Today a new story has been published in Peacock Journal online, “The Enchanted Ring”, written by Catulle Mendès in 1887, translated by me. The story is in his collection, Pour lire au couvent (To Read in the Convent), which might surprise since it’s a wee bit spicy for innocent convent girls and only a little less risqué than his tales in Pour lire au bain (To Read in the Bath).
To set the scene, the Peacock Journal editors have illustrated the story with Claude Monet’s impression of Vétheuil in the outer regions of Paris in 1879. This will give readers a hint that the story works its way towards a country inn where three rich and handsome princes are resting for the night (only one of them is asleep…).
Another of my Mendès translations, “The Only Beautiful Woman”, appeared recently in The Brooklyn Rail inTranslation which you can read about in my blog post here where you’ll see a photo of Catulle Mendès standing casually in his study reading a story. Or a poem. If you don’t recognise Mendès, you might recognise his daughters from this painting by his friend Auguste Renoir in 1888, now in the Met Museum, New York:
Peacock Journal has a theme: beauty. The editors search for it in every submission. I feel fortunate and chuffed that they found it in “The Enchanted Ring”. Make your day better by popping over to read this and other stories about beauty.
In recent years, thousands of us have become avid family historians. The more information that is made electronically and freely available, the more we search, and the more we know. I know things that my parents never knew, and some of my ancestors would no doubt be horrified to know what I know about them. To know that I know, for example, that my grandfather stowed away on a ship so he could join the fight that was the First World War.
Ancestry, Family Search and Findmypast have been (not always reliable) sources for my research, not to mention the very generous provision of (more reliable) digitised newspapers going back to the early 1800s on the National Library’s Trove site, as well as the publishing of war service records by the National Archives and the Australian War Memorial.
Because we now know so much, many of us are commemorating various incidents in our relatives’ lives. This week on the news, I heard of a service in Pozières, France for the centenary of the battle for Pozières ridge on the Western Front which began on 23rd July 1916. It was a costly battle in which 6,700 Australian men died, but which has been ignored until now. It is estimated that 4,000 were never given a burial and are lying beneath the soil of present-day farmland. This week, I, too, am remembering this little village where my grandfather, Ernest Bruce, the stowaway, fought, and survived.
On 29th July 1916 he was gassed, and later took cover behind a concrete wall with two fellow soldiers; a bomb went off near the wall, which fell on top of them. The other two died. My grandfather was pulled out unconscious, but alive. The gas ruined his eyesight, and his nerves were shot from the bomb blasts. I learned this from his medical records.
Of this day in Pozières, 29th July 1916, Charles Bean, the official Australian war correspondent, wrote in his diary:
Pozières today, no brushwood left – only black trunks – more buildings to be seen than before. Red brown earth. Men quietly dying. … Pozières has been a terrible sight all day … that insatiable factory of ghastly wounds. The men are simply turned in there as into some ghastly giant mincing machine. They have to stay there while shell after huge shell descends with a shriek close beside them. (Diary of CEW Bean, 3DRL606/54/1, pp. 19 & 90)
This year, since 14th July – Bastille Day – the Australian War Memorial here in Canberra has been flying two French flags out the front of the building. They will remain until 4th August as a sign of respect for the slaughter that occurred in defending the Western Front, in places like the Pozières ridge. By a grim coincidence, the flags might have been raised because of the Bastille Day attack in Nice this month, which is what happened after the attack in Paris last year, but it turns out they were to be raised on that day anyway. A note on the AWM website explains the flying of the French flags:
“The decision was made earlier this month to honour Bastille Day and in recognition of the bond forged between the two nations and the sacrifices made on the Western Front 100 years ago. Given the recent horrific events in Nice and the subsequent loss of life, the flying of the French flag has added significance and our utmost respect.”
