• Alba, 1867
• Hong Kong, 1897
• Marseille, 1900
• Paris, 1904
• Valenciennes, 1918
• Buenos Aires, 1930
It’s impossible to decipher the date on the stamp, but from the gist of the letter I can imagine it was written shortly after the birth of my grand-aunt – let’s say, in 1904.
I also don’t know where this picture was taken, so perhaps my reconstruction is just mere imagination.
Let’s say that I found a place which, more than a century ago, might have been this place.
A place deserted today, in fact deserted since the death of the old blacksmith, thirty years ago. His widow then closed the house and the workshop, and she left.
Might the blacksmith have been one of the children on the picture? No, he was too young when he died, he could have not born before 1910. Perhaps he is rather the son of one of the men smiling at us.
And the two small girls, then? Born around 1900?
I know nothing of them.
But there are stories about two such small girls in the village, two orphaned sisters, charity cases. They never married, remained servants until their death. The elder by just one year was Louise, the younger Blanche.
I knew only Blanche, when I was a child. Louise had already been dead for years, but my father still remembered her chasing him as a small boy and whipping him with nettles in a fit of anger. The Blanche I knew was a large, wild woman with a knot of white hair, pushing a wheelbarrow full of laundry, and talking to herself. She had a tired old black dog, and she kept yelling at him in the village lanes “Allez viens, Gamin!” – “Come on, Lad!”
A very frightening old lady indeed, but she too must have been a child long time ago, like everybody else. One day, as she came uphill from the washhouse, she met my mother on the road and, though she never spoke to anybody, she dove into her basket, took out a bunch of onions, and gave it to my mother. “Take, it’s for you”, she said. I hope that, for those onions, she got a peaceful little corner in Heaven.
As for the deserted workshop, I presume it’s the same old place as the one on the postcard. The craftsman was a modest iron-worker, who made iron gates, gutters, grates, chains, tie rods for the masons and carpenters of the village – some of these pieces are still waiting to be used, leaned up against the wall. And behind the dusty windows, the workshop appears very quiet, ghostly quiet, with all the machines waiting to start the work again.