Saturday, June 30, 2007

Two French Gentlemen

Two French gentleman stood at the back of our pick-up looking at the sticker on the rear window. The older of the two gentlemen, whose name I believe is Camille, can barely see and speaks no English whatsoever, and at times I think he is fairly deaf. He has probably seen more than 80 summers here in Leran. The other old duffer was in his late 60's or perhaps his 70's, and it seemed he spoke pretty good English.
I did not want this blog to become political in any way but this incident was too precious to pass up. Anyway, the sticker in question is this one to the left. We display one on both of our trucks and Nancy and I put them on back in 2004 after the election. The sticker arrived in Barcelona in good shape with the rest of the truck and has been puzzling the French ever since.
So......Camille and the other old fellow (whom I will call Jean-Paul, because it seems almost every French guy is Jean-something) were standing behind the truck. Jean-Paul was reading the sticker in English, saying "Monsieur Booosh....." and translating the rest into French for Camille. They both nodded sagely and then Jean-Paul said in the most perfect English "I quite agree."

Friday, June 29, 2007

We Need Your Help

We hope you've been enjoying reading North of Andorra and hearing about what we are up to. We've tried very hard to keep it interesting and readable. We've taken lots of photos from everywhere we've gone and posted the better more interesting ones. We've done research and written thousands of words.

Now, we'd like your help. We are suffering from severe lack of creativity due to long hours of plastering, carpentering, cleaning and moving furniture around. So....please tell us what you want to hear about. Suggest a trip or an excursion. Ask a question. Propose a photo essay or a theme for a post. Ask about what you think has been sorely missing from the blog. What haven't we touched on?

Alternatively, send us an e-mail and tell us what you are up to. You know what we're doing but for the most part, we don't have a clue what our friends in the United States are doing. (Out of sight, out of mind. N'est pas.)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Joist a Walk in the Park

We dropped Mathilde off at the Toulouse airport on Sunday, and since we didn't hear about KLM airlines suddenly loosing altitude because of excess carry-on baggage we assume she made it OK. Mathilde, the French economy regrets your departure; and we sure appreciate all the treats you showered on us. Even though she came fully expecting to work (and bringing the latest state-of-the art gloves for all of us) it was in Mathilde's so-called bedroom where the action would be happening. So, we respectfully traded construction for tourist activities.

No more excuses not to work, and the lure of centuries-old soot and cobwebs only a nostril hair away, we are back at it. The 'sponginess' in the floor joists on the deuxieme etage (the USA equivalent of the 3rd floor---the ground floor doesn't count) resulted in our pulling up the existing OSB subflooring and beginning the lengthy process of figuring out how to remove the 10 oak joists. The spaces between the joists were not equal and some of them had a rather prominent bend in more than one plane. I think Doug mentioned earlier that there was also a fairly dramatic slant to this floor. We could have handled the lack of plumb but the sponginess was too scary. The combination called for elimination.

The joists were embedded in the exterior stone wall at various depths and by various mechanisms, not always apparent. Sometimes they would pull out but more often not, so that they had to be sawn off flush with the wall. Battery-powered saws are good for cutting through wimpy American pine and fir, but definitely not two hundred year old oak, even oak with a bad case of woodworm. In an effort to introduce job safety, Doug tied a rope around an adjacent joist, then drew the rope under the joist to be removed and looped it around the adjacent joist on the other side to support it once it was set free. No additional trips to the hospital were required by this procedure. We hauled the old timbers in to the Depot Vente Brocante (similar to a antique/secondhand store) where we consigned them for 25 Euro each, and if they sell we collect 14 Euro each. Structurally they are no good, but for someone wanting that "instant rustic" look they will serve the purpose.

The challenge of installing the new solive du sapin (fir floor joists) was figuring out how to hang them so that the floor would actually approach level. Along the exterior wall where possible, Doug used L brackets to attach them to the header beam, which was 4 or 5 inches off plumb itself. The joists had to be notched or shimmed in varying degrees to reach level at the opposite end where they sat upon a cross beam.

