“To be an artist is to rearrange your childhood dreams” says Gaël Faye. Rapper, writer and memory excavator. The flavour du jour for all the french literature teachers, who were there en masse, students in tow.

“When the past comes back, childhood and stories” is the title (a little less dire than last week’s) of the second lecture I had the pleasure to sit at AIR. A meeting between Gaël Faye and Maxim Léo with Jean Birnbaum as the Master of Ceremony.

The first lovely idea that floats up from their encounter is the definition of childhood as a “state of grace and insubordination”. Gaël adds: “it’s observing the world without prerequisites”, without actual knowledge of the words.

Here, it’s necessary to stop and add some context, unfortunately. Gaël Faye was born in Burundi from a French mother and a Rwandan father. After the civil war and the Tutsi genocide started, he arrives in France. Ethnicities are now forbidden in Rwanda and no one is ready to talk about the trauma with a capital T. A commemoration happens every year, starting in April and lasting for the length of these 3 months, the infamous “machete season”. Today, Rwandan kids have very little means to figure out what the hell happened to their country in 94. But they study hard, passionately. “There is a formidable will to rebuild.” Everyone dives into studies and work. But no one talks.

Before writing his first novel, “Petit Pays”, during his research phase, Gaël focused on the “colours, flavours and odours: the first grammar of childhood.” Gabriel, his protagonist, explores with his friends the cul-de-sac where they live. The cul-de-sac is a cocoon, the novel is a quest of lost paradise.

Gaël et Maxim remind us then that if we do not talk, if we don’t tell our truth, the kids are not just going to be alright, they will make up their own version. “When adults are still in survival mode […] to dwell on past heartaches is like to step on the brakes”. And Maxim Léo finally pronounces those words: “memory excavator”. The importance of diggin up the past and trying it on for size.

Following this is a discussion on “National Identity”, and the danger of “closing our borders, our eyes”, hoping for it to all go way. We’re just out of a crucial election here in France, you can feel the room collectively shiver at the words. We circle back to the formidable nonsense of the physical “differences” between ethnicities and/or religions, usually recuperated for propaganda: the Tutsis nose, the Jewish nose. All of these making zero sense to the new generations in these two countries. I think back of what I understood from the Troubles up North when I was a chungwan. Another colony story before religions even came to play. And today, we still smile about the way the protestants and catholics walk for example, recognisable in a blink of an eye on the streets of Belfast… these three stories meet in the middle and remind me it’s all a bit shitty really. And it re-ignites the conflict over and over again for younger generations that weren’t even born at the time. What’s the point in that? I’m going to repeat myself but sure why not: as long as we’re not ALL (religions, genders, colours, sexualities etc) walking hand in hand under the big rainbow of Equality, ya can’t laugh about everything. We have to ask questions and excavate. Defuse the past and its tiny time-bombs planted in all of us.

Now for ya, go check the truckload of new additions to our Book Club. And excavate some English versions for your fine selves! Next week we meet the glorious Theatre Company Augustine Turpaux. They’ll be telling us about their wonderful itinerant project, roaming the big and smaller villages of the Auvergne Rhone-Alpes region while asking whoever they meet about their personal and social fears: yaaass!


And we’re still yoga-ing, bikhram style thanks to the ridiculous temperatures here in Lyon. In case you didn’t get it: leave the hot water bottle at home guys!

This post was originally written in french. Check it out, we’re bilingual and oh so cool 😉


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