Tag Archives: Banios

Chapter 6: Stalin’s Library

It was on a fine spring day just as the strawberries were blossoming that Thomas-Jean Barracult took to his bed. He said that as he was now in his ninety-eighth year he had a right to rest. When the mayor came to visit him, Thomas-Jean announced that he intended to leave the village something of great value. Speculation swept over Banios like a sudden wind up from Africa, hot and impatient, turning this way and that in its excitement. Even Marcel Fontan who kept sheep in the Lacaze came down to find out what was happening. Gisèle de Saint Phalle spat out her cigaretto and said that, as Thomas-Jean had spent his entire life only milking two cows twice a day and had never been outside the village, he could hardly have a fortune. But she was wrong. While it was true that Thomas-Jean had lived all his life from selling the milk, he had made one trip outside the village and he was rich thanks to Stalin.

Long before Gisèle de Saint Phalle had been born, Thomas-Jean had attended the 1928 Communist Party Conference in Warsaw. When he came back, he would stand outside the church on Sundays and make speeches about Communism and the glory of the Red Revolution to anyone who would listen. After the first week, no one was interested. One Sunday a journalist from a national newspaper passed through the village on his way to mountain-climb and listened to Thomas-Jean. The result was an article headlined Is this the Nation’s Last Revolutionary? Someone of high rank in Russia, perhaps even Stalin himself, decided Thomas-Jean should be rewarded for his loyalty. So, for fifty years a small pension had arrived in cash, neatly tucked into a brown envelope with a Russian stamp. Thomas-Jean had never spent a penny of the money. He put it in a box in the loft above his cows.

Speculation rose again each year when Thomas-Jean celebrated his birthday. He would surely die soon, so expectations climbed ever higher: Was it to be a new bridge over the Adour? A new community centre? A new infant school? But as years rolled by and Thomas-Jean continued sitting up in his bed to eat his supper of fried bacon and red wine, the village lost hope. Death and the village forgot about him until he was one hundred and six. On that anniversary he announced that Madame Sarthou was coming to live with him. “She is bound to discover his fortune!”, exclaimed Guilliaume, “We’ll have to be on our guard!”

Elizabeth Sarthou ran a dog grooming business from an old yellow van in which she lived as well, so she was glad to move into Thomas-Jean’s house. She was very tiny and dressed in children’s clothes and always wore a surgical mask. Madame Petillon said Madame Sarthou was so deaf from barking dogs she probably had not even heard about Thomas-Jean’s fortune. This also proved to be wrong.

From the moment Elizabeth Sarthou moved into the house, she hunted for the money. There were only two rooms but she went over them carefully, feeling the walls for secret hiding places and even checking for the tiles on the floor just in case there was a place beneath one. Eventually she dug up the tiles and piled them outside the door. She even moved Thomas-Jean out of his bed so she could turn over the mattress.

“I told you so!” Guilliaume warned me, “She’s hunting for it! Auguste Pontico saw her on the barn roof yesterday.”

That was the day she found the moneybox, held it close to her flat chest and fell through the rotting loft floor boards. She wasn’t hurt, but she was caught on one of the boards, dangling between heaven and earth. In the end, heaven won because her cries for help were muffled by her mask. Even dead, she still gripped the box.

Pierre Dauriac took over and the Mayor declared it was time to settle the matter of Thomas-Jean’s legacy to the village. Everyone in Banios is buried within three days so it was not long before everyone gathered at Thomas-Jean’s house. A solid wood chair was brought by Madame Buisson from her house and Thomas-Jean was carried downstairs to sit in the sun. It was the biggest audience he had ever had. He took his teeth out of his nightshirt pocket, put them in his mouth and two hours later he was still talking about the wonders of the Soviet state. No one had the heart to tell him it was long gone. When the church bell rang at noon, the women went home and brought back sausages, cheese, bread and wine. The men brought benches and chairs. We ate and drank as Thomas-Jean told us the details of Stalin’s life. Suddenly, we were wide-awake, our attention fully on Thomas-Jean. He had held up his treasure box and announced, “All this is for a Stalin Memorial Library! Banios will be the most famous village in the world!” Having made his announcement, Thomas-Jean handed the box to the Mayor, took out his teeth and put them back in his nightshirt pocket and died.

