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samedi 31 décembre 2016


My friend Edith Ackermann passed away in Cambridge, Massachusetts, on December 24, 2016. As the year closes, and beyond my sorrow, I wish to express in this blog post my boundless gratitude for the precious gift of her friendship.  

 Edith in Villefranche-sur-mer, April 2014.
Photo ©JL+L

I remember…
… that time when Edith Ackermann arrived in my class, at the Lycée Capron, in Cannes. She took her sister’s place in that class: Eveline had been with me most of the previous year. But the two sisters had left and spent the summer term in Switzerland, and when they came back to Cannes, they were made to repeat the year they had not completed. As a result, Eveline was in the class below mine, while Edith joined mine. I was then 13 and she, 14. This is when it all started. 

 This is what the school used to look like
Photo taken from its website

I remember that time when she was highly complimented by our art teacher (who also happened to be my step-dad) for being his very best student. Not only was Edith very good at drawing, but her first name was the same as my mother’s. She could not fail to please him! He thought and said she should embrace  an artistic career... 
I remember the first time that Edith took me to her mother’s apartment. It was quite close to the lycée, but because she was in poor health, and quite busy working (she was a journalist), she thought it better to enroll her daughters as boarders.
There were lots of newspapers around that I did not read at home, and that she used for her job, or maybe worked for. They were all about the life of famous people. We spent hours, lying on the floor, making fun of their love affairs, and of their ridiculous hairstyles.   

I remember the times when Edith would come to my place for the weekend, and how happy we were to enjoy the freedom of it, for at school the discipline was harsh, and we would often get a detention for laughing our heads off when we should have remained mute.

I remember that feeling of complicity we shared, for we were probably the only ones in our class whose parents were divorced, whose mother spoke several languages, and whose origins were not just Southern French.  

I remember that time when she had me in fits during a P.E lesson – one that we both loathed equally: lying on a very thin mat, our work-out involved abdominal exercises. Suddenly Edith cried out: “Ouch, my bra hurts!”. A sentence that has stuck forever in my non-practicing athlete’s memory.

This photo was taken in the year 62-63
Edith is the third girl in the back row, 
starting from the right.
Obviously, it was an all-girls' school. 

I remember the time when we tried to be excused from that very same lesson, arguing it was “that time of the month”. But then the teacher asked us if we thought we were female elephants, whose periods last forever and after!

I remember our skipping classes to walk on the Croisette in Cannes (the seaside boulevard) during the Film Festival. Then, it seemed to us much more important to collect autographs than good grades.

I remember the schoolyard that we used to crisscross for hours on end, while covering such major subjects as: our future, our favorite books, our future romances, our friends, our foes, Picasso, and the advantages of nylon stockings over gym socks.

I remember that Edith was tall, and I was very tiny and short: we were so mismatched that we got to be knick-named “Mutt and Jeff”.

I remember the postcard she had sent me while I was in England, from Flims, Switzerland (I am quoting her: “a most beloved place of eternal rain”) where she spent her summer vacation. She wrote with much humor about her heroic jumps from a very high diving board, her disappointing lack of romance, and how eager she was to hang out again with our usual gang in Cannes.   

I remember our last year in school, at the boys’ school we had both moved to, and our first romances, which we would merrily compare, for our boyfriends at the time both went by the same first name.

I remember the last time I saw her arrive at my mother’s place, in a convertible, along with a very handsome young man… She then left the area to study, first in Innsbruck, Austria, in 1965-66; then in Geneva, and this is when we lost touch… until 2006. A lifetime, during which we'd both wondered what the other was doing. 

I remember the time when I googled her, in 2006, precisely. Next to her impressive CV, I spotted her email address, and sent off a message right away. “Are you the same Edith Ackermann who was my friend in Cannes in the 50’s and 60’s?”, and within a minute, I received her enthusiastic answer… “Yes!!!! Let us meet again, tell me, tell me everything!”

I remember the time when Edith came to our place with a younger friend of hers, and how she enjoyed browsing through my old photo albums.

I remember how she adopted my family, and conversely – nor do I forget her wonderful support in times of trouble. 

I remember the time when Edith told me that my cheesecake was the best in the world, and how she loved her food! To top it all: she also told me she loved my writing.

Place Bellevue, Le Cannet, May 2007. 

I remember the time, in 2010, when 80 former pupils of the Lycée Capron got together in Cannes, on location, to throw an amazing party, and I remember how wonderfully happy she looked every time a new “girl” arrived.

Each girl wore a badge with her maiden name
and a photo dating back to her school-years

The local press covered this unique reunion !

I remember the time when Yvonne, one of our friends from school, held a gnocchi party at her place, showing us all the tricks to make them as perfect as her mother did. I remember the "hands on" (!) session, even if, in that particular instance, Edith chose to take photos, eat the home-made chick-pea flatbread (called "socca" in Nice), and only lay her hands on the gnocchi once they were cooked and placed on her plate!

June 2012 - Once again, Edith covers the event

I remember the time when we all got together for lunch in Saint-Laurent du Var, near Nice, and that Edith then suggested to throw a big party in our area to celebrate the 70th birthday of all our friends born in 1946, and I remember hoping to get invited, although I am still the youngest of the lot… and I remember that the party never happened.

I remember that, in August 2016, Edith came to spend some time in Cannes, a lot of time at our place, and a wonderful evening at Yvonne’s, in the company of those faithful “Capronettes”, Nicole, Georgette, Danièle… It was like a magical, light bubble of happiness. Edith forgot that she did not eat much anymore, that she had trouble digesting food, because she was enjoying it all, and so were we, but mostly we drank in her amazing, benevolent presence. One last time...

I remember that since that day, back in 2006, we have never stopped corresponding in every possible manner, sometimes in French, other times in English, sometimes in a mix of both that we shared – but basically, we did not really need to talk to understand each another.

I remember how we saw each other at length, each time she’d come to Cannes, and I remember every single one of her emails, and the wonderful time we spent with her in Nice or elsewhere, and meeting up with the girls, and I shall always remember how she made each one of us feel that she was her unique best friend, and it was true, each had the privilege of being just that, for the love she held within her heart was boundless, indivisible, and unforgettable.

I remember her now, and will forever.
Rest in peace, Edith, my friend.

 Two places that were dear to her : 
Our Mediterranean Sea, 
photographed in her company 
in January 2015
Walden Pond, Massachusetts, USA,
where she loved to swim in summer...  

If you did not know her and wish to google her too, go ahead, it’s here. It is a friend's tip, that she would have been much too unassuming to give herself. 

3 commentaires:

  1. A fine tribute to your friend, Catherine. Interesting that Edith was a professional colleague of Jean Piaget, some of whose works I have on my bookshelf!

  2. Magnifique ! Mais au nom de quoi, sous une plume parfaitement francophone, cet hommage à un esprit non moins francophone, est-il délivré dans la langue de l'impérialisme planétaire ?
    Rainer Michael Mason, Genève

  3. Cher Monsieur, si vous cliquez sur ce blog, vous verrez que le même texte a été publié d'abord en français, avant que je ne le rédige en anglais, une langue qui, lorsqu'elle n'est pas purement véhiculaire, mérite aussi d'être honorée et utilisée. Elle est de surcroît, comprise par un grand nombre de ceux qu'Edith aimait ou appréciait, et c'eût été dommage de les ignorer, non ?