Anagram tales 6: Lili Boulanger
guest post by Nicolas Robertson
For a general introduction to the series, see here.
This is Nick’s longest treatment so far in this series, almost a novella—subsuming the Middle Eastern conflict, Free France, the Cathars, Jacques Brel, a furniture-making course, the UNESCO football team in Lagos, an organists’ outing, and Nubia—with a moving dénouement. See also my own tributes to Lili and Nadia.
* * *
French composer (1893–1918), younger sister of Nadia (1887–1979). Concerts and recording, 1999, with the LSO and Monteverdi Choir, directed by John Eliot Gardiner (who studied with Nadia).
192 anagrams, in strict sequence, of the 13-letter matrix, followed by an explanatory ‘story’, in whatever language came to hand.
This is no.11 of the anagram pieces I composed between 1989 and 2002; it’s the first, I would say, in which I attempt to go beyond a strict mapping of anagram/story, and venture into some narrative of my own. In my overall introduction to the series, I explain why it was precisely my inability to do this (write a freehand story) which lay behind my adoption of anagrammatic ‘automatic writing’. My excuse is that the scenes glimpsed elliptically in the course of the anagrams suggested to me larger panoramas, which I needed to explore more extensively to be fair to the letters’ fragmentary vision.
So for the Albi section in particular I resorted to some autobiographical material (and a fable from the Panchatantra), and for Lille too, where I was also influenced, in a generic way, by a story of J.L. Borges, as well as by the art nouveau heritage of the town itself.
The reader will judge better than I can the success of this strategy. I can’t regret deploying the associations which the anagrams themselves germinated, but the results leave me a bit ill at ease.
There’s another, quite distinct, circumstance to be taken into account with ‘Lili Boulanger’. I had completed the anagrams by the end of September 1999 (as indicated in the present text). The accompanying story took longer, and was put together over a period of a few more years, mostly during periods of work in London or on tour, though I believe it was substantially done by 2002. At any rate the whole piece had been completed, but only partially typed up (and put on a floppy disc) by 2007—and only up to the end of the Lille section of the story. This was the truncated part I had the wit to send to myself in an email: not all such accounts were web-based in those days. Our fire in Portugal in early 2009 destroyed not only most paper documents but also all floppy discs and CDs, as well as the computer itself and its hard disk.
Thus the final narrative sections, all after the Lille episode, have been reconstructed from memory during the last few years; they lack some of the detail which I know I had tracked down, specifically in Nubia and Egypt, but are as true to the original aperçus as I could manage.
* * *
“O Rubin! Illegal! Ali’ll—” [Ben–Gurion].”I’ll…?” –Al. Our Begin: “Lo, ‘Bulgar’ Eli!” – I?
“Olà! Irgun libel,” begin our Al, “Lil’ El Al lingo…”
I rub liberal gun oil, a billion–Luger, bare loin. I gull Rabin: “Loge! Ulli! Liban grouille, Ulli Lego–brain.” Ulli anger boil.
“Iran’ll bull IRA legion.” I? I’ll ogle urban guerrilla. “NB oil, Ali, oil–bungler, oil’ll ruin bagel…”
“Liban gloire!” Ul… Leila gun brio! Luger—bon, I’ll –
* * *
Iron Gaulle: “Lib – ”
Gaul libre? Loin. Berlin IOU gall; nul Albi gloire, Albi grenouille labouring, ill. Gaul—in Loire (blub)—la Loire! linger… No Gaul lib (il gain boule rill), all blue origin. Gr… beau lion ill. I long Brel, lui, à l’agile Libourne, Brel, la gui’nol. I—I, Raoul Belling—lui, Brel, a lingo: I unlog braille, I null Albi ogre, Balin. Le roi Lug! Lui!
* * *
“All Gobelin, Rui. Burin goal, ille, ruling lobelia.”
“Elgin—blur a loi?”
“Ol’ Elgin burial.”
“Ai! Gullible, Ron?”
“Gullible on air. No liberal. Ugli?”
Glen: “Oil o’ Blair, ‘u’ regional bill, Blair, lounge li…”
“Ug. ‘Lionel’ Blair…”
Nigeria. Rogue ball: 1–nil. Eli blur in goal. Lor, il a bu! Nigel (Nigel A. Burillo):
“Rolling, ’e, il a bu gill in Euro lab.”
“Bull—ale origin. Ale or gin.”
