Remembering Madame Cintrat…

January 27, 2019 at 8:56 am Leave a comment

Micheline Cintrat. Photo credit l’Est Eclair.

Nous avons bu nos paroles…” (“We have been drinking our words.”)

That is what stays with me the most from my first meeting with Mme. Micheline Cintrat (“Mimi” to her friends).

She said these words in response to the fact that in the course of an hour-and-a-half-long first conversation with her in the hotel bar where we had arranged to meet, she and my husband and I had been so instantly, so intently, and so throughly engaged in our conversation that he and I had entirely forgotten that it would probably be polite to offer her something to drink. And the hotel owner, seeing how engaged we all were, had stayed discretely in the background assuming (I assume) that if we wanted to ask for something to drink we would do so. So it was that when we suddenly said, after an hour and a half (or so) “Oh my goodness! Would you like something to drink?” that was her response to our embarrassed apologies: “We were drinking our words…”

That was our first meeting with Mme. Cintrat, but it was certainly not the last. The meeting had actually been suggested and arranged by the hotel owner, who knew that we were hoping to offer art and writing workshops in Essoyes. “You have to meet Mme. Cintrat, then,” he said. And he had arranged for her to come to the hotel to meet us.

He was right to introduce us to her, because she was passionately interested in the arts, and even more interested in helping develop arts-related endeavors in Essoyes. She knew everyone, and she quickly went about introducing us to many people she felt could either help us, or whom we could help, assuming our plans went forward.

Through her we also met some of the people who became our best friends in Essoyes, and the best friends of our children, some of them members of her own family–and for that fact alone I will be eternally grateful to her.

Through the years she and I became good friends. For me she was the kind of friend with whom you could fall into a very stimulating intellectual, or sometimes philosophical, discussion with no effort at all. (The effort involved was in stopping the conversation and getting back to the mundane demands of daily life.)

But all good things must come to an end: and this year, on the evening of New Year’s Day, the church bells in Essoyes tolled. They were not pealing joyously, as they had that very morning, to welcome a new year: they were now tolling mournfully, because Mme. Cintrat had died on Christmas Day, and the funeral ceremony for her was to be held the next morning in the village church.

They rang for quite a long time…was it 89 times, one for each year of her life? I don’t know. Maybe.

They tolled again, and again for a long time, early the next morning, and they rang out again shortly before 10:00, to announce to villagers that the service was about to begin and call them to the church.

The church was packed with her friends, family, and members of the community, and all three of her sons–our mayor, Alain Cintrat, and his brothers Pierre and Laurent–paid tribute to her. So did her grandchildren, and it was quite moving to hear from them about this woman who had been such a life force not only in her family, but in her community as well.

Beautiful classical music filled the church in the beginning of the ceremony–I believe one of the pieces of music was “Air on the G String” from Bach’s 3rd Orchestral Suite. Another was most certainly Schubert’s Ave Maria, played by a live string bass, coming from the organ loft.

Then, during the time when that whole big church full of friends, family, and admirers was invited to file by the coffin and bless it with holy water, a lovely musical surprise occurred, as the church now suddenly filled with the sound of Piaf singing “Sous le ciel de Paris…”  For Madame had been born and raised in Paris.

As the throng filed solemnly, respectfully past the casket, several other songs sung by Piaf followed, including Je ne regrette rien, which made me smile–because surely Mme. Cintrat was, among many other qualities, a woman who did not indulge in regret. There is a memento of her in our house, a piece of cardboard with these words inscribed on it in her handwriting: “Je ne cherche pas, je trouve (I don’t seek, I find). Picasso.” It was one of the quotes by artists that she and other villagers had created to decorate Essoyes at the time of the annual art fair some years ago. I don’t remember how it got into our house: I must have either asked her if I could have it, or perhaps she  gave it to us thinking we needed that sort of encouragement. It would have been just like her to do something like that.

A day or two after the funeral, as I walked into the village I realized that having heard all those testimonies from her family, having learned the things I had not known before about her life, having heard the music she loved fill the church that day had–for me anyway–brought her, in a strange but very palpable kind of way, back to life again.

I had been to see her now and then, whenever I could, after she suffered a stroke a little bit more than four years ago. She had responded somewhat to my being there, and that was somewhat rewarding. But she was not herself, or rather, if she was, she was no longer able to express herself in such a way that those of us who cared for her could really be sure of what she was trying to tell us. It was very frustrating and painful for everyone who went to see her, and I’m pretty sure for her as well.

I realized that for the first time since that time, I felt that her energy, her passion, her dynamism, her zest for life, had been restored–that her family had succeeded, through the ceremony they had carefully prepared and shared with all of us, to bring her back to life after that long and painful illness, in a very real way. That what had felt like a void in the life of this village over the past few years had been filled once again. This was a surprising, a curious, and a very welcome feeling.

I rarely remember my dreams, and when I do they are usually pretty vague in their details and quickly forgotten. But that night I dreamt about her so vividly: I dreamt that she had been brought back to life, really. I saw her so clearly in my dream!

In the dream, her strength and health had been restored; she was sitting by her husband André’s side, holding hands with him. They both looked very peaceful and content.

And she was regretting nothing.

Janet Hulstrand is a writer, editor, writing coach, and teacher of writing and of literature who divides her time between the U.S. and France. 

Entry filed under: About Essoyes, Uncategorized. Tags: , .

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