exactly what we were doing on this Retreat as adults and delighted to learn this reflective practice is already embraced by young students across the pond.
A young American student came to sit beside me and got out a small watercolour set and started to paint. She had been given 40 minutes downtime to sit in silence and to reflect on what engaged her attention in the moment and to capture the essence of this on paper. She was from a special creative school in Boston and this was normal.
After six days of this heavenly lifestyle, I put the last remaining guests on the little train back to England (lol) and headed directly for the Languedoc coast in the black 'limousine', now a little over-sized for one person
Once I spied the sparkling sea, I took a sharp right turn onto the A9 and headed for Collioure close to the Spanish border. It's a very picturesque, historic harbour town encircled by a ring of mountains with a beautifully preserved castle and church, both on the waterfront. All the beaches are within walking distance, plenty of very good cafes and restaurants to choose from, and there's an abundance of artist and artisan shops to browse.
As I sat sipping my cold beer in a beach bar on the first evening, I watched as a woman in her mid 70s arrived on the sand. She was wearing full bikini briefs and a lacy bra, which restrained her copious breasts. In full view of cocktail hour drinkers she took delight in spraying herself with water, graceful in the way she moved while her flesh bore all the marks and veins of a life well-lived.
She wasn't the only older person enjoying the sea at this time of day. The hours before sunset seem to attract all those for whom the sun is too bright during the day yet the water now at it's warmest. It was a delight to behold.
She was however the only older woman to be photographed as she gracefully emerged from the sea. A man in his 40's had also appeared on the beach brandishing a camera. "Oh", I thought, "how lovely he's doing a photographic study of the older woman's body!" Then he put a towel around her shoulders and patted her dry. "Oh, it's his mother", I thought "what a tender gesture that is!" And then they kissed on the lips...."Oh, ....!"
It was his turn to strip off, his body virgin-like in comparison to hers. She held his camera as he hobbled over the stones to the sea, shivering as he took infant steps into the water, meeting the sea with resistance whereas she had met it with joy. He lasted three minutes and she was waiting for him with the same towel to pat him dry.
There must have 30 years between them and they were obviously in love. Vive la France for being so liberal-minded in matters of love. Vive l'amour. Perhaps I should move to France to increase my chances.