Ancient and Fascinating Animal Totems of the Langue D’Oc

The Langue D’Oc is an ancient, ancient land. Many  cultures have left their mark on it from the prehistory of humans to the present. It’s this fact that makes the Langue D’Oc so fascinating. It is full of quirky customs with ancient roots that are entirely unique. In a few  Occitan villages and towns of the Hereault (pronounced ear-oh) region of the Langue D’Oc,  you will find one of these completely unique customs; Animeaux Totémique (Animal Totems). The tradition of Animal Totems dates at least to the 16th century with a few undoubtedly being older. These include the Camel of Béziers, the Bull of Meze  and the Wolf of Loupian. The totems, which are made of cloth and canvas are paraded to the accompaniment of drums through the streets by men in customary dress  Last August, I attended carnival in Florensac, Hereault. When i arrived in the  early afternoon, moules (musselswere being prepared and given out for free in the village square. Moules have been an important part of the local culture for thousands of years. The Florensac totem, Lo Chivalet in Occitan, is a horse. The villagers responsible for Lo Chivalet, wearing matching shirts, scarves and sashes, were partying at the corner bar. When I returned in the early evening after exploring the area, they were all still there, partying whilst awaiting the festivities! A stage was in place for the evening’s entertainment, and long tables under the oak trees set with chairs quickly filled. Everyone eagerly anticipated and then cheered the entrance of Lo Chivalet and his Master!​ Who had a whip!​​​ ​​​​​​​​

​​The crowd was particularly appreciative  when Lo Chivalet reared up, spun around or was lifted overhead.  The Lo Chivalet association has local sponsors. I loved the juxtaposition of the John Cash poster on his side, the result of a tribute band sponsor. Animaux Totémique are traditionally carried by men, but in Florensac they also have a smaller Lo Chevelet carried by village women. I think this must be a more recent development. The women approached and butted heads with the men before also rearing several times. Judging by the LOUD encouragement of the audience, the women are a popular addition to the custom!

Lo Chivalet and his female counterpart departed to enthusiastic applause. It was time to eat and drink (drink more!) prior to the evening’s entertainment. The young men of Lo Chivalet were certainly enjoying themselves!As I was the lone outsider, they even serenaded me with a boisterous rendition of the Lo Chivalet song!​

 

​The evening’s entertainment began. Everyone settled down to watch a great show. I felt privileged and grateful to that the welcoming residents of Florensac allowed me to be a part of their carnival and ancient traditions. 

A September Day in the Minervois

The Minervois, a region of the Haute Langue D’Oc famous for its wine, is so rich in beauty, history, wine and gastronomy that it is impossible to cover it one short, sweet post (or 100 posts). Instead, I will share one dazzling day I spent there last month.  The day began with a one hour drive, gradually climbing from seaside Agde to the lively market village of Olonzac with its particularly poignant WWI era war memorial.This was one of the most beautiful French drives I’ve ever taken, and I’ve taken many beautiful drives throughout France.  It stunned me, truly. With the  vendage (the annual grape harvest) underway, I often found myself behind harvest machinery and trucks laden with just-picked grapes. Given the incredible scenery all around me, I didn’t mind the delays. I stopped to admire vines set in a landscape of  gently rolling vineyards interspersed with warm brown villages and church steeples for as far as one can see. At the time of vendage, the vines are so heavily laden with grapes that seem ready to burst!Lunch was in Olenzac, a salad of fresh anchovies and tapenade accompanied by a chilled rosé. The vendage machinery rumbled through the town and the smell of the harvest filled the air. The vendage is the most important time of year, and you can feel the excitement. After lunch, I drove upward to the ancient Cathar village of Minerve,  in 1207 the site of one of the last Cathar sieges and massacres. Cathars were a threat to the power of the one Church and thus were pronounced heretics. Set high on a natural rock outcropping amongst sheer, deep ravines in a gorge carved by the river Cesse, one can easily see its fortress attributes. The drive to Minerve and the walk across the stone bridge spanning a deep ravine to the village (no cars allowed) is dramatic and beautiful. Leaving Minerve, I climbed higher, entering the Park Natural du Haute Languedoc. The landscape becomes more austere. Here and there lie the ruins of communal farms abandoned long, long ago. Fencing and the occasional sight of horses or cows shows that this land is still being utilized. 

The Parc has many well-marked trails, and I spotted a few hikers . As I drove back down to the sea, I passed many lovely and graceful châteaux. Most were built in the 18th century by vintners who grew rich on the wines of the Minervois. The downhill perspective of my return was equally enchanting. This is one drive I could never tire of!