Friday, February 18, 2011

A Winter Walk In the Woods of the Past . . .

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As you may have realized by now, if you've been keeping up with these pages for any length of time, one of my areas of interest is the history of World War One, and especially the surviving artwork associated with that awful conflict. One branch of that domain is the poetry which emerged from those war years, particularly that of Robert William Service, a Scot turned Canadian who served as an ambulance driver during the war, and who wrote a volume of poetry titled Rhymes of a Red Cross Man, which in my humble opinion is nothing short of excellent. Good reading for long winter nights.
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Another branch on the tree of subjects related to WWI artwork is the sculpture and graffiti left behind by troops in various places, often on the walls of stone quarries which served as troop shelters. Quite some time ago, before anyone had even started visiting this obscure blog, I wrote a couple of posts about a gentleman named Jean Cartier who created two fabulous books about the remaining visible traces of WWI. Over a span of roughly 8 years and 30000 kilometres traveled, he visited and photographed hundreds of sites in Belgium and France where traces of WWI are still visible. You can see some of Jean Cartier's work on his website.
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It was largely thanks to Jean Cartier's books that la Grenouille and I set out yesterday to find one of the sites documented in those volumes. The location of his photographs was not divulged in the book; it took quite a bit of research, some questioning of local residents, and some hiking in the woods before a leafy path curving up a hill finally led us to the place we were looking for.
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On arriving at the quarry site, one is greeted by a large stone sphynx's face. We wondered if the nose had been broken off in order to echo the famous sphynx at Gizeh which also lost it's nose at some point in history. This sphynx was carved in the rock by a sculptor named Cadars in 1915. Despite the disfiguration of missing nose, and some idiot's initials or name carved in the face, it still stands enigmatic, powerful, mysterious in the forest, inspiring considerable awe.
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Venturing further into the old quarry, from a distance there is a work which almost resembles a bear, in the ancient tradition of cave decorations done by pre-historic man.
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Drawing closer, it is in fact a mounted military rider, the part that looked like a bear from a distance is the rock that had to be removed to give relief to the sculpture. I'm wondering if the bear image was just a coincidental result. The horse is wading through last autumn's leaves.
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Another horseman, sadly with broken legs, graces a surface. Apparently (according to one site) this is a depiction of Marechal Joffre, who commanded the French forces from 1914 to 1917.
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Rounding another corner one comes face to face with a large sculpture representing Joan of Arc, also missing her nose. A powerful figure nevertheless. As we visited the site our exclamations of astonishment rang out frequently, it is simply one surprise after another; simply amazing that a site overflowing with such wonderful art is far out in the woods, abandoned to the ravages of weather and vandals. This work deserves to be protected for posterity. IMHO a temple of sorts should be built around and over it to protect it. With guardians.
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Troops during the war lived in dreadful conditions, and probably thought often and longingly of women. This pair of parisian ladies are similar to what might have been seen in fashion magazines of the period. They compose one of the loveliest bas relief sculptures I've ever seen anywhere.
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Under the daintily pointed foot the inscription says, "Zut, voilà qu'il pleut"... "Drat, it's starting to rain !"
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Another lovely goddess has bunches of grapes in her hair ; symbolizing a longing for wine, women, and song ? The inscription by her bared breast says 1916. I couldn't help falling a little in love with her.
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In one of the quarry caverns an altar for religious services was carved in the wall, flanked by memorials to people who may have perished there or nearby. Such quarries were often used for medical posts. In the woods above the quarry there is a cemetery. Some of the people named here may be buried there. Unfortunately tombstones from the cemetery have been stolen by unscrupulous thieves. This simple place of worship was quite sobering and humbling.
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The author of the sphynx also sculpted this "Croix de Guerre", a French military decoration for bravery.
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The below sign was hanging near the Joan of Arc sculpture, stating that anyone removing anything from the site or causing any damage could be subject to being imprisoned.
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I wondered if the act of dragging and abandoning an automobile in such a place would qualify the guilty party for a few months or years in jail ? What do you think ?
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65 comments:

Steve said...

