Friday, October 5, 2012

THE OTHERWORLD – SHOOTING DIARY PART TWO : THE SECRET OF RENNES-LE-CHATEAU



 “When I drew nigh the nameless city I knew it was accursed” - H.P. Lovecraft

Some forty kilometers south of Carcassonne, not far from the Narouze gap that separates the eastern Pyrenees from France's central massif, the tiny Languedocian village of Rennes-le-Chateau abides, crouched atop an oddly rounded plateau that rises like a spectral hump from the rolling green and umber fields of the haut Razes. Even from a distance its huddled roofs and narrow windows seem to exude a curious watchfulness as if the village is awaiting fresh blood, fresh prey to fuel the mystery industry that has fed it's civic coffers and provided enough material for a string of international best sellers ranging from Lincoln, Baigent and Leigh's 'THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL' to Dan Brown's 'DAVINCI CODE'.


It is not my place here to enter into a retelling of the strange saga of the Abbe Berenger Sauniere who,in the dying years of the 19th century allegedly unearthed a mysterious treasure hidden beneath the foundations of his church, a discovery that enriched and blighted his life and which has been driving hordes of grown men and women crazy ever since. Over the course of the last few decades any number of folk have claimed to have 'solved' the Rennes enigma although, oddly enough, no-one has ever been able to definitively prove what Sauniere really found beneath the church or indeed if he really found anything at all. The Ark of the Covenant, a genealogy charting the sacred bloodline of Christ, a space time portal to beyond infinity, even the body of Mary Magdelene or the tomb of Christ Himself have been variously suggested.  Certain iconoclastic souls have insisted that the Abbe's prodigious wealth, can be readily explained through trafficking in masses and extorting donations from wealthy parishioners but this more prosaic view fails to take into account the sheer demoniac fervor of the Abbe's restoration work, the overpowering density of esoteric detail in the design of his domaine and the curious, some would say downright malignant, atmosphere that seems to rise from this isolated hamlet's narrow streets, as if the bedrock of the plateau and  the very gorse and stunted ilex oaks that cling to its tawny flanks  breathe an unsettlingly occult air.

Marcel, the former grave digger, once told me that the real problem with Rennes is that there are 'little people', literally faeries or elementals, living under the plateau that play tricks with people's minds. Other folk, like Uranie, our unit sorcerer, who has lived beneath the plateau himself for a good three decades now, are convinced that the village is built over one of the seven dreaded gateways to hell. In a public spirited gesture Uranie initially tried to alert bypassers to this possibility by pinning boxcovers of Lucio Fulci's 'GATES OF HELL' (1980 ), 'THE BEYOND' (1981 ) and 'ZOMBIE FLESHEATERS' ( under it's French release title 'HELL OF THE LIVING DEAD' ) to the fence bordering his property. In the course of the twenty odd – indeed very odd – years since I first set foot in Rennes I have come to believe there may be some truth to his theory.


Saint John's Night – June 23 2012 - Rennes-le-Chateau

I dunno, man,” Karim shakes his head, gazing at the distant outline of the village, the somber, crumbling ramparts of the Chateau Hautpoul and the castellated, neo-gothic spire of the Tour Magdala that even now seems to oppose the fiery sunset like the jagged teeth of a skeleton key. “There's just something about this place that gives me the vibe every time. Really bad news. Bad News Brown.” Karim bears his teeth at the plateau in a silent snarl. “I can feel it from here.”
Yeah,” I nod slowly. “But it's one hell of a sunset though. And it's ours!”
I return my attention to the Canon C-300 which is currently pointed due west towards Rennes capturing the fading, effervescent light in all its high res, widescreen glory. Behind the plateau flaming, vaporous clouds coil like a nest of multi-hued serpents, twisting, turning and fading slowly into nothing.


As above, so below: The daemon Moag directs...


For once our timing has been impeccable. It probably didn't hurt bringing my personal daemon Moag with us on this leg of the shoot. Certainly I wouldn't have dreamed of taking on Rennes without him. Moag is currently perched in the crook of the stick I carved for him, looking avidly on as Sylvain and Chloe Roberts, the new camera assistant, set up a second angle and Corinne carries the pizzas up from the car to the low hilltop where we have set up for the evening. We're well into the second week of the shoot now and have had quite a day for ourselves. Not only that but the best part of it, Saint John's night, a night of magic and mystery is still ahead of us.


