“Last.”

Lastdaylastdaylastday.

Market, Montsegur, Montauban.

Last day, first market. Well actually, we did go to another market, on New Year’s Eve, but that had been a dismal affair. This was more like it – full of noise and smells and movement, much closer to the Disney Beauty and Beast market scene that Belle sings her annoying way through. (Childhood impressions die hard.)

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And then, Montsegur, for more Hunt the Cathars.

This one had a sad story as well – it ended with 200 villagers and the church prefects burnt alive in a pen, because there were too many people to put up stakes for.

Villagers? As in a village? You say. On top of that?

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Well, yes. It took us 40 minutes to clamber up. I’m not sure I can wrap my brain around 500-odd people trudging up 1,200m with bricks, mortar, cooking utensils, I dunno – a throne? – and goodness knows what else in the 1200s. (Although it must be said that all Languedoc history websites have hastened to remind me that the structure pictured below dates to the 17th century. The original was almost entirely destroyed in the siege that result in the human bonfire.) (I must also confess that I started reading up on the history of Montsegur primarily because of the Mystery Treasure.)

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Remains of the village scattered just below the fortifications. Mind-boggling.

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Nearby, in Roquefixade, was another Crazy Castle in a High Place. But first, one had to get past the arrestingly phallic fountain in the main square.

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The place was silent. Untouched firewood piles and empty washing lines – yet there was a lingering smell of woodsmoke and a constant jingle of sheep bells.

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And at a church in a village fifteen minutes away, the priest mistook us for the microphone repair people. “You are here to fix the mic, yes?” he asked in French. After my vigorous mute tourist headshake – “No? Engleese? A leetle bit?”

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Final stop in the Southwest France roadtrip – the very proper and pink-hued city of Montauban, founded in 1140. Almost by habit now, I started looking for evidence of the bloody crusade route I seemed to be unwittingly following. Yes, there it is, of course – but also I discovered to my surprise that Montauban had a long and significant history of being one of France’s main Protestant cities.

It’s also birthplace of Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres, a name I find deucedly difficult to pronounce.

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I was in a bit of a blue funk, owing to an impending farewell with le grumpy Parisian and the prospect of a four-month separation. Still, my last photo of the Southwest France roadtrip is not unfitting. “Tout va ben,” it says, laying a warm hand on my shoulder to remind me that the fabled eternal is really just a composition of many precious moments of the here-and-now.

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