An (Almost) Unknown Moment in the Life Of General De Gaulle, by Jacques Barchilon

free french (2)
Jack Lawrence on the jeep he drove in London during WWII

This memoir is a guest, posthumous, sharing of my father’s wartime memoirs published originally in French and in the journal of the Free French Forces called Le Lien. My father and I, along with my brother Paul Barchilon, worked on translating these memoirs while my father was still alive. The last few pages I had to translate on my own as he had already died.

An (almost) unknown moment in the life of General de Gaulle

By Jacques Barchilon

(Born Casablanca, Morocco April 7, 1923 – Died, Bayside, California, USA, June 19, 2018) 

This translation is from two issues of Le Lien and includes two articles, #28 July 2012 and #29 November 2013 that have Papa’s war-time stories originally in French.  Nicole and Paul both worked with Papa during the last few months of his life. He translated for us from the French and we typed his words.  The first twelve pages of this narrative were done in this way.. After Jacques’ death, Nicole finished this translation, without Papa’s voice as guide and gauge, but his spirit has hopefully come through regardless.

The following narrative is a firsthand account From Jacques Barchilon, who was a young man and soldier during the French Resistance. An 89-year-old man, the author of this article remembers having seen General de Gaulle in Gibraltar, on the 29th of May, 1943 in the following circumstances.

Four days before, on the 25th of May, in the black of night around 10:30 p.m. on the beach in Tangiers, where I was living with my family, in the expectation of an emigration visa to the U.S. I had jumped with two other escapees into a Portuguese fishing boat, secretly bound for Gibraltar. For the past few months I was in contact with the head of the Gaullist network in Tangiers (we can call her now, after so many years, Madame Many). She was the wife of a doctor by the same name. Without understanding it very well, as a young student of twenty years old, I was already a member of the French Resistance. Madame Many then organized the escape towards Gibraltar. It was necessary to leave secretly because Tangiers was at the time under Spanish control (Frankist/Fascist government of General Franco). I mention these circumstances to give an idea of the somewhat poisonous atmosphere of a city supposedly neutral but which was, in reality, sympathizing with Germany and the Vichy regime.

Nevertheless, after a rather dangerous night crossing (with terrible sea-sickness, bad weather, and all lights extinguished), in the morning of the 26th of May the little Portuguese fishing boat we boarded was accosted by a security ship of the British Navy.  One of their officers welcomed us, rather warmly, and the weather became magnificent. The harbor of Gibraltar was filled with British war ships, which dominated our miniscule fishing boat. I noticed an enormous aircraft carrier whose name escapes me, (Arc Royale, Prince Royal?). I was happy to find myself in a world at war and glad to have left behind me the school-like routine of the Lycée Français of Tangiers. I was ready to join the Free French Forces.

Once landed I was led into  the British barracks where I was immediately transformed into an allied soldier, duly dressed in the traditional British battle dress in khaki wool. This kind of get-up was rather warm in this last week of May. Through the streets filled with English soldiers much more comfortably dressed in tropical shorts,  I was led to the top of the city in an office where I met two French policemen, who looked like ordinary French officers. The two gendarmes gave me a form which I was supposed to fill and sign. It was my “promesse d’engagement dans les forces Françaises Libres, a dater du 26 mai 1943.” (promise of commitment to the Free French Forces, as of May 26, 1943)
All I had to do now was to wait to embark in the direction of England, where I eventually signed other documents about my volunteer enlistment for the duration of the war plus three months, Army Number of the FFL (Force Française Libres) 55, 742. I was onboard an American transport ship called the Santa Rosa, amongst a large contingent of soldiers, perhaps 3,000 ready for England. That was my case, but on this ship, there was also a future leader of the French resistance called Pierre Lefranc. We were not all soldiers for the Free French Forces, rather a cosmopolitan group of Americans, Poles, and other Europeans. From the deck, I was admiring the beautiful bay of Gibraltar when all of a sudden, while leaning barely on the bannister, I saw a small group of French officers on the gangplank going up on our ship, the tallest of them was General de Gaulle.

I was then, a barely twenty-year-old soldier without great knowledge of historical circumstances of the war; at the time, I had no idea of what the general could be doing in Gibraltar, precisely on that day. Why had he come aboard? Did he want to talk to the soldiers and officers ready to go to England? Many years later, thanks to the reading of the excellent war memoirs of General Pierre Billotte, I learned of the early morning of the 29th of May, 1943. General de Gaulle was flying from London en route for Algeria with the intention to create and direct with general Gireaux the CFLN (Comité Français de Libération Nationale). In his memoir, Billotte wrote:

“the 29th of May in the morning we say goodbye to London. De Gaulle is accompanied by Massigli, Philip, Palewski and myself. We leave for Gibraltar by means of a modest bi-motor. The Germans would have had an idea of our passage over the ocean in Spain, would they have made a mistake of a day. The  fact is that an aircraft similar to ours but going in the inverse direction would be shot down. On board, was the admirable English actor, Leslie Howard.” (pp 248 and 253)

In his famous memoirs (Paris: Edition Gallimard-Pleiade, 2000) General de Gaulle does not mention his Gibraltar stop-over. Without knowing the book of Pierre Billotte, one could believe that he arrived in Algeria directly from London. Here is a passage from General de Gaulle: “the 30th of May, noon, an aircraft of the fighting French with Marmier as the pilot, we land at Boufarik, an airport near Algeria” (p.365).
Looking at these passages, essentially that of Pierre Billotte, it is clear that the general and his cabinet of four members must have spent the night in Gibraltar. I mention these details because, insignificant as they may be, they matter because they concern historical figures.

From Issue: No. 29, Le Lien, November 2013: Souvenirs of daily life in England and London in the Free French Forces, 1943, 1944.

First Weeks:  I

The Santa Rosa American Troop transport having left Gibraltar the 30th of May 1943, after a crossing in a convoy,  arrived in the great bay of Greenock, near Glasgow Scotland. It was then the 6th or the 7th of June. We landed and immediately boarded a special train ready to take us to London. It was cold. The kind assistance of the English Red Cross warmed us up with our first cup of strong British tea with sugar and milk. We left immediately, arriving late in the evening in London. We were lodged at the “Patriotic School,” a group of large buildings in the south of the capital, in the district of Camberwell. There were luxurious accommodations. In the big meeting room, a placard informed us that “We must be patient. We are welcomed by the General de Gaulle,” but were told that “England is a fortress defending itself at its doors.” The placard is signed by General de Gaulle himself. A few days later, the French singer Germaine Sablon entertains us with patriotic songs. I remember: “Paris is ours, every street, every house and not for the enemy.” In spite of this all, most of us were a little discouraged by so many trials, so many dangers in the resistance and in our escape and then, there we were, still more or less prisoners under control of the British government. We were quizzed and interrogated by different officers of the intelligence service. We didn’t understand all this distrust, but were glad to provide the English Intelligence Service with information on the German army in France or North Africa. Some of us could even pinpoint locations of German airports.


After two weeks at the Patriotic School, we were on leave for two or three days in London and then were transported to the boot camp of Camberley in a suburb of London where we really began our military life in the Free French Forces.

