I am Geneviève L’Granaré. My family is from a remote area near a little village north of Paris, just outside of Montataire. My parents operated a small farm that has been in their family for five generations.
Merzan L’Granaré is my older brother. As children, we would play in the fields pretending that we were on high sea adventures. My brother was a true Prince of the Sea seeking his destiny in the tropical islands of the South Pacific. I was but a crew member on these imaginary journeys.
Something miraculous happened and eventually destiny sent him to places only his young mind had imagined as a playful youth.
My brother, Merzan, was sent to study art in Paris when he was very young. At age 15, he entered the Lycée Michelet, a city school installed on the former estate of the Prince of Condé.
The beautiful architectural framework of this high school caused Merzan to see (things) with new eyes. He spent most of his time studying shape, color, light and allowing his emotions to feel his surroundings.
Merzan, the Photographer
Merzan, having meager resources, obtained a camera from a local shop in trade for part time work. He became immersed with self-study in photography. Spending much of his spare time in museums, his work was influenced by his art history study, specifically the work of the great masters. Merzan had a burning desire to create and create he did. His photographs began getting the attention of local art (society) enthusiasts.
Merzan’s creative process was about the journey, not the result. As prolific as Merzan was, he destroyed almost every photograph he ever produced. I think I understand this because, as children, he would become easily frustrated when something he was doing was less than perfect. My brother was funny that way.
Haunted by Beauty
The Parisian high school he attended had more than 40 nationalities represented by its student body.
At the beginning of his third year at the school, Merzan was mesmerized at (his) first site of a new foreign student starting her attendance the new semester. Her name was Matahina (Tahitian for “goddess eyes”). Matahina was from a remote island in French Polynesia. The daughter of Tahitian royalty, Matahina was sent to study painting and writing in Paris as part of an international cultural exchange program designed in pursuit of promoting travel to the South Pacific islands through art exchanges.
Matahina’s father was a descendent of a well-loved native Tahitian king. Her father married a beautiful French woman; giving birth to their lovely fair-skinned, light eyed and dark-haired daughter.
The moment that Merzan saw Matahina he became a prisoner of her majestic spirit. Her eyes would ignite everything around her. However, this light in Merzan’s life went dark when it became evident to him that Matahina was not returning his affections. Merzan felt invisible and could have easily slipped into a great depression. I know now how strongly smittened my brother must have been by the Princess Matahina.
Wrapped by His Own Reality
Merzan was always a self-starter. He learned most of his creative skills through his own motivation and self-study. He clearly felt an emptiness not being able to pursue the Princess Matahina, a young woman of light and foreign, tropical intrigue.
Somehow, instead of becoming introverted and lost in self-pity, Merzan used those lonely feelings to his advantage and continued to find places (to photograph) in Paris. The City of Lights were an endless resource of visual artistic wonder for the young “artiste de la photographie.”
Months passed. Then one day something completely unexpected happened. Almost as if by an intervention of the Gods, Matahina’s sponsors wanted a photographic documentary of her activities in her Parisian educational home to be created.
School administrators called Merzan into the Headmaster’s outer office where they had him wait.
Merzan had no idea why he was there. While waiting to be seen, he occupied his time by studying the details of the interior office with its elaborate crown moldings and other periodic elaborately designed trim.
After maybe 15 or 20 minutes, the outer office door opened. There was a squeaking sound from the outer door’s old oil-lacking hinges that alerted Merzan.
Merzan turned his head and looked toward the backlit doorway to see Matahina walk into the administration office. His heart stopped and all sound silenced. Her eyes seemed to light the entire room. Merzan felt breathless.
Matahina, not noticing Merzan sitting in the waiting area, was escorted into the Headmaster’s office where the door was quickly closed behind her. Merzan, mind swirling with question, mouth dropped in awe, continued to sit and wait.
Another 15 or 20 minutes more lapsed. Then the Headmaster’s office door opened. Merzan was invited into the room and seated in the available chair, in front of the desk, next to Matahina. The Headmaster asked (them), “Don’t you two know each other?” Merzan answered, “Yes,” while simultaneously, in her Tahitian-seasoned French accent, Matahina answered, “No!”
I know that my brother felt what little breath he had left leave his body. Lacking all self-esteem, he thought to himself, “Comment peut-elle ne pas savoir de moi?” (How can she not know of me?) My brother was the official school photographer, well known for his excellent and artistic photographic work. Merzan sat quietly, his head dropped some.
“Merzan,” the Headmaster instructed, “you are to produce a series of photographs of Matahina,” and continued to explain the purpose of the project.
Matahina turned toward Merzan and smiled as if to say, “nice to meet you,” while indicating her cooperation with the nature of the project.
The Princess Matahina, dignifiedly reserved, was a very kind and gentle young lady with a truly majestic air of beauty mixed with mystery and intrigue. When she smiled at my brother, Merzan saw something he had never seen in her before. Also, he had never been this physically close to her.
This became that moment in time, for both of them, when their lives began to change. Merzan and Matahina were about to discover things about themselves they did not know existed and probably did not truly understand. Actually, there was never a need for them to understand what was not so easily explained because every moment of their time together was measured by a quality of its own. Words cannot explain what had begun to happen. However, you will discover what you may not now understand of these things more closely when you read the original screenplay, “Merzan.”
