At the Monaco Yacht Club with Prince Albert and American Susan Feaster, longtime friend and former neighbor, who invited us to fete Americans competing in the US vs. Europe celebrity golf tournament that she founded and hosts each year. Susan is a remarkable woman, and we are lucky to have her again as our neighbor, she in Monaco and we in Nice. It was our first maskless outing since Covid restrictions were eased in France and first time meeting royalty. A memorable event.
My FICTION IN PROGRESS page has five excerpts:
- Start of Chapter 1
Please feel free to comment as you like, on all of them at once or any one of them. Your feedback will be greatly appreciated, whether constructive criticism, praise, or something else. If you have a question, ask away. I will do my best to answer it promptly.
Nice's Carnaval (Carnival) is canceled this year. Instead, we have the literally and figuratively grotesque Carnavalovirus, which by the way is not so over the top when compared to Carnaval characters and floats of bygone years. Interested in seeing more photos and videos about my life in France? Go to @judithw.richards on Instagram, where I post about the arts, serendipitous discoveries, and other things that interest me.
I was going through old photos and came across this one of my sister Sharon and me, taken in 2003. Sharon had come to Amsterdam, where David and I had rented an apartment for five weeks, to celebrate her 40th birthday. We took in museums and a Yo Yo Ma concert and were delighted when our mutual friend Englishman Lloyd Briscoe surprised us with a visit. Sharon's birthday was celebrated at the charming Restaurant 't Zwaantje (The Little Swan) on Berenstraat not far from our apartment on the Prinsengracht. Nice memory.
DID YOU KNOW? In Amsterdam, you can visit the Begijnhof, a fascinating and tranquil Catholic compound.
The Begijnhof is in the heart of the city and was established shortly after the 1345 miracle. It is the home of the Beguine sisterhood, who are not nuns or typical Catholics. The Begijnhof plays an important part in my story because fictional Aunt Margaretha is a Beguine. She is well-educated, spiritual, tends toward mysticism, and is devoted to helping the needy. She teaches literacy and religious principles in the vernacular and not in Latin, which the church hierarchy frowns upon, along with the Beguines' mysticism. Margaretha came to the order with her own money to buy a house in the Begijnhof and is a savvy investor.
After Protestants took over Amsterdam's government in 1578, they seized Catholic facilities, and banned the annual Miracle Procession and Catholic worship in public. The church within the Begijnhof was taken over, but the Begijnhof residences were untouched because they were private, not church, property. When the large Holy Place church on the miracle site was confiscated, its holy relics, including the miracle Holy Communion host, were entrusted to the Beguines. After 1578, the Beguines started holding clandestine church services in their homes.
House 34 is the oldest residence in the Begijnhof and probably the oldest in Amsterdam. The last Beguine died in 1971, and now the Begijnhof is home to about a hundred unmarried women.
In 1345 a miracle occurred in Amsterdam involving a Holy Communion host that had been given to a dying man, which he vomited up. The host was thrown into the fire, did not burn, and instead levitated above the flames. The site of the man's house became a pilgrimage destination similar to Santiago de Compostela. Holy Roman Emperor Maximillian came and so did Charles V. Successively larger churches were built on the site, and nineteen or so monasteries and convents were constructed nearby. Streets acquired names such as Heiligeweg (Holy Way), Gebed Zonder End (Prayer Without End), and Kreupelsteeg (Crippled Pilgrims), which are still in use today.
The miracle is important to my story because fictional Papa, who converted from Catholicism to Calvinism as an adult, fondly remembers participating in the Miracle Procession that commemorated the event in March each year. As a child, he wore a devil costume and marched alongside little girls dressed as angels, with wings and all. When older, he and his classmates sang as they walked and stopped periodically to perform a short play about St. George slaying a dragon. The procession was full of pageantry and involved everyone of importance, including the guilds, cloisters, and archer groups that carried candles, banners, and paintings of their patron saints.
The miracle is also relevant to my fictional Aunt Margaretha, a Catholic Beguine, which you will read about in my next Did You Know? post.
When Protestants took over Amsterdam's government in 1578, they banned the Miracle Procession and seized the large Holy Place church on the miracle site. It was not until the mid-1800s that the procession was again allowed, but the Holy Place church continued to be largely disused until 1910 when it was finally dismantled. If you want to learn more about the miracle and Amsterdam in general, start with Russel Shorto's very informative book, Amsterdam: A History of the World's Most Liberal City.