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 Jean 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) and the painter Serge Fiorio. A return journey was essential.

One of the cemeteries in Montjustin.

Cartier-Bresson's wife, the Belgian photographer Martine Franck (1938–2012).

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