Rory Stewart and Gilles Kepel: Franco-British friendship during WWII
The inauguration of the commemorative plaque of the Lycée Français by Rory Stewart and Gilles Kepel will take place on March 1st, in Penrith (Cumbria county).
Rory Stewart is a member of the British Parliament, representing Penrith and the Border in Cumbria, and Minister of State for the Ministry of Justice. He is also the author of The Marches (Penguin, 2017 in English; Gallimard, 2019 in French). This bestseller retraces the marches he embarks on with his father Brian Stewart, former diplomat and senior official in the British secret services, from Penrith in the Lake District, along the border between Scotland and England, south of the Hadrian Wall, between the remains of the Roman and British empires... and the dereliction of a post-industrial European world.
Gilles Kepel is the editor for the collection Esprits du Monde, in the éditions Gallimard that publish the French translation of Rory Stewart's book: Les marches : aux frontières de l'identité britannique. Doing so, Gilles Kepel discovered an odd coincidence: his own father, Milan, was a student at the Lycée Français de Londres in 1940, when it was moved to the banks of Lake Ullswater, in Penrith, which would be its home for the next five years.
Three weeks before the Brexit, Rory Stewart and Gilles Kepel will be present in Penrith, celebrating the Franco-British friendship.
"His father Brian taught Rory Stewart how to walk, and walked with him on journeys from Iran to Malaysia. Now they have chosen to do their final walk together along ‘the Marches’ – the frontier that divides their two countries, Scotland and England. Brian, a ninety-year-old former colonial official and intelligence officer, arrives in Newcastle from Scotland dressed in tartan and carrying a draft of his new book You Know More Chinese Than You Think. Rory comes from his home in the Lake District, carrying a Punjabi fighting stick which he used when walking across Afghanistan.
On their six-hundred-mile, thirty-day journey – with Rory on foot, and his father ‘ambushing’ him by car – the pair relive Scottish dances, reflect on Burmese honey-bears, and on the loss of human presence in the British landscape. On mountain ridges and in housing estates they uncover a forgotten country crushed between England and Scotland: the Middleland. They cross upland valleys which once held forgotten peoples and languages – still preserved in sixth-century lullabies and sixteenth-century ballads. The surreal tragedy of Hadrian’s Wall forces them to re-evaluate their own experiences in the Iraq and Vietnam wars. The wild places of the uplands reveal abandoned monasteries, border castles, secret military test sites and newly created wetlands. They discover unsettling modern lives, lodged in an ancient land. Their odyssey develops into a history of nationhood, an anatomy of the landscape, a chronicle of contemporary Britain and an exuberant encounter between a father and a son.
And as the journey deepens, and the end approaches, Brian and Rory fight to match, step by step, modern voices, nationalisms and contemporary settlements to the natural beauty of the Marches, and a fierce absorption in tradition in their own unconventional lives."