Post Road Magazine #25


Elizabeth Graver

In 2009, I spent two months in French Switzerland, in the region where my husband's father had grown up. With my husband and two young daughters, I house-swapped with a family we had met online. The Swiss family stayed in our house near Boston, while we stayed in their tiny village in the foothills of the Jura Mountains—a gentle and abundant place where a cold river flowed and apricots and cherries dropped from trees. We hiked and ate fresh cheese, explored but rarely went very far, returning again and again to the nearby trails and villages.

One of our favorite places was the neighboring medieval town of RomainmĂ´tier, where we'd go to hear music in the medieval abbey, to eat at the bakery, and to walk along the small canal into the woods. It was in Romainmôtier, wandering along a grassy carriage road one day, that we came upon Jan Reymond, who was hauling fresh-cut lumber out of the forest and building some sort of elaborate, mysterious structure that looked like a giant wagon wheel laid out on the ground.

We stopped and watched; eventually, we spoke to Jan. He was building a "chapiteaux," he told us—a sort of circus tent. For what, we asked. A party, he said. He and his friends would play music, read poetry, sing, dance, eat. Then what? Then the structure would come down.

Several weeks later, we returned. The wheel was in the sky now; you could reach its crow's nest by climbing a tall ladder, which we did. A week or so after that, we came by again. Friends were there, helping Jan complete the skeleton of the tent. This time, we lingered longer. The place seemed magical, the chapiteaux as artless as it was beautiful, carefully constructed in the way of something built to hold and shelter, to welcome in. On this visit, Jan took us to his workshop where we saw some of his sculptures—tables and benches made of glued, discarded books. He was having a wine tasting party that night in preparation for the big party, he said. Would we like to come?

That evening will live long in my memory: the outdoor spit where sausages roasted, the endless wine, the people—Swiss, Latin American, French; carpenters, veterinary students, musicians, artists; babies. An enormous shaggy dog. The whole thing felt at once improvisational and filled with an almost radiant, unspoken purpose, much like Jan's sculptures, many of which are temporary installations, hung clandestinely at night to the surprise of town residents—books dangling by thin strings from the arched doorways of the abbey, or a rose window made entirely of books. Books as trees, as fountains. Books as walls, windows, doors.

We left Switzerland two days before the big party. That was all right. I loved the in-passing way we'd come to know Jan and his creations. I loved, too, how deeply his book art spoke of the intertwined relationship between word and shelter, word and wall, word and beauty, word and place. I loved his art's impermanence, its playful celebrations. How it was built well, as if to last, then taken down. For this Folio, I put out a call for writers to respond to a photograph of one of Jan's sculptures, called Passage de la Tour. I picture this flock of wonderful, small stories gathering around the actual sculpture, lighting on it, becoming, briefly, part of it. Passing through. You can find the photograph of the sculpture on the outside of this issue of Post Road. The stories are inside.

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