The village of Mirabel is located in the department of Ardèche. On the Plateau du Coiron. The tower above the basalt rock, the Château de la Roche can be seen from a distance. For a few years, this village was my second home. I sat in the basalt on the mountain and looked to the Mont Ventoux, far above the Cevennes, into the Pyrenees.
I’ve been reading, writing, translating a French book. Sometimes I went shopping down to Villeneuve-de-Berg with a boy whose father painted. In the evening Florian and I ate, played dice at the long table and talked. Some days he went to help a winemaker, and then he would bring back a can of wine. It was a little happiness and repose. But I didn’t realize that until later. We also drove a lot through the countryside, without any destination.
In the twelfth century, the two fortress towers were built, one of them still remains. The village of Mirabel was founded during the Renaissance. Like all the villages in the Cevennes and the Ardèche, Mirabel is built on the mountain as a small fortress well protected from the external world. Narrow alleys and passages, high walls to the exterior. A prayer room behind the front gate. The little church is located on the outskirts.
Even today many Protestant churches remember the long period of religious wars against Calvinist Protestantism. In 1704 the last Camisards fought against the troops of Louis XIV. The soldiers devastated four hundred and forty-six villages. Until the nineteenth century, the farmers barricaded themselves in their small village fortresses. For a long time, the families lived from agriculture: olives, wine, peaches. From goat and sheep breeding and from chestnut growing. Even the smallest patch of soil was used.
The agronomist Olivier de Serre is associated with Mirabel. He not only managed a farm in the valley (Pradel) but also built irrigation systems, introduced new plants, took care of the refinement of viticulture and silkworm breeding. Until the middle of the nineteenth century, the mulberry trees blossomed, the silkworms were bred, many earned their money in the manufactories of the silk spinning mill. Then the silk market collapsed: A deadly plague destroyed the caterpillars; artificial silk flooded the market. At the same time, the vast chestnut tree populations died of a fungal infection. That was a disaster for the villages and their people. It took a long time until the slopes were used again for viticulture until the wines of the Ardèche were known and drunk. Until cooperatives were formed.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the population of the Ardèche, in the Cevennes, had been decimated by one third; another third emigrated between 1945 and 1975. Railway stations, businesses, schools, shops closed – it was the elderly who continued their lives as they had learned from their parents.
Only at the beginning of the eighties came the tourists – families, drop-outs and individual tourists who appreciated the wild landscape and rural houses and villages. Young farmers again took care of the land, the vines, the chestnuts, and peaches.
When I first came to Mirabel in 1993, twelve people lived there. The houses were falling apart. The basalt lumps piled up in many of the small alleys. Tiles from the Renaissance period lay in ruins. A group of artists from Darmstadt had bought some houses. They were there in summer, in winter the few locals lived among themselves again. For twenty years little changed, but that little fit into each other like a puzzle. No one waited any longer, but more and more cared that Mirabel became again like a medieval stage. Some young people took on the long journeys for work. Kids were still running through the alleys. Yes, there also came wealthy Parisians, Amsterdamers, actors and they had their purchased ruins carefully restored. Mirabel has over six hundred inhabitants today. It’s not just locals, this village exists. Even if it is quieter in the whole area in winter than in summer.
Like so many villages in southern France, Mirabel resisted the Germans. But not all of them. Opposite Mirabel high on the mountain is the Saint Jean-le-Centenier. Their People heavy heartedly decided not to fight. Until today the two villages are not on good terms.
The people of Mirabel fought against the Wehrmacht, together with members of the Résistance, who failed to occupy the village. They fought until they had nothing to eat and hardly any ammunition left. The Americans had promised to supply the mountain villages. The Résistance had passed on the list of what was necessary: Milk powder because of the children, canned meat, bread and above all ammunition. What the Americans dropped: cigarettes and flyers. Cigarettes.
We were starving, had hardly any cartridges left for our rifles, and they were throwing cigarettes at us. Even today it is being said with rage. Fortunately, the Germans left. In the south, there were several Résistance attacks day after day, warlike conflicts. The Wehrmacht reported the killing of hundreds of “terrorists” in July 1944, but the acts of sabotage increased. The Germans withdrew from the Allies. Mirabel remained undefeated.
In Le Teil, former Résistance fighters have created a museum of resistance and deportation in the department of Ardèche. The museum was founded in 1992 with the intention of preserving the memory of the people who fought for liberation and victory against the Nazi barbarism. It presents a tour through the history of the Second World War in the département. The exhibition shows the peculiarity of the resistance in the Ardèche: secret printers, distribution of leaflets, parachute drops, sabotage actions. “Our museum is not dedicated to a unit, a movement in particular, or a leader, but to resistance, which was a common work”, writes the founding association.
Today Mirabel has little to do with the village I met. In which I wrote and looked around for many years, where I drove over the mountains to Lussas, Pradel, where the old silk factory still stands. Today there are even holiday apartments in Mirabel. The tower is privately owned. In summer Mirabel is whirling crowded, in former times every song echoed, every call sounded through the old alleys. In summer, down in the valley in Villeneuve-de-Berg, you can meet half the world: Dutch, Belgians, tourists. They all sit under the plane trees and drink their aperitif after shopping. Then as now it’s a beautiful little world, with cracks, but it existed for over a thousand years at the Ardèche. So why not buy one of the half chickens that the butcher grills for the Dutch in summer? He also offers quails, lamb chops and merguez sausage.
Since 1966 Monika has lived in Münsterland, Westphalia, Germany and the Netherlands. She is happy with her adopted home and her family. For forty years. (Photo: Barbara Dietl)
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