28 June 2016

Musée de la Vannerie, Cadenet (84)

It's not easy to take a photo when the sun's shining in your face, but this is the east-facing elevation of Le Musée de la Vannerie, the museum devoted to the wickerwork industry that once florished in this village of Cadenet in Vaucluse. It's on the site of a wickerwork factory called 'La Glaneuse', and contains a wealth of examples of finished products, such as cribs, baskets and other many other carriers, ornamental work as well as functional, and some objects for which we simply have no names in English. The museum also has a great deal of documentary detail on the industry.

A view from the first and top floor, giving an idea of the contents. Our visit was greatly enhanced by the explanations and the seemingly endless patience of our guide, who especially dedicated a deal of time to helping my partner Penny (who has very little French) to understand things: in fact, Penny was receiving what amounted to lessons in French! Je croyais qu'on l'avait emmerdée un peu trop avec toutes nos – enfin, mes – questions et mes conneries, mais elle a dit que non, que c'était l'inverse. Il me semble qu'elle ne nous a jamais mentionné son nom, mais quand même merci beaucoup pour tout le travail que vous avez fait ! Formidable !

Well worth a visit.

Jean-Henri Fabre in Avignon (84)

Carriero Jan-Enri Fabre'

'The Homer of insects'? Now there's an interesting expression.

'LE 23 DÉCEMBRE 1925

This strangely unpunctuated plaque translates as 'On 23 December 1925 the town of Avignon celebrated the centenary of J. H. Fabre, the illustrious naturalist and Félibre majoral (1825–1915). In this building he was student teacher in the École Normale d'Instituteurs (1840–42). A teacher at the lycée (1853–1872), he gave public lessons in science, organised the Museum Requien, made discoveries in industrial chemistry and received visits Victor Duruy, Stuart Mill, [and] Pasteur.'

27 June 2016

Joseph d'Arbaud in Avignon (84)

Joseph d'Arbaud (Jóusè d'Arbaud in Mistral's Provençal terminology) was born in Meyrargues in 1874 and died in Aix-en-Provence in 1950, was a provençal poet and a félibre. He is perhaps best known for his novel La Bête du Vaccarès, and his mother Marie d'Arbaud (or Azalaïs d'Arbaud) was also a writer and a félibresse. His muse was Marguerite de Baroncelli-Javon, queen of the Félibrige from 1906 to 1913 under Frédéric Mistral, and who in 1914 married the post-impressionist painter Georges Dufrénoy.

Joseph d'Arbaud studied at Saint Joseph's college in Avignon from 1884 to 1892.

Bellaud de la Bellaudière in Avignon (84)

The name of this street in Avignon introduced me to a writer I'd never heard of: Louis Bellaud, or Bellaud de la Bellaudière, who was a Provençal poet born in Grasse in 1543, where he died in 1588. He joined the war against the Spanish in 1572, although conditions changed and on his return France was at civil war: he was imprisoned for nineteen months, during which he wrote his first collection of sonnets, 'Obros et Rimos'. His other works include 'Don-Don Infernal', inspired by Clément Marot, and a second collection of sonnets: 'Lous Passatens'.

26 June 2016

Renaud Séchan: Comme un enfant perdu : Autobiographie (2016)

Being unable at present to scan the cover of this book (which translates as 'Like a lost child' and is a line from his song 'Lucille' from 1969, and which incidentally has a band round it announcing 'Enfin le premier livre de Renaud' ('At last, Renaud's first book')), I use an image of Renaud's drinking place in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue': Le Bouchon, the French word for a (wine) stopper, among other meanings. It might seem an appropriate title for someone known as a great drinker, although by far his favourite tipple was the screw-topped 'la jaune', the yellow colour of pastis, more particularly Ricard, of which Renaud once drank about a litre a day for many years. Until, that is, he was persuaded into going teetotal after deciding that he didn't want to die, and his doctor certainly knew that he had a near fatal level of potassium in his body. The slammer Grand Corps Malade also persuaded him to come back to life and record a new album with original songs after so many years of absence, but all those thousands of letters, mostly just addressed to 'Renaud, L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue', had a particularly strong effect on the man.

One can seek for comparisons between Renaud and other singers, particularly Francophone ones. He only mentions Jacques Brel once, but it's obvious that Georges Brassens – some of whose songs he's recorded – has been a tremendous influence. While reading this autobiography I also I found it unavoidable to make comparisons with Morrissey, who shares as many similarities with Renaud as he does differences: the never-changing left-wing stance,  the champion of human rights, the hatred of authority, the defiant anarchism, the wonderful humour and observation, the brilliant lyrics, the self-derision (Morrissey writes of a nation gagging at his nakedness, Renaud calls himself 'as fat as an SNCF sandwich': irony,  of course); but on the other hand Renaud may hate animal abuse but he isn't vegetarian like Morrissey, he champions the joys of fatherhood unlike Morrissey, and oh, the coyness of Morrissey's language as opposed to Renaud's.