It doesn't take long to realize that so many of these renovations are cobbled together at best because over the centuries things have settled, walls have been removed, windows have been put in/taken out, beams replaced, plumbing and electrical installed in stone walls, yet these houses still stand. New construction is clean, precise, square, level. This is everything but. But it is full of stress, frustration, tension, misinterpretations. Anyone who has ever engaged in DIY knows what I mean. In case you're wondering, we were still speaking to each other when we went to bed.

Note the darker, sagging old floor joist and the lighter, straighter replacements.

The water heater sits in the corner of the deuxieme etage, perched on three spindly legs and brackets against the wall but no bolts. It sat squarely on one of the joists that had to be removed. First step was to drain the water from the heater, so that at least if it did take a tumble, we might not be scalded or be crushed to death. Doug borrowed a stanchion from a friend down Cours St. Jacques, but since it wasn't quite long enough, he erected a 'recipe for disaster' platform to raise it up. It involved the jack from the truck and a stack of the 2 foot long ends cut off the new floor joist. After a few Erector Set experiments he got it to levitate the water heater long enough to saw out the joist, slide in a new one and create a secure landing and refill the water heater. And we were able to launder out a few layers of soot and cobwebs from various body parts that night.

I should add that at the onset of this project I insisted that we invest in a DIY's best friend---un aspirateur....or a shop vac. Can't go anywhere without it. (We now have about four of them on two continents.)

Sunday, June 24, 2007

More About Carcassonne

Below, you'll find a brief, but still incredibly boring history of Carcassonne. My pictures show Nancy and Mathilde posing for posterity, an ancient well inside the gates, the plaza where we had lunch, and three pictures of the fortifications. As you may read in the history, the fortifications were restored beginning in 1853 and debate rages till this day about the quality and character of the restoration. Was it historically accurate? No. Did they destroy some anthropologically and culturally significant features? No doubt. Did they save what might have become a large pile of rubble and a source of building block for all of southern France? Yes. Should they have restored it all? Who knows. But is it also unfair to judge the actions of people in 1853 using our knowledge base and standards from 2007?
In any case you can look at the walls and see various kinds of stone and differing types and quality of masonry work. And you can only wonder what the town looked like before restoration began. Did the original walls contain such a variety of stonework or is this an effect of the restoration? If the roofs weren't pointed, and they weren't, what did the city look like from a distance?
What is missing here is a picture of the town from a distance to show the incredible size of the fortifications and the scope of the city. You will have to come and see for yourself, hopefully in the shoulder season, rather than July or August. And having seen pictures of Carcassone lit up at night, that would be something to experience. Check out Carcassonne on the internet for yourself.

A Brief and Abridged History of Carcassonne. Edited from Wikipedia.
Carcassonne became strategically identified when Romans fortified the hilltop around 100 BC and eventually made it the colony of Julia Carsaco. The main part of the lower courses of the northern ramparts dates from Gallo-Roman times.

In 462 the Romans officially ceded Septimania to the Visigothic king Theodoric II. In 508 the Visigoths successfully foiled attacks of the Frankish king Clovis. Saracens from Barcelona took Carcassonne in 725, but King Pippin the Younger drove them away in 759. In 760, Pippin took most of the south of France, although he was unable to penetrate the impregnable fortress of Carcassonne.

In 1067 Carcassonne became the property of the Trencavel family allied in succession either with the counts of Barcelona or of Toulouse. They built the Château Comtal and the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire. In 1096 Pope Urban II blessed the foundation stones of the new cathedral, a Catholic bastion against the Cathar heretics.
Carcassonne became famous in its role in the Albigensian Crusades, when the city was a stronghold of occitan cathars. In August 1209 the crusading army of Simon de Montfort forced its citizens to surrender. After capturing Raymond-Roger de Trencavel and imprisoning and allowing him to die, Montfort made himself the new viscount. He added to the fortifications. Carcassonne became a border citadel between France and Aragon.

In 1240 Trencavel's son tried to reconquer his old domain but in vain. The city submitted to the rule of France in 1247, and King Louis IX founded the new part of the town across the river. He and his successor Philip III built the outer ramparts. Contemporary opinion still considered the fortress impregnable. During the Hundred Years' War, Edward the Black Prince failed to take the city in 1355, although his troops destroyed the Lower Town.
In 1659, the Treaty of Pyrenees transferred the border province of Rousillon to France, and Carcassonne's military significance was reduced. Fortifications were abandoned, and the city became mainly an economic center that concentrated on the woollen textile industry, for which a 1723 source quoted by Fernand Braudel found it “the manufacturing center of Languedoc”.

