Interdum stultus opportuna loquitur...

Thursday, April 27, 2006

FranceRant: Normal Service Resumes Monday...

Note - from June 24th 2009, this blog has migrated from Blogger to a self-hosted version. Click here to go straight there.

The South of France. It's a phrase which, is evocative for many people. Usually, those people are thinking 'Provence', which in the ordinary course of events I wouldn't go near with a ten foot pole. Who wants to be up to their armpits in Englishmen and Yanks?

OK, I confess... during the Easter week we touched (and yes, even penetrated) Provence - but to the smallest extent possible. The aim of the game was to go on a little 'pelerinage' to Montsegur - also known as the Cathar Masada. The carnage that transpired there represented the culmination of the Albigenisian Crusade, where Rome - threatened by a sect that called for the abandonment of the garish trappings favoured by Roman clergy - launched a campaign of wanton destruction on the Cathari which lasted almost half a century and was marked by the invention of a phrase which stands in infamy .

I refer to the famed utterance of a supposed man of faith - the papal legate Arnaud Amaury, who was asked how the Crusaders would be able to tell the Catholics from the Cathars during the seige of Beziers in 1209.

You see, the townspeople had refused to hand the local Cathars over to the Crusaders, fearing (rightly) that these folk who lived up to the loftiest ideals would be killed without mercy.

Amaury told the Crusaders to take the town; the commanders asked how to tell which of the people were heretics. Amaury, in a display of exactly what was (and is) wrong with Catholic hierarchy, said this:

"Caedite eos! Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius"

That is: "Kill them all! The Lord will know his own". This was later adapted (during VietNam) to "Kill 'em all - let God sort 'em out."

Thus absolved by a perverted legate's warped view of 'just war' doctrine, the Crusaders descended on Beziers and massacred almost 20,000 people - of which only about 500 were Cathars. Sounds a lot like the latest 'just war' - the wanton slaughter of a couple of hundred thousand Iraqis following a 10-year investiture of their country which killed another million or so.

Anyhow... the final Cathar stronghold was a castle at Montsegur. Interestingly, the castle during the Cathar period had no 'arrow loops' (the holes out of which archers could take aim and fire on anybody positioned below); true to their faith, the Cathars wanted a place of refuge rather than somewhere to make a military stand.

In the end, the final two forts that fell were Montsegur and a small semi-fortified village at Queribus. But there are several important places which featured in the Cathar Crusade - a Bush-Doctrine-like series of massacres by the leadership of a church which was supposedly founded based on principles laid out by the Prince of Peace).. And we just visited pretty much all of them (which of necessity required a small incursion into Provence).

The list is one redolent with history -

Castelnaudaray (now also home to the Foreign Legion)

There was something interesting that linked Fanjeaux and Carcassonne: a thing of which I had not been aware, but which set my nerve ends tingling.

The first was a little house in Fanjeaux which has a plaque on its outside which reads

Saint Dominiqve habita ici de 1206 à 1213 (click to see the plaque)
Even if you've got no French, you can probably work out that this says "St Dominique lived here between 1206 and 1213". Now at that time, Fanjeaux was a hotbed of Catharism; it crossed my mind that at the very least, the founder of the Dominicans must have been broadly sympathetic to the Cathar doctrine (there isn't any evidence that he anathemised them during the period he lived in Fanjeaux, in any case.

The second interesting little thing was a plaque inside the cathedral at Carcassonne (the one inside the castle walls). Now Carcassonne was the headquarters of Raymond-Roger de Trencavel (who along with Raymond of Toulouse was a staunch supporter of the Cathars), and fell to the Crusaders in 1209 (August 15, but who's counting) when the aforementioned Raymond-Roger was taken prisoner by the Catholics while under a truce. (Nice mob, the Micks, don't ya think? All the blather about a Prince of Peace, all that Death-cult stuff, and they won't honour a truce...).

But back to the second interesting thing: another  plaque... this one says

Fondateur des Freres Precheurs Saint Dominique a preche la careme en cette eglise en 1213 (click to see the plaque).

Again, it doesn't take a PhD in Frogology to work out that this says "Founder of the Preaching Friars St Dominique preached the careme in this church in 1213".. The careme is a sermon which is trotted out for the forty days leading up to 'Paques' (Easter).  Odd that we happened to be in the region during Easter week (which meant that most of the bloody bakers were closed).

But back to the story...

By 1213, Carcassonne had fallen, the perfecti had been massacred (along with a dozen thousand 'collateral damagees') and Simon de Montfort (who is rotting in Hell as I type this) was ravaging the area around Toulouse. So how come St Dominique wasn't in a bit of trub (since he seems to have constantly been around and about the Cathar-oriented area)? How come he wasn't at least investigated (i.e., hauled before the Inquisition)? Was he a St Snitch?

