You are at the top of the stunning Gorges de la Nesque in the south of France. You’ve just ridden up the 20 kms from Villes sur Auzon and you haven’t seen one single car. Ventoux dominates one vista, the massive gorge another, and the hint of a scent of lavender tells you the Albion Plateau is near. You feel like you are a million miles away from civilization…then you see this guy and he says ‘Mornin’, how ya doin’?’ in a Texan accent.
This is Bill Blue and he just passed away a few days ago, according to some friends in Provence. Bill lived in a hidden house right at the top of the Nesque climb and very often held court at the little parking lot / lookout that attracts cyclists and car drivers alike. His house has no electricity and he didn’t have a phone. He got his news of the ‘outside world’ from people he met every day. His closest neighbor is the honey maker 3 km down the gorge road.
Bill was not alone, though. He lived in this house for 30 years or so with his American wife and LOTS of wild boars. They were the guardians of the sangliers in these parts and claimed that this little corner of Provence was the only place these animals weren’t hunted. His wife has a real disdain for hunters and I imagine Bill did, too. Bill told me once that mother boars would bring their little ones to stay in their yard while she went hunting for food. In later years it seemed like they had at least a few that were totally domesticated. You would often see one or more in the parking lot snorting around.
But I suppose you might be asking yourself how a old man from Texas ended up in a house with no electricity in the wilds of Provence. That would be a sensible question and I have, at least, a partial answer.
Thanks to a book entitled ‘Les Hommes Irreguliers‘ by Etienne de Montety, I learned a little of Bill’s history (the book is a collection of stories about non-French soldiers who ended up in the French Foreign Legion).
Bill Blue was born in 1949 and was therefore the ‘perfect’ age to go to Vietnam and fight. He did at age 18. After a tough reentry into the US he became a truck driver (I was always amazed at how well he knew the geography of the United States – he could comment on just about any city a client of ours came from) and also had a cattle ranch. Apparently, he gave this up partly because he couldn’t stand sending his cows to the slaughter house.
In 1982, 12 years after coming back from Vietnam, Bill shows up in Marseille ‘looking for work’. He is quickly thwarted and is told that if he wanted to work he should go to the Legion. I’m sure there’s more to this story but for brevity’s sake that’s basically what happen, I guess. He ends up joining the French Foreign Legion, getting a pseudonym (John Barkett), and doing his 5 years (or more?) in far flung places. Bill was a sniper in the 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment, a ‘job’ he had in Vietnam as well. I have been sort of fascinated by this story since I read it but never brought it up to Bill. I was tempted and even thought I should ask him for an interview someday, but I either never had the guts or figured Bill had turned a page and there was a reason he chose a life that must have been pretty different from his years of war.
Bill Blue was a fixture of this little corner of the world and he’ll certainly be missed. With a little luck his wife will stay on and continue the tradition. She’s just as much of a character as Bill was!
RIP Bill Blue.
18 thoughts on “Bill Blue: Guardian of the Sangliers”
Thanks for the story Gerry. RIP Bill.
We spent some time talking to him on a rainy day last September while he herded “his” boars across the road
He had a good 50% ‘attendance rate’ up there!
He was interviewed in an Australian documentary on the Legion (Legion of the Damned) in the 90s.
Don, thanks! I just skimmed through the doc on YouTube. Amazing. How the heck did you know this, may I ask?
I learned of Bill’s passing today when I stopped at the Honey place in the Gorge about 3-4 km from the summit. Terrible news. I met Bill about 5 yrs ago when I was cycling by. I saw him each of the past 5 yrs, and stopped and talked with him. He once told me that he found prehistoric arrowheads down in the gorge. He never metioned that he was in the FFL. I’ll watch the documentary. Rest in Peace Bill. Condolences to his wife. Bill is on google maps streetview in the field just in front of his house. I mentioned that to him 2 yrs ago, and he said “that’s not me”.
Paul, I checked that Street View image. Hilarious that he said “that’s not me”! Can’t imagine anyone else looking like that. Did you see the boars out? His wife? I haven’t been back up, but I saw some photos of the boars the other day and they look like someone is still taking care of them.
Yeah, Bill seemed like quite a character. I was expecting to see him, and was really sad to hear he passed away. Too young.
I did not see his wife. I did see the sangliers lounging around. I rode by there on Friday, Sat, and Sunday, and they were there each day. They seem to be well fed. The lady at the honey place told me that perhaps Bill’s wife was going to move to Wisconsin where they had some family.
this Wife is always there. Perhaps she stay in Gorges de la Nesque
oui son épouse Renata est toujours la, quel courage ! suite à un dégât des eaux dans la toiture, elle a perdu toutes les photos de Bill et lance un appel à tous ceux qui auraient des photos de Bill , c’est la dame de la miellerie qui relaie cette demande…. personnellement j’ai beaucoup photographié les marcassins et leur mère et je n’ai pas osé photographié Bill et Renata… je le regrette bien !
Je suis désolé pour Renata. Comme vous, je ne pense pas avoir des photos, mais il est fortement possible que certains de mes clients en ont. Je leur demanderai.
Merci Gerry ! Ce serait un beau cadeau pour Renata si elle pouvait recevoir dans sa solitude des photos de son Cher Bill !
Comme elle n’a pas d’électricité donc pas d’internet voici son adresse postale : Renata Blue Gorges de la Nesque Balcon de Castellaras 84390 MONIEUX
Thank you Gerry for this information..
I joined the legion the same time as John Barkett..both in the same company in Corsica..
I later went to serve in Tahiti..after that other things..lost all contacts with Bill Blue.. actually met Renata on Corsica when she first arrived…
Will have a search around in my old photos to see if I have any from the old days..
Do you have FBook for more infos..
Thanks, Terry. I’ve just sent you an email.
Bill is my brother. It is so good to hear he had an impact. He always told me about meeting folks biking through. So here many of you are. Bill was a decent kind human being. We held different political and spiritual beliefs and learned to stay silent about them so we could talk to each other. The last time I saw him was in France after many years. I balled like a baby, I loved him so much. Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if interested in anything about him. I might be able to answer. Renata is staying in their home and calls me every few months.
Thanks so much for the comment and nice to ‘meet’ Bill’s sister! Bill was always welcoming to cyclists and tourists up at the top of his gorge. I saw Renata a few weeks ago up there and she was cautioning everyone to be careful while riding around the area. Hunting season had just begun and she was afraid that we’d get shot…or bitten by their dogs!
I’ll send you an email separately. Thanks again.
Thank you so much for remembering and sending me this information..
Contacted my friend Harry in Germany so we can reach out to blue’s sister and exchange memories..
Surprised and happy to hear Renata is still in France..we may plan a visit to her..
Thank you once again..