Carcassonne was struck from the roster of official fortifications under Napoleon and the Restoration, and the fortified cité of Carcassonne fell into such disrepair that the French government decided that it should be demolished. A decree to that effect that was made official in 1849 caused an uproar. The mayor of Carcassonne led a campaign to preserve the fortress as a historical monument. Later in the year the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, already at work restoring the Basilica of Saint-Nazaire, was commissioned to renovate the place.

In 1853, works began with the west and southwest walling, followed by the towers of the porte Narbonnaise and the principal entrance to the cité. The fortifications were consolidated here and there but the chief attention was paid to restoring the roofing of the towers and the ramparts, where Viollet-le-Duc ordered the destruction of structures that had encroached against the walls, some of them of considerable age. Viollet-le-Duc left copious notes and drawings at his death in 1879, when his pupil Paul Boeswillwald, and later the architect Nodet continued the rehabilitation of Carcassonne.

The restoration was strongly criticized during Viollet-le-Duc's lifetime. Fresh from work in the north of France, he made the error of using slates and restoring the roofs as pointed cones, where local practice was traditionally of tile roofing and low slopes, in a snow-free environment. Yet, overall, Viollet-le-Duc's achievement at Carcassonne is agreed to be a work of genius, though not of strictest authenticity.

Fortifications consists of a double ring of ramparts and 53 towers.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A Visit to Carcassonne

Carcassonne is a story-book castle about an hour-and-a-half drive from Leran. Perhaps we'll post some more pictures of the castle itself and give you a little history lesson with it later on. But right now we'll tell you about our lunch.
The cite was packed but luckily we got there early, had a short look around, and settled in to a restaurant for lunch. We sat outside on the terrace under a canopy of umbrellas and Virginia Creeper. The weather was perfect. The photo on the top left was Mathilde's choice, a salad de chevre. Meaning a salad with warm goat cheese. Needlesss to say it was fabulous and Mathilde loved it. I had the classic Langueduc meal, Cassoulet. It is a casserole of white northern beans, a duck leg, some sausage and bacon. Wow. A very heavy meal fit for a cold winter's night. But it was the second day of summer. We had to have some Blanquette, a nice light white sparkling wine from Limoux to lighten the meal. Nancy had the raviolli pictured in the lower left and said it was heavenly. Come to France and we'll take you there.
We wandered around Carcassonne after lunch, somewhat groggily. The town really was full of tourists and we heard almost the first American accents since we have been here. The town seemed to be jam packed with young high-school age kids from everywhere in the States. I heard a young girl complain "I'm so bored". There were tourist busses full of little tiny little folks from Japan and a long, orderly line of old duffers from Belgium. Mathilde heard Dutch voices. It really was a shocker. We aren't in Kansas (Ariege) anymore, Toto. We were smack dab in the middle of one of the mainstays of French tourism. Nancy and I had paid Carcassone a visit in March of 2001 and the place was serene and facisnating. Today was an eye opener and we realize we are off the beaten path here in Leran. Thank Heavens.
Click on the pictures to enlarge and make yourself hungry.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

A Little Hike up Montsegur

On Tuesday we took a little hike up Montsegur. Its an old Cathar Fortress and you can go back a few posts to catch up on the history of Catharism. Montsegur sits atop a pug, which I think may be of volcanic origin. It is a haul to the top, not long but steep. We had gotten an early start and were out of Leran at 8:00 am, consequently, we didn't have to pay at the toll booth which they have set up halfway to the top. You reach it as you just begin to think you might make it to the top and past the point of no return.
Mathilde, being Dutch and from one of the flattest places on the planet should be excused for her fear of heights. She got to an exposed place on the trail and could go no further. Nancy and I abandoned her to whatever fate had in store for her and trudged on for another ten minutes to the top. We took her picture as we said goodbye, not knowing if we'd see her again.
From the top you could see the plains of Southern France off in the haze, as well as Lavalenet and Mirepoix. The fortress seems small and rather insignificant and not the kind of place you'd want to be defending against the all-powerful pope and his army. There were some eight hundred defenders and it was hard to imagine enough places to eat, sleep, cook and take care of bodily functions. But I'm sure their thoughts were elsewhere, probably on mere survival. They must have hauled water up to the fortress on mule or donkey trains. After the siege began, the pope's armies could easily have cut off supplies and the Cathars would have been dependent upon stored food, and water from precipitation. It's really a sad story, the Cathars being burned at the stake for their beliefs by a church founded in the name of love, but there it is.
The little town of Montsegur sits down on the slope of the hill and is a nice place for coffee after the steep hike.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