II

The Free French volunteers contributed to the resistance and to the liberation in their work in London and England in 1943, 44. May the reader forgive me for writing in the first person. In the enormous historical background where great actors, great statesmen work for the liberation of Europe, the modest soldier that I was, is making his modest contribution. With a memory better than mine, other veterans have also made more interesting contributions (see attached bibliography).

The Camberley Camp
Camberley is a little pleasant town in the county of Surrey. It is about 50 miles, one hour by train from the London station of Waterloo. This is the location of the military academy of Sandhurst, the English equivalent of the American West Point. The majority of British statesmen and generals of Great Britain, including Winston Churchill, are former students of Sandhurst.

The basic location of the Free French was on a large plateau, well above the city. We were under order of colonel Renouard. Our barracks were a vast settlement of Nissen Huts (semi-circular shelters of corrugated metal). General De Gaulle mentions our troops at Camberley in his memoir by saying:  “at the camp of Camberley the colonel Renouard introduces me to a battalion of infantry, a small artillery unit, the telecommunication units, etc….Every six months a group of soldiers graduates.” (Paris: Gallimard, Pleiade, Edition 2000, p.242).

The officers and non-coms do their best to form various promotions every six months. Some of my friends had a very distinguished career after graduating from Camberley. My great friend Serge Cany, from Madagascar, graduated as a sergeant, and eventually became a lieutenant. He distinguished himself in the campaign to liberate the south of France. He has a mention in the book Compagnons de la Libération (Jean Christophe Notin, 1061 Compagnons, Paris: Perrin, 2000, p. 741).

Among the officers entrusted to our training, I remember the name of Mantoux. There were two Mantoux brothers, sons of the professor and diplomat who was an interpreter between Clemenceau and Woodrow Wilson after the first World War. Military training is often a painful routine, but there were a few pleasant moments; in particular the 14th of July, 1943. The Free French marched through the streets in front of friendly Londoners, as we are on duty in front of the statue of Maréchal Foch, behind the Victoria railroad station. I am proud that I was a member of this company, of my own volition, at that historic honoring of France, occupied currently, but honoring the liberation of  the Bastille on the 14th of July, 1789. This was the last parade of the Free French in London. After the short service, we were free and could stroll in the quiet sunny capital.
The summer of 1943 was very pleasantly warm; the afternoons were long. We could relax at the Camberley swimming pool and playing sports was encouraged. We were even allowed to wear civilian clothes outside the camp in order to play tennis. There was a nice library of donated French books.

We were roused daily from sleep by the trumpet blaring the famous and ubiquitous “Reveille.” Every day after Reveille, we have a period of exercise on the parade ground. One of our southern officer’s could never pronounce it right and calls it the “paragroum.” We were barely awake and very high in the blue sky, we saw the white tracers of planes on their way to devastate Germany. We heard the hardly muffled sounds of large American bomber planes, called “flying fortresses.”
The camp was comfortable and well warmed with coal. However, the cooking was often very bad. I remember having been sent to the infirmary because the military doctors were afraid of an epidemic of dysentery.

Another form of sickness was depression and lethargy, among us, was common. The time was long and we were impatient to start active training and it weighed on us. The two chaplains (whose names I’ve forgotten) were here to cheer us up once in a while. The  more paternal of the two, said, “Boredom is a form of depression.” The other chaplain, whom I talked to surprised me by saying that I received a lot of mail. This seemed suspicious to him. Needless to say he was also censoring all of our mail. The reason why I received a lot of mail is because in Tangiers, neutral territory, where my family was living, there was a little post office which happened to be British. The proximity of Gibraltar made the routing of mail easier. In general, soldiers whose families were in North or South America could also receive a lot of mail, even if all letters were militarily censored. Needless to say, very little mail came from Nazi occupied Europe.

At the end of our basic training we were finally scattered all over the map, duly provided with a military British driving permit, I was assigned to London, which meant, I had to learn to drive on the left.


LIFE IN LONDON
January 1st, 1944  is an unforgettable date for me. With three or four other comrades, we emerge from the Waterloo railroad station. It was raining and we made our way slowly through the slippery London streets, on our young shoulders, we balanced the heavy British duffel bag. We arrived at Dolphin Square, Greenville House. S.W.1 in the Victoria Station-Belgravia district. We had to register at the office of the Free French. I was not told then, but through other drivers, I learned that the young female drivers were no longer assigned to work with the French officers, and that they (the French officers) were especially forbidden from going to their rooms to wake them up, for obvious reasons.

Male drivers were a safer choice. We were moving between the garage and the headquarters of General de Gaulle at Carleton Garden. The officer in charge of the chauffeur service surprised us, pleasantly. He told  us that in over-populated London there is no room for military barracks for foreign soldiers. This is why we had to be lodged and take rooms among the civilian population. We were given 25 shillings each for renting rooms. This can seem somewhat surprising, like a special favor, but in reality, our lodging endowment did not allow us to be lodged in an apartment. We could only be in a room, there was no great luxury. For the noon meal we had a free Dolphin square canteen. For every other meal we had to make do on our own. We didn’t have much money and looked for cheap meals for students.

London was then an enormous cosmopolitan city bursting with allied soldiers of all kinds: Poles, Belgian, Dutch, etc… These soldiers were going to different paying canteens for their meals, where we can sometimes afford to go as well. The American canteens were only open to Americans. We used to say: “The Americans are over-fed, over-sexed, over-paid and over here.” (added by Nicole and Jacques in 2018).

Two kinds of visions dominate my memory, on one hand the complete black-out; you had to learn to navigate in the dark among unlighted streets bumping into all sorts of people in the dark, not to say anything about prostitutes. On the other hand, the memories of subway stations (underground) where poor families were sleeping directly on the ground, sheltering themselves from constant bombing.

Our work was at once serious and important. At seven in the morning we had to pick up our service cars in the garage of Dolphin Square, on the edge of the river. We were to pick up various officers in their apartments and drive them to Carleton Garden, or elsewhere according to their assignments. In the basement of Carleton Garden there was a waiting room for drivers on duty. After six p.m., we had to return our little service cars to the garage; these were either requisitioned service cars or camouflaged Renaults or Peugeots. When we were on night duty, driving was difficult in the black-out (no headlights to guide us in the black night). I remember in the obscurity of a certain evening, a tall and distinguished looking gentleman in civilian clothes asked me to wait in a parking lot of a building I didn’t know. This was General François Astier. He guided me slowly to a parking spot and asked me to wait. After 45 minutes I saw him on top of a stairway shaking the hand of a man round and smiling dressed in a kind of mechanic’s outfit. It was Winston Churchill. I remember a few other night’s service, two or three officers whispered delicately behind me, they did not specifically give me a destination, they simply told me “turn left, turn right, etc…” I didn’t know where I was, some secret destination. The next day, a comrade driver, more experienced than me, explained it to me. “You have driven an agent, having spent his last night in London, before being parachuted into France.”

After a few weeks we spent more time waiting in Carleton Garden, but also in the district of Mayfair. It was the headquarters of General Koenig. General Koenig was in charge of all secret service in occupied France. In his office there was a room full of advanced radio equipment broadcasting secret messages to French agents.

