Seventy-four years ago, on April 6, 1943 the first edition of The Little Prince by Antoine Saint-Exupéry saw the world. Think about it, nineteen-fourth-three, the world's darkest hour. Europe is ravaged by war, Antoine de Saint-Exupery, once the most celebrated pilot of France, its finest writer, its most desired man, lives in exile in America. His best friend, Leon Werth, a Jew, is hiding somewhere in occupied France. It always amazed me that the most beautiful artworks seems to always be created by the most broken of people. How the best is born in the worst times. How one doesn't not need to be happy to be inspired.
Dear Leonard Cohen, Today was a cold and dreary November day. The north wind was howling, tearing the last lemon-coloured leaves off their branches, shuffling a few remaining Halloween decorations on otherwise empty front yards. Today was a typical November day, too late for autumn, too early for Christmas. I went to your home on the corner of the Main and rue Marie-Anne.
Rosie and I met in a small German town. You've probably never heard of Bochum, but there is so much in this story about geography that you might take a map and start looking up places right now. We were studying humanitarian action together. We were also dancing, drinking and arguing how to save the world. And we really meant it, to save the world. After getting our masters', she went back to Sri Lanka to do rehabilitation work, sometimes I heard from her, as she came to Germany for common friend's wedding, sometimes she was in Denmark, in California, suddenly in Japan. A few years ago I learned that Rosie had become a playwright, a poet and an actor, enacting her autobiographical plays. Other than that she remained fierce and fearless, honest and generous and an amazing storyteller. This is the story of my friend Rosie, a woman from the far corner of the world.
I never met her. Not in real life, anyway. I would have loved to drop by her house, unannounced, for an evening cup of tea, or take her out for coffee. But we always had thousands of miles and several time-zones between us. Sometimes I wrote her letters, real letters in crinkly envelopes that took weeks, sometimes months to reach her. Once she sent me a parcel, a box wrapped in silver-grey paper and tied with a pink ribbon. Inside that box, laying on her bed of green tull and rose petals was a doll like I’d never seen before. It was a kind of doll my great-grandmother received for Christmas when she had been a very, very good girl: delicate, light as a feather, dressed in silk and lace, with a face from another time. I asked her if she would like to be my first fairy and she agreed. For over a week she was patiently telling me stories about love, happiness, chaos, magic and the sea.
It is a sunless and snowless December here in Montreal and from my window the city looks like a sea of grey fog with islands of soggy red brick poking through. On the news, reports on terrorism are followed by stories about refugees and my Facebook feed is loudly complaining of the lack of Christmas mood. It is the eve of my daughter’s second Christmas and I can’t help but wonder what kind of world will she be living in.
Mum calls me every day. She wants to know how I slept and if my lunch included any proteins. She tells me to wear a scarf and remember my gloves. She asks if the snow has melted and when will I finally buy rain boots. I used to roll my eyes and say, Muuuuum! I mean, who didn’t? Wait, she used to say, when you’ll have children, you’ll understand. I do, mum, I really do.
My favourite Christmas story is the one of Harper Lee, the author of "to Kill a Mockingbird". How she was cold and lonely, stranded in New York for Christmas, sleeping on friends' couch and how on Christmas morning she received a priceless gift - one year worth of her salary, so she could quit her job and write her novel. I like it, because it's a piece of biography, but also a fairy tale. For years I've been dreaming that something like this would happen to me, something wonderful and unexpected, something out of the ordinary holiday routine. For as long as I remember, I spent every Christmas waiting for a miracle.
I know you have been there before. One month, two airfares, a glimpse of spring, two awful hope-killing snowstorms just when you thought winter was already over, half-dozen of lines written, erased and written over, zero stories. Silence. A whole month of silence. First you tell myself it’s nothing major, just a stutter, a long-needed pause in a daily routine of writing, thinking, creating, arguing, laughing, talking with yourself. You say to yourself, it will pass. But it doesn’t.
Have you ever noticed that time is a living thing? That you can touch it, smell it and wrap yourself in it? I hadn't until I had kids. All of a sudden, time became real. I woke up with time by my side, late at night I heard its heart beating. I indulged in its various smells ranging from chocolate-flavoured ice-creams to mango lip balm, and its yummy tastes I had never tried before. I saw it race, linger and lurk in the most improbable places. I watched it cry, laugh and feed pigeons on gorgeous squares of Venise.