Twenty-four Hours in Carcassonne

January 23rd – 24th, 2020

Storm Gloria restricted the time spent exploring Carcassonne to a single 24 hour period, the afternoon and evening of arrival being spent in hiding from the weather, as was the following morning. Although the forecast suggested it was going to rain all day, it seemed sensible to wait a while to see if there might be a lull. A window of opportunity presented itself at lunchtime when the rain began to ease a little.

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The region was inundated.

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It was clear that water levels were subsiding, although not for long. Passing by later, this bench was entirely consumed by the river.

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As I reached the old fortified city, the steady rain turned into a deluge. The plus side was that a popular destination was almost devoid of fellow visitors. It was good to see that kids are less deterred by bad weather than adults.

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Umbrellas help, of course, as does having a mother prepared to dance in the rain.

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Leaving the sheltered confines of the old city, a darkening sky brought strikes of lightning and sharp claps of thunder, virtually emptying the streets. I began to see the benefits of owning an umbrella, even if only for a few hours before its inevitable loss. It was time to head back to base to dry out and regroup.

A couple of hours later, against the odds, the weather brightened. Having got nicely warm, and suspecting another trick, I felt a reluctance to expose my last set of dry clothes to the elements. The appearance of some blue sky then offered the little extra encouragement that was needed.

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The light determines what you see. Walking the same streets as earlier, this time my eyes were drawn to the pollarded plane trees around the squares. I’d hardly noticed them in the rain.

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A return to the citadel brought a surprise discovery. The rings are an unintended remnant of a recent installation, by French-Swiss artist Felice Varini. What you see is a ghost of the original artwork, removed in September of 2018. I happened to take the shot from the precise focal point of the cone of concentric circles, a fact only obvious once I’d looked at the photograph in more detail at home. It was like my eye had been drawn there unconsciously. It wasn’t so obvious at the time. Perception has to be tuned to actually see something so strange and unexpected. I’m sure people must pass by this spot without noticing the rings at all. I’d like to suggest that this lingering ghost is a far more interesting piece of art than the real thing ever was. It has a much more subtle, haunting beauty now.

The scale of the fortifications was incredibly impressive, as was the sense of antiquity, but it didn’t inspire any other photography. It was actually less photogenic without the torrential rain. How is it possible to take a shot that isn’t a cliche?

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The shot of these houses is a cliche of another kind, but I was moved to acknowledge them. I find them far more interesting than a structure that’s stood for hundreds of years, one that’s been preserved and commercialised, and likely to stand for many more hundreds of years. These houses are in a state of natural decay, which will either be arrested by restoration or allowed to continue beyond what is picturesque. It is perhaps that sense of transience that confers upon them beauty, just like leaves on autumn trees.   

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For me, there is a more fascinating kind of visual history here, each texture an imprint of the past, exposed layer by layer as the building has aged. As the light faded on the day, it felt like an appropriate shot to close on.

Despite the forecast suggesting yet more rain, the following morning was dry and encouraged the flaneur in me. I like to wander rather than seek out specific destinations, taking random turns at intersections, calling on Serendipity to show me around the city.

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I suspect that what I choose to photograph and then select to publish says far more about me than the city.

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I’m drawn to images that pose questions.

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And those which suggest stories.

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I would have felt more sadness at the demise of this destination for book lovers, but for the prior discovery of a wonderful new bookshop nearby, modern, visually stunning and apparently thriving. At least this one is still attracting writers, if not readers.

Before leaving, there was just enough time to linger on the square for a coffee and a croissant and do some people watching.

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It could have been any square in any city in any country in continental Europe. The timelessness of sharing news and jokes and gossip.

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And cerebral conversation over coffee. 

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Finally, a reminder that this photographer is never far away from the photographs he takes. They are only ever a reflection, using the external as a mirror on the internal.

 

 

 

 

 

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