The day got off to an inauspicious start when, despite my best efforts to shoehorn myself into a suitably funereal suit and tie and get over to 'Le Jardin', the thriving esoteric bistro, just across the lane from Sauniere's domain, to meet with one of the surviving authors of 'THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL', the creator of the original 'DOCTOR WHO' yeti monster, Henry Lincoln himself , we find ourselves given the cold shoulder, having apparently arrived too late and 'missed our chance' despite the fact that we had plainly rolled in with due time to spare. Henry is notorious for playing these sort of games with prospective treasure hunters and mystery hounds who take the trouble to try and seek him out. Setting a possible rendezvous with him for tomorrow we head for Rennes-les-Bains to speak with local author Jeanne d'Aout. We had intended to interview her at a location on the Salz river known as 'le font des Amor' but the Saturday afternoon traffic at what is effectively the local swimming hole is too hectic for our purposes. Instead we repair to a site a short walk from Rennes-les-Bains where a shadowy ring of trees surrounds an ancient source and a curious seat hewn into a boulder commonly known as the 'Devil's Armchair' or the 'Seat of Isis'.


 No-one knows how old this imposing granite throne really is, a few centuries perhaps. The eight pointed star carved on the back of the boulder appeared relatively recently, the product of the same unknown hand that has been carving the 'star of Isis' ( or 'Rosette of Inanna' ) into key points in the local topography ( Bezu, Peyrolles, Bugarach and here in Rennes-les-Bains ) corresponding to the points on the vast natural pentagram described by retired British surveyor David Wood in his 1985 book 'GENISIS'. Wood is just one of many voices over the years to propagate the idea that the area as a vast natural temple built by the Gods rather than by the hands of their human worshippers.

Jeanne is most co-operative telling us at length about her experiences in the area that she views as a sacred valley, a gateway to another plane of consciousness. It is impossible to ignore the talisman about her neck, a replica of the 'Venus of Brassempouy, a neolithic fertility goddess that we photographed only a few days ago among the artefacts in Fabrice Chambon's collection back in Montsegur. Reminding us how our English word 'sorcerer' comes from the French 'sorciere' or one who can divine the future in sources or otherwise draw on the magic of water Jeanne leads us back down to the riverbank, to a place where the old, unpaved road fords the stream and wends its way up through the trees towards a striking natural rock formation known as 'Serbairos' – a name redolent of both the three headed guardian of the gates of hell and Bernadette Soubirous, the young woman who famously saw the apparition of the 'white lady' in the grotto of Massabielle at Lourdes in 1858.


Sauniere dreamed of turning Rennes-le-Chateau into another place of pilgrimage and, working single handedly, gathered countless stones from the bed of the River of Colours that he hauled back up the plateau in the stifling heat of the meridianal sun to build a Lourde's grotto outside his church,(above) a construction that has subsequently been all but torn apart by successive waves of treasure hunters trying in vain to second guess the Abbe's motives.

An ancient hermitage overlooks the ford where a large slab of rock bears an enigmatic carving that we have come to know as the 'dragonfly stone'.


As above, so below: The secret of the dragonfly stone


The motif shows two dragonflies, joined at the abdomens as if in the act of mating, their bodies forming a spiral and what appears to be the head of an ankh. Each dragonfly has four wings – adding up to a total of eight – a symbol that will be familiar to anyone who has seen the 'The Mother of Toads' segment of 'THE THEATRE BIZARRE' or has been following the ongoing debate over this curious artefact on the 'TERRA UMBRA' facebook page. Once again we find ourselves confronted by the symbol of infinity, of two worlds touching and the stepping stone to carry us across the river. It is no coincidence that this symbol, the figure '8' also appears on the blazon of the Blanchefort family, the noble house that once dominated this area.

The body of each dragonfly is made up of two circles with a cross in between, recalling the phrase 'X marks the spot' and the confluence of two streams. It bears pointing out that one of the key texts associated with the Rennes mystery is a cryptic thirteen stanza poem entitled 'LE SERPENT ROUGE', whose three credited authors are alleged to have perished in a bizarre suicide pact in 1967, the same year the original manuscript was deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris. This enigmatic text explicitly describes Isis and the Magdalene as two faces of the same timeless divinity, referring to the 'white lady' of the Pyrenees by Her title Notre Dame des Cross. The cross is a sign – analogous to the rune 'Signe' and the constellation Cygnus ( or the 'swan') which includes the Northern Cross, one of the most prominent and instantly recognizable asterisms in the summer and autumn skies. Curiously enough this same rune, SIGNE, is depicted in the lopsided cross held by the statue of John the baptist in the church at Rennes-le-Chateau.


As above: 'By this Sign (SIGNE) you will conquer him'!

The statue of the baptist, which is directly illuminated by the rising sun shining through the church windows on January 17th (a date commemorated locally as 'Blue Apple Day' ) draws our attention to the fact that the confluence of the Blanc ( white ) and the Sals ( salt ) rivers just downstream from the dragonfly stone is known as 'la Benetier' – literally the baptismal font that washes away the sins of all who enter it. Hence it may come as little surprise that tourists and wayfarers in this remote, densely wooded valley have reported seeing the apparition of a white lady riding her spectral steed through the stream or that our friend, Christian Koenig, the owner of Antonin Gadal's former home in Ussat-les-Bains, counts among his most prized possessions an old oil painting showing the blessed Lady standing atop the rock formation that rises just beyond this ford, arms outstretched as if to welcome us into her domain.

