Marie all draped and crowned with gold, carried in procession during the pilgrimage to Notre-Dame-de-la-Fleur. On this day of Pentecost, he left Thorame-Haute to join the chapel of Thorame-Gare, where the Virgin Mary would have appeared to a shepherd and would have left a rose as proof of its manifestation. Arrived at the junction between the municipal road and the national one, one of the carriers warns: “We are going to enter Siberia, it is only shade in this passage. As if the procession did not have 8 km to go, but thousands, in the frozen tundra. An amusing coincidence, Eric Franceschi has chosen to rename the area he explores along the Pignes train line “the TransBasseAlpine”, in reference to the Trans-Siberian. A mythical name to highlight the harsh beauty of these isolated valleys and the extra soul of their inhabitants who regularly need, even more than elsewhere, to come together and become one.
Along the TransBasseAlpine Digne-Nice. Thorame-Haute, Whit Monday 2018.
At the beginning of January, at the edge of the high altitude lake of Saint-André-les-Alpes. The sky is low and heavy. It’s zero and 40 centimeters of snow has just fallen. Here, we are used to visions of white paradises, but it was still a good fall that attracted the curious, eager to take a look at the panorama and enjoy the powder. A kid is playing with his family and friends when, for a few seconds, he rocks horizontally, as if suspended above the immense immaculate carpet. The photographer, who covered the political news of the southern region for the national press between the years 1980 and 2000, has always watched for these moments of hesitation. During campaigns and meetings of elected officials, he never missed the side effects of prepared gestures and calibrated speeches: a candidate who has not seen the SDF almost at his feet or a pensive activist at the edge of a platform. Arrived in the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence in 2008, he kept this offbeat approach but, this time, taking his time. For his “TransBasseAlpine” series, he has been traveling the triangle connecting Saint-André-les-Alpes, Thorame and Annot for five years now. “I can come back to the same place 10 times without absolutely nothing happening, until the 11the… ”The moment when a teenager loses his balance and, bundled up in his parka, takes on the air of a cosmonaut hovering in space.
Along the TransBasseAlpine Digne-Nice. Saint-André-les-Alpes, Saturday January 2, 2021.
In the distant land
At the end of October, in Thorame-Haute, the time for “dismantling” came. To avoid the first snows, the shepherds descend from the high-altitude pastures where they spent the summer with their flocks. Before starting their winter activities, ski lessons or carpentry, these seasonal workers celebrate the sheep, Angora goats and other Scottish cows that support them. The alleys, usually crossed by a handful of good souls, fill with a hundred participants. The master of ceremonies, recognizable by his striped wool cap, orchestrates the waltz of entertainment: fanfare, sale of local products and a large shared meal. The parish priest blesses everything that can be blessed, the bread made by the women of the country like the animals. Sometimes, it even happens that the astonishing religious, ex-chaplain of the Legion, goes up to 2000 meters to proceed directly to the ceremony in the mountain pastures. “Even if they receive via cell phone, these places sometimes give the feeling of going back sixty years. This is what I call the backworlds, ”says Eric. A succession is nevertheless ensured by young people trained in transhumance at the Domaine du Merle, near Salon-de-Provence.
Along the TransBasseAlpine Digne-Nice. Thorame-Haute, October 20, 2018.
Fix the ephemeral
This is not a conceptual work by Marcel Duchamp. This cast iron bathtub, which sits on a summit at more than 1,500 meters, served as a makeshift watering hole for the animals in the summer and took root during the winter. Under the bright February sun, the snow that has just fallen is melting at high speed. Eric always goes out when these magical panoramas are composed, in full metamorphosis and by nature ephemeral, where the seasons and the elements seem to merge. The sweet dreamer even has the recurring dream that one August morning he will wake up and discover flakes under the warm light. Among the other graphic treasures that the beautiful days reveal to him, there are the corrugated iron sheds and the old cars. “It seems to me more essential than ever to record objects, landscapes, faces, everything that is there and then disappears. Here, I watched the time go by, especially watching my two children grow up. “
Along the TransBasseAlpine Digne-Nice. Le Fontanil, Tuesday February 2, 2021.
Heads and tails
He no longer pays attention to the majesty of the peaks embraced by the Mont Chalvet belvedere. The experienced paraglider instructor rushes forward, head bowed, his canopy rolled up into a ball. Because he’s done this dozens of times. For the young girl who follows him with measured steps, to throw herself into the void is a first. A baptism of air and fire, at the heart of the summer holidays. No doubt she feels a drunkenness tinged with vertigo that she tries to hide from the lens with a knowing smile. In this emblematic image of the TransBasseAlpine, there is something of the work of Martin Parr. As the icon of British photography did for the countryside and the English seaside resorts, Eric captures the mountain from its two sides: monotonous and sparkling. By capturing this scene, he himself thinks of leaping into the unknown: at 60, shouldn’t he give up photography for a job from which it would be easier to make a living?
Along the TransBasseAlpine Digne-Nice. Mont Chalvet, Thursday August 13, 2020.
Be between 7 and 77 years old. And to be able to brake with two wheels. The rules for the Fugeret soapbox competition set very few requirements. So when she tumbles from the church square, this biker strapped in her leather jacket, who is close to sixty, rejoices under the party favors. Obviously, “Harley Davidson” resonates, a backing song that fits him like a glove. Can of oil, birthday cake … all the crazy drivers involved in the competition tinker and customize their cars themselves. “That spring day, I was surprised to see these sweet crazy people having fun with it. They looked like kids! », Remembers Eric. For the municipality, this local event, so delirious and yet unknown beyond the valley, is more important than the Monte-Carlo rally or the Paris-Dakar. “I consider all of these people to be touching resisters. Because they want to support their villages, often with little. “
Along the TransBasseAlpine Digne-Nice. Le Fugeret, Saturday May 12, 2018, soapbox race.
From New York to Annot
It could almost be a summer Saturday in Los Angeles, Paris or Sydney. A swarm of young people wearing the same outfit, sunglasses and white t-shirt smeared with colors. Because the Color Run, launched in the United States in 2012, has become global. But, in Annot, a medieval city, the warm-up takes place in front of the war memorial, the jets of pink or blue powder intensify near the washhouse, and participants are rewarded with a portion of socca, a Niçoise pancake. Alongside their traditional festivals, the bastions of Haute-Provence are gradually integrating the leisure activities of globalization, in their own way and always on one condition: that they be colorful.
Along the TransBasseAlpine Digne-Nice. Color Run d’Annot, Saturday July 7, 2018.