The Original Belle & Sebastian – the Moroccan and his dog: a Guest Blog by Driss Laayadi

One of the goals of this blog is to capture moments and memories. The older I get, the more I find myself easily lost in a kind of momentary daze – especially if I’m visiting a place like camp or my grandfather’s farm that was a big part of my early childhood or late teens. Sometimes, even out of nowhere, that nostalgia can jolt me as if I just go into a kind of numbed trance and disappear into what was, mostly, a happy past. Blogging about those moments has been a way for me to cultivate them, a way to claim them as mine, wholly mine, as well as a way to share them with others who understand what it is to be “captured” by a good (or bad) memory.

Recently, my old pal Driss, an English teacher and activist in Morocco, was kind enough to share with me one little moment from his past. His thoughts speak to the power of old photo albums and television shows, and his thoughts even conjured up for me one of my favorite old television shows growing up, as well as one of my favorite bands I discovered while living in Scotland. Even though there’s a little French-Moroccan nostalgia here, I love how someone else’s memories can make us reflect on our own – and I wonder what yours might be, too.

So, here’s a few thoughts from today’s (and my first ever) guest blogger, Driss Laayadi:

Sébastien Le Marocain

…while rummaging through some dusty boxes in the attic, I stumbled across an old, shabby photo album comprising a few worn-out pictures of me during both my primary and middle school years. Skimming through the album’s photos, there was a genuine delight which caused me to reminisce in bittersweet memories reviving mixed feelings of joy and disappointment over my teenage life. Some memories literally rekindled that fleeting spark of joy and pride in my heart like the day of my father’s return from Bosnia where he was deployed as a member of a UN peace-keeping mission. So, too, there were tragic recollections like my grandparents’ sudden passing, for instance, which unkindly rained on my parade and mercilessly ruined my short-lived joy.

For a moment, a photo that captivated my undivided attention was one where I and my elder sister were squatting in the living room, wide-eyed and stuck right in front of the TV watching our favourite cartoon – “Belle and Sebastian.” Many of my fellow country-(wo)men over their twenties joyously recall the Japanese anime which recounts the adventures and good deeds of a six-year old boy (Sebastian) and his loyal companion, the big white dog (Belle), across small towns and villages bordering the French-Spanish frontier.

The initial impressions the Japanese cartoon might have left on any of its viewers as far as its content and overall production were ones of admiration at a time when good TV productions were quite scarce, so the show attracted a great number of appreciative viewers in Morocco. However, what many people didn’t realize was that the cartoon was merely an adapted version of a French TV series bearing the same name that was first broadcast in 1965.

The series was based on the French author Cécile Aubry’s novel, Belle et Sèbastien. The tenacious Cécile took the reign and set out on a journey of a sixteen-episode series and could not allow anyone but her fils-à-maman [“mommy’s boy”], Mehdi, to play the role of Sebastian. Mehdi El Mezouari Elglaoui is the son of Cécile and Mohammed Elglaoui and the grandson of Thami Elglaoui who served as the Pacha [an official title, like that of the governor or town mayor] of Marrakech during the French Protectorate over Morocco in 1912.

Mehdi/Sébastien, who was born in 1956, grew up only to follow in his mother’s footsteps and turned out to be a great comedian, a film producer, and a writer, though not as prolific as his mother. His latest 2013 book, La belle Histoire de Sébastien [“The Beautiful Story of Sebastian”], exposes the other tacit and covert side (the Moroccan side) of the French hero, as it traces back over the ten-year old’s lonely childhood along with his quest to seek out his mother’s love. On top of that, the French producer Nicolas Vanier recently produced “Belle et Sébastian” hence resurrecting the French odyssey and extending its lifespan once again:

The thrilling plot and actions of the movie take the viewers into a world of déjà vu, of childish innocence, and of a dogged loyalty… all of which, for me, started with a little rummaging through an old photo album in the attic and made me a kid again.

 

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