The four seasons of life

The dialogue with Noureddine Mhakkak, Morrocan writer and poet, is a cultural journey into the worlds of Letters and the Arts. That is to say in the world of poetry, prose, cinema, painting, and photography on the one hand and in the world of current affairs too.

Noureddine Mhakkak (NM): According to Jacques Chessex “Autumn is a place of gold and rain. “And according to Félix-Antoine Savard:” Autumn is a wise season and good advice. “. What is your relationship with season?

Julie Guégan (JG): When I think of fall, I immediately think of the end of vacation, Pushkin’s poems, back to school, a kind of end, far from the excitement of summer. Reason takes hold and I prepare myself for a more serious and disciplined slice of life. Little by little, the nights are falling earlier and it is time to take care of things differently. So I like to rest to music, near a fireplace, and eat hot chestnuts under a blanket. But not only, autumn also reminds me of a moment of life linked to hunting, a typical activity of this season, which I am keen to share. I must have been 9 years old and my parents had been invited to a weekend in the north of Burgundy. Memories …

The weather is not good on this Saturday, and we are approaching this large stone farmhouse, surrounded by fields and undergrowth. The sky of multiple shades of gray falls to the horizon under the weight of the clouds, and gives the atmosphere a dramatic aspect. I feel like the heroine of an Agatha Christie novel. As we pass under the porch, we are greeted by hosts, in hunting gear, that is to say, dark with a good raincoat and boots, like the hundred or so guests already present. And all of them, mostly from the surrounding area and the Paris region, meet in the interior courtyard before the owner’s traditional tour. Everything is splendid, and above all, it seems to me quite spectacular that the dinner tables are already set for the evening meal. Looking at the care taken in the decor, I am expecting a memorable evening around the trophies of our hunt!

But before that, it is time to start hostilities and everyone is now listening to the instructions. The rules of the game are basically quite simple, we have to walk all together in the surrounding fields in the direction of the undergrowth. The practice is called drive and it consists of driving wild boar and deer to a restricted area. I only have the memory of an incredible afternoon walking all together during grueling hours in the mud, the cold, the rain but also meeting through frenzied discussions or simply having fun with the singularity of our activity. At nightfall, we climb into the back of the vans, which take us back to the farm. Once washed and warmed, we join our guests for the meal in the great room.

The evening is indeed incredible, and the meal of the hunt succulent! Throughout the experience, we will all forge strong bonds, similar to what I observed during my harvest. In my opinion, these collective experiences are some of the most intense and memorable. The event strengthens the bonds, useful for better collective performance, and individual satisfaction. These are also the moments that best participate in the creation of a strong identity and self-esteem. Indeed, nothing like putting people in situations that take them out of their comfort zone in order to achieve a transformation. In some cultures, hunting and harvesting are compulsory. I think these two activities help anchor the interest of the collective. In the era of great individualism, which has shown its limits, we have an interest in promoting everything that will allow us, through difficulty, to increase modesty and reduce fears and to strengthen the common goal, and the satisfaction of contributing to something bigger than ourselves. I love the flavour of traditions (hunt is far less inhumane than any other practice, especially when there is respect or in the case of my story, a real ecological need for a more balanced ecosystem), the pleasure of the land, and deep values. Fall is the season of fallen leaves and a hopeful herald of the renewal of life. I would have liked to tell you more about the joys of autumn, like my unforgettable weekends in the Ardennes with the children, but I will save them for you next time!

NM: According to Victor Cherbuliez: “An idea, it nourishes, it quenches thirst, it keeps you warm in winter, it refreshes in the heat, and then it has eyes, a mouth, a tongue, it speaks, it laughs, it is a company”. Tell us about your relationship with winter.

JG: The joys of winter are to be found on skis or ice skates, or more surprisingly in a bath in the Baltic Sea. This season makes me want to tell you about Copenhagen, the capital of Denmark, where I spent a lot of my time over three years. I love the Scandinavian countries and their people, and in particular, I find the same taste for authenticity and outdoor living. And so it was there that I took my first winter sea baths, in water that should not exceed two or three degrees. The feat was real and I can tell you that some days I couldn’t dive. As if that seemed impossible to me, my body (or rather my mind) resisted with all its being. Nevertheless, even if I am not a “real” one, I wish here to share this experience which I hope will make you want to try it, as the benefits are immense.

First of all, it’s not an uncommon sport in Copenhagen. In the winter, you will encounter a number of penguins, ready to freeze their peepers for a few seconds. This powerful practice goes like this: you walk to a pontoon, take off your clothes despite the cold outside, and without thinking (ideally) you dive. Once in the water, you cannot remain static. Immediately your breath gets harder as if you are trying to warm yourself through it. And, as you rush back to earth, no matter the style, you just have time to feel the little knives piercing your body and to feel your flesh harden (it is unfortunately not anesthetized!). Finally, out of the ordeal, we find you jumping on the ground with your towel. Yes, the experience is funny! The best thing for me then is to get in the car and turn on the heat, to thaw gently until I can finally jump in a hot shower, back home. After each winter bath, you feel rebirth, body, and mind seem purified. The day will inevitably be invigorating and positive.

