Es atal la bido – Such is life…

And so we went through ups and downs from one day to the next, not knowing where we’ll finish, ‘tant pis’, never mind, ‘es atal la bido’ – such is life. Our acquaintance lasted for a good ten years. Then one day in early March she decided to leave once and for all. She was ninety and ‘coquine’, mischievous to the end. I tell her that it’ll be my birthday tomorrow and ask her how old I’ll be.  ‘Eighty!’she replies with a twinkle. At the end of my visit I mention that birthday again. She asks ‘what age? I say ‘seventy-five’ and ask back about hers: ‘seventy-four…’ she says drily. I tell her about Lyn and Charlie’s impending visit. 
She knows them well and is looking pleased at the news. Then I ask a silly question and get what it deserves: ‘would you like to see them?’. With feigned seriousness she says ‘No!’. On her sickbed she made me laugh more than once. Considering that according to the medics she should have left a while ago…
Nobody can change their ways. Mme El’s daughter-in-law provides excellent practical care to the end and every time she turns her back Mme El to the end, defiantly expresses her feelings in her very own way, the same throughout her life, Léonine told me, a certain gesture known only too well by the initiated, one hand slapping the back of the other meaning ‘clear off!’, for Mme El cannot be bought by careful spoon- feeding and other services. When she did it to the nurses, they asked Léonine what it meant. She certainly made it clear to them, relishing that someone else had been on the receiving end. This was a day or two before Mme El died.

We went to see Gerry and Léonine a few days after the funeral. Once more we sat round the kitchen table where Mme El used to hold court. All were unanimous that she was a ‘welcoming, warm-hearted, generous’ woman who had worked hard all her life and was brave to the last. A woman popular in the village judging by the sea of flowers and the large crowd of mourners on the day.
Life has changed for sure, the neighbourhood not the same any more. But ‘change is necessary’, I read on my kitchen calendar, as necessary as the ‘renewal of the leaves in spring’, according to Vincent van Gogh10Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter who is among the most famous and influential figures of Western art. He made frequently quoted statement about life in general. A poet and a writer.
Life goes on. I for one keep fighting the magpies who are building a nest in full view of the kitchen window, out of reach at the very top of a tall pine-tree. Fighting windmills maybe, but fighting. I have noticed that one of the birds is more timid than the other and flies off quite readily when I make a noise. The other won’t budge, try as I might, but in the long run finds life boring without its mate and flies off in turn. The magpies are only doing as nature tells them. Pity they’re a menace to all the other birds…
Mme El in her final days, virtually immobilized in bed, and Gerrer looking in at the door, asking encouragingly ‘ça va?’ and she managing a smile and a nod. She resolutely and at all times, if necessary at her personal expense, defended her son’s interest. The day before she was admitted to hospital, which soon discharged her as a terminal case, I talked to her about my book and that I had given one to Mr Blethen, a neighbour and former teacher of English. She asked in her straightforward way ‘does Gerrer have one?’ I said ‘no’, the idea hadn’t come to me, and she ‘he must have one!’. It so happened that we were alone with Gerrer. I quickly went to fetch a specimen for him, showed it to Mme El and then handed it to her son. He was surprised and pleased and reckons he can just about ‘read’ English, but it would take him ‘three years’. Next day I asked Léonine, had she seen my book. She nodded giving a certain smile, but no, she wouldn’t be able to read it, not knowing enough English, that was all that was said.

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    Vincent Van Gogh (1853-1890), a Dutch Post-Impressionist painter who is among the most famous and influential figures of Western art. He made frequently quoted statement about life in general. A poet and a writer.