A footnote, perhaps the best part of a book that, at least on first reading, like the walnut, yielded little for great effort. This footnote is so beautiful that I may stipulate that I am to be buried with a walnut in the pocket of my favourite Italian cotton trousers.
One day, during the war, I was asked to find an empty strip of land on the plateau de Valensole where Allied planes in difficulty could land. I find a large field that fits the bill but there’s a magnificent three-hundred-year-old walnut tree in the middle of it. The owner of the field was willing to rent it to me, but stubbornly refused to cut down the beautiful tree. I eventually told him why we needed the land, whereupon he agreed. We start clearing the soil around the base of the tree; we follow the taproot . . . . At the end of the root, we find the bones of a knight buried in his armour. The man must have been a medieval knight . . . and he had a walnut in his pocket when he was killed, for the base of the taproot was exactly level with his thigh-bone. The walnut three had sprouted in the grave.
Quoted in Paul Veyne, René Char en see poèmes. Footnote from René Char, Hypnos (Seagull Books, 2014)
Marvelous – an anecdote worth carrying throughout one’s life. I’d like to reproduce that on the label of this year’s production of Vin de Noix.
I must sample a drop of Vin de Noix sometime … didn’t even know such a thing existed.
I first tasted Vin de Noix thanks to an in-law from the Massif-Central in France, who makes it herself. I found a green walnut supplier in California who turned out to be from a town just one over from that of my in-law, so I make it myself every couple of years.
I shall have to track down a bottle next time I visit my friends near Carcassonne.
Wonderful anecdote! (And if it is not true it is at least well invented, as they say…)
What a beautiful image. Like a dream. I couldn’t help but feel a terrible anxiety over the fate of the ancient walnut tree. With the death of so many people through acts of war, tragedies like the tree’s evoke other dimensions of loss for me: people, yes, but art, the natural world, all part of this grinding destruction perpetrated by humans through time. And then the walnut in the pocket of the knight: his rotting body, his skeleton, his accroutrements of war, reclaimed by nature; and then, presence of his ghost. Thanks Anthony, for this little gem.
My pleasure, Des. The tree’s tragedy is the heart of the anecdote and I do hope the farmer put up greater resistance than the tale implies.
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