Thursday, September 20, 2012

Welcome to the new look, as unexpected for you as it was for me — but needs must and I’m making the best of a bad job. Then there’s Disney’s take on a Cathar castle

First things first: You might think ‘oh, what a nice chap, he’s redesigned his blog to make us feel more welcome, more valued, to show us that our ease and comfort is his dearest wish’, but you’d be bloody wrong. It’s all down to my terrible habit of dicking around, and in this instance I noticed that Google are touting some new all-singing, all-dancing ‘dynamic’ template and decided to investigate.

Well, I did investigate, decided I didn’t like it and have spent the best part of an hour trying to get my blog back to what it was. This is the result. Given that I couldn’t totally recreate it, I’ve given it a few tweeks to try and improve things but basically I’m a tad pissed off with Google and a tad more pissed off with myself for again dicking around when a lifetime of coming a cropper dicking around should have taught me to leave well alone.

. . .

Today (yesterday - Ed), the last day of our two weeks, it was off to Carcassonne to visit what at first sight seems a rather spectacular ‘Cathar’ castle. I say seems because although it is truly magnificent to see as you cross the bridge at Carcassonne heading south, then wind your way up through the town up to the visitors’ car park, you get a closer view and bugger me if it doesn’t vaguely and rather disconcertingly remind you of Disneyland.

This was, in fact, our second visit to Carcassonne. The first time it was getting a little late after we had wandered through the narrow alleyways surrounding the castle and we decided to come again. This we did today and went straight to the castle. Quite soon it became quite obvious what had gone wrong and why you expect Mickey Mouse himself suddenly to loom large over the turrets and give you a cheery wave. For although the Romans had built a fort here (and one or two of their towers are still standing) and although some dude called Count Raimond Bernard Trencavel expanded it because he was top dog in the area and needed a court (that was in the 11th century, several centuries before this part of France came under the control of the French throne and even longer before it was actually a part of the French kingdom, and although when he finally got his mitts on the castle the French king had it substantially expanded, what is standing today is, in fact and in my view, a rather failed attempt at renovation by a chap called Viollet-le-Duc in the 19th century.

He initially called in to renovate the nearby St Nazaire cathedral, but then decided to have a go at the castle itself. The trouble was that many parts of it had largely fallen into ruin (as castles do) and what was left was a hotch-potch of different styles from different ages. But Viollet-le-Duc was not to be thwarted. He spent a great deal of time trying to work out what had been what and eventually decided to rebuild most of the castle on what it might have looked like in the 16th century. The trouble for us is that when Walt Disney decided to design castles to feature in his various cartoons, he looked to the same age, which explains the rather baffling resemblance Carcassonne castle has to something dreamed up in Hollywood.

It doesn’t help that the alleyways of the ‘village’ within the outside curtain walls (I hope I’ve got the jargon right and if I haven’t, I’m sure some smartarse will email in with a comment setting me straight) are wall-to-wall tat emporiums, ice-cream parlours, overpriced restaurants, twee memoribilia shops and bars, all designed with the same Disney dedication to taste and crammed with tourists.

Two days ago, we went to see the Chateau de Termes, which was something else entirely. This is now wholly in ruins, but must have been truly spectacular in its heyday. It was also held my the Trencavel family, and when the then Pope took against the Cathars who were more or less declaring UDI from Rome (the usual story: they reckoned the Roman Church was corrupt - Lord, what a cheek! - and wanted to live purer lives), the Trencavels protected them and they thrived for a while.

Finally, the word went out that anyone who put down the heresy and its protectors could keep the land won from the protectors, which was an offer far too good for a certain Simon de Montfort to refuse (he is the grandfather of our Simon de Montfort). He besieged that castle and it finally surrendered after many months. Here are two pictures: one is as the ruins look today, and below it is an impression of what it would have looked at when it was still intact.

. . .

That was written yesterday, and this is today, written at my kitchen table at home. To emulate The Economist, ‘so the worst is over. What lessons have we learnt?’ Well, we have learned that despite the British middle-class infatuation with all things French (‘Lord, we could learn a thing or two from them about how to live. And their women - so elegant!), they have just as many chavs as we do; McDonald’s are devastating their country at an alarming rate just as in Britain; yes, on the whole their women are a tad more elegant, mainly because they just try a little harder and have an innate sense of something which apparently eludes British women (except the very rich, but they tend to shop in Paris anyway), and on the whole the French drive more like lunatics than we do, and their womenfolk are especially bad. Can everyone really be in so late over there? I rather doubt it.

But I’m back, can’t say I had two glorious weeks off, for one reason and another, but I did have two weeks off work with a change of scenery, so whose complaining. As I got up at 6.45am to get to Toulouse airport (that’s 5.45am in pounds, shillings and pence) I am bushed so I shall wish you all a bonne nuit (French for good night) and climb the wooden hill.


  1. bonne nuit, my dear, nuit is feminin :-)))

    1. Thanks for that, and feminine is spelled with a final -e