Cette Année-Là

Cette Année-Là

Appa came up with the idea last spring, as he realized our vacation plans were going astray and we would not get together with our French and Indian families any time soon. How about we each write about our personal experience of Covid-19 and choose a picture to illustrate or complement our text? We would then put all the contributions together in an album and have a copy printed for each household and for each kid, so that they can keep it as a life-time memento.

It was a simple project with a defined time frame — inputs were due by the end of May to keep some momentum. Unsurprisingly, the adults delivered more promptly that the youth but, in the end, we did get everyone’s contribution in time. Here we were with narratives and pictures from 19 people spanning three generations, three continents, and three languages (Aachi wrote in Tamil).

As I was translating from English to French and from French to English (the idea was to accompany each text in its original version by a translation for everyone to understand everyone), I could hear the voices of our relatives more distinctly. They were telling in their own words how the pandemic affected their everyday life and their moods, what they were missing and longing for, and how they were coping.

Some texts were short, others were longer. Thatha surprised us with a poem. Some texts were very factual, other more reflective. Some were somewhat playful, others quite serious. It is not easy to categorize the contributions but a distinction that appears pretty clearly is that some of us went through the first months of the pandemic staying or withdrawing “inside” (home, self) while others depended on “outside” (nature, garden) to keep their balance. When it comes to similarities, I also find it striking that some specific remarks about taking in the news or the ways of staying connected with loved ones are echoing each other throughout the album.

Connection is what this project is about ultimately. I am grateful we followed Appa’s inspiration and put together this testament to what our lives were like at this memorable juncture. We now have a beautiful polyphonic album (cover illustrated by Minette) to show for it. It will remain as a milestone in our family, as will 2020 on the whole Earth.

Cette Année-Là (That Year) is a popular song by famous French singer Claude François. It refers to 1962, the year Claude François started his career and it mentions other things that happened that year (such as the release of the first single of the Beatles and the death of Marilyn Monroe). If you are not French, well, you still know the song, sort of, because it is an adaptation of Frankie Vallie’s Oh, What A Night — recycling English and American hits was a thing in my country back in the 1960s and 1970s.

Cette Année-Là has been running in my head these last days. As we are about to leave this badly worn-down year behind us I am thinking we will certainly remember 2020 as that year, and I am wishing for better days ahead for all of us.

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