Perpignan/ “The Alchemist of Sant Vicens”: Hélène Legrais’ latest book brings us face to face with the faith of a sublime place, where artistic creation is an integral part of Catalonia’s cultural heritage
Saint Vincent Alchemistit is a moving celebration of the mystery of creation and power
The latest book by the author from Perpignan Helen Legrais* comes in the form of a Roman**, but it has all the properties of a historical bookmark to take us back to the great classics of our local history. This will not go unnoticed by the fans of the genre, rooted in this Catalonia where the artistic twist often had a click in advance on all the calendars of the world.
Between dry passages and joyful writing, Hélène Legrais takes us back to the fifties, to the ceramic workshop of Sant Vicens, in Perpignan, when the greatest masters of that time and genre, Iran Lurçat or Pablo Picasso – so many names and so many others were still moving into the collective unwittingly -, came there to do their work, maintaining an atmosphere of fantasy and freedom.
But this spinning, the author tells us, “it’s really not to the taste of André Escande, the old Cartesian atrabilaire who has a horror of modern art, and whose windows look out on this “daubers” sign. His wife Suzanne, on the contrary, is blinded by the atmosphere of the workshop. Unbeknownst to her husband, she diligently visits him and even initiates herself into the alchemy of earth and fire. Until she knows how to reveal her secret passion to irritable André, Suzanne will find an unexpected ally in the little autistic girl next door, surrounded by silence and mesmerized by the glittering patterns of ceramics….
Outside the literary narrative, the narrator Fr “The Alchemist of Saint Vincent” leads us to his belief in the Perpignan focal point of artistic creation in Roussillon. Hélène Legrais takes us into the atmosphere of a monastery ; facilitates our visit to understand and appreciate all the subtleties of a part of local history, presenting a big-hearted family, the Baubys.
Hélène Legrais, through this novel, through this kind of literary and cultural pilgrimage, through her talent, with an amazing sense of detail in her writing, not only brings the studio (and behind the scenes) of Sant Vicenç and its artistic gratin, but also through the eyes of a new generation – and new residents of our area, every year more and more numerous -, as well as their own vote literary, she asserts herself as a (northern) Catalan writer inevitable !
–“Sant Vicens turns 80, I didn’t want to miss it”she wrote in the dedication. “This return to the basics, from the time when Firmin Bauby invented this magical place where the greatest came to create, and the “small” were welcome…”.
*Hélène Legrais: born in Perpignan and a columnist for France Bleu Roussillon, she worked for France Inter and Europe 1, before returning to her native Catalonia to devote herself to writing. She won the Prix Méditerranée Roussillon in 2012 for “The Lost Heroes of Gabrielle”.
** “Alchemist of Saint Vincent”, published by Editions Calmann-Lévy, in the collection “Territories” (328 pages – €19.90).