Georges Robert: a hunter honing the horn

Photography : Photokiff - Text : Elisabeth Grosdhomme
BAT - Georges Robert

« No faults but so many vices. » This is how Georges Robert, borrowing from his wife, introduces himself with a smile.

He is a hunter, a fisherman, a horserider, a horn player and a wildlife photographer – an insatiable observer of the forest and its animals, a ceaseless narrator of the rituals of hunting to hounds, able to spend entire hours lying in wait, sometimes to hunt, but often for the sole pleasure of seizing the moment of a roe’s running across or a deer’s belling.

This is an inherited passion. Georges Robert is the son of Georges Robert, grandson of Georges Robert, grand-grandson of Georges Robert, grand-grand-grandson of Georges Robert, and also the father of Georges Robert. Over six generations, the eldest sons of the Robert family have all been named Georges. It goes without saying that in this family, tradition counts for something. And what is thus being transmitted from fathers to sons is values – honor, politeness, propriety of speech, of conduct and even of clothing (Georges Robert laughingly confesses that he even wears a tie while mowing the lawn) ; and it is also practices, among which hunting.

From earliest childhood onwards, Georges Robert followed his father into the forest : fishing in summer, hunting in winter. Georges Robert Sr. carried his son in a backpack which he had pierced with leg holes. Together they followed the « laisser courre », this prelude to the hunt where the hounds lead the men on the trail of big game ; and the father taught the son the meaning of the various fanfares that the huntsmen would sound, which, like a coded language, are intended to communicate information to the members of the hunting party.

Georges Robert is well aware of how much many people disapprove hunting in general, and hunting to hounds in particular. More often than not, he gets insulted by drivers passing by while he is ensuring road safety on a ongoing hunt’s way, and he has had to stand up for his viewpoint numerous times in sometimes rowdy debates. Departing for once from his habit of speaking only polished vocabulary, he explains with a metaphor the difference between hunting and killing : « it is the same difference as between making love and f… ». The “veneurs” (the name given to those who practice hunting with hounds) respect the animals and make sure to limit their culling : one animal for an entire day of hunting. They don’t even carry weapons, the dogs are doing the hunting. Furthermore hunting with hounds is practiced in the highly regulated context of hunting corporations which care for the good management of their hunting grounds, including maintaining the balance of animal species that live there.

Hunting with hounds is allowed only a few months out of the year, from september to march. But Georges Robert extends the ritual over the remaining months through music. He has put together a horn group, called « Les Trompes du Flanache », and sounds in various circumstances, from village celebrations to official ceremonies in the surrounding castles and luxury hotels.

For the huntsmen, the hunting horn is a language. There are as many as fifty-two fanfares meant to designate the animal being hunted (a deer, a roe, a boar,…), to identify its situation (for example if it jumped into a pool to throw off the dogs), or to signal a critical event in the hunt’s progress (most notably the “hallali”, when the animal is caught). Add to that traditional fanfares, associated with specific locations, and personal fanfares, compositions tailor-made for each member of the hunting corporation, which are their sonic signature of sorts.

It is this entire repertoire which Georges Robert likes to sound. He values it all the more since he has had to learn and re-learn three times how to do it: a first time when he started ; a second time after an accident, a horse which ran into him while he was on foot, causing a double cervical hernia ; a third time finally after a cerebral tumor afflicted him with facial paralysis. The tumor was operated on ; rehabilitation took three years and sounding the horn today means to him also celebrating a victory over illness.

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