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Carcassonne

Six Days

Turrets and crenelations do seem to abound in this curious town in southwest Provence. It's a beautiful place, all in all, vivid with storybook magic right out there before your eyes and beneath your feet. The dust of feudalism feels vivid throughout.

​It almost didn't come out that way; the place had become derelict and seemed doomed to become ordinary French housing tracts before local outrage prevailed.

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La Cité, defenses against sieges ...  apt terms for these impressive medieval ruins, saved from demolition only a century and a half ago. An incredibly colorful history, from the paleolithic era through Roman occupation, then Visigoth conquest; a brief time in the hands of Moorish warlords, long spates of lateral hand-offs between the kings of Aragon and the Languedoc lords. It was a site of terrific religious strife about which more below.

And because one gets here to Carcassonne by rail from our earlier week (which is in any case a major feature of traveling from one locale to another in the course of this nearly eight-week long adventure), this old-timey mode of transport deserves its own video/photo mementos here.

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In French it's gare, in Italian stazione, in Spanish estación. Always, though, these are exciting buildings to wander through. Your suitcase ever reminds you that this isn't simply aimless roaming; there is purpose for it and a need to get to the exact correct track at the right time. People bustling past, silent mechanical beasts lurking on their inexorable rails, purring in quiet energy.

To emphasize that it matters, two and a half hours are spent in that rumbling-along seat, in travel from Girona to Carcassonne (three and a half hours on to Avignon a week later; another hour to Aix-en Provence yet a week after that. Train to Marseille airport for a flight across to Barcelona, but still.

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There's a torture museum, if such thoughts seem interesting. For me that major slice of the medieval era is utterly repulsive.

To explain it: the Cathars (or Albigenses) lived and prospered hereabouts during about the 12th century. they were, by any measure, a major Christian heresy — a species of eastern Gnostic dualism that somehow merged with and then altered orthodox beliefs. There was a good god (found in the New Testament) utterly opposed to an evil god (lurking in the Old Testament). The former was identified with the purely spiritual world, the latter with base and utterly unclean material existence. Because these adherents proved resistant to reasonable, doctrinal persuasion, the Church resorted to force. Ruthless, deadly and later sinew-stretching and eye-gouging, um, persuasion. I must insist that unlike what some of today's Bible handbooks have put out there, these were not proto protestants who were persecuted for noble Biblical principles.

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So oddly enough I think the main focus of this week will be the setting out to notice the beauty of the countryside, to appreciate the ingeniousness of stonework, maybe to locate centuries-old survivors of ordinary modes of life, and enjoy their simplicity.

I look forward to walking along these very battlements, imagining wisps of  smoke trailing up from a peasant's hut that has been torched by royal brigands from Aragon to the south.

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Now by rail east along the Pyrenees range to

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They're Going Again!