A common man marvels at uncommon things. A wise man marvels at the commonplace. CONFUCIUS

Saturday, 12 January 2008

In A Little Hilltop Village

In 1930 the Tarn burst its banks and flooded Moissac, destroying 617 houses and drowning 120 people. I left Moissac on 3 November and my morning's walk continued this watery theme. I followed the Canal de Garonne for 12 km. This canal runs from Bordeaux to Toulouse where it joins the Canal du Midi, thereby connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Mediterranean Sea. (The complete stretch is known as the Canal des Deux Mers.) At one point I knew I passed the confluence of the Tarn and Garonne rivers. But it was quite misty and I couldn't make out anything very much except for the occasional lone cyclist or jogger who ghosted by. From the canalside village of Pommevic (there's a nuclear power station here but I didn't see it) I headed on a quiet country road across flat farmland towards the hilltop village of Auvillar.

Auvillar was the 1st of many bastide towns and villages I would either see distantly or visit throughout the rest of the département of Tarn-et-Garonne and in the next département of the Gers. Bastides were fortified settlements built in south-west France, in medieval Languedoc, Gascony and Aquitaine, during the 13th and 14th centuries. They were normally built to a grid pattern, and situated on hilltops for defensive reasons. The photo shows the beautifully restored medieval market hall in Auvillar's central square.

At Auvillar I encountered an artist painting, in the style of Van Gogh, a large and colourful mural for the local school. As was my custom I approached him for a chat. We talked about the big influx of English people to the area. "10% of the population of Auvillar is now English," he commented. I asked if that caused any problems (we often hear the French blaming incomers for the property price hikes affecting the whole of France). "Well, house prices have gone up, it's true," he said. "But there are many reasons for that. We have nothing against the English living here. As long as they mix in and join village society. However there are some English cliques which keep themselves to themselves and won't even attempt to learn French or take part in communal village life..."

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