Mildred

“Mildred and our Cédulas” was my previous post’s title, but not a single person noticed that I never mention Mildred. I had intended to introduce her to you, but I got all wrapped up in our spankin’ new laminated, yes, it is true, laminated cédulas, so I plum forgot about poor old Mildred.
After posting, I pondered for a second or so, will anybody notice … ?

Mildred has been our steady companion for over four years now. Despite her proclivity to be opinionated to the point of orneriness, she’s a helpful and supportive travel companion. Mildred is our mobile GPS unit. She is loaded with a full compliment of maps of the United States of America, as well as Europe, including most of the former so-called East Block countries like Lithuania and Poland. We also acquired the much needed and often used software for Costa Rica. 

Mildred is a true pro, and although we haven’t been to Lithuania lately, we are certain, should we ever find ourselves in a suburb of Vilnius, looking for a Pizza joint, Mildred will get us there – eventually. Mildred never chooses the most convenient way, she prefers to make our excursions interesting, rather than easy. We’ve relied on Mildred in some completely unknown regions of a variety of different countries, and, with one notable exception, she has always waved her little checkered flag upon our arrival at the desired destination. One simply has to allow for her idiosyncrasies. Mildred, will not, under any circumstances, take the most desirable route, ever. In principal, if there’s a single-lane, unimproved country road, it will invariably be Mildred’s route of choice. We’ve tried to change all sorts of settings, ‘fastest’, ‘least direct’, ‘tollways preferred’, we’ve even tried turning our vehicle into a virtual bus, but we still were told time and time again, to turn left in 250 meters, and the ‘left’ turned out to be a track between two sunflower fields. If this field is a sunflower patch in the lovely Department of the Gers, France, there’s nothing to worry about. It’s no hardship to get lost in that gently hillocked landscape full of ducks. However, should Mildred send you on a cross-country rally around Villefranche-de-Rouergue, Ayveron, or through the hinterlands of L’Estréchure du Gard, Saint Christopher have mercy on you! 

The latter town is in the region of the Cevennes, a mightily rugged mountainous area covering parts of four Départements, Gard, Ardèche, Lozère et Haut-Loire. Together with the forbidding Black Mountains, the Cevennes form the southwestern end of the Massif Central and it’s tough inhabitants have seen plenty of hardship and strife. As in any mountainous, secluded area, live has always been difficult, and in many cases still is. Even now, some people live in nearly inaccessible homesteads, and then and now, they’ve always been suspicious of outsiders. And for good reason. A remote terrain like the Cevennes is ideal territory for guerillas to disappear, to fight another day. 

After Henri of Navarre’s Edict of Nantes in 1598 ended a half century of relentless religious wars, the Protestant population of France could breath more freely. Alas, this uneasy tolerance didn’t last long. Soon powerful Catholics, like Cardinal Richelieu, sought to recoup riches lost to the Protestants. Thus, when the important Protestant fortification of La Rochelle at the Atlantic coast in the Département Charente-Maritime fell to Catholic aggressors in 1628, it also spelled the beginning of the end of religious freedom. Many Huguenots fled into the safety of the vast wilderness of the Cevennes, and as many more Protestant strongholds succumbed to the overwhelming forces of the  Roman Catholic Royal House and it’s political and military power base, more and more religious and political dissidents followed. When King Louis XIV revoked the edict in 1685, because, as he said, practically everyone in the Kingdom was Catholic anyway, he only considered outward appearances. There were many, many Protestants, but they were in hiding.
The last major episode of sheltering guerillas occurred during the last century, when the Cevennes provided a safe-haven for many Resistance fighters. Since WW II altogether different stories were told about the dead-end valleys and rocky gorges of the Cevennes. During a period of time in the sixties, rumors and innuendoes about violent crimes began to circulate among German, Belgian and Dutch tourists. Newly prosperous couples from the North allegedly falling victim to robberies and abductions, never to be seen again. Wild and inhospitable natural environments have always inspired dark legends, and I can picture very well, how an insignificant incident of criminal activity might have spiraled out of control, proliferating into a virulent life of it’s own by fear of strangers and fear of the unknown.

Since the establishment as a National Park in 1970 and major improvements in infrastructure, the Cevennes have turned into a hiker’s paradise. All types of outdoorsy activities draw sports oriented tourists to even the remotest areas. Mountaineers and spelunkers have replaced the rebels of old and goat farms are thriving again amidst the high demand of naturally grown foods by vacationing urbanites. The French Government has invested major resources to educate it’s more crotchety communities about such newfangled concepts as a ‘hospitality industry’ and ‘customer service’, so that traveling in the Cevennes has lost it’s dark edge. 

Unless Mildred leads you astray ….

     
Staircase connecting two parts of an ancient dwelling in the steep hills near the hamlet of Soudorgues in the Gard

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