Florensac, Olargues, Pont-Sainte-Esprit and the CIA

For the price of a Motel 6, Jonathan Revusky and I have three floors in Florensac, a village of 5,000 in southern France. This house is older than the USA, for sure, with raw wooden beams in the ceilings, stone floors, twisting stairs, odd angled walls, and an entrance to the bathroom so low, the owner had to pad the top casing, lest her guests be knocked out cold.

A small couch has a café crème floral design on a faded indigo background. Plopped on top are three cushions of red, red and Prussian blue. A tall casement window stares down at it. Matisse’s ghost must be here. Hi, Henri.

We arrived just in time to catch the Pat Cryspol band performing outdoors for free. Trumpet, trombone, saxophone, bass and drums. In the night, dozens of people, mostly old, were dancing. Dozens more sat at long tables to watch and, when the mood struck, sing along. Près de la grève, souvenez-vous / Des voix de rêve chantaient pour nous / Minute brève du cher passé / Pas encore efface, etc.

After two plastic cups of sangria, bought for two Euros each, we tried a pitcher of rosé for five. Though terrible, it couldn’t ruin our mood, for it was wonderful to see a community enjoying itself. An old lady encouraged Jon to sing, too. For one number, all the dancers formed a large circle, held raised hands and turned clockwise, then vice versa. A boy and a girl, no older than ten, asked if they could clear our table.

Next to the concert area, there was an inflatable slide, shooting gallery, bumper car rinks, merry-go-round and other rides. Cotton candies, churros, hot dogs, pizzas and fries were being sold.

Two police cars, four cops and a bomb sniffing dog guarded one entrance to the amusement area, but real terrorists would have had no problem causing havoc there, not to mention so many other targets, just in Florensac itself. It’s merely theater and social conditioning, my dear chumps, from the same people who brought us 9/11 and the endless War on Terror.

We met a Poland-born retired professor who’s living in Germany, “I had a house here for twenty years. I come back often. Florensac is wonderful. It is peaceful, and there is never any problem.”

We were sitting at a round wooden table under a maple tree. His wife and daughter were also present. College professors are conditioned to pontificate because, well, they’re always surrounded by blank slates. I addressed him, “In the US, many people think that Europe is being overrun by immigrants. Do you think that’s the case? Are people grumbling here?”

“Here, we think the US is being overrun by immigrants! We keep hearing all this talk about Mexicans this, Mexicans that.” The man laughed and grabbed the stem of his Bordeaux glass.

“Are there many Muslims in this town?”

“Maybe 7%, but they’ve been here a long time and very well integrated. If you go to the main square in the evening, you will see about 20 Muslim men, sitting on benches and talking. They don’t drink alcohol. It’s their way.”

“So there is no tension here?”

“No, not at all, although about 50% voted for the National Front during the last election. They don’t like the news coming out of Germany. Merkel has caused a lot of problems by inviting the immigrants.”

In Florensac, there are two kebab joints. At the weekly farmer’s market, there’s a very popular truck that sells Vietnamese spring rolls, rice noodles, Chinese dim sums, Thai curried chicken and other Asian dishes. Its proprietor is a 25-year-old born in France. His parents immigrated here from Nha Trang.

At Bistro d’Alex, the waiter is from Coventry, England. He’s been in France for nine years. When told that I was from Philly, the man shouted, “I must go there someday, to try the famous sandwich!”

“Oh man,” I laughed, “it’s seriously overrated.”

Later, I remarked to Jon, “Most Americans don’t even have access to a decent loaf of bread, man. This is basic stuff. They hardly know what cheese is. How did that happen? In the ‘greatest country on earth,’ people are fed fake bread, cheese and news!”

Each day at dawn, the church bell peals in Florensac, then tolls again an hour later. The boulangeries open at six, for bread should be bought daily, and eaten the same day. Seeing your baker each morning, he becomes practically a part of your family.

Since this is Occitan country, the street signs are in French and Occitan. The Occitan cross shows up in shops and even cars. Regionalism rules, as it should. Famous Occitans include Petronius, Balzac, Ingres, Lautreamont, Valery, Artaud, Ponge and Duras.

In nearby Olargues, I saw a graffiti, “C’EST LA TERRE, NOTRE RELIGION” [“IT’S THE LAND, OUR RELIGION”]. A small museum displayed mostly daily objects donated from the locals. The man at the desk, though, was a Brit. A baker for 20 years in Tavistock, near Plymouth, Bill moved to Olargues 15 years ago, “We decided we wanted something in the 34th département, so we drove around. We saw this real estate agent. He showed us a few things. We saw the house and liked it so much, we put a deposit on it the same day. It’s as simple as that. The house we bought was in fairly good condition, it didn’t need any work on it, and it was about half the price of places in England. When we sold our place in England, the extra half gave us the money to live on.”

“Buying a place here allowed you to retire early!” I said.

“Exactly! Moving to France allowed me to retire at 52. I have my pension now. I have no regrets.”

“How much French did you have when you first came?”

“Oh, just schoolboy French, not very good, but my wife’s French was very, very good. All the legal papers, all the dealings with the real estate agent, I just pushed it in front of her and said, ‘You sort it out!’ Since I’ve been here, my French has improved by leaps and bounds, because you use it all the time, you know, and I’m on the council now, so my French has definitely improved.”

“The council?”

