Monday, 18 July 2011

Fortress towns and wild gales!

As described at the end of our last blog, we have been holed up in a campsite high on a hill near to Minerve, a medieval village just north of the Pyranees, inland from Narbonne and north-east of Carcassonne in the region known as Languedoc-Roussillon. Back in the medieval era Minerve was a powerful town and embraced the new Christian religion of Catharism that was popular in many cities in this region since the year 1000 A.D., including Beziers and Carcassonne. Unfortunately it criticised the Papal activities in Rome, and in 1210, on their way to the Crusades in the Holy Land, Simon de Montfort and his army cruelly besieged many of the Cathar towns, including Minerve, wiping out their buildings with a huge catapult contraption known as La Malvoisine or Bad Neighbour, which was set up outside the ramparts. At the same time the local water supply became contaminated by rats and as this was the only water available, the citizens became ill. Once captured, the 140 ‘Perfects’, Cathar holy men and women living and preaching in Minerve, on refusing to renounce their religion, were burnt to death at the stakes set up on the dry bed of the river running through the town. Victor and I visited this awe inspiring place on our third day here, driving alongside a deep gorge and blown away by the sight of this village seemingly hewn from the rock face high above the gorge with its multi-coloured rock formations and sparse undergrowth. It really is a mini-Carcassone, as all the everyday shops and amenities have been slowly replaced by artisan workshops, tourist shops, little museums, wine caves and restaurants all sharing the ancient cobbled windy lanes and amazing views. But we are tourists and we like this sort of thing, enjoying a light lunch on a sunny terrace as we photographed a beautiful striped butterfly as it chomped on the geranium tubs in front of us!

It has generally been a pretty quiet week here, with a couple of very loud and very wet thunderstorms that have interrupted the sun worshipping a little but allowing much reading of books – a rare treat in real life but a joy on holiday! As anticipated, we have enjoyed the company of our two friends, visiting the market day in Olonzac, sharing meals in either their caravan or our motor home, swopping anecdotes, drinking far too much at the communal meal with entertainment (a very good looking French singer who made a good attempt at both Beatles and Stones numbers with his guitar, keyboards and, yes it is true, a small harp!), and last Friday evening taking part in a Nocturnal Promenade around Minerve with about forty French families, complete with lighted torches in our hands, led by a young French tourist officer dressed as a medieval maidservant! Just the sort of theatrical event that appeals, so it was particularly frustrating when her animated commentary was delivered only in super quick French! We had spoken with her earlier in the week when buying the tickets, and she had assured Victor that she would translate some of her talk into English for us on the night. Well, after the second stop she still had not done this, so summoning up all my bottle (and probably aided by the contents of the bottle we had drunk over a very lovely dinner), I called out loudly – ‘Un petit peu en Anglaise si’l vous plait, c’est tres interresant mais je ne conprend pas’! You can see how ‘schoolgirl’ my smattering of French is! I kid you not, but a loud groan went up from the French at the very idea, and I felt my appeal would be in vain. But no, on the three subsequent stops she did try and translate, albeit just a small amount, of her commentary which did help us considerably to get the gist of the tragic history of this place back in the day, and we all found it a worthwhile (and very different!) night out.

Our final two days now, and this afternoon we plan a visit to an Olive Oil factory. Last year we learnt much about the process and philosophy behind wine growing and making, so this year I fancy learning more about olive oil, and visiting their reputedly amazing food hall! I can see a credit card session coming up! Then on Wednesday morning we drive north, heading for the International Balloon Festival in Metz in north-eastern France where we will meet up at the weekend with my sister and her husband who are ‘crewing’ for one of the balloon companies. It should make for an interesting few days (and it gets us nearer to Blighty!) Just two weeks to go!

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