Thursday, February 6, 2014

Lanes, a Lavoire and a Graveyard.

One day I decided it was time to go and explore the village church and the cemetary up on the hill above Labastide Esparbairenque.
It was a damp day and the La Muse terrace was glistening from the light rainfall.
As I left La Muse Inn, the home of my writers retreat, I passed the wood shed. We writers had an interesting relationship with the wood stoves here :-)  Getting the fires started was a daily challenge and we always felt jubilant when we finally saw it roaring away.
Its an uphill climb, even when  leaving La Muse. The gate out into the passage is very picturesque and I'd love to be here in the summer when the vines are covering the pergola with green masses of leaves.  Homer the dog, is waiting by the gate, and actually came with me on my adventure.
I decided to explore the narrow walkway going right, as up to this point I had always turned left, to access the main road.
I found this interesting little courtyard and the passage continued downhill.

I was thrilled to find it brought me out at this terrace overlooking the valley.  I had spotted the railings from the main road one day and had fallen in love with this balcony on the edge of the hillside. I had mentioned how I wanted to visit this place and suddenly it was right in front of me. Also, it looked like the owners were away as it was all shuttered up. 
I ventured onto the terrace and got a few pictures. It was great to stand there looking over the valley.

This was the entrance to the home.
And this was the incredible view.
Heading back up to the main road that led to the church, I passed the familiar stepped walkways so often seen in Labastide.
There are wide steps and narrow steps built into the hillsides.
This planter is actually half of a bombshell, with the date of when a bomb actually exploded in this small village during World War 2.
There is a strong local history of the French resistance in this area. 
Many local people were lost working for this cause and it is still an emotional topic to this day.
Looking over the valley to the hillsides across the way you can see some of the many terraces built in the past to enable farming.  The walls are all made of drystone construction.
As I walked up towards the church I spotted a hut, I had no idea what it was.  
It was very interesting. There was a sort of holding tank in the middle and there was water coming out of a spout in the wall. 

Then I spied what looked like a drain near the road side.  I cleared the leaves and saw how it functioned, draining the large bath like area.
I asked John what this was when I got back to the house and I was told it was a lavoire.  All the villages in the mountains had them. The women of the village would do their washing there.  He said some of the women had told him that, years ago, when they were still in use, they remembered breaking the ice on the water before doing their laundry.
I was fascintated by this story and went in search of other lavoires while walking the mountain roads later in my visit.
Just across from the lavoire was an iron cross mounted on a raised stone plinth.
The symbols on the cross intiqued me. At the top there was an angel.
Then in the middle there was what could be the Saint of the church, St Andre.
And down below there was a skull and what looked like crossed bones.
Talking about this later with my writer friends we wondered if the  symbols represented heaven, earth and hell.
On the left moving up the road towards the church were these quaint signposts pointing the way to a special rock and the high road to Roquefere.
The different routes to the different villages are indicated by the coloured stripes.
Finally, my attention focused on the  church up on the hill.
The huge gravestones were quite dramatic as I climbed ever closer to the village church.

The entry into the church yard was through this avenue of trees.  I have to say that walking through it I had a heavy sense of foreboding. It wasn't welcoming at all.
The wind picked up and rain started blowing into my face as I walked behind the church.
There was yet another ornamental iron cross, this one was much bigger and in the centre of the back area of the churchyard.
This church is very old and the archway to the entrance shows this. Homer, the family dog at La Muse, managed to sneak into this shot. It was comforing to have him with me at this time.
Inside the entry was this rustic stone bench,  I could imagine the members of the congregation sitting on it in the past, waiting for the service to begin, 
The entrance doors to the church were simple and imposing.
On the wall to the left there was an alcove containing a small Madonna and some flowers in a tiny vase, as well as a cross.
Here is a close up. The simplicity of this display was touching to me.
The ceilings looked ancient.
Outside, Homer and I braved the rain and ventured into the cemetary.
After the starkness of the church, the bright colours of the flowers on the graves was startling.
Also, I had never seen graves like this before, either in England or Canada.  They were huge, and seemed to be family graves.
There were little plaques all along the edges of the graves, with different messages from family members to the departed.

There was such an outpouring of love and emotion visible here. 
Many of the family names were those of some of the people I had met in the village.
Looking up I saw the majestic windows of the church.  I couldn't go inside as it was locked.

The bell tower was also impressive.
I went into the back area of the cemetary.
There were even more beautiful memorials.
The cemetary bordered the woodlands.

Just like the rest of Labastide, its on a hillside and had terraces to compensate for the slope.

The view was quite incredible.

Alongside the elaborate family graves there were simple iron crosses.
This stone cross was very, very old. The date was illegible.

For some reason, some were very close to the church walls.

Some of the graves were dramatically impressive and almost reminded me of a movie set.
Its hard to realize these elaborate memorials exist in a remote village in the mountains of southern France.
To leave the church yard you must once again pass through the trees.  I really got a spooky feeling from this walk. Almost the feeling of the judgement of the church falling on my head. 
As I entered the main village it was heartening to see the Honey sign put up by Monsieur Dector, such a lovely man. It helped to dispel the gloom I was feeling after my church visit.
As I rounded the corner, once again I saw the houses of the village marching down the hillside.

It was quite the day, and I will carry the memory of the dramatically charged atmosphere of this churchyard and cemetary.  It was like no other feeling I have ever had visiting a church and its surrounding space. 
I had other less intense investigative walks around the village of Labasitde Esparbairenque, but those my friends, make up another story.

1 comment:

Susan Sandoe said...

I am at La Muse at present, and just did a piece of writing about my experience visiting the church on the first day. Thank you for your beautiful photos and words about your experience.