Margaret and Dick   


September 2011: End of the world

Hard enough to pronounce, Bugarach (Byoog-ah-rahsh) is a village halfway to the Mediterranean coast from Limoux, at the base of a prominent butte of the same name.  We got to know it on our first trip to Limoux, when cycling host Chris G took his group to the little country restaurant Les Saveurs du Terroir, as he does every Thursday, after a long day cycling in the Corbières mountains.  Salad of duck gizzards, home-made paté, lamb on the spit, home-grown veggies, and clever desserts – you need to cycle for many hours to deserve those fine calories.  Chef Renaud Vies charms the women – he has dimples and knows how to use them – and his wife Cathy charms everyone.  The evening ends by passing the pourou, a carafe with a little spout that squirts dessert wine into your mouth.  Chef Renaud was trained in London and speaks charmingly fractured English.  He chose to come back to his native village and take over the family café, which has become a social center for this tiny village of 200 inhabitants.  

Bugarach is in the middle of some of our favorite cycling areas, but it is really in the middle of nowhere.  The pic de Bugarach is the dominant geographical feature in the Aude, a landmark that is visible from great distances.  The pic has always been credited with mystical powers, and no wonder!  Don't forget that Mary Magdalene used to hang out in the ‘hood.

Imagine our surprise to read (London Telegraph, Huffington Post, …) that our little Bugarach would be one of the few places to survive at the end of the Mayan calendar on December 21, 2012.  We didn’t think the Mayans knew about Bugarach!  Certain visionaries (some might say crazies) are sure that they will be safe on the mountain.  There are some places in the world that serve as vortexes for weirdness.  We lived in such a vortex (Eugene, Oregon) and were lucky to escape.  Bugarach is certainly another.  Local legend insists that there is a flying saucer landing base nearby, perhaps carved into the side of the mountain.  The visionaries and their followers are spreading the word, so there is a growing interest in Bugarach real estate.  Mayor Jean-Pierre Delord views this trend with some derision but does appreciate that land prices have tripled in the last few years.  The real estate agents note an influx of potential clients from as far away as Hong Kong, but they point out that the end-of-Mayan-calendar visionaries are not known for having a lot of money.  They tend rather to camp out in tents and yurts in the local forests.  

End-of-the-world scares are not new, but in France these attract official attention.  The government feels that people need to be protected against sects that might lead astray people who are isolated from their roots and social fabric.  Judge Georges Fenech, the same judge who brought suit against the Church of Scientology as a dangerous sect, heads the “Interdepartmental Mission of Vigilance and Fight Against Sectarian Excesses (MIVILUDES).”  Sects are a real problem in France, he argues.  “When one investigates such a community, one encounters individuals who no longer have any point of reference” other than the sect and its guru.  

Scare talk?  Hardly.  Judge Fenech reminds us that in 1996, the Order of the Solar Temple had predicted similar end-of-the-world event. Sixteen followers committed suicide in France, along with more than 80 worldwide.  Thanks to Judge Fenech and his Interdepartmental Mission, several dozen people are now monitored by the authorities.  

In a recent training course “Opening of the doors of the vortex”, an expert taught that “Bugarach mountain is a door of energy which connects several dimensions.  You’ve seen a number of films on the subject? It is not all fiction. People are inevitably with the current.”  Official hackles rise at such talk.

Subjects like this clearly demand academic study.  French anthropologist Thomas Gottin, in the recently published The Bugarach Phenomenon, examines the beliefs of the cataclysmic events for the final day of the Mayan calendar and the role of the pic de Bugarach as a refuge to escape the Apocalypse.  While respectful of these beliefs, Gottin suggests that this Apocalypse may not be the literal end of the world but rather “a new awakening, a new union with nature, a rediscovery of the laws of peace and harmony.” 

While we wait for the big day, others are moving in more practical directions.  Local professional photographer Jean-Louis Socquet Juglard has created a postcard of the pic de Bugarach complete with a flying saucer, “Not to mock anyone, but with a playful wink of the eye.”

Local wine négociant Jean Pla has created a special bottling labeled Bugarach.  He hopes that this wine will help you communicate with the extraterrestrials and plans a picnic at Bugarach for December 21, 2012.  The wine is selling well.  For the end of the world, Bugarach is the place to be.  If chef Renaud is catering the picnic, that should be a good party.

Photo credits:

Pic de Bugarach:  Thierry Strub, Wiki Commons.

French judge with authorities:  Midi Libre, 9 June 2011, used by permission.

Bugarach with flying saucer postcard:  Jean-Louis Socquet Juglard,, used by permission.

Jean Pla with Bugarach wines:  L'Indépendent, 8 August 2011, used by permission.

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