Coming Home to Pau

Writing Residency Day 0 : Coming home to Pau

I’m in love. With Pau. Again.

There’s something about the town of Pau that never ceases to capture my heart and make it brim over with happiness. Is it something to do with the sunny weather, or the exotic vegetation of magnolia and palm trees?

Actually, I’m pretty sure it’s simply the Boulevard des Pyrénées – not the castle, the classy architecture and the casino on the town side, but the view over the woody foothills of the Pyrenees and the promise of the shadowy mountains beyond.

I stopped in Pau overnight because I was invited by the Pau So British club to join them at their monthly drinks meeting and tell them about the Tree Magic talk I’ll be giving in Arras-en-Lavedan during my writing residency at the Maison des Arts. Pau is right on my road, so it made sense to book an overnight stay.

Ha ha: I’ve convinced myself that this is why I stopped in Pau. But it was actually just a good excuse. I decided to come back to Pau because the town is special to me: it’s the place I chose when I first came to France, aged 26 and in love with a Frenchman.

The first time I stepped off the train and saw the cluster of palm trees, the hint of mountains, the quaint funicular and the green parks around the university, I knew this is where I wanted to spend my year learning French. Also, it was only an hour from my Frenchman in Dax.

It was in Pau that I realised that although I’d chosen to live France instead of doing an MA in Creative Writing somewhere in England, nothing was stopping me writing. This was thanks to the inspiring French literature lessons from my FLE teacher at the ‘fac’, Martine Fiévet,who was also a writer. It was in Pau that I won my first short story competition (ok, there were only about 10 entries, but still…)

So maybe my feeling of happiness was nostalgia, mixed with the knowledge that I had a whole week of writing residency ahead of me in my favourite part of France.

As luck would have it, the room I reserved on AirBnb was actually an independent studio in the basement of a villa, with a little garden at my disposal and the beautiful Parc Beaumont nearby. The hosts were young and friendly, the room was perfect and I was walking on air after a trip down Boulevard Nostalgia. I was also only a few hundred metres from the venue for the Pau So British meeting.

In fact, my bed was close to the Villa Nitot, the family home of the 19th century British doctor who encouraged his British patients to come to Pau to convalesce. This resulted in many of them staying and forming the strong English community that continues to this day.

I thought my day couldn’t get any better – until I met the French, American, Hungarian and British members of Pau So British at the 5* hotel Villa Navarre. They welcomed me with a glass of the sweet local Jurançon wine and the most generous interest in my work. If you’re in the Pau area, you must look up this club of friendly people, who organise a whole series of outings (including a forthcoming trip to Madeira).

Despite the effects of the wine – and thanks to the relaxed company – I managed to tell the audience about the activities in the Val d’Azun this weekend. If you’ve read my last blog post, you’ll know that these include the ceramics and photography exhibitions at the Maison des Arts, the mountain festival Eldorando, the Estaing Transhumance – and my talk at Le Kairn bistro-bookshop about my journey to publication.

They kindly invited me to eat with them, and I could have listened to their fascinating stories all night – but I didn’t want to overstay my welcome. As it was, I was so absorbed in chatting to adventure journalist and ultra-trail specialist Tobias Mews, that the tables were laid around us and the entrées served before I could tear myself away.

It was a wonderful beginning to my week of freedom. If the whole residency continues like this, I won’t want to go home!

Hope to be back tomorrow with an update on the first day of my residency, so see you then.

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