An ear in Provence
Should you be fortunate enough to visit Provence and find yourself staying in Sous les Oliviers you will not see any olive trees there, but that is not the only contradiction about the place. The others are (hopefully, not ’were’) embodied in Julian, the proprietor. It is fair to say that he and I reached an immediate understanding; that he would never understand me and I would never understand him. Paying each other such a sincere complement should have been enough.
Sous les Oliviers is a few kilometers east of L’Isle sur la Sorgue, recognised as the second largest centre for antique sales in France. Even by French standards this is a beautiful town and it probably reveals our innate snobbery that we wondered how it could ever have been twinned with Penicuik (Scots, The Hill of the Cuckoo). The link is that, thanks to their rivers, both were mill towns, Penicuik making paper and L’Ilse sur la Sorgue milling corn and making wool and silk products. The town centre lies within two branches of La Sorgue, (here, The Sorgue) one of the most remarkable rivers in France. Penicuik borders the North Esk, also a beautiful river in the way that the deep-
For all those who find Schubert’s music indispensable, L’Isle sur la Sorgue is Schöne Müllerin territory. It asks a question and the answer it gives might well have been provided by Blake:-
underneath each grief and pine runs a joy like silken twine.
As in Penicuik, the mills have gone, but unlike Penicuik, the water wheels are still there and, in many cases, still turning. Close to the centre of the Isle is the impressive Roue de Penicuik.
The geography of the Sorgue is quite unusual. The visible source at Fontaine-
A wondrous cavern opened wide.
and echoes of the Piper and his antagonist, the Mayor, linger on.
The island of L’Isle sur la Sorgue begins where the waters divide into two main branches (whether entirely natural or not is unclear) and ends where these branches rejoin, but further on it divides into many more branches, so much so that on the map it looks like a normal river in reverse. Within the town the river beds are remarkably uniform in depth and the flow rapid enough, but rarely turbulent. A musical term ‘fast enough’, if one exists, would describe the effect),
The Isle is entered across numerous attractive bridges. On the downstream side of a bridge on the east branch, a large stone sculpture is clearly visible in the water at a depth of about half a metre and quite unmistakably modelled on a human ear. To the obsessive eye it lies at an awkward angle to the bridge, suggesting either that its positioning was rather careless, or that was unsettled by the current when the river was in spate.
Strangely this object does not call out to be recognised and most would pass without noticing it. Despite that, it is easy and rewarding to photograph and its existence is undeniable, although Julian was not convinced. Not only did he claim not to know of the ear, he seemed not to want to know; it was almost as if this might be one of those family secrets ‘we don’t discuss’.
On the other hand, the lady at the tourist office did acknowledge it. She believed that the ear had been carved by a Flemish sculptor and presented to the Mayor who, not knowing what to do with it, had it dumped in the river. From the apparent carelessness of its positioning, this might have been quite a hasty act and the wonder is that it landed pinna side up, raising the possibility that there might be another unrecognisably pinna side down. Apparently there should have been some documentation about the object, but unfortunately it seemed to be lost.
As these various facts came together and were reported back, Julian found the need to consider his position, which he did with little difficulty by assuring others of our company that I was (and here it took a little time for him to find the word) borderline. Whether or not he was familiar with words from an English lesson on French pronunciation is uncertain:-
It is not difficult, though perhaps misleading, to put two and two together (or, in this case, one and one ) and conclude that a Flemish Sculptor and a single ear point in one direction only, to van Gogh, emphasising the question, which ear did he actually lose as there is no doubt that the one in the water is a right ear, but Van Gogh’s self-
Que se passe-
Un cas limite
Qui est l'homme qui vient ici,
et, bien que sa femme préfère des jolies choses,
les stands du marché et les gens charmants qui vendent des bijoux,
prétend qu'il a vu
tout seul devant le pont
et sous les vagues si claires
une grande oreille
fabriquée en pierre ?
Seulement le type, je crois,
qui marche toujours sans but
pres de la frontière et dit :
quand les muets ont parlé
les sourdes ont entendu.
How came we to
La Roue de Penicuik,
a spot of joy,
turning when those distant paper-
So say that word again.
