SARLAT, France -- I have journeyed to the south of France to continue my research into the earliest ancestors of America's present-day political exotics. The American scene abounds with bizarre creatures: feminists, militant advocates of identity politics, environmentalist wackos (as Rush Limbaugh's millions call them). I came here to investigate the life of the 12th-century troubadour Bertran de Born, as early an intellectual precursor to the environmentalist wackos as I have discovered yet.
First, however, you will want me to declare where exactly I am. Well, I am in the valley of the Dordogne River in south central France, an area where huge medieval castles sprout out of mountaintops and give the lovely verdant valley a feel of genuine medieval fantasy, somewhat like Disneyland. The locals seem friendly, betraying none of the odious anti-Americanism that I had been led to anticipate. But then possibly, they perceive me as a serious professorial type. My queries are always very learned, about the folkways and mores of the 12th century and the life of de Born and his knightly pals.
They lived in these very castles and spent most of their time singing romantic songs (after all, that is what troubadours were supposed to do) and killing each other. They also killed as many farmers and merchants as they could spot -- at least, de Born did. Today's wackos are equally argumentative, though in place of romantic song, they compose bumper stickers about rain forests and whales and so forth. Old Bertran, if he were alive today, would be on their side. From what I can tell, he would be particularly irritated by one of the wackos' most intense concerns: the automobile. Bertran favored horses, usually war horses.
Back in the 12th century, when there was very little pollution and no hygiene to speak of, Bertran spent most of his time composing songs and engaged in violent altercations. Things were changing in the valley, and he doubted that any of the change was for the good.
The specific sources of his concern were farmlands and the spread of farmlands, villages and the spread of villages, and commerce in all its primitive forms. If you have listened to the rants of today's wackos with care, you will recognize that this 12th-century troubadour's initial concerns remain their concerns, though our wackos have acquired many more.
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