Monday, 20 January 2014

New Year 2014 Postbag

Many thanks to all of you who have written to me or posted reviews since the launch of The Door of Perarolo in September 2013.  Across the water I extend my thanks to Martin in the US for his kind comments in his review on the website and to Susan in Calgary, Canada, for writing to me to say that she has recommended the book to a host of Canadian readers.  I'm also most grateful to those of you have posted reviews on the website.

Richard in Dore village, England, has written with the following queries, and I'd like to address them in this post, as they are questions that re-occur in feedback from readers.  

I've just looked at your latest blog.  Nice pictures of the rafts.
I guess they only made one way journeys. What did they do with them at the river mouth?
Were they worth anything?  How did the raftsmen get back up the river?
Interesting your mention of Pont Neuf in Paris... Despite being called Pont Neuf it's actually the oldest bridge over the Seine.  What made you pick that one for the book?

The originals of the raft photos are even better in the book La Via del Fiume (Cierre Edizioni, Verona), for  I scanned them at reduced definition for the post.  Yes, the rafts did indeed make a one-way journey, being re-crewed at each port on the river.  The main cargo out of Perarolo was timber.  At Codissago some of this was unloaded and the raft re-cargoed with stone cut from the local quarries.  The stone (in the form of lintels, arches, column sections and so forth) was unloaded at Belluno and other major towns en route to Venice.  As for the rafts' timbers... Venice was hungry for wood for building work and for carpentry.  But mostly, the rafts would have been scrapped for fuel for domestic fires.  Yes, they were worth a price - Venice, build as it is on islands in the lagoon, had to import all its timber.

As for returning home, the raftsmen slept in their homes in their home port until around midnight, and then walked upriver back to their place of work.  For the zattieri of Codissago, this meant returning to Perarolo.  The rafts they had brought down that day to Codissago were taken downriver by crews from Belluno and Capo di Ponte.  The only time the zattieri undertook the the whole journey from Perarolo to Venice was when they were piloting the huge rasi - the rafts made of timbers for ships' masts.  This occurred only during the brief period of the French occupation. 

I have had the same experience as Richard and his wife when visiting old European towns.  Discovering Paris at the beginning of the 19th century was tricky.  During that century they they pulled lots of it down to build the boulevards.  So what you see nowadays isn't how it was then.  You'd be surprised how much of 'old' Paris (and other European cities) isn't more much more than 100 - 150 years old!

To understand what European towns and cities were like in the early nineteenth century I researched, many years ago, the diary of Charlotte Harriet Beaujolois Campbell.    

'Beaujolois' as she was known in her family, as a 14-year-old, kept a diary of a journey from London to Florence in 1817.  The original hand-written diary was discovered by  the scientist and historian GR de Beer and published in London in 1951.  Over a number of years, I followed in stages the journey described in the diary, starting at Montgeron (east of Paris), hitch-hiking the old coach roads, and journeying east through Sens, Besançon, through the Jura Mountains into Switzerland (then through Valais, over the Simplon pass into Italy, still following Beaujolais' diary, and arriving eventually into Florence to find the house they made their new family home).

She writes:

At the very gates of Paris we turned off to Charenton.  The road followed the outskirts of Paris and I felt doubly the disappointment of not going there by being so very near.

They spent the night in a hotel at Montgeron before heading off to Sens the next day, to stay at the Le Grand Cerf.  So, you see, I have Beaujolois to thank for the name of the hotel where Xavier and Lucien Fortin were brought up...

Reaching Switzerland, the family lingered in Lausanne, waiting for news that the heat in Italy was abating, for it was a hot summer there.  Before I arrived for the first time in Lausanne, my mental picture of the town was scanty.  I believed it was situated on the shores of Lake Geneva (the correct name in French is Lac Léman) and was the centre of the International Olympic Committee.  I arrived by train, for a business trip, and, looking at all the old houses in the immediate neighbourhood, I was convinced I was about to walk the streets that Beaujolois had walked two centuries before.  I couldn't have been more wrong!

Here are my research notes from the time, with Beaujolois' diary notes in red:

LAUSANNE 09/07/2000

Arrived via Geneva to attend a conference for the week.

The Rue de Bourg, summer 1893
(Lausanne 1860-1910, Louis Polla, Payot Lausanne)
Before arriving in Lausanne, I had thought (as perhaps anyone might), that the old centre of Lausanne was to be found near the centre of the modern town - perhaps somewhere near the railway station?  Not so!  In 1817, Lausanne was a walled town atop the hillside about a mile above the lake.  The red arrows on the map show the route the Campbells' carriage would have taken between the lake and the old town, through vineyards (see below).


