The Real Iron Man

Remember that scene in "Iron Man" when Robert Downey Jr. is banging on a piece of metal with a hammer to build his iron suit? Last week I saw something similar to that, but on a much smaller scale. As part of my video news feature I interviewed a blacksmith named Simon Maril in the town of Arles-Sur-Tech, located about an hour away from Perpignan.

As it turns out, Simon not only uses his skills as a blacksmith to make things like door hinges, fences and handles, but also decorations that he sells in his workshop. He works at an art center called Le Moulin (The Windmill) with three other craftsmen. Jonathan Cantin does woodwork, Patrick Dalsasso works with leather, and Jean-Louis Demoule makes small blades. They each have their own workspace and sell their artifacts in the same building.

As part of a demonstration that I intend to use for my video feature, Simon built a small iron snail in his workshop. He already had five of them on a shelf with a 21-euro price tag. I recorded Simon warming up the fire in his forge, working the metal with his tools, cooling it off in water, adding varnish and putting the finished piece next to the others.

As I watched Simon working in his workshop, I found it peculiar to see someone performing such an old profession. When people hear the word "blacksmith" it most likely evokes images of medieval fairs, cowboy movies and for some people Orlando Bloom in "Pirates of the Caribbean." Yet here in the south of France you can still find blacksmiths working with a good old-fashioned hammer and anvil. The only thing that was out of place in the workshop was an electric power bar, which I believe he uses to start the fire.

It is also quite admirable to see a workman crafting something with his hands in his own shop. This snail he made was not mass-produced in China by an army of anonymous employees. Simon crafted and polished it, and sells it himself. He even has the luxury of setting his own hours. He used to go to a market in the town of Céret to sell his work, but since it was on Saturday and it was taking away time from his girlfriend he decided not to go anymore. It's as good an excuse as any.

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About the Program

Fifteen college students came from North America to Perpignan, France, in June 2011 to produce these videos and stories. To find out more, read a welcome letter from program director Rachele Kanigel, meet the program faculty and explore the 2010 website.