Sunday, 1 January 2012

Musings on the dead

I was an impressed and puzzled 14 year old in 1963, when reading in the newspaper that the writer Jean Cocteau (about whom I knew nothing) had died of sorrow a few hours after hearing of the death of Edith Piaf (whom I had often heard on radio and liked for her passionate cutting-blade voice). Over the last days of last year, I came to remember those two, as I read about the death of Cesaria Evora, who was followed after one day by Vaclav Havel. In this case, there is no connection, at least I don’t know of any intersection in their lives. But they had a lot in common with Piaf and Cocteau apart from being respectively singer and playwright: All four were immensely successful, and all four did what was right.

Cocteau would be the outsider in this quartet. He was privileged from birth to grave and seemed to manage everything in life with artistry, lightness and - honesty. Havel was also born in a wealthy family, but it was bad time and place for such a background. He could have used his creativity and intelligence in the service of the communist regime of Czechoslovakia, or have become an accomplished √©migr√©, but he chose to stay home and fight the imprisonment of his country and his people. That, remember, was at a time, when it seemed unlikely that the communist dictatorship would come to an end in Havel’s lifetime. I confess that I have not read or seen any of Havel’s plays, and I am not sure, whether I will. His autobiography I have read; “To the Castle” gives a portrait of a humble, serious and humorous man in the middle of a revolution. If at times he seems too infatuated with the United States, one can also understand why, given his perspective. Cesaria Evora had a lot in common with Edith Piaf, coming from poverty, preferring themes of suffering, and receiving late and deserved acclaim. My favourite from her repertoire is Sodade. That is the Capeverdian (Criollo) version of the Portuguese Saudade, which means Longing – the kind that is laced with salt water and wine (or longing for those elements) and never ends. It is the song of a slave. Singing it, Evora lent her voice to all those who have lost something - irrevocably.

Let us raise a glass and perhaps take a puff from some lethal smoke in admiration and gratitude to this nicotinized liberating foursome!

Of course, the next big shot to leave us in 2011 was Kim Jong-Il, the most perfect antithesis to Havel and the other three above-mentioned one could imagine. I have been privileged to be able to download his son, the Supreme Commander. Inspired by Mr Knud Hansen, the bragging and travelling Danish cheese business man, who in the 1960s always carried with him a portrait of Denmark’s social democrat prime minister to be able to curb any impending saudade for his homeland, I now regularly contemplate Kim Jong-un, and any blues dissipates, as I congratulate myself for not living in DPRK.