Captain Dauriac and the Mayor went to the Notaire, but nothing could be done. Thomas-Jean’s money had to be used for what he wanted. It was the law. His house was cleared, shelves were bought to install the books and, following his instructions, the money sent to a dealer in Paris who would supply all the books. By this time, word about the library had gotten out. Village Memorial for Stalin! And Last Stronghold of Soviets! were just a few of the newspaper headlines. Television crews came, but Banios mouths and shutters were firmly closed. Marcel Fontan went back up the mountain with his sheep, swearing never to return. The Mayor invited the Russian Ambassador, expenses paid, to come from Paris for the dedication of the library, but times had changed in Russia and Stalin was out. So he invited the elderly widow of Benedict Rebollo who had once written a book about Stalin.

On the dedication day, Madame Rebello arrived just after Gilles Moutel put up the sign on the house. The Stalin Library was painted in bright red letters. Everyone agreed it was a fine sign. So far the shelves were empty and it was not until an hour before the ceremony that a lorry drove up with them. There were thirty-two boxes in all.

There was no time to open the boxes before the dedication so Auguste and Gilles made a platform of them so the Mayor and Madame Rebello could conduct the ceremony. They had to hold hands as the boxes were unsteady. The Mayor made a little speech about Thomas-Jean’s life which was mainly about his cows as he could not think of anything else, but like all politicians the Major could make a speech out of anything. The boxes wobbled and Madamne Rebello hurriedly declared the library open. Abbé Capdevielle refused to be lifted up on the boxes and blessed the library from where he stood. Pippo, Madame Petillon’s five year old grandson kicked one of the bottom boxes, the pile swayed, Madame Rebello screamed, and she and the Mayor fell off. She landed on Abbé Capdevielle who gave a great grunt. The Mayor fell into the crowd which tumbled into a heap. Captain Dauriuac looked very serious, but Madame Delong started to giggle and then everyone laughed. Pippo was pleased and kicked more boxes. Since no one was hurt and the church bell rang for noon, everyone went home to lunch.

The boxes of books stood unopened in Thomas-Jean’s house for months. Finally one Saturday, Guilliaume got Gilles Moutel and they went to put the books on the shelves.

Gilles was the first to get a box open. “Hey! Look at this!”, he whistled and held up a book. It was written in Russian but, as he flipped the pages, we saw it was illustrated with pornographic drawings. They were very funny and very rude. “That one will have to be under lock and key!” declared Guilliaume. Gilles picked up another book, “This one too”, he said. They opened more boxes. Every book had the same kind of drawings. Gilles sat on the floor studying one. “I never would have believed it was possible!”, he exclaimed. “Just look at this!”, said Guilliaume, What have I been missing all these years!” Every book was written in Russian and every one was the same. Thirty-two boxes of sex pictures.

The Mayor held a meeting and everyone went. The Notaire said the library had to be opened. It was the law. Madame Riendebat volunteered to be the librarian if she could use the cow barn for raising chickens. We all knew she planned to sell eggs to any visitors but it was agreed. Opening hours were set. Mondays to Thursdays would be open to the public and Fridays would be Ladies Only Day.

By the end of summer the village was full of people who wanted to visit our new library. Most of them were men. Madame Buisson and Madame Delong opened a café. Gilles Moutel started carving nude wooden Russian dolls. Auguste Pontico’s wife, Aline, sold pots of jam and Madame Reindebat started selling red coloured eggs which she labelled Magic Russian Eggs, confiding to male visitors that such eggs had hidden powers. Money flowed into the village as never before. Abbé Capdevielle said it was the work of the devil but Gilles Moutel went ahead anyway and took down the library sign and repainted Stalin’s Sex Library on it.

We were impressed with the number of scholars who came to use the books. They were all men except for one American woman doing a study for her university on Women in the Sexual Psychodynamics of Soviet Power 1939-1942. We were impressed until Madame Riendebat told us the American woman was a vegetarian.

Chapter 5: Plan Two of the Devil

Failure was not something the Devil was used to. He went into a pout for a week. This affected everything. The river flowed the wrong way again. The wind blew day and night and the Royal Eagle stayed in her nest. The village hens refused to lay eggs. Abbé Capdevielle got the worst case of indigestion he had ever experienced. Madame Labayle’s bread refused to rise for the first time in forty years and Gilles Moutel’s best boots were found in the pig’s pen. Everyone knew it was the work of the Devil. They stared down at the stones and did not dare whisper his name.

There is one thing even stronger in people than religion and churches, the Devil thought – Money! That precious commodity which men and women longed for, fought over, neglected each other to get, often killed to obtain. The desire for money gave everyone a desire for more of it. No one ever got enough. The poor wanted it. The rich wanted to be richer. The big stepped on the small. The world was made of money. Everyone knew that money was the root of all evil, but nobody cared. They just wanted more of it. “Money!” the Devil sang in a delighted voice: “Money! Oh! Money! Oh, Cash makes the world go round”!