NM: According to Khalil Gibran “The flowers of spring are the dreams of winter told, in the morning, at the table of angels”, and according to Alphonse Boudard: “Spring is quite a poem. We talk about it, we practice it, we wait for it … “. Tell us about your relationship with spring.  

JG: I bought my apartment in one day. Still, it was my first. But when I visited it and saw that it was surrounded by nature, I didn’t hesitate. Every day now, whatever point of view I choose, it overlooks trees and contributes to our happiness. Since the Covid-19 period, with the reduction in car and air traffic, I have noticed that there are more and more birds in the trees as well as squirrels, and the trees also seem to be fuller. It is wonderful to realize that nature is taking back its rights in our cities.

It makes me want to talk about an initiative we launched in the spring of this year, with my community of neighbours and which paid off at the end of the season. It aimed to save the small park located at the bottom of our buildings. And to associate you with this story, I will insert in it a few words from Brusseleir (Brussels dialect). It all started when two local architects learned that a school project was underway in our commune (district in Belgium) at the very place of our park. No one until now had heard. The entire team of the bourgmestre (Belgian mayor) had worked in stoemelings (in sly), without consulting the neighbourhood and seemed in its right to impose a new brick building instead of a green space, frequented by our children, our dogs, and our
elderly people in particular. What a shock when we found out that this school already had a name and plan. But from the point of view of our elected officials, our municipality lacked schools and we had to show empathy for children without the possibility of going to school. For them, the value of education seemed non-negotiable. Certainly, this was a fair argument and something everyone would empathize with, but we also had good arguments for resisting, that were non-negotiable for us too.

So, for us, there was the “climate change” argument, with a lot of work done by the European Commission or the citizens’ convention on the climate in France and which gave the arguments for maintaining every square meter of green space in urban areas. Faced with this situation, we (the local community) did not fall into the trap of values. According to my research, it is fruitless to wage such a fight in the field of values. Each party will always find the justifications to defend its position. So instead, we recognized how much their initiative was important and necessary and even, have shown our collaborative attitude by offering to look for other more suitable places for the school.

After just a few weeks, to our surprise, the municipality was in full swing back and we had won. The speed with which the new decision was taken confirms the interest in never reinforcing the polarisation but instead to seeking collaboration on content which, on the contrary, has the virtue of opening up discussion and therefore the resolution. A characteristic, which also seemed fundamental to me was the expression of our motivation through our ability to mobilize and seek at all costs the means to save our park.

This story is an opportunity for me to talk to you about the strength of the collective and the interest in concern for the common good in order to act in order to influence our future. Me, who evolves in European institutions for quite a few years, I know that everyone has a voice and that everyone in the world can participate in the necessary change. It is wrong to think that power is reserved for a few. As proof, my story and others that I am keen to tell you in this series with Noureddine. Only, there are tips to know, and especially traps to avoid, as I have just shared a few with you.

NM: According to Edgar Alan Poe: “In the summer, at night, the noises are a party.” What does summer mean to you?

JG: A long time ago, I spent all my vacations between my grandparents’ house and our caravan. Almost always in Brittany, at the entrance to the Gulf of Morbihan. My days were spent frolicking outside. To play in the garden and on the beach, in the water or on the rocks. Today, summer is at least once in Brittany. With my children, we like to follow the rhythm imposed by the sun and find all our cousins. The sweet life. Italian, like some of my origins. Without programme, without schedules even…. Summer reminds me of hay bales, nettle stings, blackbird songs, and broom. I always get up early to enjoy the day, far from the noise, on my peninsula, where I finally enjoy the luxury of calm and silence. This season is synonymous with regeneration. I take the time to appreciate its special flavour. These are juicy tomatoes, periwinkles, and oysters, pancakes with salted butter….

Just thinking about it makes my mouth water. What I love most is the natural life – no frills, the salt on the skin and the sun-blond hair. We have routines with my kids like going to the cemetery to find our ancestors, or the evening walk to watch the sunset. Never, however, am I able to let myself be totally idle. I have a vital need for projects and creation even during my vacation, which can seem incomprehensible around me. But whatever! Finally, it is now impossible for me to talk about summer without mentioning the birthdays of my little ones, Timothé and Hadrien. Indeed, Hadrien was born almost on the same day as Timothe (2 years minor 1 hour difference between them). While I was able to “save their birthdays” on the day I gave birth to them, it’s fun every year to celebrate both so closely. I think that really helps to create the event. Summer has become for me the celebration of their births, which we celebrate several times, with friends, families, dad, mom…. Like all parents in the world, I find my children blessed. I only see their qualities and I know that is all they need to come out of themselves, and work in the service of others. I try to anchor the notion of permanent change in them, the need to keep an inquisitive mind, the taste for games like my grandparents … We could talk about education next time. I’ve done quite a bit of research on this topic as well that you might find helpful.

The original article was published in French and in a shorter version on Al Bayane

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