On all the main routes leading into the village there are those brown road signs proclaiming Puylaurens the "Berceau occitan de la Marianne républicaine" - the Occitan cradle of republican Marianne.

 

In October 1792 Guillaume Lavabre, a cobbler-troubadour born and bred in Puylaurens, wrote a song about a local girl by the name of Marianne. Called in Occitan La Garison de Marianna - The Healing of Marianne - it was also in praise of the newly created Republic, which he baptised Marianne.

 

The lyrics are, it has to be admitted, a rather contrived extended metaphor of Marianne suffering under the Ancien Régime but regaining her health as a result of the Revolution and the exploits of its heroes.

 

Our neighbour, Madame Garric, is secretary of the Association Marianna in Puylaurens, and she asked me to make a translation in English, as closely as possible word for word, and keeping the references to Revolutionary events and personalities as in the original. It will be used as part of the forthcoming annual celebrations of Marianne here:


Marianne, suffering from a serious sickness, was not being well treated and was dying of misery. The Doctor, rather than curing her, made her suffer day and night. The new Executive Power gave her an emetic to clear her chest. Marianne feels better.


A grain of liste civile is a fatal remedy which retains the bile in the body, and always increases the pain. And the remedies of Louis are not good: one never gets better. But an ounce of Egalité and two drachmas of Liberté have certainly cleared her chest. Marianne feels better.


Marianne the kind got her sense of taste back after the correct bleeding that took place on 10 August. The accursed pain quickly goes when one gets back one's appetite. A little oil of Servan, a little syrup of Roland, have certainly cleared her chest. Marianne feels better.


Dillon, Kellermann, Custine have started to drive out the foul vermin that almost killed her; and the insides of the intestines will soon be rid of such malignant worms; the elixir of Dumouriez, rubbed on the soles of the feet, has certainly cleared her chest. Marianne feels better.


The capture of Nice and two pinches of Emigrants are needed to dissipate the harm of this pain which was so great, carefully passing the submission of Brunswick through the still. In the morning, on rising from bed, the evaporation of Clairfayt has certainly cleared her chest. Marianne feels better.

 

Montesquiou, the good patriot and Marianne's doctor, wants to cure her completely with marmot fat. Finally Anselme expels the poison, taking some more blood from her. So, her body purged, cleansed of the harmful yeast, Marianne, recovering fully, will be a picture of health.


What is striking is how well informed Lavabre was about the often chaotic events happening all over France in 1792. Googling the names in the song and events like the capture of Nice gives a vivid picture of the febrile atmosphere of the time.


Today Marianne is everywhere - on French postage stamps and euro centimes, and all of the thousands of townhalls in France have a bust of her. The Statue of Liberty, presented to the United States by France, is inspired by the republican virtues symbolised by Marianne and what the new republic on the other side of the Atlantic aspired to. And Delacroix's famous painting la Liberté guidant le peuple has Liberty represented by Marianne.


There is a certain irony in all this. The song was written and sung in Occitan, the language of this region that stretches from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. It was almost extinguished by the imposition of French, and this still causes a grudge. Madame Garric, for example, talks unselfconsciously of "the invasion by the people from the North" and she doesn't mean Brits buying houses here or the Nazi occupation, but the speakers of French (the "langue d'oui") imposing their language and culture over the centuries on the speakers of the "langue d'oc", ie Occitans like her.  


And Brigitte Bardot? Every few years a new bust of Marianne is produced using a contemporary model or actress for inspiration. Brigitte Bardot in 1968, Mireille Mathieu (1978), Catherine Deneuve (1985), and Laetitia Casta in 2000. I'm not sure who the bust of Marianne in a niche on the front wall of Pépoulie takes after.

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