Genevieve Salbaing was laid to rest today and damn – I’m going to miss her. Not because of her contribution to dance or that our meeting changed the trajectory of my life, what I will miss most about Genevieve Salbaing is the surprise of the unexpected. She delighted me because she was an original – in thought and in action. Our last meetings will always stay in my memory.
I was meeting up with Genevieve (or Madam as I called her) and her son Patrick in Montreal one afternoon. We were going to catch up on each other’s lives over lunch and I was late. The one thing that Madam hated more than anything else was when someone was late and I knew that I was in trouble. There was a mix-up over Patrick’s address (where we were meeting). Breathless from running, I finally made it and after repeated apologies, we piled into Madam’s big ass SUV. Patrick was driving.
Madam was originally from France and had a very sophisticated palate. She also loved champagne. Imagine my surprise when we pulled up to a non-alcoholic vegan restaurant. I looked at Patrick with raised eyebrows, but his mother took it in stride and walked into the restaurant. There was a bit of confusion while he tried to explain to her that there was no dairy and what cashew milk was, but eventually something was selected from the menu that she was able to eat and somewhat enjoy. It wasn’t her favorite, but she was usually game for anything new.
Afterward we drove 20 minutes through traffic to reach a small neighbourhood Italian bakery that sold Madam’s favourite cookies. There was no place to park so I took her into the bakery to while Patrick circled with the car. It was obviously a very popular place because there were lots of people waiting to be served. When it was finally our turn, she asked for two cookies – and then changed her mind. She wanted three cookies. Each cookie was the size of a Canadian Toonie. I looked at her and questioned, “Three cookies?” She told me they were very good and asked me if I’d like one. I declined.
Once she had made her purchase, we piled back into her car and Patrick drove us to her retirement building where she had an apartment. She showed me the park where she visited with the neighborhood dogs, she showed me her home, and she showed me her fat kitty cat. Patrick complained about the heat and she ignored him. Later that evening I reflected on the ways people show love and I hoped that one day someone would love me enough to drive me kilometers so I could buy three tiny delicious cookies.
Six months later, I was back in Montreal. I called Madam and asked her if I could take her out to lunch – to her favorite French restaurant. No vegan this time. We agreed on a date. I went to her apartment, helped her find her keys, said hello to the even fatter kitty cat and we made our way down to the basement of the building to her car. Did I forget to mention that the woman was in her 90’s and a notoriously bad driver to start off with? The very first time she drove me to her place over 30 years ago, she hit the back of her garage and when the car bounced back, she turned to me and said “Oh! That’s a little to close!” My eyes bugged out in shock. In the winter when snow covered the streets, she drove her car up the middle of the street. No lines to follow! Surprisingly, she was never in an accident (that I was aware of) but a lot of us joked about the wave of destruction she must have left behind her as other drivers swerved to miss her. I was wondering how she managed to see over the steering wheel of her big ass SUV when she stopped next to a little Fiat. She had a new car. I sighed with relief. This was a much better fit.
It appeared that her driving had improved with age. She drove slower and with a lot more caution. The line of cars behind us on Avenue Van Horne increased substantially every minute, as we made our way to the restaurant. When we arrived at the restaurant, she told me to get out of the car while she parked it. There was angled parking in the lot adjoining the restaurant and as she pulled into an empty slot, she misjudged the needed angle and started to take out a Mercedes in the adjacent slot. My mouth dropped open. I slapped my hand over my eyes, shook my head and just started to laugh. Seriously – what can you do at this point? I didn’t hear metal screeching upon metal. When she turned the car off, I walked over to it. She had missed the Mercedes by one quarter an inch. One quarter of an inch. Wow, I thought, there was a guardian angel looking after her.
After lunch, we walked back to the parking lot and she proceeded to back the car out – at a collision course angle. I waved her to stop. When she rolled down the window, I leaned in and asked if she’d like me to take the car out of the lot. She agreed and moved over to the passenger seat. I carefully backed the car out and turned onto Avenue Van Horne. We had barely gone half a block when she yelled for me to stop the car. I thought something was wrong and quickly pulled over. There was nothing wrong. She wanted to drive. I got out of the car, walked around and got back in as she slid back into the driver’s seat. We returned to her residence with the multi-car pileup creeping along us.
I seriously am going to miss this woman. Not just for the unexpected moments of surprise and joy of being a witness to her crazy existence, I will miss her blunt observations on life and honest emotions. RIP Genevieve.