We had asked for a room with a double bed when we'd reserved, always a wise precaution unless you prefer the twins that are much more common in French hotels. None was available, but rather than disappoint us, the hotel staff had upgraded us to a corner suite. We could scarcely believe our eyes. Leaded casement windows opened on to the tiny plaza in front of the cathedral and a breeze billowed tapestry-like curtains in the bedroom and sitting rooms. There was a huge, fragrant bouquet in the foyer. The marbled bathroom featured a walk-in shower the size of a horse stall. The furniture was antique and immaculate and there was art on every wall. That night, out of gratitude but against our better financial instincts, we ate in the hotel dining room. Our suspicion that his was not a room for triflers was confirmed by the wine list, which had the heft of a big-city phone book. Entrées were priced to suit the budget of someone who could actually afford the suite we'd been given. We dined more modestly the following evening, in a boÎte called l'Ostal des Troubadours, a tiny Gypsy café on the main square. The tables were cheek-by-jowel but the cassoulet was rich and fragrant, the wine was cheap and, beside us, a small fenestration through three feet of hewn stone looked out onto the castle keep. In a corner of the room, a classically-trained guitarist entertained. We applauded enthusiastically and our appreciation did not go unnoticed; ours was the first table he visited with outstretched hat when his set ended. He was replaced by a boozy singer-guitarist who announced in heavily accented French that he was a purveyor of Irish love ballads, then blithely launched into Leonard Cohen's Sisters of Mercy. In the morning there was a wedding in the cathedral for us to watch from our private lookout onto the square and we were late for service in the hotel breakfast room. The staff cheerfully set a solitary table for us outdoors beside the deserted swimming pool and served us croissants, brioche, boiled eggs, fresh orange juice and café au laît on starched linen and silver. We wore our straw hats against the sun. A scented breeze riffled the dazzling white table cloth. We were starring, fantastically, in our own movie, a romance that Halliburton might have written had he lived long enough to acquire a taste for the more sybaritic pleasures of travel. Poor Richard, instead, died trying to cross the China sea in a leaky junk, on the eve of World War 2. He was on his way to San Francisco, creating another adventure, and he vanished without a trace. He wasn't yet forty. But he'd made that enchanted moment in Carcassonne possible for us, a gift for which I'll always be grateful.
Anniversary Issue Lay-Out