The Road Goes on Forever But the Party Never Ends

On Sunday we picked up Mathilde at the airport in Toulouse and headed back to Leran. We had been invited to a birthday party for several notable Leranites. Amongst the party-goers were these folks pictured here. I'll try to explain a little of the shenanigans. The party was a pot-luck and a barbecue done up by the hosts. There were several tables like the one pictured full of people eating and drinking wine and beer. Amongst the guests were Alan Simmons, from whom we rented the house in Leran last winter, and Barry, a visitor staying with Billy and Sally Jaye.

They said Barry's nickname was "Barryoke" and he lived up to his name. Alan, who is a composer, plays a mean guitar. Both gentlemen seemed to have a love of same late 50's and 60's British and American music. So Alan played his git-tar and sang and Barry sung up a storm. Some Chuck Berry, Beatles songs, some Stones, Searchers, you name it. Needless to say, the entire performance turned into a rather raucous sing-a-long.

The first picture gives a derriere introduction to our host, Thierry, (in the white flowing pants) and others you'll get to know. In the next picture, Barry is singing "And the band played Waltzing Matilda" a fine Australian folksong about Gallipoli, a WWI battle in Turkey. Alan and Eileen are in the background. In the far right of the photo are the family that owns the bar in Leran; Nelly, the otherThierry and either Laura or Virgina, I can't tell. The third picture is Barry, Billy Jaye and Alan. The fourth picture is of Alan and Barry playing air guitar to the music playing on the box. This was before they discovered each other's musical talents. The two had never met before but I'm thinking they should be forming a band.

The fourth photo of course is some of the barbecue offerings. Sardines, big sardines......sausages, prawns, etc. etc. And the last two are of Barry doin' his thing. All photos are courtesy of Mathilde.

We came home from the party around dinner time, tired from the wine and sun. The party was scheduled to go on into the night, I suppose with the party goers getting younger as the hours got later. They said the would have fireworks at 10:00 and as I lay in bed, sure enough, I heard booms and bangs right on schedule.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Things I Haven't Seen or Experienced Since I Left Moab

Mormon undergarments, a rock crawler, a movie, a pickup with a gun rack, a religious fish on the back of a car, red rock cliffs and arches, single digit humidity, a 'W'04 sticker, sirens, a "my child is an honor student" sticker, salt that flows freely, pancake syrup, "Survivor", a cottonwood tree, a big juciy cheeseburger with fries, "Y'all", an open stretch of highway with nothing but asphalt, cattle, grass and sky into the horizon, a little station wagon with a young hippie and two dogs inside with a bike and a kayak on the roof, an aspen tree, an LDS church, eggs over easy with bacon, hashbrowns and toast, a Sunday newspaper, a Harley-Davidson, white eggs, "DUDE", Utes or Navajos, corn fed beef or Rice Chex, and stores open on Sundays.

Things That I Have Seen or Experienced Since I Left Moab:

Blue goat cheese, Spanish olives, vineyards, live chickens and rabbits at the market, men kissing men on the cheeks, men wearing pedal pushers, British accents, 800 year old buildings, Smart cars, oak floor joist, IKEA, roundabouts, brown chicken eggs sold in the metric unit of ten, British cars with drivers on the wrong side, castles, the "Barthelona" accent, lines of plane trees on each side of the road for a mile or two, and church bells pealing the hour.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Limey---It's All a Wash

Last winter Doug and I were constructing the very last (we swear) building on our property in Moab---a guest bedroom cottage, since our house is pretty tiny. At that time I decided it was necessary to begin learning the art of of Old World lime plastering and limewashing. Several weeks later, after a healthy case of carpal tunnel, I was a convert. I knew that if and when we bought a place in France, these would be skills that would be necessary.

