Across the Mediterranean Sea and Beyond

mona book

These are things I like to remember about Papi Victor, in the order in which they come to mind :

He taught me how to read, with the same little book that  he used with all of his grandchildren.  It was called “The Bosher Method”.

He would always peel and cut into pieces a banana, an apple, and an orange, arrange them on a little plate, and then go around to the children urging us to have our choice of fruit – it’s important to eat fresh fruits.

He always welcomed me with a smile. “Rzioula,”  he would say.  “Little gazelle.”

He taught me to always water my garden at the end of the day, after the sun started to come down, so the leaves wouldn’t burn.  A long time ago, we planted a kind of succulent with little witch fingers and bright purple flowers together. They’re still around the pine tree, the one just before the stairs, flowering every year.

He liked to make jokes, but I can’t remember any of them…

He had changed the lyrics of a nursery rhyme and all my cousins and I would sing “She’s coming down the hill in her pajamas” with him. There really was a little hill in front of his house that we used to play on.

He loved the sea. Even when he was really tired and couldn’t walk that well, my grandma would bring him to watch and smell the sea. In the picture that I keep of him he is younger than in my memories, standing on a rock, surrounded by nothing but that sea, looking straight into the camera.

Every day he would watch “the Young and the Restless” (translated as “the fires of love” for the French television). It was aired during lunch time and he never missed it. The opening music is still burned into my mind to this day. He once told me that the complex relationships between the characters was “very interesting”.

He had memories of the Mellah in Marrakesh, where he lived his early years.  It was a Jewish quarter, guarded and surrounded by fortified walls.

He was kicked out of high school when the French surrendered to Nazi Germany.

He spoke French, Arabic, English and biblical Hebrew. He taught me how to conjugate the verb “to be” and to say “so long” instead of goodbye. He taught me how to say “shut up” in Hebrew but insisted that I always use it with the word “please”.

He always said that repetition was the key to learning which used to make my teenage self terribly annoyed (I GOT this part let’s move on to something NEW!). But he was right of course.

He was always taking pictures and videos of his grandchildren and all the family. His house was filled with pictures of all of us.

I could always hear him humming a little melody to himself. They were melodies from prayers he had learned when he was very young. But he didn’t use the words and he hummed them the same way I would do with a Neil Young song.

He had a little radio that he carried with him from the bedroom to the kitchen and from the kitchen to the bedroom.

He had an old typewriter that he taught me how to use.

When we greeted each other we would simultaneously give each other two kisses on one cheek. It was his rearranged version of the classic French greeting (a kiss on each cheek). He thought it was more efficient this way.

His middle name was Chaim, which means Life in Hebrew.

I wasn’t at his funeral. When I went back to France I visited his tomb with my parents, my brother and two cousins.  The cemetery is in a beautiful place. Outside the city, it is surrounded by the same white mountains that were behind the house he lived in. It was the middle of the summer. The heat and the sound of cicadas is gave an unusual tangibility to my body, to its pulse. The little candles that people put on tombstones in Jewish cemeteries had melted; everything was a sticky and oily mess. We all started cleaning, rearranging, fussing around, all six of us. Can you imagine the mess?! After a moment we all looked at each other and started laughing. It felt really good.

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