Ojai, spiritual hot-spot (Stoned, Albion, Red Soil): Krishnamurti sitting beneath his Peruvian pepper tree in the East End, mainlining enlightenment (and meeting, on the astral plane, Maitreya - the Buddha's second coming, and Koot Hoomi, the trans-Himalayan, ascendant Mahatma). Recto verso. Here in the Languedoc, on the other side of the page, there is a kind of wee-fee (the charming French way with wi-fi) hot-spot that links directly with the mysteries at the center of the Universe.

Elizabeth Van Buren, scion of the eighth President, the one-term, 'Martin Van Ruin', 1833-1837, who succeeded Jackson and had the misfortune to preside over an economic depression, has installed herself here and become a leading light in the cottage industry (industrie artisinale) that feeds on the ancient riddles surrounding Rennes-le-Chateau, Rennes-le-Bain and Mount Bugarach. The latter, a limestone lump that, we are given to understand, resonates with the etheric fourth and perhaps even the fifth dimension.

Cue the Topatopas: mysterious escarpment towards which the feet of Native Americans were pointed when buried and upon whose flanks (the mountain's that is) shaman perched, inhaling the perfumed smoke of the local brugmansia, the seriously phsychotropic Datura and upon whose sandstone was painted cryptic records of their astral voyaging. (In Search of a Shaman's Lair).

The density of myth, rumour and mystery surrounding this spalled rock face does not approach that of the impenetrable stew of arcana which pertains to Bugarach (and the two Rennes), and for that we should be grateful. Locally, the south west facing Topatopas are known primarily for the 'pink moment', which describes the few minutes when the evening sun dips towards the horizon and their textured face is flushed with the orange-reds of sunset. One local realtor promotes herself by proclaiming suggestively that you let her find your 'pink moment'...no talk here about geomantic pentagrams, Argatha (see below), or etheric temples in time that are a part of the lingua franca of the new-age pilgrims who flock to Languedoc-Rousillon. I could do without the crassness of the rosaceous apellation - it is a phenomenon that is often more golden than pink - but the effect is of sufficient amplitude to warrant much scrutiny were it to occur in this south west corner of France where for instance, the reflections from stained glass windows are intensely parsed. Sitting beneath the Topatopas, the rock-face reflection is but a pleasant side-dish to the spectacular sunsets that dissolve the blue sfumato into pinks, reds and oranges on an almost nightly basis.

The brooding cone of Mount Bugarach is the gateway to the Corbières, a region notable for its limestone outcroppings and lowland garigue, a Mediterranean plant community akin to Catalonia's monte bajo and California's chapparal. At higher elevations the garigue gives way to more heavily wooded areas that surround the peaks, which, like Bugarach are often topped with natural spires of rock almost indistinguishable from the now crumbling ruins of visigoth fortresses built amongst these lonely pinnacles.

The labyrinthine limestone caverns and smoldering internal fires of this hulking volcanic mountain fuel both the hot springs of Rennes-les-Bains and the imaginations of visitors. Science fiction writer Jules Verne who is said to have holidayed on the volcano's flanks based The Journey to the Center of the World, Paris, 1864, on his experiences there. I bathed my feet at the old Roman hot-spring which disgorges into the river Sal - which really is salty - while the spring waters are reportedly highly radioactive. My blisters (from running in flip-flops) were soothed and they had healed by the next day. Coincidence? You decide...

While Elizabeth van Buren (thin and ever-so-slightly haunted looking on her You-Tube videos) has located her portal to the reputed secret underground city complex (known as Agartha) in the landscape zodiac she has discovered within a ten km. radius of Renne-le-Chateau, others believe, perhaps more plausibly, that it is Bugarach that holds the secret way into the underground world. Here, it is advertised, is a safe haven from the apocalypse confidently predicted for December 21st. 2012, the date upon which the Mayan calendar ends.

While I plan to take my chances in the Topatopa foothills, many of Europe's most gullible marginales are living in the gulches and ravines that thread through the Corbières and whose presence is occasionally signalled by a mail box stuck by the road in an otherwise apparently uninhabited area. The mail (presumably pension and unemployment checks) must get through. They have put their trust in Bugarach surviving the apocalypse either through its revealing its access points to the underworld or in the timely manifestation of the alien depot believed to be installed deep within the mountain - currently evidenced (it is said) by a low mountainside hum. Either way, this motley crew of end-of-the-worlders believe they are well situated to survive Armageddon.

The Topatopas do not merely loom over our particular urban wildland haven; they provide a signature rock face on the northern ridgeline that defines, along with Sulphur Mountain, the Upper Ojai valley. From the town formerly known as Nordhoff (having latterly misappropriated the name Ojai from its neighbor to the east (The Land Speaks for Itself)) it is similarly prominent and more instantly recognizable than the other mountain bowl landmarks such as Chief's Peak, Black Mountain Summit and White Ledge Peak. Travel out beyond the coastal plain to the spit of beach that protects Ventura Harbor, stand on Surfer's Knoll and look landward (north) and there is Topatopa, crowning the coastal mountains. 

Like crowded teeth, the ranges are arrayed across the landscape one upon the other. The Santa Ynez Mountains, the Topatopa Mountains, and the Piru Mountains form the northern boundary, the Santa Susana Mountains the eastern boundary, and the Simi Hills and the Santa Monica Mountains the southern boundary. Closer in, there are the Ventura Hillsides girdled with housing developments but breaking through at their higher elevations to reveal mounding hills of unique Venturan coastal sage scrub.

What zodiac constellations might be revealed amidst these peaks and valleys, knolls and canyons, rocks and water, chaparral and coastal sage scrub? What alignments, cromlechs, ley lines and dolmens exist along their Chumash trails? What mysteries exist in the painted caves, pecked rock faces and buried grave goods of their aboriginal inhabitants? What temples of light, temples in time, or etheric domes embracing valleys forged for the gods might be conjured in the soft coastal air or the harsh thundery climes of the inland valleys? What mysteries are encoded in this densely configured landscape? Who, at last, will be our Elizabeth van Buren?

Count me out. The Chumash possessed powerful esoteric knowledge (Space and Practice II) derived from millenia of close observation of the natural world out of which they constructed a supernatural cosmos that melded the prosaic and temporal universe to an explicated past and a fully fathomed future. Our only first-hand conduit to that knowledge, John P. Harrington (Yuccapedia), secreted his notes in a thousand boxes of data many of which still sit mouldering in warehouses and storage depots waiting to be deciphered. His data remains, perhaps, our best hope for understanding these mysteries, but it presents a tedious academic challenge unlikely to appeal to new-agers impatient to address their need for answers NOW - or at the vary latest, by December 21st. 2012.