UK/France Trip Cancelled

It’s official, I probably won’t be traveling to France, Belgium, and the UK this year. Dad was going to help out but says the cost would be prohibitive (I suspected as much).

Instead, there is a very good chance that my fiance and I will be spending some time in Marin County, CA seeing some sites from my most recent past life.

Bitter Irony

Reconstructing what I was like in the 13th century- someone who was trying to advance in the cutthroat world of medieval politics- builds the picture of an opportunist albeit a very idealistic one.  Someone who played carefully by the rules and never rocked the boat.  Someone I couldn’t really relate to nowadays.

And now I think I know what changed me.

At the Battle of Bouvines in 1214, King John was risking everything to maintain and expand his territories in France.  The future of Europe was at stake.

If we had won, I would have been in a prime position to advance from an Anglo-Norman earl to a proper Norman duke.  Every nobleman in England aspired to one day hold land in France.

701 years later, I finally became a landowner in almost precisely the part of France where I’d fought for it so long ago.  That’s what we called it back in 1915 when you were dead and buried.

What a bitter irony.  I’m starting to think there is more to this Karma thing than meets the eye.  Apparently, you can get spanked by it pretty hard.

Pretty Sure I Heard This Song in 1915…

“Le Temps des Cerises” is a 19th century French ballad and an old standard.  The moment I first heard this song I had an inkling that I knew it, but I thought it was written for the movie Porco Rosso.

It turns out it was actually written much earlier, around 1866, and is deeply engrained in the French psyche (the song is strongly associated with the Paris Commune, though it pre-dates this event by several years).

No doubt it would have been known and sung by French soldiers and civilians alike along the Western Front.  Certainly, in a town where French identity is as strong as it is in Armentieres, it would have been a well-known song.

This isn’t the first song I have associated with John’s life and discovered that the songs were very likely songs he knew.  I seem to have a strong memory and tenacity for music across lifetimes.

The first song I had the feeling of knowing from a past life was the song “Henery the Eighth.”  As a child in this life I had heard the Herman’s Hermits version on the radio, and I could perfectly imagine what the song had sounded like being sung in a pub by drunk Edwardian workmen.  It turns out, the song dates from 1910 and was a huge music hall hit for Harry Champion.

As a very young child, the Burl Ives song “Lavender’s Blue” would make me cry.  My mother in this life thought it was the sound of the violins hurting my ears; all I could articulate to her was that the song made me sad.  It turns out it was an English folk song going back at least to Victorian times and I now suspect it may have been a song that John’s mother sang to him before her death in 1885; I still cried when I heard the song more than a hundred years later and never knew why.

Same with Scarborough Faire, also a Victorian song.  I knew the Simon and Garfunkel version from a young age and it gave me a weird feeling, flashes of walking through ruined castles and abbeys but in a more modern age.  This was the song that put the image in my head of a place I knew I had been but couldn’t nail down, the reason I asked to go to Mepkin Abbey (an active Cistercian monastery near Charleston, SC) on my 21st birthday.

Cwm Rhondda was a tune I’d first heard on “One Foot in the Grave” in a parody version.  It sounded terribly familiar and I later discovered it was a melody first performed in 1907 and that John lived in a part of England barely outside of Wales where there is still a strong Welsh identity.

Maybe music will help me remember my current life more clearly too?  It seems music has always been a trigger for me.  I develop close emotional resonances with songs and I know a tune I once loved in another life when I hear it.  I know it over a song that is simply a “favorite” or that I “kind of like.”  It’s independent of whether I like the song too much or not.  It’s a feeling of intense familiarity, sometimes good and sometimes unpleasant.

Maybe this is why I gravitate toward musicians and singers in this life.  I’m engaged to one, actually.  Maybe, if enough copies of his work survive, he’ll be my sign post to remember this life and what I’ve learned so far.

Worth Sharing

A video slide show someone did of Ferme Buterne:

At about 2:05 there is a shot of John’s grave with the tree in the shot. The fence, the placement of the grave at the end of a row, the proximity of the tree to the grave, and its relative position to the grave are all spot on with what I saw. The tree has not grown over the grave to any appreciable extent but rather adjoins it closely, so it isn’t that much bigger than I remember seeing. I had assumed that this tree had grown over the grave long ago like the corresponding tree across the way, which would make my memory of the tree being solidly beside the grave likely to be from a time somewhat more recent than Phil’s visit to France in 1977, perhaps even an instance of remote viewing (though I am still uncomfortable with that idea somehow).

It still bothers me that I was wrong about the surrounding area and the layout of the headstones though (I thought it was in an urban area with another 3-4 rows of headstones to the left of John’s row, turned 90 degrees to his grave). It keeps the skeptical part of me alert that the things I was right about (including memories going back to John’s childhood) may have been an incredibly lucky guess. I suppose I’ll never know for sure but I feel like I know too much to be entirely free of the thought that I might have been right about all this.


I’ve begun discussing plans for next year’s trip to Ypres in earnest.

Currently, the plan is to visit not just Flanders, but to re-trace both John Harris and William Longespee’s steps.  This will not be particularly difficult to do because the two lived and were active in the same regions of the world for the most part.

