Why my ‘AUROSPIRITUALS’ after forty years of ‘Yoga of the Cells’

As I explained in my previous article, it is since 1975 and the full coming in front of my Psychic Being (the ‘Being of the Soul’, as Sri Aurobindo  and Mother call It) that devotional songs for the Divine began spontaneously coming to me, again and again.

And it is when the inner contact with my cells, which happened by itself one year later, in 1976, enabled me to notice with astonishment,  as early as 1978, that here and there in my body they were turning altogether spiritual, it is from that time on that those cells, of a body not only creole but also born in Africa, started to influence the devotional songs that kept coming to me: it was now often on the very joyful rhythm of a biguine or a samba that they expressed themselves!…

So, the sudden influx in September and October 2017 of several more such songs, but dedicated specifically to Africa, has only been the most recent form that  those ‘AUROSPIRITUALS’ took, composing themselves inside of me since the early Eighties.

I thought I had given them that name only just before the African Niagara: precisely the night before the powerful arrival of the African Niagara in the early morning, I had made a list of all my very rhythmic songs and had given them that name – for the first time, or so I believed.

A major mistake actually:

It is simple little notebooks for schoolkids that I use for noting down since 1988 (at last…) the spiritual progresses of my cells, as well as my dreams – in case the latter may reveal a secret inner relation with the cellular progresses also recorded.

From the very first notebook in 1988, I named the future whole record of those notes ‘My Cells and Me:  Journal of a Wonderful Adventure Together’.

Quite recently – these last few weeks – , while going back in time leafing through those notebooks, searching for an entirely different cellular event, I stumbled upon the veritable date on which for the first time I had had the inspiration of that name for my songs with a more exotic rhythm: it was in fact, unbelievable but true, in the morning of Feb. 24th 2017, that is, exactly the day after my birthday last year!!!

What a surprise! Already on that morning, right after my previous birthday, the Divine had whispered to me this precise name for those songs: ‘AUROSPIRITUALS’!…

Stunned, I realized this specific name was having then a great importance, more so than I had suspected. In effect, that name was enabling me to evoke and honor the name of similar but older songs, indeed, but also to signal the difference: thanks to its greater universality that name could then be used for the joyful devotional expression of any people or culture, beyond all the religions and their human dogmas so limiting and divisive!…

Thanks to the genetic research that has now become so easy to do, many people are discovering they have had ancestors of totally unsuspected origins, and this simple revelation by itself makes them open up to those other cultures they had no idea they were linked to.

But what Genetics don’t know yet, is that we have often been our own ancestors, too…! And in my personal case, it is not just African and Creole roots that I have in me. Be it from one lifetime or the other, I have actually roots masculine or feminine, on all continents, under all latitudes and all skin colors, expressing all the shamanic or religious beliefs known or forgotten. Roots?… I have, it would seem, a multitude of them.

Indeed: the British Aurovilian lady (nowadays gone back to cool England for her health) whom long ago I had finally consulted like many of us did, revealed then to me, to her own surprise, that I was what is called ‘an old soul’, having lived lives upon lives, everywhere, from the most ancient times, and that in this lifetime (a most important one) I was to gather and use all the qualities acquired in all those other lives to create out of them the diversified richness that our human unity requires for truly happening, in this terrestrial evolutive future that is growing more and more.

Well, I had noted down all right everything that this Aurovilian lady with inner sight  had told me, but without having the slightest idea of how such a future of spiritual universalisation would ever become a part of my real life.

And there it was, beginning obviously to happen, and on the intense and accelerated mode that luckily I was getting used to, for it was in that same way that all my previous spiritual progresses had happened every time, and this new one was no exception:

One after the other, first Africa with several of its regions, among them the Atlas, then it has been Tibet that revived its deep roots within me, then Kazakhstan, or rather the whole area around the Altaï, whatever present name those countries may have, that lie there since ever, and in which my being has incarnated for one life or the other. And there is the Peru of Macchu Picchu. And there is Ancient Israël – several lives. And there are of course my roots, multiple too, in France as such, at various time periods. And it is far from all!

These last months, my own evolutive progresses have translated themselves, in the night as in the day, through a sort of universalisation, not any more just psychological like when a young adult, but lived by my body itself, the experience buried into the invisible layers of my cells’ DNA starting to become active again, bringing me in a sequence, irresistibly, to several of those Cultural Pavilions that Mother asked us to build also in Auroville, I understand better and better why.

