Monday, February 28, 2011

Funerals



Today, I went to a funeral for an old friend, Robert Salinier, who was 87 and died on Friday morning.
He was a neighbor in the little hamlet I used to live in, Chaumont which is part of the Village of Ajat.
I live about 25 kilometers from there now and in the country, where most people live and die in the same house they were born in, 25 kilometers is another land. So, occasionally, I would visit friends in Ajat and sometimes over the last 8 years, we would get visits from l'Ajatois...
Meanwhile the children all got bigger and became teens and got married.  We keep in touch and have remained friends so it was a duty to our friends to go to Roberts funeral. The service was held in the little 11th century L'eglise de St. Barthelmy in the little village of Beauzens. A place up on the limestone Causse, in the scruffy truffle oak forest, where there was once a monastery, but now all that remains is the ancient pigeonnier, the little fortified romanesque church and piles of white limestone rocks.
It was a moving simple ceremony with about 80 people. At the end of the service, we all filed up and sprinkled the casket with holy water. One son played a solo jazz version of Summertime on the flute, another gave an elegy and two grand daughters read poems they wrote.
Then we all drove to the little cemetery in Ajat. 
After the funeral, we were all invited to the cousin, Oliviers guest house where we had a nice reception and the atmosphere turned into a grand reunion. We have been very close friends with the other cousin, Didier, who is now the mayor of Ajat. He is a strawberry farmer and his family, Les Clerjoux, also has been producing Fois Gras d'Oie for many years and their product has been rated tops year after year  in the major competitions. It was a chance to catch up on gossip and renew friendships. It was a fitting closure and doubly so because at virtually the same time Robert died in France, my wife's best friend of about 50 years, Suze Rotolo, died after a long battle with lung cancer in New York. We all suspect that the cancer was an effect from living at the epicenter of the fallout from 9/11. The wind roars up Broadway and she lived on Broadway in lower Manhattan. She told us as soon as she was diagnosed and swore us to secrecy. She needed to deal with this on her own terms. So we lived with the ups and downs, the progress and the decline, but Suze kept her great humor and brave spirit alive throughout.
Suze died at home, in the arms of her husband Enzo in their handmade loft in Greenwich Village.
There was no funeral in NYC, she wanted to be cremated quietly, but there will be a memorial service in a few months. It will be quite an occasion because Suze Rotolo touched a lot of people's lives. You might have seen here in Robert Scorcese's 2005 Bob Dylan documentary, No Direction Home. She was the woman with the fascinating hands, the story teller with the infectious laugh, a Queens accent with an hint of Italian.

Suze was a talented artist, she made books, delicate book like objects, she did things with paper. Without any degree she taught  "Book Art" at Parsons College for a few years. In the living room of their loft was television with a paper hand lettered sign taped over the screen that said "CONVERSATION".
he was an illustrator, a sometime activist, an erstwhile East Village Other slum goddess, a devoted wife, a proud mother, a poet's muse, a good comrade, and late in her too-short life, a published author. She was intensely private but as the radiant young woman on the cover of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, she became a legendary figure and even a generational icon. Just writing that I can hear her annoyed chortle--although she did humorously allow, after years of dodging rabid Dylanologists, that she was some sort of "artifact."
After years of living her life trying to escape the shadow of what she "The Elephant in The Room Of  My Life" her early relationship with Bob Dylan, she finally published her memoir after consulting her son, husband and everyone who might be involved in the written work. My wife served as her back up memory for the project via the internet. Suze and my wife ran away to Europe together and ended up living in Perugia, Italy. Suze stayed and eventually married Enzo, my wife ended up in Lyon, France....
The book, A Freewheelin' Time (subtitled "A Memoir of Greenwich Village in the Sixties" and prefaced with a Village street map) is essentially about her youth--how it felt to be a working-class red-diaper baby, the child of Italian-born anti-fascists living in Sunnyside Gardens, a teenager in love at the epicenter of the folk revival, an art student in Italy, a tourist of the revolution in Cuba, an off-off Broadway stagehand. The story is hers and so is the voice (no ghost writing allowed). She signs off with the words "we had something to say, not something to sell."
Suze was a woman of strong opinions and fierce standards (a demanding connoisseur of inexpensive table wine, a cook whose pasta was never less than perfect), but to be fair, Enzo made the pasta and I swear by his momma's recipe: 1 egg/100 grams of flour per person). She had no use for religion and deeply appreciated political theater--not just Brecht but the Billionaires for Bush, with whom she was affiliated during the 2004 election. She had a healthy sense of the absurd. She listened to jazz on WKCR and was delighted by her son's career as a musician and luthier. She thrived on spirited talk.  She was, to the very end, a person of enormous cheer. She might not physically be with us here anymore, but she will grow stronger  and always remain in our hearts.

3 comments:

Engineer of Knowledge said...

Hello Microdot,
I heard about the death Suze Rotolo today. A flood of memories, feelings, sadness, came over me and of course the realization of my own mortality.

I just head that a good friend, classmate, and someone I had played in a band with in our late teens, has had a turn for the worst. At the age of 55 he was diagnosis with early Alzheimer's disease. Now at 56, even with medicine, he has digressed to the next level. He is a great guy. You would like him as we all have a lot in common.

Christophe Salinier said...

Merci Patrick d'avoir parlé de l'enterrement de notre père dans ton blog et d'être venu ce jour là nous soutenir dans cette épreuve.

Friendly, thank you,

Christophe

microdot said...

Christophe, I will always remember the solo flute piece you played at the service. It say in a phony macho way that it takes a lot to make me cry, but you most certainly did....thank you...