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Long live all maidens

easy and beautiful !

Long live mature women also,

Tender and loveable and full of good labor. 

Gaudeamus Igitur

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Matriarchs and Sleeping Beauties

My condolences Sarah! So sorry for the sad news. Right on the heels of your aunt’s passing I got a chat message about my cousin's death. Her daughter has been keeping me up to date.

Montreal, our Blue Metropolis, your delicate aunts and scrambled eggs in the hotel ... remember? And who would have known that your aunt and my cousin, Jeanne in Holland, would decide to exit this planet together on the same day. 

Jeanne's funeral will take place the coming Tuesday, in the same church where my 89-year-old aunt Allegonda (Latin names like hers were much in vogue then) was baptized. Talking with her on the telephone earlier today, she wondered whether her long dead great-uncle would be overseeing the solemnities from afar. He must be proud, having given all that money to the poor pastor for his church belfry … it’s still there you know.

Allegonda wants a copy of Jeanne and Anton’s wedding photo. I tell her it’s circulating in cyberspace at the moment: a beautiful bride posing confidently with her Don Juan. I promise to send her a printed version per snail mail. Allegonda, my father’s last living sibling, begins reminiscing about Jeanne as we speak; such a miracle that we can speak through electronic wires over the vast ocean …  I made that dress for Jeanne. She questions me … does it have a high neckline? Yes, I remember how finicky that was, attaching those daisy chains they had to fit so snug around her neck, right up to her chin   I did that sewing all by hand.

One week ago the priest, my nephew, who got that aspersorium for his ordination, anointed Jeanne with holy oils, performing the last rites, the sacrament of the sick and the dying: may the Lord who frees you from sin save you and raise you up ... Her eyes wandered for a moment and he joshed her, Jeanne are you listening to what I'm saying? Afterwards they all had drinks over at the daughter's place and later, back at the home they gave her the morphine. Nestled in plumped pillows she rested her tired head and prepared to meet her Maker. 

You see I have my material lined up for Monday's classes. All these Dutch matriarchs complain of being exhausted so much of the time, full of plans, which they then seem to have to abandon. But when they talk to me my scribbling can't keep up with their stories, their enthusiastic accounts of the past: every Monday after market, your grandmother and grandfather had a beer in fat brandy glasses at the Tempelier in the square ... or ... Allegonda will sing a song to me ... one her 8 year old brother used to sing in the choir at Christmas ... Little Baby Jesus born by night, rest in our hearts. And she’s vain too (you read my memoire) … I just tell people I'm in my eighties they don't need to know I'm eighty-nine. On her fridge sits the little bowl of bright lipsticks, candy floss pinks and parrot orange: Lancome, Chanel, Shisheido in their smart brassy casings.

Jeanne is laid out for viewing and for visitation in her own home for the next five days, beautiful like Sleeping Beauty in her glass case at the theme park (Anton Pieck’s artistry at the Efterling) says her daughter. Jeanne was good at making hearty vegetable soups with tiny meatballs that bobbed around in vermicelli strands. She was admired by a doting husband who often held aloft a glass of cognac, while spouting off lines from his next play in fits and starts.

I cannot bear Amy Hempel. (Sorry F.) I really tried and read two stories: a little contrived and sure, pared down. But where is the musical language? Those fragments of phrases we love to savour? I couldn't find them. Maybe I should read a few more to be fair. From In the Cemetery: "Tell me things I won't mind forgetting make it useless stuff or skip it." Exactly!!


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