Lacaze! Beautiful, welcoming Lacaze, sitting in a verdant bowl of ancient land in the wonderful French department of Tarn down in the South of France. Driving down the switchback lanes the trees slowly thin and the little village creeps into view and then suddenly we are there! The castle standing proudly above the prettily higgledy piggledy old houses, their tile rooftops shining in the sun.
On the bridge approaching the castle the bold yellow and black quilt representing the heraldry of the region hangs high on the wall and then the first sign! An arrow points our path further down into the heart of the place with 70273 lit up in red – but being already confused by the obfuscating sat-nav we were using to find our way, we sailed past it and went a completely different way…. and turned ourselves around on foot instead. We ascend again to the door of the castle where a crowd stands in the doorway and there she is! The shining Jeanne Hewell-Chambers, in brighter than bright red and white, her recently dye-free hair glowing in complement to her radiant outfit. I note the lovely chunky blue stones around her neck and finger and see she is representing each of the countries meeting here today in her red, white and blue.
We toured the castle, itself a monument to the dedication of the village mayor and his diligent team, and their commitment to restore it with the dignity and modern grace befitting such a beautiful structure. The mayor and I talked briefly, hampered as I am by my earnest but faulty French, about how the universe works to provide what is needed once actions are taken, to guide the course of a project whatever the scale. He pointed out a hand lettered poster on one side of the entry way, describing the award-winning work taking place and how modern materials have been used in the restoration work as a deliberate and carefully constructed statement to complement the original stonework so the years sit together in harmony. To underline our discussion, the sign was written for and donated to the restoration project by a master calligrapher who happened to become aware of the site through a chance exchange.
And then it was on to the little chapel down the hill where The 70273 Project quilts were waiting for us. The place was packed full of people when I arrived. I squeezed through and took photos of the wonderful space, so beautifully hung with the project quilts. I tried to listen to the voices in those crosses that had spoken so quietly to me as I worked on my own and other people’s contributions to this project, blocks that I have had the honour to hold in my hands before passing them on to others for piecing and quilting. I could feel their humming presence behind the surface chatter of the people present, their gratitude at being given such a space to sing of their presence and worth.
And this, finally, is what touched me most, despite the noise of the joyful meetings and exchanges that took place in that room that day: the true essence of this grand, international, all-inclusive and heartfelt Project that Jeanne has set into motion is one of listening. Not only do these 70,273 silenced souls – over 8,000 of whom were commemorated in this one exhibition alone – deserve to be remembered; they each and every one of them have been given the chance to sing of their worth, to have their individual stories heard. There is a power in their difference, strength in their vulnerability and above all, there is forgiveness and love. Such a day, such a Project: such a powerful and proud moment in my life and many others.
Thank you to each and every person who has taken part in the Project already and to those who will take up the reins at the front as others take their seats in the back. This special day in Lacaze was perfectly organised and such a pleasure to attend: I am grateful and proud to have been able to meet so many of the lovely French organisers and contributors not least dear Katell who has shared and supported me with the French Facebook group, and the fiercely funny and loveable Cécile Milhaus, without whom the exhibition would not have been such a marvellous success, but many many others too.
Needless to say, us English ladies took the wrong turning as we exited the village: the last image in my mind is of Cécile, the Mayor et al, waving and gesticulating at us to go the other way…. Adieu mes amies du projet 70273! A la prochaine XX