Friday, 8 October 2010

Occitan - the sound of the south, linguistic discoveries while wine tasting

In the window of the cave coopérative in Cessenon yesterday there was a poster for Occitan lessons - come and discover or rediscover how to speak, read, write, sing and laugh in the local language. You can find out more here. Occitan is really the sound of the south and we had quite an introduction to it listening to one of the wine growers we visited this week. Proudly Occitan and Mediterranean even in the grapes he planted and made his wine from and the methods used to ferment the wine.
Occitan in its written form traditionally tells of troubadours and ladies with unicorns, courtly love. It also often speaks of the Cathars, the religious sect wiped out following the Albigensian crusades. It's great to see Occitan going through a revival these days - for decades it was considered "dirty" to speak regional languages, now though you can even take Occitan as a baccalaureat subject.
Walking around Causses we came across a memorial to Jacques Vanière, not a writer in Occitan but a Latinist poet and Jesuit priest. The tiniest of villages yet this celebration of culture, language and poetry was at the centre.
Going around the villages in the countryside here, I am continually struck by the incredibly long and rich cultural and religious history. Human beings have been living, singing and versifying for millennia in this part of the world, so much of the languages from long ago is lost so it's good that there is renewed interest and commitment to Occitan. All the place names as you enter the towns and villages are in Occitan as well as in French.