La Cité

The whole of Carcassonne, Basse Ville, had a hangover and stayed in today, after last night’s wine fair finale – the Fete had been going since the 21st. The streets were empty apart from old men, either on their way, with irregular patterns of footfalls echoing, home, or out for a wander, browsing in the windows of the local theatre, the posters looking decidedly dated. But, like much of the France we’ve seen, not. Current, in fact. One poster for a solo drag act was for last week. Nice to know that the drag names here follow the same pattern as elsewhere. She was a Miss something low-camp Perme.

I was out trawling for croissants and other breakfast ingredients. The supermarket had no baguettes when I walked in, on Place Carnot, by the time I’d picked up the essentials – fresh milk, as opposed to the ubiquitous UHT; pate de compagne (for Q.); butter, soft and salted, from Bretagne; croustillant muesli with four fruits; excellent berry yoghurts – a man in white pants had refilled the bread racks with hot-from-an-oven-if-not-the-oven sticks, ciabatta styled, sized loaves and mini-sticks.

Two other shops I passed on the way home with the warm baguette were open, a patisserie, where I bought croissants, and a florist’s, on rue Verdun. Do dirty stop-outs arrive home Sunday morning with pastries and flowers to make amends?

A light drizzle. Predicted by weather reports we’d seen in Maries de la Mer. Turning to rain in the afternoon.

We breakfasted. Then after Q.’s bath, we lunched. Finally making it up to La Cite on foot, through the Sunday streets. We were reminded of how NZ had been. Sunday only dairies open. People taking an enforced rest. Children’s radio in the morning. And after baths, after the Johnson & Johnson’s powder, fresh pyjamas and the Disney Special on TV. If you were lucky, a cartoon. One of the anthropomorphised animal movies. Or Swiss Family Robinson. Unlucky, something ‘educational’ about the Wild.

Through the dirty breach between La Ville Basse and La Cite on the hill, over the old bridge crossing the Aude, through rue La Gaffe, and up the steep stones-as-cobbles cart-way to the castellated walls now looming over us. This way, the guide called going through the back-door of La Cite, through Porte d’Aude, rather than Porte Narbonnais with its twin towers and drawbridge. We entered close to the Chateau Comtal and decided to do it, do it, do it. Up here on the hill, the streets were full of people, tourists, many English speaking, but Dutch and German and French too.

A read a sign saying no backpacks so I asked the receptionist if there was a garderobe of some description. No, she answered, You’re going to have to carry it around ALL day. With ironic emphasis. But…, I said. What about the sign?

That’s to say your pack will be checked to see if you are carrying a BOMB.

But it was neither to say that nor was it checked. I felt like returning to her to say, You see!? I have been carrying this BOMB around ALL day, without anyone CHECKING. What do you think of THAT?

The striking feature of the chateau is the existence of wooden gantries and walkways locked into the stone of towers and high walls, from which, we discovered, attacks were mounted through the floor onto those below, and out of shuttered loop-holes, and murder-holes, the slits for arrows and cross-bow bolts. Allegedly there is still debate over Viollet-le-Duc’s restoration – taking 50 years, which he didn’t live to see completed – in the nineteenth century. The film presentation on the second floor revolved around the reconstruction, presenting the architect and Middle-Ages enthusiast as something of a hero.

The castle was never taken by force. It was surrendered in the thirteenth century to Simon de Monfort during the period of the Cathar witch-hunt, when, in Beziers, 6 000 people were slaughtered. The film called the campaign he headed merciless.

Simon de Montfort was to be found across town, at the first of Viollet-le-Duc’s restoration projects, the church of St-Nazaire. The church leaflet called the parish, Ste-Marie-Reine-en-Pays-de-Carcassonne. A lot of hyphens. The height of the transcept is that of the peak of the roof covering the nave, hugely tall. Lit by extraordinary stained-glass windows. One painted. The tree of life. Unique, we read.

Some Russians were selling CDs in front of Jesus. And there was a guy on a laptop. Free wifi here?

On the way home, well, to the car, for our daily date at McDonalds – because of the free wifi – to find accommodation in Barcelona, J. realised the camera was gone. Gone?

So into the car, up to the castle. It must have been when we were looking through the brilliantly conceived braille guide to Carcassonne. Both hands were needed to feel the raised features on the white pages. The camera must have been put aside.

The castle was closed. Barred. Padlocked. And the janitor was nowhere to be found. Tomorrow.

After McD’s, excellent self-catering, chicken a la slap-up-Carcassonne – which, the name, has nothing to do with carcases, but Princess Carcas ringing a bell, sonner. Chickpeas, turnip, magic Provencal herbs, tomato, leek, redwine, salt, a little of the lot of tapenade. And chick’s legs, which here are unappealing to look at, having a yellow tinge, but tasty as. I opened the Saint-Pourcain rose we’ve had in our mobile cellar since Moulins, F.’s parting gift.