Some lives take a detour from their original destination but fate always seems to find a way to redirect them to where they are meant to be
When you think of a police officer, it rarely – if ever – enters your mind that he (or she) might have creative talents slumbering beneath the tough surface. Well, you haven’t met Charlie Prini yet. And that’s probably a good thing, at least when it comes to an encounter on the professional level, because Charlie – or Jean-Charles, officially – is a police officer in the criminal brigade in Nice. But had he followed his immense artistic talent early on in life, he would today likely be a brightly shining star in literature and painting.
Self-actualization and following one’s dream were not an option when Charlie was born in Antibes in 1959. He was a bright kid, curious by nature, and interested in a thousand things but academia. School, he felt, did not give him the chance to express himself the way he wanted or needed to. Instead, he loved hanging out by the sea, fishing, and drawing. And predictably he failed his “bac”. So, the default option back then was to join the military where he followed in his family’s footsteps as a parachutist. Afterwards, he finagled his way through life with a series of small job until 1984 when he finally wound up in the police service. There, he could exercise his passion for fishing…. for bad guys, that is. He would remain in the police service until his formal retirement in 2014 but having been a valuable officer, he has since been called back for reinforcement.
So, life rolled along just fine for Charlie. But one morning in 2012, he wakes up with the sudden urge to write… inexplicable to himself. And it just pours out of him, and into “Le Voyage de Nathan” (Nathan’s Journey), a fantasy novel about a young man who lives alone in the countryside, with old Jeanne as his neighbour, who occasionally reads cards … two interesting lives intertwining as a reflection about the fulfillment of one’s destiny. Charlie sells a good number of his self-published work, garnering first favourable critics’ opinions.
He also writes poetry, often with a melancholic tinge. Many Niçois still remember the Nice Berlin Solidar(t)ité charity event in January 2017, benefitting the victims of the Berlin Christmas market terrorist attack one month before. When actor Christophe Turgie (pictured below) recited, with great delicacy and sensitivity, one of Charlie’s most beautiful poems, “Les roses de mon jardin”, there was not a dry eye in the house.
Il n’y a plus de roses dans mon jardin
Le mauvais temps les a emporteés
Laissant une terre de chagrin
Où le mauvais temps s’est installé
Il n’y a plus de musique dans mon jardin,
le mauvais vent a emporté toutes mes mélodies
ne laissant qu’un désert de lendemains
où le vent mauvais ne cesse d’effacer
ce que je suis
Il n’y a plus de fleurs dans mon jardin
la terre trop sèche ne les laisse plus pousser
ne laissant que quelques épines dans mes mains
Bien sûr ce n’était qu’un petit carré de bonheur
J’y posais mes proses
sur ce lit fertile
pensant à des jours meilleurs
ne me doutant pas de cet avenir stérile
Il n’est plus de jour dans mon jardin
La lumière s’en est enfuie laissant une éternelle nuit
où les larmes s’écoulent en vain
Voilà mes roses rougissantes ont disparu
dans un néant qui semble être de l’absence
comme il en fut des amours naissantes
Je reste là.
Je suis vaincu
Encouraged by the positive feedback, Charlie sets out to write another novel. Slated for publication at the end of 2019, “Le chant des baleines” (The Whale Song) is an adventure novel of the magical realism genre. Set in the Basque Country and the North Pole, and spanning centuries, the two protagonists’ destinies are linked through whaling. Charlie’s stories are sweeping epics, his prose – in contrast to the mathematical precision of French literature – possesses the exuberant, meandering, poetic elegance reminiscent of the great South American writers Gabriel García Márquez and Isabel Allende.
Then, another morning, another revelation. “While waiting for the book to be published, I started drawing again one morning, just like this without knowing exactly why. I drew some birds in pencil to practice my hand. My literary agent saw these sketches and told me that one day I would paint. So I went to find an old box of pastels and made some drawings of landscapes and especially of animals in which I mainly look for expression in their eyes,” Charlie explains how he accidentally got into his next artistic adventure. He is an animal lover, and it clearly shows. His animals do look back at the viewer, as if through a veil of mist… ethereal, tender, with a mix of strength and vulnerability.
Charlie likes his creative work well enough even though he is never completely satisfied with what he does. He has no formal art education but “I have no preconceived ideas between drawing and writing, I do as I please. I never thought I’d make a career out of it, I just need to do it,” the talented artist tells us.
“Artists are common people who commonly live outside our world”.
– Jean-Charles Prini
One might think that a bread-and-butter job like Charlie’s can rapidly cloud one’s mind with cynicism, anger, and callousness. But not so in his case. He finds that the arts give him the necessary counterbalance. His fellow police officers were surprised to discover this sensitive side of one of their own, and are paying tribute to Charlie’s qualities as an artist and a dreamer. A whole new definition of “good cop”…
De son perchoir l’homme pouvait par beau temps repérer, jusqu’à deux ou trois milles marins ce qu’il attendait depuis une quinzaine de jours. S’il tenait ce poste c’est qu’il avait les meilleurs yeux du village, des yeux de chats disaient les uns, un sixième sens pour les autres ; nul n’avait son pareil pour déceler le grand geyser annonciateur de l’arrivée de l’immense poisson lard comme tous le nommaient ici à l’époque.Il n’en n’avait pas été toujours ainsi ; avant les hommes, les femmes et les enfants se contentaient d’attendre que le grand poisson s’échoue sur les plages pour en tirer les substances avec lesquelles ils pouvaient se nourrir, fabriquer des chandelles, récupérer de l’huile pour éclairer les rues, faire des cordages, des objets décoratifs, ou autres parapluies et ceintures.
Le Chant des Baleines (extrait) – Jean-Charles Prini
From his lookout, when the weather was good, the man could see for two or three nautical miles, and he had now been waiting for a fortnight. He was there because he had the best eyes in the village, cat eyes said some, a sixth sense for others; no one was better at detecting the great geyser that heralded the arrival of the big lard fish, as everyone here called the animal.
This had not always been the case; in the old days, men, women and children simply waited for the big fish to wash up on the beaches to extract what they needed for food, to make candles, collect oil to light the streets, make ropes, decorative objects, umbrellas and belts.
The Whale Song (excerpt) – Jean-Charles Prini
All photos courtesy Jean-Charles Prini, photo of Christophe Turgie © Louis-Paul Fallot