A couple of months ago, I stumbled upon a little old book at a used bookstore in Aix-en-Provence. My edition was printed in 1953. It was "Maurin des Maures", written in 1908 by a local Provence writer from Toulon, Jean Aicard. In a few hours, I devoured the book.
Its story takes place in the brushy maquis and forests of the Maures Mountains on the French Côte d'Azur, just behind St Tropez.
The hero, Maurin des Maures, roams the Maures Mountains by Bormes-les-Mimosas, St Tropez, Sainte-Maxime and south of Gonfaron, Pignans, La Garde-Freinet. He's a free happy-go-lucky man who hunts rabbits and wild boar for sustenance, teases the gendarmes for fun and ends up falling in love with Tonia, a young woman who works as a waitress in a local tavern. The hiccup? Tonia is engaged to an up and coming gendarme, freshly assigned to the region.
The story charms with its description of the country side behind St Tropez in the mid 1800's. It's also alive with depictions of local personalities, their quirks, their work. Through it, you hear the steps of the wild boar foraging through the woods, you inhale the scents of the maquis. The story bounces like Maurin himself from one adventure to the next, never staying put or boring. It's a colorful, epic and fun tale, with a twist of rebelliousness and love.
Jean Aicard (1848 - 1921, born and worked in Toulon) labored for many years on Maurin des Maures. He claimed to have written it four times over. Flammarion published its first edition in 1908, and it has seen many more editions over the next decades.
The public loved the adventure book. Aicard followed the novel with L'Illustre Maurin (1908) and then Le Rire de Maurin des Maures published in 1923, thus offering a trilogy with Maurin des Maures as the central character.
Jean Aicard also wrote poems, devoting a good number of them to the Provence and its peculiarities. He wrote poems on the Bouillabaisse fish stew (see recipe here), the Olive Tree, the Cicada. Unlike Frédéric Mistral, another Provençal poet, Aicard wrote in French and not in Provençal.
If you fancy finding out more about Jean Aicard, check out the little museum:
- Musée Jean Aicard
Avenue du 8 Mai 1945
83130 - La Garde
Phone: +33 (0)4 94 14 33 78
Opened Tuesdays, Thursdays and Fridays from 2PM until 6PM and on the 1st and 3rd weekends of every month, except holidays. The museum is in Jean Aicard's former home "Les Lauriers Roses" in La Garde by Toulon, complete with loads of personal items on his work desk. For more info, see the La Garde city web site.
As far as I can tell, the book is out of print, but you'll find plenty of old editions available through Amazon resellers, through AbeBooks and others. You can also get your hands/mouse on a e-book version of it. In French only - a good way to brush on la langue de Molière.