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The Region

Why the Languedoc.....?

Reader, Jun 19

....Because there was nowhere else.

Story submitted by a Languedoc Living Reader, Val Wineyard.

Narbonne was different in 1980. There was no by-pass, no doughnut ring of housing estates. It was a sleepy southern town, some ten kilometres from the Med. Beside the sea, I was working with holidaymakers who came and went, but nearby Narbonne was like a village, for every time I went I bumped into someone I knew. They couldn't grasp the English shortening of names, so they always called me Valery, like the politician.

I liked Narbonne but didn't, as far as I knew, decide to live there, but it kept cropping up somehow. I was working at freelance travel journalism then, and wrote many stories about towns and country all over France, but mostly in the south-west. Once south of the Garonne river, I was at home!

One day, visiting friends who lived near the Canal du Midi, I heard of a garden for sale in the Narbonnais and went to look at it. It had a well; two cabanons; pine trees, vines and roses, scarlet in the sunshine. It was opposite a graveyard, but I've never been afraid of ghosts.

In June 1995 I bought the garden and towed down a caravan and lived here for holidays. I adored it, and spent many “last day of the holiday” moments, crying on Narbonne station, because I didn't want to go back.

A windfall meant I had enough to build a small house to my own design! That was a real thrill. I moved in October 2000. At first I meant to go back to England, but something always seemed to prevent it, like a train strike or families never having matching windows.

In July 2001 I went to the graveyard with a French friend, she stopped by a grave and said; “This person in the grave is now you.”

Crazy! I thought, but then I kept remembering strange experiences and crazy coincidences and so I checked out the life of the “person” I apparently once was. He was a writer too, in Occitan, and had at one time been a mayor, a socialist no less like me. I checked the poems I wrote aged 18 against his and yes, I could have written them. He wasn't married but his poems indicated several affairs . . .

Being a writer, I kept notes and diaries. I went to a festival of Occitan music, and knew some of the songs, the ones written before 1936, the date Jules died, when I checked it. So many incidents of that sort! I found my “other life's” ancestors were Revolutionaires, Cathars, Visigoths – stretching right back into the mists of time, in Languedoc, specifically Ariège and Aude. My life changed and I started writing about this region and its mysteries which, like all good mysteries, hide behind each other, like trains at level crossings.

I got together some twenty years of notes and writings and wrote a book about this reincarnation experience. The book also explored the Occitan culture here that is little known to English-speaking people, a mentality truly Languedocian, of a people remaining spiritually independent in their mountain strongholds, away from the rapacity of “the men from the north.”

The Occitan people take pride in not being French. They do not give their hearts easily – but when they do, it is for ever.

So that's how I returned to Languedoc.

The pictures are of Jules, and the Cathar castle where the ancestors lived.

I can be contacted on

Details of the book on

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