Tabariane: New Light on the Dark Ages revisited

Which of my posts about our time in France to re-blog this month?  In the end, it was easy.  I fell to thinking about all the wonderful trips we had learning about the history of the area we’d chosen as our home, courtesy of  Pays d’art et d’histoire des Pyrénées Cathares.  Here’s a memorable day from July six years ago…

July 13th 2013

Tabariane: new light on the Dark Ages

When I was at school (back in the Dark Ages), we learnt in history that the Romans came after the Greeks.  They left us a legacy of Romance languages, our alphabet, Roman law, neo-Classical architecture, impossibly straight roads and under floor central heating.  As the empire crumbled, so we were told, the continent descended into the Dark Ages.  Barbarians, Vandals, and unpleasantly savage descendants of Asterix the Gaul ravaged Europe, raping, pillaging and generally leaving little time for culture and a settled everyday life.

I think we all knew it was a bit less straightforward than that.  The Frankish Germanic tribes entering the late Roman empire had a very different culture from that developed by the Romans, and it’s been much harder to research systematically because there are few contemporary written records.

This week though, we went to visit a Merovingian site, Tabariane, recently excavated and interpreted near Teilhet, not far from Mirepoix.  The Merovingians were an early Frankish dynasty established by Clovis, and they ruled an area roughly equivalent to much of France and Germany from the 5th to the 8th centuries, and are the kind of tribe that was dismissed as one of those from the very heart of the Dark Ages.

It was a burial site we’d come to see.  It has first been discovered in the very early 20th century by Captain Henri Maurel, and had been partly excavated according to the fairly invasive practices of the period.  War and economic upheaval meant the site became first neglected, and then entirely forgotten about until recently.

Recent research lead by Nicolas Portet has meant that the burial ground, now carefully excavated, is now, as it almost certainly was then, a burial garden.  It’s a large site, on a hillside overlooking the site of the now disappeared Merovingian settlement  on the opposite side of the valley.  The 166 tombs seem to have been arranged in ‘clans’: loose arrangements of extended families and friends, over a long period of time.  It seems to have been a burial ground which held a place in the life of the community for many years, rather than being a cemetery developed as a result of tragedy – war or plague say.  Most of the bodies were laid with their heads to the west, their feet to the east.  Originally they were clothed, but little remained apart from metal objects: belt buckles, brooches, jewellery and, with some of the men, weapons.

This is where ideas have changed. Early 20th century archaeologists sent excavated objects to museums far and wide, even to America: modern practice which encourages an area’s ‘patrimoine’ (heritage) to remain as far as possible intact did not then exist, but you can find examples of objects found here in the Museum at Mazères, and in Saint Raymond de Toulouse.

Now as then, the tombs are planted with local flowering plants: lavenders, marguerites, herbs.  It’s thought that locals would have visited the grounds with their families, spent time there, as we might in a modern park.  So it was important to both the living and the dead to make it a pleasant, calm place to be.  The burial ground overlooked the village. The village overlooked the burial ground.  Each had an interest in the other.  Each could intercede for the other.

It’s a tranquil, special place, surrounded by meadows and hilly countryside.  A circular walk of some two and a half kilometres , starting and ending in the village of Teilhet gives you a chance to spend a peaceful  hour or two exploring scenery that may not be so very different from the way it was when the Merovingian villagers first laid out their burial ground, some 800 years ago.  Excellent information boards will help you understand a little more about those Merovingian people who made their lives in this still rural area.

While you’re there, make time to enjoy the facade of the 14th century church at Teilhet.  Here are some pictures to whet your appetite.

 

The wind, the wind. The sea, the sea

Wind turbines near Zeebrugge.

I love wind turbines.  I love to see them set against the skyline, and marching across the crest of a distant line of hills.  And this week, I loved to see them near the coast, their legs in the sea, a gritty port-side industrial landscape behind them.

These are wind turbines near Zeebrugge, near Rotterdam, and near Hull.

In response to today’s Ragtag Challenge: Wind.

Click on any image to view full size

Yorkshire for Europe – part 2

We’re back from Brussels.  ‘We’ were a 60 strong group whose members, between us, had birthdates representing every single decade from the 1930s to the 2000s. And we had indeed come from Yorkshire just to say- ‘We’re for ever European’…

…. to ask ‘What shall we do with this rotten Brexit?’….

.. and to assert…..

