Thursday, May 22, 2008

The Bories, Provence

Dry stone architecture is about as old as mankind. Anywhere stone is abundant, people have built habitations with it for mellenia. So it's common the world over.

But to be able to drive down the road (or dirt path), and see such structures through the brush is fascinating. And if you're doing it at dusk, it's downright spooky.

The hillsides around Gordes are covered in scrubby, rocky terrain, with olive and oak trees and underbrush. Almost everywhere you turn you see dry stone walls, some newer, most old and decrepit, marking off ancient boundary lines, sheep pens, and who know what all else. And if you look long enough, you begin to sight structures--some standing (and some impressively large), some partially collapsed, some piles of rubble.

My curiosity piqued by my own explorations at dusk and dawn, I went to the local Bories Village. In the early 1970s, this old village, abandoned at the beginning of the 19th century, was restored. Most tourist attractions in the world focus on historic locations originally reserved for the rich and powerful: palaces, mansions, grand cathedrals, political buildings, etc. This one focuses on the hardscrabble life of the common rural villager, and attracts 100,000 visitors a year. (And the odd thing is: with no souvinir shop, you can't buy a thing there.)

There isn't a lot of information about what life was like for the inhabitants of these huts, save for a few household and farming implements. But you can gather a lot from observation: the soot and creosote coating the interior walls of the houses indicate a lot of smoke, coughing, and probably lung cancer. Life expectancy couldn't be very long. Even in the hot sunshine, the interior of the buildings was very cool (and some were damp with ground seepage), so it must have been freezing in the winter, especially with the howling Mistral winds. They probably had a lot of welts on their heads from bumping them on the low doorways, and a lot of bruised or crushed fingers from laying so much stone.

As much as the silent history enclosed within these ubiquitous walls and structures, I was fascinated by their shape, the inward curve of the walls, the rugged poetry of their lines, the indelible weight of time.

I love being a travel and editorial photographer!

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