From ‘Amazing Grace’ to the Cherokees

Once I discovered, a few days ago, that the very popular song ‘Amazing Grace’ had the same remarkable effect on me as Franz Schubert’s ‘Ave Maria’ (see my previous post,, I went on a veritable spree for this ‘Amazing Grace’ song, listening to every single version of it that I could find on YouTube – and there are many!…

It seemed I was going to end up, like for the ‘Ave Maria’, with having to choose which version I liked best… when suddenly I noticed, further down the YouTube video list, a version in… Cherokee!!!

I couldn’t believe my eyes. Instantly, out of mere curiosity, I clicked on that one.

Oh my… I was in for a real shock of beauty.

The video that unfolded before my eyes was magnificent, not only by the song itself, translated indeed into the raw, so fascinating sounds of the Cherokee language, but also by the gorgeous visuals, all drawn from that culture too and making the song newly alive and meaningful with the poignancy of the Native-American tribes’ near disappearance in what became today’s United States of (North) America.

Not that there are any laments being sung or pitiful sights being shown. On the contrary,  in that video as well as another one yet of ‘Amazing Grace’ in Cherokee that was also there, what was striking to me was the feeling of indomitable courage and self-esteem, and the superb images of all that deeply symbolizes the age-old wisdom and pride of those Amerindian cultures, evoked by one video in a more traditional way, and by the other one in a slightly more Westernized style, although both felt remarkably dignified and faithful to their origins.

Well, just that morning on Facebook I had sent my Birthday Wishes to a young woman who had briefly been a neighbor when I still lived on the Auroville beach in Repos; she happened to be of Native-American descent, and proud of it. To meet her had at once reawakened in myself the far roots I have also in those cultures from at least one other lifetime I am aware of. On Facebook, the same thing happened all over again, just by seeing her name, so evocative of that whole culture. What a meaningful ‘coincidence’ that on the evening of the very same day, here I was, unexpectedly plunged through those Cherokee videos into what felt like a torrent, a cataract of that specific energy again!…

Without further ado, my violently beating heart joined into the beating of the drums, and I rejoiced at the beauty of the wolves howling in the silent night under the bright, serene, mysterious face of the full moon. I joined in the joyful horse-riding, galloping through the wilderness… and that, as I am writing it, brings back to my consciousness the similar exhilaration lived in the vast steppes of Siberia long, long ago, in that now unknown culture whose tattooed mummies have astonished the world when unearthed a few decades back…  My interest in that was sparked here in Auroville when I read the book by Olga Kharitidi, ‘Entering the Circle’, and her own far memories resonated so strongly in my being then… (see two of the earliest posts I wrote for this blog, in 2011:, and

What a great medley of origins, religions, cultures, each of us human beings actually is… When will the so obscure need for reciprocal revenge stop perpetuating between all of us conflicts and wars that have no true meaning in view of the underlying Unity and complete inter-connectedness that not only spiritual seers from all ages have always spoken of, but scientists too are now discovering at the heart of everything, even what seems to be the solid matter of physicality, including in our own bodies?!…

This is one of the promises the New Step of Evolution on Earth is holding for us. Let’s have just a little more patience, friends, and let’s call ceaselessly for it: Peace, Peace will come, at last to stay, for a more harmonious Humanity on this planet Earth, where the Cherokees, along with all other cultures, will have recovered their true place …  Oh, really, what an Amazing Grace it will be for all of us!

As if to echo my thoughts, I just now find another video, which will be the perfect ending for this new post of mine:




Basque Paella… in Boise, Idaho

Continue reading the main story Slide Show

Slide Show

Celebrating Basque Heritage in Idaho

CreditRuth Fremson/The New York Times

BOISE, Idaho — When the president of the Basques arrived here in Idaho’s capital from Europe late last month, the mayor stepped in to interpret for him into English from Basque, one of the world’s most ancient and difficult languages.

Boise is part of Basque Country,” said the mayor, David H. Bieter, in an interview, explaining his role.

Mr. Bieter’s brother, John, a professor of history at Boise State University who was at the time running an academic conference across town about all things Basque — coordinated with the weeklong festival that had drawn the president, Iñigo Urkullu — said he could not agree more.

“If you’re into Basque studies,” he said, “this is Christmas.”

Many Americans might think of Idaho as potato country, so successfully has the agriculture industry branded the place, right down to the license plates. It is also one of the least ethnically diverse states, with more than 93 percent of its population classified as white, according to the census.


A giant puppet, a Basque tradition, at the Jaialdi festival in Boise, Idaho. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

But every five years, a wild and often hidden streak in its history and culture steps up to shout, “Ongi Etorri!” (That’s Basque for “Welcome!”)

A Basque street party called Jaialdi takes over downtown Boise, celebrating the roots that were sunk deep by a wave of Basque immigrants who mostly came as shepherds in the early 20th century. The Bieter brothers, (pronounced BEE-ter), the unofficial first family of the local Basque world, dust off their chops in speaking the language. The taps open to a tide of kalimotxo, a Basque cocktail of red wine and cola. And people eat black beans and paella.

With an estimated 35,000 or more attendees — this year’s was the seventh Jaialdi (Basque for “festival time”) since the first one in 1987 — it is one of the biggest Basque festivals outside Europe.

And in much the same way that a walk down the street in Boston in mid-March can stir an impulse to wear a bit of green, Jaialdi draws in people like Anna Heathman. She and her husband, Dick, who drove here from their home in central Washington, said they felt a little bit Basque coming to Jaialdi, though in ethnic reality they are not.

“They have had to fight for identity,” said Ms. Heathman, 73, a retired massage therapist who was born in what is now Slovakia in Central Europe, which was swallowed up for decades by the former Czechoslovakia.

“Because they have no country, I can feel for them and the need to keep their history together,” she said, sitting on a bench in Basque Square. “My people had to fight too.”

Mr. Heathman, 75, a retired farmer, said he had mainly fallen in love with the food.

A century ago, Basques also came to other corners of the American West, like Bakersfield, Calif., and Elko, Nev. Thousands more went to Argentina and Chile. And in some places, those old roots withered to memory.

