|Pont du Gard near Avignon|
Earlier this year I traveled to Europe and spent quite a bit of time in Italy and the south of France. We began our trip in Rome, made our way up Italy and then back down to cross into France at Menton, staying for a few days in Avignon and Arles (among other places.) As an avid history buff, it became apparent to me that we were following the Romans and their conquest of Gaul.
And not just the Romans, all kinds of castles and battlements dotted the landscape during our entire journey. It was breathtaking.
And then something slammed into me in Arles.
Arles was a Roman fortified city. What is very interesting is that the Romans just lifted and copied a basic blueprint to every place they settled. Always a forum, a colosseum, a theater, and a huge wall. Unlike the city of Rome, Arles' colosseum is completely intact and still functions as an entertainment venue.
The architecture is impressive, and, as our guide pointed out, the technology behind it no longer exists. Modern engineers, concerned with public safety, have tried to "fix" areas that are sagging. Others are busy restoring ruins back to their broken, but original, state. Attempts to replicate the Roman engineering have failed and they have had to fall back on modern iron clamping systems.
The locals didn't love the Romans, but when Rome fell and they started to pull out of the provenances in the 5th century, what came after was much worse. The populace of Arles moved their homes into the colosseum, fortified the walls and built four towers to fire on the marauders. The village remained there until the late 18th century. By that time the buildings built on top of buildings completely obscured everything but the outer wall. It was this pile of humans that ultimately preserved the site by building on top of, instead of dismantling, this structure with the lovely square blocks.
I stood outside of that wall with my heart pounding. Can you imagine what it was like for those people who grouped inside for protection? What kind of world was it where everything completely fell apart and evil rampaged through the countryside? The Romans were the height of civilization yet what came after was worse than what the Romans were at the beginning of their empire building. Why would people do that? Why wouldn't they be glad to be rid of the soldiers, band together, and keep going? Arles was a very important cultural center, why did the people destroy that?
Two thousand years! What does that do to a community? To each descendent? To live in that kind of fear all that time. How do you move forward, hope for your children, build any kind of life when all around you the world has gone to hell?
I became so overwhelmed and completely humbled by their struggle.
All my life I have had a sense of place, an anchor, that defines who I am. I grew up on the family homestead - people who came across a sea of grass, over a mountain, and through a desert to start from nothing except their own ingenuity. My grandmother was a second generation French immigrant whose grandfather boarded a ship to travel into the unknown, hoping for a better life. She and my grandfather's family lived just like the characters in "The Grapes of Wrath" when they had to abandon their farm in Arkansas and head to California to be migrant workers during the depression. I am so proud of all of them.
In Arles, the realization crept over my skin like thousands of prickling needles and the breath left my body. Yes, my immediate family were tough, but they were descended from people like the citizens from Arles.
THESE WERE MY PEOPLE.
They are the reason the subsequent generations fought, and scrabbled, and refused to give up.
They kept their homes, their families, their culture alive believing that things would get better and took whatever baby steps were needed in that direction. They kept at it, no matter how long, or how many wars, or how many other evil empires were to be endured.
My dad. My grandfather. Both fought against the ultimate enemy - cancer. Never, ever, giving up. Always thinking about their family and even at the very end, trying to protect us from ugliness.
He-who-can-not-be-named Trump, your buddy Putin, middle eastern radicals, American-born gun-toting terrorists, KKK, neo-nazi's, Kim Jong despots, Texas Patrick-loving-Republicans and anyone else who tries to stamp out others for their own gain.
You have no idea who you are dealing with.