Sunday, 1 March 2015

(till I end my song ....)

                                              BACK AT NATO AGAIN

         I returned to the office, reluctantly.    I had had three months of freedom up in the mountains.  I was back again in what seemed, to me, the drudgery of the office.  There was very little to do, as usual.  My colleague was sitting reading the newspaper.  I had never cared for her very much, she seemed to me to be complacent and a ‘toady.’  I felt an uncontrollable spurt of anger.  I got up and pushed the newspaper into her face.

         She jumped up in furious indignation.  She “could not work with me” she declared.

         I was sent home.  I was in the doghouse.

         After a few days I was told I was being transferred to another office.

         My gratitude to NATO and its paternalistic attitude is immense. I had been looked after in my illness and now once again I was being looked after.

         My new boss was a Belgian in need of  a secretary.   Big, with a round, pale moon face, he was reserved but a very  kind man, as I was quickly to learn. In fact he was half French, as his mother was French. His name was André Counasse.   I was now working in the Infrastructure Division, which was a much more technical division, and the officers were mainly engineers, thought still drawn from the forces, navy, army and air force.  He was a civilian and was responsible for the financial side of the division, with the title of Programme Control Officer.  So his work was mainly financial, consisting of tables and figures and financial reports.  I was so grateful to him for accepting me that I worked hard and conscientiously, even though I found the work still more boring.  He was a reserved man, so we had a formal but friendly relationship.

         On my return to Paris I had to be seen by a French psychologist. He was tall, grey and remote.  I seemed to reply to his questions in a satisfactory manner.  He ended by advising me, rather condescendingly, I thought, to go and live in a country such as Canada, where the people were much simpler.   This makes me smile now, but I can understand how I would have appeared to him then.  He did, however, give me a clean bill of health.

         My breakdown did, however, have its repercussions, as soon after I found myself suffering from depression.  It was winter time and gloomy, and I was plunged into a deep chasm of despair and anxiety such as I had never experienced before.  I was given pills which enabled me to function, but there was no light in my life, nothing excited or interested me.  These depressions were going to recur from now on,  always as the end of the year and the autumn approached.

         Early the following year, around May, I was invited by my old office colleague, Yvonne, who had married  her young French fiancé, Claude, to go and stay with them.  Claude had been training to be a chef and they had started a small hotel in Brittany;   they had a new, young baby.   I was fond of them both and was pleased to be getting away from Paris,  and on my own.

         I traveled down by train.  Sitting opposite to me in the carriage was a dark, swarthy looking man, like a gypsy.  He started talking to me.  He told me about himself, he was a violinist, he said, and he had a brother who was a very famous clown, called Max.  I listened to him with fascination.  He then went on to make comments about me.  I was beautiful, I could be anything, Jewish, Russian, English or French.  I was intrigued and flattered.  Then he said:

“You are loveless.” 

I was puzzled.

“What do you mean?  Do you mean that I cannot love.”

  No, he did not.  The conversation ended on this enigmatic note, and I was left disturbed, with a question in my mind.

         I spent two lovely weeks with Yvonne and Claude and their new baby, Karen.  They were kind and welcoming and the food was good.  I told them about the man on the train, but Claude had never heard of a clown called Max.  Perhaps he was just a fantasist.

 I felt older than my years beside their youth and simplicity, just starting out on their life together.  My own life seemed to have become so complicated and unhappy.  I returned to Paris, my heart warmed by their friendship.

The year was 1966 and I was thirty eight years old.  The years were slipping by.  We began to hear rumours that NATO was going to be transferred from Paris to Brussels, and that France would no longer be a full member of the Organisation.  General de Gaulle no longer wanted the American military presence, SHAPE, to be based in France, and he objected to American planes flying over the country.

This was upsetting to everybody as no-one  wanted to leave Paris.  Many of the girls decided to leave, and some of the men too.  I wanted to stay on in Paris, and I started to look round for another job, with little assurance of finding another one as well paid and secure.  I had my mother to think of  and I still had very little self confidence.  I had also been told by a fortune teller never to leave NATO or things would go badly for me.  In my insecurity I still had the habit of consulting palm readers in those days.  My mother did not want to leave Paris, but I finally decided that I would move to Brusssels, and she had to go along with it.

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