|Antoinette in 1942|
I had known Antoinette only for six years until her death. The first time I met her was just after I moved to Nice and it was in her apartment. At the time she could still walk with difficulty and take care of herself with the help of a domestic aide. But she was already a very old woman with sad brown eyes. Six years is a very short time when you think of her long life. The rest of her life, 88 years of it, I have no way of knowing except through anecdotes that my wife and her brothers relate. And these anecdotes didn't seem to make her more real in my mind. On the contrary, they seemed to make her more insubstantial, more inaccessible, not to say more mysterious, than before. Then, I wondered if it was me, not her, who became insubstantial.
One of the brothers of my wife had come to the funeral from Corsica with his daughter whom I had never met. At the lunch table in our apartment, where all close family members - all of them French except me - gathered, he introduced me to her, saying I am her uncle. The daughter looked bemused. I, on the other hand, was more than confused. He was absolutely right about it but the thought had never occurred to me. Am I really her uncle? Do I really belong to this family? I don't even feel I belong here, to this Mediterranean town, to this country, from time to time. I often wonder where I am.
It is eminently true that this family exists, probably more solidly than I. There is a long history about it; there are many legends and anecdotes about it; there are sons and daughters and grandchildren to sustain it. When I look at the photo of Antoinette taken in 1942 (even before I was born), I see a peasant girl as robust and solid as a rock. She is there in front of my eyes but she is totally inaccessible to me. She stands too far away or I am too far away from her. We really don't belong to each other.