Every once in a while as one travels around Second Life, one comes across a place that is so utterly unexpected, that one cannot help responding to it by thinking, “This is what Second Life is about!”
Duché de Coeur is just such a place. To my shame, I’d never come across it in nigh-on five years of SL wanderings until Pete Linden passed me information on a festival being held there in July. That the festival was a mix of arts and music was intriguing enough; that it was in its second year, even more so. I had to investigate; and I’m glad I did.
Centred on the Languedoc Coeur region in-world, Duché de Coeur is a Second Life community in the truest sense of the word: a gathering of like-minded people from around the world who have come together to create and develop something in-world that is both reflective of, and an extension to, their real-life interests and passions.
Comprising 14 sims, The Duchy represents a fictitious area of France that comprises the real life regions of Provence, Languedoc, Aquitaine, Poitou, Normandie, Touraine, and Franche-Comté as they were in the 18th Century – the Age of Enlightenment. It is an openly idealistic take on the Age, combining the period’s advancement of knowledge and value system with romance and chivalry; although that’s not exactly how it started out. When first established, the Duchy was far more focused on romanticism, as founder Bedrich Panacek explained, when I met him and fellow community leaders SkyRider Varriale (his partner) and Baharat Atlas, recently.
“The Duchy was originally inspired by the book Angélique,” Bedrich said as we sat together in the Green Room at the Duchy’s Opera House. “Gradually it moved forward 100 years with Tatiana and Skye,” he adds, smiling at SkyeRyder Varriale, seated beside him, who takes up the story.
“Bedrich and I met and formed a partnership, both personal and business. We were both interested in France in the 1700’s 1800’s, and I had experience building and landscaping for another game company, while Bedrich is the IT guy, the scripter. Our ideas works together. We also have a third partner, TatianaDokuchic Varriale who has contributed lovely works to the Duchy.”
The ‘Angélique’ Bedrich refers to is Angélique, the Marquise of the Angels, the first is a series of novels set in the 17th Century written by French author Anne Golon and her husband (responsible for researching the story), Serge Golon. Published in English under the pseudonym Sergeanne Golon, the book was itself inspired by the life of Suzanne de Rougé du Plessis-Bellière, and grew to a series of 13 novels published between 1956 and 1985, with a fourteenth, Angélique et le Royaume de France, due to be published in November this year, and an as-yet untitled fifteenth volume set to conclude the series.
But why this period in particular?
Bedrich takes the question, “Much of western government and ideals are based on concepts that were discussed by some of the greatest thinkers in England and France in the Age of Enlightenment. Centres of thought including L’Académie Francaise, L’Academie Royale des Sciences, and L’Academie Royale de Musique were some of the most important public institutions that caused people to question established thought. We wanted to try and capture that, bring it to life.”
Education and the arts both play important roles in the Duchy, which hosts an annual Arts and Music Festival, together with a season of events that commences in September; all of which are co-ordinated by Baharat Atlas and Pekel Panacek (no relation to Bedrich). And while there is a degree of role-play among the community members (something I’ll return to in a moment), the more organised quarterly role-play events are primarily aimed at providing insight into the history of France over a 400-year period spanning the 15th to 19th Centuries.
When it comes to the matter of events in the Duchy, both Bedrich and Skye are full of praise for the contirbution Baharat has made, and continues to make, “She understood our desire to make this an open, sophisticated, environment,” Bedrich explains.
“She organised our music program, which has taken off,” Skye agrees, “She has really brought events alive here.”
So what is it that attracted Baharat to the Duchy? “I was first attracted to the beauty [of Languedoc, the original sim],” she explains, “That it had an interesting movement and energy unlike any other sim.”
Walking through the avenues and along the footpaths of the Languedoc, it is easy to see what Baharat means; not only are the buildings correct to the period, there is a certain harmony and balance that is clearly apparent. This has been continued throughout the additional sims in the Duchy as they have been added over the years, a subtle mixing of nature and architecture and blending of movement through the use of rivers and canals, that breathe a romantic life into the sims that one rarely comes across elsewhere.
There is also an historical subtlety to the Duchy; all of the builds are either modelled on real life buildings from the period, or they have been carefully crafted to be representative of the the various regions of France included in the Duchy.
To take the lighthouse overlooking the habour as an example. This is a reproduction of the 75m-tall Phare de Barfleur-Gatteville, built in 1774, and still stands as a museum to lighthouse-keeping today. The Queen’s Hamlet, meanwhile is a reproduction of The Petit Trianon, originally intended for Madame de Pompadour, who died four years prior to its completion. Following her passing, Louis V awarded it to his last Mistress, Madame du Barry, prior to it becoming a country escape for young Queen Marie Antoinette when she need to escape the court of her husband, Louis XVI.
