THERE is a book I consult time and time again. Only available in the very localised canton of my area for a short while several years ago, it is a labour of love given life by locals and central funding.

Page after page shows the earliest photographs available of Lavit and the surrounding villages whose names have a lyrical, hypnotic quality: Montgaillard, Saint Jean du Bouzet, Puygaillard de Lomagne, Lachapelle and so forth.

Tight text gives the history in both French and Occitan, the old language, and there are all the previous inhabitants frozen before the many still recognisable buildings.

They line up in their groups – schoolchildren, football and rugby team, civic dignitaries, church worthies – rarely smiling, conscious of the delayed shot they would ruin if they moved.

Buttoned up ladies in bombazine, their upswept hair surmounted by rigid broderie anglaise top pieces, swell like pouter pigeons in the awareness of their status.

Girls with sly knowing eyes and upraised petticoats to show a fine ankle, catch the camera’s lens deliberately as they dance a paysan set square at a fete.

And in the very early photos, there are the "old" women – probably no more than 40 – who cover their heads and half their bodies with shawls, like the peasant Irish women one sees in similar photos.

These women are the veiled women of a Western past; semi-covering their faces, eyes defiant at the camera’s intrusion but yet determined to be registered.

Aware of their poverty, yet proud in their strength to transcend all they are hit with in this war-ridden country – a battleground from time immemorial.

They’ve lost their men and their sons, or will come to lose them under the mud of Flanders and Passchendaele, and their daughters will suffer the same, barely two decades later.

That knowledge is already darkening their suspicious mien.

But there are the happy photos, too, mainly in the harvest fields and around the tables of bounty after a long day’s labouring.

The girls lean a little too close to the men who show off their powerful forearms under rolled up shirts. One can feel the heavy waiting heat of the fields as they pause for wine, bread and platters of tomatoes and artichokes dribbling olive oil over their rims.

Of course they had no idea that one day their features and names would be poured over and studied by a foreign woman who now lived in a much changed farm labourer’s mean dwelling.

I like to think of them laughing heartily at such a bizarre notion and pondering what fool would do such a thing.

When the book first came out, I opened it with Genevieve’s elderly father. He showed me himself and twin sister in the solemn line-up before the school, all smocked, hair slicked, for the occasion.

Then in his 80s he reeled off the names of those in the serried lines, the rigid priest beside them ready to smack the head of any troublemaker; the nun in her flying cornette, face stiff with responsibility.

He has now gone and no doubt most if not all of those young scholars. The school has gone and even the houses, when the hamlet lost its future to war and the need to forage further to live.

Pictures of Lavit itself show a bustling agricultural town with several shops including the candlemaker, all catering to the needs of those who came for market days and the animal sell-offs.

Nowadays it’s rare to see herds – cattle or sheep – as the land has been given over to the less hurtful husbandry of fruit and vegetables.

One old man I heard of, wept and wept and couldn’t watch as his last four cows were taken from him as ill health stopped his shuffle to their aid.

That was just two years ago and I miss their steam releasing hides on the hot days when I pass the farm and see the now opened gates and the grass growing over the trampled path to water.

Only the hens bring him a kind of comfort as he sits on his bench and chuckles at their antics as they dust bath and fight with their sisters.

With the book in hand I did a little tour again of my surrounding villages to amuse myself and keep me off the internet.

Looking up to the present and down to the past I saw that, in essence and form, very little had changed, just the use perhaps of buildings.

It took little more than a quarter-closed eye to see those men, women, children and animals once more in the village square.

Barely a blink to see the lazy old mongrel scratching his fleas or see the cat’s distaste and tail paused mid-swish from its window ledge of superiority.

I have always believed, especially here, we are all living in the past, the now, and the future; layers upon layers, often sensed when the veil thins in those unfathomable moments.

Now looking up, looking down and up and down again, I felt as if only archival tissues were separating us all.

And that somehow, I am now also imprinted here…a lounging body with a backdrop of a farmhouse.