Sunday, December 10, 2006

I suppose you could say he left them nearly senseless?

If you’re ever in southern France, I recommend visiting a historical site called Minerve, about 25 minutes from the Narbonne. Set atop a hill at the confluence of two deep river valleys, Minerve has a history of violence to match its physical stature. Although I don’t know when the village was first established, its purpose was simple: defensibility. The original settlement boasted a double exterior wall built flush with the surrounding cliffs. It is still easy to see why the original inhabitants felt safe – there is virtually no way to directly attack the city.

The story goes that in the year 1240, during the Crusade against the Cathars, Simon de Montfort laid siege to the village after the Beziers Massacre. With four catapults – three attacking the main gate, and one – the largest, called Malevoisine – concentrating on the town well - Montfort relentlessly besieged the village for six weeks. Legend has it that to add to the intimidation factor, Montfort brought a group of prisoners to the base of the city and removed all of their eyes, ears, noses and tongues – except for the last man, who got to keep one eye. He then chained them together and forced the man with one eye to lead the others around the base of the village, and subsequently to other villages, to demonstrate his power.

Anyway, after six weeks of catapulting, the well fell and Viscount Guilhem of Minerve, leader of a force of 200 men, negotiated surrender to save himself and the villagers. The 140 or so Cathars hiding in the city refused to give up their faith and were subsequently burned at the stake.

Walking through the dry river bed at the base of the city was a humbling experience. While few plaques exist to explain the history, one’s imagination fills in the gaps readily. Creating a bit of an emotional dichotomy, the area is visually stunning. Parts of the original city walls remain, fused with new walls that together rise from the cliffs. A substantially tall one-lane bridge connects the city to the opposite canyon wall, the only exit for people and vehicles. Each of the two valleys is very deep with hundreds of feet of exposed cliffs. The river itself has carved a cave probably a quarter of a mile long and anywhere from 60 feet wide at the mouth to 150 feet wide inside. Visitors are able to walk through during times when the river has “disappeared” underground. The opposite canyon stretches north, and along the river runs a path leading to a series of natural pools. Near the pools lie the remains of a few structures and a small bridge, still standing after hundreds of years.

In other news, Marie now knows that I’ll be leaving soon and we may have resolved that little problem of my “yet-to-receive-compensation-for-my-work” status. I’ve accepted a job in New Zealand beginning February 5 which will pay nearly equal to my wage in France (this is contingent on my successful application for a work visa). However, I can guarantee my “food” cost – even when combined with my actual lodging cost – will be less than I currently surrender. I’ll be working at the second largest winery in New Zealand, near the north end of the south island. The company, Delgat’s, hires about 40 seasonal workers for the wine harvest and arranges reasonably priced housing, a shuttle service to and from work, one meal a day, and “work clothes.” They also speak English, even if it is a little funny to hear them talk.

I have an address in Prague. It is:

Jonathan Fitzpatrick
Kladska 1293/15 #10
120 00 Praha 2
Czech Republic

I’m also taking suggestions for a new title for this blog.


Bryce said...

How about "Australia's Canada"

Brett said...

Well, in your current locale, it could be:

Czeckin' out the Republic.
Cheap meat and hot chicks.
Take That, slovakia.

When you get to New Zealand, it could be:

Birthplace of sketchy midgets who stalk your ex-girlfriend.
"We hate the Australians because, deep down, we hate ourselves"- land.