Keen as ever for a break from internet research, and to seek out more tangible sources of documentation for my current book, I recently paid a visit to la Maison d’Expositions de L’Araire.
As I headed towards this historical society stone building, admiring the panoramic view across the Yzeron valley to the city of Lyon, it was obvious autumn had sneaked up on me again while I wasn’t looking. In this rural heart of the Monts du Lyonnais, flame, mustard and crimson-coloured leaves almost outdid the green, and I drew my cardigan around me against the damp nip in the air.
La Maison d’Expositions de L’Araire is a humble place, the volunteers who run it always offering a welcoming smile and more than happy to answer my myriad of questions. An elderly woman beckoned me inside, towards the hearth, and the sweet aroma of roasting chestnuts filled my nostrils. She rattled her poker about in the flames as we talked about the weather, and how suddenly the summer had left us for another year. After what I hoped was a polite interval, I bade her au revoir and headed off towards the exhibitions.
La Maison de L’Araire boasts permanent exhibitions of an old silk-weaving loom, and a model of a Roman aqueduct, from when the Romans inhabited this part of France, but it also features temporary exhibits and since my novel-in-progress is set in the 14th century, I was particularly interested in the model-sized fortified villages.
During the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), the inhabitants of this west Lyon region constructed high stone walls around their villages to protect them from the hordes of pillaging, plundering soldiers. This fortification was named the vingtain, as each peasant was required to pay a twentieth (une vingtième) of his harvest towards its construction and upkeep. I pictured the people complaining about this extra tax; yet another to leech their meagre earnings. But I also imagined them working in the fields, startled and frightened as the cries of bandits reached their ears, and hurrying off to the relative protection of their fortified village.
I took the usual photographs, filled my notebook, thanked the historical society volunteers, and hurried off through the early dusk to join my friends for an aperitif in the village bar.