- Mélanie Wenger
« Come inside to check out my dolls ! », I met Marie-Claude in a dead end of a countryside road in the Monts d'Arrée of Brittany, France, in April 2014. In her home filled with mountains of junk I discovered a world I will never leave. It haunts me and fills me with joy at the same time. This old lady of 75 years old, an old woodcutter, ficherwoman and seamstress, endearing and scaring at the same time, that I am discovering is touching me, waking parts of me, looks a little bit alike my mother sometimes and a lot like me.

I feared she would not be here anymore. That she left us. Maybe she has not lost her mind as much as she would like me to believe. Maybe she simply wants to tell me about another life.

At 18 years old, she marries Albert, 17 years older than her. She moves to Kerberou, 2 kilometers away, in his house, with his mother, where she still lives. He beats her, keeps her inside, deprives her from any contact with the world for 30 years including her family. When he dies, in 1999, she finds herself alone with a very tiny 600 euros retirement pay, in a little house with no friends and no family. Marie-Claude keeps some traumas of this life. She accumulates things compulsively, feels a lot lonely, looses her mind, her memory and has a very strong temper. No children, no family, no travels, no car. She lost her memory, a large part of her head but she is fascinating. Sometimes I feel she still lives 50 years ago, as if she was still a little girl. She just got current water outside the house a few years ago, as for electricity, it is an old installation, she cannot plug a hair dryer, a heater or anything like it. She never takes a shower, does not have bathrooms and hates watching the television.
For nearly a year now, I have been spending hours of days and nights at her place. Taking pictures. It is sometimes disgusting and almost all the time freezing and smelly, but also very interesting. She never remembers me, but always opens her door, kisses me, call me « ma chérie ». She has the same way to speak with me, and is a little bit more confident and open every time. Every time I spend 5 to 15 days with her, I bring pictures of her I made, I recall her what we did together or will be doing together by writing her notes that I dispose everywhere in her home. Despite the fact that she always forgets to read, or reads and just then forget all about what she read, sometimes, when I come, and I wrote I would come, somewhere, on white paper, the door is open when I arrive, and she is ready. Hermit, witch, old crazy woman, gnome or just a grandma. Here she is.

Find the book: http://www.actes-sud.fr/ou_trouver_nos_livres

© Melanie Wenger / Cosmos