Quand on arrive en Nouvelle-Zélande, on se sent forcément loin de chez soi.
“Arriving in New Zealand, you inevitably feel a long way from home.”
Charles Juliet – Auckland, août 2003
On the recommendation of a Twitter buddy, I’ve been reading Charles Juliet‘s Au pays du long nuage blanc: his journal of six months in New Zealand in 2003 while on a writer’s fellowship in Wellington.
Like all New Zealanders who are by nature slightly insecure about their nation’s reputation abroad, I was initially interested to see what an eminent French author thought of our country. Indeed, Juliet picks up on many of the usual kiwi tropes: the friendliness and informality of people, the centrality of rugby to the national narrative and the lack of insulation and heating in our houses.
The journal oscillates between observations of some of the remarkable aspects of life in New Zealand and reflections on Juliet’s own craft as a writer and poet. Descriptions of the weather constantly intervene, as one might expect given that Juliet spent a winter in Wellington!
Wellington, NZ – May 2008
Juliet spends much of his time exchanging with some of New Zealand’s notable intellectuals: Vincent O’Sullivan, Dame Fiona Kidman and Gordon Stewart among others. In particular he describes long lunchtime conversations with Chris Laidlaw, (broadcaster, diplomat, politician, academic and former All Black). Juliet also devotes many pages reflecting on his long-time admiration for Katherine Mansfield.
Juliet’s journal provided a personal connection too: when Juliet visits Auckland, it is at the invitation Professor Raylene Ramsay at Auckland University, who supervised my Honours dissertation! It was a curious experience to have the name of a personal acquaintance dropped into the middle of a book bought at FNAC Montparnasse.
Charles Juliet (Image: Léa Crespi, Télérama)
Despite the obvious pleasure Charles Juliet derives from his time in New Zealand, the journal is haunted by his awareness of the great distance that separates him from his homeland, France. And when Juliet finally leaves New Zealand in January 2004, he acknowledges that he will never return to the Land of the Long White Cloud.
Au pays du long nuage blanc is an easy read (I finished it in just 2 days), and would be of interest to anyone who wants to explore strands of the relationship between France and New Zealand. It’s published by Gallimard in Folio for EUR5.60.
Finies ces longues errances
sous des ciels éteints
Finis ces combats truqués
Où j’étais toujours vaincu
Fini ce temps installé
Dans la misère du non
J’ai déposé le poids mort
qui obscurcissait ma vie
Long a été le chemin
qui m’a permis
de quitter mon enfance
Charles Juliet – Wellington, décembre 2003
Wyuna Bay, Coromandel Peninsula, NZ – June 2008