We were cheered and moved to be tooted supportively by passing cars,  told by streetcleaners, policemen, ice-cream stallholders, bar staff, passport control staff, passers-by that people in mainland Europe want us to stay, welcomed our efforts.

Wednesday was the day when we marched round the European Parliament campus singing and waving our European, Yorkshire and Union flags.  It was the day when we toured the parliament building, having a question and answer session with Henry Wasung,  British multi-lingual member of staff, and in the absence of our own MEP Richard Corbett, who was in London, with Seb Dance, Labour MEP for London.  All of which assured us in our knowledge that only staying in Europe makes sense.

Singing on campus (ChiaraMacCall)

In the afternoon we were centre stage.  We were at the Schuman Roundabout, focal point of the buildings of many of the EU institutions.  So were members of Brussels Light Opera, Women for Europe, EU super girl and Young European of the Year 2018 Madeleina Kay.  And we sang (see above!).  Madeleina sang.  Various British MEPs came to support us and to speak.  Our own Shaffaq Mohammed and Magid Magid made speeches too.

Madeleina Kay with Magid Magid (Chiara MacCall)

Then it was four o’clock and time to go.  Time to load the flags, the posters, the banners into the coach and make our way back to the ship, and to England.

Packing up at the end (Chiara MacCall)

We feel energised, optimistic, ready to plan the next stage of our campaign.  Whatever we do, we’ll continue to make it fun and uplifting.  No sour faces here.

‘We’ve come from Yorkshire just to say, just to say…….

…… all kinds of things about our love of Europe and our wish to remain in the EU. There are a dozen songs in the Yorkshire Remain Voice Song Book, pastiches of traditional songs, popular music staples, sea shanties and even hymns.

Sixty Yorkshire folk, all committed Remainer campaigners have arrived in Brussels to sing every one of them.

We’ve sung our way across on the overnight ferry from Hull to Zeebrugge.

We’ve had an entertaining and informative afternoon at the Comité Européen des Régions, and held an impromptu flash mob there.

Flash mob alert

We’ve practised in the park, and brought gratitude and tears to an elderly Belgian, remembering his youth, with its fascism, division and war.

And this evening, we went to Place Jo Cox, laid a wreath of knitted white roses, and sang in memory of the murdered Yorkshire MP. One of our own newly elected MEPs, Magid Magid (Green), who joined us, reminded us of Jo’s hallmark: her compassion.

Magid Magid lays our wreath

Tomorrow though, is our big day…..

Indian Journeys: A Local Train Journey with a Dramatic Ending

It was my last day in India.  I woke up to driving rain – the first I’d seen – a raging temperature and a sore throat.  But there was shopping to be done, packing to be done, general busyness.  I forced myself through the day, feeling worse all the time.

Chennai Station (Wikimedia Commons: PlaneMad)

I eventually made it to the station where I planned to catch a train to the airport: a local service with a quick journey time.  How was I to know that the train would fill and fill and fill until people were hanging from the doorways in true Indian Travel Documentary style?  With me crushed in the very middle of it all, feeling iller by the second.  Actually, ‘crushed’ doesn’t even begin to cover it: the only reason I didn’t fall to the floor was that it was physically impossible.

An image from Wikimedia Commons (archer10) gives the general idea…

At a certain point, I couldn’t stand it any more, and somehow forced myself and my luggage off the train, with everyone shouting behind me ‘No!  No!  Airport is two more stations!’  By then though, I was sprawled across the platform, vomiting and vomiting as the train departed without me.  A lovely man tried to help.  He brought me water which he poured over me, washing my face and making me drink.  A concerned crowd gathered, but by then I had lost all pride as I lay there, being repeatedly sick.

Two policewomen turned up, at as much at a loss as anyone else.  Finally, they made a decision.  They hauled me quite roughly, as if I were a dangerous demonstrator rather than a rather sick and weak woman onto a train – a fairly empty train, now the rush period was over – and chucked me on the floor.

At the airport station, we were joined by a rather handsome male officer who carried me, ‘Gone with the Wind’ style up the airport steps (a shame I was way too ill to appreciate it), and heaved me into a rickshaw, together with my luggage.  Our destination was the airport medical centre.  I was examined and at last a decision was made.  Hospital.  An ambulance appeared and I was dumped on a stretcher.  Bang!  The ambulance driver revelled in using his siren – who wouldn’t if it meant actually moving in the streets of Chennai?  I was at the Sri Balaji Hospital .