We spent five days at the Hotel du Lion d’Or...

This seemingly innocuous diary entry was to lead to my first real break. One evening while walking up the town (the streets of Lausanne are steep), I met a resident of Lausanne who informed me of the existence of a model of the town as it would have been in the early 19th century. It was to be found, he said, in the museum next to the cathedral. I explained that I was looking for the Lion d’Or, which drew a blank look. I added that it was probably close to the rue du Bourg.

He corrected me: 'La rue de Bourg?' (A slight change of name since1817, or a minor error in the diary of the fourteen-year-old Beaujolois). It was, he explained, one of the oldest streets of Lausanne. He took me there.

The photograph (left) from the museum records, shows the Rue de Bourg in the summer of 1893.  Importantly for me it states (in French):‘the great building with eight windows per floor, on the right at the bottom of the street, was the ancient hotel the Lion d’ 1832, it was considered to be an establishment of great reputation, much visited.  It was furnished with baths.’ 

The records also reveal that its address was No. 29 Rue de Bourg, and that it closed, finally, in 1842.  The houses on the left hand side of the street would have been the last of the houses lying inside the old town walls, which would have been seen by Beaujolais as her coach entered via the St François gate.  Demolition of the old town walls commenced in that century, though well after 1817.  

Famous patrons  included:

1769 Emperor Joseph II
1810 Ex-empress Josephine
1815 Queen Hortense
1822 The King of Prussia

Looking down the Rue de Bourg, old Lausanne (Photo: PAG )

The photo opposite of a model of the old walled town of Lausanne was taken inside the Musée Historique de Lausanne.  The red arrow indicates the Rue de Bourg descending in the direction of the church of St François.  Down (left, outside the walls) the hill below the old town, the land running down to the lake was, in 1817, entirely set to vines.  Around 1850 the walls were demolished, and thereafter the vineyards were gradually encroached by urban development.  All that remains today of the old fortifications is a single watchtower, La Tour de L’Ale; the vineyards are all gone, and houses stretch all the way down the hill to the lakeside.  Now was the time to visit the rue de Bourg with my camera, to see the hotel where Beaujolois stayed...

Early morning, Rue de Bourg  (PAG)

Down the street, on the right: the Lion d’Or.  Once the proud residence of kings, it is now a pizza house!  The traditional market stalls still do good trade so, on a limited budget, I stocked my back-pack with fruit and tomatoes.  The young woman who sold them to me explained that the Rue de Bourg was the street where the bourgeoisie had lived – on the outskirts of the town.  ‘Bourg’ is origin of the term ‘bourgeoisie’, she added.  As we chatted in a happy mixture of French, English and Italian, she told me that she had a degree from Lausanne University, specialising in Etymology; she still studies in the evenings, in order to become a teacher.

Enough, for the present of the Campbells' journey to Florence.  That trip to Lausanne taught me how to look at all the towns she described in her diary of 1817, en route to Florence.  

But the Campbells skirted Paris on that journey, so I could get no description of the city from Beaujolois' diary.  

What would Paris have been like in at the beginning of the nineteenth century?  Much different from modern Paris.  John Stockdale (Piccadilly, London) produced a detailed map of Paris, then a walled city, in 1800. 

Paris, 1800

No sign of the boulevards.  The Tuileries Palace is still in place (later burnt down by a mob during another revolution).  To answer Richard's question: 

If we look closer, we can see the number of bridges are few...  It was the only bridge in Paris at that time that didn't have houses built on it (houses like the ones on the Ponte Vecchio in Florence which can still be seen in modern times), and thus it allowed traffic and pedestrians to pass over easily.

Isle du Palais
Part of Key to Stockdale's map

The 'New Bridge', 40 on the key, is the Pont Neuf.  

Renoir's painting of  Le Pont Neuf

It has been painted over the years by countless artists, including Renoir.  The bastions of the bridge, resembling the boxes found in theatres, were and are still popular meeting places for lovers.  Hence the choice for the book.  

Please, keep up the feedback! Some of you were asking about the next book, and how many books about the zattieri, the history and culture of Venetia, and so forth, are planned.  To answer: I'm working on the next book at present, so may limit myself to a new post every month from now on; including The Door of Perarolo, there are four books planned for the series in total.

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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