Je viens de voir « La Double vie de Véronique » et je ne peux pas cesser de pleurer.
Je crois avoir loué le film en vidéo l'année de mes vingt-trois ans. Cette année-là, j'adorai, et vis et revis la trilogie « Trois Couleurs » du même réalisateur. Mais je ne me souviens plus pourquoi je n'arrivai jamais à voir cet autre film avec la belle Irène Jacob en entier, bien que des sons et des images là-dedans n'ont jamais sorti de ma mémoire. En les revoyant et rentendant, je retrouve une part de moi-même.
J'ai enfin vu ce film délicat et triste et je ne m'arrête pas de pleurer, pour Véronique et Weronica, l'une à la fois morte et vivante en l'autre, et pour cette moi de vingt-trois ans, morte mais aussi vivante en moi du présent. Véronique se sent d'être ici et ailleurs; moi, je vis le maintenant et l'autrefois.
« Pourquoi deux?
––Parce que dans le spectacle, je les touche beaucoup, elles s'abîment... »
Have just spent the weekend at a writer's conference. At one workshop, the facilitator told us to pick up one of the foods she had brought, spend five minutes examining it, then eat it and write a description of it as if for someone who had never seen the food before. Mine was a raisin.
A raisin is tiny: I can balance it on the tip of my little finger. In fact, when I do so, the shape of the raisin rhymes with that of my fingertip, too. The first thing you will notice about a raisin is its shrunkenness. Deflated and furrowed, it looks like a shrunken ... grape. Now, that would be a perfect metaphor. No, wait: a raisin actually is a dried, shrunken grape.
In case you are also wondering what a grape might be, it is a fruit the size of the upper joint of your thumb, with a purple skin and a sour-sweet taste. And a raisin is a grape sucked out of its superfluity, its colour and flavour concentrated a hundred times, like a withered, weathered little lady: vivid, sweet, void of all sourness.
'A glass is not a mirror. It's something you do not see yourself in; you look through it ... You've got to be able to see out to that purpose which is bigger than you are, and you've also got to allow people to look in.'
After listening to 'Un bel dì' several dozen times, I have come to realise that except for the first four and the last four short phrases, this aria is as replete with double meaning as 'Nel cor più non mi sento', though far better crafted.
I wonder whether one should interpret the song knowingly, as some of the divas seem to do, or only interpret the surface meaning (which is probably the reason why millions of people have shed tears over the song, but then again, has or has not the hidden driving force anything to do with it?) and emphasise Cio-Cio-San's innocence. She longs for Pinkerton's return because she believes in him and in their marriage, for heaven's sake, and she is only eighteen, the same age as France Gall when she innocently sang 'Les Sucettes' written for her by Serge Gainsbourg. The damage to Gall's psyche was enormous when she found out later what she had been singing.
The third option, of course, is to refuse altogether to sing this product of patriarchal fantasy which oppresses not only a whole gender but also a whole race. (Er, do I sound a little angry? :-) ) But 'Un bel dì' is undeniably a masterpiece, despite its patriarchal limitations. Puccini and Gainsbourg. Hmmm. I do admire your talent, though, both of you.
My voice teacher has given me 'Un bel dì' to study, so I have been doing a bit of research. Mirella Freni's version takes my breath away. The 1995 film is also superb. I have just read bits of Pierre Loti's Madame Chrysanthème, on which Puccini's opera is partially based. Below are some extracts from the last pages of the novel, before, during, and after the final parting scene. Infuriating Orientalism.
Incidentally, I am about to take a trip to Nagasaki. All the more meaningful now that I am studying 'Un bel dì'.
Extracts from Madame Chrysanthème:
1. On the floor are spread out all the fine silver dollars which, according to our agreement, I had given her the evening before. With the competent dexterity of an old money-changer she fingers them, turns them over, throws them on the floor, and, armed with a little mallet ad hoc, rings them vigorously against her ear, singing the while I know not what little pensive bird-like song which I daresay she improvises as she goes along.
2. Well, little mousme, let us part good friends; one last kiss even, if you like. I took you to amuse me; you have not perhaps succeeded very well, but after all you have done what you could: given me your little face, your little curtseys, your little music; in short, you have been pleasant enough in your Japanese way. And who knows, perchance I may yet think of you sometimes when I recall this glorious summer, these pretty, quaint gardens, and the ceaseless concert of the cicalas.
3. An Appeal to the Gods
O Ama-Terace-Omi-Kami, wash me clean
from this little marriage of mine,
in the waters of the river of Kamo!
Let this be my epitaph:
Here lies Marie, who read and wrote, sang and danced, painted and played, travelled and dreamt, spoke and listened, and loved and was loved.
Je me souviens pendant que je vis, says Agnès Varda. And I would like my gravestone to tell the passers-by:
---I remember the times when I was living, WHICH I was living.
Another poem I first discovered in a book by my favourite life coach Martha Beck. I wonder how many of us die without ever having learnt to love ourselves, without even having heard of the idea of receiving oneself into oneself, to have and to hold, in good times and bad. We can't love others until we love ourselves because we wouldn't know viscerally what love is.
Incidentally, I was sorry to see the original line spacing dropped or altered in some online copies of the poem, since 'Love after Love' is, arguably, a loose sonnet.
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.
I read an excerpt from my novel at UEA Live tonight, together with some talented writers who are either students, graduates, or associates of the UEA Creative Writing Programme. To listen to the recording, please click the Download File button below. It would be lovely to hear your comments.