All the officers who were driving through London showed a certain sympathy towards their chauffeurs (“since when have you been in England, where’s your family, etc..”). It was obvious they were happy about their military assignment and that it was important. I noticed that they had frequent rendezvous to a certain address, well-kept guarded in the American army. They told me, “Go to Kingston.” I soon knew by heart the way to Kingston. It’s only after the war, fifty years later, that I learned the secret of Kingston. It was there that the supreme commander General Eisenhower had located his headquarters, in a quiet suburb, because he prefered the quiet of the suburb.

I was quite aware that these officers were preparing the immanent D-Day landing. They were responsible for the liaison with the resistance in France. Among these officers some were unforgettable, like the American John Hasey. When I asked him “what is this decoration green with black stripes?” he answered proudly: “C’est la Croix de la Liberation” (It is the cross of the liberation of France). Among many others: Bernard Dupérier, the squadron commander, and especially the late Étienne Mantoux (dead in Germany, a few days before the end of the war). He is fondly remembered for his activity during the liberation of Paris. He was the brother of Lieutenant Mantoux of Camberley, also the son of the translator of President Woodrow Wilson, many years before, at the end of World War I.

D-Day soon arrived. The officers went back and forth between Normandy and London. They come back with Camemberts, which they graciously give to the staff still working in London. At first I didn’t know how to eat them, until I was told that the crust was also edible.

Here we are now; this is the pièce de résistance of these memories. My microscopic contribution to the liberation of France. I’m telling things I did not quite understand at the time: simple private that I was then.

During two or three days after D-Day, around the 15th-20th of June, I heard everybody saying, quite frequently: “Monsieur Coulet!, Monsieur Coulet!” without knowing who he was. Here is how I understood without understanding, as I finished my work at Carleton Gardens, the motorcyclist picking me up told me, “Get in the back of me, we have an important mission, urgent!” We arrived at the garage, where they showed me one of our Peugeot light duty trucks in which there was something which I recognize like the twin wheels of a French car. I was told of immediate departure: “you’re going to Portsmouth, deliver this to the Free French navy.” I had no written order.

I left immediately with my shipment. I did not know the way to Portsmouth, but I managed. I asked my way while talking to various policemen, the way was long and slow in the night of the blackout. I arrived at my destination in the black night around three a.m. I was shown where the French navy was. A sailor, hardly awake, takes my shipment and doesn’t give me any receipt. As he unloads what’s in the truck, to do so, he has to remove the back door and doesn’t put it back. I fell asleep, in hunger, in the truck. I woke up around eleven a.m. and then noticed that I had no back door for my truck. I drove to the lost and found, an enormous place. A nice woman in charge said, “Anyone seen a part of a French lorry?” and then I got my back door back. I kept looking for the Free French. I found them under an enormous camouflaged tent, like the top of a forest.

The officer in charge, John F Hasey, recognized me, and said, “Lunch with us.” I would have liked to stay with this small detachment of the Free French. In London, I would probably have been reported as a deserter from my position, with my own countrymen. But, I came back to London and to my position before nightfall. The adjutant Vauxcelles, my superior, berated me, for not having delivered my confirmed regulation receipt. “Where is your return order?” What could I do? I had no orders written of any kind. That was the Free French efficiency.

Many years later (see the bibliographical annex), while reading books telling the history of D-Day. I understand clearly that François Coulet was at Bayeux with general de Gaulle as soon as the fourteenth of June 1944. He was the first French governor of Calvados, appointed by general de Gaulle. I assume that in his function of delegate of the French provisional government, he needed a car, a really French car. Part of that car was what was in the truck in the night delivery. Remember that the Free French soldier Jacques Lawrence had just delivered this French part to be fitted at Bayeux, the first important city liberated in Normandy.

One should read the pages 372-378 of the souvenirs of the Free French called “des hommes libres.” In it, the French diplomat Francois Coulet said: “The general said to me ‘tomorrow, the 14th of June, first visit of the allied bridgehead, I will leave you there as provisional delegate of the French Republic, you will manage.’  But that wasn’t easy, because the allies had not recognized me as a regular French officer.” {Churchill and FDR had created a fiction called AMGOT American Government of Occupied Territory they had not recognized Coulet as a delegate of Eisenhower. They had appointed Americans to all the posts that French men were already chosen for by the Free French} “…I was weighed down by my responsibility, which included an enormous iron truck containing thousands of bank notes of the French. Why? To pay the administration of the French regions to remove the traces of the Vichy government that were everywhere.” {American forces landed in Belgium, they used Belgian money printed in Washington. They tried the same thing with French money, which was why Coulet had real French money in his truck. The Belgians paid their taxes with this false money and all of this contributed to the enormous confusion in Europe.}

One can only imagine the general confusion between AMGOT and the legitimate money under the control of Coulet. One example will suffice. General Montgomery, the son of a high dignitary of the Anglican Church, recognized the authority of Francois Coulet when he is told that Francois Coulet is not a Catholic but a Protestant like him. They were attached to the preparations of D-Day.

Section III

Last weeks in London, V1 Bombs falling and the return to Paris

It was impossible to forget that we were at war every day.  In fact, hardly a week after D-Day, on the 13th of June, the first guided bomb, the V1 falls on the capital.  We pretended to ignore them by pure stoicism, like all the London citizens. But in reality we were afraid. The bombs arrived over the city with a sinister slowness, at the end of their fuel.  We could see them distinctly. On their tail they had the radio control mechanism. The characteristic buzzing of the engine stopped. How could we know where the bomb was going to fall? It fell in an enormous explosion, destroying a whole five-story apartment building. In driving through London, you could take a fatal turn from one street to the other. It was a new blitz.  The destruction was visible everywhere. My room on Pembroke Road, near the French Lycee, was one block from the Earl’s Court underground station. On reaching my room on the third floor, I found there was no door, the hinge had been undone by the explosion. You could only enter the room by lifting the door and moving it. In front of the underground you could see that half the streets were an enormous ruin.  We were all stoic Londoners.

With a comrade from the French navy we went to see the British ballet, we had free tickets.  It was the first time that we saw a ballet, it was Coppelia. In the middle of the show, the V1 bombs started falling. Outside the theater, the air raid warnings were sounding.  In the theater, we heard nothing. But in front of the stage, employees brought an enormous poster to warn us of the air raid. Needless to say, nobody got up to go to the air raid shelter.

The month of July passed quickly during this period of bombing. Perhaps as many deaths as in the original blitz of June 1940. We were all asking ourselves the same question : “When do we go to France?”  But we were still in England. As long as General Eisenhower was in England, the French mission stayed. There was a lot to do to command the internal resistance by radio. There was a well-organized infrastructure, and orders were communicated by reading poetry on the air. The French poem by Paul Verlaine, Les Sanglots Longs, was read as a coded message:

Les sanglots longs, Des violons De l’automne Blessent mon cœur, D’une langueur Monotone. (Long sobs, the violins of autumn injure my heart, a monotonous languor.) Once completed, the poem indicated that D-Day would be tomorrow morning.

* From this point forwards, translation is solely by Nicole Barchilon Frank, minus the help and voice of her father Jacques, who died before we could finish translating.

Finally, Paris is liberated, and everything goes very fast. General Koenig is in Paris. We are at his orders. With the Warrant Officer Vauxcelles and my friend Sargeant Barbeau, here we are all three of us, in service, ready to go to France. We were supposed to drive to Paris, with two service vehicles, on the one hand the caravan-trailer from the campaign, with Warrant Officer Vauxcelles and my friend Sargeant Barbeau, and on the other hand, an American model car that I’m driving. Before leaving we are secretly loaded aboard a cargo ship in a port of the Thames with our vehicles.