My grandfather volunteered to help defend his king and country, and even stowed away, which seems to mean his application was initially rejected. He was nevertheless signed up on arrival in Egypt. After more than a year, he returned home in poor health, which continued to deteriorate for the rest of his life. He couldn’t work for long stretches, had little money and even less sympathy from the government when he applied for a pension as a young man. It took many years and many requests before his debility was acknowledged as war related. But he did marry my lovely grandmother and they had nine children.
A hundred years later, France is under attack again. She will survive, she always does, but it must be easier if she has friends to help her fight and recover.
In any ordinary week, the Australian War Memorial has six Australian flags flying out the front, three on each side of the steps. So, as I drove up Anzac Avenue this morning I was surprised to see this trio of French flags flying on one side, a week after the attacks on Paris. I stopped to snap a few photos. (Try not to pay attention to Mephisto, the rarest tank in the world.)
Authors today are encouraged to promote promote promote their work on a blog (and on other popular elements of social media that I don’t use). One promotional activity which hasn’t been too time-hungry and is even enjoyable is the creation of a Pinterest board with images associated with my translated works. I’ve recently read articles by two much-published authors pushing Pinterest as an author’s friend. So I tried it. When you check out my board you’ll see intricately decorated pages from the original French versions of my translated stories, like this one from La Revue illustrée, 1st June 1899, illustrated by Alfred Daguet for ‘Princesse Mandosiane’, one of the stories you can now read in English in the Eleven Eleven journal (which you’ll have to buy):
Look at the creature in the bottom left of the page doing a handstand while balancing an ‘L’ signpost in his mouth! Reminds me of the sculpted column swallowers in Romanesque churches. Such fun! Why don’t we decorate our pages any more?
Of course, for every one of my translations that’s published there are several others not accepted. Just this week I’ve received two rejections and a notice that someone is already translating some stories I’m working on. Or, rather, was working on until that moment. Submitting stories to magazines and journals has become a part-time job, taking so much time and effort that I hardly have time to translate new stories. But why write it if no one will read it? Between the writing and the reading, there must come submission, publishing and promotion. Fortunately there’s pleasure in it all!
Tonight at 7.52 when it was 6 degrees Celsius and blowing an icy gale, I took this photo of D’arcey Richard Nottingham Shaw’s name projected onto the Australian War Memorial. It was hard to hold my camera still in the wind, but the photo is not too bad. D’arcey was killed in action on The Somme in France in 1917, yet he has no grave; his remains were never found. On his Roll of Honour card, digitally available on the A.W.M. website, it is noted that D’arcey Shaw’s wounds were the result of being buried twice from bombs bursting near him in Pozières. How ironic that they should write that, when in the end he was buried nowhere.
Because he died defending Australia, his name was written in light for 30 seconds tonight, perhaps for my benefit alone. As far as I know, none of his other family members live in Canberra. Since I’m just ten minutes away, it’s easy to whip down to the Memorial and see the names when they come up between sunset and sunrise.
D’arcey was my grandfather’s cousin. I want to remember him and his two brothers who also died in France, in the war to end all wars, because my grandfather was there too, but he didn’t die.
Nineteen-year-old D’arcey was the second son in his family to be killed in France. The first one was George, and there would be a third, Frank Percy Shaw, whose name was projected onto the War Memorial on 21st June, a night that was cool but not freezing like tonight. I wrote about him here.
As I was leaving around the back of the Memorial I saw four kangaroos standing guard in the dark. They’re delightful at a distance and are happy to be photographed from a car window, but if I’d got out and approached them they would have either hopped away or hopped towards me and treated me as an enemy.
The next date that I will have a relative’s name up for viewing is in early spring. I’m happy knowing it won’t be another chilling evening.
On the road from Ceret in the Pyrénées-Orientales, France, heading towards the Mediterranean, a short detour takes you to Maureillas-las-Illas and on to a chapel which you would never find if you were simply driving around. It’s not only off the road a short way, but it has a house built in front of it, indeed, attached to it and concealing the chapel from view. Pity.
