Joseph Delteil and the Tuilerie de Massane: a heritage to save

” Lhe vine is the delicate plant par excellence. It requires constant care, a sort of manual intelligence or divination. Then, one fine morning, a frost, a hailstorm took everything away. In these worries, in this precariousness, the most humble peasant draws the meaning of a higher life. To know oneself at the mercy of a cloud predisposes the soul to metaphysics, to religiosity – to chimeras too… Wine, moreover, is today the soul of this territory, and its kind of god. It binds and centers the spirit of a people among all individualists, and whose social life risks returning to the tribe. He also embellishes it and adorns it with his graces. He brings her the gilding of Bacchus. ” Extract of The beautiful Aude1930

During the harvest season, the European Heritage Days open unknown doors to us. Traveling along unexpected paths, they reveal stories, rekindle delicious memories. But they also alert us to the necessary preservation of parts of our collective memory. Such is the case of a wine estate in distress, a place of creation of an erased literary work.

At the gates of Montpellier, in Grabels, a stone’s throw from the Domaine d’Ô, a center of local culture, the Tuilerie de Massane is waiting to finally rise from its ashes. Frozen in the moment, like victims of a natural disaster, the building, looted, weakened, its gardens and terraces are now forbidden access. However, they welcomed for more than forty years one of the most original writers of the XXand century, Joseph Delteil, half-writer, half-winemaker, and his companion, the American Caroline Dudley.

Joseph Delteil had been adored in the capital, especially by the surrealists, for having written incandescent books in a few years. He chained On the Amur River (1922), Cholera (1923) and a Jeanne D’Arc iconoclast (1925, Prix Femina) adapted to the cinema by Carl Dreyer. Born near Limoux, his Occitan accent to cut with a knife clashed in the Parisian salons, of which he was the darling. However, he fled… heading south, with his friends Marc Chagall and Robert Delaunay. Perpignan (1927), The beautiful Aude (1930) bear traces of this return to the sources. His meeting in 1930 with Caroline Dudley, initiator of The Negro Review, marks a turning point. Caroline brought a troupe of black artists from the United States around Sidney Bechet’s jazz band. She triumphs with a young stranger, Josephine Baker. Joseph Delteil, amazed, made Caroline the companion of his life. She bought a wine estate, Trinquevedel, near Tavel, then the Tuilerie de Massane in 1937. Joseph Delteil then retired from Parisian intellectual life to begin a long quest for happiness. “And I left… I left Paris, I left the world for a better world. » (The Deltheillery)

The Tilery of Massane

From the 16th century farmhouseand century of the lords of Massane, belly of Montpellier which fed the city, it made its lair. “So there was over there in the scrubland of Montpellier a kind of old farmhouse with wines, lavender and kermes, half abandoned, and which I have made into an oasis in the desert, a place of life like there has water points. He produced his wine there, in the middle of the vineyards and mixed scrubland, as much as he established a poetic way of life there. The Deltheillery (1968), a true profession of faith that inspired the sixty-eighters, describes this life listening to the senses and sensations.

La Tuilerie itself is a remarkable built heritage, used since the Middle Ages to manufacture tiles and bricks for Montpellier. Charles Gabriel Leblanc bought it in 1736. He used the ancient water source to create a vast hydraulic network. Thus, it supplies the immense gardens and fountains of the nearby Domaine d’Ô, which it has also just acquired. The set constitutes, according to the young historian Elias Burgel, one of the last traces of a diffuse heritage, scattered on the outskirts of Montpellier en Folies [1] and smallholdings today concreted.

Wine and famous passers-by

Inside, a cellar of colossal dimensions, with immense tuns, testifies to a XXand century when wine flowed freely in Languedoc. A few bottles drowned in dust, a thunderbolt collapsed on itself, there is very little left. Comedian Jean-Claude Drouot remembers how making wine was “something wonderful” for him. He tells how Joseph served his wine at the table, with a pipette, how he had ritualized the toasts made between friends. He made his cartagena himself and gave his advice for bottling well, which biodynamics would not disavow. But his writings speak even better of his intimate link to the vine and wine, born from his childhood in the land of blanquette and The beautiful Audereinforced by this close relationship with nature which molds his work from then on.

