June 1944 - "Envoi de fleurs..."
The “Taiseuse” of the flamed coast was categorical : “Yes, Sir, they went up both of them, every day both of them, the mother and the daughter, the little daughter I should say, to pick flowers, up there, you see, along the hedge. They seemed to like them very much, the flowers and even, I quite think that the little one had a flower-name because I heard her mother call her back abruptly when the child got too near the hedge. It was summer, Sir, it was hot and the grass smelt good, a bit like today, Sir, but all this is quite old now ..
I for one, on that day I had the fear of my life when the German patrol which was passing on the road at the bottom, began firing ..
Next day and not the day after either, the lady and her young girl didn’t come back. On the third day, it was the aeroplanes which arrived with lots of little square windows well-polished and which were shining in the sun. They flew so low, Sir, that one saw the helmets and the large goggles of the people behind the window panes and then, immediately, the bombs began to fall, it was raining them like a cow passing water, up there, on the other side of the hedge. You should have seen the chickens and the pigs running in all directions, Sir, and then the noise, this noise !!! Fortunately they didn’t go up on that day, the mother and the little girl ! ..
Mr. Watt, the electrician, who is a serious man, he told Mr. Potash, the chemist, that he had been required by force to install the Command Post of the VI in the region and that he himself had put in place the circuit breakers on a control-desk connecting the overhead cables extended by the Germans, but that on 7 June early in the morning, he had chucked it all to go and join wife and children who had fled to the Midi (700 km by bike in eight days, you do it !) and that, when he had come back in December, after the liberation of the sector, he could see some launching pads used against England in July-August and which, badly regulated (he himself is still waiting to be paid !) had sent their explosive charges over several villages in the surroundings with many victims and damage done ..
Mr. Potash, who is an educated man, wrote everywhere to find out, he wrote to all the well-placed people, to all the flag-bearers, to those who have stripes and kepis with stars, but nobody knew anything, Sir, nobody had heard about these two women, not even in the Paris offices.
I, in any case, what I know, Sir, in the Pays de Bray, on a Sunday at mass, the important people, those who have a cleaner, they wear a little flower in the buttonhole, a rosette they call it and that means apparently that they fought well for France, Sir, and it’s just as well like that, isn’t it ? ..”.
Envoi de fleurs, popular romance. (1898) Words by Henri Bernard / Music by Paul Delmet (1862-1904).
Cf. Tino Rossi/Lyrics : The legend of French Chanson
(variété internationale MM1819 - abeille.musique.com).
Taiseux/Taiseuse, regionalism. Used in Belgium and the North of France of somebody who speaks little or of a way of expressing oneself : “He is rather taciturn!”
Sunday 20 September
At Forges-les-Eaux, in front of the Casino, two employees decked out in tinsel, stripes, hats, their faces twitching, open the door of the Mercedes which deign to stop, like the lackays of the XVIIIth century holding the door of the sedan-chair in which Voltaire arrived to lose a fortune in three games of faro.
At Forges-les-Eaux, at the reception of the Hôtel du Parc, two young Normandy women, queens of rich milk and cream, receive the traveller who stays for the night while maids (classmates in 1940) drag the cases as far as the doors of the rooms which they open greedily.
At Dieppe, at N.’s, the restaurant wants to go with the very latest fashion by showing off and exhibiting the photos more or less dedicated of stars who have swung all the way here as best they could, but the mistress of the house receives the client harshly and examines well the head of this intruder before authorizing him to sit himself down. The mistress’ young boy goes from table to table in order to laugh and to show his red shoes while presenting a “Lady Bird”. The mistress takes furious revenge on Society by writing out her invoices.
At Vassonville, the meadows, the cows, the sun a bit wet and the BBC which arrives on the aerial of the little Italian car, cannot do away with the traces of the German blockhouse of the grand History.
At Dieppe, Bichnou, the best of all pastrycooks of Katmandu, would not have his place among the spindrifts, given the great number of attractive workshops for the apple-tart production and that of the battues of Picardy. At Dieppe, opulent shop-windows, antiques, book-shops, lingerie for ladies and young ladies, all in accordance with the fashion of our place.
Sunday 16 March
Yesterday afternoon, Senlis, Fleurines picking daffodils like on the banks of lake Windermere so loved by Wordsworth, but impossible to buy a brioche for afternoon tea : a big cat is sitting among the cakes which the moustachoed baker’s wife hence refuses to sell.
Sunday 27 July
On Guémicourt island, enormous ruminantes, white patches, brown patches, shake their ears along the Bresles, in a very Warwickshire landscape. An angler of the region passes and says good day. A little higher, in the church whose walls are dripping between bits of plaster, a voice on the microphone explains the Gospel of the day which little ladies with glasses come to listen to head down. To be just, I was thinking yesterday of Malachi’s prophesy : “De medietate lunae”. The “LEM” has landed on the lunar equator, incapable, for the moment, of choosing another latitude (the opposite threatening to invalidate the prophesy ?). I chat for a few moments with a ruffian, cigarette stub hanging from the corner of his mouth, black rubber boots, an escapee from the forest of Ardenne four centuries ago, and who keeps an eye on the trout “from on the bridge”, the only place from where the villeins are authorized to fish. Everywhere interdictions, barbed wire, guarded sites. Two young redheads go up to him and abruptly speak to me, sounding like men from the market, when they hear me suggest to go hunt down the trout, by hand, under the stones. “But the water comes up to the belly !”, one of them exclaims.
The little country house, strangely placed between the two arms of the Bresles, is supposed to belong to a “rich man” of the land. A crime is supposed to have been committed there. Bellowing across the pastures, the local train descends towards Tréport, merrily squeaking on the unguarded level crossings.
Sunday morning, 18 April
Waking up at Neufchâtel-en-Bray, sited in the “button-hole of of the Pays de Bray”, in the words of our geography teacher at the lycée Fébus ; then stop outside the castle of Mesnière, this little jewel which still shines with its handsomest water. There are the first wafts of spring and there must be a page by Flaubert somewhere to say this better than the non-norman that I am could possibly express.
Monday 21 September
Yesterday still the Normandy of the Pays de Bray. The restaurant “The Swan” refuses guests because some twenty more or less striped gendarmes come to restore themselves.
At Dieppe, while striding across the “Leas” as they say at Folkestone - and their fat grass which massages the ankles, I see an adolescent who gesticulates in front of his walkie-talkie. The adolescent girl is on the first floor, casually leaning on the wrought iron of the balcony : Micro and Juliette ?
Sunday 25 January
The natives of upper Normandy, still very flaubertian, sit down on a Saturday evening at the Table d’hôte of restaurants named after vikings : the Fat Sheep, the Black Swan, the Cock’s Tavern, the Crowned Lion, etc. They are bored (in spite of the local cinema, or the national television) and miss the vast spaces which their adventurous precursors sailed or rowed. They think about them now as they are cracking with their molars of stone, in the shelter of their pink cheeks, the wings of migratory birds, messengers from the deep North, while the beer of these erstwhile Wotans is pouring out.
Sunday 26 January
Yesterday afternoon, Dieppe emerging from winter like from a jewel case and awaiting the cloth which will give it back its silvery shine.
Claude d’Esplas (Le Petit Train d'Auteuil)
All rights reserved
Translation : Dagmar Coward Kuschke