The Independent Traveler's Newsletter                            PAGE FOUR
 
LETTERS FROM OCCUPIED FRANCE    ~  1940 : Some Eyewitness Glimpses 

                                                                                                                             presented by Arthur Gillette

One of the FRANCE On Your Own team, Arthur Gillette, recently stumbled upon All Gaul Is Divided - 
Letters From Occupied France. Almost two thousand years after Caesar found Gaul's tribes at each other's throats
 (the book's title is from his Gallic War commentaries), on June 15, 1940 Pétain signed an armistice that was really
a surrender to Nazi Germany.  France again found herself split down the middle between collaborateurs and those who, 
if not yet Résistants, were not happy to be ruled by Fascists.  Published by New York's Greystone Press in early 1941,
All Gaul Is Divided contains a series of letters written during 1940 by an anonymous correspondent
in southwest France to an American friend in New Jersey.  This was before Pearl Harbor and the United States' entry
into World War II, so the mail still got through.   FRANCE On Your Own will publish excerpts in the next several issues; 
they illuminate the daily reality of France in what were some of her darkest hours. 

The following is the fourth and final in our series.

Family Sabotage

"Since my last letter, a ghost has come to stand in our doorway.  The Fuehrer and his under-secretaries have dealt their ultimate blow.  They have finally managed to split apart our family.  For three hundred years this clan has snugly held together. The generations have slipped into the discard, but the family, eyes front, has marched unitedly forward...

"Fifty cousins, half of them named Marie and half of them named Jean, have often sat about a trestle-board banquet under the big oak, while a squeaking new little Jean or Marie was being christened.  When minor disturbances have overtaken us, the men have lunched together, listened to a recital of the facts, nodded their understanding, opened another magnum of Lafite '78 and signed the necessary checks.

"Today we have had a letter from the Head of the clan.  Of all the people I have so far encountered in life, this person is the best read in history, the most deeply patriotic, the most warmly magnanimous...  The following is quoted verbatim from the letter:  'If you do not support the admirable old soldier (Pétain) you are a traitor...England and America only make things worse and longer, uselessly, as they can change nothing in the end.  Both of them are puppets of the Jews, who pull the strings behind the scenes...  Only in vanquishing England can we arise from the ashes, and, in concord with Germany, construct a dignified life of our own.  If you do not share this patently sound view, from now on our paths had better separate.  There can be nothing but mistrust between us.'

"All Gaul is divided..." indeed.

FEATURING  Languedoc- Roussillon - Part One

Memories of our visits to Languedoc-Roussillon are sweet, and we realize there is too much to cover in just one issue of FRANCE On Your Own.  Therefore, we present the first of a two-part series on this most unusual part of France a region with a tumultuous history that today offers a tranquility almost beyond description.  Languedoc introduces you to a people who were not part of France until the 13th century and a region that even many French still forget is there.  It is also a place only recently discovered by tourists, providing visitors with a glimpse of real French life albeit the spoken French may sound a bit strange from what is taught in language classes.   This 'other South of France' has wonderful sandy beaches and fascinating villages where one can enjoy delectable cuisine, see the vineyards responsible for the majority of French table wine, and revel in warm sunny days without the crowds of the Riviera.  If you decide to visit, you will discover Languedoc-Roussillon in all its infinite variety.   Like us, perhaps you too will return again and again. 

Map of Languedoc-Roussillon courtesy France Keys.  All rights reserved.Walk along any sandy Mediterranean beach between Provence and the Spanish border and listen.  You will hear the gentle lapping of waves but not too much more.   Oh yes, there are people in the water and on the sand, but the crowds are few.  A break in the silence may come from a couple playing paddle ball in the surf.  Where are you?  You are in the other South of France: Languedoc-Roussillon.

Inland the region offers a sunny plain backed by lush, green hillsides undisturbed by hordes of tourists, full of the history of religious wars and territorial disputes.  Language is the basis for the region's name -  Languedoc  -  a Romance language akin to Italian, Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, French, Romanian and Swiss Romansch all Latin based.  The Romans, lacking a word for 'yes', would say  "hoc Ille".   Further north, the language which eventually became French, adopted O il  for  'yes', so their tongue was called langue d'oil.  In the south, however, they said "Oc" for 'yes', thus the name langue d'oc.  Today's oui comes from the northern o il  after langue d'oil was declared the official French language by the edict of 1539.  Between the early 1800s until 1951 it was actually prohibited to speak the langue d'oc dialect.  It is amazing that after all the turmoil the language survives to this day in the rural areas of Languedoc and the rugged Cévennes.  A strong accent can be heard (often referred to as the accent du Midi) in many parts of this other South of France.

