21 July 2019

Marie Cappelle in Saint-Paul-de-Mausole, Saint-Rémy-de-Provence (13)

This is one I forgot to add last month. Madame Lafarge (born Marie Cappelle in 1816) was known as 'the poisoner of Tulle' for killing her husband with arsenic in 1840. She served part of her sentence in Montpellier, and was interned in Saint-Paul-de-Mausole psychiatric hospital in St-Rémy-de-Provence (where Van Gogh stayed later) for fifteen months (1851-2). Suffering with tuberculosis, she was released and died in Ussat-les-Bains (Ariège) in November 1852. There are very serious doubts as to whether she did in fact poison her husband.

Marie Cappelle was also a writer of talent and over some years wrote a series of memoirs, most published in her lifetime and a few posthumously.

20 July 2019

Former Little Theatre, Stockport, Manchester (UK)

Near Saint Peter's Square, Stockport:

The country's oldest 'Little Theatre'
was founded at a meeting at the
Church Coffee Tavern on this site,
24th October 1901"

Elizabeth Raffald in Stockport, Manchester (UK)

In Suffragette Square in Stockport there is a series of flat wooden benches which remember several prominent women. This one is dedicated to Elizabeth Raffald (1733-81), a woman I've mentioned before in relation to Stockport and Manchester, and who is perhaps most noted for her famous book, The Experienced English Housekeeper (1769).

My Elizabeth Raffald posts:
Elizabeth Raffald in Stockport
Elizabeth Raffald in Manchester and Stockport

19 July 2019

The Frogs of Stockport, Manchester (UK)

I could hardly believe it when I arrived in Stockport: there were frogs all over! Giant ones! An odd feeling came over me when I thought back to going round Hull after all the toads celebrating the twenty-fifth anniversary of Philip Larkin's death here. And then there were the bears of Cherokee, North Carolina here, and the horses of Aiken, South Carolina here: yes, this was another must. Of course, this is the town with Robinson's regional brewery, so hopping is important here, but the frog leaflet says that the animals are a celebration of 'all the great changes that are taking place in Stockport', and that each frog is sponsored by a local business. The frogs live here from 29 June 2019 until 28 September.

1. Nexphibian. Connectivity near the town hall.

2. Golding. Named after the hop used in Unicorn beer.

3. KermIT. 'One dapper digital dude'.

 4. Cornelius. In pyjamas and ready for bed at Holiday Inn.

5. Prince Regent. Close to Regent House.

6. Ferdinand. In Mersey Square.

7. Robert. In all his multicolour.

8. BUSter. So the 192 route has had an album in honour of the route?

9. Mrs Mersey - the Happy Shopper.

10. This Little Guiding Frog of Mine. Girl-guiding, that is, in Suffragette Square.

11. Sir Lovealot. Designed by the pupils of St Thomas Primary School.

12. Chemit. 2019 is the International Year of the Periodic Table.

13. Midas. The gold gives it away, perhaps.

14. Sir Norman Frogster. Not to be confused with architect Sir Norman Foster.

15. This Little Froggy Went to Market. Well, what else in the Market Place?

16. Strawberry Fields. Stockport is home to Strawberry Studios of Joy Division fame.

17. Fanatical Frog. Apparently 'wearing some of Stockport's fabulous and iconic landmarks'.

18. Sir Hopaslot. 'Fresh from his starring role in the sequel to Wind in the Willows'.

19. Edgeleap. Something to do with sport.

13 July 2019

William Hoyle in Manchester

Many thanks again to Frances Clifford for sending me more information on her great-grandfather William Hoyle, the temperance crusader, along with two probably unpublished photos (recently, that is), the first being from Vol. IV of Onward: The Organ of the Lancashire and Cheshire Band of Hope Union monthly magazines (1868-69): by then, 65 Bands of Hope had been established, influencing about 20,00 young people; the second photo is from Hoyle's Daisy Ballads and Recitations (1891).

An interesting piece of information which has come to light is that the Bennett Street Sunday School William Hoyle attended is where L.S.Lowry's parents went, and where Lowry's mother was organist. In M.W. Lees' Bennett Street Sunday School 1801-1966 - A Manchester History (2013), the author notes the importance of the school to the people in Manchester's inner city area New Cross. This is where Lowry's parents met, and Lowry's mother Elizabeth studied at the school and went on to teach music and give her son his religious and moral background which would have such a strong effect on him.

