Chapter 28a


The Canals of France, November 16, Late afternoon


It was not the next day but the next when Jon, Tracy, Ivan and Hapgood could be truly said to have arrived in the south of France.  They started up the Marne but found a canal that would take them around outside of Paris and link up with the Seine again.  As they churned their way southward they passed a fork in the river.  Bearing to the left would have taken them to the ancient city of Troyes, not named after the Troy of Homer but after a tribe of Gauls called the Tricasses. 


Troyes had been the site of great fairs during the middle ages.  The commercial success attracted some other events.  It was here that Henry the Fifth married the French princess.  It was here that the “troy” ounce was introduced; it is slightly heavier than the usual avoirdupois ounce now used, French name and all, in the United States for most weighing tasks.  But gold is measured in Troy ounces.


It was here that the great Jewish rabbi and theologian Rashi, grew up.  Rashi produced for the Talmud a commentary which applied traditional faith and rituals to the conditions of the Jewish Diaspora.  The scattered Jews had different needs and resources than when they had lived near the Temple of Solomon, and the need for such scholarship was intense.  Under the conditions of their dispersal, it took a scholar of enormous intellect and energy to provide what they needed. 


Also central to the issues the group was dealing with was the birth and childhood of Crétien de Troyes, the minstrel who first sang of the Holy Grail. 


They did not go to Troyes.  Instead they bore to the right, passing close to Sens Cathedral, one of the very oldest of the Gothic form.  They passed Vezélay with the great Basilique de la Madeleine, a Romanesque building;  the main aisle was almost four hundred feed long.  During the middle ages what were thought to be the relics of Mary Magdalene were visited there by countless pilgrims.  Avallon was a short distance to the east.


On he first night the boatman’s wife, happily humming “Alouette prepared a delicious meal for them.  They slept well and paused in the morning at a little village of the boatman’s choosing to have a bit of continental breakfast and shop for clothes.  The boatman, at first resistant to having passengers thrust upon him so abruptly, had taken the attitude that the pay was good and other work non existent.  He made every effort that they should enjoy the trip. 


As it turned out, the proper experience as far as the boatman was concerned was to use no English at all.  Although as an entertainer of tourists he surely spoke good English, he insisted on letting Hapgood struggle along as translator. 


The sense of distance from all that was familiar gave them a secure feeling, despite the fact that Hans Turelli was still looking to capture them.  But they decided that Turelli, not having thought about boats at the beginning, would not admit even to himself after it was too late that flight by canal boat was a viable possibility.


Besides, he might have enough resources to stop every boat in France, but he could not stop them all at once.  And he could not stop any without drawing the unwelcome attention of the police.  So while there might have been a spy behind any tree or leaning over any bridge, there was not.  Having made a roundabout exit from Paris, they relaxed.


In the cool of the day the boat stopped in a giant grove of chestnuts.  The boatman insisted that French chestnuts were sweeter than American ones, although he had never eaten American chestnuts.  And indeed there seemed to be a sweetness about the stand of trees that went just a little beyond their beauty.  It seemed to suggest that this was a good place; good people had lived here.


There was a time when one could hardly starve in France, for the chestnut forests were everywhere, and anyone with the means to gather up and store nuts and maybe build a fire had plenty to eat.  The celebrated French cuisine developed simply as a way of lending interest and variety to the sturdy staple.  But blight took the trees out, as it did the American ones, leaving only isolated groups.  The potato was introduced to fill the void.


As they lounged on the deck and watched the glorious autumnal country move past, Hapgood expanded on their destination.


“It’s called the ‘Midi’ or ‘Noon’ or ‘Middle,’” he said.  And it’s where Italy, France and Spain come together.  Europe is an archipelago of peninsulas, and this is a place where because of the geography much traffic has always passed.  Most early civilizations were in desert regions, at least so far as we know.  That may only be because that is where remains could survive, but it seems to be the case.  Europe has plenty of rain, so when civilization and rainfall were combined the result was a truly remarkable cultural development.


“I sometimes wonder … did you know?  People are said to have evolved from apes in Africa.  But apes, they are thinking these days, did not evolve in Africa.  They evolved in Europe.  The difference is that a monkey can run along on the top of a branch, but only the ape can hang from the branch.  A person or an ape can put both arms straight up.  A monkey cannot.


“It doesn’t seem like much of a change, but it does give the ape more speed, a better view ahead and an enormous advantage in grabbing fruit.  And that, of course, would have to be European fruit.  In fact, the ape that most likely developed into the human was first identified in the south of France, and he may have eaten chestnuts like these.  Of course these have been cultivated directly or indirectly for a long time, so they are a lot sweeter.


“Some days I think that the fruit of the Garden of Eden must have been here.  You don’t hear much about fruit in Africa.  They do have the akee, which is poisonous if it’s picked too early, and that may have been the source of the story.  But I would rather think it was chestnuts.”


“I thought the only thing that happened in the south of France was the Cannes film festival and nude bathing on the Riviera,” said Tracy.


“We’ll miss that.  It’s farther east than we’re going.  But there have been some other things. 


“There were at least fifty species of apes in Europe, but they went extinct here during an ice age.  Some survived because they had gone off to Asia and others to Africa.  It was a near thing.  Had they not moved, there would be no surviving apes or their descendants, including us. 


Jon said, “They say that gorillas and chimpanzees are going extinct.  Lots of it is from poaching, but ebola seems to be the most of it.  Nobody knows how to stop it.  But at this rate they will be extinct long before we are, even at your worst prediction.”


“I see,” said Hapgood.  “So the entire ape lineage is faced with extinction for the first time since that ice age.  Newton was right that this is event of biblical proportion.”


