Friday, May 1, 2015

Auch, France: Basqueing in the Sun

Auch is the biggest town in the prefecture of Gers butted against the Pyrenees Mountains. But you’ll notice that it’s not very big at all (pop. 20,000). In fact, it’s portable! In 732 AD the town was picked up and moved across the river to get away from the encroaching Moors. Auch is smack dab in a region of northern Spain and southern France home to the Basques, an indigenous ethnic group of people with a common culture and language. It is presently campaigning vigorously to be recognized as an independent country. This beautiful region is sometimes called the ‘Tuscany of France.’  I guess because it looks the same? I wouldn’t know I’ve never been to Tuscany. Here is where you get that PETA heart-attack evoking substance — foie gras. If escargot nauseates you, don’t even think about how foie gras is made.

Imagine yourself in medieval times pilgriming your way to Compestela with three tired small- bladdered children in the backseat and everyone is in desperate need of a rest stop. Like a life-saving gas station on I-80 in the middle of Nebraska, Auch appears. I don’t know, but maybe that’s how it got its name — “Auch! What a relief!” The rest stop is the Cathedral of Sainte-Marie. It took 200 years to build, starting in the late 1400’s. This stunning jigsaw-puzzle-photoesque piece of magnificence is one of the finest examples of Gothic, Renaissance, and Classic architecture in France. Whereas most cathedrals only have one, Sainte-Marie sports two magnificent organs. It has other awesome innards too! Check out over 100 finely carved choir stalls, each depicting a different Bible story, that is if you can tear your eyes away from the beautiful stained glass work that dates back to the early 1500’s.

A mandatory assignment would be to watch the movie The Man in the Iron Mask. Not only will you get to see the eye-candy that Leonardo Dicaprio is, you’ll get to see him rescued by the Three Musketeers (see The Three Mouseketeers for a kid-friendly version). Pay close attention to the musketeer D’Artagnan because you’ll see a statue of the real one as Auch’s hometown hero. All for one and one for all!

Gitlitz, David M. and Linda Kay Davidson. The Pilgrimage Road to Santiago. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin,

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