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On the subject of the Mediterranean, I vividly recall a long conversation with Julien Gracq—a conversation that was somewhat out of place on the banks of the Loire, in Saint-Florent-le-Vieil, in the little house on the towpath where he was born and was living out his last years. It was twenty years ago, in June 2002. I had taken advantage of this new meeting with the Atlantic writer, who had withdrawn from society, to ask him to sign my old first-edition copy of the book that had made him famous, Le Rivage des Syrtes (1951, published in English as The Opposing Shore in 1986). As a very young student, I had read it during a Tunisian spring on the island of Jerba with an awareness that it was a great Mediterranean novel. This book written by an austere geography teacher, Louis Poirier, who had chosen the pseudonym of Gracq (Gracchus) in reference to the Roman Gracchi, took me on a journey between the principality of Orsenna and Farghestan somewhere on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, between the Gulf of Gabès (Lesser Syrtis, not far from Jerba) and the Gulf bordering Libya (Greater Syrtis, with the famous sites of Leptis Magna and Sabratha). I was convinced that Gracq, who loved the ocean, must also have a secret Mediterranean mooring. Gracq, that master of literature, told me that there were two ways of writing novels, depending on whether one was interested in geography or history, but that, when it came to writing about the Mediterranean, it was impossible to choose—even for him as a geographer—as the two fields were inextricably linked…


What is the future for North-South cooperation in the Mediterranean? If initiatives in this area have not yet been able to shake things up, it is above all because they come from a North that wants to do good —to the point of acting on its behalf—to a South in search of political unity. Both sides must turn the map upside-down and upset the status quo: we must finally let the peoples speak and move the decision-making centers, so that a Mediterranean citizenship can emerge. The current balance is hardly conducive to a shared impetus of this kind, but a new breath could change everything.

Olivier Poivre d’Arvor
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