My William Hoyle posts:
William Hoyle in Manchester
William Hoyle in Manchester and Blackpool

Jean de La Ville de Mirmont: Les Dimanches de Jean Dézert | The Sundays of Jean Dézert (1914; repr. with poems and short stories (2019)

Les Dimanches de Jean Dézert by Jean de la Ville de Mirmont (1886-1914) is the only novel by this little-known writer, whose life was cut short at the beginning of World War I. Originally Mirmont self-published this and his one-time friend François Mauriac's Preface is included here. 

It took me just a few seconds to discover, as I thought, that Dézert is a very rare French surname, with only 545 people with that name registered as being born between 1890 and 1990, making it only the 17,735th most common surname! Mirmont obviously had a reason for using the name: homonymous with 'désert', Jean Dézert's life is in effect a desert, and there's something of the Bartleby in him. Charles Dantzig is quoted on the back cover as saying that Mirmont is a precursor to Samuel Beckett, which I although I can understand is perhaps pushing things a little too far.

Jean is an unambitious man in his late twenties who lives in a fifth-floor flat with a ceiling so low it's compared to the lower deck of a ship, he has a very menial office job and not really any friends apart from the go-getting Léon Duborjal, who joins him in the local café where they go. For Jean, life is like a third-class waiting room. His soul-destroying job eats up his life six days a week and his Sundays are the only time he does things, although the things he does are chosen in a completely arbitrary fashion: going to a vegetarian restaurant, having his fortune told, attending a lecture on sex hygiene, etc.

Not, of course, that Jean has a sex life. But one seems to be a possibility on the horizon when in an unusual moment of courage he speaks to the (nearly) eighteen-year-old Elvire Barrochet in the Jardin des Plantes, and their friendship develops. It develops to such an extent that Jean visits her father, who has a funeral crown shop, and although Barrochet knows that Elvire is very capricious, he is all for a marriage based on love, Jean is a civil servant and seems like a good guy, so why not.

It's only when talk is being made about marriage arrangements and finding suitable accommodation for the couple to move into that Jean has to reveal his poverty to Elvire: oh, why hadn't she realised it before. Catastrophe: Jean's short-lived (and of course sexless) relationship has to end and he is alone again. What should he do? Suicide seems the only answer and he inevitably chooses a Sunday to do the deed, and to leave a note for the police stating that a third party wasn't involved. He thinks of various ways to go about it, but in the end just turns up his raincoat collar and goes to bed. He's a complete failure, even at killing himself.

This book is a rare find, written in a refreshing – and surprisingly modern – deadpan style.

9 July 2019

Marguerite Duras: La Pluie d'été (1990)

This copy of Marguerite Duras's La Pluie d'été was very kindly given to me by the artist Danielle Jacqui when we visited her amazing house – known as La Maison de celle qui peint ('The House of the woman who paints') – in Roquevaire, Provence last month. Her inscription reads: Pour Penny et Tony j'espère que cela vous plaira – danielle (with a J (for Jacqui, of course) circled): 'I hope that you'll like it'. I certainly did.

In the most basic understanding of the book which developed from the children's story by Duras, Ah ! Ernesto (1971), then to her film Les Enfants (1985) finally to be novelised as La Pluie d'été, it concerns a family of marginals, the mother and father coming from Poland (or Russia) and Italy respectively. They live on family allowances in Vitry and have seven children who don't go to school, although the oldest boy, Ernesto, goes for ten days before leaving because he doesn't want to learn things that he doesn't know; his sister Jeanne also makes the decision to leave.

Most of the story concerns Ernesto and his attitude to education, the way he holds the family together, his incestuous relationship with Jeanne, above all the fact that he is a super-gifted child: he is twelve years old, although has the rather uncanny appearance of an adult. He teaches himself to read with a book whose name isn't actually mentioned, but which is The Book of Ecclesiastes. He later goes on to university, travels widely, and is well known.

Towards the beginning of the book Ernesto says, when he's in the process of reading, and I translate: 'In this way he learned that reading is a continuous unravelling in his own body of a story invented by himself.' It struck me how wonderful a definition this is of the nature of reading itself. La Pluie d'été is a constant revelation of meanings, some of which are merely suggested, others incessantly renewing their meanings. I said a similar thing, in French, in an email to Danielle Jacqui, who registered her agreement by posting my email on her Facebook page and replying!