So far this is a very roundabout way of talking about an autobiography of Renaud, but somehow it doesn't seem right to approach it conventionally, unconventional as he is. Blanche Cabanel-Seo wrote a very silly but nevertheless fascinating little book last year called Plouc toujours, a title I can only imagine best translated as 'Forever Uncool', although many years ago 'Forever a Square' would have been very appropriate, but does anyone use the word 'square' in such a context these days? Anyway, the poche version of Cabanel-Seo's book bears on the front cover a crazily-patterned pullover with reindeer: the sort of thing any remotely fashionably-minded person (OK, any normal kid) would squirm with embarrassment at the thought of wearing. And her book is full of uncool expressions, uncool behaviour, etc. But the message is in fact that we're all uncool at heart, and Cabanel-Seo is obviously in love with Renaud's words, as she borrows thirteen lines of his 'Marche à l'ombre', a song from the late seventies, and uses them on the page before the Table of Contents.

And what a song! It's not as brilliant as 'Dans mon HLM', which lists the supercool, the uncool, the spongers, the communists (sorry, I mean Trotskyists), the eccentrics who live in the narrator's HLM. No, not as brilliant, but Marche à l'ombre gives a wonderful view of Renaud at the height of his power: this song is crammed with slang, marvellous word-play, and this is Renaud's forte. It's not for nothing that Renaud, the (apparent) troubadour of the sleazy bars, the guy who writes about gangs, petty theft, the speaker of verlan (backslang), even the inventor of slang words and expressions, appears in the prestigious Petit Robert dictionary, a kind of French lexical Bible. Renaud's language is in some ways a sort of update of San-Antonio (aka Frédéric Dard) or Auguste le Breton.

But Renaud's success killed his father, or rather killed the great book that the writer Olivier Séchan believed he had in him: he was incapable of writing it. Renaud, a school drop-out without even his BEPC, had somehow captivated the youth of France, had it eating out of his hand, his words were everywhere, his face was everywhere, he was carving out his own (very exaggerated, of course) myth of Renaud the loubard, the yob of the périphérique, the cool mobylette-riding (yes, that translates as a kind of moped) nobody who is paradoxically a somebody because he's a nobody.

I'm not too sure how much influence the writer Lionel Duroy had on this book, but it's certainly not ghost-written, although at the end Renaud thanks him for following all the stages of the book's progress. And it's a hell of a story, of a kid born with a paternal grandfather who was a professor of Greek at the Sorbonne, and a maternal grandfather who was a staunch communist (and the self-confessed anarchist always had something of a soft spot for communism, as indeed the communist daily L'Humanité has, I believe, always had a soft spot for Renaud). The autobiography takes us through his marriage to Dominique and their child Lolita (or Lola), through his totally irrational belief that the KGB was after his blood, his guilt feelings, the subsequent heavy drinking and Dominique leaving him, through his second marriage to Romane Serda and their child Malone, his lapse back into alcoholism and Romane leaving him, through to (let's hope) permanent cure.

Throughout, Renaud guides us through his songs along and his life, explains the genesis of his work. What we're left with is a glorious story of a man with faults, but a real human being. OK, he might occasionally brag a bit, such as telling us that the French voted his song 'Mistral Gagnant' the all-time best French song, beating even Brel and Barbara, but so what? He's only telling the truth, and who can blame him for being proud of a lovely song? Now he's on his feet again, telling the world he's not dead and buried according to the vicious internet rumour some jerk started, but yes, there's a change. Renaud was a good friend of the people behind Charlie Hebdo, the people who were mindlessly assassinated by two no-hopers prostituting the name of Islam, so is it so surprising that the man who once called France a nation of cops, a hundred on each street corner who kill people without being punished, should, er, make a song about hugging a cop during the huge display of fraternity and defence of free speech (OK, certainly some heads of state just shouldn't have been there, but...) that the Charlie murders created?

Renaud has given many of his earnings away, and Gérard Depardieu has apparently teased him for being a fool for this, but then Depardieu is the kind person willing to change nationality when he believes he's paying too much tax, etc. Renaud doesn't criticise Depardieu because he's of course Renaud, who was in turn criticised for leaving France for London for a short time due to tax reasons, but Renaud insists that he paid via the French tax system because he has no problems contributing towards schools, roads, the general infrastructure of the country. And who can disbelieve a man whose name will certainly never appear in the Panama Papers?

