Tag Archives: Montaigne

On Friendship

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Mariette and Mariette At this time of the year when most families are gathering to celebrate the holidays, I think about those of us who because of various misfortunes have lost the comfort of family and tradition. These times then become moments of reflection on what we have created to bring joy to our lives. My thoughts turn to the friends I have made over the years. They have sustained me and  have become family. They have given me joy and warmth and the courage that is needed to feel that one belongs in this sometimes cruel world.

Some are no longer friends, some have died, some may not always be available but they all have a place in my heart. But the most painful is the memory of friends who have died too young. It reminds me of the way my mentor and creative source, Michel de  Montaigne, dedicated his work to his best friend, La Boetie. When La Boetie died all too young, Montaigne wrote: ce jour qui pour moi sera toujours amer, toujours sacre. (That day which for me will always remain bitter, always sacred) And so I think of my friend Mariette, who died in her early twenties.

Mariette was the first friend I ever had. Sharing the same name gave us a special bond from the beginning. It was during the war in Belgium. We were both six years old at the time. Even then she was la grande and I was la petite. I had no other friends in those days because as a Jewish child hiding in a Catholic community, it was dangerous for everyone concerned that I not say anything that might connect me to being Jewish.

Mariette and I never discussed such things. We were children, and then young  adolescents sharing the joys and moments of celebration in the village where I returned every year to be with my benefactors. Then I left for America when I was twelve and never saw Mariette again.

I looked forward to our reunion when I went back “home” for the first time after ten years of separation. I was ecstatic to return to Belgium, and looking forward to seeing Mariette again. No one had told me that she had died a tragic death three weeks before I arrived.

Mariette,Flore,Ghislaine1She carried with her the memory of her own mother, blown to bits before her eyes. Mariette’s mother had taken too long to vacate the cellar where they were hiding and was struck by the fragments of a grenade. Now my friend Mariette had taken her own life.

I cannot forget her. I recently found a picture of her and her two cousins. She is sitting at the head of a wheelbarrow holding the handle which looks like a cross. For me it represents the cross she bore of having witnessed her mother’s death.

I dedicate this holiday to all the children suffering from the aftermath of war.

And I dedicate this memory to all those who are blessed, like myself, with friends dear enough to be family.

And lastly, I dedicate these words to my beloved friend, Mariette.

St. Emilion 2012

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St. Emilion 2012 by Mariette Bermowitz

Travel is a profitable exercise. The soul is there continually exercised in noticing new and unknown things, and I do not know a better school.

“Les Essais”

Michel Eyquem, Seigneur de Montaigne (1500’s)

During the seven weeks I was in Europe this summer of 2012, I was inspired by the thinking of this admirable writer and found my daily life as filled with new insights and discoveries as his must have been.

It began when I left the comfort of a rented apartment in Paris and headed for St.Emilion, where I had been invited to attend the jazz festival. My friends, Monique and Dominique had launched the musical feast. For four days and four nights I felt as if I had stepped into a dream. First there was the music reverberating against the medieval setting of St. Emilion, then there were the colors, the lights, the musicians rehearsing, the invitations to local chateaux, the taste of fine wine, and glowing faces amidst the festivities.

During rehearsals I sat next to Ustad Zakir Hussain, the percussionist and virtuoso of the Indian tabla. On the back of his album cover I read, “Music is the play of aesthetics, beauty, sensitivity, creativity and divinity in sound and in the soundless realm between and beyond sounds. Music is expression. Music is life. Music is the manifestation of every emotion of the human heart, every sense of the human body and every nuance of the spirit. Music is nature. Music is God.” And so I learned from this master about vocal expressions that can bring one closer to that divine state. Vocal expressions such as Raga, Thaya, Gamak, Meend, Choot, Murki, Taan, Prabandha, and the angas-s and Dhatu-s of Prabandha. Vocal manifestations that are rivulets of energy.

For me it is a new language that transcends words and transposes me into another realm.

I also met Steve Shehan, a man whose presence evokes Lawrence of Arabia. Tall, handsome, gifted, an adventurer who collected the music of distant and unknown places to transform it into sounds of love. In his album “Safar,” I felt transported to those places where I lived and traveled in Iran, Afghanistan and Nepal. I also spoke with Thierry Maillard, a virtuoso pianist. What skill, and what an extraordinary presence! And above all so humble, so generous with his time. I think I fell in love with Yoran Hermann, another musical genius who set my heart aflame with the exuberance of his performance and sound. Feelings I once held as a romantic young woman were rekindled.

And then to conclude that amazing journey I had the greatest pleasure getting  to know the musicians of Earth Wind & Fire. Al McKay, the instrumental force behind the music of Earth Wind and Fire is an unforgettable figure in the music world. To me he will always remain that gentleman who held my hand as I stepped out of the van on the way to the festival.  There are names I will not easily forget: Tim Owen, Ben Dowling, Freddie Flewelen and Claude Woods, whose incredible knowledge and thoughts reminded me of an ageless philosopher.

I returned to Paris renewed and energized with awe and joy. Of course a dinner date with Yoran Hermann was part of it. Travel is indeed a profitable exercise. New and unknown things are revealed and enrich our lives. And like Montaigne, I do not know of a better school.