In 1985, I returned to France after living in the USA for many years. I had recently finished my studies at NYU and was very happy to leave very noisy New York City. To a musician’s ears those fire trucks, A train platforms and sudden burst of jack hammers in the middle the evening were pure torture. They gave me heart palpitations; & my heart beats like an atomic clock…
So here I was in the quiet village of St Cyr la Rosière, living in a house designed by monks in the 15th century. Four square rooms with tall French windows, built around a spiral staircase, one sink with a few drops of hot water, and a marvellous stone out house. Within walking distance from a village robed in rose bushes, a cosy roman chapel where I would sing every day. The wooden ceiling gave it the resonance of a luth. Here, I often heard the voices of the angels born from my own.
Soon my wife to be, who had stayed back in New York City to pursue her adventures as a photographer, informed me that she was pregnant. It was swiftly decided that she should come home.
As her belly flourished and her breasts bloomed, she became more quiet. For this purpose, I created a stone platform under our linden tree, sculpting the low branches into a secret hideaway. She rested there every day while I worked on improving the house and garden. Just the Three of us living in the garden of Eden. Watching the sun rise out of the fog one early morning, standing outside half naked, I discovered the meaning of bliss.
As we got closer to the crucial moment, we received some disquieting news from our trusted doctor. The baby was not turning around. The little girl to be was growing stocky and strong, while her mother had relatively narrow hips. The doctor was clear: it would have to be a cesarean. We searched far and wide to see if this could be avoided; the answer came swiftly, we would be taking a big risk. So when the moment came, my lady went to the small clinic in Le Mans while I stayed home, intent on keeping my mind on other things. I carefully plotted the course for the hour drive from our haven to the clinic; Capricorn — Capricorn, always well prepared. Since this was a to be surgical procedure, there was no risk of a surprise… Except for the fact that there was a surprise; out of the blue I get a call : come now your lady is about to give birth. In those days I drove like a road rallye pilot, having trained with my race pilot elder brother. My diesel Peugeot 205 topped at 100 mile an hour, but I set a record for the drive to Le Mans; after all this is where the endurance race “les 24 heure du Mans” takes place every year.
So, I got there in time. They sat me down in a cold and ugly little waiting room. The doctor paid me a short visit, reassuring me: everything was going to be fine. Then a nurse came bye, asking me if I wanted to watch the procedure on a video monitor sitting in the corner. I answered very spontaneously : hell no!!! I have always been old school; I would not want to be in the room where the miracle will take place, even it it were a natural birth, much less watch it on a video monitor.
And yet, a few minutes later, there it was on the monitor, just the surgical field, and the delicate hands of the surgeon cutting the thin enveloppe, a hair away from my baby’s skin. I started crying… As I sat there trying to return to earth, a young woman brought in my baby girl. At first glance, I was not really impressed; she looked red faced and crumpled. I extended my index fingers, which she grabbed eagerly with astonishing vigour. I began to decipher her features, the dark hair, thick and long, standing straight up, the dark eyes, surprisingly focused and vivid… then it struck me, the resemblance. I had seen photos of myself at birth, quasi identical; but here a was new born baby girl. I was both deeply moved and slightly thrown off center. What should I make of this. Then she looked straight into my eyes, straight into my soul as I peered into hers… During an eternal moment, we established the connection, the bond. My girl…
The doctor walked by and and shot in passing : alors Monsieur, vous la reconnaissez. I understood for the first time the double meaning of this question: do you recognise this being as your legitimate child, and more profoundly, have you identified, recognised one which carries your essence. This man knew and empathised; I smiled at him graciously.
A little later, a nurse came bye and asked if she could have the baby for a moment. My father taught me good manners, in the typical old fashion French style. Nevertheless, I was very short of polite when I answered curtly: “what for”? “To weigh her”, came the answer. I growled back in my “basso profundo”: no!!! The young lady turned around, walked away swiftly without saying a word. This was probably not her first encounter with an agressive father. But I am also a trained singer, somewhat of a Stentor.
We were united in a private room. My little girl crawled up her mother’s chest and found a plump breast which she proceeded to suck dry with great gusto. Hours later another nurse made a second attempt. I must have qualified for the top of the list of the infamous “momentarily crazy fathers”; she barely cracked the door and softly attempted to separate us from our new born child. To no avail. Meanwhile, the new born 4,2 kg “bébé rillette” proceeded to show off. Laying on her stomach, she lifted her chest and turned her head to see who was at the door. Then for some unknown reason she stayed in that position for a long moment until her arms began to shake, back muscles tensed up. I was impressed by this unusual display of Power, & then knew we had invited a Walkyria into this world.
We returned home and settled into a quiet fall. Winter came swiftly and a ferocious winter it was. It rained and froze at the same time, dragging miles of electric and telephone cables to the ground. Roads were slick and very dangerous for all but the most skilful drivers. Nobody moved except those in charge of repairs. Temperatures fell to minus 30 degrees centigrade, absolutely unheard of in lower Normandy. Pipes froze, windows were covered with a thick layer of frost. In the evening we contemplated these precious works of art while we sat in front of our big wood stove.
My fatherly instincts had obviously been triggered early in the game. The car had contact snow tires, there was a large pile of wood along the wall in the yard, the pipes were protected, the recently acquired stove was powerful and provided more than enough heat. We were sheltered, we felt safe. Snow came and covered the hills with a deep mantel. The country side went quiet and so did we. The little girl suckled and grew strong, her mother’s breasts magnificent mounds. I discovered the meaning of bliss a second time.
My first wife died of lung cancer of few years ago. Before she passed away, we had many conversations. While we lived together, our passionate and unstable natures had brutally clashed, bringing us pain and resentment. But with the passing of time, she had evolved and grown wise. She told me many kind and sensitive words; we found peace. We revisited our moments in Saint Cyr la Rosière, and were able to recollect all the blessings that were bestowed upon us: the blooming of the roses, singing in the chapel, walking with our daughter strapped to my chest, growing a garden. Those crafty monks had built a marvellous house as well as a space enclosed with high stone walls to grow a garden. I fed my baby with carrots and peas and many fruits of the earth so she would grow strong and healthy.
The biggest blessing of all was the birth of the little Walkyria. She now lives in Montréal and we have been out of touch for several years. I am writing this for her. When she came to life, her presence and spirit opened my heart and filled me with awe, metamorphosing my being down to the core. As I write this I experience it once more.
I want her to know this. I want her to know how much she means to me. Above all the misgivings and misunderstandings, above all the grief, she is the reason I know that I have a heart in my chest.
Our world has become cold and we all suffer from it. My parents were largely incapable of overcoming the wall of indifference we have all built around ourselves. I have suffered the same curse. There must be an end to it.
Recollection is my way of creating the first breach. I will wield the heavy hammer until the wall comes tumbling down. i like this hammer, it will make me a free man.