JACQUES BREL : LES VIEUX

For French speakers. Sorry that no translation can convey Brel poetic talent.

 

The other day my partner put on the breakfast table the lyrics of Brel’s Les Vieux (you might be interested he said)  and I was transported to Brel concert at  the Albert Hall  in 1966 when I heard this wonderful touching song on old people . I was only 31 at the time and the song made a huge impression on me, my grandmother having lived with us in her old age.

LES VIEUX

Les vieux ne parlent plus
Ou alors seulement parfois du bout des yeux
Même riches ils sont pauvres, ils n’ont plus d’illusions et n’ont qu’un coeur pour deux
Chez eux ça sent le thym, le propre, la lavande et le verbe d’antan
Que l’on vive à Paris on vit tous en province quand on vit trop longtemps
Est-ce d’avoir trop ri que leur voix se lézarde quand ils parlent d’hier
Et d’avoir trop pleuré que des larmes encore leur perlent aux paupières
Et s’ils tremblent un peu est-ce de voir vieillir la pendule d’argent
Qui ronronne au salon, qui dit oui qui dit non, qui dit: je vous attends

Les vieux ne rêvent plus, leurs livres s’ensommeillent, leurs pianos sont fermés
Le petit chat est mort, le muscat du dimanche ne les fait plus chanter
Les vieux ne bougent plus leurs gestes ont trop de rides
Leur monde est trop petit
Du lit à la fenêtre, puis du lit au fauteuil et puis du lit au lit
Et s’ils sortent encore bras dessus bras dessous tout habillés de raide
C’est pour suivre au soleil
L’enterrement d’un plus vieux, l’enterrement d’une plus laide
Et le temps d’un sanglot, oublier toute une heure la pendule d’argent
Qui ronronne au salon, qui dit oui qui dit non, et puis qui les attend

Les vieux ne meurent pas, ils s’endorment un jour et dorment trop longtemps
Ils se tiennent la main, ils ont peur de se perdre et se perdent pourtant
Et l’autre reste là, le meilleur ou le pire, le doux ou le sévère
Cela n’importe pas, celui des deux qui reste se retrouve en enfer
Vous le verrez peut-être, vous la verrez parfois en pluie et en chagrin
Traverser le présent en s’excusant déjà de n’être pas plus loin
Et fuir devant vous une dernière fois la pendule d’argent
Qui ronronne au salon, qui dit oui qui dit non, qui leur dit: je t’attends
Qui ronronne au salon, qui dit oui qui dit non et puis qui nous attend

 

 

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EXILE

On my 83rd. Birthday

I read about the practice of helping Alzheimer patients by recreating the environment of their youth.
I think nostalgically of the inner courtyard of our house in Aleppo. There around a primus stove, mygrandmother taught the next generation of the women of the family     how to cook the preferred dishes.
I remember the well in the dark passage where in the basket at the end of the rope we placed the water melon and bottles of water to cool.
And the dark toilet at the end of the passage, where a sadistic uncle liked to tease us and threaten us with incarceration. And the kitchen off this passage where the dishes had to be cleaned perfectly for fear of the ire of the man of the house.

Also I remember the Lebanese mountains and the smell of pines in the forest. The unbearably blue sea, the walk to the beach with the rolled towel and swimsuit behind my older brother who never talked to me .

My exile to London was voluntary. I explored the country of my French culture. I did not fit in. Tried Manchester where some of our family had settled. The city impressed me for the kindness of the people but the skies were too dull. I tried Israel for its geography so similar to Syria and Lebanon but felt like an inferior being amongst the Europeans.

I  finished in London having chosen a kind, reliable and funny partner to live with.

But I think of all the old women whose exile has been involuntary and Le Mal du Pays a constant wound. How to restore to them when needed the atmosphere and environment of their youth???

CATARACT AND CHANGES AT 80+

My friend, long deceased, had told me about the experience of seeing the amazing brightening of colours after her cataract operation and even wrote a poem about it. Now some younger acquaintances mention this effect. But nobody told me that while the silver of my husband’s curls look shiny his face is old with lines and folds and wrinkles. Nobody told me that suddenly all white surfaces in the house look dirty, the curtains need washing, the bathroom tiles show black joins and I did not know that the carpets were so threadbare.
My face in the mirror tells me why people automatically assume that I need help, or ignore me something that surprised me often in the tube or the bus, in public.

I wish I had cataract of the mind. I wish I could not notice the effects of ageing: the struggle to find some words, the losing and finding, the repetition to the same person of some information, the too often referring to the past, the hurt of being dismissed, ignored, or plain disliked.

I will have to look for S.’s poem that I have filed away somewhere as irrelevant to me…

LIFE REVIEW AND EXILE

Family and friends on holiday.

The daughter of a cousin is visiting. A French academic, she briefly lectured in Aleppo before the recent wars and destruction.
She often stayed with her grandparents (my aunt and uncle) in Beirut and Israel and heard them talk about their lives in Aleppo . She is interested in this past.
I was delighted to find a listening ear. I unearthed photos, my school reports and other documents and relived the past for a few days.
My early life in Aleppo that I left at the age of 10 (late 30s/early 40s ), seemed more important to me than later life in Beirut that I left aged 21. It seemed vital that I should transmit my recollections to somebody familiar with this background.