The freighter shakes in the night; the next morning we are in front of the coast of Normandy. We land at a slow speed; rolling in on gigantic pontoons of the artificial port the Mullberries, that relays our cargo to the coast. We are finally on French soil, d’Arromanches-les- Bains. This is the still secret site (Gold) of the landing of the English and Canadiens a few weeks before us. After celebrating our arrival by toasting together in a cafe of the Arromanches, we inspected our cars and refueled. I remember checking that the little revolver I was given was in the pocket of my battle-dress.

We drive in the middle of the “Red Ball Road, the one-way road which, night and day, without stopping, carries ammunition, food and gas to the troops of the front already located in the east of Paris. “ [Pierre leFranc,  D’une résistance, l’autre,   Paris: François Xavier de Goubert, 2005, p. 312]

I clearly remember going through a city in ruins: Caen. Today, tourists can buy post cards with juxtaposed photos of the city from 1944 and modern beautifully rebuilt Caen. We arrive in Paris, just before night, and deposit our vehicles in the garage of the Invalides. My adventure in the Free French Forces in England during the war is finished.

POSTSCRIPT OR CONCLUSION

From the perspective of my 90th year, I “run” back the film of my life. I notice that I started serving France during my years in England and continued doing so in the United States in my university career. Indeed, emigrating in 1947, I obtained my first diploma with a Bachelor’s degree in history, continued with graduate studies at Harvard University, to finish with a Doctorate in Romance Languages and Literatures. These diplomas allowed me to teach French language and literature in several different universities during many years. Since 1991, I am Professor Emeritus at the University of Colorado.

This long paragraph above has a certain relationship with the story, as clearly as I can remember it, of my service in the Free French Forces. It is in my activity of professor, in the work of my publications on the history and the classics of French literature: the “Grand Siècle” (dear to de Gaulle) of Racine, Corneille, Molière, Pascal, La Rochefoucauld (including Perrault and other storytellers)- that I learned and appreciated research and scholarship.

One final reflection. I have sometimes been discouraged (what’s the point?) during the writing of these memories. I found a little courage in thinking about the young students invited to our reunions. It is very important for them to know how their elders, their parents lived. How can I not think that I heard Raymond Aubrac (95 years old) declare that “we must visit the schools … that the children know, that we must not forget.”

~Jacques Barchilon*

* Former soldier of the Free French Forces. Engaged at Camp Camberley England, suburb of London, June 23, 1943 under the name of war “Jacques Lawrence” Matriculation number 55472 Last assignment to the reinforcement battalion of the Second Division Blindée, Demobilized October 25, 1945

The link below: “Video of Papa” is my father speaking about his brother Arturo Cohen and Arturo’s friend, the painter Renau,in the years leading up to and beginning of WWII in Spain and France. This story is about saving art and secretly outmaneuvering Facist and Nazi forces. 

Video of Papa speaking about Renau

Bibliographical Annex:

For everyday life in England and in London, and for a general interest in the resistance, here are several important works, simply in alphabetical order.  We must insist on a common observation in all of the following works: the British civil and military people have always been hospitable, amiable and friendly throughout the years of the war.

 

  • Pierre Billotte, Le temps des armes,  Paris: Published in, 1955. Essential work and cited. This is how Pierre Billotte talks about life in England when he leaves London at the end of chapter III (p.246): …for myself, I will leave a part of my heart there … the welcome the British, of all conditions, have given us will remain unforgettable. “

 

  • Dwight D. Eisenhower, Crusade in Europe, Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. First Edition: 1948
  • Charles de Gaulle, Mémoires, Paris: Gallimard-Pléiade. Édition 2000. Capital work, essential and quotes
  • John F. Hasey,  Yankee Fighter, the Story of an American in the Free French Foreign Legion, Garden City: New York, 1942, 1944, Garden City Publishing Co. Inc.
  • Pierre Lefranc, D’une Résistance, l’autre, Paris: François Xavier de Guibert, 2005. The tale of the escapades of life in England is often pleasant, with rather picturesque incidents. Exemplary career in resistance and liberation.
  • Jean-Christophe Notin, 1061 Compagnons,  Paris: Perrin, 2000, Essential and cited work, necessary for the lists and biographies to read about the famous Companions.
  • Daniel Rondeau et Roger Stéphane, Des hommes libres, Paris: Grasset, 1997. In this essential and quoted work one must have read the pages 372-378, remarkable to understand the importance of the mission of Francois Coulet from the time he arrived at Bayeux on June 14, 1944.
  • Serge Vaculik, Bêret Rouge, Paris: Artaud, 1952. Same remarks as Pierre Lefranc’s book for the “picturesque”. On the other hand, an important chapter is entirely devoted to Camberley. One must read how the author escapes his execution by the Gestapo thanks to his courage, and an incredible chance.

 

 

 

Shabbat Structure: Simply Sublime Spiritual Technology

IMG_3021 (2)
Solo Shabbat in Eire, Holy Hill Hermitage, Ireland, in my cabin named Clare in the Fall of 2016

Simple Shabbat, the basic structure is a phenomenal series of steps and prayers and practices to elevate the soul and align us with the essence of creation. I am writing this piece because a young woman, who was also on retreat, three years ago at the same hermitage as myself in Ireland, asked me about the order of the prayers. I led a few Shabbat ceremonies, both in my cabin and at the main house, for the other people on retreat. I was mostly alone, but there were moments of connection with the other hermits, clerics, and other folks taking sacred space in solitude.

I remember once being told by a dear friend of mine, Stephen Jenkins, professor Emeritus at Humboldt State University, who was getting ready to teach a three-day session on Judaism in his World Religions class, “Wish me luck, Nicole.” I responded with: “I don’t want to wish you luck, I need to come in and teach this part of your class.” I’m not sure those were my exact words, but this was the beginning of my lecturing in his World Religions Class. I have guest-lectured, during the Judaism portion of his classes, for over fifteen years now.

Some things cannot be put simply and survive the stripping down, especially when we are talking about Shabbat or Judaism in a three-day period of time. The mere idea of three days in a class on campus, to cover the topic, made me a little sick to my stomach. It felt kind of like asking me to describe the magnificence of the sunrise or my love for my children or any other sublime and mysterious, historical and elemental quality of the universe. It’s just not a three day or a one minute text or email kind of thing.

So, thank you Chelsea Smith, for asking me this question about the order of the prayers and why we cover the challah. I’m going to try to be brief, completely contradicting myself from the previous sentences. Of course, me being brief, is an oxymoron in and of itself.

When I lead a service I have a basic structure that I follow, which is not my invention and which has changed over the thousands of years that Jewish folks have been observing the Sabbath. I choose from various prayer books I like or I incorporate elements into my practice from those prayers when I am being a little looser in my observance.

You really begin by preparing for the time and setting the space. I clean my home, cook special foods, make challah (a braided Jewish egg bread).  I’ll get my recipe up here one of these days. You then create an altar. When the Beit Ha Midkash/Holy Temples were destroyed, Judaism did not die for many reasons. One of the main reasons is that we took the elements of our sacred service and rites that were observed in the Holy Temple and brought them into our homes and into our dining rooms.

