Visiting Wilson Square, Toulouse, France: remembering 17th century poet Pierre Goudouli and multiple, local identities
Author of dialect writing standardized in stone?
Since France has for centuries been a strongly centralized state, the country's many regional linguistic and cultural identities are often overlooked. Here, in the southern city of Toulouse, a local writer, Pierre Goudouli (1580-1649) is honoured by a fine statue in the herbaceous Wilson Square (French: place Wilson )(1), in the Downtown area of the city.
Pierre Gouldouli (2) wrote in the Toulouse dialect of langue d'oc . Among his well known works in the local dialect is Ramelet Moundi , the title bearing a phrase which contains a number of puns or multiple references, demonstrating that, while the dialect is a non-standard form of French, it commands considerable subtlety and expressiveness. Toulouse and the south-west of France have long evidenced a strong sense of regional identity which goes back to Medieval times. Goudouli — however his name is written from time to time — is, for his part, regularly remembered as an authentic expression of this regional identity. Indeed, the former County of Toulouse was thriving long before France as a modern, unitary state came into existence.
Surrounded by an imposing fountain complex, the statue representing Pierre Goudouli was executed by the distinguished sculptor Alexandre Falguière (1831-1900) and completed in 1898. Other noted works by sculptor Falguière include a monument in honour of Léon Gambetta, at Cahors, and a bust of Auguste Rodin.
A local road is also named for Goudouli.
Returning to the name of the public square in which the statue of Pierre Goudouli is situated, North American travellers might at first be confused by its full name which the local authorities sometimes use: Place du Président Thomas Wilson . The initial reaction might be: Who was Thomas Wilson? until further investigation or reflection causes the fact to be brought to mind that Woodrow Wilson's formal, full name was 'Thomas Woodrow Wilson'. Thus, for some reason, the unfamiliar 'Thomas' has been retained by the municipality, whereas the 'Woodrow', universally used in the US, has been strangely dropped.
(1) Far more so than in the United Kingdom, which, like France, also participated in World War One, US President Woodrow Wilson is very widely honoured in France. This is mainly because of the US's intervention on the behalf of the Allies in World War One, the psychological effect of which was arguably more profound in France than in the British Empire, for which, though controversies abounded about the slaughter on the Somme, at Passchendaele, etc., the War was essentially fought on foreign, as opposed to national, soil. Thus it is that numerous French towns and cities are likely to have squares and roads named for this distinguished American President.
(2) The poet's name is sometimes written variously: Pierre Goudelin, or Péire Godelin, among other spellings. The second of these spellings is a local, Toulouse dialectal variant.
Also worth seeing
Cahors (distance: 113 kilometres) has the imposing 14th century Valentré bridge and other distinguished architecture.
How to get there: Continental Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), where car rental is available; there are also domestic air services between Paris and Toulouse-Blagnac airport (Aéroport de Toulouse - Blagnac ), where car rental is also available. The French railroad company SNCF maintains services from Paris to Toulouse . (Paris-Toulouse: distance: 677 kilometres.) Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. For up to date information, please check with the airline or your travel agent.
MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.
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