Sunday, March 23, 2008
Joyeux Pâques + Bad Hair Lady
I am restarting my blog today. It's Easter and it's snowing here in Lyon. I am looking out from our top floor apartment at Place Ampere. This is really the first snow of the season, March 23rd, the earliest Easter since 1913. I love Lyon, today I love it more than ever because it is comforting to me even though I find this end-of-winter period always absolutely grueling to put up with. I love Lyon because it feels safe and not scary and not suburban, and not banal. It is filled with all the elegant families that we went to church with this morning at St. Martin D'Ainay, it is filled with techno teenagers, gyrating their skinny bodies, shaking off their bridge and tunnel existences (because that exists here too, tu vois), it's filled with transplants like me, and then there's Bad Hair Lady.
We have been cultivating our relationship with BHL for a while now. She appeared here in the quartier d'Ainay about 2 months ago and in the beginning we could only remark on the very knotty mass of blond, strawberry blond craziness on the back of her head, randomly attached in a bunnish type of thing. I asked, "is that a man or a woman?" We didn't know, but we were somewhat put out that we had this recurrent reminder in our chic neighborhood of mental illness, alcoholism (though she is not the only homeless presence around, just the most constant and compelling.)
The snow falls, I think about how I managed to avoid the cold and snow of the Hudson Valley this winter—bliss—never going back to that—can't be a northeast winter person anymore—must tell the truth. I hate winter.
The snow falls in a light flurry quand même and I want to tell the story about Bad Hair Lady (now a term of endearment.) I decide in a very indecisive way that I wanted to reach out to her. She seemed lonely. I have been lonely too this winter—was I projecting that? One night coming home from a gallery opening at Jean-Louis Mandon's, a lonely event but a lovely walk home through my sweet village barren neighborhood, I saw her there. I said, " Bonsoir Madame," (she looked up out of her mad reverie, her deep conversation with her interlocuteurs.) "Bonsoir Madame," j'ai dit, "Nous, nous pensons à vous." I wanted her to know that we, those who seem so connected to the world, who have our feet seemingly on the ground, we are thinking of her. We are grounded?, we therefore ground her? Just wondering.
Anyway, she seemed pleased. I felt pleased. The rain rained on me that night. Lyon was beautiful. Weeks, months passed and she has captured us—not that she is so captivating by any means. She continues to have a messy knot of hair, she smells, sometimes she's swilling a beer and super happy, sometimes she's comatose or talking to her inner voices. But we continue to try to break through, the girls and I, to treat her with what I love about France, politeness and respect. All we say is "Bonjour Madame, vous allez bien?" It's a minimum. She descends from her reverie. She meets us for one brief instant—then back she goes.
This has all helped me to equalize my world. I hate that people think that I have a charmed life. I want people to see me as I am, with a real life. Anyway, BHL, she makes me feel real—she balances my life. A glimmer of light outside, the lightest of lightest snowflakes float by, not fall.
Today, Easter, I have given myself over to consumption of chocolate. We started around 10 and ate until we felt sick. Church at 11. St. Martin D'Ainay, the most glorious church—such a good feeling place, with the hidden families, actually relaxed—service in Latin and every prayer sung so beautifully. Chic man next to me with great glasses, knows all the prayers, knows all the Latin song prayers. He is curious about us, everyone is curious about us. The front of the church is filled with all the old families—the young ones so lovely— I crush on the perfect 20 year old boy—he stares at me always—I am different—he is curious.
We all laugh about the pious unknowing acolytes. Today is a high holy day and the mini monks in long robes of ivory with belts of cotton cord like friars—oh, they are so proud. They carry bougeoirs (candleholders) bigger than themselves—they practically catch themselves on fire (they are 6, they are 8, their robes are trippable) I am proud for them—they are proud—they swing the incense thing and it smells so good. It's a high holy day here in Lyon. It's flurrying. They practiced with the priest.
As we leave our church, 11th century amazing place that transports, we see Bad Hair Lady sitting on a stone stoop, in the freezing rain, without complaint. We rush home because we are underdressed, overdressed and we can't take that winter finally arrived here. But we know we have to go back. We have to wish her Happy Easter, we are filled with the Easter feeling—is it Jesus, is it humanity, is it compassion?
Five minutes later, out of our church clothes, we walk back with our Monoprix chocolate egg. "Joyeux Pâcques, Madame," Halliday says. "Ah, j'ai déjà trop de chocolat, puis-je l'accepter?" (Oh, I already have so much chocolate, must I accept it?") "Oui", we say, trying between our awkwardness of language and of offering a silly precious present to a homeless woman, who doesn't even really want it—to do the right thing.
We move on, Easter experience recorded, knowing that next time our gift will be the banana suggested or the baguette thought of. And, for all of those who deride church, who think that religion is bullshit, I want to say that we were filled with the spirit of giving because we went to church this morning—and we wanted to share with BHL because we knew we had enough here in Lyon. So, this Easter is dedicated to Bad Hair Lady and to Lyon, a city so sweet and now precious to me that I am filled with a desire and an ability to give back. Joyeux Pâques!