What happened to keep the story and heritage alive in Idaho was partly that in a state with a small population — 1.6 million now, and far smaller when the Basque wave broke — the immigrants stood out. Idaho’s Basques also mostly came from one province in Spain, Bizkaia, which created a cohesive web of interconnected families. California’s Basque community, by contrast, is much more heavily from the French side of the border.


Athletes competed in traditional Basque sports like the weightlifting of cubes. Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times

But it is also at least partly a family story, in how John and David Bieter’s father, Pat, fell in love with Basque life and pulled his family in with him, starting in the mid-1970s. Pat Bieter married into a Basque family (John and David’s mother, Eloise, was the daughter of Basque immigrants), and in 1974, as a professor of education at Boise State University, he led its first yearlong study-abroad foray to the Basque region in Spain, taking his family with him.

John was 12 that year, and David, now 55, was 14. Spain’s leader, Gen. Francisco Franco, who died in 1975, was still actively suppressing Basque traditions and language, which in turn led to an even deeper connection, the brothers said, as the Boise Basques and the Spanish Basques reached out to one another.

The trip became a university tradition and eventually an anchor of its Basque studies program, of which John Bieter, 53, is now the associate director.

“It completely transformed our lives,” he said of the 1974 trip.

David Bieter, who served in the State Legislature as a Democrat before being elected mayor in 2003, said that after his parents were killed in a car accident in 1999 — Pat was 68 and Eloise 73 — their father’s Basque dream seemed more important than ever to fulfill. “He saw something that ought to be done, and he was the one crazy enough to do it,” David Bieter said.

At the Basque Museum and Cultural Center, which has the only preschool Basque-language immersion program outside Europe, Shamilee Ybarguen-Adams was telling her two daughters one afternoon last week about the lonely lives of the immigrant sheepherders, and how once upon a time, Idaho had three million sheep that needed tending.

Ms. Ybarguen-Adams, 34, who lives in Boise and is the granddaughter of a Basque herder, said that for her, Jaialdi was partly about picking up where past Idaho Basques left off and making sure the next generation did not forget.

“The second generation tried to get away from it; the third is trying to bring it back,” she said. Her girls, Joanna, 6, and Isabella, 4, will start Basque dance lessons this fall, she said.

Out in the square, Xabier Urruzola Arana, 35, and his wife, Garazi Del Rey Salsamendi, 34, were talking about wine. They had come from their town of 300 people in the Basque region of Spain looking for a market and a distributor for their white wine, Txakolina (pronounced chock-oh-LEE-nah), which they started making in the family’s 14th-century farmhouse in 2011. It was their first Boise Jaialdi, they said.

“We’re new, just getting started,” Mr. Arana said. “But this is a good place to network.”

The French Basques

Yes, this long post is about one region of France… but my non French-speaking visitors, don’t despair: for once, it is in English!…

It is an article not written by me, but by a visitor to France itself, who wrote about it for the ‘Travel’ section in the New York Times.

I would normally not copy it here, but it so happens that it is about the ‘Pays Basque’ (the ‘Basque Country’), a specific and very special area of France which I fell in love with  when my family spent two summer vacations there; I must have been only around ten then, but the landscapes and the culture stayed in my heart for ever after. When I saw the main two names mentioned in the beginning of the article, I knew I would have to copy it on my blog, even if only for myself, as these two places, St. Jean de Luz et Ciboure, were precisely the one where we stayed, and the smaller one in whose old church we loved to go to Mass on Sundays, for that church still had the miniature ship hanging high in the middle like in the old times, and the men on one side with the women on the other side, and their devotional songs were sung by all with so much intensity and fervor, it gave you chills in your spine…

Moreover, this Research Blog of mine started in fact with this very topic: the Basque People, and especially their language, still quite mysterious to linguists, as will be pointed out in the article down below, originally from the following address:


Slide Show

A view of the French Basque coastline from the hills above Ciboure, a modest French fishing village. Credit Andy Haslam for The New York Times


At the end of October, summer had returned to the Basque Country. Swimmers joined the surfers along the coast. A strong sun turned the Atlantic Ocean from green to blue. On a late Sunday morning, in the French fishing village of Ciboure, townspeople poured out of L’Église St.-Vincent, a 16th-century church with an octagonal tower. Some stopped to chat by a tall gray cross speckled with lichen. Little girls in poufy dresses ran in circles, squealing. A young man tended to his stooped grandfather, who negotiated old flagstone with a cane. Freshly coifed women with short-handled pocket books lingered in the courtyard. “Bonne journée,” called the priest to his congregation as they headed off into the narrow streets on their way home for lunch.

I was passing through Ciboure en route to St.-Jean-de-Luz with my friend Gabriella Ranelli, whom I’d persuaded to leave her adopted home in the Spanish Basque Country where she organizes customized tours to poke around in the French part with me.

When most people think of the Basque Country, they think of Spain. Bilbao began the so-called Guggenheim effect. San Sebastián has all those Michelin stars. And Pamplona, notoriously, lets bulls run through its streets once a year. But the Basque Country is made up of seven provinces, three of which are in southwestern France.

The Basques are an ancient people who have inhabited this territory for thousands of years. Today, the Spanish part is an autonomous region with a Basque government, while the French part answers to the central government in Paris. The Spanish side has had a strong independence movement, which has lately been eclipsed by Catalonia’s. At the height of its activity in the latter part of the last century, ETA, the Basque separatist group, did most of its fighting on the Spanish side, saving the French side as a hideout.

“In France, they are also proud of being Basques,” a Basque friend from Spain explained, noting, however, that “in Spain, there are many Basques who are willing to be an independent country. In France, very few people think the same.”

While the French part gets overshadowed by the bounty of Spain and the sunny Provençal olive-branch images of the South of France, it would be inaccurate to say the region is undiscovered, and it’s certainly not undeveloped. But to a world in love with France, it’s the little sister who did not get invited to the dance.

When we drove across the French border into the province of Labourd, heading north from Gipúzkoa, the landscape changed. Green hills gave way to the craggy foothills of the Pyrenees. The beach towns of the sometimes steep and rocky coast, from modest Ciboure to glamorous Biarritz, sat less than 10 miles from unspoiled mountain villages. Turreted chateaus hid among tall trees. And there were sheep everywhere, some identified by blue splotches on their rumps, soon to be shorn.


