Songwriters Carole Bayer and Peter Allen released “Everything Old Is New Again” in 1974 that went on to be the showstopper when Hugh Jackman performed it 30 years later on Broadway as The Boy From Oz. According to the lyrics, “Don’t throw the past away, you might need it some rainy day.” That rainy day seems to have arrived in the form of Covid-19 in Carcassonne that is fighting the pandemic just like most of the rest of the world. And like everywhere else, this isn’t the first health crisis the area has faced; in fact, they’ve been occurring in Europe since at least the 2nd century with a similar response from the population. Social distancing and confinement to your home have been around for a long time.
That 15-year smallpox pandemic mentioned above started in the year 165 and spread as the Roman Empire expanded across the continent, killing up to one third of the residents of the territory. It was the black plague that came to prominence in France between the 14th and 18th centuries with a particularly bad year in 1720 when Marseille lost half of its population to the disease carried by fleas.
With the knowledge that the plague was arriving from the east, Carcassonne stationed soldiers on the only existing bridge at the time, Pont Vieux, where they were charged with keeping anyone infected out of the Bastide. Further east in the country everyone crossing the Rhône River and headed in this direction was quarantined for 1 or 2 days or up to 40 days if they were coming from a known contaminated region. These people were not allowed any contact with the locals and had to be disinfected with perfumes and smoke.
The unfortunate individuals who were clearly sick were housed in three contagious disease camps known as lazarets. To prevent anyone from coming inland from the Mediterranian Sea, a coastal blockade was set up from the mouth of the Rhône River around to Leucate, about 70 kilometers (43 miles) from Carcassonne. It took 20,000 people to carry out all of these restrictions that brought the pandemic to an end in France by December 1772.
And now the old is new again. We have quarantines, lockdowns, masks, and handwashing. Disinfectant, closed borders, curfews, and isolation. But today we also have a vaccine and with that we can complete the song verse from this blog post’s title with “Dreams can come true again when everything old is new again.” To your health: à votre santé!