“I – ”
Gin—rue Balliol. “Lo, binge lair,” lu our ill Belgian, Raul. “Gill, Niobe?” Niobe all girl, ‘u’, nubile gorilla. “I lug renal boil, I rung ill (Ebola), oiling rubella, ill—large bunion.” O, gullible air! “Ill, lurgi—o bane! I – I blur galleon…”
* * *
I go urban Lille, au boring Lille. Rob Lille gal in our Lille bang. I uni Lille Garbo—ubi Lille organ?
L … Laure – boiling –
* * *
‘El Grillo’. Onager. Bill, lui, air lounge.
“Ali, Reg? Bullion!”
“Gerona. Ibi Lull.”
“Go—Iberian Lull? Olé, a bull–ring! I – I’ll bug aileron.”
Lua. “I’ll ignore.” Blau, la lune, Rio glib. La lune –
“Nebula ?”—oil girl Gillian Rouble. “Leo, Libra, Gil nu?”
“Bon, girl! Eulalie?”
“Gloria in blu’, lo!”
Alluring bile. “Banlieu, ol’ girl. A billion gruel.”
“O, gruel in billabong!” Allure? “I lie—Goan Lilliburlero! Lug in Bali!”
Ego all in blur, I, N. (‘Boileau’), grill brill. Louange? I ?? “Oi! Ungrillable! Bali rouille n.g., N.R.!”
“Aioli–bulge!”—Lou. “Bengali rill. Gibier?”
Lune. Big rig, blue lilo. I ran, un–label oil rig.
“Oi!”—Niall, bugler. “U – ”, Ollie blaring, “lo urinal bilge.”
Niall bougre, il, ignoble liar, lui, nubil, allegro, unlilo a gerbil (all Brie), oil gnu, ill Boer. In Gaul, longer alibi.
* * *
“Ole Bull,” I grin. Nubia—Rogé, Lill, “urbane Lill,” I go. Nullo Gabrieli—Iona. Lulli, Berg.
‘Go, Liu’ (‘Li’l Abner’), our lag Bellini—lo, Bellini ragù! Io liberal lung. Bing, Elli—(Raoul!)—Luba ‘il Re’. I long Gillian Loeb, ur–bell on ‘Liguria’. L. Borgia nulle. I, lorn…
Lua. Liebig le loi…
“Brian, lug our ale billing. ’lo, Lilian Grube!”
I? I brung—alleluia!—Bollinger.
* * *
Böll: “Gin, Luria?”
“Beluga.” Blini lager lou’.
“Niro, Lil?” (e.g. Lil in labour).
“Âne, Lou. Llaregub loin,” il gribouille. An alien lour, glib.
“Lo, B. Luini glare!”
“B. Luini allegro—Luigi, no–baller.”
“ ‘Lear’ bingo—Ulli?”
“ ‘Blau, ill, Goneril – ’ ”
“ ‘– Regan, boil’ ” (I lu)
“ ‘I boil lung…’ ”
* * *
Nile log burial… a bull religion, boiling laurel; bull, or—ii!—angel. Gabriel? No, lui, Logi, Belial—run! L…lo, Ariel bulgin’ (‘Ariel’: lu ‘goblin’, il a goblin lure), ‘l’Aiglon’ Uriel belabouring ill Lili –
Blue organ. INRI—gall—o blue Eboli lira lung.
Un albergo, Lili… ur–billig, alone. Rouge bilan, Lil.
Lo, un Lili Grabe.
London, July–September 1999.
* * *
“No doubt I wasn’t the first,” wrote David Ben–Gurion in his (unpublished) memoirs, “to wish that my similarly–motivated colleagues would stay on the right side of the law. Wasn’t Menachem a case in point? How could we wish to give more ammunition to the Arabs? Yet the ethos of the group, the sensation that all were against us, militated against open–handedness. When I tried to draw their attention to this, I was met by precisely the sort of prejudiced stereotyping which should have proved my point. But under conditions of war, it seemed to us, the niceties of human discourse were dispensed with. I was called a self–styled Balkan priest, while another comrade thought even that was too good for me, that my Spanish exile was causing me to slander the underground movement, and that I stood, by now, for little more than a sort of Broadway in–flight–magazine Zionism…”
I was reading this as we sat in the control room, Rabin, Ulli the Lebanese Israeli, Ali the Israeli Arab. I hitched up my shorts so that the lubricating oil we used so plentifully wouldn’t stain the cotton, and carefully anointed my revolver. I knew it was the most reliable weapon we had, a gun in a thousand, and couldn’t resist teasing the others, who drew from lower down the armoury.
