Tuesday 16 June 2015

An old postcard from Céreste

To celebrate the paperback publication today of The Sea Garden, I'm taking you to Céreste, a quiet village at the eastern end of the Luberon, on an intriguing trail.

This charming backwater plays a crucial part in the middle section of my novel, where we renew acquaintance with Marthe Lincel, the perfumier who first appeared in The Lantern. Just up the road, the Vaucluse ends and the signs announce the department of Alpes-de-Haute-Provence. In real life, as The Sea Garden, Céreste was a Resistance stronghold during the Second World War, secret headquarters of "Captain Alexandre", the poet René Char, as I wrote here in a previous blog post.

A couple of years ago, while I was writing the novel, I found a stall selling old postcards at a market in Simiane-la-Rotonde. Naturally, I stopped to sift through the boxes marked with the names of places I knew, and pulled out this one of Céreste:

Now this may sound a bit crazy, but when I'm writing a book, I always look for signs that I'm on the right track. I'm sure there are plenty of people who will say that we see what we want to see, and it's all a lot of nonsense. They are probably right, but that doesn't stop me enjoying a nice moment of coincidence, synchronicity, call it what you will. But look at the name on the right: Monsieur Gabriel Brachet, Marseille. If you haven't read the book, I'm not giving anything away, but be sure to make a note of the first name. If you have read the book, I hope it gives you a pleasant frisson!

The words were written on July 23, 1931, and they're not terribly interesting - it seems to me they could well have been written to a child, as the sender urges "Gaby" to take care to fill in a form and to write with news of what he's been doing. The intriguing part is that the sender gives his own name, "Mr Et. Paul" - Etienne? - and address as the Château des Guis at St-Martin-de-Castillon.

St Martin de Castillon is another lovely, quiet village that sits opposite the ripples of the Great Luberon, a few kilometres along the road and higher in the hills than Céreste. I know it well, but I'd never heard of the Château des Guis. Of course, I bought the postcard and scoured a large scale map when I got home. I couldn't find the château. An internet search found nothing, either.

But I never like to give up...and when I was looking at the my files of photos and background info the other week, wondering what I could use for my blog, I remembered this postcard - and this time, with a bit more online detective work, I managed to find the property in St-Martin. It is a grand old residence, though it's not called a château but a "bastide", which is denotes an imposing old house, possibly once fortified.

And here it is, The Bastide Les Guis:

The Bastide Les Guis is even available to rent, and there are details and more pictures on the Janssens Immobilier site and on Made in Provence


Maureen said...

Congratulations on the paperback edition.

Would love to make a long visit again to France.

cathy jones said...

I also wish you congratulations on the paperback edition of your book. This place looks charming and the photos are lovely. Good detective work on your part!

Marcheline said...

I know exactly what you mean by looking for signs... and sometimes they even come to you without having to look for them! The other day I was taking long range photos at the beach. Many of the details in these photos were not visible to my eye while taking them. When I got home and opened them up on the computer I discovered that I had photographed a sailboat named "Persistence" from the shore of the beach, and later in the day at a different location (the dock in town) I photographed a fine old wooden boat... named "Persistence". I definitely felt a message coming through...

Congrats on your paperback, and for sharing the postcard! I love that sort of detective work!

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