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Gers (Department, France)

Last modified: 2021-02-03 by ivan sache
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Flag of Gers - Image by Olivier Touzeau, 16 March 2019

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Administrative data

Code: 32
Region: Occitanie (Midi-Pyrénées until 2014)
Traditional province: Guyenne and Gascony
Bordering departments: Haute-Garonne, Landes, Lot-et-Garonne, Pyrénées-Atlantiques, Hautes-Pyrénées, Tarn-et-Garonne

Area: 6,257 km2
Population (2016): 190,664 inhabitants

Préfecture: Auch
Sous-préfectures: Condom, Mirande
Subdivisions: 3 arrondissements, 17 cantons, 462 municipalities.

The department is named after river Gers (178 km), a tributary of the Garonne.
On 4 November 1808, the canton of Lavit was transferred from the department of Gers to the new department of Tarn-et-Garonne. On 5 February 1850, the municipality of Labastide-d'Armagnac was transferred from the department of Gers to the department of Landes.

Ivan Sache, 11 November 2009

Flag of Gers

The flag of Gers (photo, photo) is white with the logo adopted in 1999 by the General Council.

Created by the Paris-based communication agency Hémisphère Droit - Ailleurs Exactement, the logo features four elements: the uniform of D'Artagnan, captain of the Musketeers of the Guard; a goose representing foie gras; veins of a grapevine leaf as a symbol of health and of the "Gascon paradox" (Gers is one of the departments where French people have the longest life expectancy); and an @, as a sign for modernity.
[Les Échose, 16 December 1999]

Charles de Batz de Castelmore (c. 1615-1673) aka d'Artagnan was born in the Castelmore manor, located a few kilometers from Lupiac, one of the oldest fortified villages of Gascony (1090), where he lived until 1640.

D'Artagnan served Louis XIV as the Captain of the Musketeer Guards. In 1660, the king went to Saint-Jean-de-Luz, on the Spanish border, to marry Infante Marie-Theresa of Austria. His cortege, which included up to 15,000 people and 6,00 horses, was escorted by the King's Musketeers, commanded by d'Artagnan. The cortege traveled through the south of France, crossing the town of Auch - the capital of Gers - and the villages of Lupiac and Aignan.
On 5 September 1661, d'Artagnan arrested in Nantes Superintendent Nicolas Fouquet, and escorted him for the next three years until his last jail, the Pinerolo fortress. Madame de Sévigné reports the friendly behavior of d'Artagnan with the prisoner.
D'Artagnan was killed on 25 June 1673 during the siege of Maastricht.

Little is known about d'Artagnan's life but his apocryphal memoirs redacted in 1700 by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras, based on notes written by the musketeer. D'Artagnan fell into oblivion until the memories were read by the prolific novelist Alexandre Dumas.
On 14 March 1844, the daily Le Siècle published the first episode of the novel Les trois mousquetaires, featuring d'Artagnan, indeed the fourth musketeers, the three musketeers being Athos, Portos and Aramis. The complex plot relating the struggle between the King's Musketeers and the Guards of Cardinal de Richelieu, is based on historic facts deliberately distorted by Dumas for the sake of novelistic. The juxtaposition of historic characters, such as Louis XIII, Ann of Austria, Cardinal de Richelieu and the Duke of Buckingham, and of colorful fictitious characters such as the servant Planchet and the nefarious spy Milady de Winter, also contributed to the success of the novel, and of its less inspired sequels, Vingt and après (1845) and Le vicomte de Bragelonne (1847).
Since the novel was published by episodes in a daily newspaper, Dumas had to divide the story in vivid scenes aimed at keeping the reader eager to read the next one ... and therefore to buy the daily's next issue.

Les trois mousquetaires is an archetype of the swashbuckler literature genre. The novel's structure made its cinematographic adaptation very easy, yielding more than 100 films. None of them reached the status of masterpiece, except the burlesque The Three Must-Get-Theres shot by the French actor Max Linder in 1922 in the USA; a parody of the successful The Three Musketeers shot one year before by Fred Niblo, The Three Must-Get-Theres portrays Dart-In-Again, the three musketeers Walrus, Octopus and Porpoise, and Cardinal Richie-Loo, in a succession of non-sensic scenes modeled on the original. This was one of the first movie deliberately introducing anachronistic details, here phones and motorcycles. The great Douglas Fairbanks, who portrayed d'Artagnan in the mocked film, was the first to congratulate Linder for the parody.

The department of Gers proudly keeps three statues of the emblematic musketeer - whose only known portrait is often considered as apocryphal, too:
- an equestrian statue erected in Lupiac in 2005;
- the Four Musketeers Statue inaugurated on 4 September 2010 in Condom; of 3.50 m in height and 5 tons in weight, the monument was offered by the Georgian sculptor Zourab Tsereteli to Senator Aymeric de Montesquiou, a descendant of d'Artagnan.
- a statue designed by Firmin Michelet in 1931 in Auch.

Foie gras
Gers is France's first producing department of traditional foie gras, with 120,000 geese and 4,500,000 ducks. Individual producers breed 30,000 geese and 900,000 ducks. Some 600 producers sell foie gras on the specialized markets of Samatan, Seissan, Gimont, Éauze, Fleurance, Mirande and Condom; foie gras is transformed on farm by 300 specialists. The industrial production, however, is dominant, shared among the Vivadour-Volgers producers' union (40,000 geese and 1,700,000 ducks) and five private companies (Comtesse du Barry, Ducs de Gascogne, Delpeyrat, Domaine d'Auzan; 50,000 geese an 1,900,000 ducks). Fed only with white maize, some 20,000 are registered with the Oie fermière du Gers Red Label, while 300,000 ducks are registered under the Canard â foie gras du Sud-Ouest - Gers Protected geographical indication.
[Association Gersoise pour la Promotion du Foie Gras et de l'Aviculture]

Gascony / French paradox
The catchy term "French paradox" was invented in 1992 by two French nutritionists, S. Renaud and M. de Lorgeril in a seminal paper published in The Lancet (Wine, alcohol, platelets, and the French paradox for coronary heart disease. The Lancet 339,1523-1526), as follows: “In most countries, high intake of saturated fat is positively related to high mortality from coronary heart disease (CHD). However, the situation in France is paradoxical in that there is high intake of saturated fat, but low mortality from CHD. This paradox may be attributable in part to high wine consumption.”
Roger Corder (The Wine Diet, 2000) pointed out that in Gers, where the wines are the most procyanidin-rich in France, there was double the national average of men aged 90 or more (despite a diet that many cardiologists would consider the worst possible choice for heart health, with foods high in saturated fats such as foie gras, cassoulet, sausage, and cheese). Similar observations made in Nuoro (Sardinia) support the idea that procyanidin-rich wines make an important contribution to cardiovascular health and long-term well-being.
[The French Paradox: Fact or Fiction Dialogues in Cardiovascular Medicine 13, 155-232. 2008]

Olivier Touzeau & Ivan Sache, 29 September 2020