I won't go very far into this as it involves the 'T' word (one of my most hated: Tourism), although this is worthy of mention and is perhaps akin to such legends as the Lincoln imp: La Chouette (or the owl) of L'Église Notre-Dame de Dijon. I won't go into the many stories, but it's enough to say that the rubbing of the owl (if owl it is) is said to bring good luck if it's done with the left hand, a little like (say) rubbing Victor Noir's erection in Père-Lachaise or Montaigne's foot near the Sorbonne (with either hand, no matter, I believe). The owl, of course, is on Rue de la Chouette, and the tourist industry milks the legend by showing hundreds of owl triangles for its tourist circuit, which I obviously didn't do: you've only to see the owl tat (such as tote bags) in the souvenir shops and despair. (Oh, and it brings misfortune to rub the chouette while watching the nearby salamandre, so be careful.)
21 September 2021
We missed a number of things on our first visit to Dijon, in our crazy rush to get photos of the glyptodon highlighted in Éric Chevillard's hilarious Démolir Nisard. Dominique Labauvie's Le Champ de feu (1992) was apparently 'Commissioned by the Ministry of Justice, France for the Courthouse of the City of Dijon'.
19 September 2021
Bernard Giroux (1950-1987) was a sports journalist noted for his Tour de France and his Grand Prix commentaries. He died just off the Isle of Wight in a high-speed boat steered by Didier Piloni.
Ernest Pinard (1822-1909) was born in Autun (Saône-et-Loire) and died in Bourg-en-Bresse (Ain). He has gone down in history as seeking the indictment of such, er, scandalous books as Flaubert's Madame Bovary and Baudeliare's Les Fleurs du mal. He even attacked Eugène Sue's Les Mystères du peuple after Sue's death by condemning his publisher and his printer. No comment.
18 September 2021
In the time of the first Covid confinement, what is there to do? One thing is turn to art, so Régis Noly painted an abandoned bicycle. And a fine specimen it is. À l'année prochaine, Régis !
16 September 2021
Between 1945 and 1995 Marcel Yerly (1915-2000) made by hand about one hundred models in wood, between fifty and three metres in height or length. In 2006 a rather clumsily-titled Musée des machines à nourrir et courir le monde was dedicated to his work, containing his models, as well (later) as models by others: here (I think) I restrict myself only to works made by Yerly, who was also a painter. Director Claude Miller has explained that Yerly used acacia and boxwood for their durability, walnut, beech and elm for their colour. The museum, held in a large warehouse on the outskirts of the town, is a great tribute to obsession, meticulous attention to detail, and love of (mainly local) history.
Holding a suspension of disbelief as to how an amusement park employee (the unnamed (at first ten-year-old) narrator's equally unnamed father) could find the money to go around the world and hunt game, or that the same (slightly older) girl can afford to pay an emeritus professor to give her advanced physics lessons out of what she earns through babysitting, this is still some story.
And the fact that it pays off, that the reader continues to read with great relish, is testimony to Dieudonné's writing skills. So what is this about? Well, anyone who glances at the blurb can see it's about a family who live in a house with four bedrooms: the narrator's, her younger brother Gille's, her parents', and that of 'the bodies'. We later learn that the bodies are of wild animals as the father – whose is interested mainly in hunting wild animals, watching television, drinking Glenfiddich, but above all controlling his family: he's a self-obsessed tyrant. And he's very violent towards his wife, whom the narrator calls an amoeba.
The book, however, isn't just about a dysfunctional family, but also about a highly gifted young girl growing up, how she copes with her many problems, even how she attempts to solve them by wishing to turn back history to before a specific traumatic moment in childhood. I'm not too sure what you're left with after the end, but the journey through the novel is rivetting enough.
14 September 2021
An original and well-filled example of a boîte à lire in Chasselay, and I left with a copy of Adeline Dieudonné's La Vraie Vie (2018), Emmanuelle Pagano's Les Mains Gamines (2008), and a poche edition of Romain Rolland's Colas Breugnon (1919), which I've been meaning to read for some time. (As always, we put back elsewhere what we read.) Boîtes à lire are to be treasured.
Le Tata sénégalais just outside Chasselay, specifically at Vide-sac, is a cemetery containing the remains of 188 Senegalese infantrymen, six north African infantrymen and two soldiers from the Foreign Legion. They were massacred by the Nazis in June 1940. The whole cemetery is in red ochre. The name tata refers to a holy enclosure, the cemetery itself has symbols alluding to Christianity and Islam, and the wooden gates remember traditional African religions. It was built in 1942 and underwent no damage during the Occupation.
13 September 2021
Auguste Buchot (1851-83) is perhaps best known for his poetry books Les Ruines de Faucigny (1878) and Le Miroir indiscret (1879), although Georges Droux wrote an autobiographical booklet on him: Auguste Buchot: (avec un portrait du poète) (1889) in the Silhouettes contemporaines series. Buchot also wrote the non-fictional Histoire de Pierre Vaux, l'instituteur de Longepierre (1889), on the teacher wrongly accused of arson in Longepierre. There seems to be very little information readily available about him, although the medallion seems to belie his apparent thirty-two years.
