Mithra-Grandchamp

29 October 2011

Still, I am equally in awe of how exquisitely well written the book is (even allowing for creative license in the translation). Bauby describes how every sentence is composed:

An ordinary day. At seven the chapel bells begin again to punctuate the passage of time, quarter hour by quarter hour. After their night’s respite, my congested bronchial tubes once more begin their noisy rattle. My hands, lying curled on the yellow sheets, are hurting, although I can’t tell if they are burning hot or ice cold. To fight off stiffness, I instinctively stretch, my arms and legs moving only a fraction of an inch. It is often enough to bring relief to a painful limb.

My diving bell becomes less oppressive, and my mind takes flight like a butterfly. There is so much to do. You can wander off in space or in time, set out for Tierra del Fuego or for King Midas’s court.

You can visit the woman you love, slide down beside her and stroke her still-sleeping face. You can build castles in Spain, steal the Golden Fleece, discover Atlantis, realize your childhood dreams and adult ambitions.

Enough rambling. My main task now is to compose the first of these bedridden travel notes so that I shall be ready when my publisher’s emissary arrives to take my dictation, letter by letter. In my head I churn over every sentence ten times, delete a word, add an adjective, and learn my text by heart, paragraph by paragraph.

 

The text, of course, became The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, written by Jean-Dominique Bauby. In 1995, Bauby, the editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, suffered a stroke and lapsed into a coma. He awoke 20 days later, mentally aware of his surroundings but physically paralyzed with the exception of some movement in his head and eyes. The entire book was written by Bauby blinking his left eyelid, which took ten months (four hours a day), taking about 200,000 blinks to write, as an average word took approximately two minutes. Despite, or maybe precisely because of, this paucity — of words, of time — the result is a softly lilting, lyrical prose, completely devoid of verbiage, and at turns sad, thoughtful, adventurous, amazingly self-deprecating, and poignant.

The memory of that event has only just come back to me, now doubly painful: regret for a vanished past and, above all, remorse for lost opportunities. Mithra-Grandchamp is the women we were unable to love, the chances we failed to seize, the moments of happiness we allowed to drift away. Today it seems to me that my whole life was nothing but a string of those small near misses: a race whose result we know beforehand but in which we fail to bet on the winner.

+++

While I have become something of a zombie father, Théophile and Célest are very much flesh and blood, energetic and noisy. I will never tire of seeing them walk alongside me, just walking, their confident expressions masking the unease weighing on their small shoulders. As he walks, Théophile dabs with a Kleenex at the thread of saliva escaping my closed lips. His movements are tentative, at once tender and fearful, as if he were dealing with an animal of unpredictable reactions. As soon as we slow down, Céleste cradles my head in her bare arms coers my forehead with noisy kisses and says over and over, “You’re my dad, you’re my dad,” as if in incantation.

+++

Want to play hangman? asks Theophile, and I ache to tell him that I have enough on my plate playing quadriplegic. But my communication system disqualifies repartee: the keenest rapier grows dull and falls flat when it takes several minutes to thrust it home. By the time you strike, even you no longer understand what had seemed so witty before you started to dictate it, letter by letter. So the rule is to avoid impulsive sallies. It deprives conversation of its sparkle, all those gems you bat back and forth like a ball-and I count this forced lack of humor one of the great drawbacks of my condition.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, by Jean-Dominique Bauby

Here’s the trailer :)

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