It’s the chapel of Saint-Martin de Fenollar. In the 1960s it was restored and is now one of France’s ‘monuments historiques’. The earliest record of the chapel dates it at 844 AD which makes it an example of pre-Romanesque architecture. Its exterior is simple and small, but the interior is much more interesting. There are pre-Romanesque arches, which were shaped like keyholes or horseshoes, and are sometimes called Moorish arches. In my header photo above, you can see that the external doorway was once keyhole shaped. Signs in the chapel say that all photography, with or without flash, is strictly forbidden. So I took no photos of the interior. I was good. There are, however, a few on Creative Commons which I can use to give you a reason to visit this little ‘gallery’ of 900-year-old paintings. Indeed, these photos reveal more colour than can actually be seen inside the dark little chapel where only a few slits let the daylight in. Here’s a photo from Wikimedia Commons of a keyhole arch leading to the apse inside the chapel:
This form of arch was used in Visigothic architecture in Spain until the Muslim invasion in the eighth century AD, following which Spanish Muslim architects adopted its form for their mosques. In Saint-Michel-de-Cuxa, an abbey of the same region, there’s some information on the wall of the church to explain the different arches:
However, Saint-Martin-de-Fenollar is a treasure for its remnants of 12th-century frescoes, which probably would have covered every wall top to bottom. What’s really amazing is that, before the restoration, a farmer had used the chapel for agricultural purposes and had knocked a huge hole in the eastern wall of the choir to make a door. The wall was covered in frescoes, which with his help became little more than rubble. The hole has since been filled and the remaining frescoes brought back to life. In the photo of the apse, above, the infill is clear around and under the window. We can only imagine what images had been there before. I have no photos of the interior but I have memories. I looked at this ‘Christ in Majesty’ on the ceiling until my neck ached. In the image below the colours are brilliant, but in the poor light creeping through the arrow slits and narrow windows, combined with dim electric lights illuminating the apse, the frescoes are quite dull. I imagine that in Romanesque times candles would have lit the images, flickering over the Biblical faces and animating them mysteriously. The photo below would not have looked so bright in candlelight or in minimal daylight, so we are seeing the image differently. It’s a Christ in Majesty, encircled by a tetramorph, from the Greek tetra, meaning four, and morph, shape. Around the image of Christ are the four evangelists: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
What a precious jewel we found by leaving the beaten track and venturing inside an otherwise unremarkable structure.
Estavar is a tiny, isolated but very pretty village in the south of France, close to Spain, situated at 1225m above sea level, and known as the community that receives the most sun each year in the Cerdagne region. I went there recently to see l’Eglise Saint-Julien, a small Romanesque church. It was closed when I visited, and seems to be open only for guided visits. Inside there are remnants of 12th-century frescoes, which I didn’t get to see, but the outside is charming and worth a visit. It was encouraging to see some work being done to restore it.
See the sculpted heads around the top of the chevet? Each one is an individual. Zoom in!
Estavar is on the border of Llivia, a Spanish enclave which has existed within France like an island since the Treaty of the Pyrenees in 1659, in which the mountain range of the Pyrenees became the border. Some Spanish villages north of the mountains became French, but the Spanish influence is everywhere evident in the Catalan culture north and south of the border. Since the treaty demanded that only villages would be ceded to France, Llivia remained Spanish, since it had once been the capital of Cerdanya (Cerdagne in French) and was considered a city.
Thanks to Dennis Aubrey and his blog Via Lucis, I’ve seen many parts of France that I would have, in the past, ignored. My friend who drives me around when I’m here, and who has lived in the Pyrénees for decades, has also discovered some sites she didn’t know existed, and is thankful to me for introducing her to them! She should really be thanking Dennis…
For a recent sojourn in the Pyrénées-Orientales, I asked Dennis Aubrey to recommend some Romanesque churches and monasteries to visit. Marcevol was on his list. Thanks Dennis.
