Samba and Alice (Omar Sy, Charlotte Gainsbourgh– at one point in an all night cafe he asks her how she comes to be with a guy like him at this cafe at 3 in the morning (Samba, 2015, directors Olivier Nakache, Eric Toledono, from the novel by Delphin Coulin scripted Muriel Coulin)
Dear friends and readers,
It takes awhile for experiences to sink in, at least for me. And awhile to cope. After I had the mortification at the Mason library (this many years ago) of having some bully librarian take away books I had carefully culled and tell me I had no right to take books out (my adjunct card was not good enough in those days because you had to be teaching a course at the time you took books out or have a salary stub, and adjuncts got paid so rarely) I didn’t return for 2 years and then only with a letter from the composition chief.
I saw the film Samba yesterday afternoon and it’s taken until this morning and much thought and revision of this blog for me to see that Samba and Alice are very touching figures telling more truths about human relationships in romance than is usually told. Samba’s uncle who has a rough tongue says to him suddenly, “Why are you going out with that depressive,” and Samba does not reply but we know that precisely because she has this open wound and depths, Samba finds comfort with her. And the story line gradually shows us why she is understandably right to feel the way she does — and we see other stories of other characters similarly emerge.
Julian Barnes in his Levels of Self does omit this deep aspect of bonding, though he comes to the source of the grief of loss of a beloved, a partner, a friend, even a pet. It’s loss of depth, a deep relationship of confiding and giving and taking, that’s what is sought, and not found. Reading Eric Ives’s biography of Anne Boleyn (about which I’ll blog eventually) and re-watching Wolf Hall this week (after finishing the book), I realize that there is a hole at the center of that movie and the book too: we are not told enough about Henry and Anne’s relationship; they are kept from us, especially as the marriage deteriorated and how he came to loathe her so; we extrapolate, but do not see. Samba and Alice may be new icons of romantic relationships …
This blog explores some of these ideas and these two texts: Samba and Levels of Life.
Today I found myself in yet another recent movie where the whole ambiance of the story and setting is that of a vast world where all individuals we see at least are living desperately unattached lives, whose jobs are either to make others go away (with no job, no prospects, and complete indifference as to how these others are to survive) or are themselves taking any employment that comes their way, no matter how menial, dangerous, absurd, imprisoning:
Samba, billed as a French comedy and it did have some comic moments, and at the conclusion, Samba, our hero decides to stay in France illegally (as he cannot get a legal status), cadging what kitchen jobs in super-expensive restaurants he can manage; and Alice, our heroine, a deeply and understandably depressed young woman, looks cheerful as she faces a group of guarded-faced men in an interview across a characterless table. It is understand they are living together now (he having miraculously escaped drowning fleeing from brutal police) in her tiny flat, and he having put his uncle who drek of living quarters the old man had been generously sharing with him (despite his corrosive berating of his nephew) on a bus bound for an airplane back to Senegal (not a safe or prosperous place it is understood). It has the extraordinarily visceral quality recent French films achieve. When our hero and his friend are washing windows from a great height on a scaffold I felt my stomach turn and my legs weaken the way they do when I am at a great height.
L’Intrepido, I’ll Dream of You, Manglehorn; the “other” choice is of biopics where a celebrity of some sort (or his or her estate) is making oodles of money exposing a drug addiction where moralizing voyeurism is the expected common reaction. No wonder Mr Holmes is a relief and remains in movie theaters doing very well.
Gainsbourg wears her hair and holds her face and chooses clothes so reminiscent of Jane Birkin her mother, for a moment I thought it was Birkin again — Jim loved her music and did find her attractive too, so many years ago. As a pair, she and Sy gave me some insight into the 2015 Poldark: Horsfield writes other contemporary mini-series and she has created a couple analogous to this one, he wild, she abject, clinging to one another against the indifference and disconnection.
