20 June 2018

Paul Cézanne and the Montagne Sainte Victoire

Montagne Sainte Victoire taken from Pourrières today. An information board in the Place du Château claims that Paul Cézanne, whose grand-father lived in the village, made forty-four oil paintings and forty-three water colours of the mountain and the plateau de Bibémus. And yes, the mountain itself of course is in Bouches-du-Rhône (13), and Cézanne usually took it from Gardanne (13)?

19 June 2018

Serge Fiorio in Montjustin, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04)

The end of last year, Céreste (04) had an exhibition in which three cultural personalities from tiny Montjustin were highlighted: Serge Fiorio, Lucien Jacques, and Lucienne Desnoues. Serge Fiorio (1911–2011), who was born in Vallorbe, Switzerland, and died in Viens, Vaucluse, was a painter of Italian origin. In adolescence he drew and painted pictures of quarry workers. His father was a cousin of Jean Giono, of whom Fiorio drew an important portrait in 1934. Serge Fiorio spent 64 years of his long life in tiny Montjustin, and was friendly with Jean Mogin and his wife Lucienne Desnoues. A friend of Lucien Jacques, Fiorio started his life in Montjustin in 1947. Serge Fiorio's grave is in one of the tiny cemeteries in Montjustin.

Lucienne Desnoues in Montjustin, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04)


Lucienne Desnoues (1921–2018) was the pseudonym under which Lucienne Mogin (who married Jean Mogin in 1947) wrote her poetry. She was the great-niece of the representation of Desnoues the blacksmith in Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes. According to Wikipédia, her poems are noted for their alliteration and her use of holorimes: a new word for me, but then an example is given:

'Ah ! ce qu'on sert de faux ré
À ce concert de Fauré'.

Obviously, we're talking about about different words being used as sonic appoximations of others. In a slightly silly analogy, I'm reminded of the French 'Un petit d'un petit s'étonne aux Halles' being a near equivalent of 'Humpty Dumpty sat on a wall'. A little silly in my example certainly, although surely we're not far from the DNA of Oulipo?

Desnoues' first volume of poetry, Jardin Délivré, Raisons d’être (1947) was prefaced by Charles Vildrac, and was the first of ten works of poetry.

Jean Mogin in Montjustin, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04)


Jean Mogin (1921–86) was a Brussels-born poet, dramatist and journalist, and the son of the poet Georges Mogin (usually known as Norge). He founded the short-lived magazine Pylônes with the poet and novelist Alain Bosquet. In 1943 he won the Prix des Poètes 1943 for his collection La Vigne amère, and his highly successful play À chacun selon sa faim, for which he won the Prix Lugné-Poe. Another successful collection of his poetry is Pâtures du silence (1956). In 1983 Mogin retired with his wife Lucienne to Montjustin, where he died a few years later.

Lucien Jacques in Montjustin, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04)



In an article in Bibliobs of May 2016 it mentions the three great 'Gs', writers of the interwar years – Guéhenno, Giono and Guilloux – all of whom were sons of shoemakers. The article says an honorary addition should be made to this list: Lucien Jacques (1891–1961), who co-translated Moby-Dick with Giono. It calls Jacques one of the pillars of the Contadour pacifist movement: as a stretcher-bearer in the 161st infantry regiment, he'd known only too well the atrocities, stupidities and lies of war. He had known the barns stinking of cat piss; reveille (the bugle call) at two in the morning; 'pals' drunkenly puking up on each other; standing thigh-deep in mud in the trenches; the quicklime sprinkled on bodies before throwing them into a ditch. All this, he wrote in his 'Moleskin diaries'. A wonderful quotation: 'When you've not enough courage to be a pacifist you become a soldier.'

Suzanne Citron in Montjustin, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04)


I can't see the name Suzanne Citron (1922–2018) mentioned here, although she is buried here next to her husband Pierre Citron (1919–2010). She was born in Ars-sur-Moselle, died in Paris, and was a noted historian. She spent the last weeks of the internment camp in Drancy before it was liberated in June 1944. Her unpublished doctoral thesis was titled 'Aux origines de la Société des professeurs d'histoire : la réforme de 1902 et le développement du corporatisme dans l'enseignement secondaire (1902-1914)'. She is perhaps best remembered for her book Le Mythe national : l'histoire de France en question (1987; revised with the sub-title 'l'histoire de France revisitée in 2008 and 2017). It has been called a reference work 'which deconstructs the historiographical and ideological strata on which the scholarly legend of the Third Republic was built.'

