St Guilhem-le-Desert & a little etymology

The Abbey at St Guilhem

The Abbey at St Guilhem

The temperature certainly rose as we journeyed south. We had come through quite stormy weather and heavy rain on the way, indicating perhaps that we were entering a different climate and although it had not been cold in Brittany when we left, it was certainly like a different country in the Midi.

We thanked God for air-conditioning whilst en route which we did not have last year when we travelled here. But when we got out of the Volvo the heat hit us suddenly like a wall. We were definitely not in Brittany any more.

Of course this southern Mediterranean section of France used to be a different country for centuries, settled at different times by the Greeks (hence Agde on the coast), Phoenicians, then Romans and hence the name “Languedoc” – langue d’oc or Occitan, one of the three main Romance languages eminating from Latin, distiguished by the words they respectively used to indicate “yes”.

In this region of the southern France (and parts of Spain and Italy) yes was oc (from the Latin hoc meaning this – probably a shortened form of hoc est = this is so) as opposed to the north where it was oï[l] (from the Latin hoc illud [est] meaning this is it – which has become oui in modern French) or si (from the Latin sic meaning thus which is still the word for yes in languages like Italian, Spanish, etc. Si is also the word for yes in modern French, but only when you are contradicting a negative: e.g. <<Tu ne vas pas à la ville?>>  << Si! J’y vais>>

Any way, enough etymology! Suffice to say the accent is quite different here; more letters pronounced than in normal French but often not quite as you’d expect. For example –

  • Pain = bread becomes something like ping
  • Vin = wine, which thankfully still rhymes with pain, becomes ving

That’s just for starters.

St Guilhem, as I mentioned before is a decidedly quaint little town, kept so pristinely, as the French seem to do so well, without it becoming too much of a caricature. It manages to retain that lazy but functional feel that gives the impression that nothing much has happened or changed around here for 800 years; as if it has just blinked as crusades, battles, dynasties, persecutions, and world wars passed itstg3 by. You have to look hard to check for visible signs of the 21 century; they are certainly there – check the rooftops and chimneys for satellite dishes for example – but nonchalant and the background.

So we unpacked our bags at the local ‘inn’ where Judith and I had lunched last year; I had booked two mansard rooms – they were sparsely decorated but in a quirky arty fashion, air-conditioned, unusual for this type of establishment, but welcome of course, and with what could only really be described as ‘open-plan’ lavatorial arrangements, i.e. the shower and toilet were in the rooms, literally, not in separate cubbyholes. It was en-suite Jim, but not as we know it. Judith and I didn’t mind of course, but the girls complained that they didn’t like ‘to go’ with the potential of being observed.

restaurants in St Guilhem - craggy mountain retreat behind

restaurants in St Guilhem - craggy mountain retreat behind

Nevertheless we sauntered out and up through the tiny alleys of St Guilhem to the picturesque square by the abbey where we found a café willing to serve us salad, pasta, cidre doux and vin rosé before lazily sauntering back and calling it an early night.


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