Sunday, March 21, 2010

Aucamville Project 5

The Aucamville Project is an attempt to document the LoS-ian aspects of where I live. It is both a personal journal and a microhistory; it is also the praxis my belief that one must invest one's surroundings with meaning, a nexus of subjective experience, often whimsical, with fact, symbol and whatever else can sweeten the pot. Aucamville is a small place, a blip on the map, but it has a long and rich history I will share here as things reveal themselves and constructions are made.

What is Aucamville? Strictly speaking it is a town in France. France is divided into several regions. Aucamville is in the Midi-Pyrénées region. These regions are divided into departments and Acuamville is in the Tarn-et-Garonne, the prefecture of which is Montauban. Next comes the canton, in our case Verdun-sur-Garonne. Then we have the commune, which includes a village and the surrounding areas. This is Aucamville.

The village has about 800 residents and scattered about the commune are 200 more. It is a farming community which sees annual harvests of wheat, corn, sunflowers and small amounts of hemp. There are a few fruit and nut orchards. There is at least one person who raises ducks and geese, turkeys, chickens. Some burros mill about in a field towards Verdun, but for what purpose is anyone's guess. In addition to a café there is also a nice retaurant, a hair stylist, a butcher and a baker. No candlestick maker, but there is a caterer. Several artisans: masons, plumbers, etc. are based here.

The origin of the name is subject to some debate. Some passionately believe it comes fom a Germanic name---Ogmarus--or a Wisigothic name--Auka. For support, they point out that the village was referred to as Ochamsvilla prior to the 13th century. Others, citing the goose in the village arms, say it comes from the Latin "auca" or goose. In Occitan and Spanish, auca is still the word for goose. The name first appears in the 12th century.

This second theory is my preferred. Aside from the goose in the coat of arms, it was apparently customary back in the day to present the local aristocrat and the abbot of Grandselve Abbey the fattest goose of the season. Abbé Firmin Galabert's Monographie d'Aucamville (1890) is an invaluable resources and this is his theory, even though a neighbor poo-poos Galabert for being to pro-clerical and sympathetic to the aristocracy. Goose raising was an important aspect of the village economy until a few decades ago, when the pond just below the mairie was filled in to become a park. The town lights a Midsummer bonfire (for St. Jean, ostensibly) there every year.

20-10-2010: I take this back, in light of further reading. The Germanic theory is well-established in other contexts so it stands to reason the same is true here. An interesting argument about this topic by people far more learned than I can be read here if you read French.

Neolithic objects can be found in the area. I have in my possession a net sinker, made of shaped river stone, given to me by a neighbor. Gallo-Roman remains are also to be found. A local ditch yields some bricks which long ago served to solidify a spring. A cemetery lies under plowed earth 100 yards behind my house. A Gallo-Roman villa once stood in what is someone's backyard, within eysesight of my front window. The original village was located about half a kilometer to the northwest of its present location; it was rebuilt after the original was destroyed by fire. It sits on a small hill, which might have made it more attractive for its strategic views and defensibility.

Like most communes, there are several lieu-dit outside the village. These "named places", or hamlets, can consist of as little as one farm. Ours, just outside the village proper, is called Fondemenge, which means spring (fon) consecrated to God (demenge), pronounced more or less like the French dimanche, or Sunday. This too was once a large farm. There are now 6 houses cheek by jowl and two or three more a bit more private. The grouped houses are linked by a patus, a medieval land statute which requires each person to share the land and leave the passage free. This was in essence to have a common grazing area or place to let ducks waddle about. Endless headaches ensue.

The place gets its name from the springs, previously mentioned. There is one which is open and another has a small brick vault and iron gate. As the tale goes, pilgrims stopped here on their way to Santiago de Compostela, to camp. A chapel to St. John the Baptist is just up the road. There was also an oratory to St. Blandine in the village, where wet nurses used to visit and pray for abundant milk. The spot is now marked by cross, as the oratory was dismantled and sold off for scrap during the Revolution. Grandselve Abbey was razed at this time.

The village church is dedicated to Saint Bartholomew, and the ogives and ribs of the vaulted ceilings are colorfully painted with red, yellow and blue stripes. Many icons are present, including the omnipresent Sts. Germaine, Thérèse, Bernadette and Jeanne D'Arc. The capitals at the entrance (two pillars) depict gnarly dragons; while one of them is weathered smooth, the other is well-preserved. The church dates from the 13th century but its present form is a 16th century makeover. It contains the relics of several obscure and quite possibly non-canonical saints.

The local salle de fête is now a rather ugly concert/activity hall, but was once a thriving open-sided pavilion where livestock were bought and sold. A truck scale, inoperable, is still visible before a house which was once some kind of broker's office.

Next to this is our local monument aux morts, an obelisk commemorating the war dead. I will one day sneak a photo of my grand-uncle who died in Ardennes into the monument, to go along aside the pictures of other men of the village. In every French village you have such a monument. A village of 300 will have a dozen or more names listed.

There is a château in the commune, which in the past belonged to a Marquis. It has been successively occupied by a cult, led by a self-syled "patriarch" and now, a real estate developer. I can't say which one is worse.

Given the village's relative lack of development and its proximity to the ever-expanding Toulouse, this last occupant may foreshadow things to come.

This is a picture of my house circa 1918. Only the end part, where you can see the wagon, is mine. It looks nothing like this now....

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