Paris, Never More: Schubert, after the Shooting

/ by Jacqueline Raoul Duval

Paris. 18 February 2016.


In honor of Doctor Elsa Cayat, psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, gunned down January 7, 2015, in the editorial room of Charlie-Hebdo.


Elsa Cayat is my niece. A woman (I am only able to speak of her in the present tense) whom I love infinitely for her free spirit, her intellectual rigor, her excesses of all kinds, and for her extraordinary cheerfulness. She's constantly laughing, constantly smoking, even when listening to her patients. One of them, the pianist François Chouchan, who has been living in Los Angeles for quite some time, continued for years to open himself up to her by telephone, to blossom under her attentiveness; he says that he could not do without hearing her magical voice. He repeatedly says to me, "I owe her my life."


The love this pianist, François Chouchan, feels for his "muse," for his "inspiratrice," he gave to us in dazzling, heart-rending proof: a concert in Paris, at the Third Arrondissement's City Hall. Schubert's "Winter Journey" in one sitting. Performing with him was the American baritone, David Castillo.


Those who knew Elsa, those who didn't know her, those who are believers and those who do not believe, were there, pressed one against the other, immobile, eyes closed, drowning in emotion. My friend, Jean-Pierre, who had not met Elsa, was crying, his handkerchief pressed against his mouth. To avoid becoming prey to such visible distress, I had listened nonstop to "Winter Journey" throughout the preceding days. As if to ward off a fever.


When the song and the music rose up from this large room, absolute silence reigned, as if this creation of Schubert’s were made of religious essence, and nothing, not a single sigh, not a single sob came to leave a trace: the silence remained as white and pure as the snow of that interminable winter.


And when the last note and the last word ceased to vibrate under the vault of this room, all present rose to their feet, with the same élan, and their joy and their grief, and their recognition and their admiration and their gratitude and their wonder at this music, with this divine Schubert, for his broken heart, and all these broken lives--all of these sprung forth as if from a single incandescent heart.


What the audience did not know, I would like to make you aware of, because the proof of love that François Chouchan gave us will continue for a long time to move me, to reassure me: the best is still possible. I know of few expressions of love, not a single one, it seems to me, that would be comparable.


François Chouchan singlehandedly organized this concert in Paris. The city of Elsa. Once the need to do this had germinated within him (to make heard by she who had saved him from the shadows, "Winter Journey," he at the piano, in direct contact with her and perhaps, or perhaps not, his final adieu), he had to return to Paris several times; to contact the City Hall, to obtain their permission, to rent the piano, to organize the reception, to wrest the proper authorizations, to surmount multiple obstacles, to select the date, to reserve plane tickets. He was happy to do it all, like someone pleased to wipe away a bit of his debt. In Los Angeles, he had printed, in color, hundreds of magnificent invitations and lavish programs. There was one on every chair, and every one of us took it home.


In order to try to set aside, to the small extent that it was possible, the distress that tore me apart that day when Elsa was gunned down--how to endure this image? How to endure continually hearing about these bursts of machine gun fire? I had written a brief and stammering portrait of Elsa; several of her patients had then asked me to speak about her, as if, through me, there might come to them a faint echo of she who, they said, had saved them. Several became not my exactly friends--my link to them will always be through my niece--but very dear beings, the living heritage that Elsa bequeathed to me.


I met several of them after the concert, over a glass of wine. They seemed soothed, having gotten over the worst, their grieving was coming to an end. I met a friend of Elsa's, a doctor who had done his internship with her: "We were never far apart, we lived only a few blocks from each other; for the past several years she often used to telephone me Friday evenings. Can I eat at your house tonight? She celebrated Passover and Yom Kippur with us every year." Even the most nonbelieving among us feel, one day or another, nostalgia for this mythical Shabbat, for this promised land where there would reign over the family table a hitherto never experienced sense of heartfelt peace.


We conversed about this immediately. This man was not feeling consoled in the face of Elsa's too long absence and, it seems to me, he had no desire to be consoled, to break the link or the mooring lines. There was, in his eyes, the brilliant veil of a certain sadness, the sadness of what will be no more. Never more.


And then, during the course of this unique concert, I found friends of my own that I was eager to see again.


When we exited, the wind and the rain had ceased stinging the streets.


Once again, the weather was gentle.


Translated by Diane Joy Charney

Jacqueline Raoul Duval
born Lily Khayat in Tunisia, was first professor of history and geography. Literary director for years in Paris, she wrote as a ghost-writer for others until the day she decided to write for herself. "Kafka, l’éternel fiancé"(Flammarion) has been translated in eleven countries. Her last one « La nuit de Noces »( L’Age d’Homme) is quite autobiographical.