Friday, 10 December 2010

Through a local lens No. 6

Bizarrely, this is one of the main 'streets' in the village. It's called L'Escalier de la Commanderie, the Commandery Stair. ('Commanderie' is a medieval term. Nowadays we would probably say 'military HQ' or something similar.) The locals call it l'escalier noir, the black stairway. It dates from about 1300.

There are six flights of stone stairs, rising up under a vaulted casement through the heart of the village. Each step is a monstrous slab of gneiss. On the way up there were once houses, with their front doors opening off the stairs. Not so very different from apartment blocks today. One of the old houses has been converted into a museum of local arts and crafts, others are unoccupied and more or less derelict, awaiting the arrival of some devotee of French medieval villages built into rocky slopes to do them up. Or one of those countless TV house conversion programmes.

The stair takes you up to the church. It's a stiff climb. It's possible to reach the church by car, but the streets zig-zagging up there are so narrow and the bends so tight that you're lucky if you come back down again with wings and hubs and mirrors intact. At Christmas time the area in the photo above is taken up with a life-size Christmas crib, so you might think that the village had religious leanings, but it hasn't at all. I've never known such a heathen place. An ever-dwindling number of elderly women totter up the stairs to Mass on the occasional Sundays when it's celebrated. A dead church is a mournful place. It only comes to life when concerts are given there.

For villagers' final, horizontal, attendance at church the authorities chug out a very narrow-beamed tractor, one otherwise designed to harrow between rows of vines. No ordinary hearse would ever get up there, so the tractor pulls a special narrow catafalque to carry the coffin, designed with crude folk-images of death.


Vicus Scurra said...

Despite the delightful prospect of being driven by tractor, I decline your offer of a funeral local to you. I shall not permit my funeral to be conducted in a place of worship, even if I have to get out of the box to stop it.
I am also of the view that my funeral should take place after my death, and even though I watched young Tendulkar reach a remarkable landmark today, I am not quite ready just yet, thank you.

moreidlethoughts said...

Hauled away by a vineyard tractor! I wouldn't mind that, especially if I could have my ashes scattered around some venerable old Shiraz vines.And just so you know, I'm going out to the strains of Piaf's Je ne regrette de rien.

moreidlethoughts said...

But not just yet!

english inukshuk said...

really like that top photo - superb!

Anonymous said...

You should lay on walks'n-Talks and Climb-a-bouts in your ex-pat neck-of-the-woods for holiday makers...ending with a concert of night music in that church at the top of them black stairs with your troupe. I'd pay a bob or two to be in on it!

Luv this descriptive inclusion to a great e-diary.

letouttoplay said...

Wonderful how a picturesque photo of a lovely old stonework can be transformed into a surreal experience populated with blackness, bouncing, broken cars cars and images vaguely reminiscent of voodoo practices.

letouttoplay said...

Oh, only one cars.