And this doesn’t concern me only, obviously: Auroville, and beyond Auroville, humanity as a whole will have to follow this same inner movement connecting all our diversities.

Of course the Aurovilians are from everywhere, already on the first degree, speaking simply of each one’s country of origin in this lifetime. But to feel that one belongs only to that one country is not enough, it too easily gives rise to ‘reductionism’ and ‘exclusivism’ towards the other countries.

Beyond this apparently unique country each one belongs to now, so many of us in Auroville, like me have those multiple deep roots connecting them invisibly to so many countries and cultures and times, on top on their country of origin this time around, that having lived under all skin colors, when they begin to remember it, they simply cannot anymore be a racist….

Same thing for the religions: when one has lived at the time of Christ, but also at the time of Krishna, and also at the time of Buddha or Mahomet, and then now of Sri Aurobindo and Mother, it is from within that one feels the wonderful complementarity of the way they followed each other, simply as different and growing expressions of the same Truth  now at last fully revealed. That Truth has needed all the previous ones to become whole again in its expression, and they must remain, in some more supple form devoid of exclusivism, so that the Truth  will still be adapted to the various degrees of evolution and inner needs that cannot but be there, among those unique individual human beings that we all are, all various aspects of the Divine at the same time ONE and ALL.

It is, I see it, this new experience in my cells that has made my individual consciousness achieve the same progress in effective universalization.

For 2018,  for this Fortieth Year of their own ‘Yoga of the Cells’, as Mother was calling it, this is the Gift they have received in several stages, during the End of Year and New year time, and still more later… And they kindly made me benefit from it, they shared it with me, this Gift, and now thanks to these neurons who formulate it for me, and these hands who write it on this keyboard for me, and this whole body who participates one way or the other, I am able to share it with other human beings too, a bit everywhere, through this blog! Isn’t that fantastic?!?

All my congratulations to you, my dear cells, and all my gratitude as a human being who still felt too separated from the others! You have changed all that in a few months!… And our little Celebration of Africa at the African Pavilion through your joyful ‘Aurospirituals’ for the anniversary of this body you constitute, my dear cells, this little afternoon of singing and dancing that way is more ad more taking its full meaning : it was a Celebration of the wonderful Diversity of Human Expression that we are all part of!…



Pourquoi mes “AUROSPIRITUALS”, après quarante années de “Yoga des Cellules”

Ainsi que je l’ai expliqué dans mon précédent article, c’est depuis 1975 et la pleine venue en avant de mon Être Psychique (l’Être de l’Âme, ainsi nommé par Sri Aurobindo et Mère) que des chansons dévotionnelles pour le Divin ont spontanément commencé à me venir, encore et encore.

Et c’est lorsque le contact intérieur avec mes cellules, qui s’est produit par lui-même un an plus tard, fin 1976, m’a permis de constater avec stupeur, dès 1978, qu’elles étaient carrément, ici et là dans mon corps, en train de s’éveiller spirituellement, c’est à partir de ce moment-là que ces cellules, d’un corps non seulement créole mais aussi né en Afrique, ont commencé à influencer les chansons dévotionnelles qui continuaient de plus belle à me venir: maintenant c’était souvent sur des rythmes de biguine ou de samba fort joyeux et entraînants qu’elles s’exprimaient!….

L’afflux soudain en Septembre et Octobre 2017 de telles chansons, mais cette fois dédiées spécifiquement à l’Afrique, n’a donc été que la plus récente forme qu’ont prise ces “AUROSPIRITUALS” qui se sont composés en moi depuis le début des années 80.

Je croyais ne les avoir nommées “AUROSPIRITUALS” que juste avant l’arrivée récente du Niagara africain: justement pile la nuit d’avant que le Niagara africain ne se déclenche en pleine force au petit matin, j’avais fait la liste de toutes mes chansons bien rythmées, et les avais appelées ainsi – pour la première fois, ou du moins je le croyais.

Erreur majeure en fait:

Ce sont de simples petits cahiers d’écolière qui me servent depuis 1988 à noter (enfin…) les progrès spirituels de mes cellules, ainsi que mes rêves – au cas où ceux-ci révèleraient une relation intérieure secrète avec les progrès cellulaires notés aussi.

Dès le premier cahier en 1988,  j’ai intitulé tout l’ensemble de mes notes futures “Mes Cellules et moi: Journal d’une Merveilleuse Aventure ensemble”.