A few years on a prison barge definitely. What a haunting and humbling place. Your photos carry the mood well. I envy you your trip there.

Laurie said...

Absolutely stunning, Owen. I have never seen the like! Wonderful photographs of Wonderful Art. Thank you.
Laurie

...louciao... said...

What to say? It truly boggles the mind to think of the soldiers pecking and chipping and carving away at the stone surfaces in the midst of a raging war. What does it imply about the human need to leave one's mark, a trace, a symbol of meaning, a communication of the self to the outside world...to (dare I say it) make art and to beautify/enhance one's most basic surroundings? What a discovery you have brought back to us here. Bravo to you and La Grenouille for your intrepid determination and sleuthing ways.
(and what a shame about the trashed car dumped there: evidence at the same site of man's best and basest instincts)

Céline said...

Quelle jolie promenade cela a du être ! Le sous-bois est magnifique (j'aime beaucoup le cheval "pataugeant" dans les feuilles).
Et beaucoup d'émotion de découvrir ces souvenirs laissés par des soldats loin de leur famille et amis. Merci Owen !

mythopolis said...

One of your best posts, Owen. I don't see how anyone could approach this site without being hushed by the history it suggests. The trashed car is iconic of those who have no sense of the bigness, and historicity of this place, not the thousands who died in that war in the very name of their freedom and liberty.

Wonderful photos. There were several graven images that could be reproduced by charcoal rubbing on paper. That would make a nice project for someone.

Margaret Pangert said...

What an amazing find, Owen. It made me wonder to what depths men will go to satisfy their souls in adverse situations. How these soldats taught themselves an enduring art form when in other times they could just as well be watching le football.
I guess my favorite is the 1916 lady; she is just so sensuous.

Stickup Artist said...

I agree with Myth. This is an excellent post. The whole experience sounds like a treasure hunt. When I saw the sphynx I thought it was a Native American! That image just blows me away how it is carved into the hillside and the trees sprouting like feathers from the top. The first shot of your approach is nothing less than a perfectly magical forest. Superbly written, researched, and presented.

pRiyA said...

Owen, if there are shades of grey that I like it is those of a winter forest. I walked through this post mouth agape...what sense of history! What finds! Your images are haunting. I liked this post a lot.
(And the last picture well...it makes a point).


ps: I google translated la grenouille and laughed at the result. But of course! :)

Looking for Siddhartha said...

oh, what an amazing wonderful post, Owen! And I am overwhelmed by the sphynx's face.
Myself I'm feeling that this art shouln'd be protected - how could you after all? -, it would loose his wonderful expression and would destroy his deep connexion with nature (people would also vandalize if it would be protected, people always vandalize...).
I am really so delighted to see this all, Owen! Thank you!!

Have a wonderful week-end!

Renée

Pastelle said...

Un endroit chargé d'histoire et d'histoires, c'est terriblement émouvant de se promener là bas en photos grâce à toi, et ça doit être encore plus fort sur place.
Je suis d'accord avec toi, c'est un endroit qui devrait être protégé, d'autant que les sculptures réalisées sont vraiment très belles.
Je ne savais pas que ce genre de chose existait, je viens de l'apprendre grâce à toi. Merci.

lgsquirrel said...

Such creativity and beauty coming out from a period of such great awful suffering and slaughter. Fascinating and poignant. Great photos as usual.

henk van es said...

Wonderful treasures of outsider art. I do like very much the way you introduce this environment to us. Thanks a lot, Owen, for making this available.

Alistair said...

Fascinating and poingnant Owen. How strong must the urge to create have been in the midst of what was going around them at the time and how inspiring to others who visited too.

I agree with the comment about the need for preserving what must be a unique site.

Great post and even better photos.

cheers.

Mary Ann said...

Lovely photos, as always. I'm glad you found the treasures you were looking for.

James said...

Wow! What an amazing place. I'm overcome just seeing the pictures. I can't imagine how great it would be to see these wonders with my own eyes.

TheChieftess said...

"Fascinating and poignant"...I absolutely agree...and with the thought of preserving this site...

But if it becomes a state or national park, can La Grenouille still go along on a visit???

