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.