Our attempts to commit the dragonfly stone to film this afternoon were nearly thwarted when we arrived at the location to find a traveller family camped at the ford, washing their clothes. The hippies seemed none too pleased to see us, glowering balefully at the crew members as we approached . Evidently we were ruining their rustic idyll but then they were ruining ours, so fair seemed fair. A naked child scuttled across the rocks, grabbing Karim by the hand. Then picking up the wooden staff we had been using as a prop the beastly little urchin proceeded to whack both Karim and Nicholos over the heads with it before he could be dragged away.
Forget peace and love, man,” Karim sighed, doing his best to set up the shot. “These hippies are mean!”
It's not all bad,” I commiserated. “At least they're moving their laundry for us.”
But you don't understand. He gabbed my hand!” Karim shook his head, wiping his hands on his jeans as if he'd been slimed and not for the first time that day I found myself thinking of Fabrice Chambon and what the young archaeologist had told us back on the pog. Once again I cannot escape the impression that we are little more than children ourselves, playing on the outermost threshold of a mystery we can scarcely begin to comprehend.

Having gotten the scene in the can Jeanne took her leave but not before extracting a promise from us that we should go to the street market at Esperaza tomorrow morning. “You won't be disappointed,” she added mysteriously.

We had just parked off on the tar road to Rennes-les-Bains and were trying to set up a shot from the soft shoulder of the imposing rock formation of Serbairous on the other side of the river when a car pulled to a halt beside us. Much to our surprise we realized that the vehicle was driven by Juan Carlos Medina, the director the recent feature film 'PAINLESS' ( 2012 ) and a much admired short 'MAUVAIS JOUR' (2003). I hadn't caught up with Juan Carlos since the festival of the three continents in Nantes some years ago and was just as amazed to see him here on the verge of this particular road to nowhere as he probably was to run into us. Juan Carlos had taken his mother on a day trip to Bugarach, the local UFO hotspot and centre of the running 2012 controversy, and was on his way back to his digs when he caught sight of us. Just one more example of the curious serendipity at work in the Zone. Taking it in our stride we promised to rendezvous with him tomorrow at Sauniere's domain before high tailing it to our next set up.


The light was fading fast, taking on the golden hue of the magic hour and Miss Scarlett recommended we head back towards Rennes to pick out an appropriate hilltop for a time-lapse. And what a time-lapse it was!

When we finally finish up the pizzas and break the set-up we realize we have been on this remote hilltop for a good five hours, but there is little doubt that we have come away with one of the most awesome shots we have committed to film to date. The stars are out now and the lights of Rennes-le-Chateau twinkle malignantly in the distance prompting Karim to suggest we go on a 'creepy crawl' and find out what Saint John's night has in store for us. Unfortunately we do not have any cameras available to us that are capable of genuine night vision but Karim figures he can get a result by opening the 550D up all the way. It is Chloe's first day on the 'Otherworld' team and this sortie into the unknown is accordingly something of a baptism of fire. With Miss Scarlett at the wheel of the interceptor we slip a Fabio Frizzi disc into the stereo and start down the winding, darkened trail towards the waiting plateau.


Sunday – June 24 - Esperaza

The morning is bright and cloudless but we are still feeling a little phased by the time we reach the marketplace, the previous evening's creepy crawl have eaten into our turnaround time. The bazaar that fills the bustling square and sprawls out across the riverbank is a rather more modest affair than the opulently medieval market at Mirepoix where we shot the opening sequence of 'The Mother of Toads', the untidy stalls crammed with farm produce and nondescript bric-a-brac. Failing to find a worthwhile image, we forgo setting up a shot, foraging for coffee and croissants instead.

As we push our way through the cheerful,day lit crowd of Sunday morning shoppers we fall to discussing what went wrong the night before. While the creepy crawl did yield some results of note it also plainly served to demonstrate our technological limitations. Opening up the camera all the way produced suitably spectral images of the streets and buildings, including at least one really nice shot of the well head – Rennes-le-Chateau being built over seven wells, a detail uncomfortably reminiscent of those 'seven dreaded gateways' referenced in the Fulci films - but this technique proved less effective when it came to dealing with the supernatural itself. At one point in the small hours of the morning on the way back towards the bat haunted Tour Magdala, Miss Scarlett had clearly sensed a female presence loitering in the vicinity of Sauniere's greenhouse but without effective night vision we had no way of stripping back the dark or capturing any trace of the phantasmal visitant on the hard drive without recourse to electric light, altogether too blunt a tool to ably explore the borders of the beyond. Given the futility of the situation we decide to forgo further attempts at late night ghost hunting until we can get our hands on the FLIR.