Elisa said...

Fine post and such a beautiful photos. History makes us.. what we are today. Greetings from sunny and cold Finland ;) Today we have 'only' -27 C ;))

Dee Newman said...

Owen – Great find! Great photos!

By-the-way, I'm not surprised that you are a Robert Service fan. I am very familiar with "the bard of the Yukon." Most folks who know who he is know only "The Shooting of Dan McGrew" or "The Cremation of Sam McGee," and know nothing of his other writings.

Do you know "Son" from Rhymes of the Red Cross man?


He hurried away, young heart of joy, under our Devon sky!
And I watched him go, my beautiful boy, and a weary woman was I.
For my hair is grey, and his was gold; he'd the best of his life to live;
And I'd loved him so, and I'm old, I'm old; and he's all I had to give.


Ah yes, he was proud and swift and gay, but oh how my eyes were dim!
With the sun in his heart he went away, but he took the sun with him.
For look! How the leaves are falling now, and the winter won't be long. . . .
Oh boy, my boy with the sunny brow, and the lips of love and of song!


How we used to sit at the day's sweet end, we two by the firelight's gleam,
And we'd drift to the Valley of Let's Pretend, on the beautiful river of Dream.
Oh dear little heart! All wealth untold would I gladly, gladly pay
Could I just for a moment closely hold that golden head to my grey.


For I gaze in the fire, and I'm seeing there a child, and he waves to me;
And I run and I hold him up in the air, and he laughs and shouts with glee;
A little bundle of love and mirth, crying: "Come, Mumsie dear!"
Ah me! If he called from the ends of the earth I know that my heart would hear.
. . . . .


Yet the thought comes thrilling through all my pain: how worthier could he die?
Yea, a loss like that is a glorious gain, and pitiful proud am I.
For Peace must be bought with blood and tears, and the boys of our hearts must pay;
And so in our joy of the after-years, let us bless them every day.


And though I know there's a hasty grave with a poor little cross at its head,
And the gold of his youth he so gladly gave, yet to me he'll never be dead.
And the sun in my Devon lane will be gay, and my boy will be with me still,
So I'm finding the heart to smile and say: "Oh God, if it be Thy Will!"

Elisa said...

Owen - there is one place where you can find more about Thhe Winter War. Suomussalmi has a fine monument for it.
http://www.raatteenportti.fi/sivut_eng/history.htm

Owen said...

Hi Steve, it was a very moody place indeed. Perhaps if you are ever in this part of the world, you could get a guided tour, who knows. As for the car draggers, yes a prison barge, if sent to artic waters, or maybe a one way trip to what were called "les bagnes" in Guyana, hot, desperate places where leprosy was rampant.

Owen said...

Laurie, you are very welcome indeed, I thought you might like these photos. There are quite a number of poorly known sites of this nature in the region here, although this may be one of the most spectacular. In the past week I visited two other similar sites quite close to this one, all with very sobering and beautiful works of art left by troops during the "Great War".

The Sagittarian said...

I was going to say exactly what Louciao said (of course). That car dumped there is quite poinant really, don't you think? Certainly the 'end of the road' for it and possibly other beings. Looks like you had a fab trip for sure.

Springman said...

Mr. Owen,
Is a great art epoc dependant on chaos for its inspiration and creation? Perhaps not but it sure doesn't hurt. There is something humbling contemplating the work of an artist who knew clearly that his life and times were facing obliteration. What was at work here? A sense of patritotism and shared purpose would be an obvious guess and maybe a cocktail of boredom and fear too. The Toulouse- Lautrec inspired relief with the caption, "Drat, I think its starting to rain!" truly sums up the gallows humor that cushons the human spirit in apocalyptic times. Imagine the mud, blood, and the wrecked and worn bodies wandering past this inscription and recognising the absurd juxtaposition of this dainty image bursting into laughter. Disaster/laughter...Imagine.
I am a little shaken by this grand post and I am better for it.
I remain your humble servant...
Springman

TheChieftess said...

Beautifully expressed Springman...

Rosie said...

Super interesting post. I had never heard of this place.

Owen said...

