By Rachid Kouya
By Rachid Kouya
Morocco World News
Smara, Morocco, April 17, 2012
Interview with Francoise Dureuil: the first French lady who followed Vieuchange`s footsteps to the heart of the desert.
“I left on the trail heading north, leaving behind me, with sadness and despair, my living space, my so beautiful and so cruel desert. And there, Michel, I have understood you. At last…”
Francoise Dureuil wanted to be the first French lady to live in the mythical city of Smara in the south of Morocco. The city that is linked in books of adventure and history with the French adventurer Michelle Vieuchange who crossed the desert and sacrificed his life to achieve his dream of visiting the city in 193O. He had stayed there just for three hours and died on his way back to Agadir.
Francoise followed the path of Vieuchange with her husband, the former French boxing champion, Allain Vinot. They came to Smara with ideas: projects to revive the city’s historical value as the scientific capital of the Sahara and the international city of Vieuchange. They had a dream to achieve, but as the saying goes, “the problem is not in achieving one’s dream, the tragedy is not having any dreams at all.”
Francoise was lead by her dream. She left the capital of light, Paris with its cultural museums, high technologies, and cosmopolitan life to live for nearly half a decade in the middle of nowhere, in the heart of the desert under the blue skies, the hot sun and the beautiful stars and moon and dark nights of the Sahara.
In this interview, Francoise Dureuil, the brave- hearted adventurer and human rights activist in the fields of landmines, handicapped and people with special needs and education, talks about certain moments she lived in Smara and her understanding of Vieuchange and his adventure. MWN is pleased to share this special interview with its readers inside and outside Morocco.
MWN: In your opinion, what is the relationship between Smara and Vieuchange?
Francoise: In my case, Michel Vieuchange means Smara and Smara means Vieuchnage.
They are inseparable. Smara made Vieuchange become known as a famous adventurer and writer, and Vieuchange died to discover this mythical city. He loved it more than his own life, considering his suffering to reach it.
It is through this terrible love story that millions of readers will experience Smara in their turn without ever having set foot in the Sahara.
Jean Marie Le Clézio, a successful writer, paid him tribute in his 1997 novel “Les gens des nuages”: “From the Draa, it’s really getting into the Sahara. The south bank of the great river is an escarpment that makes the world change. On one side, the misty valley bears the traces of human occupation. On the other side, it bears a hard base, strewn with sharp black stones. A strange trip of Vieuchange, who gave his life on this road to reach the city of Smara and to be, that is what he wrote in his notebooks, ‘the first of his race’ to enter it. Yet, despite all that separates us (and primarily the ease of our trip) we share his excitement and his impatience.”
MWN: What can young people learn from Vieuchange`s story about Smara today?
Francoise: For the new generations, it must seem inconceivable to set off in search of adventure without any communication tools (phone, internet, etc.). But in that time , being an explorer was to accept all risks inherent to adventure. One can only admire more and more the courage and willpower that Mr. Vieuchange demonstrated. This patient agony is a lesson of stamina.
MWN: in the west, Smara is seen as a mythical city, what’s the secret behind this myth?
Francoise: The myth of Smara was born with the publication of Mr. Vieuchange`s note books. Without Vieuchange, Smara would have remained forever buried beneath the desert sands and unknown to all of us. The publication of the note books had been hailed by some famous admirers like Paul Claudel, Louis Massignon, Benveniste and the young Theodore Monod whom I personally met in 1998.
It was this folly of an adventurer who, alone in hostile terrain, territory and living underground, had chosen to die a thousand deaths and meet a hypothetical ghost city that still fascinates us. It was that exacerbated romanticism that affects us as a reader and makes us want to take our turn and to live an adventure with such strong emotions, where nothing is a foregone conclusion but rather where everything can change with excess.
MWN: Can you tell us how did you meet Smara? And how do see this mythical city 80 years after the arrival of Vieuchange?
Francoise: Personally, I had foreseen Smara as a land of infinite freedom that should be approached with humility and respect. Following Mr. Vieuchange’s footsteps, I was dreaming of reviving his memory in this city which had received him 80 years ago, then had forgotten him.
Yet, there remained some traces of his passage besides the descendents of Sheikh Ma El Ainin whom I met in the famous Madrasah built in 1898. The family of the Sheikh liked to recall the story of their ancestor, who had reunified scattered tribes. He was a builder and a leader of men, a long line of descent, a name to reckon with in the Sahara.
We had common cultural projects, to rehabilitate the mosque of this kasbah that Mr. Vieuchange had seen, to return it to its former glory and make Smara anything but the mythical city it is today. We were dreaming of meetings between the two protagonist families, to prevent the young Michel Vieuchange not to be bequeathed as a legacy just a in note book and experience the suffering of disappearing.
I also wanted to be the “first of my race” to mark my stay in this land still deemed hostile. I was hoping to tame it and it would accept me as one of its children.
A wasted effort, the city has closed its doors and the heart of its inhabitants to the foreigner I was.
I left on the trail heading north, leaving behind me, with sadness and despair, my living space, my so beautiful and so cruel desert. And there, Michel, I have understood you. At last…
At last, Francoise confesses that she had understood Vieuchange whom I have not yet understood. Smara had killed Vieuchange, chased Francoise and it is still enslaving my soul, my body and my mind. Twelve years in the land of Sheikh Sidi Ahmed Rgibi, Sheikh Sidi Ahmed Laarourssi and Sheikh Mal alainin, whenever I leave it on holidays, and whenever I think about leaving it for once, I always find myself repeating the famous verses of `Sheikh` Vieuchange on his way to Smara:
“We walk towards you like abductors / We walk towards you like penitents / And we will say to the friend or to the one who will call us on the road: I don’t know you / We walk towards what is up to the top / Will fill up dawn / which will make it so purified / All the sources will be then beautiful / And we will be allowed to drink / And the noise of the open sources will germinate in the silence / The fleshes, the sick hearts, will find again the suave day / We will go out armed / Like the ones who are not afraid by contempt nor smile / Towards places where man fights, to carry out our task.”
Rachid Khouya is a teacher of English in Es Smara city, south of Morocco. He obtained a Bachelor Degree in English studies from Ibn Zohr University in Agadir. He published many articles and stories in different regional and national Moroccan newspapers. He is an active member of MATE (Moroccan Association of Teachers of English). He is interested in education, human rights and citizenship (Email: firstname.lastname@example.org).
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