The heart of the downtown business district of Luche-Pringe, in the shadow of an ancient church dating back to the time when Romans ruled here, consists of two boulangeries lying side by side, one tiny epicerie, a pharmacie, an ATM, and, inconguously, a small photography studio, l’Autour de l’Image. Like almost everything else here, it is only a few steps from our front door. It is the place where, one day last year, in need of highly specific photos for another of the endless bits of paperwork required by French bureaucracy, we entered tentatively but left with two soon-to-be new best friends, Alexandra and Christophe.
The shop is Christophe’s domain; at times, I suspect, his Sanctum Sanctorum. When he’s not producing family portraits, school photos, or wedding albums, he is immersed in projects of his own. He is truly a professional, his talents dwarfing mine, but it took some time for me to understand how talented he is.
Folks in the US, when making a new acquaintance, don’t think twice about asking someone what they do for a living. It’s not judgmental; more than anything it is an opening for conversation. Is there a common interest? Is there something I might want to know more about, to ask about? No problem. But not in France.
We have learned, over time, that it is not the done thing to inquire about what it is a person does for a living. Of course, there are times when it is obvious; everyone in town knows Manu is a butcher. Mostly in our experience, what people do only comes out over time, as you get to know each other.
So here we have our friend Christophe, Master Photographer, and sometimes he’s not in his shop; he is, says Alex, away for work. He returns a few days later, and we’re sitting around chatting, and Christophe, who has both a wry sense of humor and a tendency towards understatement, doesn’t have a lot to say about his latest trip away for work, except for the traffic around Paris. I, of course, being me and being an American, keep asking about that trip, and it finally comes out.
Christophe is a cinematographer and camera man in the French motion picture industry, and when he is “away for work” he is most likely traveling somewhere in France on a movie shoot. Once he revealed that, he was anxious to share some clips of scenes he had shot in various films. On one shoot he was in the mountains in winter for many days, for a film about WWI. He’s like Clark Kent, mild-mannered reporter, blah blah blah, who changes into Superman in a phone booth.
He’s an interesting guy. He sports a big, warm smile and a mischievous sense of humor. I learned on July 4th and on Bastille Day that he likes setting off fireworks…blowing shit up as I described it to Alexandra. And, he is a petanque shark who keeps a low-key stream of French trash-talking going during a game, all the while wearing that sly smile.
I have also come to understand that Christophe and I share a feeling about the village. He, like me, feels the pull of history in this place. Like me, he feels the ghosts of the past when he walks the streets. He and Alex are compiling an ongoing collection of photographs of the town from the past; images of these same streets, these same buildings, these same homes and shops from before The Great War, Le Grand Guerre.
One evening, he asked if I wanted to see a little something he put together about the village. I was blown away. For me, it captures exactly the feelings I get from this place.
If you look closely in the third image, it shows Rue Creuse. Today that is Rue Verdun, the street on which we live. Manu’s boucherie is in the same location as the butcher in the photo, and the door to our home is exactly next to the triangular stop sign, near the ghostly image of the little girl. You can see the photography shop of the Master Photographer, Christophe, Autour de l’Image, too.
It gives one pause to think of all the lives lived in these spaces over the centuries, and to think of those that will occupy these spaces after we are all gone.