As long as you have light (candles or oil lamps), wine, salt, bread, water, and prayers offered from your heart, you have the elements of the basic service. This means every Jewish home becomes a sacred temple in time and space. No one can say it better than Abraham Joshua Heschel, who wrote a simple short book called The Sabbath. I won’t begin to go where he has, but he describes Shabbat/the Sabbath as  both a Sanctuary and as a Palace in Time.

So, we begin by clearing and cleaning as if to welcome a sacred guest. That guest is the Sabbath Queen or the Shechinah or the Seventh Day. She is likened to a bride, she is always referred to in the feminine. We make special foods. For folks with little time or money, even during the Shoah and times of tremendous ugliness and torture, Jewish folks would hide a crust of bread or save one olive so they’d have two on Shabbat instead of one. Folks keep their best cheeses, oils, foods of any kind, for the three meals that occur beginning 18 minutes before the sun sets every Friday evening and ending when there are three stars in the sky the following night, Saturday. It’s roughly twenty-five hours or so, a little longer than one rotation of our spinning planet.

In Ireland, I couldn’t go buy a challah or get bread from Josh Fox, my favorite local baker, here in Arcata. I needed to make it. My little kitchen in my cabin, didn’t have an oven, so I had to make sure I could use the communal kitchen and arrange a time to be taking it over for many hours. I didn’t always do this, for many reasons, but here’s a picture of two small challahs I made for one of my blissful solo Shabbats.

IMG_2999 (3)
Small challahs, one in a traditional three braid form and one shaped like a Jewish Star of David, there’s also that key element SALT!

These Challahs are uncovered here, but they are traditionally covered with a cloth when we recite all the blessings before eating our Friday evening meal. This was the original question from Chelsea, “Why do you cover the bread again?”

We cover the bread because it is the final blessing we say before beginning our festive meal and we don’t want to hurt its feelings. This tiny piece of spiritual technology teaches us that if we are concerned about the feelings of our bread, so much so that we cover it, so it doesn’t know its the last in a long line of blessings, we better be that concerned about the feelings of all those we encounter. The bread thinks it’s the only blessing or the best blessing or the special blessing, because it somehow hasn’t heard or experienced all the previous ones. This seems a little comical, but it’s essential to Judaism. We physicalise our practices in small and large ways to make it not a mental exercise, but to embody the essence of what we are reaching for.

So, once the bread is made, I prepare the other foods and make my home and body ready to receive my guest. I take a bath or a shower, or I do a Mikveh (ritual immersion in living water, see Mikveh Movement and Me). Then I lay the table. I put the candles or oil wicks I am going to light out, I get the wine ready, open it and let it breathe so it is at its best. I make sure I have my prayer books or other readings I want to use, I pick fresh flowers and set the table more beautifully than I do for the rest of the week. It’s truly a special time.

IMG_2955 (1)
My Shabbat altar from my window seat in Clare.

Once all is ready, and usually this is minutes before you are required to kindle the lights of Shabbat, if I have time I meditate or center myself and let the week’s events play through my mind and release them. My beloved teacher, May his memory always be a Blessing, Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi sometimes used a small cardboard box that he passed around and asked folks to deposit their weeks’ cares, worries, and experiences into. He would then he take it and put it outside the room or the house. I sometimes do this with children. It’s a great way to physically demonstrate the practice of letting go.

Then I cover my head with a shawl (creating a sacred space in my body) and light the candles and move my hands over them to bring the light of Shabbat into my whole being, I move my hands over them in a circular motion and bring their essence over my head, eyes and body three times. I then recite the first of many blessings. This blessing is thanking the Divine for instructing us to kindle the lights of the day and to observe the practice of it by resting deeply.

Shabbat Candlelighting
Photo by Temple Beth El’s President Joseph Hale, from one of my Lay-led Shabbat Services

It’s very hard to talk about even one of these blessings in a short way, but that’s my assignment right now. Arrrggghhhh! Each one of these practices have books and teachings about them that deserve attention. Simple structure, okay, after the blessing for the Sabbath light (remember how light was the first thing created in the Universe?), we welcome the Angels of the Most High (the special Shabbat-only angels). These angels only come down to this earthly realm if they are invited and your space is ready for them. Did you set a space for the sacred guest, did you create a place of beauty for Holiness to hover? We welcome them and ask them to bless us with peace and then we let them depart. They have to go everywhere they are invited, so, they can’t linger. Their blessing though is so magnificent that it imbues the rest of the evening. As angels they can and do move through space and time differently than we do.

This is my favorite blessing, and even if I’m not doing more than just the basic layout, I almost never skip this one. I close my eyes and feel their presence and I am uplifted to the realm of the Holy One, for just a second or a moment, but that’s simply sublime!

IMG_3022
Detail with Angel, sculpture in glass, given to me by a lovely woman who was at Holy Hill for a few days and who was part of a discussion about angels that miraculously occurred and which connected me with the incredible Irish mystic Lorna Byrne who sees and speaks with the angels.

Next we bless the children. This blessing is not just for folks with children, in my way of doing things, but a moment to name all the children in our lives or that we are thinking about. In a traditional setting the parents place their hands over the heads of their children and recite three blessings. One for boys, one for girls, and one for all of the above. I just generally do the all of the above since there are many folks who aren’t identified as one or the other. The prayer said over everyone is the priestly blessing originally offered by the Kohanim, (of which I am one). I like the male and female blessings as well, so sometimes I do all of them and just ask folks to align on the gender spectrum, however they wish, male, female, somewhere in between, or inclusive of it all.

Next is the blessing over wine. This is the VERY modified order of blessings at the table. There are many, many more, but if you do these blessings you are basically covered. The blessing over the wine isn’t just about giving thanks for the wine or grape juice. It’s the blessing that recounts the order of the Holy One’s creating of the universe and ending with the day of rest. It’s a blessing you do while holding a glass of wine, but it’s about acknowledging, thanking and sanctifying the DAY of rest. It’s longer than the other blessings and it’s beautiful!

IMG_3610 (3)
Shabbat Table, chez moi in Bayside, wine open and breathing, Challahs covered, salt on the table and right before candle-lighting. Artwork by Thao Le Khac, Joy Dellas, my grandmother Perla Barchilon and some Italian tile maker from a hundred years ago.

After the wine blessing, we do a ritual hand washing with a special two-handled cup. We aren’t cleaning our hands, we are purifying them. It’s a mikveh for our hands. We recite the blessing with our hands raised above our heads after having poured water three times over our right hand and then three times over our left hand and drying them with a clean cloth. The blessing basically says, Blessed are You, Holy One, who has instructed us concerning the raising/lifting/immersing of our hands.

This is crucial. Before we actually eat our meal, we’re almost there (I promise), we raise our hands towards the heavens. I think of this as dipping my hands in holiness and sanctifying them so that they only do good. I want to bring down the honey and love and goodness of the Divine realms and only have my hands be the vessels of that. I never want my hands to be hitting or hurting or tearing or harming others or the earth. No small task, which is why, we need reminding, hence the blessing!

