Augustus Young       light verse, poetry and prose
a webzine of new and unpublished work


from The Forked River Anthology


In the largest coastal town, St Cyprian, the chronic mayor Jacques Bouille (62) is in prison. His push to rival Ceret’s pre-eminence as a centre for modern art has ended in chaos. Le Journal’s front-page is Bizarre, bizarre. It’s a bordel. He was arrested on Christmas Day for buying art works with public money to decorate the walls of his house. This fort-like redoubt is famous for having windows on only one side, and it’s not the front. Chez Bouille in effect is a private gallery worth at least ten million euros. The collection is eclectic, lesser-known Fauves, fashionable contemporary artists, and drawings by Giacometti’s brother. Bouille stockpiled artworks elsewhere too. On the walls of the St Cyprian Art Gallery a stray Othon Friesz appeared (unattributed and, indeed, unnoticed). A Jean Puy has been discovered in the toilet of a bar owned by his cousin-in-law.  


Le Journal is in direct contact with Bouille. He sends Open Letters to the editor, handwritten. Bitter about the confiscation of the priceless artworks he was holding for St Cyprian till it had a suitable space, sweet about his wife who loves them, and him, in that order. But the legal process is not a huis clos. So it’s clear the supercherie swindle is not just art for art’s sake. He has for years been giving public land to developers in exchange for the purchase of bigger and better paintings and sculptures. A Swiss-based estate agent called Damien Pillier has been implicated. The barter, Operation Troc, became so difficult to administrate that his staff in the Town Hall had to be expanded beyond Bouille’s extended family. The UMP Party has disowned him, and the first adjoint mayor has taken over the running of the town. 

I know the St Cyprian Gallery desk staff. An arty bimbo whose petit ami in Port-Vendres must be someone’s husband, as she did not give his name, and Bouille’s demure wife, Marie-Antoinette, who doesn’t talk but hands you the leaflet for the show and continues reading her book. The Gallery has an annex for touring contemporary exhibitions. Japanese maximalists, Dutch minimalists, nursery toys repainted into satires of domestic life. The artistic director, Giles de Montfort, resigned unexpectedly about three years ago. Asked why, the desk bimbo said he had reached his point de rolex (retirement age). As it was an honourary position this explanation surprised me.

Since then the shows have been in the hands of the arty bimbo, and going down hill (drawings by Francis Bacon, mainly soiled newspaper cuttings, that have traveled the world). I must have seen Jacques Bouille speechifying at vernissages, but don’t remember him. Maybe he lacked presence, or was overshadowed by Giles de Montfort, whose every moleheap is a mountain, and all his ideas extraordinaire. Bouille’s photo in Le Journal suggests an homme discret. He wears heart-shaped cuff-links on his sleeve.        

Most of the staff in the Town Hall are under investigation. Several have been arrested. One adjoint mayor has joined Bouille in jail. Bail has been refused for fear of intimidation of witnesses. Jacques Bouille in a letter to the newspaper says, ‘Everything was done for Marie-Antoinette. She loves art and I love her’. The facsimile shows the scrawl of a desperate man, feeble and uneven, leaving the page with unfinished words. ‘And now she’s forbidden to visit me.’ It was the last Le Journal published. The judge threatened complicity.


On the first of April incendries were reported on the seafront at St Cyprian, with a photo of a burnt out car. I wondered if it was a poisson d’avril (an April Fool is a fish in France), and drove there to check. An ice-cream kiosk was in cinders, looking like a Tanguy sculpture hanging in the wind. The car itself must have once resembled Salvador Dali’s Cadillac for Gala in his Figueras Museum. Fried to its metal skeleton, now more a Richard Serra or Kevin Kline installation. But I doubt if there will be tourist buses coming to see it. St Cyprian tends to attract pensioners in camping vans. Their interest in surrealism and abstract expressionism is limited.

The Art Gallery was showing drawings from the Desnoyer Collection. Sedate beach scenes from the nineteen fifties. Bathing beauties in two-piece swimsuits, sportifs in striped singlets, fluffy dogs. Nobody is drowning. Happy days when the law didn’t concern itself with what mayors were up to. The Contemporary Art annex looks terminally closed.

The coastal road back to Port-Vendres is a wilderness of new housing developments until you reach Argelès. I thought of Hermann Goring. He had a similar art obsession to Bouille. But he didn’t do it for the money. Prestige in ownership, and attracting the right class of German to the National Socialist Party, was enough. It is possible he liked art too. At the fall of the Reich his private gallery had over a thousand paintings, hundreds of sculptures and tapestries. Some were gifts or bribes. Most were extorted. Art is a badman’s world. But it touches the heart. 

The burnt out car belonged to the second adjoint mayor of St Cyprian, Marc Blasco (54), who in February tried to end his days by jumping from a bridge over the Route Nationale. He was responsible for seafront affairs, and had fast-food malbouffe businesses there. Blasco is still in hospital. Better than jail if you didn’t have a broken neck. But he isn’t talking. And won’t be, says an unnamed friend, ‘unless he wants his family home torched too’.   


On Mayday Remi Bolte (68), the office manager in the Town Hall, was put under house arrest. Local wags say that he is the verrou (bolt) to Bouille’s écrou (nut). They were the joint masterminds, and had friends in high places in regional and national politics. There are photos to prove it. But this latest arrest signals that there will be no complicity at the highest level in turning a blind eye. Bouille’s request for bail has once again been refused. The truth may come out someday but he has been finally abandoned by his Party. His isolation is now complete, with no hope of protection from above. He has been in solitary confinement for five months.

On the last day of May, Bouille hanged himself in his cell from the cord of his dressing gown. Many will be relieved. There is no scapegoat like a dead one. The real masters can sleep easily in their beds. The Bishop of Perpignan allowed Bouille a Church funeral, which briefly united the town behind the family. A demure but defiant wife and two grown-up children walked in the cortege, en marche silencieuse, to the cemetery. I think there would have been some poetical justice if he had been buried in the Plage d’Art, the beach he renamed.