Long live Renaud: a tremendous, very honest, and very generous guy.

ADDENDUM: Now (with great regrets) home in England and here's the front cover of the book: 

23 June 2016

Justine Favart in Avignon (84)

Carriero Favart'

Justine Favart was born Marie Justine Benoîte Duronceray (in Avignon) and began her professional  life as Mlle Chantilly. She was the wife of Charles-Simon Favart and the mother of Charles-Nicolas Favart. Works that have reputedly been exclusively written by her are: Les amours de Bastien et Bastienne, parodie du Devin de village (1753), La feste d’amour, ou Lucas et Colinette, petite pièce en vers et en un acte (1754), Les encorcelés, ou Jeannot et Jeannette, parodie des Surprises de l’amour (1757), La fille mal gardée, ou Le pédant amoureux, parodie de la Provençale (1758), La fortune au village, parodie d’Églée (1760) and Annette et Lubin, comédie en un acte et en vers (1762).

21 June 2016

Agricol Perdiguier in Avignon (84)

The writer and politician Agricol Perdiguier (1805–75) has his own square in Avignon, and this monument to him is in that square, along with those of Théophile Aubanel and Joseph Roumanille already shown below. He grew up speaking Provençal as opposed to the national language, had little schooling and was essentially self-taught. His father was a carpenter, a trade which Agricol would later take up. There is another, much more modern and rather eccentric, monument to him in Morières-lès-Avignon (84), which I shall be posting in due course.

Perdiguier's father was a captain of the Republicain army who had to flee on the Restoration. Agricol, at the age of ten, was considered a Bonapartist and was hit violently and dragged through the streets and through streams: the experience would have a lasting impression on him.

In 1824 he made the Tour de France, which was a kind of apprenticeship in which the trainee made a tour of a number of different locations in the country, and which Agricol finished in 1828. He was made a compagnon (a kind of member of a workers' brotherhood) in 1827 in Chartres, and returned to Morières in August 1828. He wrote a number of books, chiefly songs, works on the Compagnonnage, and politics, but also poetry and a theatrical work.

1875 – 1975

'30 juillet 2005
Cérémonie commémorative du bicentenaire de la naissance d'Agricol Perdiguier
dit Avignonnais-le-Vertu [...], menuisier du Devoir de Liberté et
homme politique, élu représantative du peuple en 1848.'

Links to my other Agricol Periguier posts:

Agricol Perdiguier in Morières-lès-Avignon
Agricol Perdiguier in cimetière du Père-Lachaise

20 June 2016

Joseph Roumanille in Avignon (84)

And another monument to the Provençal poet Joseph Roumanille, but this time in Avignon. Roumanille taught at the collège Dupuy there and Frédéric Mistral was one of his pupils. Under the bust is engraved 'LI SOUNJARELLO', a book he published in Avignon in 1852 and translates as 'The Women Dreamers'.

Théodore Aubanel in Avignon (84)

1829 – 1886'

We missed Théodore Aubanel's grave in the Cimetière de St-Véran (it didn't seem to be in the division where it should have been), missed his house in the Square St Pierre, but here is his bust in the Square Agricol Periquier (about whom more later).

Petrarch in Avignon (84)

'Histoire de la Cité

Couvent de Sainte-Claire

"Laure,... longtemps, célébrée dans mes vers, est apparue
pour la première fois à mes yeux, au temps de mon
adolescence, en l'an de grâce 1327, le 6 avril, en l'église
Sainte-Claire d'Avignon". C'est ainsi que le célèbre poète
et humaniste François Pétrarque immortalise le couvent
créé en 1239 par les religieuses de Sainte-Claire, un
des plus anciens de la ville. Reconstruit au XIVe
siècle, il est saccagé à la Révolution, puis vendu com-
me bien national et morcelé in plusieurs propriétés.
En 1987, sensibilisée à la dégradation
de ce lieu de mémoire, la ville fait
procéder au dégagement des ves-
iges et à la réhabilitation du
site. De l'église, il ne reste que
quelques chapelles latérales
et l'abside. Un petit jardin
marque l'emplacemenet
du cloître. L'espace
est en partie affe-
té au Théâtre
des Halles.'