No matter - it's eight hundred years ago and even a few of the locals are prepared to let bygones be bygones. (Not me).

For me, the week had several high points - the climb up Montsegur was hard as buggery (even The Lovely was short of breath), and the little campsite westayed at (le Mathibot) was sensational. The people who run it are a very nice Belgian couple who made us feel very welcome; they have a few cats, a couple of dogs, and a couple of ponies. the campsite is in a stunning valley, and if you're a trudger you can walk all the way to Montsegur through forest. (We didn't - it's a two and a half hour walk, and a 30 minute climb at the end of it... I piked).

Fanjeaux was delightful - a village perched on top of a hill, which looks like is was frozen in amber in the middle of the 14th century. (Well, apart from the cars).

Minerve was equally well-preserved, but was visually much more stunning. It clings to an island in the middle of a gorge, with stone houses that look like the will lose their grip on the gorge any second. The river has carved out a hole which runs under the entire town. Magnificent. Sadly we couldn't find the campsite and so we drove to a town whose name I will not even mention (that's how shit Montpellier is),

Oops - I mentioned it. Don't go there - ever. And change the words to the old poem "Come friendly bombs' and change the target from Slough to Montpellier. 95% of the roads are one-way, and the signage is absolutely AWFUL.

Nimes: avoid the Arene (the Coliseum). It's a rip-off. They have turned it into a "bullfighting" ring. I use quotes because it's not bullfighting; it's a one-sided slaughter in which a bull the size of a large Newfoundland is systematically tortured half to death by four guys on horseback... whereupon some primped up dago comes out and prances around like a failed Isidora Duncan student.

Want to impress me, Manuel? Don't trim the horns; don't use picadors to sever the animal's neck muscles; get a decent sized bull (at LEAST the size of a dairy cow); and try and ride it. I think "bullfighting" is a little bit gay, with all those sequins and ballet shoes. Watch an episode of Bullriders Only" on Fox Sports (it's on late) to see a genuine duel between man and beast; real, BIG bulls are the celebrities, and they get to WIN every now and then (in fact more often than not the bull wins). It's one things the Yanks have done right - and the good bulls know their job (get the little pink thing off my back) and once they get the guy thrown they just settle down and look for some hay or a nice heifer.

Of course there is no way the effeminate little dickwads that torture teensy little mini-bulls would ever be able to ride a great bull like Chainsaw or Dogface the Canine Bovine (no, I ahve not made those names up - they are two "All Star Bulls"). Matadors are girly wankers. Still, the peasants get off on that sort of crap - witness how the Yanks react when their 'mighty' military kicks the shit out of a third rate enemy...

But back to the conquest of France (by the way, nobody even bothered to show up to surrender to my advancing horde).

Avignon was stunning - we ate dinner at a little restaurant called Cafe Vert; the waiter was a delightful man, the food brilliant (I had a chicken tajine that was magnificent). The campsite was outside the walls and across the river, but still only about ten minute's walk.

One thing to avoid in Avignon is the exhibition of 14th-15th century art in the Petit Palais. I've never liked the art of the Middle Ages - to me it looks badly executed and basically shit. Also, I don't like pictures that make Jesus look Norwegian or Swedish - the bloke was a bloody Palestinian, for God's sake.

As you have worked out by the constant reference to campsites, we like camping. Dickheads don't like camping.

It was an interesting week, but being away from Julien's baguettes was almost as much as I could bear. Juliens (which is two doors down from our Paris place) is the best bread I have ever tasted - even better than the potato bread from the Warrandyte Bakery.

As if 2500km in five days wasn't enough, last Friday I drove all the way to Frankfurt to collect the cats and bring them to the place we have got in the country outside Paris (here is a picture of that, as well).

Driving to Germany (leaving at 3:30 a.m., and arriving back home at 10:00 p.m.) is made easy by the fact that there are no border controls anymore (hence no need to worry that I will not be allowed to return).

And tomorrow night, I am off to Oslo until Saturday night (The Lovely is presenting a paper to a conference of Energy lawyers... I am going along for the free food, flights and lodgings, and keeping my fingers crossed that they let me back into France). So this week is a write-off (although there's a trade brewing which might be triggered during the Oz day session). The first half of the week was killed as a result of malware on my main machine (191 pieces thereof, which arrived like a theif in the night and screwed up four months' work). You will never get me to believe that these things are caused by teenage lads; since the invention of the internet they are too busy masturbating themselves blind over internet porn. No, I smell the hand of government - western governments HATE the internet because it is undermining their power over their sheeple.