Tuesday 14 December 2010

In Paris

The gate to the Louvres

I didn’t manage to see as many friends as I wished during this visit, but I was glad to finally catch my friend and music lover Rémi. As often the case, he offered to meet for a concert. Valery Gergiev was playing the complete symphonies by Gustav Mahler, and the crazy man had decided to put symphonies for every evening! Rémi had heard the 1st and 5th two days before and had insisted that I came tonight, which I did without any hesitation. Tonight, the 4th and 6th symphonies were to be performed. Not the shortest pieces of music ever. We knew we would be completely knackered afterward. In spite of that, the concert was beyond my expectations. Very rarely in my life had I witnessed such a symbiosis between conductor and orchestra. They were one. Gergiev has a very unusual way of conducting: he’s shaping the sound with his hands and the musicians understand what they have to do. Giving the beat and keeping the tempo are the last things you see him do. During the intermission, I heard some music critics voicing out loud their discontent – did Gergiev really know what he was doing; did he have anything to say with this music? Was he a poser, an illusionist without any depth? I was shocked to hear that but I understood how unsettling it could be for people who like to know and control what they hear when they are facing a musician who creates a personal world out of an already written piece of music. I wonder how these live performances would sound on record. But as a live experience it was extraordinary. 

Mona Lisa on sale

Rémi also attended an auction of André Jolivet’s archives: letters, manuscripts, concert programs, photos and scores that belonged to the composer. Among them were two letters written by my father to him when he was still a young student struggling to become a composer. Rémi bought the letters as a gift for my father and wanted me to hand them to him. I read the letters on my way back from the concert and saw this young man named Tôn Thât Tiêt, before he was my father, before he had created all this wonderful music, a young man who had left his native Vietnam and lived in a small chambre de bonne in Paris and didn’t know what his future would be made of. In the first letter, he was asking Jolivet to accept him as a student after being rejected from the school; in the second, written some three years later, he was talking about his condition as a Vietnamese composer. I was incredibly touched, reading these lines, especially now that I was living in Taiwan with no certainty at all about my own future. His handwriting had barely changed: small, elegantly shaped letters. The signature was exactly the same nearly fifty years before.

Le Jardin des Tuileries sous la neige
The Tuilerie Garden under the snow

Les Halles & Eglise St-Eustache

Sunday 5 December 2010


There I was, standing in the middle of the living room, sobbing. I had bid farewell to Jo and Sawako after a snowy Sunday in Montmartre and had walked home to Dennis’ flat. I had nothing to do. I tried to call a few friends for company but they were all busy.
I was looking forward to seeing Satoshi. We had not exchanged much since we said goodbye last summer. But there were a few meaningful messages and letters written between us and he seemed excited to meet again. But it wasn’t what I anticipated, although I did saw little hints even when I was staying in Niigata. But I chose to ignore them and see what I wanted to see.
I wrote this song, I aim about that infinite limbo which hesitation can create between two lovers. I felt the same intangible wall between Satoshi and me. He was obviously glad to see me, but he had walked some distance by himself since last summer and, contrary to me, absence put order in his mind. A champion at self-delusion, I convinced myself that I saw sparkles of love where there was merely affection or friendly love.
“If ever anything has to happen, you’ll have to let him come to you” Nicolas later told me.
A sensitive and attentive person, Satoshi wrote a letter to me to apologise for hurting me, saying that after I left Japan, he gave our relationship some long thoughts and came up with the conclusion that we would be better off as friends, considering my position as composer in Noism, in spite of the intimacy that we shared. He was sorry he had hurt me and the thought of it really upset him. But in truth Satoshi didn’t hurt me. I did it all myself. If I had to be honest with myself, I didn’t even feel hurt. I played at feeling hurt. That’s what humans do, isn’t it?
So standing there in the middle of the living room, I sobbed. I couldn’t help it. Tears flowed out like wine, as the song would go. I had reached full circle; this absolutely crazy, intense year was over. I didn’t know where I was heading to. I was in Paris, but as a visitor. Maybe it was a good idea to simply stop for a while, take a deep breath. And I sobbed.

