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La chevalière de Philippe Labro

Washington and Lee alumnus Philippe Labro, of the Class of 1958, has been in the news in his native France these past several weeks, largely because of a new documentary on his life, “Philippe Labro, Entre Ombre et Lumiere,” which appeared on France 5 television last month. Parts of the documentary were filmed in Lexington last year, and Philippe and the film crew spent several days on campus.

Philippe’s love for W&L was evident throughout the filming. He visited his freshman room, walked along the Colonnade, participated in a journalism class, rode in a Cadillac convertible, and attended a football (American football, that is) game.

So it was not surprising to find one of the news items that popped up in connection with the documentary–a relatively short story appearing in M le magazine du Monde, all about Philippe’s Washington and Lee ring and its significance to him. Thanks to W&L French professor John Lambeth for the translation below. To read the story in the original French, go to the M website.

The Totem – The journalist/writer shows us his ‘fetish’ object, a college ring received as a student in the United States. Symbol of his commitment to America, the gold class ring set with a lapis lazuli is always with him.

by Emilie Grangeray

“I have a lot of fetish objects – I’m an avid collector of  pencils and pocket knives – but this is the only one I keep with me all the time. With my high school diploma in hand and a scholarship, I had the opportunity to study at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia, a magical place of beauty – which is the setting for my novel “The Foreign Student” (1986 Interallié Prize, Folio). This college ring, now worn by time, is so heavy that it has deformed my finger and, because of it, I wear my wedding ring on my right hand.

“When I look at it, I don’t feel nostalgia, but the memory of two incredibly formative years that were more like ten years of experience. It was there that I learned to mercilessly trim adjectives and adverbs. And it was there that my curiosity about this country, its literature, its cinema and its politics blossomed – which meant that when I started chasing after editors demanding a job, Pierre Lazareff (then at the head of France-Soir, where I started) and others kept sending me back to the United States because of all the experience I had gained there.

“Back in those days, with this ring and my cowboy boots I had brought back from Colorado, Parisians didn’t quite know what to make of me! This ring has a story: during the Algerian War I lost it on a beach. I was so distraught over losing my talisman that I wrote to Lexington asking them to send me another one just like it, which they did within a week.”