The Maypole — Phiz’s first illustration for Barnaby Rudge, the ancient mansion-tavern it begins with (click to enlarge and you will see how beautiful this illustration is)
Beyond Ives’s Life and Death of Anne Boleyn, I’ve embarked on Katharine Shevelow’s For the Love of Animals: The Rise of the Animal Proection Industry — her thesis is that it was when animals became companions to people, used and seen that way, the protection organizations became effective; and two more books for sheer pleasure and/or curiosity and because my two beloved companions read and liked them. Both were read by the two men who used to provide understanding, validation, fun, support in my life and have died. Both are by authors these men really liked. I’ve started my father’s copy of Barnaby Rudge by Charles Dickens: I want to know more about the riots of the 1780s in England and how Dickens saw them, how he represented them. It’s a historical fiction too; an interest of mine. The other is Julian Barnes’s Something to Declare: Essays on France, and first up was an essay on Richard Cobb as a person, scholar of French culture and the revolution, writer, also someone Jim liked to read enormously. I have not been able to talk to my father weekly for some 26 years now, but I will read a text he liked so in the copy he owned; and ditto for Essays on France.
I’ve come to Barnes through another book, his Levels of Life, whose last third not about the death and dying of Kavanagh, not about cancer, not much about their lives together for 29 years (some of which will doubtless be part of Something to Declare) is one of the finest statements about what is lost to the person whose beloved partner of many years has died, the grating nature of the refusal to comprehend and recognize the validity of such grief remaining, the inexorable reality. The first two thirds are relevant: they prepare for the last third. Ballooning: it’s life seen from the risk of death from the heights and how people behave so oddly over it (making it an upper class picnic as long as they can); and then “On the level,” how people can’t level with on another; and finally “loss of depth.” Yes that’s it. When I lost (that verb drives one wild) my father I lost one part of my depth forever. When I lost Jim, I lost all the rest. When I came across that subheading I knew Barnes had landed on the upheaval’s crack. Deep self.
Julian Barnes knows how to write in simple declarative sentences using the old nouns and verbs.
He begins (much paraphrase and quotation intermingled with my POV): “you put together two people who have not been put together before, and they become and experience something greater than each or the sum of both together.” “The world divides into those who have known love and those who haven’t; those who have endured grief and those who haven’t”. How bad we are at dealing with death; you may think you are prepared, but you are not, and do not know what it is “until the moment” of dying comes. “Only the old words will do: sorrow, sadness, heartbreak …” How a widowed poet friend described “the denial by the living of whose who have died.” The dead do not exist, did not exist, taboos and silences imposed. “Grief sorts out and realigns those around the griefstruck: friends are tested, pass and fail.” “How naive to assume those closest” in age or circumstances to understand. Some of the griefstruck are angry, even with the person who died; it feels like a betrayal, abandonment, with others for letting it happen. Who cares about anything in the world anymore if “the world wouldn’t, couldn’t save him?”
The “bright voice” asking you ‘what have you been up to?’,” proposing the sorts of things you used to do with your husband/wife. “Grief-trudges.” They tell you to get a dog, a cat. You don’t know how you appear to others.
I do not believe I shall ever see her again. Never see, hear, touch, embrace, listen to, laugh with, never again wait for her footstep, smile at the sound of an opening door, fit her body into mine, mine into hers. Nor do I believe we shall meet in some de-materialized form … dead is dead … Some of this self-directed: look what I have lost, how my life has been diminished but it is more, much more, and has been from the beginning about her: look what she has lost, how that she has lost life.
Yes for me all STUGs have come when I’ve stood in front of some splendor and realized he cannot know this ever again, or now.
“The question of suicide, I love how he puts it: I will give it x months, or x years (up to a maximum of two) and then if I cannot live without her … ,” then the preferred methods gone over.
I experience all this:
I wanted very strongly and exactly, the opposite: to stay at home, in the spaces she had created and where she still, in my imagination, moved …
You have to prepare yourself for returning home and him not there. “On the scale of loss, this is nothing” doesn’t work. I too remember the first and few times I was away for a few days, or he. I too “read obituaries and check how long the subject was married, how old when died, envy those who had more time.”