11 September 2021
Anne Sylvestre (1934-2020), or Anne-Marie Beugras, was a French singer/songwriter who was born in Lyon and died in Neuilly-sur-Seine. She was the sister of the novelist Marie Chaix, and therefore became the sister-in-law of the Oulipian Harry Mathews on her marriage. I first came across her name while studying Boby Lapointe, with whom she recorded a crazy duet called 'Depuis l’temps que j’l’attends mon prince charmant', and the Youtube clip sees her incapable of keeping a straight face at Boby's antics. Much more recently, she recorded a duet with Gauvin Sers released on his second album Les Oubliés: 'Y a pas de retraite pour les artistes'.
10 September 2021
This huge scale wine press (pressoir à grand point) dates from 1869 and is on outside display in Saint-Gengoux-de-Scissé: an example of the vine-growing tradition in the village. The municipality acquired it in 1965 and it originally belonged to a family in the hamlet of La Verzée in the same commune. The story is that originally a team of oxen carried a whole oak tree from the forest of Saint-Maurice-de-Satonnay and that it was then sculpted. Regional historian Émile Violet has described the mechanism as 'a very large nut cracker'. The machine was working until 1926 and later dismantled piece by piece to be displayed here.
Lys Gauty (1900-94), whose real name was Alice Gaulthier, was a singer who was born in Levallois-Perret and died in Monte-Carlo. She is most remembered for the song 'Le chaland qui passe' (1933), the French version of the Italian song 'Parlami d'amore, Mariù', which was sung by Vittorio De Sica. The song is featured in Jean Vigo's film L'Atalante (1934), which the distributors sought to rename after it. She is buried in Saint-Gengoux-de-Scissé because she owned a house there in which she regularly stayed.
9 September 2021
Lucie Aubrac (1912-2007) is a huge Résistance hero after whom many places, such as buildings, streets, squares, schools, hospitals, etc., have been named. In 2018 a postal stamp was issued honouring the memory of her and her husband Raymond (also buried here). Her father was born in Salorney, where a street has been named after her.
Émile Chateau (1866-1952), sometimes written with a circumflex on the 'a', was born in Uchon and died in Charrecey (both in Saône-et-Loire) . He was a headteacher in several schools over the years: Saisy, Mâcon, Bourg-le-Comte, Antully and Matour, but is most remembered as a botanist. He wrote a great number of books. From adolescence he noted plants growing on the sides of railway enbankments, and in time noted that independent plants group together in an almost identical fashion: he thus became the inventor of phytosociology.* La Société botanique de la France awarded him the Prix Coincy in 1927, a prize normally awarded to university academics. His mature researches were mainly carried out in Antully and Salorney, which explains why there is a pedestrian trail through the bois de la Roche next to Salorney.
*Some non-French sites don't recognise this invention as coming from Chateau.
8 September 2021
'Georges Droux Écrivain et poète bourguignon' is the title of a booklet by Gustave Gasser (published a year before Droux's death), and apart from Droux's dates (1871-1951), are the exact words, in relief, on Droux's grave. The BNF seem to think that Droux, 'Poète, chansonnier et auteur de chroniques', born in Chagny and died in Lyon, died on the year of publication of the booklet.
The BNF give many details of Droux's publications (some of which read like the names of paintings), such as: Station moustérienne à Vitry-lès-Cluny (1939); Flâneries en Bourgogne, Dijon et ses alentours (1926); Lumière, Alger-la-Blanche (1922); Gestes de héros. 1914-1918 (1921); La Bourgogne en fleurs (1912); La Chanson lyonnaise, histoire de la chanson à Lyon, les sociétés chansonnières (1907); Larmes et sourires (1892).
Jean-Pol Betton (1944-2005) was a painter, sculptor and ceramicist but he doesn't even have a Wikipédia page dedicated to him. His atelier was in Azé, where he is buried. There isn't much information to be found on what seems like a fascinating artist whose work encompassed the Rabelaisian and the grotesque ham acting of La commedia dell'arte. A representation of his head appears on the very odd grave. Around two sides of the grave are the clear thought that his belief is that he has no need for that which is necessary, only that which is superfluous: perhaps an irony, but I hope not: uselessless has the greatest of uses!
The Roman theatre in Autun was built in the second half of the first century AD and perhaps had the capacity for 14,000 spectactors (although this number depends on the narrator). It is said to be the largest of its kind and is still used for various tourist spectacles.
6 September 2021
La Pierre de Couhard, or La Pyramide de Couhard, is in tiny Couhard just outside Autun. This is a funerary monument dating from the first century, although it is unknown who is concerned here or if it's a mausoleum or a cenotaph: the absence of found funerary remains suggests the latter. The orifice in the centre is the result of an excavation in 1640, and later attempts in the nineteenth century to discover more proved fruitless. From here you can see for many miles around, and not just Autun: Saulieu, for instance, is clearly visible.