The disappearance of fireflies

In the depths of winter, towards the end of January, it’s unmissable, every year, I suffer from the lack of light. I feel fatigue taking over me, I want to eat fat and sugar, I want to be lazy, to sleep; my brain slows down, softens, gives in to spleen and melancholy.

That’s when I take out the whip, as they say, and get moving again: I rush to the neighborhood ice rink, where I spin in circles until I’m dizzy; I hit pucks with all my might, even if it means losing them in the snow banks when they pass like arrows above the boards.

And I take up cross-country skiing, which I practice on the beautiful trails of Frédéric-Back park, a jewel set in the heart of the island, a true horizon reserve, where I can contemplate the skyscrapers of the center in the distance. -city, whose line extends Mount Royal. I like to ski in the evening, after work, alone in the dark; I let myself be guided by the lights of the city that hover above me, I have the feeling that the snow has retained a little of the light of day, that the flakes shine in the darkness and flash with each my strides, like little fireflies on a beautiful summer night.


Cross-country skiing in a Montreal park

On winter evenings, when it’s time to sleep, I delve into the comic books from my childhood. Philosophy treatises, history books, novels with complicated plots will have to wait, I’m too tired. I prefer the wonderful world of Hergé. I like the designer’s clear lines, I like the simplicity of his universe, with its good guys and bad guys, its happy endings, where good always triumphs over evil. I like that Tintin is always the same, caught between two ages, that we don’t know where he comes from or where he is going.

There is in this vast world that connects the Earth to the Moon and the mysterious stars an astonishing clarity, an absence of uncertainty, a perfect predictability, which consoles me a little from the crazy and breathtaking life that so many of us lead. .

I have already written it somewhere, but I want to reiterate it: in Hergé’s universe, darkness does not exist, or very little. Even when Tintin is a prisoner in a dark dungeon, when he penetrates the depths of an Egyptian tomb, when he ventures onto the hidden side of the Moon or into smugglers’ tunnels, it is always light. In The temple of the sunwhen he falls into a waterfall and discovers behind it the path which will lead him to the lair of the Incas, the stones of the cave shine with a strange glow, as if Hergé had chosen to make light spring from his breast even darkness.

A little more and one would believe that the light comes from Tintin himself, from his pupilless eyes, which illuminate him as he advances, with the certainty of finding what he is looking for, like Perceval launched in the quest for Grail. By rediscovering Tintin on winter evenings, it seems to me that a little of his light reflects on me, that I rediscover with him the innocence of the child that I once was. Suddenly, time stops, I no longer age, I become younger, I become fearless and joyful again, I no longer have pain in my knees or back, I taste the magic of the moment.

I said to my girlfriend recently: “Time flies too quickly, it’s almost scary. »

The months and seasons pass, the girls are growing up, I am already two thirds of the way through my career, retirement is not yet here, but it is gently rearing its head, enough to remind me that there is will one day end. When I have to give my last class, talk to my students for the last time about my love of books and literature, I know I’m going to cry.

It’s strange, I’m nostalgic in anticipation. Nostalgia has a bad press, everyone defends itself against it, as if it were a defect, that we must always be happy, celebrate the world that is coming, take the side of progress. And yet, it is obvious that progress also leads to setbacks; you just have to look at what is happening with the climate. With such mild winters, the snow banks disappear, the ice on the skating rinks melts, like the glaciers of the Far North; the cross-country ski trails harden, over the freezes and thaws, and become unfriendly. Winters are not what they used to be; Could it be that one day Nelligan’s famous “Ah comme la neige a snowe” will become a thing of the past?

In a magnificent text⁠1 published in the early 1970s, filmmaker Pier Paolo Pasolini is concerned about the advancement of cities and the progress of urbanization in his country: fireflies, which need forests and humid places, are disappearing from Italy.

Pasolini sees in this disappearance – which inspired Sébastien Pilote a very beautiful film, to which I owe the title of this column⁠2 – the metaphor of a world that is passing away, of a memory that disappears, without making a sound. And I sometimes say to myself, as I watch the snow melt in the cold January rain, that our own fireflies, the fragile flakes that fall from the sky like bits of light, will perhaps one day also belong to the past.

Until then, I continue to ski and find my way in the night. I savor the moment and I find Tintin in Tibet and his kind yeti, in the immaculate whiteness of the eternal snows.

What do you think ? Participate in the dialogue

1. “The fireflies article”, by Pier Paolo Pasolini, in Privateer writingsFlammarion, 2018

2. The disappearance of fireflies, by Sébastien Pilote, Immina Films, 2018; with Karelle Tremblay, Pierre-Luc Brillant, Luc Picard, François Papineau and Marie-France Marcotte


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