I have been visiting Blanche in hospital.
She is my second cousin.
She is old.
I fly home to Sydney tomorrow.
And I know I won’t see her again.
I can’t stop eating.
I go to the hospital and speak dreadful French to try and get information, and then speak broken English to Blanche who drifts in and out of consciousness. I hold her hand and I tell her how much her family loves her and how much I love her and how I wish I lived closer.
And then I go and buy éclairs and croissants and bread and cheese and falafel and drink wine.
And smoke Gauloises. Because it’s Paris, and I am taking moodiness seriously here.
My Grandma used to say that some of the Nazis were not so bad really.
We would fall about laughing.
Her schtick was funny holocaust stories. Her schtick was protecting us from the detail.
When I was younger, she used to tease me about my propensity towards serious monogamy.
‘Why you have just the ONE boy??? Why not you have six and keep them on a STRING???’
And here in Paris, I am sitting with Blanche who was only a little kid when she had to go into hiding, and missing the hell out of my Grandmother, and thinking about one boy versus six on a string.
And I am filled with a longing so big I’m not quite sure who to be.
I am resisting the temptation to look up old lovers online and figure out exactly how happy they are now.
I KNOW the signs of this kind of emptiness.
I know the dumb, punishing things I could do to try and fill it.
I am trying to imagine a family tree that wasn’t cut off so dramatically.
A family history that wasn’t defined by all who are missing.
My sister and I sometimes look at the kids we made and feel stupidly proud.
Sometimes I wish we’d had more babies though. Heaps more.
A coupla hundred or so maybe.
Zoe and I made five between us.
We made five beautiful babies.
But right now it still doesn’t feel like quite enough.
I’m wishing for more.
I wish there were more people around Blanche’s bed holding her hand.
And maybe this is what every family member thinks when they are bedside like this.
Maybe dying feels lonely to the living no matter how big the family.
It’s just that I’m it right now.
Representing a handful of others in all the wrong parts of the world.
And I’ve only met Blanche twice before.
And I wish I’d known her better.
My grandparents were married in the Tarnow ghetto before they were sent to camps; Gross-Rosen, Ravensbrück, Auschwitz.
And here in Paris, on the back of five weeks away from home, I am dreaming about prisons in Australia and the US and the UK, alongside concentration camps in Europe between 1939 and 1945. I am dreaming of all kinds of escape.
And there’s no neat link here.
I guess there never is between tragedies.
Just broken lines. Little dots you can almost join.
For me I think it is mostly that I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know that people can get locked up, and worse, because of who they are.
And I can’t remember a time when this knowledge hasn’t terrified me. Propelled me.
Woken me the fuck up.
And oh man, I have been so AWAKE this trip.
But here in the Marais I am just eating. And smoking. And drinking. And sorta writing. And at night dreaming about prisons.
And I am farewelling Blanche, and all the others I never got to meet.
And I am thinking of my Grandmother.
Giza Band. With her tattooed wrist. And her perfect advice. And her table filled with the food I adored.
And her insistence that some of the Nazis were actually very nice.
She is everywhere in this work for me.
And she is everywhere in Paris in May.
‘Were you scared?’ painting by the nutso talented artist, Hélène Carroll. Giza Band’s daughter.
My beautiful mum.