Then we uncover that poor challah, who now is the most rich indeed. We’re hungry and excited, the challah is golden and the light of the sun is gone. We have the glow of the candles and the light reflected off the windows and each other’s eyes and now we give thanks for the miracle of bread. Bread is a miracle. The play of water, salt, yeast, grain and magic that makes it rise is how we too are made. Like the bread, we need to rise. We need time, rest, the right ingredients and balance of earthly elements, sugars and salts and magic to create pockets of air, or lightness so that we are magnificent.

Then we break the bread and dip it in the salt, which represents the promise of the Divine. Salt is a preservative, the original one, way back in the day. It reminds us of the value of commitment, of time moving across millenia, it’s the taste of the moon and stars and the ocean and our sweat and it connects us to our ancestors and life.

Then we eat and share stories and talk for hours. There’s another whole bunch of blessings after the meal….. but I’ll leave those for another day!

IMG_4014
My Papa Jacques Barchilon, enjoying his Shabbat dinner, over a year ago. He’s in Heaven now, where the food and the company far exceed anything I can create here. I miss him so!

Best Baba Baby! (“R” rated but worth it!)

IMG_4915
A very small amount of the hand mushed and textured version of Baba Ganouj/Ganoush. The small cup is a favorite of mine, meant for green tea, but graced with a frog (my favorite creature) and sitting on one of my brother Paul Barchilon’s tiles.

1–5 eggplants (the big round/long ones, not small Japanese ones). The variation in amounts of eggplant is related to how much you want to have on hand for the volume of folks you are serving

tahini 1 tablespoon per eggplant

juice of ¾ to one whole lemon per eggplant

salt (a few shakes or pinches of good salt, not table salt) See my post Let’s Talk Salt.

drizzle of olive oil (approximately ¼ cup for 2 or more eggplants)

1–3 cloves of peeled garlic per eggplant. It is crucial to remove the centers of the garlic cloves for this dish, so your Baba is not bitter.

both garlic

DISCLAIMER: The following recipe descriptor is considered inappropriate by some. It is R rated and for mature audiences.

This is the easiest eggplant dish there is, and in fact the key is to forget you are making it. Wash your eggplant and fork it, then place it on a baking pan in the broiler or oven. You can do this over a flame or in a cast iron pan on the stove, but I don’t recommend doing it that way. It takes a lot more effort on your part. You have to turn it every few minutes so all the sides get exposed and the eggplant cooks through and through. The oven method is less hard on your fingers, but the flavor will be less smokey. Preheat your oven to 400° or use the lower rack of your broiler. The broiler method is much faster cooking and you have to turn the eggplants at least once, so it’s not the walk away method.

The key here is that once you’ve placed that eggplant in the oven, with some oil spread on the baking sheet or on a piece of tinfoil, walk away, wash your hair, write a few letters, do something else! When you smell the eggplant and wonder what that aroma is, then it is done.

It will be collapsed and mushy. This can take anywhere from 20–40 minutes depending on your eggplant. Using a hot pad or glove remove your eggplant from the broiler or oven. Let it sit for about twenty minutes until you can handle picking it up by its stem. My hands are seasoned from years of cooking, so I do this fairly quickly. You can wait an hour if you want. In a bowl, start to peel your eggplant, with your fingers. It will start to fall apart, that’s fine. If it’s a very seedy eggplant, get rid of as many seeds as you can with your hands. You need to gentle the seeds away from the pulp. The seeds can make this dish bitter. It’s very hard to get all of them without also losing some of your eggplant, so a few seeds is okay, but you want to remove as much of them as you can.

IMG_4896
Warm eggplants minus skin, waiting to be gently separated from their seeds.

This is the best part of the dish.  Getting intimate with a warm wet eggplant is like interacting with a certain lovely part of the female anatomy. In fact making this dish can be a good prelude to sexual activity. When you’re done enjoying yourself put the eggplant pulp into the blender or if you want to continue your sensual experience, mash it with your fingers or use a fork. It will be wet and juicy.

I often do this step directly over the blender if the eggplants aren’t super seedy since I want the smoked eggplant oils as part of the flavor. Discard the stem, the peels and the extra seeds. Combine all the other ingredients into the blender or your bowl and mix. Add more salt if you need to or more lemon. Serve warm with a garnish of fresh chopped parsley. This can be eaten with crackers, bread, vegetables, or served over rice. It is best at room temperature or warm. It will keep in the fridge for a week or so. Some folks like their Baba more blended with a creamy texture, others like it more thick and wild. Use the blender for the smoother variety and the fork and finger mushing for the chunkier variety. No matter which way you like your eggplants, you will enjoy making this dish!

From my heart, hands and other parts of me, Lots of Love to you as you get into your Baba! See Commandment number 6!

 

Tending to Ending

IMG_5759
My father on Father’s Day, his last awake day, seeing the Pacific Ocean in Trinidad, one of his final wishes.

As I began writing this piece there were four more days of sitting shiva happening in our home. This shiva process has been an incredible blessing for me. I have facilitated and been present for many folks at this time, but never been the one to receive this offering. This last year, my father’s death was always on the table. We all knew it could happen at any time, but his will to live and his longevity, had us all a little fooled.

It’s been hard for my husband and I not to blame ourselves for taking him to the beach on a day that turned cold. It was sunny when we left the house, but by the time we got to Trinidad, the weather was cloudy. Also, it was the once a year fish festival, so everything took a very long time, which really wasn’t good for my father. The excursion to the beach was the equivalent of an aerobic work-out for a man with a weak heart, bound to hasten his heart giving out. I didn’t think this at the time, because my father, even in his slow weakening over the last few months, still seemed so vital and alive. This is not about my guilt, although I have some, which I think is okay. Perhaps he would have died a few days later or we might have had him for a few months more. If I’d been in charge, we certainly would have had more time together in the sun and in our home. I’m not in charge though, the Holy One is. My father’s pull date was never in my control.

It was a good last day of him being aware and enjoying his family and surroundings. As we were walking by the Seascape restaurant on the pier, my father said “wouldn’t it be nice to have some French Fries?” I’d been cooking for days to make a Father’s Day Moroccan dinner for my Papa and my husband, and I knew that French fries would eliminate any chance of my father eating that meal. I motioned for my husband to take him down to the pier and indicated that I’d go procure the fries as a surprise for my Papa (papas for Papa).

It took forever, because the restaurant was packed. I’d never ordered fries from this particular place, but when I finally got them fifteen minutes later they were in a large brown paper sack, that was warm, with grease coming through. Kevin and my father were coming towards me and I handed my chilled father a hot bag of fries. His face lit up, he put his hand in the bag and encountered warmth and grease and took a bite and was so happy. We all tried some and I have to say, I do not think I have ever had better fries in my entire life. I am never going back to this restaurant because they are seriously dangerous and I might only ever eat fries again for the rest of my life. Ethan, Kevin, my father and I just kept reaching our hands into the bag. It was truly a never-ending bag of magic delicious ever-warm fries.

We loaded my father back into the car and decided to take the scenic route home, hoping for some sun over the water. This was a bad choice as well, because the road was bumpy and my dad had to hold onto the handle above his seat to feel secure in some parts and that was effort-full and the sun never came out, so the view was obscured and it was just a long twenty-minute bumpy drive. By the time we got to our home and I got my father in his bed, he was not feeling well and had spiked a fever. This was the first fever he’d had since I took over taking care of him (over 6 months full-time care) and I knew it wasn’t a good sign.

