When I told friends in Paris I was going to Lagrasse, no one had even heard of it. “Grasse?” they kept asking in puzzlement. “Non, Lagrasse,” I kept insisting. They didn’t quite believe me.
Yet this little village in Languedoc-Roussillon is a gem is rated as one of “Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.” Nestled in the foothills of the Pyrénées, it hosts a twice-a-year literary festival, Banquet des Livres and also hosts a very active philosophy society. As Libération puts it: “Au cœur des Corbières, le village de Lagrasse mêle le goût du vin à celui de la parole, la philosophie à la littérature, l’exigence à la convivialité.”
I went on a walking tour along the narrow medieval streets with a friend I hadn’t seen in 35 years – the way-back days in Pokhara and Kathmandu. The village of about 500 is easily walkable. A few minutes walk away from his home, where I’m a guest for a few days, is the abbey built in the time of Charlemagne, and the 1303 Pont-Vieux à Lagrasse on the river l’Orbieu.
We are in the very south of France, close to the Spanish border. Lots of signs say that this is “Pays Cathars” – an odd thing to brag about, since the Cathars were slaughtered mercilessly in these parts. For me, it was a bit like seeing advertisements directing drivers to the locales of concentration camps.
But after a spirited dinner party (with an excellent locally made vieux prune and eau de vie), my dinner companions explained to me that the Cathar movement symbolized local resistance, and is a sign of local pride.
Maybe. I guess I can see it.
Simone Weil of course wrote a great deal about the Albigensian crusades that routed out the Cathar heresy. I like this quote from her the best: “Official history is believing the murderers at their word.”