Saturday, September 13, 2008

Paradise Found

I promised to tell you more about Puivert, where I live, and from where I will be starting to walk backwards through my life.

My youngest daughter, Nicola, was a student at Bologna, the oldest university in the world. Then she decided to live in Italy. This was a country I had never visited, so it was obviously time to rectify that. In 1991 Gay and I (who lived in Cheshire, England, at the time) drove across Europe on our first visit to Nicola's first Italian home. On the way back we made a small (!!) detour.

We had recently read a book which described the mediaeval walled city of Carcassonne in Southern France. This seemed to be worth our investigation, so instead of driving straight back to UK from Italy, we went via Carcassonne. We know very well now that this meant driving all three sides of an equilateral triangle, all three legs of the journey being approximately 1000 miles. But it was worth it. Carcassonne is an amazing sight. You can easily find details of it on t'Interweb so I will say little more about it.

We spent a little time exploring south of Carcassonne, but the weather was bad so we did not see so much. Enough, though, to decide that we needed to come again. Which we did the next year, and the next year, and so on.

We soon discovered that the area is absolutely soaked in history and mystery. One of many aspects of this is the story of the Cathars, a peaceful branch of the Christian religion, which, in the 11th and 12th centuries, was gaining so many adherents that it was seen as a threat to the Catholic church. The pope got togetherwith the French king, who rather fancied the territory, because at that time the Languedoc was not a part of France. Between them they organised a crusade to crush the Cathars and their supporters, and to integrate Languedoc into France. The crusade went on for 30 years. Again, it is very easy to find information about this so I will not spend too much time on it.

One thing I will mention is that the Inquisition was invented at this time, in this area, for the express purpose of rooting out and burning Cathars. One rarely hears the word Inquisition without the adjective Spanish. But that was 200 years later and the Spanish were merely using a tool which had already efficiently wiped out a belief. The operation went on for the duration of the crusade and for long after, until there were no Cathars left.

I think it is also worth pointing out that the Languedoc was one of the most prosperous and cultured areas in Europe, second only to Byzantium, at that time. The culture and the prosperity were destroyed by the Crusade and its aftermath, and the area has never recovered that position.

There are many more layers to the fascinating history of the area. There are still visible traces of the Visigoths, those sackers of Rome, who had their Western base not far from our home.

All this in an area of stunning natural beauty, in the foothills of the Pyrenees.

It was on our second visit to the area that we found Puivert, a village 50 kms south of Carcassonne. Together with its 10 or so satellite hamlets, it has a total population of maybe 1000. On some motoring maps, even motoring atlases, you will not find Puivert marked.

We returned to the area every year, camping either in a tent or in a motor caravan. Puivert campsite, with its wonderful view of the chateau de Puivert, was one we regularly used as a base. At the time, the area, not far north of the Spanish border, was not on the tourist trail. We very rarely heard an English voice or saw an English registered car. In the past 7 years or so, Ryanair, with its cheap flights, has changed all that and many of their customers have bought property in the area.

After several years of visiting, we had not given much thought to living in the area, or in France. In fact, in 1995, having decided to live abroad, we decided on Cyprus. We lived there in the winters, but still had our house in Cheshire and returned there in the summers. Or maybe I should say we were based there. Because we still spent weeks every year in the area of France that is now our home. We were captivated by it and it was not long before we took the plunge and bought a house which was, we understand, built by a drum major in Napoleon's army. Soon after this we sold the English house.

We are 500 metres above sea level. From one of our roof windows we can see the mediaeval castle. From our bedroom window we can see the plateau at 1000 metres, where 400 members of the Resistance were camped out during the Second World War, supplied from the air by the Royal Air Force and able to see, from their great height, if the occupying German army were approaching. There is a huge amount of visible history in the area, in spectacular settings. The roads are quiet, the weather is generally kind, without the stifling heat often found at lower altitudes. The local population has always treated us with the utmost kindness and courtesy.

We love the winters we now spend in New Zealand (3 months at a time) but it is becoming increasingly hard to tear ourselves away from what still seems, after 17 years of visiting, and 11 years of residence, like Paradise.

There is much more I could say but I think blog entries should generally be short, so I will return to the subject in later posts.


Anonymous said...

Most intrigued by this site, and suspect there is more than a possibility that severe egocentric infection has set in.

We hope you don't mind us suggesting you publish a FAQ section.

Our question for starters is, 'do you know of anywhere we could place a bet that the Big Walk will not ultimately take place, not 600 or so days hence or ever at all?' -We have already approached Betfair, but they are not at all interested.

David and Philip H

Anonymous said...

Re: the previous comment. Even if you think Vic won't achieve his goal, there is no need for this sort of attack. If you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all.

Anonymous said...

With regards to the comment from David and Philip H: How very nasty. Please don't judge others by your own standards. Let's just hope you are around to witness the big walk so that you can eat your words. I totally agree with the comment on 17 September at 5.56pm - if you can't say something nice, then don't say anything at all. Maybe you could make that your motto - prove that a leopard can change his spots.

Anonymous said...

If David and Philip H are who I think they are, then Philip H probably knows nothing about this.

Like most bullies David H has always needed someone to hide behind. And he is certainly a bully, he has been paid for that for most of his working life. Now retired, he is always looking, not particularly rationally, for new targets.

Not to mention he is an obsessive.

Viiiiiiiiiicfan said...

Question 2 of the suggested FAQ section

Is it true that since David's retirement he has found himself with far too much time on his hands? Would a little voluntary work help break the endless cycle of sleep, internet prowling and toilet activity.

AgcRefutes said...

Greetings and thank you for your kind and concise comments. You are welcome to visit with our French brethren as it is acceptable to you.

Brad Hoffstetter
Communications Division
Assembly of good Christians

Anonymous said...

Question 3 of FAQs

Has anybody ever claimed to be a David H. fan?

Answer. Don't be silly.

Anonymous said...

Do you know, Vic, I think the cretin actually believes that you think Kim Il Jong is watching your blog.

He doesn't recognise tongue-in-cheek or any other type of humour.