Tout récemment – ces dernières semaines – en remontant le temps dans ces petits cahiers, alors que j’étais à la recherche d’un tout autre évènement cellulaire, je suis tombée sur la véritable date à laquelle j’avais pour la première fois eu l’inspiration de ce nom pour ces chansons au rythme plus exotique : c’était en fait, incroyable mais vrai, au matin du 24 février 2017, soit exactement le lendemain de mon anniversaire d’il y a un an!!!

Ô surprise, dès ce matin-là, juste à la suite de mon anniversaire précédent, le Divin m’avait déjà soufflé ce nom précis pour ces chansons-là: les “AUROSPIRITUALS”!…

Je me suis rendu compte avec effarement que ce nom spécifique avait donc une grande importance, plus d’importance que je ne le soupçonnais. De fait, ce nom me permettait d’évoquer et d’honorer le nom des chants similaires plus anciens, certes, mais tout en m’en démarquant grâce à ce nom plus universel qui pourrait du coup être utilisé pour la joyeuse expression dévotionnelle de tout peuple et toute culture, au-delà de toutes les religions et de leurs dogmes humains si limitants et séparateurs!…

Grâce aux recherches génétiques maintenant faciles à faire, de nombreuses personnes se découvrent des ancêtres d’origines totalement insoupçonnées, et déjà cette simple révélarion les fait s’ouvrir à ces autres peuples auxquels ils étaient donc reliés sans le savoir

Mais ce que la génétique ne sait pas encore, c’est que nous avons  souvent été aussi nos propres ancêtres…! Or dans mon cas, ce ne sont pas seulement des racines africaines et créoles que j’ai en moi. Que ce soit d’une vie ou d’une autre, j’en ai en fait au masculin ou au féminin, dans tous les continents, sous toutes les latitudes et couleurs de peaux, exprimant toutes les croyances chamaniques ou religieuses connues ou oubliées. Des racines, j’en ai, semble-t-il, une multitude.

En effet: l’Aurovilienne britannique et médium (aujourd’hui retournée pour sa santé à la fraîcheur de l’Angleterre) qu’autrefois j’avais finalement consultée moi aussi, m’avait révélé avec étonnement que j’étais ce qu’on appelle une “vieille âme”, ayant vécu des vies et des vies, partout, depuis les temps les plus anciens, et que dans cette vie-ci (très importante), j’aurais à rassembler et utiliser les acquis de toutes ces autres vies pour en faire la richesse très diversifiée que notre unité humaine exige pour se réaliser vraiment, dans ce futur évolutif terrestre qui grandit de plus en plus.

J’avais bien pris bonne note de ce que disait cette Aurovilienne douée de voyance, mais sans avoir la moindre idée de comment ce devenir spirituel d’universalisation future deviendrait une partie de mon vécu effectif.

Et voilà que maintenant cela commençait nettement à se produire, et sur le mode intense et accéléré dont je commençais à avoir l’habitude, heureusement, car c’était ainsi que tous mes précédents progrès spirituels, en quelque partie que ce soit de mon être, s’étaient chaque fois produits, et ce progrès nouveau ne faisait pas exception:

Coup sur coup, après l’Afrique et plusieurs de ses régions, dont celle de l’Atlas, c’est le Tibet qui a fait revivre ses racines en moi, puis le Kazakhstan, ou plutôt la région entière située autour de l’AltaÏ, quels que soient les noms présents des pays qui s’y trouvent depuis toujours, et dans lesquels mon être s’est incarné pour une vie ou une autre. Et i il y a le Péroude MacchuPicchu. Et il y a l’Israël d’autrefois – plusieurs vies. Et il y a bien sûr mes racines, multiples elles aussi, en France-même, à différentes époques. Et c’est loin d’être tout!

Tous ces mois derniers, mes propres progrès évolutifs se sont traduits, de nuit comme de jour, par une sorte d’universalisation, non plus seulement psychologique comme dès mon adolescence, mais bien corporelle, le vécu enfoui dans les couches invisibles de l’ADN de mes cellules commençant à s’activer de nouveau, me portant successivement et irrésistiblement vers plusieurs de ces Pavillons Culturels que Mère nous a demandé d’aussi construire à Auroville, je comprends de mieux en mieux pourquoi.

Et cela ne me concerne pas seulement moi, bien sûr: Auroville, et au-delà d’Auroville toute l’Humanité, doivent suivre ce même mouvement intérieur reliant toutes nos diversités.