Dear Sister Lynne,
That's exactly it, the impression I had the entire time there, was of a mind boggling, a mind bogging down at the enormity of it, slipping into a dream state. For a good part of the war the front lines were only a short distance away, yet this spot in an old quarry in the woods was an oasis of sorts, a bit of a shelter, where troops rested, where wounded were cared for, where some were buried who could not overcome the wounds or the ensuing infections. Through all this drama, surely the artillery duels across the lines were clearly audible from here, the sound of machine guns and grenades, through all that, some skilled and visionary poets chipped away, little by little, polishing stone to a smooth finish after cutting, chiseling, scraping it down to the desired form, leaving these masterpieces behind, which still stand, nearly one hundred years later, overflowing with beauty and grace, like clear, sweet water flowing from a spring in the desert... a humbling experience. I'm thanking my lucky stars that a final stroke of luck, just as we were ready to give up that day, led us at last in the late afternoon to the sacred grove.

(Well said also for "the best and the basest"... it took a nose like that of a basset to sniff out the juxtaposition of those two opposites, a blest opposition of two words, yes, terrible that such bastards could besmirch such a place by bestowing it with the carcass of a car, a perfectly beastly behavior to beset us with... :-)

Owen said...

Bonjour Céline, c'était une promenade jolie, plus que jolie, d'une beauté à couper le souffle. Que des émotions... pour les mains qui ont laissé ces traces, et le mystère, de ce qu'ils sont devenus. Pour l'instant je n'ai pas encore trouvé une information quelconque sur la vie de ces sculpteurs-soldats. Est-ce qu'ils ont survecu à la guerre ? Que des points d'interrogation qui rendent l'affaire d'autant plus poignant. Une émerveillement totale sur place...

Owen said...

Mythop,
Thanks good sir. This was certainly the most moving experience I've had in quite a while, if some of that comes across in this post, that is a small success then. I also thought of charcoal rubbings while there. Alot of the stone though is extremely fragile, some of it turns to powder at just a touch. Some of the larger pieces are harder stone, but less conducive to charcoal rubbings. In any case, deep thanks...

Owen said...

Hi Margaret,
I wonder how many of these were created by people who were already artists before the war began, as opposed to people who felt the inspiration and picked up a chisel once they were already in the thick of the war, and found themselves in this place with some time to kill, inspired by the blank stone wall. And yes, if it were not for the context they were in, would such works have been created, versus time spent watching sports or somesuch. Very hard to say, but I suppose we are fortunate such works were created, albeit in a setting of utter horror, of impending doom. And yes, she is one of the most sensuous sculptures ever. Right up there with the winged victory of Samothrace.

Owen said...

Dear Stickup, it was a bit of a treasure hunt, very much so, I felt like there was almost a rainbow leading us here, and the pot of gold was full to overflowing. We went a long way up a wrong path when we first headed into those woods, startled a small group of white-tails who went bounding off through the trees over a distant hill. Had to doubleback, go back nearly to the starting point and take the other fork where we went wrong, then go on in uncertainty, until around a bend we saw the stone wall ahead through the trees, then the sphynx emerged, and then it was one splendid surprise after another through the entire site. Many, many thanks, I thought you might enjoy this...

Owen said...

Hi Priya,
So now you know what "grenouille" means, and if you are ever in France and wish to order "frog legs" on the menu, you just need the word for "legs", which in fact they specify "thighs", which is "cuisses" in French, so if you want frog legs, you just have to ask for "cuisses de grenouille".

I was smiling at the thought of you with mouth agape, while visiting here. I can assure you, my mouth and eyes and mind were gaping collectively while discovering the works here. My lower jaw nearly unhinged itself. I finally had to tie it shut with a spare boot lace.
:-)

Owen said...

Renée, I'm simply thrilled if this delighted you. The sphynx is totally captivating, timeless, mysterious.

I see what you mean, about not wanting to disturb in any way the site by trying to protect it. But before too much longer, some of the works here will crumble away to piles of pebbles and sand if nothing is done to preserve them. I don't know that that would be a good outcome. But then, we will all crumble away to dust one day. Should we be concerned as to whether our children's children will still be able to see these, and understand what happened here ? Would there still be anything left of the Elgin marbles if Elgin had not removed them to the safety of the British Museum, where six million visitors a year can behold them ? Tough questions certainly.

