A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Enseignes en Fer Forgé de Hautvilliers

A year ago last November, I was in France, visiting the Champagne region. Everything is beautiful there. Everything. It's the most picturesque place you can imagine, because the champagne grape has been cultivated there for centuries. Champagne families are often dynasties, passing on the land for generations. What's old is venerated, respected, lovingly preserved. The only industry I spotted there, besides wineries, was wine-related: a manufactory for making the special thick champagne bottles.

Of all the picturesque towns, Hautvilliers is perhaps king. This hilly little town is classed premier cru, along with neighboring Avenay and Ay. Dom Pérignon is buried here, in the abbey church of St. Sindulphe. He's the monk who accidentally made wine with those pesky little bubbles. The rest is champagne history.

Hautvilliers is also notable for its forged iron signage. You'll find these signs sprinkled throughout France and other European countries besides, but in Hautvilliers, it's really signs gone wild. Almost every doorway in town sports an iron sign hanging above it. These pictorial signs, of course, were originally designed for the illiterate majority, and gave a clue as to what was inside. Since champagne is the only business in town, the signs of Hautvilliers are an endless variation on the themes of grapes, vines, bottles, casks, flutes, and--occasionally--happy couples celebrating.

Last year's trip was all about champagne. I didn't have the time or money to figure out where all those signs came from. I didn't notice any businesses in Hautvilliers except dozens of viniculteurs and one café.

In nearby Montier-en-Der, I learned later, is a forge called Fer et Traditions where signs, weathervanes, and the like are made. It's run by a man named Richard Brouard. Next time I'm in the neighborhood, I plan to stop by. I wonder if he'd be willing to take a break from all those iron grapes and tendrils to make something for an American. Maybe a shelf of books with cockador rampant?

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