Lime plasterers are a dying breed in the States. Stucco, cement, drywall and latex paint have changed that. The first recorded use of lime plaster dates back 6000 years in Turkey. Its 'breathable' property makes it ideal for both interior and exterior uses, in the harshest and most extreme of climates. What this means is that it releases water vapor as well as that it does not wick water as cement stucco does. It is extremely durable and doesn't crack as it dries.

The recipe for lime plaster is simple: lime and sand. Lime comes from limestone, a sedimentary rock geologically deposited by marine plants and animals. Lime in a powdered form does not occur naturally but must be kilned. The lime powder (les chaux) is mixed with water to re-hydrate it to form a yogurt-thick lime putty that must "age"---anywhere from 1 day to literally years before actually using in the finished product. The longer it sits, the smoother it gets. This may be one of the reasons why lime plaster fell out of favor---it's not an immediate use product.

Lime putty is mixed with varying ratios of sand, with each subsequent coat using less sand. Lime plaster adheres well to stone when it has been wetted down beforehand; and if not, it sucks the moisture out immediately. The pros "hurl" it on and smooth it out with trowels or sponges. There are as many types of finishes as there are old buildings, from rough texture to smooth as silk. Once the lime plaster is exposed to air, the lengthy process of absorbing carbon dioxide begins; according to the limestone cycle the lime plaster will return to it's original CaCO3 state after a few centuries.

After several individual layers of lime plaster, for which the experts have very specific names, you can finish with a color coat, or limewash (badigeon). Color is achieved by adding powdered pigments to a very watered-down lime putty. Unlike popping the lid off a gallon can of latex enamel that you just matched to your color swatch, limewashing is anybody's guessing game. The colorwash dries about 20 shades lighter than when it goes on, so it's incredibly hard to visualize. Plus, lime plaster on one wall accepts limewash differently than another wall.

Limewash has a certain translucency, unlike latex paint. Each additional coat creates more depth without opaqueness. The variations in color only add to its character and charm. Or, at least that's what I told myself. The pigments are natural: earthen oxides, ochres, siennas.

I took the opportunity to limewash a few of the walls in our rez-de-chausse (ground floor) that were bare white plaster while Doug's thumb was recuperating. I was too timid with the pigments at first, and gradually got bolder as I kept telling myself (and Doug) "hey, we'll learn to live with it". With lots of input and encouragement from sister-in-law Leslie, I turned the kitchen into a chemistry lab for several days. The end results are warm and inviting, and I am encouraged to proceed to the next project.

Taking a break from my own limewashing the other day, I was walking through the passageway to Isabel's Midi-Prix epicerie for a few items. I happened upon a limewashing event going on at Andy and Amanda's grande maison on Cours St. Jacques. They were doomed to lose their scaffolding the next day and had quite a bit of work left to do; so I donned my gloves, was thrust a roller and bucket and put to work for several hours. The view from the top level was awesome, and best of all---Doug cooked dinner.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Press Release

June12, 2007 LERAN / The French government announced today a new work safety record at 14 Rue du Four, Leran. One half workday without major safety incident. Congratulations 14 Rue du Four.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Melange of Thoughts

Sometimes it becomes necessary to lump. This post is just that. Bits and bobs, but not enough of anything for a post. Get the idea?

  • First up is Smokey. Several of you responded to my suggestion for a new name in a new homeland---names with dignity, humor, history. Well, my friends, I hate to disappoint ya'll, but Smokey is going to stay "old Smokey" for its remaining days. Here's the rationale: through no brilliant maneuvers on our part, Smokey somehow gets to retain its Utah license plates while living in France full-time. I am not going to question our insurance agent M. Nelkin why. I'm all for the don't ask-don't tell policy---it's alot cheaper. So, as long as Smokey is a US citizen, it probably needs to keep its good old boy US name. But, I may use one of those proposed names for the next time I go in for a Visa, so your efforts won't be wasted.