18 June 2018

Johnny Hallyday in Viviers, Ardèche (07)


At the weekend Viviers, a village of about 4000 people in the Ardèche, filled with thousands of fans of Johnny Hallyday (1943–2017) to see the unveiling of his statue, created by Daniel Georges, at the southern entrance to the village by the restaurant Le Tennissee: 'Quelque chose de Tennissee' is one of Johnny's most famous works, although it is not about the American state but the writer Tennissee Williams. The work was paid for by Johnny's fans. Last Friday would have been Johnny's seventy-fifth birthday.

Johnny Hallyday's mother lived in Viviers, a place he visited for seventeen years, often dropping in on  the Café des Arts when he came here.


His mother Huguette Galmiche (1920–2007), née Clerc, is buried in the cemetery at Viviers.

Pierre-Léon Boissin in Viviers, Ardèche (07)

Before finding the grave of Johnny Hallyday's mother, I was struck by this sculpture of a man and his dog in the ancien cimetière in Viviers. Who was this guy? I wasn't the only one to ask himself the same question, but it turns out that this is a representation of Pierre-Léon Boissin, who owned a nearby villa called Pax, and the statue was originally erected in the park there, awaiting his death: a work effected by Baussan et Bauvas (sometime between the creation of the villa in 1889) and 1916. On Boisson's death Villa Pax was sold and the buyer had the sepulcre moved to the cemetery. But of the nature of Boisson, his life, I can't readily find anything. (His dog, by the way, was called Gypsey.

The Box Tree Moth in Viviers, Ardèche (07)

It's surprising what you can find out even when you're not looking for it. For instance today we were (like another pair of French seekers, plus another guy from Cavaillon) looking for the grave of Johnny Hallyday's mother – when we were surrounded by 'butterflies' (although I thought they may be daytime moths) and this obliging little creature posed for me for quite some time. OK, you do the Google, and discover that this is the pyrale du buis, or box tree moth, whose caterpillar was introduced into Europe from Asia by accident in the first decade of this century, and is causing such havoc among boxwood trees that it is considered a pest. Shame really, as my partner Penny thought they'd come out to celebrate Johnny's 75th birthday (last Friday). Obviously some people must hate them, but surely they're nothing like the pest that is the human race?

16 June 2018

Jules Gérard in Pignans, Var (83)

Jules Gérard, the son of a tax collector, was born in Pignans, Var (83). He went on to be a lion killer, which in the early nineteenth century was obviously not seen in a bad light, although by the way the plaque on his statue in La Place des Écoles is worded it seems to be more than a little tongue in cheek: the representation of Gérard, too, could almost be inspired by Don Quixote or Don Quichotte in French. Certainly Alphonse Daudet's ludicrous Tartaron de Tarascon was inspired by Jules Gérard, from which Daudet managed to stretch to three books: Les Aventures prodigieuses de Tartarin de Tarascon (1872), Tartarin sur les Alpes (1885) and Port-Tarascon (1890). Gérard himself wrote a book called Le Tueur de lions (1855). He died in 1864 by drowning in a river in...Sierra Leone!



Jules Gérard was born in what is now the Mairie, as this plaque at the side states.


'Le 12 Septembre 1964 la Ville de Pignans et le Comité des amis de Jules Gérard ont auguré solennellement ce monument[,] œuvre du sculpteur Olivier-Ducamp[,] érigé par souscription publique à la gloire du plus illustre des enfants de Pignans'.

(My translation): 'On 12 September 1964 the Town of Pignans and the Committee of the Friends of Jules Gérard solemnly unveiled this monument, a work by the sculptor Olivier-Ducamp, erected by public subscription to the glory of the most illustrious of Pignans' sons'. Umm.

15 June 2018

André de Richaud in Althen-des-Paluds, Vaucluse (84)

André de Richaud was a writer, poet and playwright who was born in Perpignan in 1907 and died in Montpellier in 1968. By the time he was seventeen or eighteen both of his parents were dead. At college in Carpentras he befriended Pierre Seghers, who was to be his editor. Later he met the poet André Gaillard, founder of Cahiers du Sud, and Joseph d'Arbaud, an écrivain-félibre who directed Le Feu.

