Monday, 15 April 2013

Don't fear words, fear SILENCE

I recently visited the Lycee Val de Durance in Pertuis, Provence.  This was one of the posters created by Terminale students of English who have been reading The Other Side of Truth. Their teacher, Brigitte Silvagnoli, offered them this picture - of a young man who is gagged - and asked, 'What would be a good catch-phrase?' This one is sharp as an arrow.

Amnesty International partnered the school for my visit, with Raquel Thiercelin (on left, picture below) speaking a little about AI's work.  On the wall behind me is an image of police headquarters in Johannesburg, taken in apartheid days when it was called 'John Vorster Square'.  It features in my biography Death of an Idealist: In Search of Neil Aggett.

The security police used the 9th and 10th floors. They were determined to create a wall of fear and silence around them. The South African writer Chris van Wyk wrote a chilling, sassy poem, piercing that wall.  'In Detention', first published nearly 35 years ago, begins:

He fell from the ninth floor
He hanged himself
He slipped on a piece of soap while washing...

Long after those abusers of power are dead, Chris van Wyk's words will decry and defy such abuse, finding new readers around the world who recognise the outrage.  As Papa writes to Sade and Femi in The Other Side of Truth: 'Across the oceans of time, words are mightier than swords.' (Chapter 35)

As in England, spring has been late in Provence, as you can see from trees and jackets in the picture below when Brigitte took me and Nandha for a walk through farm land near Vaugines. 

We also visited Loumarin and the cemetery where Albert Camus is buried in a very simple grave, marked only by a rough-hewn stone, an olive tree and rosemary bush.

Loumarin, as seen here from near the cemetery, looks a little more spring-like.


My author visit ended in Aix-en-Provence, with a talk to Year 9s at the international section of College Mignet and another to booklovers in Book in Bar. This welcoming bookshop is not just a 'Librairie Anglaise' but also an online 'librairie internationale'.  If I lived in Aix, I'd be a regular visitor!



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