*tap tap tap tap tap*
Is this thing on?
Yes, hi, hello. HELLO!
Oh man, guys. It’s been a minute, huh?
First things first. I apologize. I fully admit that I’ve been a bad blogger. I know I’m still really new at this and I know that’s not an excuse. I know I’m supposed to come home and, like, immediately start blogging about my trip(s) and sharing my photos and telling my tales. But, as you well know, I literally didn’t do any of that.
I came home from my trip to France heart completely full, but exhausted. Immediately came down with a terrible cold. And dove head first into a project at work that takes up about 95% of my mental energy every day and had me jetting off to Mexico City in August. Life, man. It’s crazy sometimes.
It’s no secret the longer you put something off the harder it becomes to actually bite the bullet and do it. I found it easier to make excuses than to plant myself in front of my laptop for even an hour and just write. The longer it went the more daunting it became, until I’d waited so long that it didn’t even matter anymore. Going one month without posting feels stressful, there’s some pressure there. Two months feels embarrassing and kind of shameful in a way. But three months? Fuck it! At this point none of it matters and I can do whatever I want. So here I am.
It’s better this way, I think, because I needed some time. Even now, three months later, I have a hard time articulating my experience in France and what it meant to me. Sometimes it feels like I dreamed it. There’s no way I could have slapped a blog post together as soon as I got back – I wouldn’t have even known where to start. I needed some space to process my journey and catalog each experience, each moment, placing them lovingly in their places on the shelves of my mind and heart.
There’s also a part of me that was holding off on writing about my trip to the Chateau because writing about it meant that it was really, truly over and I wouldn’t miraculously wake up back in the Chateau tomorrow morning. And I so want to wake up in that chateau tomorrow morning.
Because here’s the thing. That place is magical.
As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been following the project on Instagram for years. I’ve seen photos of the chateau and its rooms and its grounds from every angle. But there is nothing that could have prepared me for seeing it in person with my own two eyes. It is dusty and still run down and crumbling in places, and somehow stately and more beautiful than I ever imagined it would be.
I’m planning a series of posts on my time there – our activities, the food (THE FOOD!), the chateau itself. But before for I do, there are two initial thoughts I wanted to share.
I know I already said it’s magical. I wasn’t exaggerating. Chateau de Gudanes is truly a special place. This is thanks, in no small part, to the chateau’s owner, Karina Waters.
Karina – owner, visionary, prankster, head camp counselor, and free spirit – is an amazing woman. I already adored the Chateau from a distance before my trip. Now I have entirely new appreciation for the project and the people behind it. She has so wholly embraced the history of her home, the culture of the region, and the chateau itself. Hers is an infectious love. When you see how she loves and respects this place, you love and respect it even more because you can see it through her eyes. To say it’s inspiring doesn’t begin to cover it.
The first night we met as a group in Toulouse, Karina greeted each of us by name with a warm hug. Imagine that. We didn’t need to introduce ourselves, she already knew who we were. To travel that far and that long and be greeted by a stranger who actually feels like an old friend? Incredible.
That hospitality and generosity of spirit extended to every nook and cranny of that chateau. The thought and level of care put into every tiny little detail was astounding. It made me want to pay it forward; to open my arms and my heart to the world and make everyone in my life feel warm and welcome and at home too.
The week after I got back from the chateau, I was telling someone about my trip. With mock-disbelief and a teasing grin, he declared he could not believe I didn’t fall in love while I was there. Just couldn’t believe it! I laughed and told him since I was there with all women and a gay man, it would have been quite a surprise for all of us had that happened.
But then he looked at me and, in all seriousness, posed this question: “Well. Did you fall in love with yourself while you were there?”
I really did.
In the absence of most modern technology, a space was created in our lives. A surprisingly huge space that I am incredibly grateful for because in that space we all flourished. In that space true self-reflection and contemplation was allowed to take place. In that space real connection was allowed to blossom. In that space we were free to be exactly who and what we wanted to be.
Being at that place with that group of people soothed my soul. I was reminded of and rediscovered all the best parts of myself, my favorite parts, some that I’d been neglecting or suppressing for so long. I remembered all the reasons why I’m awesome (mes amies, there are a lot) and reclaim them for myself. I was given the space to be creative and silly and serious and let my freak flag fly and not apologize for any of it.
Not only did I get to experience it for myself, but I saw my companions experiencing the same thing. Day after day, learning and loving a little bit more. It was a wondrous thing to behold. Transformation is not meant to be a solo journey and I’m so grateful for my summer camp family and what we learned from each other.
So. I returned from the chateau not quite the same woman I was when I arrived, but somehow feeling more like myself than perhaps ever before. And over the last three months the lessons I learned there, the strength and the peace I found, the plain old wonder of it all continues to reveal itself in waves. I’m excited to share it all with you (and selfishly excited to have an excuse to relive it all again). I hope you’re still here and want to read. I hope maybe you’ll find some plain old wonder in it all too.
Alors. On y va.