Astonishing Travelers, a literary festival in yellow wax


Under the marquee of the literary café of the festival Etonnants voyageurs in Saint-Malo, June 9, 2019.
Under the marquee of the literary café festival Amazing travelers in Saint-Malo, June 9, 2019. Maryline Baumard / Le Monde

It could be renamed the "book train". The TER Breizh 08 of 17:23, which rallies Saint-Malo in Rennes on the evening of Sunday 9 June, has fewer suitcases than plastic bags or kraft paper on behalf of publishing houses. In the nets above the seats or on the knees, South Act, Gallimard, Le Seuil or Albin Michel set the tone, cutting with the usual shoppings of the weekend.

As soon as the first cows begin to pass on the other side of the windows, the most hurried are the rituals: smell the perfume of the paper and the ink, take off the label of the price, twist a little slice of the structure to allow a broader and more fluid opening. Accurate and measured, the gesture will allow the pages to hang and the words, they do not get stuck in the fold. Groups of girlfriends are showing their respective purchases while the most solitary are already the nose in their novel, leaving for an elsewhere.

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"The authors are adorable and not uptight at all"

The passengers of the 17 h 23 Sunday will not benefit from the last day of Amazing Travelers, this book festival that takes place every year, during the weekend of Pentecost, in the city of Saint-Malo. But in literature, a successful weekend is not counted in hours of presence, rather in moments of exception. "Here we are a little out of time. We listen, we impregnate, we hear the people we admire and then gently digest what is said. For a long time sometimes, observes Martine, a teacher from Normandy. French teacher, she is « amazing traveler » every two years with two girlfriends, who are also "Educ nat" and work in the same college. "Very big readers," as they define themselves, they "Love this meeting where the authors are affordable and not uptight at all".

It is true that in Saint-Malo, humor and relaxation are required despite the depth of the topics covered. The academician Erik Orsenna arrives at a debate on culture and development a Senegal cap screwed on the skull, and Saturday night improvises a tribute to Michel Serres whose last words float, still long after, under the big top.

The historian Pascal Blanchard is transformed, him, in facilitator of the debate "sex, race and colonies" of which it was supposed to be intervening, until the moderator arrives. "Here, even the greatest are listening to us. You could even have breakfast with your favorite author. Not like the Paris Book Fair where you come to buy and that's all »Claire, who does not know very well since when she did not go there, but knows she will not go back.

The old town of Saint-Malo.
The old town of Saint-Malo. DAMIEN MEYER / AFP

"The opposite of Parisian arrogance"

This match between the province and the capital is recurrent in Saint-Malo. "Here we have ideas, debates, arguments, but without snobbery ", Insists a librarian who is in the afternoon press on current Algeria with the novelist Adlene Meddi, including, after meeting the novelist Laurent Gaudé in the morning, one of his favorite authors. "There are 250 guests, 300 appointments. I could hear the historian Mona Ozouf. She answered the questions in the room with such great kindness. It's really a gift we are given here. An intellectual festival of high holding in shorts and sneakers ", he adds, wearing his jeans and a yellow wax.

The filmmaker Romain Goupil also appreciates this friendly atmosphere and believes that what makes the identity of the place, it is this mixture "Of curiosity, attention, kindness and discretion". "The opposite of Parisian arrogance" he summarizes in passing. And this supporter of hospitality to rent precisely "This warm hospitality, coupled with the sky, the sea, the boats and the oysters, allows you to think wide". All is said !

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Among festival-goers fans of these three days launched by Michel Le Bris thirty years ago, the teachers seem very numerous, according to the conversations on the exams, the threat of boycott of the tray, the questions asked to the authors and the small notebooks with lines on which these eternal schoolboys can not help but take notes. "We do not rebuild", launches a history teacher by unfolding his sandwich neatly packaged in aluminum foil. Sitting with her husband and a couple of friends at the edge of the pond for lunch, she came from a small town between Rennes and Saint-Malo and brought the meal.

If the weekend is a taste of the summer season for local businesses, the picnic on the beach or facing the port also signifies a category of culture consumers who prefers to buy one more book rather than to install in the restaurant. "We have never done any surveys on the attendance of the festival, observes one of the organizers. Our information stops at the counting of 20 000 daily festival-goers and their geographical origin mostly of the big West "explains the director of communication of the festival, Laurent Delarue.

Whoever they are, all leave fed on their literature: science fiction, history, novel about nature or literature from elsewhere, there was for all readers.

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