I remember little of the rest of the day. But the British Consulate must have been told, and someone there must have dealt with the fact that I was no longer travelling back to the UK that night.

This is the last of my ‘Indian Journey’ posts.  I’ll write more about my trip later though.  You haven’t heard about the Rainforest Retreat, Gurukula Botanical Sanctuary, French Colonial India, Couchsurfing in Thanjavur, Mamallapuram … or life in an Indian hospital….

Today’s entry for the Ragtag prompt: Sick

Indian Journeys: The Bus to Chennai…..

This was not my bus. It’s a school bus, and a smarter version. Sadly, I forgot to take a picture of the one I travelled in.

…. was the sort you see in all the pictures. Unglazed windows with bars across, and an engine that had probably been put together c.1953.  If this coach had been a human body, you’d probably have called it ‘lived in’.  As it was in fact a bus, I’d say it had had a long history of ‘near misses’.  Oh, and it may not have been cleaned since 1953 either.

But the big excitement was a motorway.  Well, perhaps not a motorway, but a toll road anyway, with dual carriageway, a hard shoulder and a central reservation.  The road surface was indifferent, but so superior to anything I had met previously  that I could understand why everyone described it as ‘the fast road to Chennai’.  Here’s what I found out:

Goats eat breakfast in Thanjavur. They’d have done better on the fast lane of the motorway.
  • 2 lanes doesn’t mean slow and fast. Everyone uses both lanes indiscriminately and over or undertakes at will.
  • Goats use the ‘fast’ lane.
  • Cows use the central reservation.
  • Bicycles going the opposite way to the prevailing traffic use the hard shoulder. As do pedestrians.
  • Men pushing handcarts use the main highway.
  • The hard shoulder is also for bus stops.
  • There are zebra crossings. God knows why, nobody ever uses them.
  • Pedestrians cross whenever they want to. Not at the zebra crossings, obviously.

Click on any image to view full size.

The Great Indian Train Journey: Mysore to Thanjavur.

Mysore to Thanjavur: 415 km by road, more than 600 km. by rail, and a 12 hour overnight journey: £6.00.

Bike park outside Mysore Station.

I’d booked my ticket the day before, and arrived at the station as directed, about an hour ahead of its scheduled departure.  It was just as well.  A station official took pity (for a small fee…) on the clueless European , who had no idea that she had to check in, in the manner of an airline passenger, or that she would find her seat by looking for her name on the passenger lists posted at each carriage door.

On the station platform, everyone was getting on with life.  A large family spread themselves on the ground, got out metal plates and canisters of food and got stuck in.  Rather than sit in a hot train, I headed for the calm of the Ladies’ Waiting Room until it was nearly time to go.

The train itself, once it got started got into the habit of making long stops nowhere in particular.  Chai and coffee boys went up and down the train.

As darkness fell, I was struck by the low level of lighting in the towns we passed through, and more particularly the stations.  Even at Bangalore, where we stopped for ages.  More chai, coffee and water sellers got on, then  vendors selling hot meals: I chose a vegetarian meal with rice and several different vegetable dishes – hot and very good value.  A young woman got on, having had her hands and wrists recently henna-ed on both sides.  Managing her life, which seemed to consist of calling people on her mobile, without using her not-yet-dry hands was quite a challenge. One family produced a three course supper with several dishes, on metal plates, then mum disappeared to wash up at the sink in the corridor.  I had different conversations with various passengers, limited by our inabilities in each other’s languages.

At about 9.00, we all got ready for bed. Our compartment got separated out into two sets of beds at three levels and smartly uniformed staff handed out crisply laundered sheets, pillows and a double blanket each for us to make up our beds in our own way.  For once, I slept … until 4.00, when so many passengers got out at Trichy.  I had only an hour to go before arriving at Thanjavur.

I was dreading having to wait on a dark deserted station for two hours (Waiting for whom? Another tale for another time). But it wasn’t deserted.  Not at all.  The booking hall was thronged with men – young men, old men, all sitting in convivial groups on the ground sorting and collating that day’s newspapers.  It took them almost the whole two hours that I had to wait until the next chapter of my story began….

Click on any image to view full size and to read the captions.

This was part of my Indian Adventure, November 2007.  I have used the place names that were then widely used, rather than the official names, which now seem more widely adopted.