  • The other night we heard something we have yet to hear in Leran---a North American accent! And I'm almost embarrassed to say, it was like music to my ears (there, I said it anyway). But it was only partly North American, it was Canadian. Harry and Di have arrived from Calgary. Today I got to thinking that I don't even know who the Canadian Prime Minister is.....DO YOU? The entire world knows "W", but Canada is barely a blip on the radar. The answer is..................Stephen Harper....ring a bell???

  • I had decided to make a photo CD of the Leran Fete pictures and take them to the Mairie's office. Maybe I had an ulterior motive to somehow get my name in front of the Maire, so that when the time comes to approach him regarding our rooftop terrace he will remember. Chantal, the Maire's assistant, seemed surprised and very pleased, and trotted off into his office with the photo CD. On my way out, our neighbor Jean-Pierre cornered me and asked if he could take a photo of Doug and I for an article he was writing on "Americans Come Home" about the influx of English-speakers in Leran. Or, at least that's what I surmised from our conversation. He wants to know more about Utah, the Mormons, the Great Salt Lake and the Bonneville Speedway. Not sure where his article is being published.

  • Growing up in the midwest I witnessed some superior lightning and thunderstorm displays. But Sunday night's was the top. We lost power several times and the cracks were fiercesome. Coming from the single-digit humidity of Moab, we feel like we are in the swampland of Florida at times. And just when things were beginning to dry out. Stone walls retain damp, and the gully-washer was apparently just running in our back door. And now we were told that Leran is built over several springs, one of which is thermal in origin. During a brief interlude between deluges, we trekked to the bar to see who was around, and left the windows open to air the place out. A few minutes after we returned, a kitty-cat bounded down the stairs and jumped out the window from which it must have gained entry. I'm still seeing cat tracks around today, so I'm not sure how many other animals we are unknowingly harboring at this point.

  • When I picked up the Recycling Manual at the Mairie's Office, I never imagined it would be so confusing. They gave me my sac jaune and sac noir, but exactly what goes where and when is still not processing. What I can say is that recycling is done religiously here and people do not question it. They just do it. And the cost of trying to create a household from nothing has really nudged me in the direction of trying to reuse any and all of the recycling products that I can. I am cutting off the tops of plastic milk jugs to use the lower portions for plastic containers; I save all tin cans for holding things. Some things here are extremely expensive that we go into "sticker shock" when we see the price: a small package of phillips head screws might cost the equivalent of $8-10 here, so we parcel them out judiciously. The moral of that story is for anyone contemplating visiting us....please smuggle in phillips head screws in various sizes in your luggage. Stones are cheap, no need to smuggle them in.

The Dutch Are Coming

Twenty years ago as Doug and I were cycling around Europe, we reached a real low point one evening in a campground in Belgium. It was pouring rain, we had been on the road three months rarely staying more than a night in one place, and the campground was overly depressing. The bathroom/shower facility is worth describing. Imagine a 6-slice pie-shaped facility, 2 showers, 2 toilets, 2 sinks, one in each piece of the pie. The pie, however, was painted black (yes, black) and had no doors, and was in the middle of the campground. The shower was a garden hose sticking out of the ceiling. We could take a shower or sit on the toilet and wave to the other back at the tent.

Suddenly, almost like that light bulb going on, we remembered some relatives that were going to be in The Netherlands just about this time visiting their family. If there ever was a snowball's chance....we made the phone call from an equally depressing phone booth. The next day we were gloriously pedalling our way to Amersfort just outside Amsterdam to connect with David and Mathilde Oldham who were staying with her parents, Ma and Pa (in all the years we were lucky to know them, that's what we called them). They took us in for a week, entertained, fed, toured us around and told us stories of their WWII resistance activities. It was beyond heavenly when we needed it most.

We just heard from Mathilde the other day. She will be in Amsterdam for her 50th birthday, and is catching a flight to Toulouse for a "working holiday" for a week in Leran. I can think of no better way to celebrate a major birthday than by hoisting floor joists, drywall and subflooring. Except perhaps by hiking to Montsegur or Peyrepetusse, checking out the border collie time trials in St. Martin d'Oydes, or maybe watching the canal boats on the Midi. Maybe we can do it all.