Nor does the historical element end with the buildings.
As I mentioned earlier, while role-play is not the primary aim of the Duchy, many of the residents engage in the period life on sim: they adopt roles suited to the age, as well as the style of dress, mannerism and courtesies. Most joining this broader role-play element (which is not a pre-requisite for living in the Duchy) also outfit their houses (all of which are designed and built by Skye) with period furnishings where possible. There are also efforts to establish an economy within the Duchy reflective of the period in order to give added depth and authenticity to living on the sims.
The authenticity extends to transportation as well. While teleporting is permitted, residents often prefer to travel on foot or by one of the scripted means available to them: by boat or by horse-drawn carriage. Both systems are the brainchild of Bedrich, and demonstrate considerable flexibility of use. Resident can, for example, use the carriages to travel between one another’s homes across the Duchy or to reach the notable centres of activity, such as the Académie Royale de Musique. In addition, visitors can also use them to reach public destinations within the Duchy; carriages can be summoned as required by clicking the signs located around the sims. Boats on the canals and waterways perform a similar function, again allowing residents and visitors a natural freedom of movement.
Nor are you restricted to horse and carriage or boat; given the Duchy presides over the period of the Montgolfier brothers, balloons are also available for people to float serenely over the sims,enjoying the sights and this innovative (for the time!) mode of transportation.
Given the historical context of the Duchy, the focal point for activity is very much centred on the four Academies which have been established. These are:
- L’Académie Royale des Sciences, which is being developed to help people become familiar with the huge impact of French science on the world. Those with a passion for science and its history are encouraged to become involved with the Academy by recreating experiments and ideas (“laboratories” are available for rent where diagrams, models, etc., can be displayed)
- L’Académie Royale de Musique at the Versailles Opera House inspired Duché de Coeur Opera House, is the focal point for all music and threatre-related events in the Duchy, supported by a number of other venues across the sims
- L’Académie Royale de Peinture et de Sculpture is one of the focal points for the visual arts in the Duchy, supported by a second area at the village docks
- L’Académie Francaise is intended to host literature readings, ettiquete lessons, French lessons, art exhibits, etc., and offers a venue suitable for discussions and presentations suitable and related to the Age of Enlightenment.
As a venue for events, the Duchy offers many opportunities for artists across Second Life. This year’s Arts and Music Festival saw no fewer than 28 performances across two days, covering a range of musical styles and which also included a dance presentation. September will see the commencement of the new arts and music programmes which I’ll be endeavouring to cover.
As mentioned above, education is an important aspect of the Duchy’s activities. “We have had several different types of groups use the Duchy for their events,” Skye said, “And we would like to do more. We recently conducted a tour for an educational group.”
“The Virtual Pioneers,” Bedrich continued from her with a nod, “We showed them some of the issues that resulted in the French Revolution. [As a result] they are going to host their annual historical society meeting here in January.”
Given the immense amount of work that has gone into the sims of the Duchy – including seasonal changes to the land and trees, one can understand why; it represents a truly unique window on history, one that is fully embraced by both those who manage it and those who choose to settle there. Indeed, it is a mark of the success of the Duchy that it has grown in response to demand, the sims being added to meet both the needs of those wishing to live there and the growing success of its events calendar. What is equally remarkable is that none of the original charm and romance of the Duchy has been lost over the four years of its development; while the focus of the sims may have broadened from the original setting and embodiment of Angélique, it has gained depth and breadth as a result – and offers residents and visitors alike a lot to share and take-in.
- Visit Duché de Coeur (SLurl)
- For information on musical and theatre events at the Duchy, contact Baharat Atlas
- For information on arts events, contact Pekel Panacek
- For information on vendor space etc., contact SkyeRyder Varriale or Bedrich Panacek
- For residential rentals, visit the Aquitaine Coeur Nord or Provence Coeur information centres (SLurls)
- Follow via Royal Courts of Second Life
- SL Destinations in this blog
Even with the amount of work that goes into a piece like this, with copy passing back and forth to ensure accuracy of content, it is inevitable errors still slip through on the part of the writer.
As per the comments below, I should have indicated Bedrich Panacek was the co-founder of the Duchy (alongside Skye and Tatiana). As can also be seen from Tatiana’s and Skye’s comments, the division of labour within the Duchy is more complex than the article indicates.