St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port, founded in the 13th century as a commercial, military and religious crossroads. Credit Andy Haslam for The New York Times

Earlier that morning in San Sebastián, we had thrown our bags into the back of Gabriella’s old Mercedes van and set out on a three-day trip into the French Basque Country. That’s Iparralde, which means “the north country” in Euskara, the ancient Basque language that many scholars say is unrelated to any other. It’s a tiny land with a population of less than 300,000 (compared with about two million in Basque Spain), and its own defining characteristics and traditions: a history that dates back to pre-Roman times, a distinct architectural style, deep-seated pride and old men in berets at their local bars. In recent years, a younger generation has emerged, opening design shops, rejiggering the food scene and sprucing up classic red-and-white farmhouses that dot the countryside.

By the port in Ciboure, a few doors down from the house where the composer Ravel was born in 1875, there’s To the Lighthouse, an English-language bookshop and cafe that Michele Dunstan, an Australian, opened in 2013 with her Basque husband. The small, tidy bookstore, with its secondhand English literature and unusual children’s books, is the perfect representation of old and new.

“We’d previously lived in Paris, Sydney and Tunis and thought it was about time we stayed put somewhere for our son’s high school years,” Ms. Dunstan said. “My husband grew up in this house. His mother ran the shop in the ’50s and ’60s. It was a mixed business with fishing items, cigarettes, sweets, toys, cards. Customers still come in and reminisce about the days when they’d buy sweets here after Mass.”

Some things change, some things don’t, so we knew we’d have to hurry if we wanted to get to St.-Jean-de-Luz in time for lunch. In France, lunch is at 12:30 and everything closes for the afternoon.

Never mind that Louis XIV married Marie-Therese, infanta of Spain, here in 1660, sealing the peace between France and Spain accorded by the Treaty of the Pyrenees the year before — we didn’t want to miss the shops. The tea towels and espadrilles of St.-Jean-de-Luz are the standard by which all others should be measured. There’s a wedge-heel, black ankle-strap sandal I bought here in the early 2000s at Sandales Bayona that got compliments from Milan to Manhattan, long before Chloé and Louboutin started making their $750 versions.

We parked opposite the covered market and hurried through the sloping, narrow streets lined with tile-roofed houses toward Tsanga Tsanga on boutique-strewn Rue Gambetta. There an Italian man was waiting for three delicate ceramic bowls to be wrapped.

Continue reading the main story

5 Miles


Bay of Biscay

















San Sebastián

Area of


Santiago de







Basque Region



Just off the other end of the street, we discovered the newcomer Ttilika, a slim shop that celebrates the Basque game of pelote (pelota in Spain and sort of like jai alai) on polo shirts and jerseys, and Stéphane Pirel, whose postcard shop doubles as a studio where he makes his linogravures (similar to linocuts) of squid, fishing boats and other symbols of Pays Basque.

I had heard that the chef Yves Camdeborde — the toast of Paris — had taken over Le Suisse in Place Louis XIV, the old square in St.-Jean-de-Luz. Painters set up their easels there, under the knobby arms of plane trees. In the high season, Le Suisse used to be strictly a tourist place.

But now, joining Nicolas Borombo, who revamped Kaiku up the street, another St.-Jean-de-Luz restaurant, Mr. Camdeborde and his partners are trying something different. Not radical, but a little bar, cafe and terrace, where we had a glistening arugula salad and gambas et cochons avec polenta (shrimp and pork), a light, salty surf and turf, overlooking the fishing port. In the off-season, we were surrounded by local families — some three generations strong — out for a fresh, simple meal. Next door, a distinguished-looking lady was sipping wine in the stylish red-leather-and-blond-wood Bar à Vins with her small brown dog.

About 12 miles up the coast, the slate rooftops of Biarritz’s grand villas appeared. Up until 1650, well before it became a storied summer playground for European royalty, Biarritz was a significant whaling port on the Bay of Biscay. (The Basques were among the earliest whalers.) The chic resort town developed when Empress Eugénie persuaded her husband, Napoleon III, to build a palace there in 1854. The palace was converted into what is now the Hôtel du Palais, a grand, Old World behemoth that hovers above the north end of the Grande Plage.

Today, Biarritz is considered the surfing capital of Europe. The Atlantic coastline of France, from the English Channel down to the Spanish border, has excellent surfing conditions because the ocean’s low pressure generates a huge funnel toward the coast, and the climate is not unlike that of Northern California.

Biarritz is distinguished by its architecture, from the Romanesque 12th-century church of St. Martin to the Gare du Midi, the old Art Nouveau train station that has been converted into a modern theater, and all the turreted villas that sit high above the sea. The top of the lighthouse — 248 steps up — on the Avenue de l’Impératrice provides panoramic views of the seashore and the mountains beyond.


The Grande Plage in Biarritz. Credit Andy Haslam for The New York Times

There’s a different allure at the other end of town, near the market: residential and grittier. We set up at Hôtel de Silhouette, a converted stone house from the early 1600s that has a garden in back, and did some exploring on foot.

Cool new shops, one selling vintage Hermès and Chanel, and restaurants like Baleak, with its steel chairs, exposed stone and whale motif, had opened in the short, angled Rue du Centre. At the top of Rue des Halles, we found Les Passeurs de Vins et Les Contrebandiers, a slick wine store with a restaurant attached. Night had fallen but the day’s warmth lingered, so we sat outside and ate rustic carrots while a young couple shared charcuterie.

It was a short walk to the Port Vieux, a tiny cove that’s lit up at night. By 10 p.m., the streets were mostly empty. “It’s so quiet,” Gabriella said. In Spain, where she’s a gastronomic expert who teaches at the Basque Culinary Institute, her day can easily end at 1 a.m.

There’s an unmistakable joie de vivre in Spain, whereas on this side of the border, there’s an elegant reserve. In the Basque Country under the French flag, the sociology is a bit different, since the population did not suffer under a dictator for almost 40 years, as the Spanish side did under Gen. Francisco Franco until his death in 1975. There is solidarity — if you’re Basque, you’re Basque through and through — but also a natural cultural divide.