My Marguerite Duras posts:
Marguerite Duras: La Pute de la côte normande
Marguerite Duras: L'Homme assis dans le couloir
Marguerite Duras: Agatha
Marguerite Duras: Emily L.
Marguerite Duras: Les Yeux bleus cheveux noirs
Marguerite Duras: L'Amant | The Lover
Marguerite Duras: Le Ravissement de Lol V. Stein
Marguerite Duras: L'Amante anglaise
Laure Adler: Marguerite Duras
Marguerite Duras: Cimetière du Montparnasse
Marguerite Duras: Un barrage contre le Pacifique
Marguerite Duras: L'Après-midi de Monsieur Andesmas
Marguerite Duras: Les Petits Chevaux de Tarquinia
Marguerite Duras: Le Marin de Gibraltar | The Sailor from Gibraltar
Marguerite Duras: La Douleur | The War: A Memoir
Yann Andréa: Cet amour-là
Marguerite Duras and Xavière Gauthier: Les Parleuses
Marguerite Duras: Savannah Bay

Marguerite Duras: Détruire, dit-elle | Destroy, She Said
Marguerite Duras: L'Amour
Marguerite Duras: Dix heures et demie du soir en été
Marguerite Duras: Le Square | The Square
Marguerite Duras: Les Impudents
Marguerite Duras: Le Shaga
Marguerite Duras: Oui, peut-être
Marguerite Duras: Des journées entières dans les arbres
Marguerite Duras: Suzanna Andler
Marguerite Duras: Le Vice-Consul | The Vice Consul
Marguerite Duras: Moderato cantabile
Marguerite Duras: La Vie matérielle
Marguerite Duras: La Vie tranquille
Marguerite Duras: La Pluie d'été

7 July 2019

Xavier Forneret in Beaune, Côte-d'Or (21)

Xavier Forneret (1809-84) was one who got away from me, largely because he was buried in the cemetery in Beaune, and not only are there apparently no pictures of his grave, but anyway the cemetery is huge. As far as I know, unlike the less influential Adolphe Retté, there is no plaque on the house where he once lived, or on the site of where he lived. Fortunately, Wikipédia provided a photo in the public domain. But he was born in Beaune and was a writer, playwright and poet. The only son of a wealthy merchant (mainly in high quality wine), he inherited his father's property on his death in 1928. His fortune allowed him to self-publish, but without success. He staged a few plays at his own expense in Dijon, spent several years in Paris, and later returned to Beaune. He died largely forgotten, although the surrealists brought him out of oblivion and made comparisons between him and Lautréamont and Raymond Roussel. André Breton saw him as a precursor of automatic writing and a master of black humour.

6 July 2019

René Julien in Beaune, Côte-d'Or (21)

The Belgian artist René Julien (1937-2016) sculpted L’Éloquente, which was transferred from the Hôtel Boussard de la Chapelle in Beaune to the mairie in Beaune in 2013. It was originally acquired by the town in 2010.

5 July 2019

Pierre Joigneux in Beaune, Côte-d'Or (21)

Pierre Joigneaux (1815-92) was an extreme left-wing journalist born in Ruffey-lès-Beaune. He wrote for Le Journal du Peuple, Le Corsaire and Charivari, and was strongly opposed to Louis-Philippe I's government. In 1838 he received a four-year prison sentence for his writings in L'Homme libre, a republican paper published secretly. As a result of this experience, he published Les Prisons de Paris (1841). He was also a staunch believer in agronomy and was the founder of the 1872 law proposing an École nationale supérieure d'horticulture at Versailles.

Gaspard Monge in Beaune, Côte-d'Or (21)

The mathematician and politician Gaspard Monge (1746-1818) was born in Beaune, where this prominent statue stands in a square. He died in Paris in a building which has been demolished, 31 Rue de Bellechasse in the 7e arrondissement, the site of which records his death there, and also the fact that Alphonse Daudet lived there with his wife Julia from 1985 to 1897.

Félix Gras in Pernes-les-Fontaines, Vaucluse (84)

There are about forty fountains in Pernes-les-Fontaines, of which this, La Fontaine de la Lune, is one. The plaque above the fountain, by Félix Gras (1844-1901), is in Provençal: he was another Félibrige poet. The plaque reads that drinking at the fountain is said to send people mad.

4 July 2019

The 2019 Jardin éphémère, Boulogne-sur-Mer, Pas-de-Calais (62)

And this year in Boulogne-sur-Mer, the theme of the 13th Jardin éphémère is superstition, although by no means all of the examples are obvious. Fortunately, almost all are given explanations, with the single exception of a woman's left leg treading on a turd: too obvious to explain? I think not: the Mairie was probably worried about parents objecting to the word 'Merde !' being used – yes, even the French can be sensitive about the use of strong language. Remember how Alfred Jarry used 'Merdre !' as a euphemism in Ubu Roi? But that was in 1896, and things haven't moved on since then? Apparently not. The overwhelming impression I came away with was of education: Boulogne's Jardins éphémères are something really special.

The Mairie, proudly displaying the number of superstition.

