It was a Saturday – March 2, 2013 – and the crowd were gathering round the little
church in Sergeac, overlooking the Castel Merle Valley. There was a feeling of serenity,
a feeling of warmth. Of course there was the sadness, but with the consolation that
René Castanet had slipped away peacefully in his sleep - the way he wanted. Everyone
who knew him loved him.
A great lover of nature with a passion for prehistory, he had mastered the art of
working stone, just as his far-distant ancestors had done, leaving behind them in
the Castel Merle Valley traces of their imaginary realm: a string of decorated rock
shelter habitations and exquisitely-crafted portable artifacts.
His small and unpretentious museum, with its fine pieces prettily laid out, was
a joy to visit, under René’s watchful eye, twinkling with wisdom and generosity.
In silence they accompanied him into the little cemetery, bathed in pale sunlight.
There were the locals, the prehistorians (amateur and professional), friends and
family. They were filled with sorrow but so very proud to have had the privilege
of knowing him. Among them were two very close friends from Paris and Normandy,
who had chosen Sergeac for their holiday home, so they could see more of René. Jacques
Delmon, a keen archaeologist who has explored our prehistoric past on several sites
in France and Indonesia with his other great friend Henry de Lumley and Jean-Luc
Piel-Desruisseaux, surgeon, an expert on prehistoric tools, had both prepared a
simple and sincere speech showing their deep friendship – so the whole world could
discover his fine personality. We are extremely grateful to them for allowing us
to print them here. They are for René.
For René Castanet: two or three things I knew about you – 2 March, 2013
How I shall miss you, my dear René!
I met you for the first time back in 1976 when you greeted me on your majestic rock
in Castel Merle. It was your museum that had brought me here, the lure of prehistory…
and also the singsong name of this magnificent site. But it was to see you that
I was to return here so often. On a regular basis, my holiday destination became
Sergeac, to see you again. You had such a wonderful personality, catalising everything
I had grown to love in your part of France.
You and your family were our driving force as we searched for a house in Sergeac
and you helped us move in. For me it was back to the homeland of my great-grandparents
on my father’s side, but also the symbiotic relationship we had grown to develop
with this area, thanks to you. As time went by, during our long and splendid conversations,
we became closer and closer to you, my dear René, and to Andréa, your quiet, caring
wife who is so much in my thoughts today.
The years passed, but each time I returned « home » you were the first person I
came to see. During the long winter months, when I was away from you, I often felt
the need to hear your voice and Andréa’s too, and catch up on all your news - like
not so long ago, early February, when we spoke again. You were not only “heavy”-hearted,
my dear René - you were “large and kind”-hearted.
You had so much to give to your fellow men, first to your family, to your neighbours
and friends in the village, especially when you were the Mayor, to all those who
visited your museum and were so impressed by your colourful character and your knowledge
– for which you never forgot you had your father Marcel to thank; when you were
just a little boy, he gave you a taste of the “magic potion of Prehistory”. But
so many other things interested you: local history, astronomy, the life of the bees,
birds’ nests… You were the Memory of our Land and our very own Wise Man, our Counsellor.
You were so very fond of animals. You could be so touched by the look in a dog’s
eyes that many a stray dog passed the word around before being adopted by you and
Andréa. You even rescued a young wild boar that you discovered seriously injured
after a bad fall, with its hindquarters paralysed... and you and Andréa nursed it
back to life, Andréa bottle-feeding it and you getting the vet to come round regularly.
That baby boar, in its short lifetime, saw just how kind humans can be. What a lesson
for us all – given quietly, without ostentation!
Even a President, who you bumped into one day here, was deeply impressed by you
and determined to see you again, in order to continue at leisure a humanist conversation
full of wisdom. Alas, fate decreed that you would never cross paths again. You will
be missed by so many, my dear René!
For Andréa, your gentle and loving wife, Andréa of course, and all your family,
for your neighbours and friends in Sergeac and all those in the Périgord who held
you in such high esteem, for all the visitors, at home and abroad, young and less
young, who flocked here each year to “lap up” all you had to tell them. In your
museum, you gave them all the energy you had left, recounting the long story of
our ancestors – and they grew to appreciate your generous, open-minded vision of
the world. You knew so well how to speak about Mankind, for you yourself were such
a noble and worthy Man. How fortunate I am to have met you here on Earth, my dear
René. I shall never forget you!
René, on Tuesday you read out to us (for the very last time) what you had prepared
in writing for the visitors to your museum.
You told us the story of a person who lived in the Abri Blanchard below Castel Merle
and who “jotted down” on a tiny piece of mammoth ivory what would eventually form
a lunar calendar. You said “it was quite likely the work of an intelligent Cro-Magnon,
an artist with an inquiring mind, who sat down night after night outside his rock
dwelling to painstakingly record on his little plaque the changing shapes of the
moon in its different cycles”.
The qualities you recognised in this man from our far-distant past - intelligence,
curiosity, artistic endowments – are all attributes for which we shall remember
you. Have no fear, René… we will always be by Andréa’s side, so she can talk about
you and all that you loved for many years to come.
N.B. Last autumn René and Isabelle Castanet participated in the recording of Éric
Perrin’s TV programme “Cap Sud Ouest”, devoted to heritage sites in the Périgord.
“La Dordogne, Pays de l’Homme”, was broadcast on France 3 AQUITAINE April 13, 2013.
It was the chance to meet this family who are carrying on a fine tradition: sharing
with others the treasures left by our forefathers in the Périgord.
Translated into English by Valérie Saraben