martedì, ottobre 04, 2016


Carmen had a generic haircut. If you live in a place where the hairdressers have any nous at all you've seen it many times - perhaps many times today. A short, slanted bob; sharpish edges around the face, and generally some highlights or broader blonde colouring but hints of darker shades throughout. It's generic for a reason - it's a very flattering haircut. Almost a European uniform for stylish, slender women past the age of 40 whose hair isn't particularly thick or curly and who have the sort of lifestyle wherein they can afford monthly cuts-and-colours but don't want to spend ages fucking around with their hair every morning.

There are a lot of reasons I'm glad I dragged my massive pregnant ass to Paris this weekend for her funeral, and one of them is that I already feel half-mad walking around here and continually seeing women my stupid brain thinks are her from behind because they've got the same blonde bob. There is a big part of funerals that's about figuring out the person is actually dead, isn't there? Even as I was buying a train ticket and booking a hotel to go to her funeral my stupid brain kept thinking "I'd better call Carmen to let her know I'll be in Paris this weekend so we can get dinner or something."

During the religious ceremony the casket was open, which I wasn't expecting. I don't think that's a French thing - I think that's a Romanian thing. I was grateful. Her body hadn't been made up or dressed up so it had that relaxed expression that unretouched corpses have, which made the body of my 97 year old grandfather look younger than I'd ever seen him, and made her body look like a little girl's. And accordingly - not her anymore. She was gone.

That was a relief too. Carmen was a very punctual, organized person and the nonsense surrounding her last rites felt so not-her that I swang between feeling uncomfortable leaving her to the mercy of a bunch of French tehcnocrats and realizing that when it comes to your own funeral, it doesn't matter what sort of person you were; now you're just a prop. You're not there.

Everything started half an hour late because the funeral home was half an hour late opening; everybody had to wait out on the street. The ceremony was Eastern Orthodox and felt horribly disassociated from Carmen, who was a practicing Buddhist in life and who, apparently, the priest that spent the service spruiking Jesus and Heaven and whatnot had never met or learned anything about. I can't stand all that fucking Eternity talk at funerals, and I believe in Heaven and Eternity. But I don't know why you'd fucking talk about them at a fucking funeral, where everyone is trying to figure out how to go on living their lives, maybe for decades and decades, without this beautiful person in them anymore.

She was young, and lovely, so a lot of people came. More than 150, I'm guessing. But the ceremony was in a tiny room that could barely fit 20, so everybody was spilling into the atrium and even down the staircase leading to the atrium. The priest yelled at people to hurry up paying their last respects around the coffin just as I came to it to pay my last respects. I'd been holding it together pretty well up until then but burst into tears and rushed off - not too hysterical to not hear all the French-tutting at the priest; they're quite protective of the massively pregnant there. Good. Fucking crow. Though since he was Orthodox he was more bird-of-paradise coloured.

Ultimately I left early. Everything about the religious ceremony was so not-her that I transitioned quickly from tears to anger and annoyance. Also I know how slow I am now, and guessed that I'd need the extra time to make it to the crematorium in time for that ceremony, whatever it was going to be.

I did. The crematorium was up at the top of Pere Lachaise, which was hillier than I remembered. And more beautiful. It was a lovely autumn Saturday and I think the loveliest time of year for that cemetery, which I used to live down the street from. Trees still mostly green but dead leaves starting to swirl in the breeze down the cobbled paths and between the houses of the dead; ubiquitous horse chestnuts launching their shining fruits pell-mell.

As it was a lovely autumn Saturday, the cemetery was crawling with tourists, who asked me at various points during the day as I walked up and down from the crematorium where Serge Gainsbourg, Edith Piaf and Jim Morrison were, like any sensible person would a) give a flying fuck or b) ask someone wearing funereal black and with tear marks on their glasses in a fucking cemetery stupid fucking tourist questions.

Whatever. I didn't really mind. It was almost comic relief. Almost a relief to eyeball these people disbelievingly and wonder why you'd travel to a cemetery to look at somewhere the prop of a complete stranger had been abandoned 50-odd years ago when people you loved were dying all the time, so shouldn't you spend your time with them or remembering them instead of some fucking racist hebephile pervert or underweight warbler or bloated American lounge singer who liked cocaine and whipping his dick out at concerts?

After the cremation I saw a lot of people walking their dogs in the cemetery, or sitting down on one of the benches with nicer views to have a little snack. That felt actually nice. It felt good that Carmen had had her send-off in such a beautiful place, where people liked to come. She had chosen it. It was on almost the opposite side of town from where she lived and worked. Walking up to the crematorium was the first time I felt her hand in the manner of her send-off.