Ivan remarked, “It wouldn’t make much difference.  Nothing larger than a rat would survive the starving time.”


“I wonder if back then it was like it is today,” Hapgood responded.  “It was sixty years to the end, and it all came down to an unlikely clutch of four apes. 


“At all events, the apes that went to Africa became our ancestors.  When they came back, when the first humans returned to Europe, the Midi was where they came. 


“Fine painting and art have always been important in France, and by always I mean going back to those early stone age people, who did paintings on the walls of caves, and very good ones, thank you. 


Rome and Carthage fought a long series of wars.  One of the issues was Spain.  The Carthaginian general Hannibal was in Spain and the Romans sent some legions to attack him.  But he was on the move, too.  He came through the south of France passing the Romans coming to get him and then crossed the Alps to enter Italy.  The Romans had a grim time of it getting rid of him.  I believe they say his men destroyed Roman armies at a rate of twenty to one.  But the Romans won in the end, and eventually France and Spain were part of the Roman Empire.


“Jews moved into the area.  I suspect that is was here that they developed the tradition of being excellent merchants.  They also had an interest in wine, sort of like our friend Lanier describes.  He mentioned claret, which we call Bordeaux, and which is brewed farther west.  But the land and climate here are every bit as good for wine; it fact it tastes a bit like Bordeaux if they use the same kind of grapes.  There are other areas were the wine is more famous, but a lot of people think it is no better than what comes from the Midi.


“After the events around the crucifixion, Mary Magdalene is said by some to have come to the south of France, to the Jewish community that was here at the time.  She spent the rest of her life teaching and ministering to the people.  Some say she was pregnant at the time with the son of Jesus and that that boy became the direct male line ancestor of Charles Martel and Charlemagne.  Now there are heresies and there are heresies.  Most of them seem pretty technical.  But that having a son idea, I think I could understand if people were profoundly offended by it.  But it never seems to have caused much of a problem; just most people I know don’t really believe it.  That never kept the Carolingians from spreading the story around, nor the British aristocracy from indulging in the occasional claret. 


“After Rome, the Muslims captured this part of France, and after they were driven out, people looked around for the tomb of Mary.  They found it with documents and all so they took it to Rome to get it certified.  The Romans said they had the remains in Rome, but when they all compared the bones in Rome with the ones from France, they matched. 


“By the way, Tracy, you know that your name Madeline is a French form of Magdalene.”


“If you are allowed to change the spelling, you can make any two words look alike,” she retorted.


Hapgood went on.  “When Judea was destroyed by Rome and the people scattered, a lot of them came here.  There was already a large community to receive them.  That community is crucial to the way history worked out.  Charles Martel apparently had family connections with the Jewish community in this same area.  There was a strategic town that the Moors were using to supply their army from Spain, which they controlled, as they finished the conquest of Europe, which didn’t seem to be in much doubt.


Martel persuaded the town to open the gates, and then he went in and killed every Muslim in the city.  It was not just a tactical disaster for them, it meant that the army in Poitier near Tours could not be supplied and could not retreat.  The result was a turn in the tide of Islam, which until then had seemed invincible.  Actually the Moors were having their own problems back in North Africa at the time, but the defeat at Poitier couldn’t have helped. 


“The word ‘martel’ means hammer, a war hammer.  We don’t talk about it much, but there was a time when there wasn’t good medicine or surgery, and if you were badly wounded in a battle, enough so you couldn’t walk, you were going to die slowly and painfully. At times the winning side undertook to put the hopelessly wounded out of their misery, friend and foe.  They would have men walk around the battlefield with big hammers and poke at the fallen. 


“If anyone was still alive but unable to stand they would hit him over the head.  It was brutal, but it was the most humane way.  It took some of the charm out of playing dead.  The war hammer was iron shod to use for poking and had a spike on the back in case the man had a helmet on.  So the name means, ‘They haven’t got a chance.’  During the witch persecutions, even in Massachusetts, the judges consulted a book about how to convict people of witchcraft.  The book was called, The Witches’ Hammer, for the same reason.  And a speaker’s gavel probably refers to the same thing.


“The Witches’ Hammer was written in the time of Pope Innocent VIII, centuries after the time we are talking about.  It’s a terrible book, tells you how to get people to denounce each other, how to lie to people to get them to say what you want them to say, and how to torture them, which basically means to threaten to torture them.  It had already been worked out that terrible as torture is, the threat of torture can be manipulated to become more terrible still.”

”Really?” asked


“Yes, by then they had found out that if you tortured someone, they would resist you.  It was a power struggle.  The torturer had something he wanted, like information or a confession, and the victim in denying it was exercising a sort of power.  People cede power reluctantly, so the emotional dynamic of torturing is paradoxical.  It encourages the victim to continue to resist and maintain a sort of status elevation over the captor. 


“So the thing was to tell them you were going to torture them and then keep putting it off for days.  That reversed the power relationship.  The victim realized his or her fate was entirely in somebody else’s hands, that the other person didn’t much care and thus must be of higher status, and slowly the victim gave up control, finally doing anything or saying anything asked.  But that’s getting off the subject, which is the Dark Ages.  Torture, known in the ancient world, was not used and would not be used again until the renaissance. 


“In fact, it is counterproductive.  It is more effective simply to dramatize for the victim that his status is low compared with that of the captor.  Any government that does not have experts that are aware of that is a poor excuse for itself.  It shouldn’t be difficult to make clear a person’s low status if that person is in your jail and at your mercy.  And proclaiming high status is sort of a specialty for governments.” 


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