'History of the City: Sainte-Claire's Convent. "Laura ... a long time ago celebrated in my verses, appeared before my eyes for the first time, during my adolescence, in the year of grace 1327, on 6 April, in the church of Sainte-Claire in Avignon". Thus the famous poet and humanist Francesco Petrarch immortalised the convent created in 1239 by the nuns of  Sainte-Claire, one of the oldest [churches] in the town. Reconstructed in the 14th century, it was pillaged during the Revolution, then sold as national property and divided into several lots. In 1987, stirred into awareness of how this important place was being neglected, the town set about preserving the remains of this site. Of the church, there only remain a few side chapels and the apse. A small garden marks the site of the cloister. The space has in part been included in the Théâtre des Halles.'

The plaque near the church door of course more or less says the same as above, only in a much shorter version.

Frédéric Mistral in Avignon (84)

This is one bust I didn't know about: Frédéric Mistral's in the Place de l'Horloge in the centre of Avignon. While studying at the Collège royal in Avignon, Mistral first stayed at the pensionnat Millet and then the pensionnat Dupuy. It was in 1845 that he met Joseph Roumanille.

My Frédéric Mistral posts:
Frédéric Mistral at Le Mas du Juge, Maillane
Frédéric Mistral: Mireille
Frédéric Mistral in Maillane
Le Pavillon de la Reine Jeanne, Les Baux-de-Provence
Frédéric Mistral in Saintes-Maries-de-la-Mer, Bouches-du-Rhône
Frédéric Mistral in Saint-Giniez, Marseille
Frédéric Mistral, Marseille
Frédéric Mistral in Avignon
Frédéric Mistral in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence

Frédéric Mistral in Grambois
Frédéric Mistral in Saint-Michel-l'Obsevatoire
Frédéric Mistral in Pertuis

19 June 2016

John Stuart Mill's Grave in Avignon (84)

The philosopher John Stuart Mill (1806–1873) died in Avignon of erysipelas, and was buried in St-Véran cemetery with his wife.

A number of other writers are buried here, such as Pierre Boulle (Bridge over the River Kwai and Planet of the Apes), and the prominent Provençal poet Théodore Aubanel. But a clear sign at the entrance says no photography. That's in a public cemetery, and out of the (literally) hundreds of cemeteries I've previously visited (throughout the States, France, the UK, etc) I have never come across such an interdiction. How can it be possible to impose this, and what possible reason can there be for it? Needless to say, the above images come from an anonymous private source whose location I wouldn't reveal even under threat of torture.

15 June 2016

Joseph Roumanille's grave in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (13)

Joseph Roumanille (Jousé Roumaniho in provençal) (1818–91) was born in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence and died in Avignon. He studied in the college in Tarascon and worked as a solicitor's clerk there from 1836 to 1839, and published his first poems in L'Écho du Rhône. He worked as a surveillant and teacher in Nyons and in the Collège Dupuy in Avignon, where one of his students was Frédéric Mistral. He was co-founder of the félibrige, and his wife Rose-Anaïs Gras (1840–1920), langue d'oc writer and translator, is among members of the family buried here.

Many thanks to Sophie Vulpian for setting us right on the geography of the grave.

13 June 2016

René Char in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue (84)

The family grave in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue.

1907 – 1988'

Like his father, the poet René Char was born in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. Apart from his poetry, he is probably most remembered for his friendship with Albert Camus and his work for the Résistance. His many publications include Arsenal (1929), Le Marteau sans maître (1934), Feuillets d'Hypnos (1946), Fureur et mystère (1948), and La Parole en archipel (1962).


The couplet comes from Char's poem 'À la santé du serpent', from the book Le Poème pulvérisé.

My René Char posts:
René Char in Céreste
René Char in L'Isle-sur-la-Sorgue

12 June 2016

Frédéric Mistral in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (13)

LE 26 MAI 1863

An important occasion then, the reading of the first section of Mistral's most famous work: Mireille, or rather Mirèio in provençal.

Nostradamus in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (13)


It's no easy thing to photograph Nostradamus's birthplace in such a cramped street.

The plaque outside Nostradamus's birthplace states that he was the elder son of the solicitor Jaume de Nostradame and Raynières de Saint-Rémy, both of Jewish origin. His great-grandfather, Jean de Saint-Rémy, was a doctor and the town treasurer. Nostradamus grew up in a financially comfortable home and was educated to far above the average standard, learning mathematics and astromomy. He loved walking round the surrounding countryside and all his life was impressed by the countryside of the Alpilles and fascinated by the Roman history of Saint-Rémy which he regularly mentioned in his writings.

After studying at Avignon and Montpellier universities, he became a doctor of repute, experimenting with some success plant-based cures for the plague. He chose to call himself Nostradamus because of its meaning 'we give what is ours', in other words 'we pass on our knowledge'.

