Tuesday, June 9, 2015
In-flight Movies with Mom
It is not the kind of thing she forgets. She forgets where she has been, and who lived in Courtrai, but not that he was a lecher who fondled her legs. She forgets where we were yesterday, but she still knows she was born in Belgium and she still knows she never lived in Belgium. She still knows phrases in kitchen Arabic.
Every day requires a redrawing of the mental map of what is recalled and what forgotten, what dimly seen, what achingly looking for.
For those accustomed to large seats and warm towels, it is – I am guessing here - a muscle memory. But in her 60 plus years of traveling the globe with my father, trading cotton waste on 5 continents, she never flew in first class. It would not have occurred to either of them. So she could not forget how it worked because she never knew: the magic seat controls, the hot towels handed over with barbecue tongs, the menu choices, the complimentary headphones and movies on demand.
But last week when we took Mom to Belgium, we took her first class, thanks to a cousin with a multitude of miles.
It turned out she loved first class. As we settled into our pods, she was in awe of the room, the magical seat controls, the food, and the attention. The steward was excessively attentive.
It was getting late, and the next day would be long, and in the long list of available movies, I had noticed they offered this Russian movie called Leviathan. I’d seen posters featuring the carcass of a large whale washed up on a bleak arctic landscape – the sort of thing that instantly appeals to me. Mom was finished with her meal and seemed ready to settle in. I was looking forward to dozing over Siberian melodrama.
I booted up the movie, donned my earphones, and started to watch.
Mom tapped on my arm and asked me what I was doing. I explained about the Russian film. She said she would like to watch a movie also. Would I find her one? I stopped Leviathan, took off my headphones and semi-climbed, semi-kneeled on my seat and leaned awkwardly over into hers so that I could actually see her screen. (The airplane TV screens are rather brilliantly designed to look black from any oblique angle; thus you have to be looking straight at it in order to see what is there, and operate the controls.) I pressed the button for WATCH, which led us to the long list of movies, and I scrolled through them, looking for something that would appeal to my mother. I settled on The Theory of Everything. I told her it was about Stephen Hawking, and she seemed to recognize the name. So I selected that movie and helped her put on the head phones, and adjusted the volume. First it was too low: “I can’t hear anything.” Then it was too loud: “Basta!” Then it was okay. She started watching.
I settled back into my seat, put my headphones back on and restarted Leviathan. The Siberian landscape was indeed bleak, and everyone smoked cigarettes more or less constantly. My mother tapped my arm, and started talking. I stopped Leviathan and took off my headphones.
“Is that Hawking in the big glasses?”
“Yes,” I said, without actually looking. “Are you enjoying it?”
“I’ve seen it before,” she said.
“Really? When?” I said. This was foolish, and if I had thought about it, if I had followed the guidelines for “Habilitation” instead of “Reality Orientation”, as explained in Learning to Speak Alzheimer’s, I would never have asked that question.
“A few years ago,” she said.
“But it only came out last year,” I said. (See above comments.)
“Well I saw it a few years ago, and I don’t want to watch it now.”
“Do you want to see something else?”
So I turned myself around and leaned over into her seat, again, and took hold of her TV remote control, and we returned to the list of available movies and scrolled through the possibilities. At least 80% I had never heard of; and of those at least 80% looked inappropriate on the grounds of violence or violence or potential violence. I suggested something called Love, Rosie because it appeared to be a romantic comedy. I clicked on it, and helped Mom put the headphones back on. We adjusted the volume as the movie began.
I settled back down in my seat and figured out how to go back to my place in Leviathan, and then I returned to the tundra.
Glancing over at Mom, and she didn’t look happy. Romantic comedies were supposed to be funny, or at any rate, not miserable. She tapped my arm. I removed my headphones and stopped Leviathan.
“I’ve seen this before,” she said. “And I didn’t like it then.”
This time I managed not to contradict her, thus proving that I am still capable of learning.
“What are you watching?” she asked.
“A Russian movie.”
“I like Russian movies,” Mom said and I could almost see Omar Sharif and his balalaika wafting through her brain.
“This one has subtitles, and it’s set in Siberia. It’s kind of depressing,” I said.
“I would like to see it,” she said.
So hoisted myself up and over her seat again, and returned to the movie menu on the screen and picked Leviathan from the list and started it up for her. She put on her headphones and I fiddled again with the volume. I slid back into my seat, and restarted my own Leviathan. The characters were still sitting around a table talking in Russian about something that was making them all unhappy. And they were smoking. Then they went outside, where there was a lot of snow or maybe that was just very pale tundra.
Mom tapped my arm. I took off my headphones. “This make no sense,” she said. “I don’t want to watch a movie.”
“Good idea,” I said.
She slept. I returned to Siberia, and slept too. When we woke up we were almost in Brussels.