The "Canal du Midi" and Yours Truly

I spent a few hours on a weird emotional low after coming upon this picture my friend Carol posted on Facebook. Why should a Facebook picture have such an impact on me?

Carol and her husband were on a trip down South which is something they do quite often since they bought a house not very far from where I grew up. Carol always posts a few pictures on her Facebook page to share what they see and enjoy with family and friends. I am always on the look out for her pictures because she’s got “the” eye. She really is a good photographer. (And I like her a lot too!)

My friends were in Capestang probably walking on the towpath along the Canal du Midi.

I gasped when I saw the picture and I couldn’t help but leave a very demonstrative comment: “Oh non! Where are all the plane trees? I went to Junior High in Capestang. The Canal looks so forlorn now.”

And Carol answered: “They have a fungal disease and had to be cut down. To keep their UNESCO status they have to plant more. Didn't know you went to Jr. high there!”

The elliptical shortcut I used is quite interesting. Plane trees and Jr. high! Too many memories barreling along, I guess. I went to junior high for one year in Capestang. I was ten and this was to be my very first (official) school year but I made it to the seventh grade right away. The year spent in Capestang and Montels (where my mother was teaching school), two miles away, was a great year for many reasons and my “outdoorsy” life included long walks along the Canal. Platanus and junior high! The Canal du Midi and a much younger self.

I’ve been living in Brittany for a long time now but I’ll never forget the Southern country roads lined up with stately plane trees, the same plane trees that protected the Canal against the sun, offering friendly shade to the barges and to the horses that towed the barges and to the men who were leading the horses.

Let me digress now. Thirty years ago or so, because many reckless drivers ended up dead in their cars coiled up around plane trees, some town councils decided to cut the trees down and some even replaced them with plastic trees… People kept driving madly and ended up dead anyway in ditches or in vineyards. Somehow politicians understood that the fault lied with the drivers. They stopped sacrificing trees.

My sister had told me about the canker that was killing a lot of plane trees but I had heard about some kind of vaccine. So I was not overly worried about those wonderful trees.
Now the plane trees are very sick along the Canal du Midi. In some places like in Capestang, “they” have decided to cut them down. And like Carol said, because the place trees were part of the UNESCO deal, they’ll have to replant. Meanwhile there will be stumps. And it kind of hurts.

You see, my personal history with the Canal du Midi goes back a very long time.

I was one year old when my mother took me for a walk along what is called the “Rigole du Lampy”. (I can produce proof of what I am saying. But I don’t have the picture at hand. You’ll have to believe me!)

(By the way, I was an early walker but that day, I probably ended up in a stroller, like any normal baby, believe me because it is a long walk.) 

The Lampy...

And its dam

The important thing is that I grew up convinced that the Canal du Midi did start its majestic life a mere 4 kms from Arfons, my grandmother’s village I wrote about. All my friends were likewise sure that the Lampy reservoir shaped like a genuine wild lake was the womb where the Canal fed itself from, so strong was our belief that the Canal was a living entity. (And I obviously still believed it in 2011!)

Actually it does start not very far from the Lampy but not at the “Rigole”, some 20 kms away. So it still belongs to the “Montagne Noire” and was an extraordinary achievement in France in the XVIIth century.


Of course we were told that the Canal had been built as a umbilical cord between the Mediterranean area to the Atlantic Ocean. For centuries, food and staples were transported from our sea to the ocean on barges pulled by horses until the day motorization spread across Europe including Southern France.

Bye-bye, neighing horses and men swearing like a trooper along the towpath. Hello, chugging sounds.

The trees were still there. The barges became scarce what with the development of rail and truck transport. But the trees remained and the Canal kept flowing slowly but surely.

Southerners are resilient. They breathed new life into the Canal. Tourism was a godsend. Nowadays tens of small barges take up the Canal, carrying their load of tourists from all over Europe.

Not very far from Carcassonne, Trèbes’ banks were converted into some kind of marina, one of many such places on the Canal.

The XVIIth century locks are still useful and most of them are still operated by  lock keepers.

Hikers and riders appropriated the towpath and believe me, it is a great place to go for a hack. At least it used to be on a vey sunny day, underneath the arch of stately trees.

The trees are disappearing. My memories are not fading away. All I need to do is close my eyes and conjure up the spirits of the plane trees of yesteryear.

I guess I’ll keep my eyes shut for quite a long time. But I know trees and I am patient and if faith can move mountains, it also can help young trees grow again along the Canal and become just as stately as their ancestors.


*Good Luck, and Good Night*

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