The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
D.H. Auden, Stop all the clocks…
Thus, in spring, a farmer walks his fields – later, in the summer, the traces of his paces have been blown over by the blessing of the corn which he has sown.
Joseph Roth, Radetzky Marsch
For literally ages and ages this path has been used by Cistercian monks. Oxen, donkeys or horses – animal power pulling the wooden carts first up the hill and then down again, towards the vast pond called Les Fourdines.
Observe the enormous stones, their flat side on top. Even now, walking this little road is difficult; it demands an efficient navigation of the servile feet. Driving a car here is dangerous to its health. This path is now primarily used by farmer’s vehicles whose giant tires are capable to manage the rough surface.
You also see that in those ages past the path was smaller. It has been broadened for the use of those modern sized engines. On the side of this stone path the surface is more flat, when I do not walk it but use my bike, that part of the road is where I ride.
Having walked the easy way down, you would enter a narrow, hollow and shaded road covered by trees, thus approaching the lake as one should – in awe, as if a woman, kind enough to let you enter her body.
Don’t you forget, Kind Reader of mine, that already so long ago water was considered the source of life and grace, springs deep down in hidden grottos. The Etruscans knew, they celebrated these wells, covering them with their gentle domes!
I call these waters My Great Lake, since long considering them part of my back yard. I open the little northern gate to my court, pass through and after passing two farms begin the climb, then to descend again towards my lady. Serenity is the word, heaven another. And why not balm. It is my place to be pensive and weigh the imponderables of existence.
For eighteen years now, this has been the spot to which I retire when the mind is in turmoil. A last vestige of tranquillity, a place that with some help of the imagination and one’s wilful suspension of disbelief returns the soul to the Middle Ages, a time in which it was at least reasonable to belief in that substance’s existence.
Like in the old days, each year on the first Monday of November, people from the village still gather in long-legged rubber boots. After the sluices have been opened in September, two separate locks that keep the rainwater inside the lake, over weeks and weeks the waters have already been emptied into the river down below. The fishermen enter the circle of deep water that remains, then start fishing the thousands of carps that have gathered there.
It is done in a fashion monastic as it were, little has changed. The men, till their middle in the water, fill small float after float with these enormous fish-bodies, then push these towards the edge of the water where they are emptied by others, who put them into case after case. These in their turn are hauled up onto the dike which shuts off the pond.
Here it is, finally, where Modern Times have changed things. Nowadays no carts, no horses and no monks are awaiting the catch to transport the fish to the monastery. In the old days, most of the fish were put up into special basins, lying at the opposite side of the dike and still filled with water, as only so many carts and so many monks and so many horses could transport so many fish in one day.
Nowadays these basins are never used again. Two or more lorries are waiting on the dike, on each a row of huge aquaria in which hundreds of living carp will be fed oxygen, kept alive to be transported and slaughtered elsewhere. In the past their destiny was Germany. In autumn, carp is one of the delicatessen on the dining tables of the restaurants with a Gut- Bürgerliche Küche. Once filled up, the lorries climb back on the hill to disappear towards the East, with them the fish.
All ponds in this region of the Brenne seem to function according to the same Five-Year Plan. After four years the pond is left to dry, grain is sown, the dikes are repaired with tar that is put into the holes that been have eaten into the dam. While dry, you can now see the various levels of the lake in the other years, varying with the amounts of rain filling it up again after each November.
This is my eighteenth French year, I live here for six months and I almost always wait for the fishing before I leave for The Low Lands again. It is either on All Souls or a day very close to it. So in summer time, quite a few times I have also witnessed this emptied and dry Great Lake of mine. Each fifth year, however, it surprises me again, like I have never seen anything like it before in my life. It is purely and simply a thing counter-natural.
Walking the floor of the dried-up lake is surreal; it gives one the same feeling as when suddenly observing, in the middle of the American desert, fossil rests of a fish that are carved in the surface of a rock. It is moonlike.
I felt like an explorer of extraterrestrial territory, looking for life. What I found was death, at least the semblance of it in the form of a shell of an eerie size, quietly lying in the new-born grass.
Like China porcelain of good quality, the earth was broken like an old woman’s face. Terre craquelé.
