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November 2011Click here for rss feed
Posted on: Thu Nov 24 2011


2011 has almost passed – without an entry on this Blog !   Cause for yet another apology.   But this has been a more than usually busy season.    I seem to have spent most of my time attempting to show our visitors the amazing simplicity which lies behind the fantastical imaginings which some of them insist on bringing to this magical place. 



I realise that, when writing of Rennes-le-Château, I make frequent – and somewhat sour - reference to the fantasies which some writers, lecturers, tour-guides and other ‘experts’ drape over this story.   How many books have now been written whose covers herald The TRUTH of Rennes-le-Château and/or The Mystery Solved ! etc. etc. etc. – few of which even approach the reality ?      And this year, the Treasure of Bérenger Saunière has been ‘discovered’ … yet again !


‘LA DEPECHE’ – (The Express’) – is our local newspaper.   For those of you who have no French, the headline reads:

They have found the treasure cave – though I’ve yet to find anyone in the locality who is showing the slightest interest.

And as a personal note concerning the above … one of the intrepid trio of treasure hunters had already informed me, about forty years ago,  that he had “found the treasure?.   I was about as excited then as I am now.   Perhaps he just makes a habit of it ?      

The reader is expected to swallow whatever rubbish is proposed.   And – sadly – there are some who do !  I am now having to implore people to believe nothing.   To read something on a page – or see it in a film - doesn’t make it true.   And this applies just as much to my own books and films.   If you don’t check … double check … and then verify and cross-check the supposed “sources?, then you have nothing but ‘hear-say’ and opinion.

The majority of so-called ‘experts’ … especially of the ‘academic’ sort … do no more than teach what they have been taught.   Question everything …!   Don’t believe something just because somebody says so !

Down here, people are beginning to arrive in anticipation of 2012 and the arrival of Flying Saucers on Bugarach Mountain !  I just ask : “Who says so …??

But doubtless there will always remain some people who will continue to prefer the fabrications to the simple – if incomprehensible - truth.

Rennes-le-Château continues to change … whether in all respects for the better will depend, perhaps, on what the traveller is seeking.   Even the most essential repairs and restorations move the place further and further away from the village which Bérenger would recognise.   I suppose this is inevitable – but I regret the passing of the real Rennes-le-Château. 

Here is a picture taken on my first visit, back in 1970.


Quiet, empty streets, where elderly ladies, dressed always in black, were happy to pause from their labours to share with me their memories of the village – and of Bérenger - already then gone for more than half a century.  

Now people come looking for flying saucers – (though Bugarach, is a few miles away)  - or for Mary Magdalene … or for the burial place of Jesus … and/or for spiritual enlightenment.   Then there are those who come, leading their groups of acolytes, to preach their own gospel and spread their own particular ‘enlightenment’.   Their disciples listen … and believe.  Today, belief seems all too easy to find.

Jean-Luc often said that Rennes-le-Château is a Place of Dreams.   And now there are those who try to find here a way to turn their dreams into reality.   The French speak of “taking dreams for realities?… which is their way of saying ‘wishful thinking’.  

For me, among the saddest ‘additions’ to Rennes-le-Château is the destruction of the peaceful atmosphere of Saunière’s garden.   Jean-Luc’s restaurant is now much improved - but the summer of 2011, was graced by the presence of a pianist who entertained our visitors – to the delight of some.   But those who were merely passing by enjoyed la musique only during a fleeting pause for refreshment.  Those of us who stayed were condemned to endless repetitions of Chatanooga choo-choo;  In the Mood;  Singin’ in the Rain; and so on … ad infinitum – if not ad nauseam.  In my humble opinion, the song of the birds is infinitely preferable – and Chatanooga choo-choo has no place in Bérenger’s garden.  



A little while ago, someone introduced me to yet another Internet madness which I must put to rights.   An unnecessary amount of web-space seems to have been devoted to ‘researching’ the life of an apparently obscure Occitan poet – one Jehan l’Ascuiz.   His writings first appeared as “Dedications? in the two books which I co-authored with Richard Leigh and Michael Baigent. I can only imagine that the ‘researchers’ have nothing better to do with their lives.   So here – to release them from their self-imposed purgatory – are a few facts.    

First of all – a simple question:

What sort of ‘Dedication’ consists of nothing more than a quotation ?  To whom, then, is the book supposedly ‘Dedicated’? 

(All right! That’s two questions!  But do you take my simple point?)   One should read what is on the page and not make assumptions.   The Jehan l’Ascuiz poems are – and always were – Dedications. They were never quotations from anything !  They were intended as private pleasantries.  

Richard Leigh and I had decided to include in the first book a cryptic dedication which we (and our Ladies) would find amusing and so I wrote the first poem, which made oblique references to them – and to add spice, some elliptical hints to odd pieces of the story (centre de l’estoile, fleurie etc).

