1557 Lyon Du Rosne

En lieu libere tendra son pauillon,
Et ne voldra en cités prendre place:
Aix, Carpen l’isle volce, mont Cauaillon,
Par tous les lieux abolira la trasse.

In a place of ease he will gently proffer his sojurn,
And would not choose a place in the cities:
Aix Carpentras Îles Volce Mont Cavaillon,
Covering his tracks through all these places.

This quatrain seems to suggest a gypsy soul. (Django Reinhardt once missed a concert appearance when he lay down in a dewy field he happened to be crossing and became entranced by Nature all around him.) Or a runaway, avoiding negative officialdom. Before He first saw and loved Jerusalem, Jesus was much the same. A Jesus-figure walking the South of France? Or the missing years of Michel de Nostredame?

Unfortunately, the possible English translations for most of the words in ‘Nostradamus’ are many and various.

Line 1, ‘libere’ is ‘delivered from captivity’ or released or liberated or under no obligation of payment or unfettered, uncoerced, unmastered, unconditional or even ‘with the power of decision between good and evil’.

In case these definitions are not quite full enough, here are my own Three Personal Rights of Basic Freedom:

A fundamental human right is to identify friend from foe (not to be coerced by others toward ‘compulsory’ identifications)

A fundamental human right is to disassociate boldly from evil (so as to remain blameless before the unseen all-seeing God)

A  fundamental human right is to give warning to others (who you believe were or are or will be misappropriated from or else misled, misguided, mistreated)

What all this comes down to is an atmosphere of ease. Probably, the Papal Comtat of Venaisson with its enclave of Avignon – two political systems in harmony, each separate from the Kingdom of France – represented liberal freedom and an atmosphere of ease to the young man Michel Nostredame. Not only was Jewishness no great disadvantage there but this entire Papal protectorate paid no taxes and its inhabitants were not obliged to render war service, as Michel might in the feudal monarchic France that surrounded it.

OF ‘tendra’, from the verb meaning to tender, is tentative, proffering, gentle like the adjective ‘tendre’ meaning flimsy, stretched taut or tender. Or it is like OF ‘tenir’ to hold, be held, commit to, be commited to, maintain, hold hands with, hold up high etc.

OF ‘pavillon’ as a place of sojurn could be a tent but it is equally likely to mean a mere flag or a pavillion or, more grandly, a villa.

Line 2, OF ‘prendre place’ is proprietary or else means to take up an appropriate position or go to an inner space: a place of choice.

Line 4, OF ‘abolira’ is to remove, abrogate, cover one’s tracks (‘trasse’ in Line 4).

Line 3 is simply a list. Of all the things that get changed over the centuries, placenames rate pretty highly. The commas in-between are best ignored.

Aix-en-Provence is a well known magnet to travellers. Today there is a small place in Romania called Carpen but Carpentras in the Vaucluse Department of Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Azur is far more likely here. It’s had a synagogue since 1367 and was once the capital of the Papal Comtat Venaissin that encirled the comtat Avignon and was surrounded by Orange. A cluster of untaxed Roman enclaves in Catholic France. Close by is Cavaillon town. Other local candidates for Line 3 are L’isle-sur-sorgue and Monteux, both in Venaissin.

What of Mont and Volce? Aside from Venaissin, Volce was a settlement in Slovenia although if this is intended as an Italian word then ‘volce’ could mean volcano. (Mont Volce is Mount Vesuvius?) Perhaps they were separate places, with ‘volce’ being either Vaucluse or Ventoux or some other V-placename. OF ‘l’isle volce’ could be a volcanic island. (There are plenty out in the French Protectorates including Réunion, formerly the Île de Bourbon.)

However, Mont Ventoux is the highest mountain of Provence. It was climbed by a young and agile Petrarch*. And Michel Nostredame too?

These places were Oc-speaking and are still very Provençal in culture, pleasingly landscaped in attractive and sweet-scented surroundings. It has rivers, hills and cliffs and Italy is not so far off. Perhaps Michel did not wander as far afield as we have suspected?

 *Petrarch wrote a charming account of this ascent to his father which states that he chose his fellow climber very carefully and lists 11 personality types who would not have suited him so well, rather like selecting a birthsign out of the Zodiac.