Aller en retour

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I return to the house,
heart blue with questions,
parce que, je n’était pas vraiment là
pour Céline -
même si j’ai prié.
Could I have been there more?
I am sad, because I was better
at being there
when we were younger.
(In this way, I appear
to have grown down
instead of up.)
Mais, actuellement, maintenant,
quand j’ai vu les photos -
ses beaux amis, sa famille si gentille,
ses copines fidèles,
sa vie vraiment pleine de lumière,
d’amour; d’amusement, de foi -
Je suis heureuse.
I am content,
because it was never about me,

I return to the house,
My hands are blood red -
guilty with raspberries
we often forgot to water.
Blessed are those who mourn, for
they will be comforted.
Those who go out mourning
with seed to sow
will return,
carrying sheaves with them.


This is my French pen friend who I’ve been writing about. She was a beautiful, caring person, eager to help people when she could, no matter who they were, where they were from, or what struggles they faced. She longed and worked for a fairer, kinder world, in spite of her own health struggles, which led to her death near the end of 2017. I am so thankful that I knew her.

Where to begin…?

Well, apologies if you’ve been keen enough to follow my blog already, it’s taking a while for me to get the hang of it all. I spent just 5 days in France, with my friend Céline’s parents. I must have been 16 years old the last time I saw them face to face, and now I’m 42! We had to exchange WhatsApp pictures to be sure we’d recognise each other. But of course, within moments of meeting, we realised we are still essentially the same, although inevitably major things have changed for us all. I wrote loads in my journal while I was with Bernard and Heidi, much of which I will be pondering over for some time. But here are some highlights…

Le jardin de Monet à Giverny

Monet’s Garden at Giverny, which is near where my friends live was truly glorious, and not at all diminished by the recent heatwave, thanks to the automated watering system. We overheard a guide explaining how Monet schmoozed the local great and good to get agreement that he could divert a river to run through his garden, and create the famous lake too. The garden really does just look like all his paintings. There are numerous green Japanese style footbridges, as in the paintings, and the gardens are a riot of beautiful colours and textures.

The type of trees Monet planted filter dappled sunlight in the most beautiful way. I found myself thinking, “If I lived in a place this beautiful, maybe I would be inspired to paint too…!”

There were many good and funny memories for us to share. Heidi and I laughed about a walking holiday in a “maison familiale”, where the evening entertainment had included a game of charades, which at one point meant that she had to mime being in the shower. She was doing such a thorough job of this that everyone was falling about laughing, and no one guessed what she was doing just so she had to keep going with it! Heidi reminded me that at one point we all had to take off our trousers and put on someone else’s, too. I had totally forgotten about this, which I joked was probably down to post traumatic stress disorder, as I was a shy British teenager at the time (probably wondering whether this was what French people always did!).

Among the happy memories and the sharing of music, we visited Céline’s grave and I heard about how Céline had lived such a wonderfully full life, in spite of the health condition she had suffered with all her life long. I saw hundreds of photos gathered by Heidi and Bernard and her many friends for her funeral at the end of 2017, which were testament to a brave and beautiful, adventurous soul. We talked about the growth of Céline’s Christian faith, which was like a river, running deeper than deep, and about her love for everyone around her, which Heidi said was a real example to us all.

I learnt some new French words while I was there. The list is a poignant mix; “gageures” de santé [the challenges/wars of health], “desplièglerie” [mischief], le décès de Céline [or was it “la déçu”?? – the decease/death of Céline], “frais” as in “d’eau frais” [fresh water, from the fridge]. And I relearnt a lot of vocab too; “le frigo” [fridge], “faire la vaisselle” [do the washing up], “tellement bien” [so much], “plusieurs” [several], “çe nest pas la peine” [it’s not worth it]. I also unlearned some things like when I wanted to say “c’est bien”, I really should say “c’est bon”, in most contexts at least.

There were many “pearls” for us to discover during our time together, and we shared deeply on the topics of love, health, grief, music and much else. Among the pearls were some extraordinary words (possibly a quote?) jotted down by Céline on a very unassuming scrap of rough paper, which Heidi found among her possessions after she died. “Maintenant, je suis un être de lumière au service de l’humanité à chaque instant, indépendament de mon état de santé.” [“Now I am a being of light, each moment in the service of humanity, whatever my state of health”.] What an extraordinary pearl of wisdom to have learned. May Céline’s gift to us be her example.

The journey begins (ii)

Well, so My Big Trip has crept up upon me so I find myself on the late night train to the airport to catch an early flight to Paris tomorrow. This is not really the Trip, but it’s a very important precursor. I’m meeting the parents of a friend who died last year, after a life bravely lived despite a lot of health problems. Et maintenant il faut que je parlais français, pour être vraiment pret. Seeing as I decided to call my blog “la perle” it seems appropriate to begin en France. Alors on y va…!