Some believe that it was not the coming of Christianity but the advent of electric light that drove away the pagan spirits, the faeries, elves and other elementals. Those denizens of the otherworld never left however. We simply lost our ability to see them, the ability to see without looking, a skill that involves detaching the vision from the object by focussing beyond it and allowing the mind to rest. On a moonlit night the aim when walking in the dark is not to franticly look for the path but to defocus the eyes and wait for the shape of things to emerge. Rest long enough and the rocks, trees and hedges will slowly reveal themselves. The modern world is filled with noise, artificial light and activity which stimulate the senses rather than allowing them to rest – the very opposite of the state required for seeing.

I am just starting to wonder why on earth Jeanne directed us to come here when I notice a familiar figure standing in front of one of the stalls. Miss Scarlett blinks and Karim comes up short beside me as we recognize the bald, powerfully built figure of the distinctly medieval looking individual who had introduced himself to us in the courtyard of Montsegur on the night of the solstice as Jean-Paul Dernier – the last pope.


As above, so below: The last Pope in action! Jean-Paul Dernier shares one of his Occitan poems...


At our previous meeting he had regaled us at length with his poetry and while Karim instinctively draws back it is clear a second encounter can no longer be avoided. As fate would have it Jean-Paul Dernier is just paying for a choice find at the second hand book stall – a first edition copy of Otto Rahn's ' LA COUR DE LUCIFER'. I mention that I had once counted Rahn's niece among my acquaintances and we fall to talking. He tells us that he needs the book for his research, insisting that we come with him to meet one of his friends and take coffee. This part of the plan at least makes sense to us and before long we find ourselves waiting in the corner of a crowded bistro while the last pope goes in search of his elusive associate.

Okay? So what the hell are we supposed to be doing in this scene?” Karim shifts restlessly, coffee already done.
Let's give him another few minutes. I'm a great believer in serendipity.” I don't have a watch but I know we'll have to be on our way soon if we're going to having any chance of presenting ourselves to Henry Lincoln on time at Le Jardin. “ As Agent Cooper puts it – when two things happen at the same time you always have to pay strict attention.”

The last pope's pal turns out to a burly local named Jules who was born and bred in this village. He seems to have a pretty deep knowledge of the area but no English, pressing Karim once again into the role of reluctant translator.
What's he saying?”
Something about a pagan temple out in the woods.”
A what?”
A temple built by the Gauls or the Druids. Apparently its thousands of years old but no-one else knows it's out there. No-one but Jules anyhow.” Karim raises one eyebrow.
And he wants to take us there?”
Yeah. But he doesn't want to be on camera.”
Well, that's not much use.”
He looks kind of nervous,” observes Miss Scarlett. “ I hope they don't insist on blindfolding us.”
It could be another wild goose chase,” Karim opines.
Yeah. I admit it sounds far fetched but he's obviously a treasure hunter and we need to interview at least one treasure hunter if we're doing a show about Rennes-le-Chateau. It could be amusing if we have this guy talking with his back to the camera.”
And I think your buddy the 'last pope' wants to show us his Grail collection.”
The weirder the better. Tell 'em to bring it on. Let's give 'em two hours. Two hours tomorrow evening. We'll say we have another appointment later so we can cut and run when we've had enough.”

Having set a rendezvous for seven o'clock in the town square we start back towards the interceptor.
We've gotta haul ass,” Miss Scarlett warns. “We're gonna be late.”
I don't know,”Karim shakes his head. “This last pope guy could be a handful. There's violence in the man.”
If it looks like the whole trip's going nowhere we'll turn back. I mean it's worth a shot.”

And we do manage to get one shot on the way out – a wide general view of the main street...


Rennes-le-Chateau - 14. 00 hrs

From the weblog of Scarlett Amaris

I am introduced to Henry Lincoln by author Jeanne D'Aout, who has tried her best to get him to consent to an interview. He doesn't seem to remember that we've been introduced many times before. His answer is a definite no, not exactly what I was hoping to hear. We barter back and forth for a while as he dangles the carrot and then says no again. His timing and delivery are a little theatrical and I get the feeling that he is enjoying this performance very much as I quietly grit my teeth. Deep down I know my first hunch was right and that he won't do the interview, but it isn't in my nature to quit so I try again and again. I think that Henry appreciates my tenacity on some level. We talk about 70's science fiction for a while which seems to surprise him. What he doesn't know is that I'm all too aware of the fact that he is the creator of the 'DOCTOR WHO' Yeti, one of the silliest, yet most beloved creatures to ever hit the boob tube.


