A city of 250,000 located at the crux of the Rhone and Durance rivers, Avignon has a long and sometimes glorious history stretching from the Greeks, Romans, Barbarians to the Nazi occupation. Many great writers have taken it on, including Lawrence Durrell who lived there for years and wrote the Avignon Quintet (1974), a mammoth work about a polyglot community of Europeans ensconced in the ancient city before and during the war. (Monsieur, or The Prince of Darkness is the best of the five book-length parts.)
The 14th Century casts a long shadow over this sleepy provincial town. Still surrounded by medieval walls containing some 10,000 people, it has an eerily ancient feel. People go about their daily business, trying to impose modernity and forget the monuments, but they don’t quite succeed.
In following the trail of Piers’ Desire, I was greatly inspired by the work of two outstanding Avignon photographers. Masterful images by Jean-Francois Cholley have done much to rescue the city from terminal museum status and give it a fresh, contemporary image, while never tarnishing the mystery. Click here. Julien Charlon is a young photographer whose 2000 book of faces and places provided the mental images for many of my characters. He seems to have disappeared. (Si vous lisez ce page, Julien, faites signe!)
My greatest debt, however, is to Marie-Martine Gain, who works in a tabac beside Monsieur Cholley’s gallery on rue de la Carreterie. When I expressed interest in a Cholley image for use in connection with my novel, Marie-Martine readily agreed to take some photos of her own, and the results are amazing. This is a view of Avignon you won’t see on postcards, yet it captures the 21st Century reality with style.
For those who want to know more about Avignon’s glorious 14th Century, I highly recommend Edwin Mullin’s compact and highly readable study, The Popes in Avignon: A Century in Exile. I was almost finished the novel when I found Mr. Mullin’s book in the Avignon train station bookstore, but reading it brought hours of laborious research into focus.
The Popes of Avignon: A Century in Exile