I am left wondering in the days of globalisation how old women experience their uprooting. I am sure that each exile is different depending on the country of origin, the conditions of leaving, the process of acculturation in the new country, the assimilation of the children,  the community.

In her last days in a French hospital, my mother in pain would utter a sound approximating to …AKH, AKH. When I visited her, a concerned nurse asked me what she was asking for, not realising that this utterance expressed pain (physical or even psychological) in her native language.

I am wondering if exiled people with dementia are misunderstood by carers of a different cultural background and even language.

I am wondering what the life review of old age feels like if not shared.

Brief note on a nature walk at 82

Nature walk is not what it used to be,

On this beautiful summer day I went on a walk in Sussex. The pain of it. Bird watching has become a frustating exercise. By the time I put my walking stick down, removed my sunglasses, focused my binoculars and tried to locate the source of the bird song, the creature had long departed.

Yes vision is not what it used to be, neither is hearing but the legs are still strong and the sun is shining and walking in nature under the sun and a cool breeze  is still exhilarating and I can still hear the lark rising.

 

Quite Old Women but not Very Old Women

Quite Old Women but not Very Old Women
Today is my birthday. I will have lived 82 years with ups and downs in all fronts.
Yesterday my little family came to celebrate with me and it felt warm and loving.

Now, on the roof ridge outside my office window, a male pigeon is displaying rather ridiculously. All puffed out he turns round and round more and more frantically. The female is observing him patiently. Eventually she turns her head sideways and flies away.

It cheers me up to observe nature already preparing for renewal. But two items on my computer screen clash uncomfortably.

A person’s chronological age doesn’t necessarily indicate their overall health or their risk for certain conditions. http://www.livescience.com/57409-aging-biomarker-signature-blood-test.html

The Older Women Rock Project. It seems that Older here refers to women in their 50s and 60s. Shouldn’t the title of the exhibition and project be called “quite old women – but not very old women- rock”.

I am left wondering do I rock? … Or do I roll?

Once again ageism resurfaces in unexpected contexts and I feel excluded again.

Edit

AGEING, Globalisation and Family

A letter from a close friend of mine reaching her 80th birthday.
Dear Rina,
No I do not mind if you post this letter on your blog. I imagine that other old women may have the same experience. But please do not divulge personal information.

As you know i have lost my sister who lived in the South of France and my ex (husband) also died last year. I have been so busy since I retired. I have had a few affairs, I have worked teaching English, I have helped in a centre for disadvantaged youth and travelled around the globe to visit my children. But now I feel tired and need to be rather than do. It is something that you have written to me about but being younger than you I did not quite see what you meant.
I feel a need to be with people who have known me for a significant length of time, people who know my background, where I come from, people who have known if not all my own family at least some of them. The few friends I made in my nomadic life are now gone. I know that it should be easier for me compared to you. I live in Paris now, French is my language but my life as mother of two sons and a daughter was spent in England for a period of time in Willesden where I met you. I envied your big family. I knew your mother and your brothers who came to visit you and I have still some oriental gifts that you brought back from Beirut. You were so comfortable in your own identity. I was lost between my French background and my English husband that I finally divorced in the painful circumstances that you are aware of.
You know that my children did well but the little family feeling that I had then in Willesden, has gone forever and I blame globalisation.

Do you remember how we disagreed on feminism? You would be proud of the career women both my daughter and in laws have become. I see my daughter not very often when she comes to Paris. She is still a very busy foreign correspondent for an obscure American TV channel. I know nothing of her life – she has never enough time in Paris. Although full of attention for her old mother, she does not feel she can share her difficult life.

You were very impressed when the two boys graduated from Polytechnique and Normale. Yes they did well, you know, but I have never felt the fracture there when I was living my own interesting life. S. works for an international outfit in Hong Kong. His wife is Chinese and they have a son. They are very close to her own family and during their visits they stay in a hotel rather than in my flat. I found it interesting when I visited them and her family and toured a bit. But the links were too tenuous to last in spite of my attempts to learn Mandarin.
R. after a dangerous life as an environmentalist has finally settled. He married a divorced Moroccan woman with two children and they live in Rabat. The children used to come to Paris and stayed with me when they were young. But not anymore. Again they all feel closer to the maternal family and after all, the sun shines more in Morocco than Paris.

I never felt this isolation until now that I do not travel much. I wonder if like me you find the importance of being with people who know where you come from without actually having shared all  your past. I wonder too how easy it is for you to have mixed-race grandchildren and great-grandchild, these days of creeping racism.  How do you feel to have your brothers scattered over the globe:  California, New Zealand, Paris, I believe? Are you fully integrated in London? and does Leon’s family give you this family feeling? I am sorry that you cannot go birdwatching anymore because of your poor eyesight but I am sure that your feel for nature is still as strong as ever.

I am so grateful for our correspondence. You will never know how much I miss your visits to Paris. Now that we do not see each other I felt I had to revisit my trajectory. The boulangerie/cafe in Passy where we used to spend hours sharing our lives has gone. I feel a need to reinforce our friendship and share my consciousness of a new stage in my life: the 80s.
Not easy,
……..