Our hosts for the past week live in Perigord Vert/ Dordogne. It is three hours by train from Paris, verdant, a place of many rushing rivers and rolling hills. On our first afternoon, having debarked at Limoges, we drove around their immediate neighbourhood, focussing on the sights within five miles or so of their home.
Chateaux, of differing periods and styles, rise up near villages of ancient stone houses, winding, narrow streets and medieval churches. The long history of the region is witnessed everywhere in abandoned monasteries, castles demolished stone-by-stone during the Revolution, monuments to battlefields. I have travelled to the French Alps and Provence, throughout the UK and somewhat in Northern Italy, but I have never been anywhere that the evidence of past events was more richly witnessed by structures that still stand. And it would seem that the fertile soil is a blood-soaked one.
Our own violence and our great national sin, the near destruction of the native peoples of Canada, has not left much behind that is visible. What must it be like, to grow up everyday seeing the evidence of violent struggle everywhere about? It begins with the many “grottes”, caves that are naturally present in the river valleys, but which were elaborated to act as hiding places against the Vikings. Most castles are ramparted, have towers with slits for arrows, massive gates that can be shut on violent intruders. Here, the French fought to wrest the region from the English, despite the fact that the locals wished to remain part of Jolly Old. Here, appalling acts were perpetrated against the people of Languedoc who espoused different religious views and who had created a vibrant culture of troubadours and Courtly Love.
But here, too, so much has been built by effort, hard work and a genius for what counts in life. I believe that regions that have lived through centuries of threat and hardship create cultures where hospitality is a strong value. Alan and I have never experienced such warmth and generous attention as we did in the South. Night and day our hosts, whom we had met just twice before, made it their mission to share their home, their region, their friends and family with us. Comment dit merci?