The changing light of the sea

There he was swirling on the patio, filtered by the syrupy light of the last evening sun. Love him as I do, but seeing him, there was the most jarring effect.

We’re comfortable and have enough space. But every now-and-again, one of us occupies the space of the back patio (we are lucky) to take a phone call, or in M’s case, to zoom into his weekly drama group.

The woman who runs it is a Gestalt therapist, or something like that. All for expressing emotions, even if it involves screaming at the Mediterranean, which M is partial to, to release pent-up frustration. If this all sounds wanky and pretentious, well, we’re guilty as charged. This week, I’ve taken to watching François Truffaut films which the French platform for Netflix has released. Who knows, perhaps ordered by their Ministry of Culture, to rally the seething masses and instil a new spirit of fraternité in memory of happier times?

The Last Metro with Catherine Deneuve is as romanticised a vision of occupied Paris as you could possibly get. Save marauding Nazis offering Parisians a steaming bowl of hot chocolate and a complimentary toasted croissant, all seemed well in Truffaut’s evocation of wartime Montmartre. Okay, that’s quite an exaggeration, but I’m prone to those.

Anyway, Deneuve was so stilted – possibly explained by the fact she had to play Gerard Depardieu’s love interest – that I nodded along to an old review I retrieved, which invented an apt moniker for the French actress; she’s better thought of as Catherine ‘Dead-nerve’, so wooden are her facial expressions.

La Peau Douce seemed more skilful film-making. More in line with what I’d heard I should expect. After all, I was dedicating time here to learning French (yeah, right!) and learning more about the esteemed Truffaut and his classics from the Nouvelle Vague. In any case, I fell asleep a third of the way through the film and forgot why there was any suspense.

Pretentious late-night action apart, on Thursday afternoons M joins his theatre group. They’re all either in denial of the outside crisis or so traumatised by it, they take to collective singing rituals and sessions of screaming therapy. I wish I knew how to channel it quite like he does and it does him good. And last week, there he was swirling on the patio, filtered by the syrupy light of the last evening sun. Love him as I do, there was the most jarring effect. Because as I looked at him, from my position reading in the living room, I was scrolling through obituaries of the dead. Jews: all gone, poleaxed all these decades after migrating from Poland. Or Prussia.

There were men in their late 70s, close to Dad’s age, but men in their early 60s and mid-50s too, all accompanied by exotic epithets. I scrolled down: Benjamin Levin, 93, ‘the last surviving member of the legendary Avengers partisan group’, Alex Klein, 70, ‘kosher caterer whose prayers stormed the heavens’, Avraham Yeshayahu Heber, 55, ‘helped hundreds of Israelis find kidney donors’. There was Michael Sorkin, 71, ‘urban planner who proposed design for a Palestinian capital in Jerusalem’. Cut down too soon, by a fucking microbe. And then later, another obituary, in ordinary times enough to make me weep, but I was bloody hardened to it, and that enough could make me weep but tears wouldn’t come:

Henri Kichka, the only one of his Polish-Jewish family to survive the Holocaust, has died of Covid-19, his son announced. He was 94.

“A small microscopic coronavirus has succeeded where the whole Nazi army had failed. My father had survived the Death March. But today ended his March of Life.” (Michel, his son a cartoonist, said in a statement)

The sea looked far too happy with itself, launching waves the colour of hay. What a dissonant view we have from our protected sanctuary here in Roussillon, far away it seems from anything dangerous and yet all around us, danger lurks.

On other days, the sea reflects an altogether different mood when neither of us are outside and it rains for three-days solid. Then, the sea remains gentle but it’s coloured a melancholic mix of of wet greys – those you find in cement – and the tundra white of a far-away land. There are the days it’s souciant and tender with a transparent shine. It creases like cling-film as it laps the stalactite-shaped rocks. Later at night, when it bubbles to a gentle heat, as if in a sauce-pan, the colours are of peat and bogs. Anything but summer holidays.

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