“The town council. There are 15 of us. We meet every week. Old guys, mostly. The town is getting older, but there are still young people here. Some of them work in the city. It’s an hour away.”

By city, Bill meant Béziers, population 76,000. Despite its modest size, it has a huge and lively downtown. In 1209, Catholics troops besieged a Carthar-occupied Béziers, which prompted the papal legate to famously advise, “Caedite eos. Novit enim Dominus qui sunt eius.” Bastardized, it’s best known in English as, “Kill them all. Let God sort them out.”

Bill, “Some of the people here may work in Montpelier, they may have a flat there, but they come back here on the weekend.”

“So they’re still very attached to this place.”

“Oh, yes. A lot of these old places that don’t look inhabited, the people may work in the north of France or wherever, but all the family come back during the Summer. They still keep their family homes. These may look pretty tatty on the outside, but on the inside, they’re fine.”

“Do you go back to England often?”

“Since my mum died 2 ½ years ago, we haven’t bothered to go back to England. If my children want to see me, they can come here, but they haven’t. I don’t think I’ll go back to England again. I don’t miss it.”

“Why did you leave England in the first place?”

“The England I liked doesn’t exist anymore. It’s changing too quickly.”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, just people’s attitude, the young people, the binge drinking, the swearing, the drugs. Here, the young people have the freedom to run around, but they’re still polite. If you see a whole pile of kids coming down the street, you don’t feel threatened, and they always say hello, ‘Bonjour.’”

“But isn’t the countryside in England the same?”

“I lived in the countryside in England, and it’s changing. The French still have a family way of life, whereas in England, they put all the kids in front of the TV to watch the TV, they don’t bother with them, but here, the grandparents still bother with the children, and during the Summer holiday, all the grandparents we know have their grandchildren stay with them for six weeks, and so they teach them old values.”

“Do you think it’s because England is too influenced by the United States?”

“Very much. Nothing against you, but it’s definitely the influence of the United States.”

At the top of Olargues is a 13th century bell tower. At the bottom, there’s a 12th century bridge. You don’t build such structures, then move away. They’re meant for your great, great, great, great, great grandchildren. All over the US, I’ve seen so many dilapidated churches, abandoned by whites as they escaped to the suburbs, away from blacks.

Southern France isn’t all medieval villages and vineyards. There are also strip malls and hideous, characterless buildings. The outskirts of Castres, for example, are filled with so many car dealerships and chain stores, with each fronted by a large parking lot, that you can easily think you’re in the USA.

Jonathan Revusky, “This kind of layout is built for the automobile, and it’s very convenient, but you still have the historical core. Across most of the US, the strip malls are all you have! If you think of Orange County, for example, which is all freeways and strip malls, how can you feel attached to that?”

American politicians always cite “main street,” but that concept is mostly abandoned or boarded up, thanks to the big box boys.

Here in Florensac, there are still plenty of mom and pops, and no chain fast foods. I’m typing this outside the Brasserie Le Calypso. At adjacent tables are men, women and children, everyone relaxed and friendly. Peugeots and Citroens zoom by. One woman and four men, one a north African, stand around a barrel to sip drinks and talk. Walking her Yorkshire Terrier, an old woman in a red dress greets a child, “Bonjour, mon bébé!” Then she sits down next to a tattooed man, orders a wine.

Two hours by car from Florensac is Point-Sainte-Esprit. With a population of 4,200 in 1951, it suffered a hellish week then when more than 250 villagers went mad, with people running down the street delirious, tearing their clothes off or even jumping from windows. Seven died and fifty were interned in an insane asylum.

Known as the Cursed Bread Incident [Affaire du Pain Maudit], it caused a local baker to be jailed for two months, before laboratory tests of his flour, baguettes and biscuits cleared the innocent man.

Fifty-one years later, it was finally revealed that this tranquil, postcard-perfect village had been subjected to a CIA experiment with LSD. Big friggin’ deal! It’s just another day in the life of the Evil Empire. Friends, foes, it’s all fair game. Ruling over us, these criminals never care how many lives they destroy.

Meanwhile, though, life is still beautiful in rural France, and it’s precisely because it’s not thoroughly poisoned by American bread, cheese and news.

I finish this article in d’Agde, on Rue de l’Amour, the Street of Love. It’s just an alley, really, intimate and soothing. When a svelte and quite gorgeous 50-something walked by in a body-hugging dress, a dark, tattooed lady got up from her table to sashay, touch her own hips and compliment her friend and neighbor, “Très chic, madame!”

Everyone laughs. We’re all we need, really. If only the mass poisoners and murderers would disappear. Kill them all. Let God sort them out. Very nice, huh?

Linh Dinh’s Postcards from the End of America has just been released by Seven Stories Press. He maintains an active photo blog.

2 Responses to Florensac, Olargues, Pont-Sainte-Esprit and the CIA

  1. “Fifty-one years later, it was finally revealed that this tranquil, postcard-perfect village had been subjected to a CIA experiment with LSD.”

    Nothing points up, not to mention guarantees the continuation of, our present day Orwellian nightmare like the standard citizen non-reaction generated by truly outrageous revelations concerning the conduct of our own government and military. A blank stare and/or shrug of the shoulders followed by a change of subject is typically what you’ll get, and that’s about it.

  2. Wendy Ainsworth

    and what about Monarch Programming, etc…