“Wotan’s sidekicks! Vous ne comprenez pas that Lebanon’s up in arms, you building–block–head?” Ulli seethed, I could tell, but he knew he couldn’t let it out openly.
“Th… thanks for the news.”
“Khomeini’s mullahs will make the Irish cohorts look like dairy cows…” I wasn’t interested in the subject any more. I was looking at a ‘Wanted’ poster on the concrete wall, of Leila Khaled. I couldn’t decide if she was attractive because of herself, or because of what she did, shirt half–open, Uzi at the ready; but I couldn’t keep my eyes off her. What was it that gave us this fascination with left–wing (exclusively left–wing, mind—if that’s what they really were—no neo–fascist ever got a look–in on this melancholy roll–call) activists, women and even men, Ulrike Meinhof, Andreas Baader—never a hero, actually, but Holger Meins, Jan–Carl Raspe, Astrid Proll—Patty Hearst wasn’t serious, she was a sort of John Travolta convert –
– I smelt a terrible smell of burnt oil, and realised that Ali was warming up vegetable oil to use as a substitute for the proper gun lubrication, which he’d probably siphoned off to put in his jeep. I wouldn’t complain about this, we all did it, except that he re–used the oil in the bakery, and as a result the pretzels tasted dreadful…
So, after all, I was caught unprepared. My anti–hero/heroine surprised us thinking about food. The sun caught her gun in the doorway, as, brandishing her Levant war–cry, she pinned us down, now this way, now that, and with an ache I admired her panache even as I struggled to release my own pistol, good, I thought, yes…
I wasn’t in time.
* * *
“Non! Non!! NON!!!” That’s the de Gaulle some of us know, l’homme de fer, and perhaps it’s true that at certain points in history it’s more important to be able to say ‘no’ with conviction than to accept. Even so, saying ‘no’ sets up a wall which must either be knocked down later, or side–tracked, or backed away from. If you say no, you should simultaneously be saying ‘yes’ to something else, to a wider freedom, not stopping half–way…
And France was not free. Far from it. It depended on German repayments, a bitter pill to swallow. Raoul Belling, grandson of the inventor of the electric oven, and dreamer of druidic dominion, descended the slope behind Albi cathedral, to the gravelled walkway beside the river Tarn. An early morning mist was lifting from the river’s surface, as if burnt off by the great Apocalypse of the cathedral screen which hung hot in his mind, and he winced at the thought of how Albi’s huge red long–brick towers now stood for nothing, their Cathar legacy of gnostic communion reduced to the status of the poor frog he saw in an eddy, struggling to breathe, clearly poisoned by some pollution in the river. In his mind, the narrow Tarn broadened to become an image of the Loire, that vast river which is, like its territory, ever changing, reflecting the sky, yet ever massively the same, pouring on between its châteaux and vineyard flanks—France!
Tears started behind Raoul’s eyes as he slowed his pace, to take in his thoughts… “But France is not free!”, Raoul cried. As he walked on, kicking furiously at clumps of grass by the riverside, he came across a dried–up rivulet where he’d once played boules, in a time now lost in an indigo fog of memory. He gritted his teeth, growled into the thickets. “Our fine lion couldn’t overcome even a unicorn! Ah, how we need a Jacques Brel, who could pillory and glorify at once! ‘Ça sent la bière’, aussi le vin, it could be Bordeaux, Libourne on the shoulder of the Gironde” (looking out over Arcachon where Lili Boulanger went once hoping to restore her lost health)—“but Brel presides over all, the pantograph of pantomime – ”.
Raoul remembered his visits to the Théâtre du Grand Guignol in Paris, in the Cour Chaptal in the 9th arrondissement: so close to Ary Scheffer’s house where Georges Sand and Chopin called, and to the little theatre where Alfred Jarry first threw ‘Ubu Roi’ at an unsuspecting world—‘Merdre’, a fine opening line for 1896—and to the house where Nadia and Lili lived… Brel continues to speak for us, hadn’t he written
On a détruit la Bastille
Et ça n’a rien arrangé
On a détruit la Bastille
Quand il fallait nous aimer
‘Aucun rêve jamais / Ne mérite une guerre…’ No, that wasn’t the way. Hadn’t he also sung, in Litanies pour un Retour,
Mon Coeur ma mie mon âme
Mon ciel mon feu ma flamme
Mon puits ma source mon val
Mon miel mon baume mon Graal
That was it! ‘Le retour’, as of a King Arthur, waking up himself and his people—‘voilà que tu reviens’!
