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- Tartarin de Tarascon - 1/14 -

Tartarin de Tarascon.

By A. Daudet.

Translated by Oliver C. Colt.


The tale of Tartarin de Tarascon was written by Alphonse Daudet in 1872, and was one of the many works which he produced. In it he pokes gentle fun at a type of Frenchman who comes from the Midi, the area where he himself was born. Tartarin has characteristics which may remind the English-speaking reader of Toad of Toad Hall, a boastful braggart, easily deceived, but good-hearted au fond.

The world he inhabits is, of course, very different from ours. There is no radio or television, the motor car is no more than a plaything for the rich. There is only the beginnings of a telephone system. Much sea transport is still by sailing ship and the idea of mass air travel is in the realm of science-fiction. France lost the Franco-Prussian war at the battle of Sedan in 1870, which accounts for the flood of refugees from Alsasce. She had also, in the 19th century rush to carve up the African continent, seized among other places, Algeria, which she held in subjection by force of arms. So- called Big Game Hunters were regarded with some admiration, and indeed it was a much more perilous activity than it is today, when high power repeating rifles with telescopic sights make motor-borne "Sportsmen" little more than butchers.

Daudet's humour is on the whole inoffensive, but anti-semitism was rife in certain circles in France. It was the era of the Dreyfus scandal, and he indulges in one or two tasteless gibes at the expense of the Jews, which I have suppressed or at least amended. He also has a passage which might well offend the delicate susceptabilities of the less tolerant believers in Islam, although to anyone with a nodding acquaintance with the tents of that faith, the incident is so far- fetched as to neutralise "The willing suspension of disbelief" I have therefore decided to elimiinate it from this version of the story. It is not very amusing and is no great loss.

Although Daudet's humour is in the main kindly, he does not spare the French colonial administration of the time. His treatment of the subject is acidly satirical. It may be said that Daudet seems to know little about firearms, less about lions and nothing about camels, but he is not striving for verisimilitude. After all, the adventures of James Bond do not mirror the reality of international espionage, nor do the exploits of Bertie Wooster and Jeeves truely reflect life in the upper echelons of British society.

This is not a schoolroom exercise in translation. It might be more accurately described as a version in English. I have not tampered with the story line nor made any changes in the events related, but where I thought it necessary I have not shrunk from altering the words and phrases used in the original to describe them. All translation must be a matter of paraphrase. What sounds well in one language may sound ridiculous if translated literally into another, and it is for the translator to judge how far this process of paraphrase may be carried.

I have attempted to produce a text which will entertain the average reader. Those who want to know exactly what Daudet wrote must consult the French original.

Tartarin de Tarascon

Chapter 1. Although it is now some twelve or fifteen years since my first meeting with Tartarin de Tarascon, the memory of the encounter remains as fresh as if it had been yesterday.

At that time Tartarin lived near the entrance to the town, in the third house on the left on the Avignon road, a pretty little Tarascon villa, with a garden in front, a balcony behind, very white walls and green shutters.

From outside the place looked perfectly ordinary, one would never have believed that it was the home of a hero, but when one went inside, well... My goodness! The whole establishment had an heroic air, even the garden!

Ah...! The Garden...there was not another like it in Europe. Not one indigenous tree grew there, not one French flower; nothing but exotic plants, gum trees, calabashes, cotton trees, coconut palms, mangos, bananas, cactuses, figs and a baobab. One might have thought oneself in the middle of Africa, thousands of miles from Tarascon. Of course none of these trees was fully grown, the coconut palm was about the size of a swede and the baobab (arbos gigantica) fitted comfortably into a pot full of earth and gravel. No matter....For Tarascon it was quite splendid, and those citizens who were admitted, on Sundays, to have the privilege of inspecting Tartarin's baobab went home full of admiration.

You may imagine my emotions as I walked through this remarkable garden...they were nothing, however, to what I felt on being admitted to the sanctum of the great man himself.

This building, one of the curiosities of the town, was at the end of the garden, to which it opened through a glass door. Picture a large room hung from floor to ceiling with firearms and swords; weapons from every country in the world. Guns, carbines, rifles, blunderbusses, knives, spears, revolvers, daggers, arrows, assegais, knobkerries, knuckledusters and I know not what.

The brilliant sunlight glittered on the steel blades of sabres and the polished butts of firearms. It was really quite a menacing scene...what was a little reassuring was the good order and discipline which ruled over this arsenal. Everything was neat tidy and dusted. Here and there a simple notice, reading "Poison arrows, Do not touch." or "Beware.Loaded firearms." made one feel it safe to approach.

