Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Jottings from the Journals... Nevers

Tuesday, 19th

…Camped near Nevers and strayed into town for a brief look round.  Need to decide how long to stay…
… the Palais Ducal dates from the 15th century.  It is a quite magnificent example of Renaissance architecture, with its round towers and the pointed roof that give it that very French look.  According to my guide book, it was once the home of the Dukes of Nevers.  Now it houses an annexe to the law courts.  It appears that the Chevalier au Cygne (The Swan Knight), an early ancestor of the family, inspired the tale of Lohengrin which Wagner used as the basis for his opera.
But Nevers has an even more interesting tale to tell, that of Vert-Vert.  Vert-Vert was a parrot who lived with an order of nuns in the city.  He was very well looked after, so much so that the sisters of the motherhouse asked for him to be sent to them so that they could enjoy his company.  After much debate within the order, Vert-Vert was prepared for his journey along the Loire to Nantes.  Regrettably, his travelling companions - two Dragoons - were of 'the lowest sot' and Vert-Vert began mimicking their foul speech.  By the time he had reached Nantes, Vert-Vert did not want for 'curses and oaths' as he 'could out-swear a devil in a holy font.'  One can imagine the looks of shock on the nun's faces at his first utterances.
Porte du Croux, Nevers
Vert-Vert was returned to his original home in Nevers.  In order the bring the unruly bird under control, Vert-Vert was condemned to silence along with a period of fasting and solitude.  Having re-acquired his good manners, he was then brought out of confinement to live amongst the nuns, who spoiled him.  Eventually, 'Stuffed with sugar and mulled with wine' this rascal of a bird 'Changed his rosy life for a coffin of pine.'
But that is not where this story ends!  Jaen-Baptiste Gresset (1709-1777), a poet and dramatist, published his poem 'Vert-Vert, histoire d'un perroquet de Nevers' in 1734.  The story and the poem inspired paintings by Jean François Millet, Auguste Couder, Fleury François Richard and their respective canvasses hang in galleries across France.  Later, in 1869, Jacques Offenbach staged his comic opera based on the poem in Paris.
I think that parrot has a lot to answer for!

When I got home after this trip I looked up the poem and there are a number of English translations.  It is quite a tale!

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