[‘Mais pourquoi moi, pourquoi maintenant, et.. où aller? (…)
Mais qu’est–ce–que jamais j’ai fait d’autre—qu’arriver?’ – J.Brel, J’arrive]
“And this,” cried Raoul aloud, “is where we need our old woodland god, Lugh! Light, clarity! The striking of the midday sun into the forest glade!” Raoul, metaphorically booting out the inner infidel, aimed a kick at a broken pot in the grass verge, suddenly depressed again, knowing that light can’t exist without dark, and unable to see his way from one to another, yet sure this was a worthy quest…
He didn’t see, bound up as he was, the shard that he’d kicked into the undergrowth. It might have born an unnerving resemblance to the Grail he so ardently sought… and it did carry the relic of an inscription which strangely echoed—or prefigured, so time–worn did the fragment appear—the motto of the Revolution.
There’s no way of ascertaining the original text of this lost inscription, but a tentative reconstruction might go as follows:
GAUL LION LIBRE ?
OUI, SI ÉGAL IN LOI, BRÛLEZ PAS DANS LE
FEU ILLÉGAL—IN BROTHERHOOD
AND SISTERHOOD, ÔC!
And a translation might be: ‘Is the Lion of Gaul free? Yes, if equal in law, burn not in the illegitimate fire [we can take this to be a reference to the savage Languedoc persecution of the Cathars, and similarly, given the prominent role taken by women in the ‘heretical’ movement, complete the final phrase with the necessary implication]—unissez–vous, frères et soeurs!’ and ending with the Occitane version of the initial northern French ‘oui’ (prudently moving these last unconventional words round to the unseen side of the vase). It may be surprising, but is certainly heartwarming, to find English mixed with French in this inscription from medieval southern France; testifying to a sense—an actuality!—of fellowship and elision of national (and regional, and linguistic—òc!) borders at a time when everything seemed against them.
No one, to my mind, has explained better than Rudolf Steiner the precise application of the famous triad which this Albi fragment adumbrates:
Try jumbling up the categories (as do almost all modern societies): they don’t work, you have chaos.
But there are those who prefer not to think about it, much less try to aim for it as a goal (or grail); even some chivalric orders dare not contemplate the true implications of their allegiance, preferring to dally in a shrubbery.
* * *
On the last day of the Furniture–Making Techniques course we gathered in the piano nobile of the Musée Cognacq–Jay. Rui, the Brazilian student, hadn’t quite memorised the historical module, but it didn’t matter.
“Not marquetry, but tapestry,” I reminded him. “Engraving’s over there: look how the artist has directed the chisel point, to bring out the overriding floral motif.”
“Monsieur –” broke in a French student. “Do you think the Parthenon marbles have the right to stay in England? Aren’t the legal grounds a bit shaky?”
“Can’t you let that hoary subject lie?” retorted Ron, a blunt English student.
“Oh, Ron, are you so easily taken in?”
“When anyone’s listening. I don’t believe in a free–for–all, unlike the so–called socialist government, if that’s what you mean. Would you like an exotic fruit, by the way?”
“That Blair’s unctuousness is spread all over the Highlands,” interposed a Scotsman. “Devolution’s only of use to the well–off, people at home in smart salons, like him, the slim – ”
“Yuk. You make him sound like a media–courting ballet–dancer.”
Oh, imagine the slight scent of his overheated body in the green-room…
* [alchemical pause] *
One of my less likely career moves was to take up an appointment as manager of the UNESCO football team in Lagos, West Africa. I remember all too well the only match for which I was (nominally) responsible. Eli, in goal, was totally pissed, and when by mistake the Nigerians knocked the ball towards him he reacted like streaked lightning and missed it. Opinions on the touchline were varied, if strongly held.
“He’s been at the samples in the laboratory,” reckoned Nigel, a scientist of Latin American descent.
“Rubbish,” I snorted. “This is just too many beers. Or spirits.”
“Well, look…” Nigel tried to insist.
“Rubbish!” I cried again. Didn’t he understand that individual drunkenness was infinitely preferable to the suspicion of misuse of official chemical supplies?