The weather had turned to bluster and rain by the time we got to Bayonne. The capital of the French Basque Country, Bayonne is a fortified city where the River Nive meets the Adour. It has many bridges, and at moments along the quais, it seems like a mini Paris or a Basque-flavored Amsterdam.

Four- and five-story houses, some only two windows wide, have faded brick chimneys and shutters in light blue, red, hunter green. Their foundations slant, their sills sag and they are squashed together, dormer windows at the top and little storefronts at street level. A florist here. A beauty parlor there.


St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port and the Pyrenees beyond in the French Basque Country. Three of the Basque region’s provinces are in France. Credit Andy Haslam for The New York Times

The streetlamps are decorated with hanging plants. In the Petit Bayonne section, surviving fortifications — upgraded by Vauban, the military engineer who advised Louis XIV — form a park. The two spires of the Gothic cathedral Ste. Marie are visible from many angles, including from the covered market, right up alongside the River Nive.

I left Gabriella there, promising to meet up after I had finished at the Basque and History of Bayonne Museum situated in a 17th-century merchant’s house on the other side of the Adour. Inside there is a wealth of history. In the 1600s, for example, it was in this town that the first bayonets were made; used for close combat, they were originally designed to fit into (instead of onto) the muzzle of a musket.

When I found Gabriella outside the market, she was excited. “The bishop of Bayonne!” she said, referring to the clergyman we’d seen earlier in his finery, clouded by incense, in the cathedral. “He’s having lunch.” And there he was, sitting among his people, one guy using a selfie-stick to get a photo. She, being a Catholic and a seasoned guide in the Basque Country, saw living history.

Over 350 years ago, the bishop of Bayonne presided over Louis XIV’s wedding and, whenever a whale was caught, she told me, he received the prized tongue. I saw only a gray-haired man who, an hour before, had walked right by a beggar in rags outside the cathedral doors with his tatty blankets and malnourished German shepherd.

Inside the market, there was plenty: Pheasant and duck and hare hanging upside down; an array of things from the sea. We saw a gentleman in oatmeal cashmere having oysters on the half shell with a glass of wine. In spite of the rain, there were tables outside Georges & Co., a small oyster bar opposite the market, in Rue Bernadou. Alongside a couple of girlfriends drinking Kir cocktails, we had briny fines de claire, tiny shrimp, and chilled white wine.

As we headed southeast out of town, the Pyrenees suddenly came into view, and the countryside opened up, a vista of staggering autumn colors. We took the D932, which follows the River Nive toward Cambo-les-Bains, a spa town that was once a center for the treatment of tuberculosis.


The harbor at St.-Jean-de-Luz. Credit Andy Haslam for The New York Times

When Edmond Rostand, who wrote “Cyrano de Bergerac,” came to the area for health reasons, he was so enamored that he built Villa Arnaga and settled in. The villa is now a museum, with a formal French garden leading to a big house built between 1903 and 1906 by the Parisian architect Albert Tournaire.

From the outside, it’s a classic Basque farmhouse, stone on the bottom, whitewash and red-timbered on the top, with a gently sloping roof. Inside, it’s grand, with parquet floors, marble columns, painted frescoes in the piano room, a butler’s pantry and a library with a mezzanine where Mr. Rostand and his bohemian friends would stage plays. His wife, Rosemonde Gerard, was unhappy in the country, where there was nothing, “not even a theater.”

Inland, the French Basque Country villages seem stuck in time. Agrarian customs are alive and well, and more people speak Euskara than they do along the cosmopolitan coast. At the end of the 18th century, the Basque language had waned, stigmatized as the preserve of peasants. Today, it’s not without controversy. In November, thousands of people protested the closing of a primary school in Ciboure where the language was taught. While the number of Basque speakers is on the rise in Spain — Basque became the co-official language in the region after Franco’s death — it’s falling on the French side.

Espelette is a charming village where Basque houses are festooned with the red peppers for which it is known. Traditionally, the pimente d’Espelette dangle on strings to dry before being ground into the spice that’s used widely in Basque recipes. Here, they practically form curtains, and frame windows and doorways.

We were in town in pepper season (we’d seen pickers bent over in fields) when brilliant red chiles are strung up next to the darker, crinkly ones that are further along in the process. Add these to the bold stripes of the cotton toile at Artiga, a lovely fabric shop in the little pedestrian zone, and Espelette is a blindingly colorful town.

As the crow flies, St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port is not far from Espelette, only about 23 miles on the map. But as we headed south through green hills dotted with farmsteads and their blond d’Aquitaine cows, into the province of Basse Navarre, the going was slow. The road bends and turns and we found ourselves behind more than one lurching utility vehicle. This is no country for those in a hurry. Besides, after the rain, you might be rewarded by the sight of a vertical rainbow, crazily sticking up out of nowhere.


Looking toward Ciboure from the seafront of St.-Jean-de-Luz. Credit Andy Haslam for The New York Times

We wanted to get to our hotel in St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port before nightfall, but couldn’t resist a little detour: the bar in Bidarray that the chef Alain Ducasse had transformed into a modern place celebrating local food and drink in 2004.

We knew he’d been chased away by Basque nationalists who’d accused him of “folkloring” (meaning a sort of Disneyfication), but hoped his idea had held on. We wended our way along squiggly roads, crossing a 14th-century stone bridge, and drove steeply up into the one-horse town perched on a ridge with vistas over the valley below.

Bidarray (population about 650) has a squat stone church with a polished gold clock under its two bells, wooden gates, and a well-tended graveyard, except for some potted mums that had been knocked over in the wind. It happened to be Nov. 1, the Day of the Dead, and the graveyard was filled with flowers left by townspeople paying respect to their ancestors.

We left the van by the fronton, the backboard against which pelote is played (every village has one) and scurried to a terrace with plastic cafe tables, the only plausible “bar” in town. Poking our heads into a doorway, we found a group of old-timers sitting around a kitchen table, in the flicker of a 15-inch black and white TV. “Fermé,” said a lady in a housecoat. “Fermé,” sang the chorus, as we turned back toward the car.

