Charles Chivilo has been mayor of Maury for ten years. I’ve been coming here for six of those years and I’ve been trying to photograph him since the beginning but somehow it’s never worked. He was out of town or I was on my way back to San Francisco. He tried to call me back but my phone had no voice mail. One of us was sick. But those were two-week visits and this time I’m here for a while. So as part of the celebration of the Festival of Saint Brice, I went to Mass and waited for him at the only exit. He was happy to agree to a portrait and interview, gave me his cell phone number and even called to confirm. My guess is that he knew I’ve already photographed nearly the whole town and wondered what took me so long.
At 5:30 last Thursday we sat down in his office for a chat. He readily agreed to let me record the conversation so I could translate his answers later and consult my French teacher if necessary. It was. Chivilo is casual and friendly; he is a potter as well as a politician and in speaking about Maury he sounds more like an artist shaping a new work in the context of an ancient tradition than a politician trying to win votes.
Looking at one of my photos of the village, he pointed to an area near the coop and said that’s where the new houses would be built. New houses, news to me. The village plans to build seventy new houses to accommodate expected population growth as the commute distance to Perpignan expands to encompass Maury. Now this is far from environmentally sound planning and the idea of Maury becoming a bedroom community is horrifying, but there is a need to renew the aging population of the village to ensure the continuation of commercial and social services. And Chivilo is very clear on priorities: “I want above all to ensure that Maury remains a village. It is passionate, the relationship I have with Maury.”
At the Mass last Sunday, Chivilo warned the parishioners of the threat from the extreme right. His voice was soft but carried an unmistakable urgency; again, he didn’t sound like a politician, more like a cleric. In previous times of economic distress Europe has allowed the rise of fascism, which pushed people toward hatred and violence. He pleaded with people to remember the lessons of the past and not to succumb to the trap of blaming others for economic problems.
Chivilo was born in Chambéry in the French Alps. He came to Maury in 1983 because: “I fell in love with a Catalan woman and she could not live in the cold mountains. She had to have the rosemary, thyme and the garrigue of the Fenouilledes.”
He smiles as he speaks of her in that same soft voice and he is equally convincing talking of his love for his wife and his passion for Maury.