I slowly realise what wonderful news my brother announced to us the other day. I’m going to be an uncle! Mathilde and he had desperately been trying to conceive a child without much success. To me it was clear that Junior, as my brother calls it, wasn’t ready to come out.
This year end is filled with twists, shifts and new promises. Many friends around me have taken dramatic decisions in their life. Vanessa has left her partner to settle a new life, for her daughter and herself, away from Paris. Tsuyoshi is now thinking of quitting the architecture company he had founded years ago with his two other partners when he realised that differences of aim and vision he didn’t notice at first were now loudly obvious. Nicolas is getting prepared to leave France and settle down in Taiwan wish his boyfriend. Yatchi will go to Cambodia with his partner… Many other friends have quit their job or left the French capital to start anew somewhere else, sometime in another country.
The devastating news was that my mother was officially diagnosed Alzheimer disease. Her short term memory had been declining the past couple of years. To me it was due to the fact that she hardly ever goes out and socialise with other people. Most of her time is spent at home, whether in front of her computer, working on her translations – this book of Vietnamese tales that goes on and on… Finishing it would leave her to face a void - starting a new project must feel like an impossible task for her now, or watching Korean drama series on TV. For a long time, I liked to think of my parents as dynamic and active for their age, especially compared to many elderly people twenty years their junior, but I had to admit that they couldn’t keep that way eternally. They are getting old, even if at 77 they still look very good and healthy. But the truth is, if the mind is unhappy, the body deteriorates, young or old. My mother didn’t have anything much to look forward to. Her two sons were adults. I was now leaving in Taiwan. My brother was having his married life would only visit them once in the blue moon. The coming of this new child may be her salvation.

The thought of it struck me suddenly: it was only when I left the picture that my brother and Mathilde managed to conceive a child. With me now gone, my brother could finally find his place in the family.

Saturday 4 December 2010

Lettre from Satoshi

Hi An.

I had wanted to talk to you .
But I can't speak English well. I'm sorry I couldn't say it to you straight .
I was thinking about our relationship for a long time after you went back to Taipei this summer .
I regret that we had sex so easily during this summer .

You are the composer, I'm a dancer. We met through work.
I liked your music before I met you .
I was interested in you when I met you .
But I shouldn't have had sex so easily.  We didn't know each other well.

I like you very much, but as a friend .
I really want to be a good friend to you .

But I know you don't feel like that.
I depended on you. You treated me special .
But it's heavy for me.

I'm so sorry I hurt you .
I'm really sorry .

P.S. I'm sorry if you sent me mail while I was in Paris. My phone died until now.


Satoshi .

Paris - again

Paris. I didn’t realise – or didn’t want to admit how much I missed the city. I was looking at each detail carefully, as if frightened that it would vanish from my sight again.
The city was covered with snow, an unlikely view in these times of global warming.
Jan picked my up at the airport in spite of the early hour. What a dear friend. And as often the case when I return somewhere after a certain time, all the past months in Taipei suddenly vanished, as if they never happened. 

Jardin des Tuileries

I made a big case of NINA being performed for the first time in Paris. For Jo and me, it was an important trial. Jo was coming back to present a new piece, six years after having been mercilessly demolished by critics. He was anxious to see how they would react this time. For me, the Parisian premiere of NINA, beside being my first important project to be shown here, paradoxically also meant the conclusion of my life in Paris. And I wanted my friends and family to finally see and have a glimpse of what has brought away from France.
It was a triumph. The theatre was full every night. I saw so many friendly and beloved faces beaming with joy and pride. I felt happy and content. Theirs weren’t forced smiles for a friend they felt compelled to support. They just liked it. It was one of those rare moment when everything is perfectly balanced and harmonious.
My parents came on the last day. We had had a family meal earlier on and my brother struck the wonderful news that he would soon be a father. Needless to say, my mother couldn’t contain herself. Her ultimate wish was being granted. I can easily imagine what a meaningful day it had also been for my father. Each in our own way, my brother and I gave him the best present we could possibly give. I never saw him so proud and delighted at something I have done. He had seen NINA on DVD, but the TV experience could hardly compare to the actual stage performance.
As the years pass by, I grow closer to my father and understand the man and the artist. I don’t know how many sons reach the point in their life where they genuinely love and respect their father. I wish that many of them do.
“Your father is soooo cute!!!” Jo said after meeting him. People are always so surprised when they see him. His music inspires awe and respect in them. But he is a simple and humble man.

Father, mother and son - Photo by Mathieu Thoisy