Richaud published his first novel, La Douleur, in 1930. Jean Grenier gave it to Albert Camus to read, who read it in one night (as usual with him), but Camus awoke to an unknown land: books weren't just for entertainment, distraction, La Douleur had given Camus a glimpse of the creative world.

André de Richaud's maternal grand-father lived in Althen, where Richaud set many of his books. He is perhaps best known for his fourteen-year life with the artist Fernand Léger and more particularly Léger's wife Jeanne. Adultery, alcoholism, and being a begging tramp are also sometimes mentioned in biographical details.


And not only is a street named after André de Richaud, but a school too.

14 June 2018

Jean Althen in Althen-des-Paluds, Vaucluse (84)

The commune of Althen-des-Paluds is one of the youngest in Vaucluse, officially recognised as one is 1845. The 'Paluds' comes from swamps, but the 'Althen' is a tribute to the Armenian Jean d'Althen or Halovhannès Althounian (1710-1774), who specialised in the madder plant, cherished for its red dye and certain healthy properties of its root. Before, he was a slave in Turkey but was saved and came to Avignon, where he carried out experiments into the cultivation of madder. Althen-des-Paluds prospered in the 1830s due to the madder plant, and it is thanks to Jean Althen that it was able to gain autonomy from Monteux.

An older statue of Jean Althen existed in Althen-des-Paluds but was removed by the Nazis for melting down for weapons. In 2005 a new statue of Jean Althen, by Marcella Kratz, was erected in front of the Mairie in the presence of the French Armenian ambassador.




Camille Claudel, Montfavet, Vaucluse (84)

Camille Claudel (1864–1943), the sister of the dramatist and poet Paul Claudel, was a French sculptor perhaps best known for her relationship with Auguste Rodin (1840–1917). She was born in Fère-en-Tardenois (Aisne) and died in the psychiatric hospital in Montedvergues, Montfavet. There, in July 2018, they will erect a memorial to Camille Claudel: unfortunately, we'll be elsewhere.

She met Rodin in the Académie Colarossi in Paris, becoming his student, assistant and lover. After their separation she became reclusive, attempting to free herself from the artistic style of Rodin. After the marriage of her formerly supportive brother she became a recluse in her workshop. The victim of an obsessive neurosis, she destroyed most of her works. Following the death of her father in 1913 her mother interned her in a psychiatric hosptial in Seine-Saint-Denis. She was transferred to Montfavet two years later, where she remained until her death almost thirty years later, essentially caused by malnutrition, which was normal in such hospitals during the war.

She was initially buried in a plot in Montfavet cemetery, but her remains were moved to the cemetery's then anonymous communal ossuary about 1951. Her great-niece Reine-Marie Paris had a cenotaph erected, which includes two quotations from her great-aunt.



'There is always something missing which torments me'

'My great wish, my ideal, is to fashion my shapings of the paste into an idea! The idea isn't enough: I want to clothe it in purple and crown it in gold'.

13 June 2018

Jean-Baptiste Blanc, Maussane-les-Alpilles, Bouches-du-Rhône (13)



Jean-Baptiste Blanc (1877–1953), a félebre who was born in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and died in Maussane-les-Alpilles, was a  provençal poet and storyteller known as 'Jan di Baragno', who wrote Li Passo-temps d'un bon per rèn (1932):  'The interests of a good-for-nothing'. The cemetery where he is buried is on the street which bears his name.

Elzéar Pin in Apt, Vaucluse (84)


Elzéar Pin (1813–83) is perhaps best known as a politician who was born in Apt, Vaucluse, and died in Paris. But Wikipédia states that his main passions were literature, poetry and agriculture. He published three works, two of which are collections of poetry: Poèmes et sonnets (1839), Projet de ferme régionale et d'endiguement de la Durance à Villelaure (1848) and Souvenirs poétiques (1870).

