IMMIGRANT (IN PROGRESS)
PART i - the Scripture
PART ii - the Shrine
PART iii - the Ritual
PART iV - the Source
My grandfather was a hero. A demi-god of mythical proportions who, despite his troubled mind, lived a rich and incredible life. He was the second child in a family of five children, born in the city of Tunis, the capital of Tunisia, in 1924. His mother was a Sephardic-Italian woman and his father a Sephardic-Tunisian Rabbi who dominated his low-middle class family as a somber intellectual.
My grandfather always felt he didn't belong in a religious household so when the Nazi's attacked North Africa and the Americans got involved, he saw his chance to get away and, lying about his age, he fled with his brothers to join the American forces who were about to enter Italy by way of Sicily. My grandfather soon found out he was much too anxious about being a soldier and was constantly unwell. One famous story within our family is one about my grandfather and his brothers manning an anti-aircraft gun on a hill at the battle of Monte Cassino, just below Rome.
A brutal battle with many casualties on all sides. The Free-French army supported the allied troops in a months-long campaign to break through the Winter Line held by the Axis and to finally advance to Rome. As the story goes, my grandfather was so nervous most of the time, he constantly had to pee. Anxious and scared, he was afraid to go alone and so he urged his brothers to join him down the hill where he urinated in the bushes. At the exact moment they were down the slope, their gun got hit by a bomb from a passing Nazi airplane. My grandfather's nerves saved himself and his brothers that day.
Since my grandfather didn't seem suited for war, he was given a different duty, this is where his real trauma began, the source of his anxiety and depression. He had to take the wounded and dead off the battlefield when there was a lull in the fighting.
There are many stories about him, some heroic, some show his stupidity, others his demons and his humanity. There is a story about a night out in Paris. My grandfather and some of his friends had a wild night, the night before they were going to be sent into battle, which they didn't know yet at the time. The way I've heard it, my grandfather drank so much he ended up on a roof somewhere, started running from rooftop to rooftop until he crashed through one and broke his leg. The next day, lying in a hospital bed with his leg in a cast, he learned that his battalion was almost entirely massacred at the battle of Arnhem. The strange thing is that the nurse that took care of him ended up being my grandmother.
So not only did he escape death, he met the love of his life. She was a Dutch Ashkenazi girl named Ans Polak.
After the war, my grandfather and his new found love came to the Netherlands, where he started to work for my grandmothers family's business: Polak and Schwartz: a multinational company in flavours and fragrances. Even though many of the family were killed in the war, they were able to retain the business because of a non-Jewish family friend who took over the company and, like Oskar Schindler, saved tens of thousands of Jewish workers lives.
After working at P&S for a couple of years, my grandfather became the head 'taste-maker', traveling around the world creating additives for food-stuffs and perfumes but unfortunately, he suddenly had to resign because he found out he was a diabetic, an impossible combination in this field of work. After he resigned, the family sold the company to an American multinational called IFF. With part of the money made from the sell, my grandfather started a music agency and a record label. He managed to charm some of the greats of the time into his new business: Leonard Bernstein, Maurizio Pollini, Daniel Barenboim, just to name a few. He ended up maintaining offices around the world while living with his family in Laren, the Netherlands.
My grandfather spoke seven languages fluently, was always the warmest centre of any party and was the kind of man you could sink into when in trouble. In between those big hairy arms, one marked by a golden watch, nothing could happen. You would look up and see his broad face, big horn-rimmed glasses and he'd take care of you. You wouldn't even know he was battling extreme depression and anxiety. Eventually, his diabetes caught up with him and it got so bad that his heart was not working well anymore and they would've had to amputate his left lower leg.
My grandfather wanted to be in control of his life, he wanted to be in the now, living, not being lived or withering away, so he chose the date he wanted to die, called all his friends, had a last meal: sushi and ice-cream drenched in whiskey, and right on the date he chose was euthanised.
I never really knew my grandfather. I was seven when he died. My parents told me I cried for weeks when he passed. I have a hard time knowing he never saw me grow up to become a man.
The strange thing is, I feel he lives in me, he is in my bones, he and I are one. Or maybe that's what I'd like to be. I try, sometimes forcefully, to be the warm centre of a party. To be the safe haven for everyone. To live a good and exciting life while I am too haunted by depression and anxiety, just like him. It started at the same age even. My dragon is not his, but it could be similar, perhaps passed on genetically?
The problem is, after doing research to learn more about this genetic connection, I found out that most of the story above is not true. It didn't happen, or it did but not with my grandfather as the protagonist.
Some things are true only in surroundings and extras. Most things are true about the work he did and his death but most things are untrue about his upbringing and more importantly: his character.
I'm not like him at all. Not even close. I've been aspiring to be like a made up figure who I looked up to. I've created my own personal pagan god to pray to, the one who lived through it all and can guide me in the right direction. I'm the sole disciple of the church of Sylvio Samama and the above is the gospel according to me.
This project is about depression and anxiety and the need to subconsciously create a god to pray to in absence of any form of structured religion.