“I Rhone”, Eric Orsenna
Who am I ? Guess! First clue: I’m not who I should be! How can I explain this violence that sometimes grips me? However, I was born in the quiet country of Switzerland, at a modest altitude of 2,200m, too low to provide enough impetus for crazy descents. So I see only one explanation for my sudden ferocity: Gletsch, the name of the little hamlet where I was born, Gletsch, which sounds like a sneeze, Gletsch, every time I hear Gletsch I start to slide down.
I spent the first part of my life in a very industrial valley called Le Valais. The factories were very afraid of my unexpected anger. That’s why they made me, as they say, they spent a fortune to fix me in concrete. They thought they were keeping me from overflowing. I am not one of those arrested. I bide my time, I run when the time comes, then I welcome the loss, I feel sorry for the insurance companies.
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Drop your head into Lake Geneva and continue my journey
It would be so easy to get along, to share the landscape, to let go of my anger. But these people wanted to control everything. Pity them. The second part of my life, I consider it a vacation: I dived in the lake. When I say “dive,” that’s the word. They lost me, I was swimming at the very bottom, under the fish. I only showed the tip of my nose in front of a city that seemed very pleasant to me. I was told it was called Lausanne. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stop. A force pushed me, I had to go forward. Especially Geneva was waiting for me.
I showered under his stream. I had to dress up to discuss world peace. It seems to be the main occupation of the residents, after all, of the non-bankers. They showed me the door I had to go through. Believe me, I’d rather go round the lake and continue to hang out with the swans, who are far less ambitious than they say. I felt it being swept away, then divided into circles. Luckily I’m flexible so I didn’t have much pain. So that ! I had crossed my first barrier. I was warned that twenty-one more were waiting for me before I reached the sea.
“I passed my first jump. Before I reached the sea, I was warned that 21 more people were waiting for me.
Rhône: 22 dams on its way
What a profession of mine! When you think that some earn bread by telling stories! I had not been half an hour in the land of General de Gaulle and Brigitte Bardot (we watch old movies in the evenings in Gletsch) when I reached the Génissiat dam and its monumental gate. The French welcomed me warmly: “We need you for our electricity.”
I thought they were more into nuclear. The beauty of the landscape calmed my anger. And the salvation of all these people on both coasts. I didn’t think it would be so useful, or even necessary. I received thanks from everyone: men, women, plants, animals, and even some kind of big, bad castle that proudly told me its name was the Nuclear Power Plant. I guess I cooled it. Usually girls prefer to warm up, don’t they? Well, as far as I know!
In France, the peaceful Rhône valley
My trip continued in an increasingly relaxed atmosphere. The supports that imprisoned me had disappeared. Imagine that now I was allowed to leave the main road and wander on side roads and even create trails in the middle of the rainforest-like forests. Then I passed boats full of happy tourists waving and thanking me as if I was responsible for this paradise.
Houses multiplied, another city presented itself, much larger than the previous ones. It was a good thing: I had a thousand questions to ask him. And first this. Why this peaceful atmosphere? I informed myself before starting this journey from Gletsch. For most people, existence was nothing more than a perpetual struggle: war to capture and enslave us, daily conflict to force us to choose between our three occupations, water (land and creatures), transport (people and goods), produce (light).
It’s like we always have to choose, always stay in boxes. A beautiful blonde lady advised me to thank the two men who had the idea to bring these three things together and to add one: the development of all the areas of this magnificent valley thanks to the income from this trade. After him, I read: Praise be to you, then Deputy Senator Léon Perrier! And to you, Edouard Herriot, Mayor of Lyon! As soon as I said these words, I received a severe blow from behind. A friend suggested that I continue the journey together to the sea.
– What is your name?
– Funny name.
– He is from the goddess Souconna. But you know how monks are! They write very badly. It became Saoconna. Anyway, welcome! We will be stronger together!
South direction for the Rhone
And we continued south. You don’t change your character, not without a few tantrums! I’m not too proud of it. Fortunately, Saone managed to calm me down, constantly reminding me how lucky I was.
– Well, obstacles follow one another, but without stopping you.
If you went to other parts of the world you would see the damage! And then look at these hills planted with vines. And do you hear this music? We call it jazz! Normal, we pass in front of Vienna. You’ll have to make time to attend his festival one day!
A little further down, we crossed a bridge that was three-quarters collapsed. While I was having fun, Saone asked me to be quiet. “To be or not to be, that is the question.” I’m not very cultured, but I knew Shakespeare. There, behind the castles, they were playing Hamlet. My husband almost cried:
– You see, we are not only water carriers. We strengthen dreams. We make things bigger than they are. Hopefully we will take care of it!
– Why are you afraid?
– Have you heard about warming up? All the glaciers are melting, including yours, Switzerland.
– Do you mean that soon we will run out of water and scratch the bottom?
The Rhône deltas were threatened with drying up
Fortunately, the sequel kept me hooked. Instead of going straight to the sea, we turned right. And I found myself among a herd of tall, pink birds and a rather formidable bull. I should have left Saone a long time ago. He spoiled my pleasure: “You know the wetlands where rivers end? Deltas. From the Americas to Asia, they threaten to dry them all up. And 500 million people!”
What’s next for Rhone?
I don’t know about you, but when I’m bombarded with really bad news, I run for a swim. Nothing like a little head to take my mind off things. Since the Mediterranean was waiting for me… So, guess what? rejoice! I… Rhone. And if you want to know the rest of my journey, at one point I felt light, light as I planked. It was like the sky swallowed me. And I found myself among the clouds pushed by the southwest wind.
It is so strong that after two hours, when I looked down, I recognized the lake where I spent that wonderful vacation. But the wind continued. It was getting colder and colder. And suddenly, gracefully, here and there, I landed like a completely white paraglider. I landed very gently on the glacier. And my journey began again. Could it be that Saone is right, my ominous colleague? Is it possible that one day these giant loops will stop and the channels of the rivers will be emptied? What will they do with it? Highways?
Text by Eric Orsenna.
This article was published in the 34th issue of “WE DEMAIN” magazine. It is part of a dossier prepared in partnership with CNR, Compagnie Nationale du Rhône. The issue is still available in paper or digital form.
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