By what stretch of the imagination am I going to write about Polynesian islands today? Atuona Cemetery on Hiva-Oa, one of the Marquises islands, is the final resting place of two important figures in my imagination: Paul Gauguin and, only a few yards away, Jacques Brel. The former lived there from 1895 until his death in 1903, and the latter visited first in 1975 and went there to spend his final months from 1977 to 1978.
A group of articles (Gauguin: le génie du Pacifique, Portrait: un clochard aux Marquises, and Exposition: hissez les couleurs!, all by Jean Pierrard, September 19) featured on the cover of Le Point this week announced the upcoming Gauguin retrospective (Gauguin—Tahiti: l'atelier des tropiques) at the Galeries Nationales du Grand Palais in Paris, from October 3, 2003, to January 4, 2004. From there it will travel to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, where it will show from February 29 to June 20. I will try to see it when I am in Paris. One of the Marquises paintings in the show is Contes barbares from 1902, owned by the Museum Folkwang in Essen (image at left).
Twelve of Gauguin's paintings are online here at Le Nouvel Observateur.
The Jacques Brel story has appeared on the evening news from France 2, and in some form or another in just about every French news publication on the planet (for example, Ludovic Perrin, Jacques Brel au-delà des Marquises, September 23, in Libération). What has developed is a sort of politicized brouhaha (the French term I am translating is "une polémique") over five recorded songs that the legendary Belgian singer made for his final album but that he decided not to include. For 25 years since his death, everyone has respected his dying wishes. Until this year, that is, when those tracks have been made public in a special anniversary collection. The polemic in the French media revolves around the decision by Brel's widow to release the recordings, supposedly for the profits. I am glad to do my part for Mme Brel, as I will certainly be buying the new collection when I am in France. Places had a lot of resonance for Brel (a major Ionarts theme), and his evocations of the crazy spirit of a city like Bruxelles or the windswept plains of Le plat pays, both from 1962, are beautiful tributes to his native Belgium. Still, I think that the lines that end Brel's song Les Marquises, inscribed on the monument on Hiva-Oa shown at right, are among the most touching that he ever wrote, at the moment when he was suffering with terminal cancer:
Veux-tu que je te dise / Gemir n'est pas de mise / Aux Marquises.
You want me to tell you / Groaning [in pain] is not appropriate / In the Marquesas.