Posted tagged ‘Rene-Jean Teillard’

Memoriam Day Weekend – Thinking of Old Friends, Swimming, Summer

May 29, 2011


Memorial Day Weekend. These were days of great joy for me as a child–the swimming pools opened! Water, still shiver-producing, but already shimmering in bright sun, could finally be dived into, waded through, lingered in. My life, for at least the next couple of months, would no longer be just lived on earth.

Memorial Day still fills me with a kind of reflexive exhileration, and I still use it as pretty much as the marker for the beginning of the swimming season. (I have a childish heart.) Except that now, of course, I’ve lived long enough now for the weekend to be imbued with not just anticipation, but remembrance.

In my case, the memorial is not so much for victims of wars, as for two specific friends, now lost, whose birthdays happen to fall on this weekend, just a day or so ahead of my own.

I used to joke that I felt so akin to these two people–a French man much older than myself named Rene-Jean Teillard, and a friend my own age, Rhona Saffer–because we were all three Geminis. Although Rene and Rhona did not know each other, we all three shared certain classic (if you believe in that kind of thing) Gemini traits–a quickness to both delight and bemoan, a love of the verbal, an inability to ever do just one thing at a time.

Having gone through the deaths of each of these dear friends, having met the cluster of kith and kin around them, I increasingly suspect that my feelings of closeness with them had little to do with our supposedly shared Geminicities.

Each of them was simply an incredibly good friend. By this, I do not only mean that they were each a good friend to me–but that they were each very very talented at friendship itself. They were thoughtful, loyal, fun, caring; they had the even more unusual quality of being able to inspire thoughtfulness, loyalty, fun and caring in others.

I think of them now–of Rhona Saffer especially, whose birthday is today–this beautiful, lilacy, water-filled day, a day when swimming has always begun for me, in pools and ponds; when the flickering shimmer of light is not just seen, but moved through, floated upon, and, briefly, briefly (it’s cold below the surface) plunged into.

Other posts on Rene, Rhona, swimming in summer.

Ink Pot Pill Box Hat – Beginning of Decade/End of Era

December 28, 2009

Ink Pot Pillbox Hat (after Rene-Jean Teillard)

With all the newspaper articles, I’m taken back to the beginning of the decade/century/millenium, or maybe just before, when everyone worried that Y2K would wreck havoc with all known security and operational systems, even perhaps bringing the end of the world as we knew it.  Flights scheduled for December 31 sold at heady discounts, and one guy I knew, who had a record of moving violations while drunk, was happily confident that the imminent self-destruction of the DMV’s computer system would finally give him a chance to get another driver’s license.

(Lesson:  the “end of the world as we know it” does not generally happen according to calendared anticipation but with utter unexpectedness of  box cutters taken onto a plane.)

Putting all that aside, the beginning of the decade/century/millennium brought a range of unexpected developments not only in the world, but in  my personal life. The first big event was the bursting of pipes in a snowy country house.  (This led, years later, to a second marriage.)  In the midst of those burst pipes, we also lost electricity for a few days (not because of Y2K, but an ice storm); for a day or two, we had to ship a dear old French friend, then houseguest,  to some one else’s house since our friend, then in his 90’s, suffered in a house lit by candles and heated by firewood.

Thinking back, I can’t help but focus on that same French friend, who died at the beginning of the following year, in early January 2001.  Rene-Jean Teillard, he was born to an aristocratic family in the Pyrenees in 1906 or 7, and there schooled by Jesuits, which instilled  in him a lifelong hatred of Catholicism.  He was a resistance fighter in World War II, who escaped capture by the Nazis by pretending to be mad, and later rescued several U.S. paratroopers in the French countryside.  This rescue (the paratroopers were from the South) led to Rene’s being awarded the “key to the city” of Tupelo, Mississippi, a town which welcomed him on visits throughout his life.

After the war, Rene emigrated to New York City.  I say, New York City, because although Rene later became a U.S. citizen, his move was definitely to New York.  He simply adored New York, believing it to be a place where one could do, see, be, anything; where freedom and possibility were literally made concrete.  He had a talent for design and friendship, was gifted with creativity and charm.  He opened a hat shop, where he made beautiful, stylish and above all, playful hats, whose sales and rentals sent him around the world four times.   (I’ve drawn one of the simpler ones; the more elaborate featured small pianos, flower pots, balloons….)

He was an old-fashioned New Yorker, both generous and parsimonious in the extreme–you probably know the type, a person who will give you absolutely anything while also spending as little as possible on himself.   His rent-controlled apartment, a fourth floor walk-up on Madison Avenue, looked like the inside of a Faberge egg, with hand-marbelized woodwork, a deep purple canopied ceiling (in the bedroom),  and a combination of true Louis XIV antiques and furniture scavenged and re-made from the City streets.

In the hot New York summers, he stayed with friends outside of the City.  He was the ideal long-term guest in that, with his broad life experience (he was probably the only person ever to have had therapy sessions with Carl Jung and to also go to the circus with Elvis Presley), he was both (i) a great talker, and (ii) a great listener.  Above all, he was purposeful, capable of silently, independently,  and beautifully, repairing almost anything broken, torn, fraying.

He was not perfect.  French, he could be snide, classist, gossipy (although not with confidences), and he drank a fair amount of wine.  But he was above all interested.  A taxi ride with him was an education; by the end of it, one had learned, through him, where the driver was from, whom he had left behind, and what he hoped to do when he did or didn’t return.  The driver, magically, did not feel drained by this, but unique, valued.

His favorite word was “marvelous.”

I think of him at the beginning of this century because he was such a creature of the last one.    Who wore hats after Jackie Kennedy?  Who uses ink in the age of computers?  Does Tupelo, Mississippi still have a key?  Does France still have nuns?   Is New York still a place where one can do, see, be, anything?

He missed 9/11, for which I was grateful.  It would have grieved him beyond measure.