A Letter to Grandmama / Vous êtes où?
Are you there? Can you read this? You raised me atheist so I know you can’t read this but the Catholic in me would like to think you can. I spoke to a friend from the clinic about you today; she said that maybe I should write to you. I don’t really know where to start. I think about you everyday. And…I am sorry. I’m sorry I wasn’t there for you last year and I’m sorry I didn’t come to your cremation. I was terrified. I’m looking at ‘you’ right now and crying. I know you hate to see me cry. Remember that time at George Cinq? So embarrassing, non? I’m sorry about that too.
I told my friend about when I first met you. Do you remember? I know you don’t like talking about it but it’s very important to me. And…I have a little secret to tell you. Before you came back to our table, I’d snuck to the bar to look at you. You looked marvellous but scared. You’ll hate me for telling you this now but I saw that ‘cheeky’ double-whisky you drank for courage. I’m happy that you were scared just much as I. What papa and mummy did was terribly unfair. Ca va?
Mon cœur s’ouvre à ta voix,
comme s’ouvrent les fleurs
aux baisers de l’aurore!
You’re now with me in a tiny room in a quaint cottage in Bibury; and this is the only time you haven’t complained about British villages. I keep looking at you for inspiration but nothing is coming – only tears and memories. You had a terrible memory. I can be honest with you now. It was awful. Shall I remind you of a few things? Remember that time at Ledoyen when I caught you staring at that girl? Your bisexuality was the coolest part of your personality. I spoke to Augustina yesterday. She and Menton miss you very much. Do you remember that other time at Mosimann’s when we pretended to be a couple to freak-out the maître d? How about when I hid your chibouque because you refused to cycle to Montmartre with me? Oh, I still tell people about you how convinced the concierge at Hôtel Raphaël that you were a Monégasque princess for a freebie suite. No Rose Ball invitation for him, oui? 😛
As you can tell, my French is still as bad as ever. I’ve made a new friend, Guillaume, and he’s been a good teacher. I spent the whole day listening to your favourite albums and watching your favourite films. It’s taken me over an hour to reach this point because I keep singing along to Holden. Oh, and I still don’t understand why you liked La Chamade that much. It’s very predictable grandmama and I still think that L’Année dernière à Marienbad is better.
A few weeks ago I went to the house in Aires. I bet you miss pushing me in the pool. I had Angela take a photo of me jumping in for old times sake. But I won’t put it here. This is a respectable letter. We also went riding! Jerry is doing well and Maria owns him now. You never were imaginative when naming the ponies. I’d like to say that I’m looking after the house well but its a terrible mess. I drive Elisa mad. The only clean part is the pool. You’ll be pleased to know that François organised a polo match in your honour. We lost.
On politics: I think you would have liked François Hollande. He’s not as good as Strauss-Kahn would have been but he did sign a bill legalising same-sex marriage a few months ago. Success! I’d like to think that you and Augustina could have both been my grandmothers. 🙂 Still, Hollande has not been kind to Neuilly. He wanted to tax us 75%!1 Can you believe that? The courts said it was unconstitutional. More success! I’ve tried to keep up with politics like you but it’s quite impossible. You had far to much time grandmama. Other news? The West may end up bombing Damascus. I know, it’s mérde and I want to cry too. Such a beautiful city will soon be destroyed. Didn’t you once meet Asma al-Assad? I could never keep up.
Personal news? You’ll be glad to know that Maria is enjoying school (she went back two days ago) and is now better at chess and cello than you. Lattie is engaged to Maxil (took a while, non?) – she’s very happy. Elena broke up with me (my fault). Starship won two cups. There’s a portrait of you at 15, Place Vendôme. The David is back in the gallery. Jean-Luc bought lots of wine from the Élysée (he said it was an ‘affaire‘). Soho House NYC and Kwani? both celebrated their tenth birthdays. Unlike what we expected Beyond Watchmen is actually very good and the Ozymandias series was especially excellent. Friends in Cantab. are petitioning to save the Arts Picturehouse from being sold. I wish you were here. You always liked political action. Maybe you could have bought it.
…et moi news? I know you’re going to hate this but I’ve kinda given up on opera and conducting. I’m conducting a private concert in Nice and Kamakura at the end of the year: Ravel, Bach and Saint-Saëns, then that’s it for my career. I’m thinking of studying architecture next year and preparing a portfolio for the AASchool. It’s strange how I’m now doing what you always wanted me to do.
The butterfly and moth collection we started is still growing. I almost started a magazine and design brand, Humbert Humbert but my manic-depression destroyed that venture. Sorry. Medically, my bipolar and severe depression have become worse. I have been in and out of clinics for the last 6 months. Please don’t blame yourself. I hate that you do.
With everyday that passes I see myself becoming more like you: cosmopolitan, indecisive, mad, drunk, grumpy, stylish and eccentrically reclusive. How well acquainted I had become with your indecisions, second thoughts, third thoughts mirroring first vacillations and transient worries between goodbyes. And between all those worries and anxieties I find myself begging someone for an answer to my questions:-
Why did you kill yourself?
For many months I refused to believe that you were dead and now it is all that I think about. Why did you do it? I ask myself all the time. Was it the alcohol, the drugs, the depression or did you really want to leave this world? I hate you for leaving me alone. You were the only person who understood me, from whom I felt an ethereal and eternal and selfless love. Agape, non? Isn’t that what it always was? Me and you, contra mundum? Why did you have to leave so soon? Why didn’t you write to me? Do you remember? You wrote to me when you wanted Tao out of the house, you wrote to me when the car was fixed, you even wrote to me when you arrived at Gstaad. All of these letters were useless. I hate you for dying. I hate you for not writing to me. But I hate you most for not taking me with you?
Why didn’t you ask me to die by your side? I would have done so gladly. This is not the life I wanted to live. Not alone. Not without you. Everyday I fight between wanting to live and making my own way, and wanting to somehow find a way to you. My psychiatrist tells me that I probably won’t ever know the reason you killed yourself and maybe I should begin coming to terms with that. I’d like to but that’s not good enough for me grandmama.
I had you cremated with Charon’s obol so I hope your journey was peaceful. After the funeral, the men and women in your life told me that you were a modern Mme. d’Argenteuil. Did Lalah, Augustina and your lovers have an insight into your life that I did not? I’ve mulled over the thought that you were never 100% open with me and poured myself into studying Mme. d’Argenteuil’s life, out of hope that I can learn something about you. But were I to submit before a Aeacus, Minos and Rhadamanthus evidence of your earthly existence; then it would be a specimen of your average poise. I would have you reclining in an empire line upon a méridienne like a modern Juliette; index finger tapping to a melody escaping pursed lips, as you ponder over supper or the next day’s frivolities.
Today I felt something strange, something I disliked. It was an intense hate, mild confusion, a quickened heart and loss of equilibrium. I had to write about you to you. I hate you but…
…I love you grandmama. I always will. Atheism aside – I hope that we meet one warm, lazy afternoon in Languedoc and after one of our ‘famous’ siestas I shall give you the biggest hug, the wettest kiss and we shall busy ourselves with wine, debate, chess, Shostakovich and anecdotes.
P.S: You may not remember, but there’s a chilly day you came to visit me in Cambridge with that silly Birkin of yours. I took a picture of you with your back turned to me. Why? Your posture and figure reminded me of the first day I saw you. Hope you like it as much as I do. It is also the last photo of you I ever took:-