It all goes back to Calais – Jen (p431)
Jen underlines the name of a wine written in block letters on the barrel’s side: NOIR CALAIS 1912.6 and makes this important comment.
Just below, Filomena Caldeira comments in Fn6…
6 How fitting that in the final chapter of his final book, Straka includes such a clear allusion to the event that shaped his literary career and, indeed, his life: the 1912 massacre at the Bouchard factory in Calais.
The majority of V.M. Straka’s life seems to be wedged between the bookends of the 1912 massacre at the Bouchard factory in Calais and S.’s decision in this moment to exact revenge for the correlative event at Vevoda’s factory in B__ by injecting poison into the wine marked NOIR CALAIS 1912.
Why Calais? Of all places, why this coast town in Northern France?
I don’t pretend to have the answer, but I do intend to posit some ideas that may help us all get a little closer to discovering the answer.
First, some context. These ideas assume…
- That our quest in “S.” is a game involving making connections – a version of The Glass Bead Game.
- That this particular clue – It all goes back to Calais – is key, as important as the clue Australia is the key to the whole game in LOST.
- That the discovery to the meaning of this clue lies in making the appropriate connections.
Here we go. These ideas are intended to stimulate thinking that may lead to connections that can help us all better understand this key clue.
In a podcast concerning this project (start listening around 17:55), Barak Pridor explains why they chose the name Calais. He shares that Reuters in 1850 was responsible for laying the first telegraph cable across the English channel to connect continental Europe to England in Dover. This historic event is considered the first step in creating an Atlantic cable and ultimately evolving into today’s world wide web.
Calais is a fascinating tool. It can analyze a large amount of otherwise freeform text and identify and extract semantic objects, allowing for key connections to be made with other textual entities.
It sounds to me like this is exactly what we are all doing with “S.” Perhaps Calais as the ultimate source of inspiration for V.M. Straka is meant to point to Calais as the ultimate source for connecting the world together for us.
Follow the Monkey
It can be no coincidence that the Bouchard factory massacre and the black wine that bears the name NOIR CALAIS 1912 both involve our friend the monkey…
Given the public’s fascination with Straka’s refusal of the “prestigious” Prix Bouchard in September 1912 (sending a tufted capuchin monkey to Chamonix to accept the award in his stead), I should clarify an element of the story. The note pinned to the monkey’s jacket was not, as the newspapers reported, a gentle declaration that the author found no joy in receiving such prizes, but rather an accusation that the Bouchard family had routinely arranged for the murders of syndicalist agitators in order to protect their vast and varied business interests, and in fact orchestrated the brutal massacre of striking factory workers in Calais in early 1912. (I have seen, but am no longer in possession of, a carbon copy of the note.) Why the confusion in the news accounts? Because the newspapers printed what Hermès Bouchard told them to. (Fn2, p8)
In the tunnels during the climax, the monkey is pulling the bungs out of all the wine barrels – including what is probably a final tug on NOIR CALAIS 1912. We have followed the monkey from Calais to its titular wine.
Côte d’Opale is a line of cliffs on the coast of Calais that has inspired a wealth of artistry.
Many artists have been inspired by its landscapes, among them the composer Henri Dutilleux, the writers Victor Hugo and Charles Dickens, and the painters J. M. W. Turner, Carolus-Duran, Maurice Boitel and Eugène Boudin. It was the painter Édouard Lévêque who coined the name for this area in 1911 to describe the distinctive quality of its light.
It is a documented fact that J.J. Abrams and the writers of LOST were huge fans of Charles Dickens. Dickens even wrote of Calais in his work The Uncommercial Traveler. At first he describes how he detests Calais and then later how he has come to love it.
Besides Dickens, other writers, painters, and composers have been inspired by Calais.
Calais was the seeming inspiration for V.M. Straka’s life and literary works, and is the seeming inspiration for us to find the key clue to understanding “S.”
I hope this post has inspired you to add your own thoughts as to why it all goes back to Calais.
UPDATE: Proceed to the sequel: It All Goes Back to Calais, Part 2.