Tuesday, June 15, 2010


In a landscape context, I like to apply the term "singularity" to any kind of more-or-less unique phenomenon that is either exceptional or indeed vaguely inexplicable. OK, my criteria for singularity are not exactly rigorous rocket science, but I like my word… so please don't knock it. For example, the ghostly appearance of the neighboring Mount Barret in a certain late-afternoon light (seen from my bedroom window) is a kind of singularity.

The other day, a specialist in local history dropped in at Gamone, to ask me for an article on the Royans for their journal, whose title includes a strange regional term: peuil. When I asked him the meaning of this word, he explained that a peuil is any kind of eye-catching singularity in the landscape. Since we were seated in front of my house, facing up towards the Cournouze, he pointed up in that direction and exclaimed: "There you have a perfect example of a peuil."

He was designating the curious little mound in the middle of the saddle-back crest between the Cournouze and the Barret. I've always said that its smooth tapering rounded shape reminds me of a young woman's mons pubis (pubic mound, often designated as her "mound of Venus"), particularly when it's covered in sparse early-Spring vegetation (I'm speaking of the landscape entity). I guess I must be imagining the Cournouze and the Barret as a pair of mountainous thighs. In any case, at last, I could associate that exotic and erotic tuft with a dialectical name. The personage Malte of Rilke exclaimed with joy, while reading Verlaine in the great library in Paris: "I have a poet!" As of yesterday, at Gamone, I could cry out: "I have a peuil!"

Long ago, when I first observed this most noticeable peuil at Châtelus, I wondered whether it might even be a man-made Roman earthwork… since the village was designated in 1260 as a "castrum" (evoking the possible existence of a Roman fortification). I once mentioned this hypothesis to a member of the farming family installed up there. A young guy, imbued with the oral culture of his birthplace, told me: "No, the mound's surely not a man-made construction. Our great-great-grandparents settled here in the early 19th century, when the entire area was deserted. If the mound had been a man-made thing, they would have noticed it." Fair enough. In the early decades of the 19th century, it's a fact that there were no longer any Ancient Romans strolling around on the slopes of Châtelus. To my mind, though, the question still remains open: Is my Châtelus peuil a virginal affair, resulting from Nature. Or was it fashioned by Man? Only an archeological dig could answer that interesting question…

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