It was pitch dark when we pulled up to the Hôtel des Pyrénées, a classic auberge in St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port. We had the glass-enclosed dining room of the Michelin-starred Arrambide restaurant to ourselves. “I hope the chef is in the kitchen,” said Gabriella, darkly. In Basque family tradition, Firmin Arrambide has passed the toque to his son Philippe after decades of cooking duty.

The short tasting menu — from scallops with pork fat caviar to a rich duck breast alongside sweet potato purée and a tiny pain perdu — reflected the younger man’s dexterity in combining tradition with modern technique. I chose a hearty red from Brana, a winery in St.-Étienne-de-Baïgorry, about 20 minutes due west of here in the French Basque Country’s tiny appellation of Irouléguy.

St.-Jean-Pied-de-Port was founded in the 13th century by the last great Basque king, Sancho the Strong, as a commercial, military and religious crossroads. Literally “the foot of the pass,” this enchanted village is the last stop in France on the pilgrims’ route to Santiago de Compostela.

Sleepy at nighttime, on Monday — market day — it was bustling. Up a hill in Place des Ramparts, in the renovated covered market building, old women in calf-length skirts shopped for the region’s famous ewe’s milk cheese, organic vegetables displayed in woven baskets and wooden crates, confits, honey, tinned pâté de foie gras, and saucissons. The cobblestone Rue d’Espagne led steeply down to Notre-Dame-du-Bout-du-Pont — Our Lady at the End of the Bridge — a 14th-century red schist church on the banks of the Nive.

The narrow streets of the densely packed village are lined with stone houses whose carved lintels above wooden doors give their dates — say, 1649. Some are used for shops now, selling black wool berets for 45 euros (about $48) or heavy woolen cardigans. Some are hostels for pilgrims.

While Gabriella went back to the hotel to pack up, I climbed up to the citadel high above town. Ivy crawls up its gray walls now and the grounds are wild with hydrangeas. From this vantage, I could see the tiled roofs of the village spread out below and the heavily wooded peaks all around. Spain was only five miles from here, but it was a world away.

English Translation of “Une Bande-Annonce…”

The whole letter with which the French post starts is actually more or less, this time expressed in French, what I expressed already before Christmas with my never translated English post, ‘The Hobbit’: A trailer as Christmas gift!’.
The second part of this new French post wasn’t in the original English post, so it is that part I now translate for my English-speaking visitors:


After these remarks joyfully springing from my heart while listening to that music and also writing an email to a friend, it occurs to me to add as a follow-up a very appropriate text describing the workshop on ‘The Lord of the Rings” as I propose it under the title ‘The Middle-earth that is within us’:

“The workshop is based upon the Peter Jackson films inspired from ‘The Lord of the Rings’, the magnificent and extremely well-known book by JRR Tolkien, as well as upon that book itself.
The story happens in a past era of terrestrial evolution, not only among the Humans, but also among the various other races, very ancient, nowadays no more to be found, supposedly invented by Tolkien to people a ‘Middle-earth’ entirely born, it was said, from his fertile imagination…
But has all this been only invention and imagination? Or hasn’t it been rather indeed inspiration, revealing times so far in the past that they are usually forgotten?
Another extraordinary fact:  the whole thing gives an astonishingly complete and precise description of all the very real inner world each human being carries actually in herself/himself, usually without realizing it.
Through a deep study of the peoples of Middle-earth, of their respective way of being, of their difficulties, of their conflicts, and of the sincere union which will save them, it is all the various parts of our own being that this study will make us explore, better understand and better recognize in ourselves.
All the main characters, be they monarchs and leaders of those people or on the contrary humble and apparently insignificant folk, will be revealed as the living examples of the inner forces that move us, either to provoke our downfall to an infra-human level, or, if such is our will, our unwavering faith, to accelerate our personal evolution (as well as the collective one) towards higher degrees of consciousness, power and love – a diviner existence, right here in this physical world. For this is the Promise that the Evolutive Force, still at work upon planet Earth, ‘Arda’, just as it was already in the long past times of ‘Middle-earth’, is keeping for us…

Une Bande-Annonce très précieuse

“Chère amie,
comment vas-tu donc?…

Ici l’été est encore très supportable, il y a presque tout le temps une forte brise, je n’utilise toujours pas de ventilateur; à peine croyable, quand on pense qu’on est en Avril déjà!!! 2012 avance vite…
Pour fêter le retour de ma connection internet, après avoir rempli les tâches email et blog les plus urgentes, je me suis mise en vacances en m’octroyant un peu de musique… pour le moment je n’en ai encore pas du tout sur Merveille, alors je me suis rebranchée sur la fameuse bande-annonce du Hobbit envoyée par ma fidèle nièce, et je suis en train d’écouter en boucle le Chant des Nains, “Far over the Misty Mountains cold”… ce n’est pas évident de t’écrire en même temps en Français, mais ce chant superbe est un tel support extérieur pour mon état intérieur, je n’ai pas envie de l’interrompre.
Au début c’est l’acteur Richard Armitage, en tant que leur chef Thorin Oakenshield, qui commence tout seul à chanter; non seulement il est beau (un charme fou!) mais il a une voix absolument incroyable, tout seul comme ça, sans le moindre accompagnement; ce début est si émouvant, je ne m’en lasse pas, chaque fois il me fait le même effet: je me sens soudain un de ces Nains anciens et puissants, à l’orgueil redoutable, certes, mais avec aussi une telle volonté, et un tel amour pour la Beauté divine enfouie au coeur des montagnes sous forme de  métaux précieux et de pierres précieuses, avec cette bande-annonce (et Richard Armitage, plus quelques autres pas mal non plus…!) me voilà tombée amoureuse de ces Nains, chose totalement inattendue et surprenante. Sacré Peter Jackson, tout de même!!! Il a réussi son coup encore une fois, dès ce premier trailer. Moi qui ne m’étais jamais vraiment identifiée à cette race-là parmi toutes celles du monde de Tolkien, voilà qui est fait. Magie, encore une fois, de la musique d’Howard Shore…

(Pour bonne mesure, ci-dessus j’ai mis une version “en boucle” qui dure une heure…! )
Et Tolkien, donc, quel être extraordinaire, qui vivait intérieurement plutôt comme un Hobbit, d’après ses propres dires, mais un Hobbit capable de se mettre aussi intégralement dans la peau d’un Humain normal, ou d’un Ent, ou d’un Elfe… ou encore, justement d’un Nain. Et de nous les faire aimer tous, tout en nous faisant pleinement sentir la différence parfois extrême des manières d’être comme des habitats. C’est encore une fois avec tant de gratitude que je pense à lui…

Bon, alors en ce monde en pleine évolution, je t’envoie mes pensées les plus souriantes et affectueuses, auxquelles j’espère que tu répondras, même brièvement, mais très bientôt!