In the Far East bamboo is used for many things: food, tools, housing, scaffolding, etc. Strongly resistant, it is a symbol of longevity, strength and happiness.

Thirteen at a table. Judas was the thirteenth man at the Last Supper. In paintings, a thirteenth plate is often in yellow, with a bag of money representing the price Judas received for his treason.

The four-leaf clover, said to ward off ghosts and evil, and to bring wealth.

The birch tree, with its silvery-white trunk, represents purity. In Russia a small broom made with birch branches and plunged into a bath was said to purify the skin.

The eagle (or imperial) fern, called so because it has the shape of an eagle and is used in heraldic symbols. Fixed to house doors, it is said to be an effective amulet against outside evils. In the Gironde, the fern is placed on house thresholds to keep witches away.

A black cat was said to be the companion of witches and the devil. Black cats were the victims of terrible tortures and persecutions in the 18th century. Even today it is said to be unlucky to cross the path of a black cat (especially from the left).

'Touch wood' ('Toucher du bois') is of course a common expression, even used by the non-superstitious, relating to good fortune. But for many centuries, the positive qualities of wood have been thought to protect people from evil.

Spilling salt on the table is from the same biblical event as before, coming from the Last Supper, in which Judas knocked down a salt pot. It now signifies the announcement of a quarrel, misfortune or a warning of misfortune to come. The antidote is to throw the spilt grains over your left shoulder. (There are also crossed knives here!

Walking under a ladder is said to bring bad luck. For Christians the ladder is symbolic, as one was used for the cruxifiction. In the Middle ages it was associated with death by hanging: a ladder was used to attach the rope to the gallows. Also, because of the shape of a ladder against a wall, it was considered a profanation of the Trinity.

A female foot treads on a turd. The French often don't say 'Bonne chance !' ('Good luck!) as it might bring bad luck: instead, they say 'Merde !' (Shit!). Note that the foot is the left one, as treading on a turd with your left foot is said to bring luck.

Hazel ('le noisetier') is the tree of harmony for the Greeks, fertility for the Germans and knowledge for the Irish.

The rowan ('le sorbier') is noted for its preservative qualities against dangers. In Connecticut a rowan tree was planted near a tomb to prevent the dead from returning to haunt a family, and in Scotland shepherds used a rowan broom to keep their flocks away from evil.

Putting bread upside down is a superstition dating from the Middle Ages and still extant. It originates from the time when the baker placed the condemned man's bread upside down for him to recognise easily: it was thus associated with misfortune.

Sailors of the Marine Nationale in the mid-19th century used to wear bâchis, or hats with a red pompon. Touching the pompom was believed to bring good luck.

Ivy ('le lierre') is linked to lasting emtional ties such as friendship and love. Young women in Pas-de-Calais included an ivy leaf in their love letters in the belief that it would make them marry soon. Ivy on houses in Nordic countries were good luck charms. Heavily pregnant women avoided contact with ivy, fearing a miscarriage: ivy and parsley were used in abortions.

Cradles were not passed from one baby to another because it was believed that a younger baby would catch all the older baby's illnesses. Empty cradles were never swung as it was thought that evil spirits would take refuge there.

At one time, in homage to a dead person, men would place their hat on the bed, and from this practice came the belief that it was an ill omen to put a hat on a bed.

The Romans believed there were evil spirits in mirrors. Breaking one freed the demons and brought seven years bad luck.

A horseshoe, of course, is a lucky charm, and also a symbol of strength and fertility. It wards off evil spirits.

To early Christians the shiny leaves of the box tree ('le buis') appeared to have been watered by Christ's tears. It was also seen as sacred to the Greeks and the Gauls. The presence of a single branch in a house sheltered the inhabitants from evil spells and storms.

Owls symbolised night and death to the Egyptians, and it was also a messenger of death to the Romans. Up to the end of the 19th century an owl, when captured, was immediately crucified on barn doors.

Garlic is a magic vegetable with many beneficial (particularly medicinal) qualities. The workers on the Great Pyramid ate it regularly to improve their immune system, and in India they put several cloves of garlic in front of the door of their house to frighten evil spirits. In Rumania garlic is the enemy of vampires.

The superstition surrounding the bad luck that carnations ('les oeillets') bring was particularly widespread in the theatrical world, where directors hoping to re-employ a female actor would send roses: sending carnations meant she would not be re-employed for other roles: the flower signalled bad luck in their career. By extension, sending carnations to a woman indicates bad luck.

Lily of the Valley ('le muguet') is a lucky charm, and to give this flower on 1 May is the norm: but never before, as that indicates bad luck.