Andrew Johnston


ANDREW JOHNSTON lives in Paris, where he works as an editor at the International Herald Tribune. His most recent book is Birds of Europe (Victoria University Press, 2000).

He comments: ‘Les Baillessats is the name of an isolated hamlet in the Corbières, the range of hills (a New Zealander wouldn’t call them mountains) between Perpignan and Carcassonne in the south of France. My wife and son and I rented a place to stay there for two weeks in July 2003, courtesy of Rick and Erin. (We’d heard about it from Jenny Bornholdt and Greg O’Brien, who stayed there with their sons in the summer of 2002; Jen wrote a poem about being there called “Peach, the Jam”, which is in her book Summer.)

‘While we were there we visited several ruined castles that had been refuges for the Cathars, members of a breakaway medieval Catholic cult. I was also reading about the Cathars while we were there, and the last Cathar “Perfect”, or elder, Guillaume Bélibaste, came from Cubières, the village just down the hill from Les Baillessats.

‘It was a magical place to have a holiday – time seemed to stand still, and surround us, in a way that made the Cathar history seem very close. I imagined that the dry-stone walls in the nearby field had been made by them, and perhaps they were. My son Emile was 16 months old at the time, and probably won’t remember that he was there. So I wrote the poem for him.’


Poem: Le Baillessats



New Zealand Book Council writer file


Andrew Johnston

The Page

Victoria University Press

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