Our beloved friend Ana, one of our care-givers, and her boyfriend, had come over for dinner. Originally my father had wanted to meet the boyfriend and give his approval or not! This was not to be. While my sons, husband and our company were eating the meal I’d prepared, I was with my father, trying to get him comfortable. The Humboldt Hospice nurse and I were on the phone a great deal and I got Tylenol into him and started him on .25 ml of morphine every hour for the first time. Ana, gave me a short break and I had a quick bowl of soup while she held his hand. Then Issac and Ethan took a turn.

I spent that evening giving him doses of morphine every hour or more, but in the morning he was miserable and uncomfortable and told me he was miserable. At this point the nurse was on her way and I asked him to wait a few more minutes before I upped his morphine dosage. I thought perhaps the nurse would advise me to do something different or more. He agreed to wait and our regular nurse Tiffany came to our rescue. She wasn’t supposed to be working that Monday, but the Holy One and the Angels must have worked some magic for us, because she happened to have traded shifts with someone, without knowing at the time, we would need her so desperately.

This was huge for me and my father, because she wasn’t someone he didn’t know. She knew him, us and our situation. She helped me get my father set up better in the bed and told me to increase the amount of morphine from .25ml to .50ml every hour and to let me know if that wasn’t working. It did work and from that point on, my father was not uncomfortable or suffering, that we could tell. She told me to call family and tell them he had a day or a few more hours most likely left. She felt certain that he’d had some kind of episode, and I felt so too, because his hands were shaking a lot and he just never had that happen before. I spoke with my brother in Boulder and told him to come now if he felt he needed to. He and my daughter looked into it, but it was pretty clear things were moving very fast.

So, with the help of my sons, we set up the computer by the bed so he could see them and they could see him and my smart technology savvy sons made it possible for my brother, his partner and my daughter to say goodbye to my father visually. He was still conscious and saw them and could smile, but couldn’t talk. He was lucid until his last two hours and could communicate with me via his mouth. I would ask him if he wanted more morphine or water or chocolate (his favorite thing in the world). “Yes,” would be open mouth, “No,” would be closed mouth, and this worked for us. When the small glass I was using, made by my friend Bryan Raskin of Mirador Glass, no longer worked, he was hydrated throughout his last hours with dropperfulls of coconut water or water. I hate plastic and the feel of the smooth glass was soothing for my father and for me.

Papa.Judy.Glass.Perla
My Papa, Jacques Barchilon, born Jacobo Alberto Cohen, in Casablanca Morocco in 1923. He is pictured here: in his Free French Forces uniform; on the day of his wedding to Judy, the love of his life, at the age of 75. The beautiful woman in the back is his mother Perla Barchilon. The sign translates as “Careful! Mean Dog, Ferocious Master.” My father had a bark, but never a bite and didn’t have a dog, but this sign was on his door. The glass from Mirador that I gave him his last liquids with, his wedding ring, his watch as well as stones to remember him by, (a Jewish thing).

During my long vigil with my father (from Sunday afternoon until Tuesday, early a.m. hours), in the afternoon on Monday, I started getting a Maurice Chevalier song playing in my head. It was from our childhood and the chorus goes: “Paris, je t’aime, je t’aime, je t’aime.” Which means, Paris I love you, I love you, I love you. Now, Paris is where I was born, where my father had the best times of his life with his beloved wife Judy, may her memory be for a blessing. I changed the lyrics interspersing, “Papa, je t’aime….,” with the Paris part. He loved that and smiled. I told my brother and he found the original record we’d listened to as children and he put that on for my dad, via our technology sharing. My papa loved that.

The computer became a hindrance, since I wanted to be holding my father’s hand and he wasn’t really in a visual mode anymore. So, we switched to speaker phone and for the final hours of my father’s life in a body, my brother, his partner and my daughter were present. My mother and Kenny were also able to say goodbye this way and this was very important and a huge further healing/tikkun. We all sang to him and cried with him and told him we loved him and would miss him, but were ready for him to go. He was pretty lucid until shortly before his dying. The last words he heard was my chanting the Shema to him.

I will write more about my father’s final weeks and his coming to a belief in an after-life, after 95 years of avid and strong atheism. This made his leaving, for me, so much easier, because he was finally less afraid and had a bit of hope about joining his wife and daughter, my sister Paula. He took his final breaths in the arms of myself and my son Ethan, with our family present for him across many miles via technology that was truly a gift.

Jacobo Alberto HaCohen, (name at his birth), Jack Lawrence (nom de guerre, inspired by his favorite author of the time D.H. Lawrence, so the Nazi’s wouldn’t know he was a Jew, in case he was caught), Jacques Barchilon (American name), Jacov ben Perla v’Haim (Hebrew name) lived 95 full, intense, painful and glorious years from 1923 to 2018, he will be missed.

L'hiver
From my father’s home, which I brought back with me to my home, and which exactly describes what he received from my brother and me. “Quand un père chéri, glacé par la viellesse, Reçoit de ses enfants les soins les plus touchans, Il voit le sombre hiver s’écouler sans tristesse, Et s’endori attendri dans leurs bras caressans.” When a beloved father, made brittle and hard by old age, receives from his children the most tender and touching care, He sees the somber winter of his life evaporating without sadness and falls asleep attended by their caressing arms.

 

 

 

Hooray, Heaven-Driven and Heading Home to my Honey and my Hearth

May Rose from Theresa May
My Merrily Blooms in May rose from my Rosey friend Theresa J. May

My father has agreed to move to our home in California!!!! I can be at my own hearth and help him and have all the support I need. It’s taken a year of my life and my brother’s life and our families’ lives. It has been extremely trying and deeply painful, but more triumphant and terrific than I could ever have imagined. Caring for all the parties in this story, including myself, has taken all of my being. Really, like the rose pictured above, which by the way is the size of a pecan pie, and smells like heaven, there are layers and layers to something this beautiful and there are thorns as well!

If it’s in the cards and written in the stars and with the will of the Divine we will move my father to our home in California. Since last March I have been here most of the time and home very little. It’s been very hard for me to be away from my husband and my home. It’s also been what needed to happen to help my father recover from his heart-attacks and subsequent heart issues and the death of his beloved wife Judy.

“A person, her days are like grass, She blossoms like a flower of a field. Then a wind passes, V’EINENU, and it is all gone, nothing! Her place on earth no longer knows her. But Havaya’s love stretches from world to world, the Holy One’s sovereignty embraces all life.” ~Psalm 103: 15-19  Rabbi Tirzah Firestone’s translation

It appears that my father is not in danger of dying anytime soon, in terms of how he seems to my brother and me. The  Denver Hospice folks are not so sure. My father is better than he has been in months. We have found the right cocktail of different medications given throughout the day along with an oxygen machine. He still uses his walker some part of every day. He sleeps a great deal of the time but is also awake and telling stories and getting his affairs in order. He has been given three choices.

  1. Move in with Kevin and me in Bayside.
  2. Stay in his apartment with care-givers 6 days a week and Paul one day a week.
  3. Go into a nursing home in Boulder with Paul and Kathryn visiting many times a week.