After explaining that I didn't exactly read all of his opus, 'THE HOLY BLOOD AND THE HOLY GRAIL', but only skimmed through it, he laughs and then agrees to tell me anything that I wish to know about the place off camera, so I finally concede and make a hazy date at some future time to continue our conversation. The crew have already moved on and are setting up on the roof of the Tour Magdala, the building that once housed Sauniere's library to interview our friend, the Catalan physicist Artur Sala. (below) I dread having to walk up there and I know they are disappointed with the result, although no one says a word about it. In the end I just have to accept that the documentary will go the way that it is supposed to go and we move on to the next subject at hand.


It is a hot sunny day in Rennes without a cloud in the sky and there isn't much time to feel bad as Artur's interview is fascinating. For him the events in the Zone hint not so much at the emergence of a new religion as the possibility of a new science, the confirmation of ideas first postulated by Tesla and Reich. Time seems to move in fast forward and there is a strange convergence of people just after lunch. First we run into Jaap Rameijer, author and co-owner of 'Les Labadous', Elizabeth van Buren's former property at the base of the Rennes plateau. Jaap has fond memories of Elizabeth who wrote one of the key texts propagating the idea that Rennes-le-Chateau is some kind of 'portal area'. ( 'REFUGE OF THE APOCALYPSE. DOORWAY INTO OTHER DIMENSIONS'. - 1986 ) We have been trying to track Jaap down and our chance meeting in the greenhouse enables the team to confirm an interview with him for tomorrow morning. He is with a group of people visiting the domain for the first time and seems to be excited by the prospect of what we are trying to put together and about being a part of it. Then composer Simon Boswell and his girlfriend, Paula, show up fresh off the plane from London. They are enjoying the halcyon weather and gothic ambience as it has been raining endlessly in Blighty. Juan Carlos Medina appears just after they arrive. Everyone is stuffed into the small greenhouse area outside the Villa Bethany with the Bavaesque stained glass panels and it feels like some kind of strange reunion, with a mass of talented friends from all corners of Europe. As the murmur of conversation and laughter fills the old house it is as if time is turning back on itself, to the days when Sauniere entertained his guests, Jules Verne, Maurice le Blanc, the diva Emma Calve and several members of the Hapsburg dynasty among them, with rum imported specially from Martinique. Karim nicknamed this place 'The Suspiria House' because of it's overblown deco d├ęcor but right now it feels like some sort of multi-hued esoteric aquarium populated by some very exotic fish indeed.


I get the impression that the Villa, in it's own weird way, is actually enjoying itself.


Sauniere's Domaine – Rennes-le-Chateau – 16 00 hrs
From the shooting diary of Richard S.

What happened to the sky?”
I step out of the greenhouse to find the domaine suffused in an eerie golden amber light.
It's like someone put a filter on the sun,” Karim gazes bewilderedly at the heavens before reaching for his light meter. “How the hell did it do that?”
I rub my eyes, head still spinning from Artur's interview which touched on some of the wilder shores of quantum physics, including the notion that we could be living inside some form of construct or simulation, an illusory veil drawn over our eyes just like the Cathars always insisted.

Do you think this could be one of those movies where it turns out we've all been dead all along.”
No. That didn't work for the last season of 'Lost'. It ain't gonna work for us. That's about as lame as saying it was all a dream.”
Well it worked in 'NIGHTMARE CITY' “ comments Karim.
No, it didn't,” Miss Scarlett insists. “That's the lamest plot ever. But at least the zombies run fast.”
Karim shrugs, still unable to work out why the light is behaving the way it is.
Whatever.”

Wrapping out of the Villa Bethany we head for Rennes-les-Bains in search of some rock carvings that were photographed a little earlier by Ivan de Castries who has been travelling with Artur during this particular tour of the Zone. We fail to find the carvings, but it is cooler down here by the water and the fresh air focusses my thoughts. After dinner in the place of the 'Dieux Rennes' with Simon, Paula and the crew we repair to the hot spring only to accidentally surprise the same hippie family we ran into yesterday at the dragonfly stone. They glare angrily at us as they gather up their clothes, convinced by now that we are somehow persecuting them.


Monday – June 25 – Rennes-le-Chateau
From the shooting diary of Richard S.

The day starts in a most agreeable manner with coffee at Les Labadous as we interview the estate's co-proprietor, Jaap Rameijer,.who enthusiastically shows us his 'orb' collection. The jury is still out as to what exactly 'orbs' really are. Some believe the mysterious blips of light that occasionally turn up on flash photographs are simply digital artefacting, motes of dust, pollen or water droplets kicking back the light whereas others insist they are disembodied entities, literally 'soul packets' and some of the images Jaap shows us are certainly very difficult to adequately explain away. Jaap seems to have a particular gift for capturing these colourful li'l will o'the whisps on film which is scarcely surprising, considering the location of his property.


