This little note came to me from my Aunt H. (my mother's sister) many years ago. She was a very strong influence in my life. She breezed in and out of my childhood in a whiff of Coty and beautiful handkerchiefs. When I was in boarding school, she sent me pretty clothes from Galeries LaFayette, encouraged me to always read, to write, to be polite and discreet ("Il faut toujours être discrète").
She was strict too -- when I presented her with my first byline, she said: Fine, but I want to see your book next. When I started drawing and watercoloring, she said: Fine. But I want to see you loosen up and paint outside the box. (Although she did express delight that I could draw.) She encouraged me to see, really see, and to love beautiful things.
She had great friendships with famous people, but you would never know it; rather, you would stumble upon that knowledge. She was strong and independent. She survived the war in Brussels as a student at the Université Libre de Bruxelles; her stories would make you shiver. One of her fellow-students, Amir Abbas Hoveida, went on to become the last prime minister of Iran. Together, with a bunch of other students, they tried to walk to Paris; they reached the Maginot Line before they were pushed back to Brussels. Years later, when Hoveida was executed, she was devastated. He didn't flee the country, she told me, he stayed because he had done nothing wrong, his pockets were empty.
After a lifetime in Paris, she returned to Brussels.
A few Aprils ago, she left us, the eldest of her generation, and the last to go, leaving behind her a very rich life. And yet, her one regret was that she had lost her little sister, my mother, at such a young age without having sent her something my mother had asked her for. It was the only time I saw her cry. When, following a feeling I had, shortly before her death, I took the next flight to Brussels, I visited her in the hospital and she asked me: What will happen when I die? And I said: You'll be back with your mother and father and brother, and my mother, and you will never cry again.
I miss her.