He is choosing to move in with Kevin and I. He is talking with Kevin regularly and there is a growing sense of him having something to look forward to. Ethan will be home for the summer and will help spell me when I need a break and I’ll hire a care-giver as well. The tricky part will be getting him to our home. Paul and I and the hospice team are working out the details so as to minimize the trauma to my father on his body. He has a medical death sentence, he is not getting better, but he may defy the odds and the statistics which do not account for the kind of care my father has been getting. The food, the massages, the love, the time spent in silence and also the stubborn strong Barchilon/Cohen genetic make-up are just not what most folks at this stage in their lives have.

My grandfather Jaimé, lived to almost a hundred and two. My great-grandfather, the Rabbi of Tangiers, Aaron Cohen lived to be a hundred and four. My father has longevity in his bones.

IMG_0409
Aaron Cohen, Rabbi of Tangiers, my Great Grandfather

There is no way to predict when my father will cross the river Jordan and leave this earth. I can no longer stay in his home caring for him indefinitely, the toll on my body and heart is just too great.

The current plan is that I will head home to California the first week in May. My friend and sister, by choice and love, Terret will fly from Boston to Denver to help me pack up the Xterra and drive it back to Arcata. Terret and my father have a sweet relationship, when I moved away, before he found Judy, he would take her out to dinner regularly. She was my proxy, while she lived in Boulder spending time with him.

Terret will spend two days here in Denver with us and then we will drive to Boulder and I will say goodbye to my mother and Kenny, who are now in Boulder to take up residence at their new condo at the Peloton. They will spend a few months of every year here and perhaps move back to Boulder. My brother Paul and I have been getting the space ready for them, with furniture and stereo systems and they arrived to a mostly furnished home. We will fête Kenny (my other beloved father/beau-père) who will be turning 70 on April 30th.

Mom and Ken by Ellen
My mother Helen Redman and Kenny Weissberg, picture taken by his sister Ellen.

It will take Terret and me three to four days to drive back. My friend and another one of my Holy sisters by love, Tara has already been in touch with the Humboldt Hospice.  When I get home, I’ll start getting the back bedroom and our house ready for Dad and making our home accessible and safe for him. My brother will fly with Dad in early June with a portable oxygen machine from Denver to Sacramento. I will drive down to meet them and we will go to a hotel overnight and let Dad rest there. The next day, we will get on the road and drive two or three hours more and stay at a hotel again, unless Dad is up for another three hours of driving and then we will be HOME!

On a spiritual/emotional/liminal note, I have a sense of how hard it is to leave a body. I’ve spent a great deal of time with folks leaving their bodies in my time as the chair of our Hevra Kadisha/Sacred/Burial society. Please see my piece Encountering Death Consciously if you haven’t already. I’ve attended many bedsides and witnessed folks crossing. It is rarely easy for a person to disengage from the shell/vessel of their bodies.

It takes time and some interesting uniquely personal set of circumstances for each person to be finished with their bodies.

Since my father has no religious beliefs, of any kind, it’s pretty much the end for him, like stepping off a cliff and knowing that’s final. I think moving to our home is sort of a gentle step towards death, a letting go of Judy, of their home, of his life as a professor of French for over 35 years at CU, of all his Free French Forces resistance books and posters and all the stuff of his 95 years of life.

This is where he met and married my mother, this is where my sister died, this is where my brother was born, this is where he was divorced, this is where he worked and lived and where he got together with Judy and married her and enjoyed almost 20 years of love with her. This is where she died and where he is mourning her actively.

Our home is none of those things. It’s full of music, books and great art and the best part is Kevin (who my father, like me, adores). He will be able to sit on my deck and enjoy the flowers and the sunshine and the beauty of the outdoors. He will be closer to the sky and the earth and to a place of expansiveness and grace. So, his coming to us, is like a step away from his life, but not the final one, it’s the next one, bringing him closer to the step out of his body.

Please hold him, my brother and me in your thoughts and prayers as we navigate the next two months of work to make this happen. My father will have been six months with Denver Hospice by May. The statistics for his condition, age and situation say he should be dead very soon. As Mark Twain said though: “There’s lies, damn lies and then there’s statistics.”

We just have no idea what will unfold, but we’re making plans for a shift and hope it will be a gentle bridge to a time of sunshine, Ethan playing Chopin and Bach on the piano for him, Kevin having intellectual conversations with him and telling him jokes, flowers blooming, time on our deck with the birds and my beloved Redwood Tree standing sentinel over Papa and reminding him of all that is beautiful and good and of course, lots of artichokes!

IMG_7896
Chez Papa with my brother Paul Barchilon and his partner Kathryn Taylor. Photo by my cousin Dan Levy.

While my father and I spend a great deal of time in silence, his preference, there are times when he wants to wax philosophical.  I’m sharing teachings with him from the Buddhist tradition, the Jewish tradition and many others. Lovely and meaningful conversations are ensuing and unfolding around all of this.

Here’s one of the teachings from a Buddhist perspective that we read together.

37 Practices: Verse 4

“You will separate from long-time friends and relatives. You will leave behind the wealth you worked to build up. The Guest, your consciousness, will move from the inn, your body. Give up your life—this is the practice of a bodhisattva” ~Tokme Zongpo

“Tokme Zongpo was a 14th century Tibetan monk. After serving as abbot of his monastery, he retreated for 20 years and wrote these 37 practices of a Bodhisattva, seen by many as the core of Mahayana Buddhism.” ~Rabbi Tirzah Firestone

This teaching comes from the materials that were part of a Shabbaton/Weekend intensive I attended, called: (Lighting the Way in a Dark World The Tzaddik and the Bodhisattva). This workshop was given by one of my dear friends, and teachers Rabbi Tirzah Firestone.  My father remarked that the teachings were very interesting and beautiful. No more comment has been made about them, but I know he is processing slowly all of these moments we share. One of the teachings from the weekend really moved me profoundly and my favorite line is at the end.

“He (Rabbi Akiva, born 20 CE) used to say: Everything is given on loan. And a net is spread out over all that is alive. The store is open and the storekeeper extends credit; the ledger is open and the hand writes, and whoever wishes to borrow may come and borrow. And the collectors go round every day and exact payment, with or without our knowledge. And they do not act capriciously; their judgments are correct. And everything is prepared for the banquet.” ~Mishneh Avot/Pirkei Avot:

“Commentary: Life is on loan. Receive all that is given, and do not pretend to choice or ownership. You are a knot of God’s infinitely knotted net, never apart from and always a part of the One Who Is All. Reality allows you to do as you will, for good and for bad, and every deed has its consequence.”

~Rabbi Rami Shapiro

Many folks no longer have any relationship to Holiness or any beliefs or spiritual practices, and my father is in that category. This makes me very sad for all the suffering and fear he and others endure around so many things. This teaching by Rabbi Akiva, is one that speaks to my core. I know that everything is being prepared for the banquet. One of my ways of serving the Divine is to try to prepare a banquet for folks now, to offer them beauty, delicious food, kindness, compassion and spaciousness. I do this because I want to help create a pathway, in all those I encounter, to remind them that Olam Ha Ba/ the World to Come is real. Our time here on this earth is an opportunity to practice our table manners for the glorious banquet on the other side of this life.

 

Blue Shabbat Flowers
The Banquet I prepared for the Shechinah, every Shabbat,  in Ireland when I was on my silent, solitary retreat.