Monday, 8 December 2008
Postcard of the day No. 19, Narbonne
One of the pleasures of examining vintage postcards is the rich harvest of detail to be observed. Some single cards contain enough imagery for ten. This example is not quite that rich but there is a generous range of narrative possibilities on display. Starting at the top we have an enigmatic couple leaning out of a top floor open window watching the events below. At street level is a motley collection of urchins presided over by an older youth proudly mounted on a bicycle. The little girls have their backs to the camera but the boys’ expressions range from sullen defiance to insolent grins. On the far right a small boy stands in isolation, his left hand grips something made of paper or fabric. He wears a cap and an indecipherable expression. The image as a whole belongs to the genre in which indistinct traces of lives that have been lived and lost, linger on into the future, separated from every thread of documentary evidence relating to their identities. In the fashion of the time, the decrepit wall of the building has been covered with advertising, mostly for alcoholic drink. The most intriguing poster is for Le Petit Journal and features an image of a man clinging by his fingertips to the edge of a precipice while a female companion looks on, arms folded in apparent indifference. My guess is that it promotes a popular melodrama published in serial form in the pages of the newspaper. The advertising graphic styles suggest a date in the first decade of the last century.
The caption explains the reason for celebrating this once substantial building now fallen into disrepair. The Maison des Trois-Nourrices translates as the House of the Three Wet-Nurses. The second line informs us that this is where Le Marquis de Cinq-Mars and his friend and co-conspirator, François de Thou concealed themselves from arrest by the agents of Louis XIII and Richelieu. Their flight was in vain; they were eventually executed on September 12th, 1642. The story persisted in the popular imagination thanks to a novel by Alfred de Vigny, published in 1826 and a Gounod operatic adaptation, first performed in 1877.