On our way to spend a weekend in the higher Pyrenees, a friend and I visited the Prieuré de Marcevol which had unfortunately closed two minutes before we arrived. But the sun sets late on these spring nights and I was able to take some photos of the exterior. It’s a twelfth-century priory founded by the Order of Saint Sépulcre, destroyed in an earthquake in 1428, abandoned as ruins during the French Revolution and only properly restored in the last 40 years. The priory now welcomes groups for cultural and sporting activities.
The facade is impressive, but the eye returns again and again to the rosy marble framing of the door and window. The marble comes from the nearby quarries in Villefranche-de-Conflent, and has been used in many churches in the region.
Uphill from the priory, there’s the small hamlet of Marcevol and a small eleventh-century church, Nostra Senyora de las Gradas (Santa Maria de las Grades).
We drove up the hill to see if we could go inside but unfortunately we were out of luck again; it is not open to the public. It’s right next door to, practically adjoining, a house which we thought was part of the church structure. The owner, sitting on the steps by his back door, set us right.
The chevet of the church is decorated by Lombard Bands, or a series of blind arcades, which are believed to also enhance stability. Blocks of stone, much longer and wider than the others in the structure, were set deep into the thick walls above and below the arcades. Lombard Bands were widely used on Romanesque churches in the Catalonia region of southern France and northern Spain, where Marcevol is located.
Since the little church and houses are all of stone, there’s nothing ugly in this hamlet. For even when stone structures are neglected and tumble down, wildflowers grow quite naturally in the gaps. On the web site for the Marcevol priory, I read: ‘Anyone who has never been to Marcevol does not know everything about the world’s beauty.’ It’s not just the priory, the hamlet and church that inspire, but also the setting, close to the majestic Mount Canigou (2785 m), the mountain loved by the Catalans.
On 25th April it will be 100 years since Australian and New Zealand soldiers charged the beaches in Gallipoli, Turkey, in an attempt to beat the Turks and give the Allies a chance to take Constantinople. They were mown down, slaughtered. The battles continued for months until December 1915 when they withdrew, defeated. Out of a population of less than 5 million, Australia lost 8,000 young males at Gallipoli.
The following year, 1916, my grandfather, Ernest Bruce, joined the army after stowing away on a ship of volunteers headed for Egypt. In July at Pozières, France, on the Western Front, he was trapped under concrete in an explosion, and then gassed. But he survived. He was one of the 40,000 Australians killed or wounded in 1916 on the Western Front (see AWM). That’s a huge part of a population of 5 million.
When he returned to Australia, he was too ill to work for more than a few days a week, yet it took the government years to offer him a pension.
His oldest son was my father, Ronald Bruce, who hadn’t learnt a thing about the futility of volunteering to fight in a war. In 1941 he joined the army, was sent to Egypt, and months later was sent home with shell shock. He couldn’t hold down a job, and at 25 was offered a pension.
This Anzac Day, I honour my father and grandfather for volunteering to participate in Australia’s defence.
At the Australian War Memorial in Canberra there is a wall called the Roll of Honour. It’s covered in the names of Australians who have died in war. My grandfather and father are not on the wall because they returned alive; but my grandfather’s three cousins, the Shaw brothers, and my grandmother’s two cousins, the Burley brothers, did not. They are all buried on the Somme in France, and their names are here on the wall. I put poppies beside their names.
Since I learnt that they were all killed while my grandfather returned, I haven’t looked at life the same way.
I’ve been to Port-Vendres in France twice, and each time I found the early mornings to be a great introduction to the day.
Once, I was awake before sunrise, admiring the blue cargo ship moored in the port overnight beneath the lightening sky of deep pre-dawn blue. By a happy coincidence, the dome of the church at the centre of my view is also blue, and the lighting on the obelisk at the right is mauve-blue. But that day wasn’t a blue blue day. The sun rose and shone on the old village houses, highlighting the pink and orange tones of their walls, promising a good day.