The Art Project
Over the next two semesters, the two of them were inseparable. Their photographic documentary became a creative love affair. The passion was evident in the photographs that were produced. These amazing photographs mysteriously disappeared years later in Tahiti.
Shortly after her third semester, Matahina was called back to her home in Mo’ore’a – about 17 kilometers northwest of Tahiti.
Her return to the Tahitian Islands was nothing shy of a tragic time for both of them. They were unable to say, “good-bye.” Matahina left without a word to my brother.
Merzan felt empty and lost. From loneliness, he committed himself to the belief of, “my art, my way.”
Merzan graduated from Lycée Michelet a few semesters after and, surprisingly, turned down a full scholarship to study the History of Art at the Sorbonne (Paris campus). Instead, Merzan returned to his family farm where he participated in daily chores. He had no other plan and little aspiration to continue with his creative growth.
I remember this one special day like it was this morning. My brother received an unexpected registered letter from the House of the Ministry of Culture, Pape’ete. I grabbed the letter from the postal carrier before Merzan could get it. The letter actually ended up in the trash before Merzan would look at it. That’s another story in itself told in detail in the film script, “Merzan.”
Anyway, eventually, my brother opened the letter only to find a one-way passage from Roissy Airport (now Charles de Gualle) to Fa’a’ā International Airport (Pape’ete, Tahiti) with a ferry boat pass (ticket) to the outer island of Mo’ore’a.
The only other item in this letter was a piece from a torn photograph showing part of a familiar section of a street lit scene in Paris. Merzan instantly recognized the outdoor café where a few years prior, he and Matahina would often enjoy a café au lait before or after their photographic work together.
Merzan couldn’t resist the adventure and with his family’s blessings, left for the South Pacific.
With nothing more than the clothes on his back, a camera around his neck and a small pouch given him by our mother along with instructions not to open it until the right time, Merzan began the adventure.
The last thing he asked our mother, when leaving, was how he’d know when the time would be right to open the pouch. She said, “vous saurez mon fils (you’ll know my son)!”
A Strange Land and Something New
Arriving without incident in Tahiti, Merzan found his way by ferry to Mo’ore’a. Upon arrival he was greeted by colorful skirt-wrapped local authorities (if you could call them that) who escorted him to the other side of the island near the Baie de Cook (Cook’s Bay).
It was Her
The light had returned. Waiting for him was Matahina.
They saw each other. Stood there motionless and expressionless. Their eyes spoke volumes until Matahina broke the silence and said to Merzan, “ia orana aita pe’a’pe’a haera tahora.” (Welcome. I hope your travel went well.)
Merzan deciphered from the small amounts of the Tahitian language he could remember learning from Matahina in Paris that this probably meant something about being welcome from some good, or perhaps she said, difficult, time-consuming travel.
Merzan replied, “la ora na, maita’i oe? O to’u i’oa Merzan. Ua here vau ia oe Matahina.”
Then Merzan lifted his camera readying to take a photograph of her. Matahina’s eyes were radiating from this tropical world filled with its magical reflections from the light beams cast by the island’s sun. However, Matahina acted confused.
Merzan was attempting to say, “Hello, I am Merzan. May I take your picture?”
However, what he actually said was more like, “Hello, I am Merzan. I love your brother like a lizard loves your book!”
Matahina, who had no siblings, held back an embarrassing chuckle as long as she could while trying to compose her smile and provide that familiar “photographic look” for Merzan – much like she had done so often in Paris. Then, losing all of her self-control along with her diplomatic royal demeanor, the Princess fell to her knees onto the sand laughing hysterically. Merzan took that photo, then sat beside her.
Time became imprisoned while they were together. Eventually, the island sun set past the horizon.
The moment my brother saw his Princess Matahina he let himself become completely absorbed by her majestic spirit.
It didn’t seem like a long time had gone by, but about a year after his arrival to the South Pacific, Merzan knew it was time to open the pouch our mother sent with him. Mama and I discussed giving the pouch to Merzan before he left the farm. Inside was something special, a family heirloom – a cameo. Merzan placed the necklace around Matahina’s neck and proposed marriage.
Merzan was highly sought after for his photographic work throughout French Polynesia. He became famous in France, though he never left the Islands.
During the season of abundance, the now Prince Merzan and his Princess Matahina were confronted by something completely unexpected. Once again, these two, who were bound to travel a journey of destiny written in the stars by the Gods, found themselves facing what would seem insurmountable challenges. The Gods of the Island were in control though. Merzan and Matahina did not realize they’d be asked to make the biggest decision ever. In the film, “Merzan,” adventures and episodes take you on an intimate creative journey through the eyes of an artist and the heart of a Princess.
Somehow, my brother’s path drew me into this chaotic world that teases one’s life by the offerings of destiny. Just when these adventures begin to make sense, it becomes clear that it is all the beginning of something more than we are able to understand. One thing we have learned is that the unexpected becomes expected.
Portions of this story were told to me by Marc Blake, a classmate of Merzan from 1967-1969 at the Lycée Michelet, Paris, France. My brother and Marc were closes friends during his time at the Lycée.