The Secret Cevennes - articles by Samantha David
Perhaps I'm wrong, but of all the expats I've met in France, none have ever listed "absurd sense of humour" as the reason they left Albion for the Hexagon and up until now I'd have agreed with them. But I've now discovered a French group called the "Front de Libération des Nains de Jardin" (the Garden Gnome Liberation Front) and all my preconceptions have exploded.
This revolutionary movement was founded in the mid-90s but was almost instantly repressed by a French court in 1997 when the Front's leader, found guilty of involvement in the kidnapping of more than 150 garden gnomes, was handed a suspended prison sentence and a fine. You'd have thought that would be enough to kill off any nascent revolutionary movement, but no... a year later the citzens of Briey were shocked to discover 11 gnomes hanging by their necks from a bridge in the town. A mass suicide, said the accompanying note.
For a while, nothing more was heard of the group, but then in March 2000 a family of gnomes was liberated into the wild from an exhibition of garden gnomes in the chic Bagatelle Park in Paris. This exploit attracted a fair amount of press coverage and the movement subsequently attained mainstream attention as a subplot in the 2001 film "Le Fabuleux Destin d'Amélie Poulain.
As part of the whimsical quirky tale, it didn't really attract that much attention. After all, pointless pranks are a staple of indie cinema and the views of Paris were spectacular. But pointless or not, ignored or not, Amelie contributed to the growth of the movement, and the nappings continued until in 2006, to the horror of the locals, upwards of 100 kidnapped gnomes were discovered abandoned in parks and on riverbanks in the Limoges area.
By this time there were napping cells across Europe and even one in Australia. The UK didn't escape - earlier this year a particularly flamboyant case was reported by the BBC. Murphy was cruelly snatched in the middle of the night, much to his mother's distress, only to be returned seven months later in possession of a photo album of his travels. He had spent the time, according to the accompanying letter, travelling across "three continents, 12 countries and more time zones" than he could possibly remember. He wasn't sure where he had lost his feet.
The Front's website is revealing. That is to say it reveals nothing of any comprehensibility at all unless you are familiar with a bizarre type of French humour that really is off the wall. There is however a gallery of photos showing dejected gnomes pleading for their freedom whilst their hooded and masked kidnapped pose in the background. There is also a forum which members use to keep track of their activities.
So if you've ever had itchy fingers at the sight of a small china manikin fishing in a front garden goldfish pond, you are not alone. There are others who share your passions. And now you know where to find them.
Next column will be uploaded around 1st Jan.
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