Tuesday, 8 October 2013

Xavier Fortin

Le Grand Cerf (left of picture), in the Rue de Lyon, Sens.

The main protagonist of The Door of Perarolo is a Frenchman, Xavier Fortin.  Fortin’s father was a forester, who died in Xavier’s infancy.  Shortly afterwards the surviving members of the family, Mama, Lucien and Xavier, moved to Sens (in the district of Yonne).  His mother worked in the kitchen of a coaching inn there, Le Grand Cerf.  The photograph (above) of the Rue de Lyon was taken around the end of the 19th C.  A low wall is visible at the bottom left hand corner of the image.  Its function was to prevent people (possibly having had too much hospitality during an evening spent in Le Grand Cerf) falling into the waters of the abreuvoir on the far side.  The latter was a place for the watering of coach horses arriving at the inn.  On the opposite side of the street was La Bouteille, another inn (a man wearing a white apron stands in the entrance).  It is interesting to speculate what they might be thinking.  Did they know by that time that the coming of the railways would cause the demise of the old coaching inns?

Elephants from a circus passing through Sens watering in the abreuvoir.

The abreuvoir close by Le Grand Cerf (left).  I owe a debt of gratitude to Bernard Brouse of the Société Archéologique de Sens for assisting me in locating Le Grand Cerf, and I am grateful also for his subsequent kindness in sending me French newspaper cuttings relating to the inn when it was still functional. 

Looking into Sens from Le Grand Cerf
Photograph © Peter Alexander Gray 2009

Today the abreuvoir has been filled in.  This is the view looking into the beautiful city of Sens, seen from the spot where it was sited, outside Le Grand Cerf,.  The old town walls that were there in Fortin’s time have, like the abreuvoir, gone, though some of the buildings from the period remain.  A small plaque can be seen above the top window of the building on the right.   It shows evidence of the passage of Russian troops and cavalry through Sens en route to Paris.

Cossack bullet marks from February 1814.
Photograph © Peter Alexander Gray 2009

Le Grand Cerf still stands, but in modern times has been converted into apartments.  The Rue de Lyon has been renamed the Rue du Général de Gaulle.

Note: This blog supports readers of The Door of Perarolo, a historical novel set in Cadore, Italy in the early nineteenth century.  You may examine feedback from readers in the UK here and in the US here.  The Door of Perarolo is a Kindle ebook comprising 140 chapters.  It can be downloaded from Amazon sites worldwide.  The launch post of this blog gives further details.  The second post provides links to maps, etc.

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