The ceremony at the crematorium reinforced that. Her friends spoke, very movingly, rather than any officiant except for a no-nonsense but warm guy who was obviously some sort of public servant running the place, telling everybody when to stand and sit and approach the coffin to leave rose petals on it and whatnot. One of them was another Romanian expat who talked about their friendship together in France, their "land of exile and dreams". That sounded so - Carmen.

And a Buddhist monk talked briefly too, with almost childlike simplicity, mentioning how maybe the pain of losing Carmen could serve to remind us to be more like her and "faire moins des betises." That was salutary to hear too. Carmen was a moral superhero. Her being part of your life made you a better person when she was alive; her memory could be a powerful force of good. It didn't make losing her okay. It didn't try to. 

7 commenti:

aglaiketstirk ha detto...

I'm sorry about Carmen. Loss is shite.

But you had her in your life. She's affected or changed you in some way. Maybe a way you've not thought about or are aware of. And it'll be for the better.

Funerals - recap: religious funerals - are such shite too.

That last paragraph - moved me to tears. Who would not want to have lived and have someone write this post.

Mistress La Spliffe ha detto...

There was a thing at her cremation where everybody had to write something *to* her, which I'd never seen before. I just stared at the paper for half a minute and then wrote "you're part of everything and me forever". And she is. The Jess who loved Carmen isn't the same creature who the Jess who didn't know or didn't love Carmen would have been. This Jess is better, I'm pretty sure. She was a very, very positive influence and I think her memory always will be.

aglaiketstirk ha detto...

Best funeral (that really sounds 'wrong' now I see it written down) I have ever been at was my neighbour's a few years back.

Margaret was a Quaker (Professor of Town and Country Planning and also a major peace campaigner and social reformer). Her husband was a Quaker too (Prof of Architecture and - it must be said very unlikely looking - former WW2 spy who lived undercover for years in Austria and Germany).

I attended Margaret's memorial - because a Quaker funeral is a very quiet family affair. The memorial is held approx 4-8 weeks from the funeral - giving the family time to grieve privately.

The memorial consists of an hour of silence. Every one sitting in a circle with bowed head and closed eyes.

Every now and again - maybe by force of God - people were 'moved' to stand and speak out a memory of Margaret or say what she had meant to them.

It was the most profound and touching experience. A fitting tribute to Margaret who had lived a (very long) and meaningful, positive life.

Mistress La Spliffe ha detto...

I'm Quaker - when I make it to meeting, which is hardly ever (I'm a mum and partner first, they aren't Quakers, and we don't get enough time together even without me swanning off to the meeting house once a month). The normal meeting for worship is the same. An hour of silence, and those who feel moved, speak.

I've never felt moved to speak, but I've never been to meeting without having felt it to be a profound spiritual experience. It's sort of ruined every other form of Christian worship for me. Which is fine.

aglaiketstirk ha detto...

Sorry. I presented all of that as though no one I knew could possibly be Quaker.

I've wanted to visit (talked many times about visiting) the Friend's meeting house near here (Wiston Lodge). But been afraid.

'God' has been tainted for me. And I feel tainted too. A taint that makes me feel I need a deep detox - or I'd be a contaminant otherwise.

I've re-read that and it sounds 'off'. I'm sorry.

Margaret's memorial was a profound experience for me.
And silence seemed the most profound form of worship.

Mistress La Spliffe ha detto...

Hah hah. I'm a super shitty Quaker. I don't think anyone would recognise me as one.

I was raised very, very Catholic. The betrayal involved in that was spiritually devastating, the bitterness was profound and shitting-all-over-everything, and the recovery was a long one. I don't think it finished until I went to my first meeting.

I still shit all over everything tho. Oh well.

aglaiketstirk ha detto...

I was sent to The Wee Free Church of Scotland Sunday School - my tyrannical hypocrite of a grandfather was 'Sunday School Superintendent' and a Church Elder.

Later, I tried to emulate the Papa I really loved - he was a founder member of the Young Communists in Lanarkshire and taught me to say 'they are Parasites' when asked by the Teacher to tell her about the Royal family... Whit a man. All the gentle, humane things the other was not - the truest role model.

I studied Religious Studies for 4 years at Glasgow Uni (it was my joint honours subject for my first undergrad degree).

I have wanted to find a religious home but 'God' (Judaeo-Christian at least) feels just plain wrong to me.

Often though - unbidden and overwhelming - there is this surge of worshipfulness (maybe thankfulness - it certainly includes that) - comprehension of the numinous. Maybe just walking to the Falls. Or watching my kids. And when Mum recovered enough to sip some water and talk.

If the Quakers could accept that then I'd have found my home.

I do know though, that I cannot accept a literal resurrection, or virgin birth or...