Après ces remarques joyeusement jaillies du coeur à l’écoute de cette musique tout en écrivant un email à une amie, il me vient l’idée d’ajouter à la suite un texte tout à fait approprié qui décrit l’atelier sur “Le Seigneur des Anneaux” tel que je le propose sous le titre “La Terre du Milieu qui est en nous”:

“L’atelier est basé sur les films de Peter Jackson tirés du “Seigneur des Anneaux”, le magnifique et célébrissime ouvrage de JRR Tolkien, aussi bien que sur cet ouvrage lui-même.
L’histoire se situe en une ère passée de l’évolution terrestre, non seulement parmi les Humains, mais aussi parmi les différentes autres races, très anciennes, aujourd’hui disparues, théoriquement inventées par Tolkien pour peupler une “Terre du Milieu” entièrement sortie, dit-on, de sa fertile imagination…
Mais tout cela fut-il seulement invention et imagination? Ou ne fut-ce pas plutôt bel et bien inspiration révélatrice de temps si lointains qu’ils sont habituellement oubliés?
De plus, l’ensemble nous donne une description étonnamment complète et précise de tout le très réel monde intérieur que chaque être humain porte en fait en lui-même, le plus souvent sans s’en rendre compte.
A travers une étude approfondie des peuples de la Terre du Milieu, de leur manière d’être respective, de leurs difficultés, de leurs conflits, et de l’union sincère qui les sauvera, ce sont toutes les différentes parties de notre propre être que cette étude nous fera explorer, mieux comprendre et mieux discerner en nous-mêmes.
Tous les personnages principaux, souverains et leaders de ces peuples ou au contraire humbles et apparemment insignifiants, vont se révéler être les vivants exemples des forces intérieures qui nous animent, soit pour provoquer notre chute à un niveau infra-humain, soit, si telle est notre volonté, notre foi inébranlable, pour accélérer notre évolution personnelle (et collective tout à la fois) vers de plus hauts degrés de conscience, de pouvoir et d’amour – une existence plus divine, ici-même, dans ce monde physique. Car telle est la Promesse que nous réserve la Force Evolutive toujours à l’oeuvre sur la planète Terre, “Arda”, tout comme elle l’était déjà à l’époque lointaine de la “Terre du Milieu”…

Tolkien: Une Mythologie Inspirée, pour l’Angleterre

Traduction française de l’article précédent

25 Mar 2012 Leave a Comment


Deutsch: Von 1930 bis 1947 lebten die Tolkiens...

Deutsch: Von 1930 bis 1947 lebten die Tolkiens in der Northmoor Road 20 in Oxford (England). English: Photograph of the building at 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford, England, former home of the author J. R. R. Tolkien (1930 - 1947). Español: Fotografía del edificio del 20 de Northmoor Road, en Oxford (Inglaterra), hogar del escritor J. R. R. Tolkien de 1930 a 1947. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Grâce à une remarque exprimée dans un commentaire par une visiteuse régulière, à propos de mon article récent sur “Le Hobbit”, je me suis rendue compte que bon nombre de gens croient encore que  “Le Seigneur des Anneaux” est une allégorie représentant la Seconde Guerre Mondiale.

Il est important que cette croyance disparaisse, alors je mets en évidence sous forme d’article nouveau les réponses que j’ai données à cette remarque erronée:
Mar 24, 2012 @ 15:18:11 [Edit]

C’est une complète idée fausse qui a amené certains critiques à penser et à affirmer avec autorité que “Le Seigneur de Anneaux” est une description de la Seconde Guerre Mondiale. Ce n’est pas le cas, et ça ne l’a jamais été.
1/L’histoire était déjà présente dans l’esprit de JRRT longtemps avant cette guerre, et une bonne partie était déjà écrite avant même que cette guerre ne commence. L’étrange vérité est que ce fut l’inverse:

Tolkien lui-même, aussi bien que son meilleur ami à l’époque, C.S. Lewis, l’une des seules personnes à avoir lu le manuscrit non fini mais déjà existant du “Seigneur des Anneaux”, furent tous deux stupéfaits de voir l’histoire écrite par Tolkien commencer à devenir l’horrible réalité, aussi dans ce monde-ci, supposé être la Réalité Première.

Tolkien a maintes fois souligné ce fait pour corriger cette idée fausse, cependant il y a encore trop de gens qui croient cela, sur la base d’une simple supposition.
Même chose pour l’affirmation par certains que l’Anneau n’est qu’une métaphore pour ceci ou cela.
Tolkien haïssait les allégories, c’était la pire chose que vous puissiez lui dire à propos du “Seigneur des Anneaux”, que c’était une allégorie pour ceci ou pour cela. C’est exactement le contraire: cette histoire a une éternelle vérité derrière elle, si profonde que beaucoup des situations rencontrées dans la “vie réelle” semblent calquées sur elle…
2/Probablement la date de publication elle aussi conduit à l’erreur: 1954 pour les deux premiers volumes, et 1955 pour le troisième, peuvent  donner l’impression que le texte également doit avoir été écrit juste avant ces dates, alors qu’en réalité, à cause des multiples responsabilités professionnelles de JRRT prenant tout son temps, il lui a fallu de 1938 à quelques années plus tard pour écrire la majeure partie, et la fin a dû attendre 1948 pour être finalement terminée. Et alors le résultat était un si gros livre, en cette après-guerre d’appauvrissement général aucun éditeur n’osait s’attaquer à un tel monstre, si bien que c’est seulement à ces dates plut tardives, et en trois volumes, qu’enfin les éditeurs Allen & Unwin acceptèrent de lui donner une chance…

A ces réponses copiées ci-dessus je veux ajouter l’importante observation d’ensemble suivante:

Ce qu’on devrait toujours garder présent à l’esprit, c’est que depuis son enfance même, et pour toute  la suite de sa vie, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien abritait en lui-même un profond lien intérieur avec le passé lointain de la Terre (voir mon article bien antérieur sur ses  “souvenirs lointains” d’Atlantis) et une totale fascination pour mythologies et langages, et la corrélation qu’il découvrit  instinctivement entre ces deux expressions essentielles de toute culture.