Owen said...

Hello Pastelle,
Oui, absolument, c'est très émouvant et éprouvant sur place, lourde charge d'histoire, d'émotion, quand on pense à tous ces hommes qui sont passés par là de 1914 à 1918.

Au printemps et été 1918 la région autour de ces lieux était bouleversée par de violentes attaques et contre-attaques, pendant lesquelles encore des dizaines de milliers d'hommes ont péri. Non loin d'ici il y a des necropoles nationales françaises, et des cimetières allemands qui parlent aussi des drames.

Mais ces sculptures, ces sculptures parlent encore plus fort. Oui, il existe des sites comme celui-ci. Et il reste des sites à découvrir. Les allemands, quand ils ont occupé des carrières comme abri, parfois ils faisaient sauté les entrées en quittant les lieux. Certains sont restés fermés jusqu'à nos jours. Parfois de telles carrières étaient occupés par les deux cotés à différents moments, avec des traces des deux cultures visibles. C'est le cas d'un endroit qui s'appelle la carrière des cinq piliers, à Dreslincourt, par exemple... Que des trésors de notre histoire à découvrir...

Owen said...

Indeed LGS, well said, well said. For a squirrel, you are a most eloquent one...

Owen said...

Hi Henk, you are very welcome. This is a little different than many of the sites you have been reporting on, but I guess it still falls squarely into the domain of outsider art, even if more than one artist contributed to the collection here. There are quite a few sites like this, although perhaps few as rich with absolutely splendid large sculptures.

Owen said...

Alistair, the artists involved clearly felt a strong motivation to leave traces, before perhaps they themselves could be obliterated by the awful rain of artillery shells that typefied the period. Life must have held an incredibly intense immediacy... difficult to comprehend at our remove of nearly one hundred years.

I don't know whether preservation in any form is a realistic possibility for such a site, but I would hate to see these lost forever to the ravages of weather. Thanks so much for your kind words here.

Owen said...

Mary Ann, thanks... smiling...

It was only by the slimmest of slim chances that we did finally find it... a very kind older lady out weeding her garden by the roadside provided the final clue, after we'd been driving around for quite a while, and had nearly given up the hunt... for hidden treasure.

Owen said...

James, it was totally amazing, I'm sure you would be as thrilled as I was to visit the site. Maybe on a future trip to France ?

Owen said...

Dear Chieftess, glad you enjoyed this. As for la Grenouille, were it to become a park of some sort, I rather suspect she would blend right in with the green moss and brown leaves, no one would even see her. I rather suspect there must already be a pretty good population of toads in there, so one grenouille would hardly make a difference...
:-)

Owen said...

Hei Elisa, thanks so much... without history we are not much, indeed. Brrrr, you make me shiver with your temperature reports ! Glad I'm here where it is only 5°, but at least it is that !
:-)

Owen said...

Hi Dee,
Thanks !

And thanks for "Son" here, I do know it, and love it, as I do all of Mr Service's works. I've got copies here in the house of Ballads of a Cheechako, Rhymes of a Red Cross Man, Rhymes of a Rolling Stone, and The Spell of the Yukon. I even have an old vinyl record that I found be chance in the US which has recordings of Service reading some of his poems on it. A marvellous disk, especially his reading of The Three Bares, which is one of my all time favorites from him.

I actually discovered Service thanks to the fact that Country Joe McDonald of Woodstock fame, recorded four Service poems which he, Country Joe, set to music on an anti-war album he did. I learned to play those songs way back when, The Man From Athabaska, The Munitions Maker, The Twins, and the March of the Dead, and then got interested in the original author of the poetry. One thing led to another... and here I am in France, still interested in WWI history, which gave rise to those poems and songs. The Man From Athabaska is haunting.

