Whilst searching for the story about the citerne, I happened to find an old article by Rog about how we came by the old photos of our house. It was published in 2005 and here it is in its entirety with some of the pictures….
It all began innocently enough. Ever since we bought our old farmhouse, incredibly already six years ago, we’d been trying to discover a little more of its history. True, there was no shortage of general comment from local people who’d known ‘la maison-de-maître…’ since childhood, but somehow the sum total of what we’d discovered didn’t add up to much and delving ever deeper around the house and its outbuildings only seemed to raise more questions than answers. Then a chance remark to our most immediate neighbour provided a spark of hope that we might at last be onto something more revealing: ‘Yes, I’ve got some old photographs of your house somewhere – I’ll look them out for you…’.
It would prove to be a waiting game. We’d been on first-name terms with monsieur Imbert since our very first meeting, but despite having been born in the village – in the property adjoining ours, in fact – he only appears infrequently, and actually lives for most of the time down among the hills of Pagnol country, not far from Marseille. Last week, though, our patience was finally rewarded during one of his longer visits when Jean-Paul and his Paule, Provençal wife invited us to come and see what he’d found.
The following morning, after exchanging handshakes and kisses (three for good friends), we found ourselves seated around a small white notebook PC gleaming incongruously in the otherwise traditional cottage interior, while the results of his rummaging among the family archives began to appear on the screen. Things began, as expected, with a selection of colour images shot during the ten or so years prior to our arrival, and showed for the first time the scale of what had been done by the previous owners. Only now could we see just why the creation of Julia’s vegetable garden had been so hard-won, for the huge amount of stone and rotted timber we’d had to clear (still are, in fact) were obviously the remains of a substantial barn, with an adjoining blacksmith’s workshop. Heavy horses and similarly-proportioned wagons once occupied the space now given over to a developing potager, but both they and the generation who worked them have long since vanished into the memory which we were now able to share.
More poignant still was the nearby terrace of farm cottages, which by the time we’d acquired them with the property had already been plundered for their roofing materials (presumably for the restoration of the main house). Some of Jean-Paul’s photographs showed the interiors, with much of the last occupants’ furniture in situ and forlornly rotting away. It was a sad sight. As, in its own way, was a vast remaining area we’ve only known as a constantly regenerating jungle, but in the photos freshly cleared by a mean-looking bulldozer.
This was as nothing, though, to what came next, in black-and-white territory and clearly much further back in time. First came a young man with a shock of black hair and sitting proudly astride a De Dion-Bouton bicycle in the lane beside our house. The year was 1920 and his name was already familiar to us, being plainly visible among those inscribed on various stone barn doorways. Another piece of the jigsaw fell into place in a sepia school photograph from 1909, including a young Leopoldine, who was to marry his brother and live for the rest of her life in the old house we recently restored for my father. Next came the farm labour in the surrounding fields, followed by more formal images recording the great wedding party gatherings which took place from time to time in the village. The most recent, still taken over fifty years ago, included two young people who we’d previously only known as the long-retired couple who now keep chickens and tend their vegetable garden nearby, plus a small, bespectacled boy who turns out to be Jean-Paul himself.
Finally came one particularly large group carefully assembled in tiers six-deep in front of our largest barn, in what is now our garden, and gazing back at us wide-eyed from another world. The date is uncertain, but the older women are wearing lace bonnets, while their grandchildren are smartly attired in an assortment of sailor-suits, straw bonnets, petticoats and silk ribbons. How many are still with us we have no idea, much less what they would make of all the changes they must have witnessed.
©Roger Moss. Photos courtesy Jean-Paul Imbert.