Checklist: Things To Do Before You Die

September 8, 2008

La Tomatina – The Biggest Tomato Fight in the World

Each person at some point in their lives will usually take an inventory of their experiences and accomplishments. For most men, this occurs during the dreaded “midlife crisis”. Upon reviewing the list, many will draw up a checklist of things to do while they still have the time to do it.

Luckily for us, the Independent UK has provided an excellent photo gallery of 100 things to do before you die. You’ll find the standards of travel there such as Mardi Gras, the Running of the Bulls, the Dakar Rally and Tomatina (pictured above), the world’s biggest tomato fight, held every year in Bunol, Spain.

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Europe’s Most Beautiful Gardens

September 5, 2008

Courances, France

The UK Telegraph is counting down the 50 Most Beautiful Gardens in the World. Why don’t we take a look at some of the European selections?

Courances, France (image above)
Is this the perfect example of the French formal garden? Created in the mid-17th century – reputedly by Jean, father of the great Andre Le Nôtre – the garden is filled with water in many moods, although it is serenity that sets the tone. In front of the château, to the south, is an elaborate box parterre that prefaces a perfect rectangular still pool, surrounded by lawns and trees. This vista continues along a broad grassy walk to a small circular pool with a statue of Hercules (symbolising strength and virtue) and on to a larger pool and amphitheatre. The woodland on each side of the main vista contains many more delights, with allées cutting through and pools, canals and cascades to discover. The other side of the house is dignified by a pair of long rectangular canals. The singularity of the conception is what appeals so much and lends this place its sublime beauty.

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Europe’s last untouchable – Marie Beauzac, the only known Cagot still alive

July 28, 2008

Marie Beauzac

Marie Pierre-Manet Beauzac claims to be the last living Cagot, a caste of European outcasts from the Pyrennes of Spain and France

Genealogy projects sometimes take strange turns. Whether you’re using centuries old birth records from churches tucked away in remote hills on the European continent to sending away for your DNA results that end up revealing a 5% African gene presence, you’re more often than not presented with unexpected surprises.

Marie Pierre-Manet Beauzac of the French Pyreenes is no exception. The arrival of children in her life led her on to a quest to discover her roots and what she found was quick a shock: she is descended from the Cagots, a people that were outcasts from Medieval Europe. We can’t be certain that she is the world’s last Cagot, but what we do know is that the existence of the outcast Cagots in Europe is not everyday knowledge. Much about the Cagots is blurred thanks to the fog of history and the deliberate destruction of documents by Cagots themselves who wished to be rid of their lower-caste status.

Here are some thoughts on where the Cagots came from, who they are, and what we do know about their treatment in Europe:

The people first emerge in documents around the 13th century. By then they are already regarded as an inferior caste, the “untouchables” of western France, or northern Spain. In medieval times the Cagots – also knows as Agotes, Gahets, Capets, Caqueux, etc – were divided from the general peasantry in several ways. They had their own urban districts: usually on the malarial side of the river. These dismal ghettoes were known as Cagoteries; traces of them can still be found in Pyrenean communities such as Campan or Hagetmau.

For hundreds of years, Cagots were treated as different and inferior. In the churches, they had to use their own doors (at least 60 Pyrenean churches still boast “Cagot” entrances); they had their own fonts; and they were given communion on the end of long wooden spoons. Marie-Pierre adds: “When a Cagot came into a town, they had to report their presence by shaking a rattle. Just like a leper, ringing his bell.”

Daily Cagot life was likewise marked by apartheid. Cagots were forbidden to enter most trades or professions. They were forced, in effect, to be the drawers of water and hewers of wood. So they made barrels for wine and coffins for the dead. They also became expert carpenters: ironically they built many of the Pyrenean churches from which they were partly excluded.

Some of the other prohibitions on the Cagots were bizarre. They were not allowed to walk barefoot, like normal peasants, which gave rise to the legend that they had webbed toes. Cagots could not use the same baths as other people. They were not allowed to touch the parapets of bridges. When they went about, they had to wear a goose’s foot conspicuously pinned to their clothes.

Quite interesting. Here’s the speculation on their background: Read the rest of this entry »