12 June 2018

Henri Cartier-Bresson, Pierre Citron and others in Montjustin, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04)

In Guide des tombes d’hommes célèbres Bertrand Beyern describes Montjustin in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence as being in a ‘dream setting’ in ‘a tiny village at the end of the world’. I know what he means. The road is tarmacked but mainly slender, and 2.5 kilometres seem much longer. We drove up a road which seemed to be going up a mountain, until I turned back, thinking we must have missed it in a few houses we’d passed. On the way back a work van managed just to get by, although not before I’d asked the driver of the whereabouts of the cemetery. He looked at me as if I were a little crazy, but I told him I was certain that it was in Montjustin, so all he could do was shrug his shoulders. Further down I saw a woman mowing the grass and asked her about the cemetery, which she told me was back where I’d come from, in the village. There’s a village up there? Yes, there is (population 57 in 2015), so we turned back and found it, but didn’t know where to go in a place with just a few houses, no shops, no bar, no obvious administrative buildings, but a post box. I parked in a vacant area off the road, looked for life, and found a guy who told me to walk up the village street after parking in the proper (I’d say about seven-space) car park, ignore the left turn after 50 metres, then I’d find a school after 300 metres, and the cemetery was ‘down’ from that. I found the school but couldn’t figure out what to do after that, but fortunately I saw another woman who shook us by the hand in great welcome, after which I asked her for directions to the cemetery. She was delightful, and showed us the original medieval cemetery, which is about the size of an average bathroom and I could only see one grave. She also showed us a group of cypress trees which appeared to be a great distance away, and pointed out that this is where the cemetery is. However, she kindly led us back in front of the school, where there was a dirt track marked as leading to the cemetery (but which you can only see on the way back!) and said that led directly to the cemetery. My partner Penny was worried about the distance, so I told the woman Penny couldn’t understand our conversation and wanted to know how far away it was, and the answer was only five minutes. I’d say four minutes, but at least we’d made it to the ‘end of the world’ in relatively quick time. I noticed that the cemetery gates (spelt right, Morrissey!) were held together by a piece of waxed rope, and figured that they should always be kept so. On our return I met the guy who’d given us the original directions, who asked us if we’d found the place, and to his second question, I assured him that we’d closed the gates.

Ah yes, the cemetery in Montjustin: there are in fact two cemeteries there, one of which includes the grave of the world-famous photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson (1908–2004). Pierre Citron (1919–2010), an expert on Jean Giono whose doctoral thesis was titled La poésie de Paris dans la littérature française de Rousseau à Baudelaire, is also buried here.

Unfortunately, it was only after my visit today that I learned of the second adjoining cemetery: how we both missed it is beyond me. In it are the graves of the poets Jacques Mogin (1921–86) and his wife Lucienne Desnoues (1921–2004), as well as the friend of Jean Giono, the poet, painter and engraver Lucien Jacques (18911961). A return journey is essential.

One of the cemeteries in Montjustin.








'Vagins vigilants'. Vigilant vaginas. On the window of a house in Montjustin.

11 June 2018

Sculpture and Maximilien Vox in Lurs, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04)

This sculpture at the entrance to Lurs village, consisting of forty-two upright stones, is designed to explore writing systems and the origins of the alphabet. Obviously, it is not by chance that this exhibit is in Maximilien Vox's village.

John Hamilton in Lurs, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04)

The grave of Arthur Henry Patrik [sic] Hamilton (1917–94), born in Breinton, Hereford (UK), and died in Lurs. His stone against the cemetery wall says that he was an English teacher in Paris, and a poet in Lurs, although if he ever had anything published, in English or French, I can find nothing. In World War II he was a flight lieutenant in the RAF.

John Pudney (1909–77) was a short story writer, poet, writer of children's books, and also with RAF associations. I very much doubt if the two men ever met, but a very popular poem of Pudney's, 'For Johnny', is inscribed under this epitaph: 'Do not despair/For Johnny-head-in-air/He sleeps as sound // As Johnny in the cloud/And keep your tears/For him in after years // Better by far/For Johnny the bright star/To keep your head/And see his children fed.'

John Pudney

Henriette Frontera-Roche in Lurs, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence (04)


Local historian Henriette Frontera-Roche (1895–1971) apparently wrote just one book: Histoire de Lurs (1969). Below is how Lurs (population 377 (in 2015)) looks today – OK, yesterday to be exact.