Somewhere in the middle of nowhere in the Drôme is a place called Hauterives, and in this place, in the 1800s, lived a postman called Ferdinand Cheval. In the daytime he delivered the letters by foot, and dreamed about an ideal, fairylike, beautiful palace. In the nighttime, he built it.
He had already been building his “palace, castle, a type of grotto” in his head for years when one day a weirdly shaped stone rolled into his path. He picked it up and put it in his pocket and everything started from there. For the next thirty-three years he constructed his Ideal Palace, collecting strange stones and sculpting his edifice.
I visited this on a wandering cowboy day. I used to be a travelling sales rep, and I described it as being a “wandering drunk cowboy” – I sold beer, and therefore spent most of my life in bars, and was pretty much always on the road. I can’t remember where the “cowboy” part came from. It just seemed kind of apt; and sometimes on my way around France I would take little detours on the road. After all, I was already in the area, would be unlikely to be in that area again for any other reason, and as long as I did my work and paid my own petrol for the detours, my boss was cool with it.
One of those detours took me to the palace. I visited on, I think, a midweek afternoon. There was nobody else there, and I took my time walking around. Every tiny part of the palace is worth examining; everything contains a story, a poem, a sculpture, a religious reference, a grotesque figure from the postman’s imagination.
He wrote about himself and about God and about Allah; he wrote about his palace and the world and about life. He turned his dream into a reality, and when he was done building his palace, he then spent eight years constructing his own tomb.
As it speaks so firmly for itself, I don’t really need to say anything about the Palace itself. Before I made this post, I opened WordPress and was looking at the stats, which as you can imagine are pretty tiny, seeing as I have been writing this blog for about two weeks without any real purpose. I don’t know if I’m writing it for an audience exactly. I think it’s more about wanting to share beautiful things I see, and if someone happens to come across this and see them then that’s great and I’ve shared it, but even if they don’t, at least I’ve put it out there into the world somehow.
That train of thought led me onto Facteur Cheval, and got me thinking (as I often do) about how extraordinary he was. So I made this post.
Imagine giving birth to that, though. Imagine leaving such a mark on the world.
I really don’t need to put words, I think. So here are more pictures.
I think a lot of people, me included, very much enjoy having some kind of purpose. That can be anything you make of it. But God. Imagine if it were this.