He decided greed was what was needed in Banios. Greed could ruin anything and everything. It destroyed every virtue. It didn’t even need to be just money. It could be food or possessions or sex. But the best greed of all was for just plain, old-fashioned cash. No one ever got enough of it. So greed was what he would stir into his Banios broth. “Money! Money! Money!” he sang over and over. A sudden treasure was what was needed in Banios. He just knew it.

Chapter 4: The Buddha Monkey

Pierre Dauriac was a captain in the French police and his mother was very proud of him until he took up Zen. She said nothing, because she understood that men often drifted away from the church of their fathers. She knew that on his deathbed he would be blessed with holy oil and sent onwards to heaven. Now nobody could remember anything ever happening to change Pierre’s routines. His stability was reassuring in a changing world. He worked away six days a week and then was back in Banios for the weekend. He dug his vegetables on Sunday morning, played football in the afternoon and went to the café for a drink until six when he went home. People only ever saw him in uniform when he left and returned from duty except for the time the Minister of Agriculture visited. Then Pierre stood by him, looking like thunder when everyone shouted and yelled about the level of their corn subsidies. As far as we knew Pierre was a confirmed bachelor, although someone once said they had seen him in town with an African woman and an Albino child. As no one had ever seen an Albino child, no one believed the story.

One Saturday morning, Pierre started digging up the front garden. First he made a little stream run through it, which everyone thought stupid since we lived by one of the greatest rivers in the mountains. Then he made a bridge in the Continue reading Chapter 4: The Buddha Monkey

Chapter 3: Plan One of the Devil

Religion is where I must begin, decided the Devil. There is no better place to start a war or just cause trouble than in religion. Everyone knows that. They are sure to wind up arguing the merits of this or that and, finally, start to hate each. He knew it didn’t take much to get people stirred up. He remembered that in Russia, people long ago had divided up between those who believed in crossing themselves one way, while the others decided a different way was right. To this day they still did not approve of each other. He smiled, knowing his choice of religion was the right way to make Banios fall from grace and bring the angel back. He would capture her. He would embrace her. He would eat of the Cloud of Goodness. Then, he would know love and God would take him back.

The Devil flew up to the church steeple and shook the bells. As it was in the middle of the night, this woke up everyone. Then they heard him singing. ‘What was he doing?’, everyone asked. ‘What was going to happen now?’ They trembled in fear. Pepito Fourcade pulled the covers over his head and his wife told him that God would take care of it, no matter what happened. ‘God’, Pepito mumbled, ‘is what started it all.’ Continue reading Chapter 3: Plan One of the Devil

Chapter 2: In the Beginning

In the beginning, since all histories must have some sort of beginning, the Devil landed near this small village before it existed, before the mountains grew, and before even the stars and planets gathered in milky constellations. He hit the water in the nearby river with a mighty roar. Once out of Heaven, the Devil filled himself up with destruction and blew it around the universe. He caressed everything with his darkness and as soon as he met Adam and Eve he cursed them and all future human hearts with the knowledge of death. This went on for millions of years until one afternoon when the Devil got bored with destruction and wrecking lives and decided to visit the place where he had first landed. He returned to find a village by the river in which he had first landed. This was Banios sur l’Ange. When the Devil found the place where God had dumped him, he lived again the despair of rejection and the sadness of his loneliness. The earth shook, the wind from Provence danced with the wind from Africa, and the river flowed backwards for five days.

From dawn to dusk, all the village people could hear was the Devil singing as he studied this village by the Continue reading Chapter 2: In the Beginning

Chapter 1: The Return

Follow the Route de Palomieres until you pass the little café on the top of the ridge. Then, look carefully to your right as the forest begins. By a collection of old tree stumps, you will see a narrow dirt road. This is the way you want to go. Brambles cover the ground so be careful. After about a half-mile the path gets steep. Don’t worry you are going the right way. It’s all up hill from now on. Slowly the trees open into meadows. Floating high above an eagle watches. If you hear distant bells, it is only from Marcel Fontan’s sheep. The air turns cold, but do not give up or be frightened. You are not lost but going to Banios-sur-l’Ange. This is where the Devil landed when God threw him out of Heaven.

In the distance, nested between high cliffs and a river, is a village. A pale mist hangs above it like a discarded Christmas ribbon. The warren of stone cottages that make up Banios-sur-l’Ange or Banios-by-the-Angel are blue under its shadow. But what you see over the village is not mist or Continue reading Chapter 1: The Return