Half a century ago, on 4 January 1960, much of France was covered in snow... like today. A celebrated French writer, Albert Camus, was returning to Paris in a Facel Véga sports car driven by his editor, Michel Gallimard. On the rear seat of Gallimard's powerful automobile, his wife Janine and her daughter Anne were accompanied by their Skye terrier. They had left Lourmarin in Provence on the previous morning and stayed overnight in a small inn called the Chapon Fin at Thoissey, in the valley of the Saône, to the north of Villefranche. After Sens, the road was generally straight, and bordered by plane trees... like today, except that the road was narrower at that time, and there were trees on both sides.
Heading westward towards Fontainebleau on a damp road at about 150 km/hour, Michel Gallimard suddenly lost control of his automobile at a place called Petit-Villeblevin. It zigzagged, left the road and wrapped itself around a plane tree. Camus died instantly, and Michel Gallimard succumbed to his wounds six days later. The two women survived miraculously, but their dog Floc had disappeared.
The following three images of the wreckage have been extracted from a silent news film [display]:
At that time, I was a 19-year-old computer programmer with IBM in Sydney. I had read English translations of three or four books by Camus, including The Myth of Sisyphus (which I still have with me at Gamone), and I was totally under the charm of this writer... whom I imagined, fuzzily, as an existentialiste, like Jean-Paul Sartre. It's not an exaggeration to say that one of the principal motivations for my initial pilgrimage to France in 1962 was the lure of the spirit of Albert Camus.
Since then, of course, I have been able to carry on reading Camus in his native language... which is essential in the case of such an author.
In the carcass of the sports car, a black briefcase held the unfinished manuscript of Le premier homme, an autobiographical text that was not edited and published posthumously until 1994.
In France, I had the pleasure and privilege of meeting up by chance, in quite separate circumstances, with two of the closest friends of Albert Camus, both of whom were illustrious authors, now deceased: Louis Guilloux (a friend of Christine in her home town of St-Brieuc in Brittany) and Emmanuel Roblès (one of whose novels was published by Seuil at the same time as my book about artificial intelligence). Meanwhile, Camus lies buried in a simple grave at Lourmarin.
If Nicolas Sarkozy has his way, the remains of the writer will soon be transferred to the Panthéon in Paris... which is surely one of the silliest ideas that the president has ever imagined.