I was preparing myself to work on the French Friday post I started last week. As usual, I got sidetracked thinking about events of the week. I had started a post about songs that have stuck with me along the path of my francophone life. I had recently been talking with a dear friend, mentioned in the post, about music and memory. Wasn't it bizarre that nobody made mix tapes--sorry, mix CDs anymore, now that it's easier than ever? [Anybody want to do a mix tape exchange with me? Comment.] We talked about all the songs that transport us, not only to memory but to real emotional sensation. There are songs I can barely listen to because they trigger some sort of chemical reaction in my brain. I'll find myself electrified with anticipation, or sorrowful, or in love with someone I most definitely do not love. In my francophone life, music served the dual purpose of both soundtrack to my life and essential learning tool. Anyone can conjugate by rote. Or in my case, by lucky guess. But comprehension, that's another matter. And to come to the moment you speak--I think that happens by magic.
So I started writing down the songs that stuck with me. The more I wrote, the more I remembered. All week I have been singing the first in my memory, "Si mort a mors" by Tri Yann. It was a song taught to us by a high school teacher, a really wonderful vibrant woman, who showed me that (for me anyway) the most important thing a teacher can give her students is the gift of her contagious enthusiasm. I wasn't a particularly good student in her class, but I learned so so much. (I wasn't a particularly good teacher either, but I managed to light a fire under a few asses nonetheless.) My freshman year of high school was the first year of the exchange between our high school and one in Nantes. (Bear with me, those of you who participated in these events--I can't remember which year and what time of year these things happened. I think it was the fall of 1995.) I couldn't host a student and didn't go to Nantes either. But I did have the opportunity to chum it up with some of the students, especially Audrey, who stayed with my aforementioned best friend, and Veronique, her good friend.
Veronique died this week. I didn't really know her, but my friends loved her. I'm sad for her. I'm sad for them. Her death is particularly poignant because she had overcome more than her fair share of sorrow and moved on with her life. All this I know second hand. When I heard she had died, my mind filled up with snapsphots of the fall she and her classmates came to our school--helping to identify items from the a cafeteria. Mastering the pronunciation of grenouille with help from a boy who called himself Penguin, and feeling for a moment I might someday be capable of speaking the language. Sitting at a long table at Sawatdy with a bunch of girls before a school dance when Veronique turned to me and said, "You look very pretty now you do not have your glasses." I remember thinking maybe I should feel insulted. You know, with your glasses on you definitely do NOT look pretty. What can I say? I was 15, and the french girls were soooo pretty. Especially Vic. I loved calling her Vic. I'm sure we all did. A real Vic! Like we saw every year in La Boum in Mme Solonsky's class.
In spite of our brief acquaintance, I remember Veronique so clearly. Who wouldn't? She was natural and unaffected. She radiated life. A true free spirit. She glowed. So I didn't feel insulted. I remember we went to the dance and a french kid named Yann (they were all named Yann) looked at me so hard he fell backwards in his chair. Definitely time to stop wearing glasses. Without a doubt the greatest compliment from the opposite sex I received for many years. I slow danced with him. Those were the slow dance days. Remember?
And when I think of that time, I think of singing "Si mort a mors" on the floor of Ms Newland's classroom with the Nantes kids. It's a song about the death of the remarkable Anne de Bretagne, whose heart was encased in gold and returned to Bretagne after her death. It's so bright and full of beautiful images, both resisting and accepting death. I've been singing it all week, and thinking of Veronique and her friends. Resisting and accepting the idea of loss. Thinking of Vic as though her heart is only sleeping, and as if the golden age will come again.