I was overwhelmed by a counter-punctual feeling. Only last year did I visit Lac Vassivière, situated at the edge of the Auvergne plateau. Not all too long ago this had been a canyon. After they built the barrage, it was flooded. Walking the footbridge to what is now a little island with a castle on top, I looked down on the water’s surface well aware that deep down there lay a village drowned.
So drowned I was now, on the bottom of the world, in those gorgeous air waves spread by an early summer’s wind. From the bottom of the world I looked up against what had turned into a mighty wall of high, shiny reeds. All of a beautiful sublime.
The lake, when full, is delicately sculpted into planes that are now a sixty meters wide, then again no more than thirty. Filled to its brim, it spreads out as far as the eye reaches. However, to my left was now to be found the last residue of water left of this vast lake, its surface normally covering some sixteen thousand square meters.
Then, only a few days ago, early on a Sunday morning, I decided to make my walk to the Great Lake again. Turning the familiar curve in the path, I almost fainted. Expecting the shaded tunnel leading onto the water, a white glare hit me. I instantly noted that on one side the trees and shrubs had been slaughtered.
The glare was caused by a plane of enormous white cobble stones. I walked on, to find the floor of the pond excavated like an enormous parking lot, again extravagant rocks overlaying the once argyle floor, draglines and other machines standing on the side, waiting for the Monday morning.
From what it looked like, this cemetery would become even larger. A few days later I came back and found that this is indeed the case. The dam, instead of being repaired with picturesque patches of tar, has suddenly been cemented away completely. An eye’s sore. My lake has been completely ruined, thus the beautiful world that holds it like a sapphire in its setting.
Sic transit gloria mundi.
Water is Woman. My lake, my maîtresse, raped. It felt like looking at Duchamp’s Étant donné…, an installation consisting of a sturdy door with a hole in it. Once the eye is properly in place, the Peeping Tom perceives the lush body of a woman raped, thighs wide open as well as dead.
It goes even deeper than this. They have found that our innate feeling of personal space, socially conditioned as it also is, performs strange tricks with our experience. The moment someone enters that space, one feels like threatened. Once inside a car, this personal space is unconsciously widening into a much larger circle, extending around the automobile’s body which now feels like it is our own. Media, the extensions of man…
I have always identified so much with these waters, that I myself am raped. This Great Lake, c’était moi! For the first time in my life, the fact that I am an Aquarius has acquired meaning.
Am I, then, a late-late-late Romanticist, deploring so-called progress as ruin, always à la recherché du temps perdu? Perhaps. However, even though I do indeed find the ways of the world more and more distasteful, I also know of the panta rheï. There may be talk of an ‘eternal return’; it sure takes odd curved round-abouts of devastating changes to get there…
The Keatsean notion of a chaste, never ending chase after girls eternally unravish’d as the poet described his women visible on the Elgin urn, it is a stranger to me. My kind of beauty is un-urned. Yet, true enough: Progress, the great forgetting.
Thus, change it shall be. But why call it so mistakenly progress? Change is indeed most often ruinous, though of course it depends on the eye of the beholder whether he applauds or deplores it.
How well I understand these people here, out in the campagne of La France Profonde, that agricultural working class once communist, now voting for disgusting Marine Le Pen. Once they opted for a new kind of communal life, against the social ruins of capitalism. That communist illusion gone, now faced with postmodern agricultural industrialism, these people look back and nostalgically desire the old communality of the days past, which they now unexpectedly consider Paradise Lost…
To speak in sober sadness, this is how I perceive all this. Since two years the buyers of the carps are not German any longer, but British. Those blasted lorries, loaded with fish, have to be on time for the ferry that leaves Calais at its appointed hour. These buyers cannot afford to be late. Thus the carp-sellers have been put under pressure. Either provide for easy loading and a turning place for our lorries, or we’ll find ourselves another fishing pond!
The farming of fish has been turned into a capitalist exploitation of the environment, thus into the ruin of my aesthetic pleasure. Not only have they raped My Great Lake, I am quite sure that the manner of fishing itself will change. Through some kind of machinery those carps will be hauled straight from the pond into the basins on the lorries. Fishermen? What’s that?
Progress as ruin. Secretly, I hope that Brexit will posthumously and financially kill the whole endeavour. It deserves its own ruin.