C’est cette passion innée (aussi pour les dragons…) brûlant inextinguible en lui qui le conduisit à devenir un philologiste une fois adulte, et non pas l’inverse comme on pourrait l’imaginer: il eut la chance de pouvoir convertir ce qui était son véritable intérêt principal, en le meilleur équivalent possible en tant que carrière académique: la Philologie.

Mais bien que son travail de Recherche et d’Enseignement lui ait valu grande appréciation et renom, en vérité il n’était pas tellement un intellectuel qu’un artiste, un poète, quelqu’un qui vivait dans le monde extérieur, certes, mais avec tout le temps aussi la dimension secrète,  à la richesse débordante, de son propre monde intérieur, le monde créé – ou recréé – par son imagination personnelle ou ses souvenirs concrets, et son ardente aspiration pour un monde physique meilleur, rendu plus parfait.

En une personnalité si intense, il n’est pas étonnant de trouver dès le plus jeune âge le besoin d’exprimer ce monde intérieur par le medium dont il était le plus amoureux et pour lequel il était le plus doué: les mots, mots dont le son même était pour lui musique, et qui pour lui évoquaient histoires et hauts faits des civilisations entières qui avaient parlé ces anciennes langues, maintenant oubliées, dont ces mots faisaient partie.

Nous ne devrions jamais oublier que, jeune adulte, avec trois autres idéalistes, ses amis les plus proches parmi les autres étudiants, JRRT prononça le voeu solennel d’écrire pour leur chère patrie, l’Angleterre, la Mythologie qu’elle n’avait pas, ou n’avait plus, après tant de siècles d’invasion par des cultures étrangères venues d’autres pays.

La mort de deux de ces amis pendant la Première Guerre Mondiale reporta les espoirs du troisième sur celui d’entre eux tous qui était le plus capable de réaliser leur rêve commun: Tolkien.  Et en effet, au beau milieu des horribles tranchées boueuses de la Première Guerre Mondiale, JRRT avait déjà commencé à écrire de magnifiques histoires d’un lointain passé oublié où de hauts et puissants héros, Elfes et Humains, dans leur cités de pierres précieuses, avaient combattu de terribles êtres maléfiques, à l’origine et aux pouvoirs surnaturels, qui voulaient dominer leur monde, notre planète Terre elle-même, mais telle qu’ elle était en cette époque très reculée et dans sa partie centrale, la “Terre du Milieu”, où vivaient les espèces les plus importantes, qui depuis longtemps ne sont plus.

Pendant des dizaines d’années Tolkien oeuvra en secret à ces histoires et à sa propre version de la Genèse, le commencement de tout, avec tout d’abord la création du monde physique, à laquelle participèrent des dieux et déesses assez semblables à ceux des mythologies paîennes, mais avec cette différence majeure que dans le mythe de Tolkien  ils étaient eux-mêmes des émanations de Eru, “L’Un”, tous invités à participer chacun et chacune à sa manière pour faire de l’Univers et en particulier de la Terre, “Arda”, un lieu habitable pour les Enfants d’Eru qui viendraient plus tard: Elfes et Hommes, et aussi Ents et Nains… et un jour cette petite sous-espèce des Humains, si intéressante, les Hobbits.

Pour Tolkien lui-même toutes ces histoires bien-aimées mais pas encore publiées constituaient l’indispensable toile de fond et étaient tout aussi importantes que les histoires plus récentes qui, elles, avaient été publiées, d’abord “Le Hobbit”, puis sa continuation qui devint “Le Seigneur des Anneaux”, incluant maintenant les amusants mais aussi fort importants nouveaux-venus, les Hobbits – mais tout cela dans la totalité plus vaste, plus complète, fournie par les histoires plus anciennes. L’ensemble que formaient ces histoires anciennes, il l’appelait “Le Silmarillion”, car elles parlaient des Silmarils et de la Lumière divine encore pure qu’ils contenaient, en ce Premier Age d’Arda.

Tolkien essaya en vain d’obtenir que son cher “Silmarillion” soit publié en même temps que “Le Seigneur des Anneaux”, mais les éditeurs sentirent que le grand public n’allait pas vraiment apprécier ces histoires héroîques plus austères et plus épiques, et serait déçu de ne pas y trouver le moindre Hobbit; si bien que c’est seulement après la mort de Tolkien que son rêve de publier “Le Silmarillion” fut enfin réalisé, par son dernier fils, Christopher, qui avait toujours été  le plus proche de lui pour ce qui concernait ses écrits non-académiques.

C’est seulement quand, après de nombreuses années, j’ai lu “Le Silmarillion”, que j’ai pleinement mesuré la vastitude et profondeur incroyables qui imprègnent aussi “Le Hobbit” et “Le Seigneur des Anneaux” dans la vision totale que leur auteur avait de ces histoires quand il les écrivit: la vision d’une Mythologie de toute beauté, non seulement pour l’Angleterre, mais aussi pour la Terre.

Après cela j’ai aussi lu la “Biographie de Tolkien” par Humphrey Carpenter, et finalement les “Lettres” de Tolkien lui-même, et plus je lisais et plus grandissaient mon respect et mon admiration pour Tolkien en tant qu’être humain, qui intuitivement avait atteint une si extraordinaire compréhension de l’Evolution, de son But divin et du Résultat qu’elle va accomplir, … une impossibilité, semblait-il au départ…

Tolkien’s Inspired Mythology for England

Deutsch: Von 1930 bis 1947 lebten die Tolkiens...

