Ubi caritas et amor (et spes)
Bonhoeffer says somewhere that when someone you love dies, they leave a space. And that this space is necessary: it isn’t a mere gap or void within your emotional sphere, it is rather a place which the dear departed may occupy. It’s an attractive idea. But sometimes I do wish that forgetting might be included in the entire, dismal package of loss and mourning. Some people – some things or even places – leave such abysses behind in their wake that they threaten to engulf you. So for this reason it is vitally important to believe in love. In all its availability and ubiquity, it is there to be grasped – however briefly – whenever it appears.
Ten days ago, stopping at one of my favoured stalls at the Cours I found myself face-to-face with The Keeper of the Shrine. Before I could greet her, she had reached out and kissed me on both cheeks while enquiring about my health and wellbeing. Aha! Not only proof of acceptance by none other than the talismanic KotS but also the prospect of something good in the offing (past experience of TKotS validates my superstition).
No surprise then, when a few days later I received a heartening card from a dear Welsh friend. Closely followed by meeting Nadia by chance at the post office which led to an impromptu catch-up chat over a cup of chocolate in a café where Mimie is working part-time. Mimie, who’d just come off duty, joined us. A few hours later, Mado cornered me by the lift and told me her news: she’s about to start the next stage of her prestigious post-grad studies. Well, yes of course she is: that’s Mado!
Then to me – and many others – the Royal Wedding gave further pleasure. For the first time in years I felt proud to be British. Happy to be Anglican. And, best of all, able to rejoice unequivocally in a marvellous combination of state pomp with a deliriously happy, family occasion where all well-wishers were welcome. The occasion was very well-served by France2, who made the most of some rather disappointing footage from the BBC. In London this consisted of reporters led by local correspondent Jacques Cardoze – whose team even managed to find Brits capable of speaking French! Back in the studio beautiful Marie Drucker’s cool intelligence and high competence coaxed the best out of French telly historian Stéphane Bern and fashion supremo Karl Lagerfeld. All points were covered, from gifts to charity instead of wedding presents to the economies made and to the details of background and protocol. KL, famously blunt, rapped out verdicts good and bad with his customary command of language. Until a ‘hat’ appeared – more an installation than a hat – precariously perched upon a Royal bonce, robbing even KL of both eloquence and self-possession: “atroce!” he barked. Indeed, so shocked to the core was he that he was still muttering “ah, non, non … ça … atroce!” minutes later. Happily, he recovered, shutting his trap with a snap and allowing Stéphane Bern – who wears his learning lightly – to regale us with quotes from George Orwell on the British Monarchy (something British audiences wouldn’t have had, I suspect …).
The next morning I saw a French acquaintance on the Prom’. He, too, in common with most of Nice it seems, had watched The Wedding. “I cried,” he murmured. “Don’t tell anyone!” So I’m not. Telling you who he is, that is. Anyway, I’d cried too. Later that day, the butcher complained mock-bitterly: “Bloody wedding: bah! No customers – nobody! Not a soul came in here all morning!” A lengthy queue of Frenchpersons and me jeered cheerfully back at him.
Later still, when hilarious footage emerged, these too were pounced on by the media and displayed for our delectation. [Hit links to see – if you dare – hideous scenes of appalling police brutality and disgracefully oppressive Christianity.] Suddenly some of the old, characteristically innocent and cheeky merriment of my country had reappeared. Even if only for a while. Enough to show it is … still there. And for a moment it seemed that the dreary pall created by greed and mean spirits had been dispersed, revealing sunlight. The dreariness is still there, of course; but for a day it was possible to ignore, even forget, its existence. As the French commentators noted, the atmosphere in central London on that day was extraordinarily happy and the huge crowds relaxed and well-behaved. A world of possibilities was present in that moment shared by people of various ages, creeds, colours and classes.
The only disappointment for me was missing most of the better pieces (in my view) from the musical programme. Accordingly I was Parry’d-out (not being fond of his work, aside from ‘I was glad’). So for all fans of happy endings here’s another I’d like to share with you: in this song a series of trials ends in triumph – and love, well amor vincit omnia. As we hope it may.
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