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There are no problems – only solutions! That is the motto of Robert Furlong who, among other things, has translated my book into French.


 

 

 

As you can well imagine it is tremendously inspiring to work with someone of that mindset. He has completed his pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela eight times. A true enthusiast walks for two weeks – Robert hiked the trail for eight weeks in 2014. His joy for life is evident and his approach to life itself humble. I asked if he met Jesus while walking. Yes, Robert says, but in the shape of an ancient banker reconverted into a Jerusalem Templar is the answer I was given.

One day in March Robert took me on an outing. He went around the car for to open my door. “You see, he says, my mother would be very upset if I did it any other way.” Robert was raised in the century before the words “left feminism” became common. “Of course I am a feminist, but those on the left and I will never speak the same language. During this age we looked into each other’s eyes when greeting one another. We rose on the bus for our seniors if they needed our seat. We were courteous.” Our outing went to the cemetery at Souillac. Robert told me that he liked cemeteries. And here I wondered what he really had learnt on the Camino? Need he do another few weeks? It felt a bit spooky to walk about among the tombstones. It seemed to me just a question of time before count Dracula would rise from his grave.

Three months later I returned to the cemetery of Souillac by myself. I had an idea for my second book. This is where my heroine Rebecca the slave will remember her moments with the Cardinal from Paris’s high society, who turned his life around to become a missionary on Madagascar. He never wanted to be called neither a Cardinal nor a Priest – much preferring the simpler Father. And as this character was to have a name, Robert seemed the obvious choice.

 

I wonder who you are calling, Robert Furlong? Is it perhaps the man upstairs or someone in the tombs below? A very warm welcome as this month’s guest!

When Annika invites her translator on her page…

 

I am Annika’s translator for the French version of her book: this, according Annika, entitles me to squat her guest’s page… I’m not as sure as her for that… She already knows how much I enjoyed translating her book. I loved her reading of Mauritian island realities, the way she involved herself in the history of its inhabitants, her earnest efforts to understand and share her analysis. And that was then the result of several short visits to Mauritius… I finally accepted the honour of being her website guest to celebrate the Swedish lady in love with our island and it is a great pleasure. The number of Swedish who know Mauritius as well as her and who have spent more than a touristic week is very limited… That being said, I remember de Christina S. and her sister, two teenagers who were part of my teenage friends and with whom I had regular cultural and leisure activities: they were Swedish and their father used to work in Mauritius in the 1960s…

 

The impenitent walker

 

My 8 walks for Santiago have never been the same and the only common denominator is that they have been done by foot. The first 4 were with my younger son on 4 successive years of 250 kms /year along the classic Camino Frances starting at St Jean Pied de Port in the French Pyrenees… The other ones were always on one go for the 900 km (or more) alone or with my partner, progressing through paths meandering through the mountains, stopping in middle-age or modern inns (albergues) nested in tiny economically weak villages, sleeping in sleeping bags in tired bunk beds, sharing the meals and spiritual moments with pilgrims from all over the world… The Camino de Santiago is, par excellence, a sharing trail all along which you meet people of all walks of life and of all ages who have something to offer you and for whom you have a gift also… that may be a word, a confidence, soothing thoughts or… just silence… Each night, even if your feet or your muscles might take their revenge by sending some painful arrows or if your back begs for mercy being given the inn’s painful bed base, you think more about the rich spiritual moments you have lived and the richness you have benefited from…My first encounter with Annika was by the end of June 2014 : we had fixed a meeting in a London pub.. Upstairs was a theatre in which my son’s company (www.exchangetheatre.com) was playing A family affair by the French Roland Bacri, playing alternatively in French and English… That evening, we talked about her book, of course, but also a lot about the Camino de Santiago or St James Way that I was going to walk for the 8th time as from a few days later. Ah, how to qualify that Camino??? Bewitching? Fascinating? Magical? Extra-ordinary? Mystical? Emotionally enchanting? All that at the same time? I still haven’t found the precise descriptive word and it’s perhaps why I come back so often there… like thousands of other pilgrims from all over the world… The next day I left for Madrid and started the trail as from there: my plan was 1 600 km on 60 days and that’s what I did…

The Camino de Santiago is also a sweet madness… so much that that I’m going back there for another shot in 2017… Since I’ll be 70 on the 25th of July (which is Santiago’s day) I’ll walk 70 days… so about 2100 km with my wife as we did in 2007 when I turned 60… The walking shoes, the backpack, the sticks: everything is ready! … Who are we, all of us, but pilgrims?