Deutsch: Von 1930 bis 1947 lebten die Tolkiens in der Northmoor Road 20 in Oxford (England). English: Photograph of the building at 20 Northmoor Road, Oxford, England, former home of the author J. R. R. Tolkien (1930 - 1947). Español: Fotografía del edificio del 20 de Northmoor Road, en Oxford (Inglaterra), hogar del escritor J. R. R. Tolkien de 1930 a 1947. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thanks to a passing remark in the comment  by a regular visitor about my recent post on ‘The Hobbit’, I realized that a number of people still believe ‘The Lord of the Rings” to be an allegory of World War II.

It is important that this belief is dispelled, so I am bringing out here as a new post, first the answers I made to that comment:
Mar 24, 2012 @ 15:18:11 [Edit]

It is a total misconception that led some critics to think and then authoritatively say that LOTR is about WWII. It is not, and has never been.
1/It was already fully in JRRT’s mind long before WWII, and most of it was actually written before WWII even started. The strange truth is, it was the other way around:
Both himself and his then best friend CS Lewis, one of the only few persons to have read the ongoing, but already existing manuscript of LOTR, were astonished to see how WWII started unfolding, as if Tolkien’s story was horribly becoming the current reality of this ‘primary’ world too.
Tolkien has written many times to point that fact out and correct the mistake in people’s minds, but still too many believe as you do because of that wrong assumption.
Same thing for the affirmation by some that the Ring was a metaphor for this, that or the other.
Tolkien hated allegories, and it was the worst thing you could tell him about LOTR, that it stood as an allegory for this or that. It is exactly the contrary: the story has a deep, eternal truth behind it, so that makes many situations we know in ‘real life’ resemble it…
2/Probably the publishing date too is misleading: 1954 for the first two volumes, and 1955 for the third volume, may give the impression that the writing too must have been done just before those dates, while in reality, due to JRRT’s endless various professional duties eating up all his time, the actual writing took him from 1938 to a few years later, with the ending having to wait till 1948 to get at last written down. And then it was such a big book, just after the impoverishing war no editor would take up such a monster, so it is only in those later years and in three volumes that Allen & Unwin finally agreed to give it a try…

To the answers copied above, I want to add the following important overall observation:

What should always be kept in mind is that  from his very childhood on, John Ronald Reuel Tolkien harboured in himself a deep inner link with the far past of the Earth (see my much earlier post on his ‘far memories’ of Atlantis) and a total fascination for mythologies and languages and the correlation he instinctively discovered between those two as the essential expressions of any given culture.

It is this innate passion (for dragons too…) burning forever in him that led him to become a philologist as an adult, and not the other way around as people may imagine: he was lucky enough to be able to convert what was his genuinely central interest into the best possible equivalent he could find as a career in the academic world: Philology.

But although his research and teaching work in that field  earned him much appreciation and renown, in truth he was not so much an academic as an artist, a poet, someone who lived in the outer world all right, but with all the time also the secret dimension and overflowing richness of his own inner world as well, the world created – or recreated – by his own imagination or actual memories, and his ardent aspiration for a better, perfected outer world.

In such an intense personality, it is not surprising to find from an early age the need to express that inner world through the  medium he was most in love with and gifted for: words, words whose very sound would be like music to him, and would evoke for him stories and deeds of entire civilizations that spoke the ancient, forgotten languages those words belonged to.

We should never forget that as a young adult, together with three other idealists who were his closest friends among the other students, JRRT made the vow of writing for their cherished country, England, the Mythology it didn’t have, or didn’t have any more after having been invaded for so long by foreign cultures from other lands.

The death of two of his friends during WWI put the hopes of the third entirely on the one who, of them all, was the most truly capable of realizing their shared dream:  Tolkien.  And indeed, right in the horrible, muddy trenches of WWI, JRRT had already started writing beautiful stories of long past high deeds by tall, strong forgotten Elvish and Human heroes in their great gemlike cities, pitted against terrible dark lords of supernatural origin and power who wanted to dominate their world, our very own planet Earth, but as it was in those very ancient times, and in the central part, ‘Middle-earth’, where the main species dwelt then, who since long are no more.

For decades Tolkien worked secretly on those stories and on his own Genesis-like tale of the beginnings of it all, starting with the creation of the physical world, with gods and goddesses similar in many ways to those of pagan mythologies, but with the major difference that in Tolkien’s myth they themselves were emanations of Eru, “The One”, all invited to participate each one in his or her own way in making the Universe and particularly the Earth, ‘Arda’, habitable for the further Children of Eru that would come later: Elves and Men, but also Ents and Dwarves… and, down the line, this most interesting subspecies of Men, the Hobbits.

For Tolkien himself, all those beloved but yet unpublished first tales constituted the indispensable overall background and were as important as those later tales that got published, first ‘The Hobbit” and then the continuation of it that became ‘The Lord of the Rings’, including now the funny and also very meaningful role played by the newly-found Hobbits, but all within the enlarged, fuller context provided by the older stories. As a whole he called those older stories ‘The Silmarillion’, for they told of the Silmarils and of the still pure divine Light they contained, in that First Age of Arda.

Tolkien tried in vain to have his dear ‘Silmarillion’ published at the same time as ‘The Lord of the Rings’, but the editors felt the public wouldn’t appreciate those more austere and epic tales with no Hobbits yet in them, so it is only after Tolkien’s death that his dream of having ‘The Silmarillion’ published was at last realized, by his youngest son Christopher, ever the closest to him regarding his writings.

It is only when, after many years, I read ‘The Silmarillion’, that I fully measured the incredible vastness and depth underlying  also ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Lord of the Rings’ in the total vision their author had had of them while writing them: a most beautiful Mythology not only for England, but actually for the Earth.

Then I read also the biography of Tolkien by Humphrey Carpenter, and finally JRRT’s own ‘Letters’ as well, and the more I read the more grew my respect and admiration for Tolkien the human being, who intuitively reached such an extraordinary understanding of Evolution, its divine Purpose and the divine Result it will achieve, that seemed an utter impossibility…

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