Friday, October 16, 2009


One of SQD’s readers has privately objected to yesterday’s allusion to the tragic death of Jeanne de Couville, sister of our French maiden aunt who was not technically an aunt, but some kind of rather removed (in so many ways) cousin. I think she was the daughter of a half-brother of my paternal grandmother.
(Said reader also wonders: What exactly does one do with an long silk nightgown sewn by Syrian nuns dating from 1951 when Mom no longer needs it? What does one do with the lingerie of Bonne Maman, who, after all, has not needed clean underwear for 11 years?)
As for Jeanne, the story as I know it is that she had an unfortunate attachment to an older man, much older and not of the savory-est character. Though such things are never said aloud we were led to understand he became enormously rich dealing on the black market during the war. (Which war? Good question.) Unlike the rest of her largely celibate family, Jeanne had a predilection for attachments to older men, on account of her very early devotion to her Oncle Alphonse.
Alphonse was a failed poet but a very successful shipbuilder. When his wife, Delphine, learned of Alphonse’s quasi-incestuous relations with his beautiful niece, she took out her jealous rage on his portrait (see above) thus allowing her husband and her marriage to stay intact.
We keep Alphonse (exact relationship to me unplumbed) hanging in our dining room, as a prandial reminder that it is better to inflict one’s rage on a portrait than a person. Alphonse died at sea, but that was much later.
As for Jeanne, she and her older lover, the black marketer, both died in a motor accident on the corniche outside Nice. They were practically incinerated. The part that always appealed to me, as a child with a taste for gruesome details, was about the brooch. Our Aunt Madeleine always wore a large gold brooch in the shape of a bouquet of lilies of the valley. Each flower was a diamond, and there were several. Jeanne was wearing the brooch when she and her lover and their car burst into flames overlooking the Mediterranean. But the brooch was saved, cleaned of smoke, soot and gore, and went on to adorn my aunt’s chest for every Sunday dinner of my childhood.

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