By Michael Stevenson
The photographs that occupy the header of my Pas De Merde blog are each the work of Pierre Jamet. Jamet (1910-2000) was a singer (the tenor voice in Les Quatre Barbus), active outdoorsman, and above all – the gifted photographer who so brilliantly captured young French people enjoying their country’s hillsides, lakes, and seashore during the 1930s.
I especially love the above photo, “Four Pair of Legs.” It beautifully captures the feeling of being on vacation – the clashing sensations of both relaxation and exhilaration that nourish our summer souls. Are the children’s legs dangling from the bridge as they take a rest after their hike? Or are they preparing to jump into the cool, refreshing waters of a stream below? I like to imagine that the children drop from the bridge into the railroad car of a passing train, carrying goose feathers – destination unknown.
Pierre Jamet would photograph children and families on the roads of France, in youth hostels and summer resorts, during the leftist political period of the Popular Front, mid-1930s. His photos express a joie de vivre that suggest the very thing I seek out when I travel.
Photographing families having fun – that’s what Jamet would do for work. When finished, he would go on holiday. Mon Dieu!
“(In 1936), the working class gained the right to two weeks’ vacation a year for the first time. This signaled the beginning of tourism in France. Although beach resorts had long existed, they had been restricted to the upper class. Tens of thousands of families who had never seen the sea before now played in the waves, and the Popular Front arranged around 500,000 discounted rail trips and hotel accommodation on a massive scale.” (Wikipedia)
The French now observe 11 official public holidays (5 civil and 6 religious) as well as their paid vacations from work. The average French worker can expect 30 days a year of paid vacation.
The United States is the only industrialized country where employers are not required to provide paid vacation for their workers. But, as the character Bill Lumbergh in the movie Office Space might remind we Americans, “next Friday… is ‘Hawaiian shirt day’.
Paid vacation or not, I now plan summer vacation in France for the rest of my life. As the song goes, “I love Paris in the summer when it sizzles.” I also love the lavender fields and olive groves in Provence. The summer song of les cigales. A tasting at the vineyard. Old men playing pétanque in the village square. An evening concert. Antonio Carlos Jobim wrote of “quiet nights of quiet stars, quiet chords from my guitar, floating on the silence that surrounds us.” Yes – floating!
On a morning drive we see children sitting along the wall of a bridge. Not just four pair of legs, I see the faces in Jamet’s photographs, come to life.
The terroir of travel is a mix of letting go and grabbing on, resting and preparing to jump.
Voila! – the water’s fine!
SPECIAL NOTE: Apologies for any WordPress cropping of Pierre Jamet’s photographs on my blog. Please visit this website for the best renditions of Jamet’s work, a forward from daughter Corrine Jamet, and information about the book of Jamet’s photography, 1936 Au-devant de la vie.