I've read the excellent biography of him by Lockhart, On the Trail of Robert Service, and have even gone so far as visiting the home where he lived and his grave in the town of Lancieux, Brittany, France. If you click the "Robert Service" link way down the sidebar in the index, you can see a picture of his tombstone I did there. And you can read the Three Bares if you don't have it handy...

Many thanks !

Owen said...

Elisa, many thanks for the link !

Owen said...

Dear Saj, I know you and sister Lynne think alike, or at least are often on the same wavelength, or barstool, or whatever... Twas indeed the end of the road for that poor old auto-no-longer-mobile. Perhaps if bits of the cavern ceiling keep peeling off and falling on it, as has already happened, it will disappear under a mound of sandstone... so much the better. It is an eyesore in an otherwise astoundingly beautiful place. Yes, "fab" is an understatement... do kiwis tend to understate things even more than the English do ???
:-)

Owen said...

Hi Springman,
I hardly know where to begin, or how to answer such sheer eloquence, sheer like the stone stockings those ladies were wearing under their stone skirts, to cheer the stone-faced men who beheld them in those grim years of 1915, 1916, 1917, and 1918. I think you must be right, that many a weary man must have cracked a smile or even burst out laughing, at the absurdity of their situation, so close to the hatred and violence of warfare, while their women waited for them at home, or unknown women were waiting to be discovered by them, should they be so lucky to win the lottery of artillery, and come out alive from that awful conflict.

Drat ! It's starting to rain ! For those poor men when it started to rain, it rained down high explosives and shrapnel, no flimsy parapluie, parasol could protect them from that torrent.

Thank you good sir, your words have moved me.

Owen said...

Hi Rosie, glad you liked it, I think very few people have actually heard of this place, let alone seen it. It is certainly museum quality work, timeless, priceless...

Nevine said...

Dear Owen, Every time I come by for a visit here I am humbled by your ability to bring to life life itself. This is a beautiful dedication to those who fought and died, but not in a manner of commemorating death... rather in a manner of commemorating life. Every work of art you have captured speaks of the passion for life... and our wish to be remembered not as defunct, but as alive.

The artworks are simple and silent, and the moments held by your fingertips are life within frame... within glass... within stone.

:-)

Nevine

TechnoBabe said...

I have never seen anything like this. Each photo is special. Of course I am drawn to the artwork of long ago of the woman's little foot pointing and the saying "drat, it is starting to rain". The sphinx looks like something in the US. Wonderful to find something as historical and beautiful as this.

The Sagittarian said...

Possibly.

Catherine said...

what an astonishing find deep in the woods, amazing that you managed to track down this site and document what it rteveals - very moving - and thanks for introducing me to the Red Cross poet - hadn't heard of him before - fascinating post overall!!

Owen said...

Nevine, I think you've hit the chisel right on the head, to adapt the expression to sculpture; the artists who worked here were celebrating life, in the most vibrant manner they could muster, at that time and place, with the means they had at their disposal, and in the face of terrible adversity. What an amazing attitude they had. I wish I could find more information about the sculpteurs themselves. Will keep looking.

In any case, a deep thank you to you, your writing always shines with the star-gleam of poetry.

Owen said...

Hi TechnoB, it was indeed an amazing place. Days later I'm still feeling humbled to have had the chance to get there and see these priceless works. It is probably one of the least visited sites in France. No signs designate the place, no maps show it, unless maybe they date from the war years. Probably just as well, I fear there would be more vandalism if more people went there. Yet, it deserves to be shared, imho, it merits designation as a world heritage site, or something similar.

Owen said...

Catherine, you are very welcome... Robert Service was widely travelled, became somewhat famous for poems about the gold rush in the Yukon at the turn of the last century, before moving on to France when the first world war started. I think nearly all his poems can be found on this site :

http://www.mochinet.com/poets/service/index.cgi

Enjoy !

Amy said...

This places looks it was worth all the work and research to get there. These are simply stunning. What a spectacular find. I'm envious! :D

Owen said...

Hi Amy, most definitely worth the efforts, a sublime and moving spot.

Genie -- Paris and Beyond said...