Friday, June 8, 2007

A Brief History of Catharism

You'll see some gorgeous old castles when you're here in the Languedoc and it's not too long before you learn about the Cathars and their sad history. Nancy and I have visited one of the Cathar strongholds, Roquefixade, and we were left with some pictures of another Cathar castle, Peyrepertusse, by Drew and Joan Rothrock when they visited us here several weeks ago. The first four pictures are really striking and are by the Rothrocks. The last four are by me. Click to enlarge.

The following is a brief history of the Cathars. I basically plagiarized two different websites (which shall remain nameless) and changed some things, edited a little, combined here and there, and added some of my own words. If you want to learn more, and you should, there are lots of ways to research the Cathars beyond the internet. There are perhaps a dozen of these ruins, all perched on top of very defensible sites, in the Languedoc. And Montsegur, one of the most famous, can be seen from Leran. We will be visiting more of these sites in the future. Scroll down for the brief history.

In west-north-west of Marseilles on Golfe du Lion is the old province of Languedoc where in 1208 the people were condemned to death by catholic pope Innocent III. In 1209 a papal army of more than 30,000 soldiers descended on the region under the command of Simon de Montfort. The soldiers had been sent to kill and exterminate the Cathar religion.

The Cathars were a religious group who appeared in Europe in the eleventh century, their origins something of a mystery though there is reason to believe their ideas came from Persia by way of the Byzantine Empire, the Balkans and Northern Italy.

The killing went on for approximately 35 years claiming thousands of lives of men women and children.

The doctrine of the Cathars was Gnostic, they were basically spiritual people. The catholic churches fear of the Cathars was in part caused by the Cathars knowledge of the bloodlines of Jesus, which was in conflict with the church’s propaganda of the crucifixion. The Cathars were also said to be the guardians of a great and sacred treasure, associated with an ancient knowledge. The Cathars also regarded Mary Magdalene as the Grail Mother.

The Cathars were tolerant of other people’s religions and believed in equality of the sexes. Their belief of equality of the sexes was a major problem for the Catholic Church which wanted to suppress women. Basic Cathar tenets led to some surprising logical implications. For example they largely regarded men and women as equals, and had no doctrinal objection to contraception, euthanasia or suicide. In some respects the Cathar and Catholic Churches were polar opposites. For example the Cathar Church taught that all non-procreative sex was better than any procreative sex. The Catholic Church taught - and still teaches - exactly the opposite.
The Cathars believed in God, recited the prayer, and had a welfare system for the poor, elderly and sick, schools, hospitals, charity and a fine society. The Cathars also practiced birth control which led to all sorts of accusations. Cathars maintained a Church hierarchy and practiced a range of ceremonies, but rejected any idea of priesthood. Catharism was a religion that seems to have appealed especially to the theologically literate and whole Cathedral chapters are known to have defected, as they did for example at Orleans. Worse, the Catholic Church was held up to public ridicule (some of the richest men in Christendom, bejeweled, dressed in finery, and preaching poverty, provided an irresistible target even to fellow Catholics). Worst yet, Cathars in the Languedoc refused to pay tithes to the Catholic Church. Obviously, the Catholic Church determined that the Cathars had to be stopped.

The Catholic Church also believed that the Cathars were in possession of the Table of Testimony and the Jerusalem Manuscripts of the gospel era. The Cathar religion was presumed to hold enough information of substance as to expose the fundamental concept of the Catholic Church. There was only one solution for the desperate and fanatical church, to kill them all. The Pope was said to have proclaimed “Kill them all, God will know his own”.

In 1209 the papal troops arrived in the foothills of Pyrenees and the savage campaign was called the Albigensian Crusade. The people were murdered by the thousands, including men, women and children. Whole towns were destroyed but the treasure was never found. The Cathar religion was completely eradicated. The crusade against the Cathars of the Languedoc has been described as one of the greatest disasters ever to befall Europe.

In one of the last episodes of the Cathar eradication, some 200 people were captured after a long siege at Montsegur, just a few miles from Leran, and were offered death by burning at the stake or the opportunity to convert to Catholicism. They all chose to die by fire.