As above, so below: Miss Scarlett, Richard and Karim at Les labadous (photographs by Jaap Rameijer)


'Les Labadous' lies at a particularly choice location above an old well on the banks of the River of Colours, flanked by Uranie's domain and a densely thicketed gorge thought by many to be a major 'portal area' – either one of the 'seven dreaded gateways' or a 'doorway to another dimension' depending on one's personal inclination, heaven and hell being very much a matter of subjective experience around here. Having lived beneath the Rennes plateau for some years now, Jaap is both a gracious host and a highly entertaining raconteur, regaling us with any number of extraordinary anecdotes about the folk he has encountered here and,most importantly, what he has seen and understood for himself since moving to the Zone. Unfortunately we have to cut our time at Les Labadous a little short in order to rendezvous with climber and caving enthusiast, Jerome Viguier (below ) who wants to tell us about his adventures on the Pic de Bugarach.


After lunch we repair to Sauniere's domain to set up an interview with a local journalist, Andrei Galoup who photographed Francois Mitterrand on the Tour Magdala during the president's visit to Rennes-le-Chateau in 1967 - the same year, strangely enough, that the original manuscript of that pesky poem 'LE SERPENTE ROUGE' was deposited in the Bibliotheque Nationale.


As above, so below: Francois Mitterand visits the Tour Magdala - an outing that launched his successful 1967 presidential campaign


Monsieur Galoup takes the stories about Mitterand recruiting the support of supernatural agencies, secret societies or even the devil himself,  with a very large pinch of salt, insisting that the former president only stopped off in Rennes to eat a really good cassoulet before continuing on his tour of the South. It does seem a rather numinous coincidence however that the Mitterand administration subsequently criminalized the use of metal detectors in the area and pushed through a plethora of other by-laws to discourage amateur archaeologists and tomb raiders.

Where would the Zone be however without it's treasure hunters? Given the reticence of the GRAME (Groupe des Researches Archaeologique de Montsegur et Environs) and other official bodies to make their findings public it is perhaps inevitable that an ever changing cadre of self-styled stalkers have sprung up over the years to fill the gap and endeavour to find out for themselves what is really going on here.

Jules looks a little nervous when we meet him in the deserted town square . For a moment we think he really is going to insist on blindfolding us, but there are too many crew members to ride in a single vehicle and in the end we opt to follow his car with the van and the interceptor, driving in convoy to a location that I am not at liberty to disclose. Parking up beside a nondescript looking hedgerow we cut down our gear to the minimum so our packs can be as light as possible, having already more or less made up our minds that we are on a wild goose chase.

For once, however, we couldn't be more wrong....

The Zone – 21 00 hrs

Some three and a half hours after following Jules down the winding path through the woods, a trail so narrow it was probably made by animals rather than human beings, we emerge once more into a broad pasture at the edge of the trees, breathless and wide eyed, still trying to make sense of what we have just seen.


As above, so below: Images from the Rennes nemeton - a Druidic sacred site hidden in the woods near Rennes-le-Chateau


 “But I don't understand. How can something like that be possible?” I blinked. The last rays of the setting sun made the field ahead seem golden and translucent as if it were no longer part of the so-called 'real' world.
Apparently it's part of a huge circle of similar constructions spread right across the Zone,” offered Miss Scarlett. ”Remember what he said about Pythagoras?”
No. I mean how come we've never come across a single mention of it before in any of the texts let alone a photograph? It's so close to Rennes but its never been documented? You would've thought mystery hunters had gone over every inch of this bloody place with a fine tooth comb by now. And to have something that blatantly weird and that colossal just sitting there all along?”
Jules did say he was the only one who knew about it,”
Well he's quite obviously sitting on one of the biggest archaeological finds to be made in this area for decades. I mean this is big. It's more than big. It's practically the solution to the whole damn mystery.”
Yeah,” said Miss Scarlett darkly. “But we can't tell anyone. Not yet.”
But we've gotta do something. I mean how many people have written best selling books about this place based on far, far scantier evidence than this? We've got the GPS co-ordinates, right?”
Nicolos nodded, brandishing his cell. “I sent them to Corinne.”
There's no way we can let people know this place's location,” insisted Miss Scarlett. “Not now. Not ever. This place is too sacred. You don't want to turn it into another tourist attraction, another sideshow in the Rennes-le-Chateau esoteric thrill ride. People will find this place if they're meant to.”
I nodded slowly.”Do you think we were meant to? I mean it certainly feels like we got lucky. More than just lucky. If we hadn't run into the last pope at the solstice, or gone to the market...”
Miss Scarlett shrugged.”It all works out the way it's meant to.”
Do you think that place was actually meant for menstruation like he said?”asked Karim, checking the camera to make certain we really had it all on the hard drive.
No. Menstrual blood couldn't make grooves like that. My guess it was for sacrifice,” suggested Miss Scarlett.
And that pool. What the hell was that? You could see by the stonework it was old.”
How old do you think?”
I dunno,” I thought it through for a moment. “Between three to six thousand years. At a guess...”
It's the real deal, “ nodded Miss Scarlett.”It's up to us now to figure out what to do about it.”



