Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Fourcès and Larressingle: the invitation of stones

Munson & StephEver since I moved to the farm two years ago, I’ve driven past a sign for the La Villa de Séviac, a Gallo-Roman villa about 15km away. I’ve learnt from other overseas moves that you should postpone visits to attractions with paid-entry until such times as you’ve got interested guests, otherwise you end up paying to see them enough times to be able to give a blind-folded tour of the site.

With the promise of rain over the next few days – great for the farm, but not so interesting for guests – I thought we’d take Steph out for a small circuit of the area. Since she’s also an archaeologist by training we finally had an excuse to visit Séviac, or at least to find out where it was and scope it out from the exterior.

We found the villa located on the outskirts of Montreal-du-Gers, but it was closed for lunch so I thought we could take in some other sights before returning, especially as posted opening hours tend to be more aspirational than operational in this corner of the world. I was going to post a link to the wikipedia article for Montreal without comment, but it seems to be written as a tourist pamphlet (“Because of its landscapes the Gers is sometimes called the "Tuscany of France") with little useful background. Tip for casual researchers using Wikipedia for French subjects: change the  “en” at the start of the URL to “fr” to get the French article. You may have to run it through Google translate or otherwise slightly tweak the URL but it will usually be much more helpful.Fourcès square
The small bastide of Fourcès was only ten minutes away from Montreal. We had a splendid day out at their Xmas market last year but it was nice to see the plane trees at the centre still with healthy green foliage.
clocktower plaque  bird-nests at Fourcès
In addition to the simple beauty of this thousand year old village with its unique circular centre and short radiating streets, there are some nice little textual touches for the observant. The sole entrance road across the 15th century bridge is the Rue des Anciens Combattants. Adjacent to the 13th century clocktower is a plaque which reads (my translation):

It is there for you the tower door since the time of water clocks; threshold, symbol of communication, passage of dialogue, it dominates the village, singing its quiet hours, speaking its language of bronze, which vibrates deep within its being, as a feeling of warmth and reassuring rhythm.

It opens the horizon to nature, tells you the existence of the other, the difference, it will report the future that will lead your steps: the tower stuck, stopped, straddling the passage, the ephemeral life and watching you: seek and find the face of the knight who will give you a new message: you are going to leave us, you have kept Fourcès as an illustration of a long culture, you'll dive into the shimmering generous nature that surrounds: all form a whole that is so good, so rich, so exciting of love.

The rhythm of the text with its poetic invitation and exotic references to clepsydres reminds me of Cavafy’s Ithaka, a piece of which is tattooed on my arm.Larressingle (inside walls)
Next stop was the even smaller bastide village of Larressingle, one of the first places I visited when I got to the Gers. One of its plaques is nearly as poetic as that from Fourcés:

Kind visitor
Larresingle offers you its streets
Open your eyes and heart
Your penny is welcome
The survival of its walls is the price
These ancient stones will tell you thank you

Larressingle Gustav: objects of taste Larressingle plaque
Larressingle ammonitesThese ancient stones, often turned by human hands to represent beasts real and imagined, also contain traces of more ancient creatures, with multiple impressions of ammonites visible in the limestone.

We didn’t get back to the villa Seviac today as I needed to get home to put a leg of lamb in the oven for dinner.
Larressingle exterior

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