In the middle of the room was a table. On the table was a flagon of rum, a turkish tobacco pouch, The voyages of Captain Cook, stories of adventure, treatises on falconry, descriptions of big-game hunts etc...and finally seated at the table was the man himself. Forty to forty-five years of age, short, fat, stocky and ruddy, clad in shirt- sleeves and flannel trousers, with a close-clipped wiry beard and a flamboyant eye. In one hand he held a book and with the other he brandished an enormous pipe, its bowl covered by a metal cap; and as he read some stirring tale of the pursuit of hairy creatures, he made, pushing out his lower lip, a fierce grimace which gave his features, those of a comfortable Tarascon "Rentier", the same air of hearty ferocity which was evident throughout the whole house. This man was Tartarin... Tartarin de Tarascon... the intrepid, great and incomparable Tartarin de Tarascon.

At that time Tartarin was not the Tartarin which he is today, the great Tartarin de Tarascon who is so popular throughout the Midi of France, however, even at this epoch, he was already the king of Tarascon.

Let us examine how he acquired his crown. You will be aware, for a start, that everyone in these parts is a hunter. From the highest to the lowest hunting is a passion with the Tarasconais and has been ever since the legendary Tarasque prowled in the marshes near the town and was hunted down by the citizens.

Now, every Sunday morning, the men of Tarascon take up arms and leave town, bag on back and gun on shoulder, with an excited collection of dogs, with ferrets, with trumpets and hunting horns, it is a splendid spectacle....Sadly, however, there is a shortage of game... in fact there is a total absence of game.... Animals may be dumb but they are not stupid, so for miles around Tarascon the burrows are empty and the nests abandoned. There is not a quail, not a blackbird, not the smallest rabbit nor even the tiniest wheatear.

These pretty little Tarascon hills, scented with lavender, myrtle and rosemary are very tempting, and those fine muscat grapes,swollen with sugar, which line the banks of the Rhone, are wonderfully appetising...yes, but there is Tarascon in he distance, and in the world of fur and feather Tarascon is bad news. The birds of passage seem to have marked it with a cross on their maps, and when the long wedges of wild duck, heading for the Camargue, see far off the town's steeples, the whole flight veers away. In short there is nothing left by way of game in this part of the country but an old rascal of a hare, who has escaped by some miracle the guns of Tarascon and appears determined to stay there. This hare is well known. He has been given a name. He is called "Speedy". He is known to live on land belonging to M.Bompard...which, by the way, has doubled or even tripled its value. No one has yet been able to catch him, and at the present time there are not more than two or three fanatics who go after him. The rest have given up and Speedy has become something of a protected species, though the Tarasconais are not very conservation minded and would make a stew of the rarest of creatures, if they managed to shoot one.

Now, you may say,"Since game is in such short supply, what do these Tarasconais sportsmen do every Sunday?" What do they do? Eh! Mon Dieu! They go out into the country, several miles from the town. They assemble in little groups of five or six. They settle down comfortably in some shady spot. They take out of their game-bags a nice piece of boeuf-en-daube, some raw onions, a sausage and some anchovies and they begin a very long luncheon, washed down by one of these jolly Rhone wines, which encourage singing and laughter.

When all have had enough, they whistle for the dogs, load their guns and commence the shoot. That is to say each of these gentlemen takes off his hat, sends it spinning through the air with all his strength and takes a pot-shot at it. The one who hits his hat most frequently is proclaimed king of the hunt and returns to Tarascon that evening in triumph, his perforated hat hanging from the end of his gun and to the accompaniment of much barking and blowing of trumpets.

One need hardly tell you that there is a brisk trade in hats in the town, and there are even hatters who sell hats already full of holes and tears for use by the less skillful, but scarcely anyone is known to buy them except Bezuquet the chemist.

As a hat shooter Tartarin had no equal. Every Sunday morning he left with a new hat. Every evening he returned with a rag. In the little house of the baobab, the attic was full of these glorious trophies. All of Tarascon recognised him as their master in this respect. The gentlemen elected him as their chief justice in matters relating to the chase and arbitrator in any dispute, so that every day, between the hours of three and four in the afternoon, at Costecalde the gunsmith's one could see the plump figure of a man, seated gravely on a green leather arm-chair, in the middle of the shop, which was full of hat hunters standing about and arguing. It was Tartarin delivering justice. Nimrod doubling as Soloman.

Chapter 2. In addition to their passion for hunting the good people of Tarascon had another passion, which was for drawing-room ballads. The number of ballads which were sung in this part of the world passed all

Tartarin de Tarascon - 1/14

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