Above: Sound man Nicolas Boyer poses with one of the huge mushrooms found near the Rennes nemeton. We fried it up that night and it made for very good eating!

Tuesday – June 26– Rennes-le-Chateau

The change started with Abbe Sauniere.” Alex Painco, the incumbent mayor of Rennes-le-Chateau, chooses his words carefully.”Tens of thousands of people come here every year, looking for answers. We've had films, books, documentaries, you name it. I get letters every month telling me where the treasure is. If I listened to them this village would be full of holes.” 

Monsieur Painco looks past us for a moment, casting his gaze over the narrow, sun drenched street beyond the restaurant where the first tourists of the day are already dribbling past, clutching their cameras and dog eared copies of the various mystery novels and works of pseudo history that have been responsible for enticing them to this remote and somewhat malignant holiday destination. “I've had to deal with people tunnelling under the graveyard. Even one individual who thought he was Jesus Christ showing up at my office to deliver his message.”
What did you do?” asks Miss Scarlett, sipping a glass of the chilled blanquette that the mayor has laid on for our convenience.
I politely showed him the door.” Monsieur Painco responds without blinking. “I hope Rennes continues to attract tourists but preferably more normal ones. I mean we do get normal people as well as strange ones. These days the really strange ones mostly go to Bugarach.”

Making a mental note that Mount Bugarach, the geological anomaly touted as the hot ticket for the coming apocalypse of 2012, is next on our agenda we wrap up our first interview of the day, thanking the mayor for his time. “Aren't you going to ask me where the treasure is?” He smiles, feigning bewilderment.”I brought my maps, my shovels. I was all ready to start digging.” Monsieur Painco had been hoping we'd take lunch in his recently opened restaurant, 'La Reine du Chateau' ( literally 'The Queen of the Castle' – a cute li'l gallic play on words) but we have other plans. Lunch hour is the only time of day when human traffic in the church of the Magdalene thins sufficiently for us to have any chance of wielding a jib arm and we fully intend to use our deal with the mayor to get as much coverage as we can, including the access we have been promised to Sauniere's secret rooms.


This a church!”hisses an irate, red faced Brit, a George cross emblazoned proudly on his baggy tee-shirt, evidently ticked off that a film crew has intruded on his esoteric reverie.
And this is a camera.” I nod towards the rig that has been set up in the aisle to enable Karim to swing the jib. It's hardly a crane but enough at least to get a little movement into the shot and hopefully imbue the locale with a hint of due, daemonaic majesty.

Miss Scarlett manages to reach Uranie on the cell, telling him to meet us at the Tour Magdala while we wait for the mayor's daughter to unlock the secret rooms. It's time we got to the bottom of the long running rumours concerning the gateway to Hell existing beneath the church or the Abbe's domaine. If there really is a 'portal' on this plateau then I am determined to find it. 

The much vaunted 'secret' chambers turn out to be little more than a couple of interconnected broom closets accessed through a door to the right of the altar. The first room had evidently served as a cramped vestry in Sauniere's day and is dominated by a rather gaudy stained glass window depicting Christ on the cross.


As above, so below: Sauniere's secret rooms.


A second, narrower doorway communicates with a lightless, cobweb festooned space immediately behind the 'bull's eye', the round window in the rear of the church that is directly aligned with the angle of the rising sun on the 17th of January.


It is a typically quirky architectural detail but while the hidden rooms tick another couple of boxes regarding the church's alignment, they certainly don't contain any paradigm altering revelations worth writing home about.

We have just re-emerged into the light of day when we run into Corinne, the production manager, who is standing outside the church, nervously clutching a cell phone. She looks pale and more than usually shaken, having just gotten off the line with Fabrice, 'L'AUTRE MONDE's Paris based producer.
There's a problem with Uranie.”
What?” I do a double take, wondering if our sorcerer friend is having car trouble. But the problem runs deeper than that.
Fabrice doesn't want you to interview him.”
What do you mean? Uranie is one of the most important interviewees on this project. The whole 'portal' thing won't make sense without him.”
Fabrice says the mayor called him five minutes ago. He was really pissed and threatened to throw us off the plateau if he caught us talking to that guy.”
That's ridiculous. He can't tell us whom we can and can't talk to. Who does he think he is?”
The mayor. I mean you can talk to Uranie. You just can't talk to him on camera. Certainly not here or in Sauniere's domain. And definitely not in the Tour Magdala.”
But how did he know that?” I am flabbergasted.”I don't recall telling anyone that I wanted to interview Uranie in the Tour Magdala?” In fact I don't recall even mentioning our plans aloud, let alone to Fabrice and the mayor. One of our neo-Cathar friends back in Montsegur, Yves Massat, had told us that there was a portal in the Tour Magdala's winding stairwell and the curious alignment of the tower's embrasures were common knowledge. I had been hoping that Uranie might be able to shed some light on this affair, if not point us in the direction of the portal itself.
Maybe the phone's bugged,” suggests Miss Scarlett.
Either that or one of us is a traitor,” I glance darkly at the other crew members. We have only been on the plateau for a few hours and already a creeping sense of paranoia is setting in.
Someone must have intercepted the phone call,” Miss Scarlett offers.”It's the only answer.”
But that's impossible. Who'd have the technology to do that?”
Just about anyone in this place.” Miss Scarlett nods towards the village's sun drenched rooftops as if any number of unseen onlookers are silently eavesdropping.”This is Rennes, after all.”
I told you this place was cursed,” mutters Karim.