At the end of the extermination of the Cathars, the Roman Church had convincing proof that a sustained campaign of genocide can work. It also had the precedent of an internal Crusade within Christendom, and the machinery of the first modern police state that could be wheeled out for the Spanish Inquisition, and again for later Inquisitions and genocides.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Strike One for la Poste

We received a notice in the mailbox the other day that la Poste had attempted to deliver a "colisimmo", which we interpreted to be a large package. Finally, our first shipment of mail from Moab. What fun to open up a bunch of bills---but at least ones that we can understand (sort of).

The note said to claim the colisimmo apres 10 heures the next day, Wednesday (mercredi). We were there johnny-on-the-spot, but la Poste was all buttoned up---door locked and shutters closed. So on we went to the Quillan market to see the English booktrader and drive the Plateau du Sault. Upon returning to Leran at 13:00 hours, well after its 12:30 normal closure time, the above sign was on la Poste door.

The notice basically says that "Due to a strike movement, the Leran Post Office will be closed all morning Wednesday June 6, 2007". La Poste in Leran is normally only open mornings, so it really meant that it would be closed all day. There was now no chance to claim our colisimmo until Thursday. Apparently overnight a strike movement was formed at the Leran la Poste branch, and only the Leran branch. Go figure!

No one I talked to could explain the reason for the strike. Perhaps it was in protest to the obvious lack of holidays in June, or just preparing for all the annual closures coming up in August. As if nothing ever happened, back to business as usual on Thursday, colisimmo now in hand.

A Majorette Fete

The Leran Fete Locale is over. When we vocalized disbelief that some friends would dare head head for the Mediterranean coast on a Fete weekend, they replied "It is an event to be missed." But how could they leave without being part of the candlelight parade or cheering on the majorettes? Pretty easily, I now surmise.

The American-sized 18 wheeler trucks rolled into town, squeezing into unimaginable spaces between the pollarded plane trees and began setting up their go-karts, bumper cars and carousels---an engineering masterpiece. The amount of heavy equipment for two nights was amazing. These folks will tear down and be back on the road like this for the rest of the summer.

The weather barely cooperated the entire weekend. The opening candlelight parade on Friday was rained out. The vendor booths trying to pedal "SANDWICHS" (their spelling) and stuffed animals were empty. Go-karts and bumper cars sat idle. Only a few of the spike-haired Leran youth dutifully listened to the boom-boom sounds of J.M.Music.

Doug and I were ticket holders #11 and #12 for the "Repas Anime" for Moroccan food on Saturday, and the only thing holding us back was figuring out where it was being held. The flyer didn't say, but there's not that many places to hide a community dinner in Leran. As we stood outside the door wondering whether to be the first ones inside or not, we read the presidential election results posted on the door. Segolene Royal (the leftist female) won hands down in this district against Nicolas Sarkozy (ultimately the right-wing winner).

For Moroccan food, the chicken and rice was absent of spices; but it was definitely a lively crowd, a mixture of about 60 English and French speakers. Rose wine flowed most freely and an accordion duo may have been performing some local favorites. The folks who organized and served were the true heroes of the event, and the couple in the photo (Jean-Paul in the yellow shirt with sac noir) were ever vigilant throughout the evening.

We returned from the hospital on Sunday morning just in time to join the march through the streets following Les Majorettes de la Bastide Sur L'Hers. Doug kept commenting on how "un-French" the idea of majorettes seemed. Isn't that American, he kept asking? But the band, Los Mountagnols de Tarascon, did play the French national anthem. And there were an abundance of men in berets. We heard that one year it rained so hard the majorettes had to perform in the community hall, and when they tossed their batons they kept hitting the ceiling.

Kids will be kids, and Sunday morning the gendarmes had been called out. On Saturday night some of the festive lights in the Place du Monument aux Morts were torn down and plants pulled out of window boxes. I found myself thinking about the usual Police roster in Moab. It usually involves monster trucks, guns, meth. This seems pretty tame in comparison.

I am also reminded that when I awake during the night in Leran, it is never sirens that I hear. It is the church bells chiming the hour and half-hour. How civilized.