Wednesday 12 October 2016

Dieppe Album

Dieppe was as delightfully Dieppe-like as ever - little changed, and that little mostly for the better. It was sad to see that there is now security fencing along the undercliff between the ferry port and the harbour - whether from fear of Calais-style migrant problems or of rockfall I don't know, but it can't be good news for the colony of Small Blues living there.
 Otherwise, however, what change there has been bodes well. A good deal of discreet and sensitive refurbishment has been achieved in the old town, new businesses are opening rather than old ones closing down, and there's a general sense that Dieppe is no longer a town in decline. At the same time, it retains its faded, crumbling-round-the-edges, fin-de-siècle charm, and the streets of the old town - especially the back streets - are very much as Walter Sickert would have known them (though the less said about the now hideous, once elegant Café Suisse the better).

 Among the welcome signs of renewal was the pleasant surprise of the newly restored Maison Miffant (above) on Rue d' Ecosses. For many years this historic building - the oldest house in Dieppe, one of the few that survived the unfortunate Anglo-Dutch bombardment of 1694 - stood mouldering away, becoming increasingly dilapidated, and looking ever less likely to be saved. Now, though, it has been restored and refurbished, and divided into five apartments. Admittedly it now stands surrounded by a building site (presumably a deal was cut with the property developer), but at least it's standing, and in good shape to last a few more centuries.

On the other hand, the much-needed restoration of Dieppe's two great churches - the magnificent Gothic St Jacques (as painted obsessively by Sickert, top) and the Gothic-Baroque St Remy - continues at escargot pace. Much of St Jacques - especially the East end - is in a shocking state externally, and inside netting has been stretched high up over the nave to catch bat droppings, dead bats and anything else that might fall from the roof. Things are no better at St Remy (where the cheery Baroque head above adorns the North wall), but the Gothic East end was restored some years ago and looks splendid.

Outside the East end of St Remy stands this moving little memorial to two Canadian soldiers on the spot where they fell on 19 August 1942, a date that remains firmly embedded in Dieppe's memory. It was on that day that the catastrophic Dieppe Raid took place, a seaborne assault that left the beaches and the town strewn with dead and wounded soldiers, mostly Canadian. There are memorials everywhere, many to individual regiments, and the anniversary is marked each year with due ceremony. Historically the connections between Canada - especially Quebec - and Dieppe go back to long before the creation of the modern state (indeed before the time of Willa Cather's Shadows on the Rock), and Dieppe now hosts an annual Canadian film festival, among other Canada-friendly events.

And this chap? He stands in an outbuilding of the castle/museum that looms over the town. We were a couple of weeks too late to catch an exhibition we'd already seen in Chichester - Sickert in Dieppe.

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