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Tony Grist

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Machecoul [Jun. 29th, 2010|10:56 am]
Tony Grist
I'm reading about the uprising in the Vendee in 1793- and realising- with a slight shock-  that I've actually visited the area- but without knowing its history- or more precisely without knowing that part of its history.  It was 1971. And I was there because I was interested in Gilles de Rais- the 15th century paedophile mass murderer and black magician- who is probably- possibly- at the root of the Bluebeard legend. De Rais was born at the chateau de Machecoul- which- when I went there- was an unkempt ruin at the far end of a farmyard. Madame at the farmhouse gave me permission to wander about. She smiled when I mentioned de Rais and said, "Sans dout il a fait des choses atroces la dedans."

There was a cow sheltering among the tumbledown walls and towers. She didn't like being disturbed. I climbed the rubble into a first floor room. It had sand on the floor and a renaissance fireplace on the wall.  It was very still,  more than a little eerie, but I wasn't feeling Gilles de Rais or the 15th century.  Later I wrote a poem (which left the eerieness out of account) about how nature and time obliterate bad memories. I feel a little ashamed of it now.

Because Machecoul was also a centre of the Vendee uprising- and the site of the worst massacre perpetrated by the rebels. More than five hundred people connected with the Republican government were butchered- quite a few of them in and around the chateau.

Here's part of Schama's account:

Chains of prisoners were formed by passing ropes under their arms in the infamous "rosaries" by which they were dragged to fields outside the town, made to dig ditches and then shot so that they fell neatly into their graves. The physician Musset was placed on the line twice and both times reprieved, before being executed on a final telling of the rosary.

I wish I'd known that.  It would have altered my attitude to the place- or at least I hope it would- and perhaps the resulting poem wouldn't have been quite so glib.  I was looking for one ghost- couldn't find him- and blithely assumed there weren't any others.  I feel I was guilty of really bad manners.

[User Picture]From: aellia
2010-06-29 10:13 am (UTC)
If I lived to be a thousand I would never grasp what makes people take the lives of others.
I've jsu rescued a crane fly from the plughole. Blew on its wings and set it the right way up.
In a way I'm glad you didn't know the full history of that place.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-06-29 10:18 am (UTC)
Both sides in the Vendee war committed atrocities. It was, of course, a civil war. Civil wars are always particularly horrible.
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From: jorrocks_j
2010-06-29 11:11 am (UTC)

Oh, yes, like Whitman...

Beautiful that the hands of the twin sisters Death and Night incessantly wash, and wash again, this soil'd earth...

It's a very real thing. Your poem may not have done it justice--neither does Whitman's, really--but it's not an unworthy theme.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-06-29 11:30 am (UTC)

Re: Oh, yes, like Whitman...

It's a great theme- but one I didn't rise to.

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[User Picture]From: calizen
2010-06-29 03:35 pm (UTC)

Re: Oh, yes, like Whitman...

Strange to be brought up on the other side of the pond as I was, to know only of the French Revolution and not the side dramas that all were a part of it. Including Vendee. A rather chilling reminder that death is everywhere, and probably so are ghosts.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-06-29 06:13 pm (UTC)

Re: Oh, yes, like Whitman...

So much history, so little time to learn about it. :)
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[User Picture]From: sovay
2010-06-29 06:35 pm (UTC)
I was looking for one ghost- couldn't find him- and blithely assumed there weren't any others. I feel I was guilty of really bad manners.

I don't think there's anywhere on earth without ghosts: we just don't think about the deaths we daily walk through. You know now. You can write a different poem.
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[User Picture]From: poliphilo
2010-06-29 07:03 pm (UTC)
That's true. I remember a psychic saying what a terrible thing it was for her to visit a big city like London or New York with their legions of ghosts all clamouring for attention.

Jung refused to go to Rome for just that reason. He didn't think he'd be able to stand it.

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