Tuesday, 2 November 2010


A few days ago we were invited to a very unusual ceremony.

About 15 months ago K. died after an unavailing struggle against cancer. He was a remarkable man in many ways, a German of wide education who, having decided to settle in the Languedoc, set about the restoration of a remote hill village called Bardou. This village had been progressively abandoned as small-scale sheep-farming and chestnut cultivation ceased to provide a means of existence, and when K. arrived in the mid-70s most of the houses were ruined. He bought them up gradually and with his own hands began the process of restoration, always keeping within the local, traditional style. There's a photo of a corner of Bardou above, which I posted in another context months ago, inviting people to count the peacocks which K. had introduced.

Apart from building his own house, he turned Bardou into a rental village aimed at musicians, artists, theatre groups as well as individuals attracted by the solitude and quiet of this mountain fastness. Most of K.'s guests were German. Regular summer visitors included a 35-strong orchestra, the Sinfonietta, which would rehearse in a K.-built studio in the village and then perform in local churches. For a few years I played timpani with this orchestra and thoroughly enjoyed the experience

He had lengthy battles with local authorities, some won, some lost. After years of badgering, electricity was installed. The telephone followed. To this day water comes from the stream that flows through the village. The 4-kilometre road to Bardou, cliff on one side, precipice on the other, is the last in the locality to receive any attention.

The mountain country in which Bardou nestles. We live near the valley floor, just visible on the extreme right if you enlarge

J. and I used to go to Bardou fairly frequently, for concerts in the recital room K. had constructed, for art exhibitions, or to rehearse with his musicians. Sometimes we used to brave the potholes for something particularly associated with K., the reading of Shakespeare plays with friends round his dining table. K spoke excellent English.

It was thought fitting at his death that he should be laid in a private tomb overlooking his creation. At his funeral he was housed temporarily in somebody else's family tomb in a village down in the valley, with their permission. Meanwhile a mausoleum was constructed, a most beautiful little open-fronted chapel with a crypt beneath, built in the local style on a rocky promontory overlooking Bardou. The paperwork needed for the transfer from one burial place to another is unbelievably complex and lengthy, but at last it was complete, and the other day K. was transferred from his temporary to his permanent resting place. There was a short and simple ceremony, a few words from his family to the 30 or so invited guests, a moment or two of silence, and finally installation into his mausoleum. He had come home.

A nearby chapel, called St Martin du Froid, on which the design for the mausoleum was based

I wondered what the technical term was for placing a coffin into a mausoleum. I hoped I might find the correct term in Evelyn Waugh's The Loved One, knowing that I might easily be led astray because Waugh had written it as a satire on United States attitudes to mortality. I found 'inhumement', 'inurnment', 'immurement' and even 'insarcophagusment'. None of these seemed to fit the bill for K., so I'm afraid I've invented the title of this post.

We're going away for a few days. Back next week. Happy days.


Rog said...

I hope "individuals attracted by the solitude and quiet" weren't too distressed to find a 35 piece German Oompah Band and 17 shrieking Peacocks.

Sound like my house.

Happy travels young man.

Sarah said...

What a great view. I always get spooked standing on the top of mountains....I blame Carlos Casteneda and that wretched Yaqui Indian

Dave said...

I assume your back has recovered somewhat, if you are fit to travel. Hurrah!

Christopher said...

17 shrieking peacocks, Rog? I thought there were only two of you. Maybe you've trained O and L to shriek?

Sah: Yes, fantastic. Had to Google Carlos Castaneda, but I see what you mean.

Dave: Yes, a good bit better, thanks, tho' I'm not looking forward to being virtually immobilised for 90 minutes in one of Mr Ryanair's bucket seats.

Sarah said...

Carlos Castaneda was a profound mushroom induced right of passage when I was a teenager!
Don Juan said...If you stand on a mountain top at dusk and the wind blows, the spirits blow right thro you and take your soul...or something like that. I remember my brother and I had a terrifying experience at home in Wales when we were about 17...LOL....sorry too much information.LOL
Bon voyage

Obertra said...

Carlos Castenada..?

I collected his varied writing (preferably hardback) yonks ago, now, boxed up on-top-of other cardboard boxes of esoteric contained titles. What a let-down He turned out to be being in a docu exposé as an old man who gathered dolly-birds by way of continuing His published myth.

Christopher said...

Sah: Thank you.

Obertra: Thank you, too. I now feel on nodding terms.

english inukshuk said...

home is a good place to be

kclark said...

Dear Christopher,

I am a PhD student studying in Norwich until November. I would love to visit Bardou, as my father spent some months there (early 70's) helping Klaus and Jean to restore the village. I am from Nebraska and admittedly so, I'm not very familiar with traveling. Would you be willing to help me figure out how to get to Bardou from Norwich? Thank you for any advice.


Tom said...


I missed your comment to me written sometime last fall! I rarely check my e-mails on this account! St Martin du Froid is such a beautiful chapel. I remeber sitting up there this last trip and thinking that this is where I want to be put in the ground or better rest sprinkled in the winds of the Langue d'oc. I was just contacted by someone who had heard stories of reading Shakespeare on a rainy afternoon with Klaus from her father who had been there in the mid '70s. She is hoping to return this fall. I wonder how many others share that fond memory?