Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Once more into the breeches....

Trois Cocus War Memorial

Back when I was going pyramid crazy I ran across the monument pictured above but never posted about it----so little time, so many pyramids.  Now that I'm sluggish with fresh ideas, I'm going back to some older stuff I've been meaning to get around to.  One of these is the black pyramid in front of the neighborhood mairie in the Toulouse quarter of Trois Cocus. 

Trois Cocus means "Three Cuckolds," but the name derives from a misunderstanding.  Legend has it that some Napoleonic soldiers asked residents the name of their quarter and the people responded, "trois cocuts," meaning “three cuckoos” in Moundi, the Occitan dialect of Toulouse.  Lost in translation, the soldiers put "cocus" on their maps and the name stuck.  Funny name for a place to live, but the misunderstanding really isn't too far off.  The word cuckold has been around since the 13th century and is thought in fact to come from the word cuckoo, the female of which, in some cases, lays its eggs in the nests of other birds, thus freeing herself from having to sit on them all day.  The English words "cuckold" and "cuckoo" derive from the French "cocus" and "coucou," respectively.

Notice that the granite base, predominantly black metal body and bronze capstone give this monument a significant three layers.  Notice also (follow that "pyramid crazy" link above) that, like many pyramids in the Toulouse area, the capstone is accentuated (this is true of the so-called Temple de la Sagesse Suprême and the little fellow once found in Blagnac's principal shopping mall and the other little fellow in front of the ex-Storagetek building).  Like the Temple de la Sagesse Surprême, lighting effects are incorporated into the design; this one here is illuminated from within.  It is striking in its darkness, despite the small illuminated letters, drawing the viewer's attention not so much with its form as with the sense of absence it creates, as if a pyramid-shaped volume of air had disappeared, leaving only a void.

I also can't help but reflect upon the two flagpoles...the concept of the two freestanding pillars to demarcate sacred space, as we've flogged to death in past posts, goes back to ancient Egypt, which, given the pyramid, is not such a far stretch to imagine.  Like all war memorials in France, this is in fact a ceremonial space.  On days such as November 11th, Armistice Day, veterans, families and onlookers gather at these places to lay wreaths, give speeches and honor the dead.

I think this makes 7 pyramids I have counted so far in the Toulouse area....but only two serve as war memorials.  The other pyramid war memorial in Toulouse is in the Place de l'Europe.  I don't know the date for this one, but it's relatively modern, indicating that using the Egyptian style for funerary monuments was not abandoned after the First World War.  France and Toulouse have a long tradition of using Egyptian architectural devices on funerary monuments and structures.  One monumental obelsik is erected near the Terre Cabade cemetery, made of brick from the same "red earth" that gives the cemetery its name.  The entrance of this cemetery is flanked by two obelisks.  The obelisk appears with an almost uncountable ubiquity in monuments to the First World War.  And the obelisk is but a tapered square shaft with a pyramidion, or small pyramid, on top.

Monument aux Morts - Place de l'Europe - Toulouse

Monuments aux Morts - Stella Maris Monastery - Haifa. From Wicked Poodia, by Shmuliko
The Stella Maris Monastery in Haifa also uses a pyramid to remember French troops slaughtered there by the Turks after Napoleon's withdrawal in 1799.  Again, I'm not sure of the date, but here I find the Christian context interesting, as well as the framing of the photo, giving the impression that there are two pillars.  The Napoleonic context meshes nicely with the story of Trois Cocus.

I've written a lot on this stuff in the past, so here I've nothing to add. I've translated an article, however, that talks about the origin and controversy around the Trois Cocus memorial.


Trois-Cocus. The monument of discord.

Published on 18/08/2008. By Christophe Cazal

Public Works.  The war memorial divides opinion and frustrates veterans groups.

The history of the new war memorial on the site of the Trois Cocus began in 2005. Two associations—Anciens Combattants toutes générations (War Veterans of all generations) and Victimes de Guerre des Trois Cocus (War Victims of the Trois Cocus)—requested a new war memorial. The association first wanted a traditional monument, such as the one found in the nearby neighborhood of Lalande.  Their request was refused on the grounds that such style of work "is no longer made these days."

When the project began, three designs were proposed. Bernard Chevallier, the president of the War Veterans of Trois Cocus, would have preferred a traditional monument, but accepted another: a metal pyramid with a base of granite. But the association was not satisfied with the work it considers "disappointing in the current situation." According to the association, the original project they accepted is not the same as the one completed in 2008.

A number of meetings followed with local officials and various department heads from the office of the Architect of Toulouse.  During these meetings the president of the association expressed his concerns and made requests for changes. Bernard Chevallier was gradually satisfied as the desired changes were made, but still, he said "the rust problem soils the beautiful bas-relief granite."  He added, "The locals call this monument a caganou" he says [ referring to a pyramid-shaped pastry made of caramel and crème fraîche ganache on a nougatine or chocolate base].  The association does not want this monument as it stands.

Jean-Jacques Mirassou, the city councilman responsible for war memorials, inherited the case after the municipal elections.  "This problem is the result of a lack of consultation between my predecessor and the neighborhood associations of Trois Cocus.  I have involved technical services to satisfy the demands of the associations and I will do everything possible to solve this problem," he said firmly. "I will meet Bernard Chevallier shortly after August 19," he said. Hopefully the aesthetic problem will be resolved soon.

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