There is a mystery in deepest France, down on the borders of the Lot, Garonne and Dordogne.
Its called the Bergerac Triangle, Hundreds of Brits, Americans and other nationalities have travelled across this triangle, never to return to their native lands; or at least not often.
They have been trapped by a beautiful varied countryside, enchanting towns, a mild climate, an intriguing history, an ancient culture and a culinary tradition to die for.
But perhaps above all they have been entrapped by a life style that has been lost and all but forgotten in the Western world.
It’s a life style where people matter, where living is important and artisans infuriatingly, but wonderfully take two and a half hours off for lunch.
Where is this triangle? Well the borders are vague but it seems to cover the slightly untrigometrically defined area encompassed by Bergerac, Eymet and the Sainte Foy la Grande region, in the south west corner of France; perhaps including the ancient and venerable town of Duras.
This is a land close to the Anglo-Saxon / Viking heart as it was the crucible for the fusion of those vital but barbaric northerners into the cultured lands of the Latin intelligencia in the Middle Ages. This marriage of vitality and cerebral power is what has driven the western world ever since.
Those tenth century rulers gradually lost their grip on this patch of ancient Aquitaine; being eventually pushed into the sea when losing Bordeaux, their last toehold in France. However they have bided their time and in the twentieth century their descendants are stealthily buying it back piece by piece, or perhaps it is reclaiming them! Are they being seduced by the siren sounds of natural beauty and a relaxed cultured lifestyle, hard to find elsewhere in the civilised world?
The countryside is varied. Ranging from rolling hills, copses and almost English like meadows in the Eymet area, to martial vistas as serried ranks of vines march down the hillsides of the wine regions of Duras and Bergerac. Unlike Provence, its sister region in the south east of the country this southern province is a green and verdant land.
Scattered throughout are small towns and tiny hamlets, most replete with their own Marie (town hall) and a mayor who will issue forth resplendent in sash and badges of office at almost any excuse. These are many, for local life is very much alive and kicking, or should I say eating.
Many an unsuspecting tourist has been overcome during the `Chasse` lunch season when confronted by a Salle de Fete (village hall) bursting with voluble residents, barrels of village wine and the eight or so meat courses presented to demonstrate the doubtful prowess of local hunters.
In the delightful towns of Eymet, Duras, Ste Foy, Bergerac etc social intercourse is continued along its ancient tradition in vibrant local markets which spring up weekly amongst the medieval buildings and alleyways. Transporting the visitor back to an earlier age when we all had time to stand and stare; and of course gossip.
The seduction of the region for new residents is varied. A friendly and hospitable local population, Perigordian specialities such as Foi Gras, Duck and Mombazillac wine. Roads where you are startled if you have to pass three cars on the way to market. Low cost houses, accommodation and land. Wine collected from the farm in a can at $1 a litre.
Even having to stand in line in the Post office whilst the lady in front explains at length her eight children’s illnesses to the clerk can be a delight; well sometimes!
But what of the locals, don’t they resent this influx of retired English speaking nationals into their backyard. Buying up their houses, massacring their language, creating English ghetto. Strangely enough, no they don’t or at least very rarely.
To understand this you need to know the region and the regional Frenchman (and woman). The French are fiercely French but at the same time fiercely regional. In this area the English (or at least their Norman ancestors) are almost considered ‘locals’. The regional identity is still strong. Only a few centuries ago this area still spoke Occitan (or Gascon an Occitan dialect) as its main language.
Probably many of the first Duke of Normandy’s (William the Conqueror’s dad) offspring spoke Occitan as their first language. The locals do not think that their forbears were conquered by the English, as the English do. They think, not without good reason, that their forbears first conquered England, then came back to Aquitaine.
By this reasoning they are cousins to the poor subjugated Norman / Saxons and offer a warm welcome to the latest somewhat tardy returnees.
This regional association with those northern barbarians can be manifest in bizarre ways. A local friend who is a Parisian recently complained that when he opened his mouth it cost him +20%; he was French but this did not happen to the ‘English’. Well every one hates Parisians.
So can we solve the mystery of all these disappearances from England, America even Holland and Scandinavia into the seemly black hole of the Bergerac triangle. Well the Doolittle theory is that it is all due to a hypothetical and subliminal Push-Me-Pull-Me effect.
The triangle is a poor region financially, which is rich in heritage and human virtues but low in cash.
The denizens of the more ‘successful’ regions of the west are richer in cash but hanker after some of the real delights of human intercourse that were trampled in the rush for financial gain.
Like opposite poles of magnetism there is a mutual and very strong attraction.
My prognosis is that many more of life’s tourists will disappear into the Bergerac triangle.