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Thursday, November 02, 2006

Bornes de Memoire

A French scholar traces roadside tributes over two years.


Guardrail memorial for a 30 year old (d. Sept. 12, 2004)

Chabrières, Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, France

Photo: Laetitia Nicolas

Today is All Souls, a day to remember all the dead who, for whatever reason, may not qualify for sainthood. (Sound like any relatives or friends of yours?)

In years past, we’ve reported on expressions of this custom in Italy and the Latino festival El Dia de los Muertos, with its sherbet orange displays of cempasuchil.

imageMemorial to an Unknown

Saint-Martin-de-Crau, Bouches-du-Rhône, France

Photo: Laetitia Nicolas

Thanks to Laetitia Nicolas, an anthropology student in Aix-en-Provence, this year we gratefully report on a widespread memorial tradition as practiced year ‘round in France. Nicolas has been investigating the public tributes we in the U.S. call “roadside memorials.” She’s named them “Bornes de Memoire” (landmarks of memory). For two years, she’s traveled throughout Southern France photographing the bouquets on electric poles, ribbon decorations along isolated country roads, and shrines in the middle of nowhere. These tiny monuments are made, of course, to turn “the middle of nowhere” into an honored “someplace,” where a loved one perished. And in nearly all her pictures, we see flowers, both fresh and fabric.

One of the most interesting aspects of Laetitia’s research is her effort to track down the story behind the bouquet. In some cases, she’s found the newspaper articles that reported on these highway fatalities; with others, she actually interviewed survivors.  Nicolas’s documentation is especially valuable because she has pictured not only the memorials themselves but the context, showing us what these tributes look like from afar, to the approaching, unsuspecting traveler.

imageMemorial to an Unknown

Saint-Martin-de-Crau, Bouches-du-Rhône, France

Photo: Laetitia Nicolas

Over the two years of her study (which wound up in September 2006),  Laetitia also created an online archive of the “bornes de memoire” as she discovered them, inviting comments and new information and linking to research on this topic from other parts of the world. Her intriguing site reflects new trends in open scholarship, made possible by the Internet, and furthered by her generous contribution here as well.

After looking over her site, you may want to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) for further information about this custom and/or her research methods.

Note from 3/24/07: Here is a link to Laetitia Nicolas’s full thesis (in French).

To read the abstract of her study, also in French ....

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Posted by Julie on 11/02 at 01:51 PM
Culture & SocietyGardening & LandscapeSecular CustomsTravelPermalink