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Saturday, July 16, 2011

Le Tour de la France (10)—Stopping Under a Fir Tree

Translated by Robert André LaFleur
Le Tour de la France par deux enfants (A Journey Around France Undertaken by Two Children) is a little 119-chapter book about French geography and culture. Written in 1877 by Augustine Fouillée (under the pseudonym G. Bruno), it was geared toward primary school students in their fourth and fifth years (cours moyen).  It has been read by generations of French students, and has played a small but important role in the development of a French national imagination. It was the little book that launched the Tour de France.

1            2            3            4            5            6            7            8            9            10            11
Click here for the introduction to Round and Square's series on this 1877 classic. 
Stopping Under a Fir Tree;
[Prayer Before Sleep] and André Redoubles His Courage[1]
Children, all of life can be compared to a journey in which 

we encounter new challenges without cease. 

André neared a great fir, its branches spreading like a parasol. It would serve them well against the nighttime dew.

          —Come on, he said to his younger brother; come with me. We will wait here.
LE SAPIN DES VOSGES —The Vosges range is almost completely covered by vast forests of pine and fir trees which reach a height of forty or fifty meters. These woods furnish excellent wood used for carpentry used in homes and the masts of ships.
Julien approached, silent. André could see that Julien was shivering under the icy dampness of the fog, and his little hands were numb with cold.

          —Poor child, Andrew whispered. Sit down on my knees. It will warm you up, and you can sleep until the fog lifts. That will help you to regain strength for the long road that we have left.

The boy was so tired that he made no objection. He put his arm around his brother's neck and his tired eyes closed. Soon he would be asleep.

          [—André, he said, since I am going to sleep, I will do my evening prayers now.]

          [—Yes, Julien, we will say them together.]

[And the two orphans, lost in the midst of this great and sad loneliness on the mountain, said their prayers together and raised their young hearts to heaven.][2] 

Soon, little Julien was asleep. His small head lay confidently on André's shoulder. André did the best he could to protect the child against the cold of the night, and he listened to his quiet breathing. This faint noise was the only break in the silence that enveloped them in the great solitude of the mountain, where they were lost.

Despite himself, André felt a great sadness in his soul.

          —Will we ever get to France?, he said to himself. Sometimes deep fog lasts for days and days. What will become of us if it does not go away soon?

He was overcome with fatigue. The icy wind rustled through the pines, and shook even the ground upon which he sat. Sometimes the wind lifted the leaves around him before they fell to the ground. Worried, André raised his head, fearing that it was not the wind, but rather the enemy, who suddenly might appear in front of him, speaking German. "What are you doing here?" Who are you?" "Where are you going?"

Discouragement swept over him, yet a dear memory arose in his heart and came to his aid. He remembered the deep look of his dying father when he placed Julien's hands in his. He thought he heard again the word that he struggled to comprehend on the fading breath of his dying father—France. He repeated the word in a whisper—France. Homeland. Country. He felt ashamed of his discouragement.

Child that I am, he cried. Is life not made entirely of obstacles to be overcome? So how do I teach my little Julien to be brave if I do not conduct myself as a man? Comforted by this memory more powerful than all of the obstacles before him, [and asking for the soul of his lost father to aid them in their journey to their homeland],[3] he no longer doubted the success of their trek. He knew that he must put forward the same courage he had already put into action.

[1] The bracketed passages from the 1877 edition were excised from the text in 1904. This is a long, long story (and a fascinating one) that I will discuss further in future posts. Suffice it to say for now that debates about religiosity and secularism played powerfully into even the editing of texts at the turn of the (twentieth) century. In today's title, the 1904 text has replaced "Prayer Before Sleep" with "Julien Sleeps." Stay tuned for the history and anthropology of secularism in early twentieth century France.
[2] See above.
[3] See above. 

The Fog Clears; André and Julien Arrive in France
Made it. Whew. Now their Tour de (la) France will begin in earnest.

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