 

The islander

 

In spite of that appetite for long distances and long infinite walks, I’m profoundly an islander and happy to be so… Even if my professional life brought me out of Mauritius for 25 years, I very often – every 2 years in fact – came back for revitalizing holidays, but also came back in the mind… Since it’s in the mind that home gets its true dimensions, its real proportions… My Mauritius, though of only 2000 sq km, is my continent, my deep source, my truth…

That of the street of the locality of Curepipe Road, in the centre of the island where I was born in 1947 and where I grew up very close to a mosque and a church… In the morning, just as if they had agreed to, they acted in turn as alarm clocks, both reminding me that it was time to wake up and revise that nasty Latin homework before going to school… Those timekeepers came back in the evening to get me out of that little wooden hill in front of the old house in wood I lived in and reminding me that game time was over… Night was falling, bringing back dreams or nightmares…

 

My parents

 

My father was a civil servant and was in charge of the status office when he retired in 1960… He was born in 1899 in that same street, a hundred metres from the house where I grew up… So I couldn’t forget his age: I just had to add 1 to the on-going year and it was done. He descended, like all the Mauritian Furlong, from a soldier of Irish origin who came as master armourer in the British invading army in 1810… He settled after the British conquest, got married with a girl of mixed blood French and Indian from Pondicherry and created a family… My mother came from a family of French settlers that had settled on the east near Mahébourg well before the British period. She didn’t work outside home like all the mothers of our social group! That being said, she had quite a lot of work entertaining the wooden house we lived in, taking care of our education, my sister and me, the only children of the house…

 

Mauritius in my childhood

 

It was another Mauritius, complex of course as all societies with such a variety of cultures and ways of life, of praying, of singing, of dancing, etc. I still remember the school and college I went to… the little private primary school of Leconte in Abbé de la Caille Street, the Saint Joseph’s College ran by Irish brothers… There, unconsciously, above the teachings often/sometimes tedious, I was immersed in lessons of humanity, of fragments of civilisations which intellectually and spiritually fed me and helped me to build up a multicultural approach on life. I’m the heir of those unforgettable childhood friends who shaped me up…; unforgettable because of so different origins… Like Dani with whom I literally grew up and who teaches piano in London ; Zoulou who lived on the same plot of land and who taught me so many things; Ajit Kumar whose parents owned race horses which in the afternoons trained in a field not far from my home; Youssef with whom I exchanged comic books : Akim, Rodéo, Kiwi…; Maxime whose father had the Chinese shop near my home and who used to give us home-made sweets to get out of the shop and stopping the noise we were making and which his customers did not appreciate… There were also those clubs of friends, those theatre plays we were creating on improvised stages, since theatre became my passion at a very early age… We betrayed Molière, Shakespeare, Courteline and others, but we had a whale of a time and were much better that the professional actors Gérard Philippe, Gary Grant or Jean Marais… We then were also Jeronimo, Spartacus, d’Artagnan, Barrabas, Cartouche, James Bond according to the films being shown!

All that was happening in that island-continent on which we seldom went to the beach for lack of easy transport… But we knew the strange names of the beaches, poetic names since our island is a permanent poem… it travels, says our poet-friend Edouard Maunick, from bay to bay, from cape to cape: Turtle bay, La Prairie, Bain-Boeuf, Anse-La-Raie… It opens itself to the world at Sébastopol, Verdun, Nouvelle France, Coromandel, Balaclava… On that island I became acquainted at an early age with writers, poets, painters, musicians; all of them have enriched my imagination.

My island taught me how to be always in love. In love of others. In love of everybody. What a great debt!

 

The university of life

 

After secondary studies came university time. It wasn’t like today almost automatic. My parents wouldn’t have been able to pay for studies abroad. I had already started teaching when I benefited from an Alliance française scholarship which brought me – in 1967 – to the French Université Charles de Gaulle which had been created in the neighbouring island of Madagascar. There I sat for a BA before benefiting from another scholarship to pursue in Besancon, then Nice in France… Happy years, happy memories. Madagascar was then safer. The young Mauritian from Curepipe-Road, already rich of the European, African, Indian and Chinese specificities in Mauritius, encountered new cultural possibilities and prospects: Malagasy culture, but also more concrete meetings with Europeans… University meant also more theatre, more acting on another scale with shows in the capital city, but also in the important tons… Ionesco, Sartre, Lorca, Brecht, Apollinaire… So many souvenirs… In Besançon, with the municipal theatre, it was Marivaux, Yvan Goll, amongst others. In Nice, it was in American, plays by Edward Albee and in French, Tardieu, Beckett, Giraudoux… I would have given everything to do only theatre, but the 1968 student’s revolt in France had overturned all institutional curricula and it wouldn’t have been easy…

 

Professional cursus…

 

Back to Mauritius in 1974, I entered naturally the teaching profession while at the same time facing a new challenge: discovering again my country, learning to understand the Mauritians, searching for the keys to understand the country where I grew up and which I had left for 7 years… Independence had been granted in 1968 and several events had happened, some serious as the economic crisis, unrest between communities… and several events happened. My pupils were from another generation which I had to learn to understand and develop a dialogue with. I didn’t really have any more affinities with my teenage years’ friends who had never left the island. I had to build a whole new way of life… Theatre helped me once more: plays by Anouilh, E. Robles, Marcelle and Guy Lagesse, the last one being played played a whole month inside the citadel looking overlooking Port Louis. I integrated what was for me a totally new Mauritius by teaching in the girls’ state school Queen Elizabeth College before joining the Mauritius Institute.