Still trying to finalize exactly how many places I’m going to see.  Ypres, Houplines, Salisbury, Shrewsbury, and Hereford are at the top of my list, obviously.  My trip to Ypres will definitely include stops at Bellewaerde/Railway Wood, Hill 60, and Tyne Cot though I may also go to Langemarck as well… I did put a few men in there after all and I feel I owe them more respect than I gave them.

Then of course, I feel I have to go see John’s grave though I have to say the thought of being there brings a lump to my throat.  I still don’t know what I’ll do or say or if I’ll even say anything.  I may just ask for a moment alone under that willow tree and meditate for a bit since that seems the only really honest thing to do.  

Since it’s so close, a trip to Bouvines is also likely.  Those wounds have healed long ago, but the extreme coincidence of being captured and then killed in battle about 700 years and a few kilometers apart has not escaped me.

I would like to go to Ile de Re simply because my memories of Longespee’s twilight days at the abbey there, though sparse, aren’t unpleasant.  I’m also very eager to go to Fontrevaud Abbey to pay my respects to Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine, and above all Richard I (wish I knew what became of him in his later lives).  

Ideally, I would like to leave France via ferry from Le Havre since that’s where John disembarked for Flanders.  I guess this is more a matter of ritual than anything and it brings the whole thing full circle.  If time doesn’t allow for that, I may have to make a concession to 21st century realities and catch the Eurostar from Brussels or Paris, but that will give me more time in England.

As for spots in England, I’m not sure if I want to go back to Dover Castle since English Heritage have gone a bit Disneyland on the place but if I do go, I’m probably going to stop in Canterbury since there’s a good chance I had been there as William; after all, as the son of Henry II, it would have been politically adroit to make a pilgrimage to the shrine of Thomas A Beckett.  A lot of this will depend on if I go ferry or Eurostar back to England.

Shrewsbury Castle is an absolute must, since it’s one of several spots relevant to more than one past life.  As Longespee, I was Sheriff of Shropshire and the castellan of Shrewsbury Castle, and it just so happens that the Shropshire Regimental Museum (which houses the archives of John’s regiment, the KSLI) is also there. 

If time allows, I’d like to also see some people and places from my current life that I haven’t seen in nearly a decade.  I’ve got loads of friends in and around London who would be very glad to see me.  I’ve also got a close friend some miles outside of Bristol who I’m very anxious to see again, and another in (I think) Banbury whom I’ve only spoken to online; both of them know about John, incidentally.  

Make no mistake, though, this is mainly a pilgrimage in the truest sense of the word and I can’t say I will be entirely comfortable going back to Ypres and Houplines; I’m going there first so that I can finally let go.  I guess I’ll always be sad for what happened to John and I’ll always have lingering questions as to whether I could have possibly been the same person, but I’ve become so involved in the story and uncovered so many twists that it hardly matters any more.

Memory Fragment

I just had a flash of a Zouave (French colonial soldier).  He was lighter-skinned than the others, looked to be a fair-skinned Arab or Berber, but his mustache was just like the ones worn by the home grown Poilus.  I think he was an officer whose hair was the same golden tone as his skin and whose nose was aquiline, and it seems like it was common for the low-ranking native officers among the colonial regiments of France and britain both to be fair-skinned and with features that fit the European image of nobility.

I will owe some apologies if this turns out to be false.

By the way, the bravery of the colonial troops is sometimes dismissed because they fled from the gas, but at that point their position was not tenable because the gas would have killed too many of them to hold the line.  Anyone who understands strategy would have approved of a retreat in this case.  Their retreat could have been more orderly, but the gas was moving quickly and was causing real problems that had to be dealt with then and there.  If there was anything lacking it wasn’t bravery, but planning for the eventuality of an unstoppable offensive action and that was not unusual among commanders of the day.  If the French were attempting to follow the British strategy of no retreat, ever, then that’s not the fault of the colonial troops faced with losing the line completely or getting away fast.

Thoughts on Medieval Occitan

Listening to this mix of Troubadour music, I can’t help but notice that the language I’m hearing, though considered a dialect of medieval French, is much closer to Spanish.

Compare the phrase for “good companion” evidenced in the song “Reis Glorios.”

In Occitan, the phrase used is “Bel companion” which is closer to “handsome/beautiful companion” if translated literally.

In modern French, it’s “bon copain.”

In modern spanish, it’s “Buen compañero”

Interestingly, by the way, I have some ties to Spain.  My father was in the Air Force, and I spent my formative years exploring castles, art museums, and Roman ruins in the heart of Spain, in and around Madrid, Segovia, and Toledo.  I’m still not sure if my love of antiquity came from past lives, or if I seem to remember past lives because of a learned love of antiquity.  What I do know was that where a lot of kids would be bored, I was eager to explore the castles and churches of central Spain with my family and always managed to enjoy myself at an age when most kids can’t wait to get home in time for Sesame Street.

I hadn’t really thought about how the language and setting might have influenced me, whether by cryptomnesia and suggestion or by giving me some wiggle room for anamnesis.

I went back to Spain in 2000; I didn’t spend much time in Madrid but rather spent most of my time in and around Barcelona, where they speak Catalan which sounds more like Portuguese than Occitan.