Travel log Maigret's journeys in France
l'Affaire Saint-Fiacre - 1
Paray-le-Frésil - 2 - Châteauneuf-sur-Loire - Sancerre - Arpajon / Avrainville - Dizy - Givet - Meung-sur-Loire - Ingrannes - Poissy/Orgeval - Nemours/Glandelles - St.-Fargeau - Le-Coudray-Montceaux - Morsang-sur-Seine - Vichy - Jeumont
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Paray-le-Frésil Allier (03) - Auvergne
Paray is a nice little village, not because it is especially pretty or possesses remarkable curiosities, but because it is so small and so typically French that it becomes an object of interest in its own right.
Simenon's portrayal of the village in the novel matches exactly with reality, even to-day. Except for the castle, the lake, the church and the inn, there is nothing, besides about 20 houses and some nearby farms.
The Church
The church is very small and convivial. It makes an odd impression on me. Especially because of its position. Situated on a remarkable steep slope it
Paray-le-Frésil, the whole village!
literally dominates the village. I observe that this is a clear sign of the governing influence of the Catholic church in these rural communities in earlier days.
I don't think this little church has changed very much since Simenon visited it. Everything looks old but is kept up trimly.
It is dark inside, only the light filtered by the few stained-glass windows provides some visibility. This creates a distinctive, somewhat mysterious atmosphere.
The choir-stalls, reserved for the residents of the castle are still there. In the story it is on one of these chairs that the countess of Saint-Fiacre deceased after a heart-failure. Almost certain on one of the chairs on the left side. In those days, during Catholic worship, men and women were to be seated separately, men on the right side of the central aisle, women on the left.
The church of Paray.
An abstemious but inviting place of worship. The choir-stalls in which the Countess passed away.
In the past the cemetery used to be in the circular shaped yard around the church. Although the gravestones are moved elsewhere, some remarkable headstones have been preserved in the churchyard. I was glad to find a headstone of one of the de Tracy ancestors. Victor Destult (?), Marquis de Tracy and his wife Sarah Neweton apparently were buried in Paray-le-Frésil. This forefather of Simenon's employer was born in 1782 and died in 1864. He was a colonel in the military, so probably under Napoleon Bonaparte. He was also "Chevalier de la Legion d'Honneur" (a very highly regarded decoration for French citizens with outstanding merits), and among other public functions he was "Ministre de la Marine" (Secretary of the Navy). The family was even linked to the "Bourbons". Jules d'Estutt de Tracy, father of Raymond, was a 7th generation descendant of Louis XIV through his mother Marie-Thérèse Baglin de Montbel.
"...on the other side by the lake Notre-Dame which, this morning, was of a poisonous gray."'s Etang de Bourg, not Notre-Dame.
Heraldic description of the armorial bearings: Destutt de Tracy. écartelé : aux 1 et 4 palé d'or et de sable de six pièces; aux 2 et 3 d'or au cœur de gueules.
Above the entrance of the family chapel, the escutcheon of the de Tracy's (on the left) combined with other armorial bearings(?).
The inn
Since Claude Menguy reported in 1998 that the inn in Paray-le-Frésil, in the novel the "Auberge" of Maigret's childhood friend Marie Tatin, was then called "Bar-Restaurant du Tigrou". The name changed again. The inn is now called "Bar-Restaurant le Retour".
Neither, the outside view of the inn, nor the bar-room look as if they have changed very much since Simenon's time. The inside is very small, 15 people at the most can sit in the bar-room. The restaurant next to the bar is also very tiny and resembles a family living room.
frustrating visit
While it was almost lunchtime I decided to visit the bar for a "pastis" (anise aperitif) and to see if I could gather some information from the owner.
As I approach the inn's entrance, already on the outside, I perceive the usual noisy atmosphere of a French bar around the aperitif hour. When I enter, all conversation stops. Eight older men, all massively built, red-headed, with a suspicious fleeting look in their eyes, are occupying the seats of two of the three tables in the bar-room, silently observing me. I imagine how self-assured and easy-going Maigret would approach this kind of situation. So, I try to appear confident and jovially say: "bonjour messieurs" (good day gentlemen).
A dim grumbling, but nobody really answers. So far for my poise.
I set off for the bar where the "patron" (inn-keeper) unsympathetically gawking, awaits me. "Un pastis s.v.p." (one anise aperitif, please). I want to sound clear and vivid, but I can hear the unsteadiness in my voice. The "patron" reaches for a bottle of "51" (a brand of pastis), pours the liquor and with a smack sets a carafe of water and ice cubes next to the glass. I fill up my drink with the water and concentrate on the "patron".
I tell him why I'm there, hoping to get some curiosity and interest. He stays as unyielding as before. After my introductory story I decide to start with an uncomplicated question, trying to loosen up the atmosphere a little bit. I ask him since when the name of the bar did change. At last, he speaks... why do I want to know!
Whereas I try to explain that I learned that in the past the bar was called "du Tigrou", he disappears. After a minute he turns up again, supposedly coming out of the kitchen because he carries some plates with food that he dishes up for a man, the only customer, in the restaurant.

Arriving back behind his tap, I try to resume the conversation, to no purpose because he finds something else to do.
I give up, finish my "pastis" and when he returns the change after I paid him I ask if I can take a photo of the inside of the bar. He shrugs. I take that for an approval and I take some pictures. The men at the tables feel clearly a little bit ill at ease with this.
I leave the bar with a loud: "au revoir messieurs". Only one man answers: "au revoir". When I'm outside I realize that I forgot to ask for the name of the lake opposite the church. I'll have to go back. Reentering I address a man close to the door and ask him for the name of the lake.
"I suppose it's indicated", he says. This is really hopeless, why are these people this obstinate? The man who answered my valediction comes to my aid and tells me the lake is called "Etang de Bourg". I guess there I encountered one of the few well-mannered residents of Paray-le-Frésil.
Never before during my journey through France and never after this disenchanting experience at Paray-le-Frésil, I ran across this amount of inflexibility and distrust.
After all, this situation gives a distinguishing impression of the ambiance Simenon tries to create in some of his novels, including the mistrust and pigheadedness of some citizens and country people in secluded rural communities.
Go to Paray-le-Frésil - 2
Paray-le-Frésil - 2 - Châteauneuf-sur-Loire - Sancerre - Arpajon / Avrainville - Dizy - Givet - Meung-sur-Loire - Ingrannes - Poissy/Orgeval - Nemours/Glandelles - St.-Fargeau - Le-Coudray-Montceaux - Morsang-sur-Seine - Vichy - Jeumont
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