Passion project of a generous man: Gypsy Caravan Museum, St Quentin la Poterie, France

27 Apr

I’m jumping ahead to publish this as I’m still on a high after an exciting afternoon. What could have set my heart racing? A visit to the one and only Museum of 100 Years of the Gypsy Caravan (Musee Un Siecle du Roulotte) personally guided by its owner-operator Monsieur Pierre Le Fur. 

This is a museum with a difference, no admission fee or even a donation box, and it’s open only by appointment and usually only in the summertime. Good luck and gentle persistence on my part and Pierre’s open-heartedness enabled us to see the caravans as Pierre had been in Japan and only returned the day before our final day of a week in nearby Uzes, Southern France. We felt so privileged to see and touch history.

Nina greeted us.

Sixty-seven-year-old Parisien psychoanalyst Pierre fell in love with the roulotte and all it stands for; freedom from the restrictions of regular home ownership, a way to travel independently, and the rich history and culture of the nomadic Romani people, that stretches back 1500 years to Rajasthan, India, and a deep empathy with the systematic historical and present persecution of the Roma. Nomenclature may be contested, and I am not an expert, but most people understand the terms Gypsie/Gypsy for English speakers, Girano in Spanish and roma for other europeans, while in France the terms Tzigane and Manouche are used).

Pierre Le Fur and Nina.
Semi-retired Pierre started collecting and restoring roulottes and installed them in the large garden of his country cottage estate near the village of St Quentin La Poterie. His collection now numbers around 15 dating from 1870 up to 1970.

Almost all the caravans are fitted out for habitation much as they would have been used by their owners. At least one is for sale. One wooden roulotte he built from scratch for the film ‘Chocolat’ and another he bought was owned by a circus clown until his death. This was my favourite. The clown wanted to see stars above his head as he went to sleep so he stencilled tiny golden stars on the painted ceiling above his 

The clown’s caravan (below).


The ‘Chocolat’ caravan.

Pierre is involved in an admirable project to provide alternative education opportunities for Tzigane children in the region who are not in formal education. We saw photos of the caravan that had been purchased and artistically painted and that is being used as a learning space for kids.The oldest caravan (1870) shown in the photos above, is styled after the caravan of Charles Dicken’s Mrs Jarley in his novel, ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’. Mrs Jarley had a travelling waxworks show.

Pierre also welcomes artists and musicians to stage events onsite and many of the caravans have been loaned for use in films and music videos. Each year in September Pierre, his fiance Celine and friends organise a day of celebration of Tzigane heritage which attracts up to 3,000 visitors. The only fly in the ointment is the local mayor, himself of Tzigane heritage, who is none too pleased that Pierre’s museum does not meet the multitudinous rules and regulations of a standard public museum space. Regional politics are also not conducive as the National Front (far right) won the majority of votes (32%) in the most recent Occitan-Catalan regional elections. So far Pierre is keeping one step ahead of the bureaucracy but red tape is growing rather than reducing.

If you’d like to visit Pierre, le chien Nina, and his fiance Celine, email Pierre first to check if he is able to receive you and then call closer to the date to confirm a time.  Events will be published on the dedicated facebook page Un Siecle De Roulottes.
pjclefur@hotmail.com  tel:+33(0)621543451 More information at: http://www.unsieclederoulottes.com

Merci beaucoup et bon courage Pierre!
Note that the address, Chemin de Roquesis, Saint Quentin la Poterie, does not show on GPS so be sure to get detailed directions.
Special thanks to Stuart for his formidable French translation efforts today. Pierre understands English well but prefers to speak in French, bien sure.

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