Then came a new departure… for a much longer period… by the end of 1979, I entered the international french-speaking organisation then called Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique and known today as the Organisation Internationale de la Francophonie. I stayed 25 working for them… 13 years at the head office in Paris and 12 in its training centre for professionals in Bordeaux. Very intense years during which I discovered the French-speaking world and its diversity… : north and west Africa, the Carribean, North America specially Canada-Quebec, the Near East with Lebanon, the Indian Ocean including Seychelles, Comoros and Djibouti… My duties implied funding and monitoring developmental projects in the field of education and literacy. That meant being often on the field and consequently extraordinary human and cultural discoveries… My trips here and there were never touristic, but official visits trough which I came in contact with the harsh realities… What a chance for the little Mauritian from Curepipe-Road… What permanent enrichment… What fantastic opportunity to share my knowledge and competencies AND learn more from others… An unrivalled humanist barter !

 

My enlarged family

 

My two sons were born in Franc : David in 1980 and today comedian based in London, and Cédric born in 1984, still living near Bordeaux. Just after settling in the Bordeaux vicinity, the family was enlarged with three new elements all from Cameroon that were co-opted, adopted: Sandrine now emergency doctor in a hospital near Paris, Serge and Léo, both civil engineers today, one with Schlumberger in France, the other in Cayenne. A superb human experience that created important bonds among the five of us…. And I often found myself cooking for 12, the kids having invite their friends for dinner…

 

Returning to the motherland

 

Then came the return to Mauritius… I was fed up of selling my life to others and wanted to live it fully on my own… I wanted to be the sole owner of my life, I ddidn’t want to be directed any more by anybody… A comeback then in 2004 followed by a reintegration process and changes that I accepted gladly… using my competencies, il developed several new fields… Writing and rewriting, theatre, dubbing of series and movies, tv programs on literature, translations, local and international conferences, cinema… It’s been going on for 11 years… for the best, always! I published in turn: a biography Une Mauricienne d’exception : Marie Leblanc (2005) and three anthologies : Panorama de la littérature mauricienne : La production créolophone. Des origines à l’indépendance (2008), Quand les poètes mauriciens parlent d’amour (2011) and En revues et en français : une anthologie de chroniques, nouvelles et contes mauriciens (2015)…

From 2011 to 2014 the chairmanship of the Malcolm de Chazal Trust Fund created to promote the works of that talented integral local artist was proposed to me and I accepted, Those 4 years enabled me to develop a solid basis of activities around the memory of Malcolm de Chazal through exhibitions in cities and villages, festivals every 2 years, staging his theatre, organising workshops for children on his painting style, slam, etc….

My passion for literature led me to write several articles for university publications, most of them available on Google with some necessary precision: please type my name with the word mauritian since a certain famous Robert Furlong is a… Canadian sniper. Theatre keeps being important for me with, recently, Bernadette de Lourdes (2010), Mauritius (2011), La Cage aux Folles (2012), Le Prénom (2013), Love Letters (2014)…

Since 2012, I became, through the decision of the French Republic, Knight in the order of Arts and Letters… I consider important that a foreign country decides to honour somebody from another country and I am proud of it. And furthermore this title is an incentive to move ahead and do more…

 

Life, straight ahead…

 

It’s easy and quick to sum up a life… A life that can be considered as somewhat bushy… But I lived and loved it that way because it has been versatile and rich in new events… I still sort of hear the words and sentences that people I’ve met have taught me… I still love the adventures experienced in those trips to Africa, Europe, the Carribean, the Near East…

And I’m still eager for new teachings since I’m an eternal apprentice…. IF we really are condemned to live but once, it’s better to try and live several lives in that single one…!

For me, as Annika said, there are no problems, only solutions!

Robert FURLONG

Islander…

 

In 2007, with Dalida on the Camino de Santiago

 

With the 5 “kids” in 2011… From the left: David, Serge, myself, Sandrine, Léo and Cédric

Eight years old… Ready for holy communion…

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theatre… cover of scope in 2013