“They’ve done a documentary about Chavela,” said my friend. We were both in love with Chavela Vargas (http://www.chavelavargasfilm.com/ ). La Llorana, Soledad were already an important part of our personal history, dotted by irregular visits, each marked by a particular theme, a verse, a song. So was Chavela.
And we had our famous conversations, or more precisely, her “interventions”. My friend, who has known me for 24 years, would begin with a situation analysis, comment on my problems and the way I experienced them and offer her suggestions without pulling any punches – she didn’t need to as we were so close to each other.
I shouldn’t be using the past tense however, for the tradition lives on. This time, too, we had an intervention, as always out of the blue, without any premonition.
She was Luca Can’s godmother in many ways, but she didn’t have a chance to meet him. That was also why she was among the very few I called when we found out that Luca was about to embark on a new journey. “You have to meet him,” I said. “I have to have memories with him,” she replied. She came to visit him for one day.
Luca was not the most sociable of kids of his age, but he had a tendency to pick out people who are special to mamma or baba so he treated her very warmly. He needed to lie down when he felt tired. He could not see her from where he lied, and asked, a few times, “baba, where is she?”. He shared his Lego with her. He wouldn’t share them even with his friends most of the time.
That one day passed by. Memories were collected, to the extent that one could in one day. Then other days have passed by. I couldn’t stay there any longer, so I came here. And the moment of reckoning I alluded to above has come.
My friend lit a cigarette and began her intervention. “When I came there to visit him, I was not only collecting memories, I was observing you too,” she said. “You weren’t only his father, at the same time, you were his big brother. You turned into a kid with him. Even your moves were synchronised,” she continued.
“Now, you have two choices. Either you see yourself as a victim and blame life, fate, whatever for what’s happened to you or you follow in his footsteps by remembering his passion for life, his joie de vivre that he didn’t give up until the last moment.”
I thought about this all day long. As soon as I went back home, I started looking for the documentary on Chavela. I wanted to watch it together with her – without knowing that we were going to go through “an experience” overlapping so much with what we talked about before.
The documentary kicks off with an interview made with Chavela in 1991 when she was 71-years-old. “Let’s start with where I am going. At my age, it’s more interesting for everyone to ask where I’m going, not where I’ve been,” she said.
This amazing documentary by Catherine Gund and Daresha Kyi blew off the dust of so many of our existential problems about love, life, and death for 90 minutes. We laughed, but mostly we cried. We were spellbound. When the “experience” was over, we had no strength to leave the couch.
Then I thought, why am I writing this? Why am I sharing what I have been going through with everyone? In the end, no matter what I do, I will be the one suffering. No one – or nothing – else could alleviate that pain. I won’t probably be able to find the proper words to express my suffering.
On the other hand, I don’t know what else I can do. I am not able to do anything other than write (even writing was alien to me for two months, longer than any time in my life); and when I sit down in front of the computer, I cannot write about anything else. In the documentary, Chavela said: “I offer my pain to people who come to see me. And it’s beautiful.”
I don’t know whether it is beautiful. I don’t know whether it’s right thing to do. Some suffer silently, in private only. I cannot live like that.
While I was thinking about all this, a message came from another friend: “I opened the window. It rained a little. It felt slightly cooler. Fresh air filled the room. Umut, if we manage to live, life is beautiful indeed. And I think, we can manage to live.”
I think so too. I just don’t know how to manage. But we should live, I guess. I should live.
* First published in Ahval News, https://ahvalnews.com/turkey/be-true-yourself