But as I remonstrated, I was suddenly flooded by the recollection of another summer’s day, in my college rooms in Oxford, arriving back from a lecture in the Classics Faculty, where my view of the beautiful Greek sculpture of Niobe had been interrupted only by the even more beautiful profile of the girl I hadn’t yet dared to speak to, but surely, after I’d poured myself this drink, I would – I would –
“You’re drinking in your hidden memory,” Raul interrupted my bittersweet reminiscence, his sallow face unsullied by irony. He wasn’t well, but he generally made nothing personal of it, in his unfluent Belgian English, as if it were merely a sequence of unpleasant things which might be happening to a mutual acquaintance. “You liked to have been Eric Gill, artist lover of fifty, Niobe, fifty times loved?” How did he know? But he didn’t see Niobe like I did, full of animal desirability and yet, somehow, on my social level.
“My kidney’s got a chronic abscess, I had to call in sick with Legionnaire’s Disease, my scarlet fever’s suppurating, I’m malade, I’ve a great boil,” continued Raul. He looked so innocently surprised by all this! And then, suddenly, he burst out in horrified misery, “I am not well, I have a sickness, o curse! And I can’t make out any ship that might carry me home…”
* * *
This year’s Organists’ Outing was to Lille, in northern France. None of us knew much about it, except that it was a big, dull city. But as our interest was simply in the instrument in St M— Church, this hardly worried us.
For everybody else, that’s how it remained, and perhaps remains to this day. But at the reception when we arrived—verbena tea, almond biscuits—I found myself next to a dark French girl with a ringlet of hair hanging over her ear, which fascinated me. As we listened to the welcoming speeches, she removed a hair–pin and shook her curls free. She put the kirby–grip on the table next to her name–card, which had a Lille address on it. The clip was of some matt alloy, and seemed to be shaped like a nymph, or siren, whose fingers, held above her head, merged back into the metallic matrix. Without understanding why I was doing it, and as she was looking in another direction, I took the card and the brooch from the table and put them in my pocket. Perhaps to prevent her having the opportunity to notice this, I asked her in a rush, when she next looked round, if she was going to the dinner after that evening’s recital. She replied “Je préfère être seule”. Soon after, she left, without another word.
There was still an hour and a half to go until the recital. We would only meet the organist afterwards, so the others were setting out to discover a few Lille cafés. I took out the card from my pocket, and read the address. In Lille things work well, except the motions of the heart, and I was able soon to be walking down the street where she, perhaps, lived. (Though even amongst my colleagues, carefully ensconced in the centre, all did not necessarily go smoothly: one member of the group, directed aurally to the restaurant ‘Lutterbach’, spent an age trying to find ‘Le Tabac’.)
Heading, as I felt, away from civilisation, after many minutes I found myself in front of a stone porch, on each side entwined with carvings of bay trees. Above it I took in moulded forms of male and female figures playing, disputing, nymphs with locks cascading over their ears and gods priapically rampant, yet none quite touching another, always reaching… and as the evening sun hit the horizon and blurred my sight, a warm heavy summer rain started to fall, which began stealthily to wash away the details of the carvings in their soft sandstone, starting with the protuberances and ending with the eyes…
I looked at my watch and realised that I was far too late to attend the recital, where perhaps she was. I returned to the city centre, and took the night train back home. I would have put all this behind me, as a dream, but have not been able to forget that at one moment, as (already unmanned, stammering, in my mind) I was looking at her name–card ‘Laure…’, her wrist inadvertently brushed mine; and my skin still felt as if scalded.
A lone cicada sounds across the landing strip (I think with nostalgia of Josquin). A wild ass trots across the floodlit patch in front of the terminal. I’ve come to meet Bill, who’s taken refuge in the only cool place, the airline lounge.
Bill tells us there’s a delivery of gold ingots, asks where the Turin industrialist is. I reply he’s in Catalonia, just where Ramon Llull worked—by a curious coincidence, on the transmutation of base elements into gold.
Bill, quipping about tauromachy but amused by the Lull connection, wants to keep an eye on all this, but we agree to leave him out of the loop. A great moon, blue at first, begins to rise over the airfield. A Copacabana moon, which somehow doesn’t convince… I’m thinking hard as I go through the usual astrological banter with Gillian Rouble, perhaps not her real name, as she seems to be connected with Russian oil oligarchs. Some of her pithier expressions make me wonder why I ever fancied her (Eulali’s quite fun), but she turns the conversation round till I hardly know who I am (a French man of letters?) and am persuaded to set up the little barbeque we have, and prepare some fish fillets. However I’ve failed again—hoping for praise, I’ve brought out as requested my special Indonesian garlic sauce, but it’s gone off, and everyone declares it inedible. Haven’t I any game instead? Non. The teasing goes on.