Is there something that you need to say
gushing from the hill
in measured haste
the spate of your delight
you come from night, you cannot know
how long your day will be
yerging on turbulence
disturbs; those layers and layers of deep
merge and emerge.
They twist and weave.
In this cavern of the mind
The king looks on
But will the daughter dance for you
The waterwheels of Isle sur la Sorgue are powered by the horizontal flow of the fast stream. Others, powered by vertical flow, are regulated by flow from a millpond which has been made by a dam or weir across the stream. We do not know which type applies for the Schone Mullerin, but poetically Pause represents the calm centre where the pent up emotional power is about to be released. As is the case with the Pied Piper, the only other named character in this story is the Mayor.
Jealousy and Pride
Oh Mr Mayor,
a man was bringing something in for you.
From his strange attire I though that he must live
far away from here
Put it over there, I said
and gave him fifty sous.
His face turned pale.
you know what you can do
and I replied, the Mayor
is out for lunch, he will be back.
I doubt that’s free, he said,
his eyes betraying sinister intent,
as though he knew
something I did not
of our accounts.
The Mayor was blue,
and gave that look important people do
to undermine such facts as might be coming out.
We can always send it back.
I though of that, but
giving it a shove with my right foot I found
it would not move.
Besides, there is no forwarding address.
Its quite a mess. The Mayor perspired;
beads of sweat appearing on his brow.
We need to find a way
to keep this under wraps in case -
in case, he said, we can’t afford to pay
(scratching his head)
the going rate for this, whatever it might be.
If we could find some place to hide it,
when the invoice comes,
who knows, this river, not
deep or wide enough, but it might do,
until we know just what it is
and what it might be worth.
It is impossible in poems concerning large-
An ear, you say,
a vast right ear in stone?
Yes, that’s it,
that Is exactly it!
A vast and headless ear beyond the bridge,
half a metre down and fringed with weed.
That was in what you called
a limpid stream? It’s not a term we use. Also
I think you said, coins were scattered round.
I would say, quite a lot, some old, some new.
That is unfortunate,
it complicates the case, but,
on the other hand, it could well help us build a time line,
tracing back events that lead to this.
It takes hard graft you know.
If that is all, I think we’re done,
though should we need your help again
we’ll be in touch, sign this, the dotted line,
wait a minute, something we’ve missed out!
Where was all this? The place.
You failed to mention that!
you were unsure?
because the name was long and French and hard to spell
by a piece of luck
I have this here,
I wrote it down somewhere
Twinned with Penicuik
Twinned with Penicuik
That should help us narrow down the search.
Well, thanks for dropping in.
Of course, we know why you delayed so long.
Some folk never come.
Afraid to implicate themselves, incriminate,
are you quite sure there’s nothing more?
making a clean breast. It helps all round.
Should anything come back -
we’re here all day.
With green weed fronds
An ear, you think,
a headless ear of stone
still and lying at an unplanned angle
just beyond the bridge
Yes, where the rippling currents steer green fronds of weed.
How came it there?
It’s hard to say
Some think the sculptor
gave it to the Mayor.
That’s fair enough,
a kind of homage,
soothing everlasting pain in the cool stream.
But, and this corrects those doubts you still may have,
look at the water’s clear
and moving face.
what you see is not
(a mirror) what you get,is not reflection of an anguished artist’s face, and here’s
another thing, you know it when
a true heart dies of love
what now is bloodless
once was red.
Yes, and there were the three of them.
bringing the good news.
Two fell before their time
The river wittered on,
One made it through
(though no one wished to hear)
we are standing still
and time goes back
leaving behind it
than some dried flowers,
some jaunty tunes
That was so hard to take.
we had to get to grips it,
to understand how this named thief
was here in broad daylight
with sleight of hand.
The purse has gone
but what’s become
of all the gold?
winking one eye
to show he knew.
The mill wheel turns, but no blind eye looks up.
Nothing has changed,
and nothing stays the same?
Oh, but it does, you say.
this ear does not hear the stream
as every ripple
wears away the stone
the passing sleepers waken one by one
then sleep again.
What does it mean, you say;
It just means this,
that something has been done
lifted itself up
and now exists
and to be sure,
the eye that saw the sun for us will never close;
who made the song