Il est bien entendu que les Auroviliens viennent de partout, déjà au premier degré, parlant simplement de nos pays d’origine dans cette vie-ci. Mais cette appartenance-là est trop unique, trop aisément “réductioniste” et “exclusiviste” dans son attitude envers les autres pays.

Au delà de cette appartenance apparemment unique de chacun, tant d’entre nous vivant à Auroville ont comme moi de ces racines profondes multiples qui les connectent invisiblement à tant d’autres pays et cultures et époques, en plus de leur pays d’origine de cette fois-ci, que, ayant vécu sous toutes les couleurs de peau, quand ils commencent à s’en souvenir, ils ne peuvent tout simplement plus être racistes…

Même chose pour les religions: quand on a vécu au temps du Christ, mais aussi au temps de Krishna, et aussi au temps de Bouddha ou de Mahomet, et puis maintenant de Sri Aurobindo et Mère, c’est du dedans que l’on ressent la merveilleuse complémentarité de leur succession: simplement des expressions différentes, et croissantes, de la même Vérité maintenant enfin entièrement dévoilée, Celle-ci a eu besoin de toutes les précédentes pour redevenir totale dans son expression, et doit les conserver, sous une forme plus souple, dénuée d’exclusivisme: ainsi seulement pourra-t-elle continuer à s’adapter aux degrés d’évolution et aux besoins intérieurs différents qu’ont forcément ces êtres individuels uniques que nous sommes tous, tous aspects différents du même Divin à la fois UN et TOUT.

C’est donc, je le constate, ce vécu nouveau de mes cellules qui m’a fait accomplir dans ma conscience individuelle le même progrès d’universalisation effective.

Pour 2018, pour cette Quarantième Année de leur propre “Yoga des Cellules”, ainsi que l’appelait Mère, c’est le Cadeau qu’elles ont reçu peu à peu, pendant les fêtes de Fin d’Année et de Nouvelle Année, et encore depuis… Et elles m’en ont fait gentiment profiter, elles l’ont partagé avec moi, ce Cadeau, et maintenant grâce à ces neurones qui le formulent pour moi, et ces mains qui l’écrivent sur ce clavier pour moi, sans compter toutes les autres cellules de ce corps qui participent d’une manière ou d’une autre, je peux en faire profiter d’autres êtres humains aussi, un peu partout, à travers ce blog! N’est-ce pas fabuleux?!?

Toutes mes félicitations à vous, mes chères cellules, et toute ma gratitude d’être humain qui se sentait encore trop séparé des autres! Vous avez changé tout cela en quelques mois!… Et notre petite Célébration de l’Afrique au Pavillon Africain à travers vos gais “AUROSPIRITUALS”, pour l’anniversaire de ce corps que vous constituez, mes chères cellules, cette petite fête prend de plus en plus tout son sens de Célébration de la merveilleuse Diversité d’Expression Humaine dont nous faisons tous partie!…


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, https://labofevolution.wordpress.com/2016/03/06/working-while-still-at-rest-all-the-time/), 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: https://labofevolution.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/my-first-contact-with-siberian-shamanism/, and https://labofevolution.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/entering-the-circle-by-olga-kharitidi/).

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

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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:



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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.

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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…! )

Paroles anglaises (de Tolkien) et leur traduction, évoquant les souvenirs douloureux des Nains, de leur ancien Royaume souterrain abandonné au loin, avec ses mines d’or et de pierres précieuses, à la venue du Dragon qui a tout enflammé dehors et les a forcés à s’enfuir… mais le temps est venu de le reconquérir:

“Misty Mountains “(Montagnes Embrumées)

Far over the Misty Mountains cold,
Loin au-delà des montagnes froides et embrumées,
To dungeons deep and caverns old,
Vers les donjons profonds et les cavernes âgées,
We must away, ere break of day,
Nous devons nous en aller, avant l’orée du jour
To find our long-forgotten gold.
Pour retrouver notre or longtemps oublié.

The pines were roaring on the heights,
Les pins rugissaient sur les hauts-sommets,
The winds were moaning in the night,
Les vents gémissaient dans la nuit,
The fire was red, it flaming spread,
Le feu rougeoyait, ses flammes se sont propagées,
The trees like torches blazed with light.
Les arbres, tels des torches, flamboyaient de lumière.

Et Tolkien lui-même, 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”…

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