Oh my, I am blown away by this amazing site, this shelter, home to many men so far from home... artists, or artists by default? I do not think that it matters but what a tribute to their character and stamina. This should be preserved as a sanctuary and as you said a witness to the past... I have bookmarked this post to send to my dad... His dad (my grandfather) fought in WWI in France...

I am moved to tears over your photos and text...

Bises,
Genie

Lydia said...

Oh, marvelous post, Owen! I would have a difficult time selecting my favorite shot...I love them all (though am not in the slightest pleased about the situation in the final shot). Sigh; I wish there were places like that around here.

Nathalie said...

Owen I'm sorry I'm getting here so late but then this site has waited there since 1918 so what's a few more days?
Thanks for visiting this astonishing place for us, I had no idea it existed. I can see you are protecting the site by not divulging any information about the specific location or how to get there. I fully agree that the site should be protected so it can be visited more often. It's a very moving place.

I love the pair of Parisian ladies with the amazing "zut, voilà qu'il pleut"... (I never would have been able to read that on my own from your photo)

Thanks again, it really is a beautiful discovery for me.

Maria O. Russell said...

M. Owen, I've just recently dicovered your blog and I like it very much! I have no words to describe this post and how it affected me. All I can say is what a privilege to find this place and to be able to see it. I'd like to share with you this little poem from one of my favorite poets: RupertBrooke.

If I should die, think only this of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is for ever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

Thank you so much!

Owen said...

Maria,
Thank you so much for this lovely poem, I was not familiar with Rupert Brooke... he says that beautifully. I have visited quite a number of these corners of foreign fields which are forever England, going back to Crecy and Azincourt, through more recent wars and their sorrowful traces in white stones. I just finished reading B. Cornwell's book about Agincourt. Between the siege at Harfleur and Agincourt, the English left quite a few dead behind on that expedition, though far less than the French at Agincourt. I became interested in the history of WWI originally through reading Robert W. Service's poems. And then others like Wilfred Owen, whose grave in France I've also tracked down. He was killed just a week before the end of the war in November 1918.

Thanks again for dropping in here to this obscure little blog. If you've enjoyed this, then I'm happy. Do you have a blog or other website ?

Owen said...

Hi Nathalie,
Glad you liked it. Yes, I think it is important to not publicise the exact whereabouts of such places. I searched the net and could find no mention of directions of GPS coordinates or the like, so I thought it best not to put it in print here. The two Parisian ladies are priceless. What an incredible sense of humor someone had with that "Zut"... After everything the soldiers had seen who came by there.

Owen said...

Hi Lydia, thanks a million... I guess there must be other sorts of landmarks near to you with other memories of the past in them, maybe of native Americans ? All the history of WWI in these parts is very sobering...

Owen said...

Genie,
I'm at a loss for words, I'm just profoundly gratified if this made connections with you, with your father, your past, your grandfather. One of the most intensely moving places I've visited to date is the American Cemetery near Verdun, at Romagne sous Montfaucon, where 15000 Americans rest from WWI. It's not a period of time we learned much about in school, other than in a passing, perfunctory manner. There must be some incredible stories there.

Maria O. Russell said...

You're welcome, Owen. I don't have a blog. I'm not that computer literate, unfortunately. I only have email. I now remember, when I was a child, I read Lucy M. Montgomery's series "Anne of Green Gables". One of the books tells you a lot about WWI. Seems like that unwelcome, elusive Pied Piper from Hades (in Lucy's own words)did not spare a lot of Canadian boys in Flanders.

Maria O. Russell said...

In Flanders fields
by John McCrae, May 1915


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Inspiration for the poem — In Flanders Fields
During the Second Battle of Ypres a Canadian artillery officer, Lieutenant Alexis Helmer, was killed on 2 May, 1915 by an exploding shell. He was a friend of the Canadian military doctor Major John McCrae.

John was asked to conduct the burial service owing to the chaplain being called away on duty elsewhere. It is believed that later that evening John began the draft for his famous poem 'In Flanders Fields'.

Tom Bejgrowicz said...

Wow, this post really resonated with people and I loved the new shot of it you posted here in October. I wish I stumbled upon this site but here in the U.S., it's not as likely. Well done, as always.