Above all Nostradamus was a humanist, a scientist, poet, and a friend of intellectuals. From 1566 he wrote his prophecies from Salon-de-Provence, where he established himself after his second marriage, and he received a great reputation for them. He became the protégé of Catherine de Médicis who in 1564 named him the king's doctor and advisor to the queen.

Nostradamus died in 1566, leaving a very rich work from a scientific, medicinal and literary point of view. He remains one of the most read authors in the world.

Nostradamus's well in the centre of town.


Detail of Nostradamus's bust on the fountain.

Nostradamus as street art.

Joseph Roumanille's Statue in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (13)

The statue of the writer Joseph Romanille (1818–91), born in Saint-Rémy-de-Provence. Frédéric Mistral was one of his students when he taught in the Dupoy college in Avignon, and he was a co-founder of the Félibrige.

Around the base of the statue are words of Joseph Romanille in Provençal.

Yvan Audouard's Grave, Fontvieille (13)

Yvan Audouard (1914–2004) is buried in the family vault in the cemetery in Fontvieille. I'd not heard of him until I read René Frégni speaking of attending his funeral in Tu tomberas avec la nuit. He lived in Fontvieille and wrote many books, a number about his beloved Provence. His obvious pun on Alphonse Daudet's famous book, Lettres de mon pigeonnier (1991) (lit. 'Letters from My Dovecote') sounds interesting, although I prefer another title: La Connerie n'est plus ce qu'elle était (1993) (lit. 'Bullshit Isn't what It used to Be').

'Ce fut un belle journée.' Audouard own expression, but it would sum up the fleetingness and the pleasure of many people's lives: 'It was a fine day.'

Alphonse Daudet and Tartarin de Tarascon in Tarascon (13)

The hilarious bumbling braggart who professes to be a bold hunter of lions, but who hasn't so much as walked over the town bridge to neighboring Beaucaire until forced into an uncomfortable spot and show how, er, great he is. A brilliant sculpture of him standing on a dead lion.

And under the statue, a representation of Alphonse Daudet smiling as he writes:

'Cet homme, c'était Tartarin de Tarascon, l'intrépide, le grand, l'incomparable Tartarin de Tarascon.
En France, tout le monde est un peu de Tarason.'

'This man was Tartarin de Tarascon, the bold, the great, the incomparable Tartarin de Tarascon.

In France, everyone has a little of Tarascon in them.'

My other Alphonse Daudet posts:

Alphonse Daudet in Fontvieille (13)
Alphonse Daudet: Tartarin de Tarascon (1872)
Alphonse Daudet in Fontvieille (13) again

11 June 2016

Alphonse Daudet in Fontvieille (13)

Alphonse Daudet (1840 –97) is undoubtedly noted in the popular imagination for his book Lettres de mon moulin, a collection of short stories still taught in French schools and translated into many languages: the English edition is simply Letters from My Windmill. D. H. Lawrence read it, I believe in the original French.

In his book, Daudet claims (inventively) that he bought one of the four windmills in Fontvieille. Well, he didn't, and in fact Daudet was more associated with one of the other mills. Needless to say, Daudet never (as is popularly believed) lived in any of them. But the myth that this windmill belonged to Daudet persists, so there it is. That Daudet is associated with a windmill in Fontvieille is apt because he used to visit the millers while staying at the Château de Montauban, which wasn't really a castle but a farmhouse with a highly elaborate façade.

The windmill that is now called Daudet's ceased to function in 1915 and became 'Le Moulin de Daudet' in 1935 on the initiative of Les Amis de Daudet, amongst whom was the local artist Léo Lelée, who made a number of drawings of the place, including the workings of the mill.

On the side of the mill:


'This rocky corner which was my a fatherland for me and of which can be found traces – people or places – in virtually all my books'.

The windmill has just one upper floor.

The millstones: originals or from elsewhere? I forgot to ask.

The winds are listed around the mill.

But I rather like this drawing of the 32 winds of Provence.

The stuffed owl is a good touch: in Lettres de mon moulin, Daudet mentions his feathered 'tenant'.

Moulin Tissot now has new cap and sails. This is the closest of the mills to Montauban, and Daudet spent far more time here than at any of the others, even having an idea of buying it. Tropime Avon, well known to Daudet, was the last miller here, and the mill closed in 1905.

Daudet's Ambroy cousins, particularly Timoléon, used to welcome Daudet when he'd had enough of Paris and wanted fresh inspiration.

                                   A. DAUDET'

'Montauban. Blessed house! So many times I have come there, to get back to nature, to cure myself of Paris and its fevers.'

A bust of Daudet occupies a central position in the village.

And this bust of Daudet is currently on display at the Fontvieille Office de Tourisme.