"Paysage du Vercors" [ photo  by Bruno Monginoux / cc  by-nc-nd   www.Photo-Paysage.com

"Paysage du Vercors" [photo by Bruno Monginoux / cc by-nc-nd www.Photo-Paysage.com


France, 1942

The mountain air is pure, with an edge to it, even in summer. It feels like shattered glass.

I don’t want to breathe this air but it flows through my lungs anyway. Invisible and omnipresent, like God. Leaving me to crave the dirty air of the city, the soot from the train station, the cigarette smoke and plaster dust in our apartment.

My nose indulges in each new smell. Woodsmoke. Pine and wildflowers. Mud and grass and manure. Smells that drift across the plateau without mingling.

I miss the noises of the city, the train station, the street. Before the Occupation muted them all. I miss the sounds of home. Maman at the piano, Papa tapping chisel against stone, my friends calling me from the courtyard.

There is so much silence here. Thick and quilted like the cover on Maman’s piano. A silence that absorbs every noise. That fills my ears with emptiness.


Read a brief history of the Holocaust in France here


"I aspired to see with my own eyes what I had heard of from so far away: this revolution of the eye, this rotation of colours...that could not be seen in my town. The sun of Art then shone only on Paris."

No one has put it better than artist Marc Chagall when describing the scene in Montparnasse during les Années Folles (the Crazy Years). It was the golden age of the 1920s.

As Europe came alive again after the Great War, people were drawn to the City of Light like a flame. Scores of writers fled suffocatingly conservative Anglo-Saxon cultures in search of the intellectual, artistic and sexual freedom that only the French capital could offer. Montparnasse became a centre and focus of creativity, with its lovely cafés, bohemian bars and studios.

The romantic and artistic Paris of Zola, Manet, Degas and Fauré in Montmartre was a world away economically, socially, and politically from the gritty, tough-talking, uncompromising, emigrant artists that inhabited in Montparnasse.

The intellectual life in Montparnasse was not peaceful, but rather accented by quarrels between artists about art and artistic currents, ideological debates about literary and theatre styles. Writers like Gide and Valéry were at the vanguard of French literature and political thought while aspiring international writers such as Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald and James Joyce were seeking inspiration.

Paris was transformed into the home of the avant-garde with the advent of Cubism, Surrealism, and Dadaism.  Picasso and Matisse were the poster-boys for a scene that included the genius of Chagall, Giacometti, Miró and Calder. Montparnasse became one of the most prosperous and prolific art colonies of the 20th century.

And the cafés were the key to it all. That's where the magic occurred.

Café Culture

Imagine the scene: a focused young man wearing a creased jacket is sitting at the table in the corner of the café. He has been scribbling furiously in a notebook all afternoon and has finally fallen asleep, his head resting on the table, lulled by the conversation and warmth of the place.

The year is 1924 and that young man could be Ernest Hemingway finishing The Sun Also Rises, or James Joyce writing Finnegan's Wake.

The cafés and bars of Montparnasse were in the Carrefour Vavin, which is now called the Place Pablo-Picasso. At the neighborhood's zenith, cafés like Le Dôme, La Rotonde, La Closerie des Lilas, and La Coupole — all of which are still in business— were a lifeline to the starving artists that populated Montparnasse. Jean Cocteau once said poverty was a luxury in Montparnasse.

Living in an unheated studio with no running water and infested with rats was a badge of honour. In the precious cafés of Montparnasse, an impoverished artist was allowed to occupy a table all evening for only a few centimes. The proprietor of La Rotonde, Victor Libion, told the waiters not to wake them if they fell asleep and look the other way when they broke ends of the baguettes in the bread baskets.

Libion would accept a drawing as payment if an artist couldn't pay the bill and would hold the sketch until the bill was paid.  There were times when the café's walls were covered with artworks that would make the curators of today drool with envy.

from What Paris Online Travel Guide


The Massif du Vercors consists of rugged plateaux and mountains straddling the départements of Isère and Drôme in the French pre-Alps.  It lies west of the Dauphiné Alps, from which it is separated by the rivers Drac and Isère.
Various features of its complex geography include: the Quatre Montagnes (four mountains), the Coulmes (gorges), the Vercors Drômois, the Hauts-Plateaux (high plateaus) and, in the foothills, Royans, Gervanne, Diois, and Trièves (see topographic map below).

The massif is sometimes called the fortress.  The fall from the massif to its inner valleys is a few hundred metres, while the fall to the surrounding areas is between 800 metres (2,600 ft) and 1,200 metres (3,900 ft).  The movement of people tends to be between the massif and the surrounding plains rather than between the various parts of the massif itself.

Until the mid twentieth century, the name Vercors was used to describe the township of La Chapelle-en-Vercors.  The northern area around Lans-en-Vercors, Villard-de-Lans, Autrans, and Méaudre was known as Quatre-Montagnes, the Four Mountains area.

In June and July 1944, the massif became important in World War II with the establishment of the Free Republic of Vercors, led by the maquis du Vercors, a base for the French Resistance against German occupation.

You can find for information in the Wikipedia article on the Vercors Massif.

Map credit: Ewan ar Born.  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Map credit: Ewan ar Born.  Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International license

Méaudre (village in Quatre-Montagnes)