The name ‘Jehan l’Ascuiz’ is an anagram which I created from the names of “Nostres dames.?  (One diligent researcher on the web hadn’t even noticed that ‘Our ladies’ were plural !)

When our second book was published, I continued the joke.  (We were stuck with the name l’Ascuiz, even though it was no longer strictly an anagram of our ladies’ names … Baigent’s girl-friend had moved on !)

Richard – who loved such games and whose French was good enough to keep the folly going – continued to compose ‘dedicatory poems’ in the later books which he wrote with Baigent.  

“Hugh Payne? – who has been responsible for much time-consuming ‘research’ - was Richard’s back-reference to Hugues de Payens, first Grand Master of the Knights Templar.     And it was Richard who concocted the wild and ridiculous ‘biography’ of our “Occitan poet?, which many a benighted researcher seems to take seriously.

Were he still with us, Richard Leigh would doubtless be continuing the game.  (Baigent has no French).    But I feel that the time has come to put a stop to the foolishness – although I suspect that there are some who will prefer the fantasy to the simpler, if rather silly, facts.  



The 1st of November is All Souls’ Day.   On this day our cemetery is open to all.   (It is now normal for it to be kept locked throughout the year – a state of affairs which I have always regretted.) When I made this year’s visit, I was given reason to think otherwise.  Though the cause of my  change of heart has nothing, strictly, to do with the churchyard.   Vandals are again loose in the village.  

Bérenger’s grotto has, for a year or so now,  been graced with a charming gift from our harpist friend, Ani Williams – a statuette of Marie-Madeleine in a small niche.   Because it had been twice stolen and replaced, I cemented the third incarnation firmly in place and there the little figure had safely stayed … until the weekend of All Souls.   Now some selfish and cretinous thief has managed to wrench it from its place … almost certainly damaging it in the process.  One can only wonder what goes on in the heads of such mindless criminals.   What convinces them that they can help themselves to something to which they clearly have no right?   We shall replace it – of course.   But – what a sad and sorry world such vandals inhabit …


As those of you who have been following my Blog are aware, I snatch moments from time to time to sift through my archive for lost treasures.   Recently, I came across an astonishing photograph which I’d like to share with you.   It shows how much the world has changed since first I came to France.   Would anyone risk ambling through today’s traffic to get an equivalent shot of the Arc de Triomphe ?



The Champs Elysées with one solitary moving motor vehicle !   (And only a couple of others parked on the right.)   There are two cyclists on the left – and in the bottom left-hand corner, a cart being drawn by two horses.   My accompanying notes have enabled me to fix the exact date – and it wasn’t a public holiday !   It was, in fact, Thursday 31st July 1947.


There was something to be said for the ‘Good Old Days’.   My notes tell me that I - (an impoverished teenager) – could yet afford to go to the Paris Opera three times during the following week - Magic Flute, Flying Dutchman and Boris Godunov.    (My tastes appear to have been somewhat catholic  ... though, at seventeen, I probably didn’t have any !)

And I spent a night or two at a camp-site, a stone’s throw from Les Invalides and the Musée Rodin.   Can Paris still provide such admirable accommodation for a penniless student?   But then – it was sixty-five years ago and World War 2 was barely two years in the past.



Rennes-le-Château first became known, outside the immediate locality, in the book written by Gérard de Sède – Le Trésor Maudit.  It was this book which I had stumbled upon in 1969, and which had encouraged me to make my first BBC film.    I had long had the intention of translating it into English, as I was only too aware that many non-French speakers were keen to read ‘the original version of the story’. However, unlike Jean-Luc (whose book was a joy to translate), de Sède writes an extraordinarily flowery (and very French) French.  A good translation should capture the ‘spirit’ of the original, and with de Sède this was not easy.   Now and again, I would pick it up – thresh about with another paragraph or two – and then put it aside again.

It was almost a relief when I heard that a translation had at last appeared.   I could ignore the nagging of my conscience.    But, very recently, I opened a copy of this ‘translation’… and it has caused me to change my attitude.

I must hasten to say that I have no wish to denigrate the work of another writer, but I simply cannot let pass what is not simply an unsatisfactory translation – it is also misleading.    The translator seems to have only a very rudimentary grasp of the French language and his English writing style is dreadful. 

Here is a small example :

De Sède gives us :

"… en effet, tout donateur peut bel et bien exiger le respect de son anonymat."

I translate this (accurately) as :

“… in fact, anyone making a donation may indeed insist on his anonymity being preserved.?

The ‘translator’ gives us:

“In fact, each of the participants did well and won the respect of his adversary.? 

Which is utter nonsense and demonstrates a complete lack of understanding of the original.  

I now realise that I must ‘return to the grindstone’ and ensure that an accurate version of Le Trésor Maudit becomes available.   As the ‘season’ has now come to an end and the long winter months stretch ahead, I can foresee that I shall have plenty to keep me occupied!   I’ll try to get it finished before the season of 2012 begins.  

Wish me luck …!

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