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For the love of Laika, in Dives-sur-Mer

We matched our postcard and strolled confidently through the archway to have some lunch, only to discover it was packed and all the sensible people had booked.

Entrance Hostellerie Guillaume Le Conquerant - who nicked the knight?!
Entrance Hostellerie Guillaume Le Conquerant – who nicked the knight?!

So we went in search of a mysterious building we had heard about, the Blue House. We found it hidden away on a unimpressive Dives-sur-Mer street, backing onto the railway line. But it isn’t just a house its a curious landscape, a marvel of mosaic.

Meet our hero

Euclides Da Costa Ferreira  was 22, poorly educated, brave and ready for a new life when he arrived in France from Portugal to look for work in 1924. He worked around Northern France in a variety of jobs for many years until arriving in Dives-Sur-Mer just after the war in 1946.  Here Euclides found regular work as a digger driver at the metalwork factory Tréfimétaux.  By the end of 1947 he was able to finally a became a citizen of France.

Dreams become reality in a muddy field

Living sparsely Euclides saved and bought a rough plot of land near the port.  A practical man, he built his own wooden house.  Just a shack really but it was home and it was his. Perhaps because of all the years living hand to mouth, sometimes out of doors, or perhaps something in the air at the factory, we do not know but in 1954 Euclides was forced to retire because he had Tuberculosis.  He was 52.  His pension was not generous.

Never too late

After more than half a century as a single man Euclides was fortunate enough to meet and joyously marry the lovely Marie. Like him she was not born in France and like him she was deeply religious. The only photograph we have seen of the couple shows a contented togetherness, both determinedly well turned out in spite of their poverty.  Marie is a wife to be proud of and Euclides dapper although illness is etched on his face.

Marie and Euclides da Costa Ferreira

Laika’s tragedy and a miracle

But it was not love for his wife that started Euclides creating a mosaic world on his Dives-sur-Mer property, it love for a tragic little dog he had never met.  When the Soviet Union sent a dog, Laika, into space it was heralded as a remarkable achievement.  There was no plan for Laika to return to earth.  The little dog’s last moments would be spent strapped into a tiny capsule facing out into limitless space.

Laika the Soviet space dog preparing for launch.

A memorial for Laika

Laika’s lonely death far from everything he had ever known moved Euclides deeply.  He began to build a memorial; first shaping a wire frame and covering it with cement then decorating it with pretty pieces of broken glass and pottery.  He fashioned stars and created a simple Sputnik rocket to place on top. The monument still stands, a strange and beautiful shrine to the casualties of man’s ambition.

Laika’s memorial is on the left (with rocket)

A reason for living

A relentless creativity had been unleashed within Euclides and he carried on.  Across the garden he built temples of his own design, around structures whose purpose only he can know, decorated with the animals and birds he loved so much.  Marie delighted in his inventiveness and gave thanks for his renewed love of life.

Evidence of Euclides’ love of animals, particularly Geckos, is everywhere.

Recycled blue

Each mosaic piece is recycled, found during foraging trips to the town rubbish heap. In 22 years he created a space so unique that it is now a national monument.

Entrance to Maria and Euclides’ home

Concern for this strange landscape

Euclides Da Costa Ferreira died in 1984.  With no children Marie was concerned for the future of the delicate mosaics so lovingly created by her husband.  Of course the town realised the value and importance of the strange landscape built on Rue des Frères Bisson and bought the property from Marie in 1987. Marie died in 1989, four days after Christmas.

Euclides mosaic garden

The future of the Blue House.

Care and restoration of Euclides’ imagination has had it’s ups and downs.  Declared a national monument in 1991, money for restoration soon ran out.

Happily a local group stepped in and slowly but surely the property has been protected and gently restored. Very occasionally the public is allowed in.  Keep an eye out on the Dives-sur-Mer website.

Euclides saved found scraps of broken china

Our postcard match of the Hostellerie

Hostellerie Guillaume Le Conquerant, our postcard match?  We have another postcard of the interior, a restaurant.  We will report back as soon as one of us remembers to book.

A last word, for Laika

Laika and Sputnik 2 were launched into space on November 3, 1957.  It was kept quiet at the time but scientists suspect Laika’s last few days were cut short to just a few hours, when a fault overheated the spacecraft.  Official reports misled with comments suggesting Laika lived in space for days until the oxygen ran out, or until he was euthanized.

Five months after launch after 2,570 orbits, Sputnik 2 and Laika’s remains disintegrated during re-entry to the earth’s atmosphere on 14 April 1958.

For science

Against protocol, for Laika’s last evening on earth one of the scientists Dr. Vladimir Yazdovsky had taken the little dog home to play with his children. He said “Laika was quiet and charming…I wanted to do something nice for her, she had so little time left to live.

Fellow scientist on the project Oleg Gazenko said in 1998;

“The more time passes, the more I’m sorry about it. We shouldn’t have done it. We did not learn enough from the mission to justify the death of the dog.” 

Romanian stamp from 1959 with Laika the caption reads "Laika, first traveller into Cosmos"
Romanian stamp from 1959 with Laika. The caption reads “Laika, first traveller into Cosmos”

 

 

 

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