Just what will you discover in Languedoc-Roussillon?  What reasons would you have to visit?  Interesting and historic small cities and towns such as Béziers, Foix, Montpellier,  Narbonne,  Nîmes, Perpignan, and Pézenas to name just a few.  Wonderful attractions like the walled city of Carcassonne, the amazing Pont du Gard aqueduct, and the arena at Nîmes built in 5 BC are not to be missed.   Driving is easy and relaxing, and, because tourism has always been less of a distraction, you are more likely to be spending your vacation with people native to the region wherever you go.  These days other Europeans seem to be drawn to this part of southern France as well, possibly because they know that it is a good place to relax and still enjoy the warmer southern climate.

Ruins, both in the form of war-torn castles and well-maintained remnants of Roman architecture, are in abundance.  The Pyrénées form the border with Spain and Andorra to the south, the Mediterranean forms its long, curving eastern shoreline, the rugged Auvergne is to the north and the Midi-Pyrénées lies to the west.  Despite the lack of both tourists and notoriety, much has been written about Languedoc-Roussillon - more and more now because it is in the process of being 'discovered'.

Regional wines have improved immensely over recent years.   Covering the huge plain from the coast to the lovely city of Montpellier are vineyards producing significant amounts of vin de table, France's red table wine.  In fact, this is another prominent region first planted in vines by the Romans in centuries gone by.  At one time the region's wine production was almost all quantity and rarely any quality.  Things have changed, however, as the realization that quality wine is sought from Languedoc-Roussillon.  Smaller quantities are produced and the prevalent winemaking skills are turning out much better wines from the original Carignan grapes as well as Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre.  The most noticeable feature about quality Languedoc wines (mostly reds, by the way) is their availability at still very low prices.  If you are shopping for Languedoc wines, look for Corbières and Minervois, Côteaux du Languedoc, and one of our favorites, Costières de Nîmes, which  resembles a Rhône wine.  Whites, reds and sweet wines, such as Muscat, are also produced in the region, so there is something for every wine aficionado.   Roussillon, farther south along the Mediterranean coast, has a smaller wine industry, less important to its economy than that of Languedoc.  The most impressive of the Roussillon wines is Banyuls made from the Grenache grape.  Roussillon produces much less wine than Languedoc, as farming plays a larger part in its economy.

The region known as Languedoc-Roussillon is comprised of five départements, Lozère (48), Gard (30), Hérault (34), Aude (11) and Pyrénées-Orientales (66).   Although many guide books, especially those from the United Kingdom, delineate the province quite differently - some even including Toulouse and Albi - we will tell you about the 'official' départements of Languedoc-Roussillon as presented by the IGN Official Mapping Agency of France and the Michelin maps and guides. In this issue we will take you to the Lozère, Aude and Gard.  In our next issue, we will spend time rediscovering Roussillon (the Pyrénées-Orientales, or as some know it, French Catalonia) and the Hérault with a focus on intriguing and pleasant Montpellier.

The Aude (11), also known as Cathar country, is our first destination.  From the N9 you will reach Narbonne, a city about 15 kilometers inland.  Go eastward on the D168 toward Narbonne-Plage ( plage =  beach or seaside resort), basically a long stretch of sand lined with parking spaces.  Continue north only another 2 kilometers to the delightful little beach community of St-Pierre-sur-Mer,  where the construction of modern seaside apartments hasn't become an intrusion.  This lovely little spot is the southern edge of an environmentally-planned beach resort reaching north to les Cabanes de Fleury at the border with the département of the Hérault.  This stretch of coastline offers picnic areas, hiking trails in the woods, botanical gardens and a wetlands area.  Nearer St-Pierre is the grotto, Grotte de l'Oeil Doux, which contains a mysterious black lake. 

