though I don't tend to linger.
I've learned of quite a few early music ensembles over time, but there are even more that come up on Ancient FM that I never knew about: the Dufay Collective, the Baltimore, Waverly and Toronto Consorts, Sequentia and more. But one of the best things was a reminder of Gothic Voices' album 'The Castle of Fair Welcome'. The station's playlists seem to change at intervals, but to be repeated and shuffled for a period, so for a time a couple of weeks ago the Dufay piece 'Ne je ne dors', one of my favourite tracks from the album, came up several times, and it took me back nearly twenty years, so I found myself stopped in my tracks, heart lifted, giddy with nostalgia. I bought the 'The Castle of Fair Welcome' on a cassette, so it had no notes, words or translations with it, around the time we were first married, and we played it endlessly, especially on the car stereo in the old BX; in more ribald moments we referred to it as 'The Castle of Easy Access'. For me it brings back early morning roads through Normandy off the ferry, and winding down through France in early May a week or two after we were married, the walls and turrets of Montreuil-Bellay where we stayed in a dour and ancient hotel with a spiral stone staircase and where the rosé tasted of strawberries, the first sight of silvery stretches of the Loire, and the yellow stones of the Charente and the Perigord where there were nightingales in the trees and wild marjoram in the hedgerows, and we stayed in a tiny house with deep-set windows and lizards on the sills.
We can't seem to find many photos from that time; we argue as to whether there really were more and if so what happened to them. But there are some and I've scanned a few:
one of those bastide or hillside towns in the Dordogne - Domme, perhaps, or Sarlat? I never labelled or wrote on photos then, always assumed I'd remember...
again, I'm not sure where, but I seem to recall this was a one-woman art gallery somewhere;
me in the garden of the gîte;
Tom doing the Boyhood of Raleigh at Montreuil-Bellay.
That was before we had a digital camera, and before we had a dog, or a house of our own, or a garden, before we had all the years we have now, of marriage and life in France, of life altogether. I don't know how real all these memories are, they are of course light-filled and rosy, like the wine in Montreuil-Bellay, and selective - the house over the road from our honeymoon gîte was the second home of some snooty rich Eurocrats from Brussels, there was a small aerodrome nearby and the planes droned and whined overhead annoyingly for too much of the time, but I can't remember much else that was wrong... I'm not even sure we had the cassette with us, or whether it's all become blurred through an association of experiences and feelings so I just think we did. But I think we did. I'm not given to remembering the past over-romantically; I tend in fact to pick out the flaws with hindsight and remember the things which make me wince; I am given to regret and remorse, and not someone who finds it easy to connect with my past selves with much pleasure, and yet to be taken back to that particular time is sweet indeed.
I'm happy now too, of course.
The songs on 'The Castle of Fair Welcome' are mostly polished pieces of courtly convention from the late middle ages, the words formulaic and unimportant, the an exaggerated pose of abasement and adoration, 'Ne je ne dors' included:
I neither sleep nor wake
such is my agitation
all I can do is sigh...
anguish with open eyes urges me
to die with weeping
The exception is Christine de Pisan's 'Deuil angoisseux', though you wouldn't necessarily know it. For the outpourings of her 'anguished grief... a doleful heart living in darkness... bitter distress endured in secret' are not, as might appear, further striking of attitudes from a man melodramatically relishing the role of courtly lover, but the grief of a widow for the death of her husband.
The cassette of 'The Castle of Fair Welcome' was chewed up by the player in the BX at some point not long after - that car always did have a mean streak - and we stopped playing much music as we drove after that, and didn't replace it with a CD recording, perhaps there wasn't one readily available. It wasn't till it came up on the radio that it occurred to me to do so, and the internet made it easy. It's reassuringly as beautiful as ever, though Tom can't hear the subtleties of the harmonies as well as he could. 'Ne je ne dors' is still one of my favourites; it's quite a sedate piece, I suppose, repetitive perhaps, but as each cycle comes to an end I long for it to start over again, which, happily, it does, many times. And with a piece of music one loves, unlike many things, it's possible to go back to the beginning and play it all over again. There seems to be only one other version of it on-line, or on You-tube anyway, which is by the Medieval Ensemble of London. It's probably more authentic, and lovely too in its own way when you get used to the relatively harsh and slightly dissonant sound of it, but not as rich and pleasing as the Gothic Voices version. So I've made a video of that, as I haven't done one of those for a bit. The images are from the tapestries of the Lady and the Unicorn and Les Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, which are roughly contemporary with the song in both time and place.