French Connections

Jean Bastide. La Memoire des OVNI. Mercure de France, 1978.

Jean-Francois Boédec. Fantastiques rencontres au bout du monde: les apparitions de phenomenes aerospatiaux non identifies dans le Finistere. Le Signor, 1982.

Some of us hunt the elusive UFO by standing on windy Wiltshire hillsides scanning the skies with starry eyes; others set traps for them with electronic detectors set to buzz the instant their ionic impulsors come within earth-range. And there are yet others who seek them through antique chronicles and old wives' tales. This is something the French are rather good at. Vallee's Passport to Magonia is one of the few undoubted classics in ufology, and more recently, Olivyer and Boédec's Soleils de Simon Goulart has analysed for us the ‘wave of 1500-1600‘. But perhaps none has delved more deeply, wandered more widely, than Jean Bastide.

Too deeply? Too widely? Some have thought so, including even the author himself who, a month after his book was reviewed in Lumieres dans le Nuit, wrote in, withdrawing, as'twere, one of his candidates from the contest. But if Bastide shows himself too willing to spot UFOs lurking between the lines of every old legend, this does not make him gullible: his book should be seen as a catalogue of potential UFO references only, implying no commitment to any wild thesis.

This has to be the most erudite of UFO books. His bibliography ranges from Homer to Louisa Lane Clarke's Guide to Guernsey; from the tales of Grimm to a thesis on runeology. He carries us with him on a grand tour of the mythology of the Basques, the Mexicans, the Japanese, the Norwegians, the Redskins, the ancient Egyptians and Babylonians, and various brands of Polynesians. Well, actually, he doesn't necessarily carry us with him. The book is tough going, and tougher still for the English reader. There's a temptation to dip and skip; a pity, of course, but given the diversity of the material, not fatal to the author's purpose. When he lists the instances where the gods of Olympus descend/ascend in a golden cloud, his parallel with UFO cases is evident and significant: but when he quotes Alcinus in the Odyssey, whose ships 'know by instinct what there crews are thinking and propose to do' it is easier to see it as poetic licence, rather than a description of an ET spacecraft on automatic pilot.

In short, this is a book to take with a pinch of salt. But Bastide spares us any extravagant speculation, he simply presents us with possible clues, and leaves the rest to us. As such, his book is a valuable stimulus as well as reverence. The dedicated research which this book represents shows up the shallowness and sloppiness of so much UFO literature. Far-fetched his material may be, but he deserves our respect for fetching it to us. La Memoire des Ovni deserves a place on every serious ufologist's shelf.

Jean-Francois Boédec's newest book takes us to the end of the world. Well, sort of. Finisterre is the most westerly corner of France, jutting out into the Atlantic, looking away from civilisation towards the wild seas and the wild uncouth islanders of Britain, who though dressed these days in something more sophisticated than woad, still live in a ufological stone age.

Nous avons changé tout cela, is a well-known French catch-phrase, for the French are given to 'changing all that'. Boédec is no exception. In the two page chapter which is the heart of the book, he asks "Has the time come to re-think what we mean by 'observation'?"; and of course the book would have no point if his answer was anything but 'Yes'.

Quite simply, what he wants us to do is to recognise the fact that a great many UFO sightings have their commencement long before the jolly old alien spacecraft heaves into sight. Days before, even weeks. The witness starts acting funny. Or has premonitions. Or things fall of the mantelpiece. For some reason, the day of the sighting, he takes a different route home; or goes out for an unaccustomed walk; or feels an impulse to gaze out of the window, or sit in the garden...

Assuming this is a genuine phenomenon there are two ways to look at it. A boring old sceptic like me would say the witness was having some kind of mental/psychological/ spiritual crisis, which eventually erupted in the form of an hallucinated UFO conforming to his personal or cultural make-up or hang-up. Whereas a bolder, more free-ranging mind would speculate that the preparatory phrase was in fact induced by the 'aliens' as a prelude to the sighting itself, getting the witness into the appropriate disposition of mind.

Which of us, if either, is right, is something we can argue about later. I'm the first to recognise that my scenario doesn’t meet all the cases. What is important is that we should henceforth take into account what Bodéec terms the ‘phase d'approche’ (which I would suggest we translate as 'the build-up phase' unless anyone has a better idea?). Because, whatever it is, it's a fact.

It's a very awkward fact, of course, and many of our native ufologists, the woad remover still wet on their skins, aren't going to be at all happy about it. An irrelevancy, they will say, a cul-de-sac. Well, if they know enough French to say 'cul-de-sac', they ought to be able to read Boédec's splendid book. It will make them think. For once again, the French have put us to shame with a book which is solidly based on fact, but isn't afraid to speculate as to the implication of those facts.

The first part of the book is a splendid chronological catalogue of sightings in the Breton area of France. Many of the cases were investigated by Boédec and his colleagues, others by other investigating teams, yet others by the gendarmes. They include some very remarkable cases indeed, and the best of these are described in considerable detail, with drawings and photographs.

The second section comprises an analysis of the cases: time of year, time of day, geographical distribution, colours, and so on. Then the author makes his own, very brief comments, in which he proposes a radical rethink about what we mean by a UFO observation. Finally, he gathers together comments from a number of different sources as to the nature of the phenomenon in general. By this time we've moved some way from the local cases described earlier and we realise that Boédec's book is not intended as a regional catalogue, but is simply using the manageable material derived from a restricted region material of which, moreover, he has in many cases first-hand knowledge as a springboard to carry us into wider fields of speculation.

In doing so he joins a very small band of ufologists who have conducted 'field studies' limited in space and often also in time. It is a genre which can produce some very rewarding results. True, it may give us the rubbish that have made Warminster and West Wales words of derision to serious ufologists: but it can also inspire such first rate reports as Salisbury's classic Utah UFO Display and, more recently Rutledge's very important Project Identification.

Ufologists with a limited capacity for reading French need not be daunted by Boédec's book, which is clearly written in straightforward language, with none of the complex 'philosophy' which makes some of the French ufological literature hard going. Apart from the author's thesis, his book is a valuable catalogue which deserves a place in any UFO library. -- Hilary Evans, from Magonia 10, 1982.


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