There, in this tile factory overlooking Montpellier from its wild space, the intellectual milieu from which he withdrew comes to him, from all over the world. There are countless famous passers-by. Faithful friends – Chagall, the Delaunays, Pierre Soulages whom he hosted during the Second World War –, writers, Henry Miller – “Delteil is an angel, where does this guy come from? – at Frédéric-Jacques Temple, Lawrence Durell and many others meet there, in an impressive crossroads of cultures.

Even today, intellectuals parade at the Tuilerie in ruins. They mobilize around the place, the man, the work. In 2018, Fabrice Luchini and Pierre Soulages support the petition launched by the magazine Breaths. In July 2021, the philosopher Michel Onfray and the painter Robert Combas will also visit the site.

Delteil, more celebrated in the United States than in France

The spirit that governs his work rings in our ears with an astonishing modernity for a man who advocated a Paleolithic cuisine (1964), “the one that appeared from the beginning by pure instinct, simple appetite between man and the world”. A return to the origins, to the natural state, evocative of recent cultural practices. For the man-machine, used as a tool, he substitutes the advent of the man-nature. It depicts a “happy frugality” – with accents of degrowth – which should encourage us to rethink our lifestyles. The brutal break with the capital, like the harmony between humans, animals and the countryside that he seeks in Grabels, speaks to our own questions.

The work and life of Joseph Delteil and Caroline Dudley are celebrated throughout the world, notably in the United States, at Columbia University or at the Friends of Henry Miller. But no one is a prophet in his country. Despite the density of the work, the sharpness of the vision, nothing has yet been done to save this mythical place. Nothing has yet been done to protect remarkable heritage, both built and natural. The smallholding, the source of Massane, sources of life of Montpellier since the Middle Ages, the park and its gardens, the vines and the scrubland challenge our consciences.

What future for The Deltheillery ?

After thirty-five years of indifference and procrastination, the ZAC Gimel project, drawn up in 2019, includes the Tuilerie and its last seven hectares in a cultural facility (village hall, cinema, school) in the middle of 850 housing units. [2]. It does not correspond, for the associations federated today in the Committee for the protection of the Tuilerie de Massane, to the spirit of The Deltheillery [3].

Gardarem lo Delteil proposes to isolate the Tuilerie from the whole of the ZAC, to bring the project to the competence of the metropolis and to work in three axes: restore the buildings, protect the natural spaces, the source of water and their biodiversity, defending a cultural project (around a writer’s house) so that the Tuilerie de Massane, a place of memory and a place of life, regains its dignity, its function and its purpose. “A relationship to the other, to nature and to culture”, comments, in the front line of this safeguarding movement, Alice Ciardi-Ducros, doctor who rubbed shoulders with Joseph and Caroline.

The theme of Heritage Days this year, “Heritage for all”, took on its full meaning in Grabels. Joseph Delteil belongs to everyone, and it is up to us to remember him. In a letter to Henry Miller, he wrote: “Don’t try to change the world. Change the world! “Words that time, fashions do not go out of fashion. This is probably why Joseph Delteil and Caroline Dudley cannot be erased from the literary and Montpellier landscape, with its vineyards, its wine and its mixed scrubland.

[1] The term refers to the summer residences of the aristocracy, who fled the urban heat in the countryside, while remaining close to Montpellier.

[2] Project available here: town of Grabels

[3] Online Petition

* Historian, researcher graduated from the Jean-Jaurès University in Toulouse, winegrower today near Montpellier, Florence Monferran has been committed for ten years to highlighting high quality heritages and terroirs, wines and of Languedoc grape varieties, in order both to work to maintain viticulture and to awaken a protean wine culture. It thus led the Terre apiane project on Muscats and is working to demonstrate the excellence of white wine production in Languedoc. In 2020, she published the book ” The Brew of Heracles, published by Privat. From discourse to practice, there was only one step left, which Florence Monferran took by reviving small plots entirely of Muscat à petits grains, in Mireval (Hérault). A way to move from word to work, to build bridges between times.

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Joseph Delteil and the Tuilerie de Massane: a heritage to save

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