Rennes-le-Chateau – parking lot - 16. 00 hrs

From the weblog of Scarlett Amaris

Uranie arrives in full war paint and I know without looking that he is wearing his favorite black 'Cradle of Filth' t-shirt that sports a semi-naked woman on the cross with fake breasts the size of over inflated volleyballs wearing a bleeding crown of thorns. We tell him what is going on and without hesitation he heads for the entrance of the domain, his keys and shells jingling with every determined step he takes. We have a little pow wow with the rest of the crew and decide to give Uranie a five minute start and to load the equipment quietly as possible over the fence in an half-assed attempt at subterfuge. I elect to stay behind and watch part of the the equipment that might be needed and to wait for Simon and Paula who have woken up late and are on their way to rendezvous with us.

Glancing through the wrought iron railings in the fence, I watch Richard and Karim stroll casually through the gardens and into the mock-gothic tower where Uranie is waiting, pretending to be a tourist. The rest of the crew follow suit, one at a time. I seriously doubt that we are fooling anyone, I think to myself as Simon and Paula walk up, wondering just where the hell everyone is. As I explain the situation I can see Simon's eyes get bigger and more excited by the second. “Really? I love this sort of thing. Do you think they'll be a confrontation? Do you think we'll get kicked out? What do you think they'll do?” he says, looking like a kid that has just snuck into a particularly gory horror movie that he wasn't supposed to see. I just look at him and laugh, shaking my head. “I've got to see this for myself.” And he takes off for the domain at a pretty fast clip just to make sure that he doesn't miss a thing.

Paula and I sit there for a minute in the shade keeping one eye on the Tour, but all seems quiet except for the few tourists milling about.
“Do you think there will be trouble?” Paula asks. It is her first visit to Rennes-le-Chateau and it is already turning into quite an adventure.
“It's a possibility. But the worst they can do is throw us off the plateau and if that's the case than I suggest we start celebrating now. Sparkling?” I hold up a bottle of blanquette.
“Oh, what a fantastic idea.”

The Tour Magdala - 16. 30 hrs

From the shooting diary of Richard S.

If you invoke the devil, he will come.” Uranie grins, looking relaxed and quite at home in the tower room that once served as the Abbe Berenger Sauniere's private library. Reaching into his shoulder bag the sorcerer withdraws a battered copy of the Clavicle of Solomon, opening the grimoire to display its seals to camera.



“With this book we can understand the magical system they were using when Sauniere first designed his domain. One of the goals was about catching spirits. They made different pentacles to control them in different ways, both white and black magic, working with the Enochian tongue, the language of angels...”
And the portal?”
It's right behind you.”
I turn to face the mirror mounted above the hearth.
The mirror you see here is not the original one. The mirror that was placed here back in Sauniere's day was broken – and I was the one that broke it!”
You? But why...” I catch my breath. It's all starting to make a ghastly kind of sense. I can certainly understand now why the mayor hadn't wanted Uranie to set foot in the tower.

It was already cracked before I first came here in the early nineties. The previous tenant of the domain, Henri Buthion, had broken it in half to see if Sauniere had left a message behind it. He was searching for the treasure and had dug up the whole domaine. Then one day his daughters looked in the mirror and saw the devil. They got scared and ended up at my place. They told me about what they had seen and I realized there were certain formulas that would allow his appearance, that would open the gate...”



I step closer, seeing only my own reflection, the afternoon sunlight streaming through the doorway behind me and Simon's puzzled face as he appears breathlessly on the threshold. It seems too simple to be true, that the portal could be right here, under our noses all along, yet it has a certain Cocteauesque logic to it after all. I wonder if there is really a demon behind the glass, staring back at us this very moment and once again feel the giddy sensation of being suspended between two worlds, between 'reality' and its reflection. I reach out, fingertips gently touching the unyielding surface...

Make a wish...”



TO BE CONTINUED:
In our next instalment: - The mystery deepens as Karim is forced to take to the air to fly Uranie's bearings in the microlite and all hell breaks loose in the Grotto of the Magdalene. 
Stay tuned to this channel for the conclusion of  'THE OTHERWORLD - SHOOTING DIARY'...