Desolate, I look out over the runway, where the moon is looming more and more. And in its blue light, I see something strange on the oil–drilling tower: protective suits, an inflatable mattress—I need to change the labelling urgently, and sprint across the field.
I’ve been spotted, alas, by Niall and Ollie, whose job it was, but who always exaggerate grossly when anything untoward happens. As I try to cover up whatever unnatural coupling is going on, we swap globe–trotting repartee, in a game I think I’m losing, but at least I may have avoided official disgrace. We’d get off more lightly in France…
I blame the moon.
* * *
Elsewhere in Nubia… discussions about the coming arts festival.
“Let’s think about the residential course,” I smiled round at the committee. “How about historical fiddle techniques in Scandinavia? And then the main programme: for our desert climate, something classical—Debussy, Beethoven, bourgeois excellence, piano recitals under the stars. We won’t have Venetian renaissance, that’s being done in the Scottish Isles.”
“But we could have French baroque?”
“How about Expressionism?”
“I think they’d like stylish musicals mixing Puccini and Broadway, a medley of Italian opera (we could sell pizza in the interval), singers who can let out to their hearts’ content…”
“… and a couple of turns by our own stars –” I round up, “that means you, Elli, and Raoul, and to crown it the majestic Organosova.”
It’s a fine line–up, for a first season, but I’m just thinking of my lost girl, with whom I’d chimed as if for the first time on the cruise–ship over from Italy. She was no Lucretia, but…
The moon sailed higher. I considered the condenser rules in our home–brew store, and had a better idea. There was another girl, after all, and Brian to sort out the paperwork, and I’d a supply of—glory be!—champagne.
* * *
Notes on a meeting between the German writer [Heinrich] Böll and the Russian neuropsychologist A.R. Luria [unless it is the 16th-century kabbalist Isaac Luria, but the context seems to favour the former].
Böll: “Will gin be alright?”
Luria: “Just give me caviar.” Yes, and no doubt pancakes, and several beers, that would be like him.
“Have you seen any good films lately? And by the way, I hope Liliana’s pregnancy’s going well.”
“Gullshit is deposited most selectively.”
“Wow,” Louis, his secretary, exclaims. “Lewis Carroll, yeah?”
“You ass,” Luria groans, “it was meant to be Dylan Thomas, though admittedly not very close.” And he tries to settle his face into a Martian scowl.
Böll again: “Ach, I’ve seen that look on a fresco in Milan!”
“Luini’s too cheerful—I was thinking of an Italian with a crooked elbow.”
Böll: “There’s an idea—we could play Shakespeare consequences! Ulli,” (that’s me, the interpreter), “I’ll start.
‘Blue, ill, Goneril –’ ”,
“ ‘Regan, seethe’ ”, I read.
Luria: “ ‘Stewed tripe for me…’ ”
“That’s not Shakespeare!”
* * *
The world of the dead, in ancient Egypt, lay on the west side of the Nile: one moved towards the setting sun. And one moved by boat, of course, a boat carved or constructed out of wood. In other times, and places, rites might be associated with bulls and bull games (Minoan Crete), Pythian oracular mysteries (Delphi), or—oh! Hebrew, Mithraic or Christian angels. In this case, not the annunciating Gabriel, as we’re talking of a death. There are other forces, Loki, Baal, best to keep out of their way. Look, look… another mercurial spirit, Ariel, whom we think beneficent though he can have a demonic aspect—and now Gabriel’s counterpart, the summer archangel Uriel, who presides over Lili’s illness, plucking at her insides like the eagle at Prometheus’ liver.
But Crohn’s seems like a moon illness, a poor person spreadeagled on the crux of their own anatomy. Acrid as the bile given to the hung Christ (but Christ stopped at Eboli…). One can understand though why Lili Boulanger tried to turn to the sun in Arcachon (I did the same myself, seventy years later, hoping to salvage a disappearing love). However there was no cure even if you could pay for it, in any currency.
I can imagine Lili, in extremis, looking to find anywhere away, however simple, however cheap, by herself, knowing her account had passed into the red; but the trouble remained inside.
Lili Boulanger was buried in the cemetery of Montmartre. I have visited her grave, where she was joined by her elder sister Nadia over sixty years later, and I didn’t feel her presence there. I was glad, as that meant she is now everywhere.
Nicolas Robertson, London – Lisbon 1999–2021,
with acknowledgements to Charles Pott, Tom Phillips, Rachel Wheatley, inter al.