“Many things fail to kill us but weaken us forever. Ask anyone who deals with the victims of torture.” “Grief reconfigures time, its length, its texture, its function.” How one day means no more than the next. For me one task completed yields no satisfaction or sense of accomplishment that matters. A new carte de tendre. “Grief is vertical, mourning horizontal.”
New one-off pain to come, unexpected. Braving going to a place. Escaping to your seat. He felt opera’s heartbreak exhilaratingly; Orfeo ed Eurydice — ah yes, for me that line, what shall I do without my beloved?
Then there are the funny things people say without realizing how funny. The use of the verb loss. I’m sorry you lost your husband. I mislaid him, did I?
Remembering sharply the last things he or she did, this and that. The last meal. Jim starved himself to death because life had become unendurable and no one would help him to die but himself. No one would release him. So his last meal was as the liver cancer set in.
He says he knows Pat once existed and so talks to her continually. I cannot — no, that would break me. I cannot look at Jim’s letters because the tone of them used to send such joy to my heart, make me feel it was good to be alive when a voice like his spoke that to me.
The memoir weakens when he brings in the concept of “grief-work” and (oh dear) success (in mourning; though mercifully he never uses the word “process”; nonetheless, when he goes to the trouble of denying getting over it, and then says one cannot hurry grief, he has given in.
He does keep questioning this:
Dr Johnson well understood the ‘tormenting and harassing want’ of grief … An attempt to preserve life in a state of neutrality and indifference is unreasonable and vain. If by excluding joy we could shut out grief, the scheme would deserve very serious attention.’ But it doesn’t.’ Work and time mitigate grief: “Sorrow is a kind of rust of the soul, which every new idea contributes in its passage to scour away.'”
He goes down in dreams, goes down in memories. I cannot. It does hurt as much as it is worth but somehow this doesn’t come; I cannot bear it. I would crack. “If it didn’t matter it wouldn’t matter.” He dreams of her. I don’t that I know of (dream of him) or rarely, and then I feel so anxious.
He ends on loneliness: there’s not having found someone to love, and that of having been deprived of the one you did love. He tries for German words, quotes C.S. Lewis for “‘inconsolable longing’ in the human heart for ‘we know not what.'” In grief for a beloved, it’s not loneliness but “the absence of a very specific person.” Now unbidden: “If I cannot hack it without her, I will hack at myself instead.” He says suicide is out because only through him does her existence have reach and feltness. It’s telling that for some of his books he used a pseudonym which included her last name as his.
Crabbe’s great line as Peter Grimes: “I live alone. The habit grows.” But marked for life, after madness, not spectacular solitude, not martyrdom, just loneliness.
I must forgive him for closing with the beat up: “an unexpected breeze has sprung and we are in movement again. But where are we being taken? … Or, if the wind is northerly, then, perhaps, with luck, to France.”
I feel moment of cheerfulness, even buoyancy where I say to myself, now if he were alive, all this we are doing, I am feeling, would be good. Now I’m seeing Barnes understands it takes a while to sink in. It took him a number of years to get to the point of writing this book.
And thus I turn to Barnes’s Something to Declare, which my beloved read. Or so I think. Jim did like some travel books very much. Patrick Leigh-Fermor a great favorite. He talked of Mani, how I should read it.
There is a real self apart from social life. Deep self is what is released when I dance. Proust has some very good words on this “private self” (as opposed to the “drawing room self”). From the point of view of Jungian/Freudian. whatever label you want to call innate qualities, passions, ways of reacting and responding universal, below manners, codes what’s allowed, what’s encouraged, discouraged, what developed, what forbidden. People use these to manipulate one another. Deep self is Leigh-Fermor’s traveling self; so too Jenny Diski’s whose agon has been before us since September 2014. This is where the grieving self resides. As I think about grief and how people respond to loss, yes there may be many people who seem not to have depths of thought or feeling and they think, act, even feel cant, who obey conventions unexaminedly but my view is they are out of touch with this deeper self though because they are out of touch they may not be less able to cope with how it actuates them.