Narbonne Plage courtesy of its Office de Tourisme
Narbonne Plage

You may have seen the Kevin Costner version of Robin Hood, a movie filmed in the walled fortress city of Carcassonne.  Located in the département of the Aude as you drive west from the coast, this is a place not to be missed.  Despite some touristy stands selling souvenirs, Carcassonne has never lost its medieval charm.  Only residents can drive into the walled city, so parking for tourists is provided outside.Carcassonne, courtesy Office of the Mairie.Walk through the ancient arched gateway over a small drawbridge, and you are back in time.   Carcassonne is the largest medieval city in Europe with its ramparts still intact. A Crusade came through the region in the tenth century and crushed the Albigensian rebellion.  The Albigenses or Cathars as they came to be known, were  people viewed by the church as heretics for their belief in a god of good and a god of evil, and they resisted mightily in their strong fortresses, one of which was Carcassonne.  Other strongholds from those times in this region are Quéribus, Peyrepertuse and Puilaurens. There are several fine restaurants, both in the walled city and the newer town below.  The local cuisine is robust and outstanding, and you probably won't go wrong wherever you choose to dine.

Canal du Midi, courtesy of Marlane O'Neill.  All rights reserved.Flowing from the Hérault into the Aude is the famed Canal du Midi, built in  1681 to move goods across France between the Atlantic and Mediterranean coasts.  The entire canal is not called the Canal du Midi, only the portion from Toulouse east to Étang de Thau where it connects with the Canal de la Robine.  The Canal du Midi was the accomplishment of Pierre-Paul Riquet, who designed and built it over a 14-year period.  It was the last link in the waterway connecting the ocean to the sea and passes by Carcassonne and many other places worthwhile visiting such as Castelnaudary, Béziers and Agde.  Many companies are in the barging business in France, and some are based in the United States. From the US or France you can reserve a self-drive houseboat or book passage on a hotel-barge manned by a crew. 
                        The Canal du Midi

Pont du Gard / Copyright Cold Spring Press 1997 - 2007.  All rights reserved.When you first set your eyes upon the 2000-year-old Pont du Gard you may appreciate the skill and talent of the Roman builders more than ever before.  It's not an arena or other Roman building in a human scale.  Instead, it is monumental and astonishing.  Proudest of this construction feat themselves, the Romans built the 157' tall structure with slave labor, hoisting the huge building blocks up with pulleys.  Some of the stones weighed up to six tons!  The Pont's purpose was to carry water from a mountain spring near Uzès 31 miles down to the very Roman city of Nîmes - something that it successfully accomplished for nearly 1000 years. Crossing the River Gard where Languedoc meets Provence, the Pont du Gard is distinctive.  Its three tiers of arches - the widths of the arches different on each tier - support a narrow water channel running along the top.  No masonry was used between the stones of the arch, which makes it all the more astonishing.  [See the Pont du Gard at the left of the FRANCE On Your Own photo bar at the top of this page.] It is hard to imagine that this graceful, golden structure was begun in the year 19BC and is still standing nearly completely intact.  The Pont du Gard can be reached from Nîmes north on the N86 to Remoulins where you turn west onto the D981.  There is ample parking and the usual souvenir and snack stands near the parking lot but, thankfully, away from the Pont du Gard itself.

As  you may have surmised, we are now in the Gard (30) region of Languedoc, the département where the Romans most clearly left their mark.  From Aigues-Mortes at the edge of Provence's Camargue to the wonderful city of Nîmes, the Gard offers visitors interesting villages and small cities to explore.  It also will provide those interested in nature and outdoor activities with plenty to do and see.  What the Gard (and adjoining Lozère département to its northwest) doesn't provide are wide expanses of Mediterranean beaches as those found in the Hérault, Aude and Pyrénées Orientales.  Its only coastline lies in a flat and wild area south of Aigues-Mortes, around the old town of le-Grau-du-Roi and the new marina at Port-Camargue.  But here, on a vast expanse of golden sand dunes, there is adventure to be had!  Known as the Espiguette  desert, the area is best seen on horseback.  Tall beach grasses and clumps of small bushes dot the dunes, atop the highest of which one can see from the Pyrénées to the Cévennes and out to sea across empty beaches.  The area can also be visited by boat from Aigues-Mortes to Saint-Gilles, or on foot along the lake and salt marsh road.  It wouldn't be unusual to see egrets, flamingoes, cranes and an occasional bull, so it is recommended you have your camera ready!  Throughout this part of the southern Gard a multitude of recreational activities are available including sailing, wind-surfing, diving, water skiing, cross country bicycling, fishing, tennis, golf and more.
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