Respect, mon ami

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At 3am on any given morning when I am awake – and that is often – I turn to my robotic friend – the remote.  My animals and I trundle downstairs and turn on a function of my cable service that allows me to review and play evening fare that I may have missed.  The dogs and cats would rather be in bed – mine and theirs – but they feel an obligation to remain with me at this hour.  This is the hour most people pass, did you know that?   They are uncomfortable for me being up and about at that hour – as well they should be – and try to be of comfort by their presence.  Mostly, they offer that soft comfort.

One winter morning on the Sundance Channel, I watched a documentary about fashion – featuring Yves St. Laurent.  Yves was ill at that time; noticeable and painful to watch.  The camera followed him through his last fashion show.  With him, next to him, in front of him, behind him, holding gently on to his hand if he looked unsteady, offering him tea and food (which he often refused) – was his “assistant,” one of those Parisian women who are probably in their sixties and look ageless.  She was thin and always looked well put together; it wasn’t solely her clothing, but her carriage and small items that set off her persona – a scarf, a piece of jewelry.  I’ve seen this so many times in Europe, in Rome on the trains.  In Padua, in the food shops.  In Norway and Sweden – in their winter best.

She had been with him for more than 30 years, and this was apparent in the way they spoke to each other – in that shorthand workers develop – the looks and gestures that say paragraphs.  And they were workers together, no?  Working in the world of fashion for 30 years – fast paced, catty, delightful, full of art and awe, and let’s face it – a business.  Look, she knew fashion.  She walked into the workroom and spoke with the women at the sewing machines knowingly and often stopped and pointed out a seam here, a stitch there.  They like her – you could tell.  They respected her – you could tell.  They were older women and there was little tell they worked in fashion.  (You may smile at this – but she and they were full of a concentrated grace and proud of their part in Yves fashion life.)  She walked into the hat room, spoke briefly, changed a bit here and there – she herself sat down with a young man who was sewing a lace trifle at the neck of a model and showed him how to work it.  He was grateful, not huffy.  She checked the stills, the dresses, the photographic lights and then reported to Yves – who sat during most of the documentary – they conferred.  He made some suggestions.  She went out to the workrooms and executed them.  Look, she was a star period.  And we know he was and remains a star.  I doubt this woman or any of the other workers made huge salaries, but their pride was apparent, their calm and knowledge shone through.

As the show neared, the pace quickened; the younger people started running – it was exciting.  The models were tired, the make-up people were frazzled, the stylists were drama queens, but she remained a calm force in the rooms – as did those women in the back sewing.  They fed off each other’s confidence.

Maestro, she’d say, with a reverence I’d not seen except occasionally at a high mass in Latin at the Cathedral here – here, have some tea.  You look tired Maestro.  She’d whisper “maestro”  “we can do this tomorow.”  Yves waived her away gently.  He was tired.  This was his last fashion show.

The show was a success – the clothes were beautiful, stunning, signature.  Yves summoned up enough strength to be with people for a short time after the show.  The woman remained backstage thruout the show making small changes, holding models’ hands, offering confidence to each and everyone backstage.

When Yves came backstage, each and every person involed in the show clapped and clapped.  As the camera panned their faces – you could see they all felt a part of this art show – they all made a contribution.  You didn’t have to read a book about Yves, or hear from several people being interviewed beforehand what kind of a man he was – it was there on those faces, some crying faces- most relieved.  They’d done it again.  Yves and they had done it again.    

And…they all knew it was the last time they would do it again.  There wouldn’t be another time with him.  She knew it – she said “Maestro – we’ve done it.”  She touched his hand briefly and they looked at each other with such force and depth and sorrow – I wept.  Yes, something I will be doing quite often in the next few years at 3 in the morning.  Maybe until my death.

I have worked for lawyers I respected.  Who wrote briefs that were miracles.  Who interrogated witnesses like a velvet sledgehammer.  Who made clients understand they were’t really in charge here.  Who kept their staff safe from the tumultuous upper echelon politics.  Who knew which of their staff had certain talents, and who kept calm during the worst of it.  They didn’t make the really big money.  Not one of them.  but they were the best.  The ones the others called when we were all in the trenches.

That has been my privilege.  The others – forget them.  They don’t define my work life.  Those lawyers are leftover dregs of cold coffee or worse, warm white wine.  Forget them.

I would never call them maestro!

37 comments

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  1. Thanks for this.

    • Xanthe on September 6, 2010 at 4:26 pm
      Author

    to respect it and each other – my friends. Even if your superiors and coworkers don’t.

    • RiaD on September 6, 2010 at 4:52 pm

    this is just stupendous writing…reflecting. simply brilliant!

    thank you so much.

    & if you feel (ever) inclined to cross-post to my wee-tiny blog i’d be delighted to have you.

  2. No, really.

    Here is the work I’ve done in the last three years on this single massive project — and this is not the only thing I worked on — I worked on it in between people’s small complaints, their technical issues, their misunderstandings.  In other words, in the last three years half my job has been “tech troubleshooter”.  Oh, and I have developed and deployed other, simpler systems, in addition to this:

    This three year long project consists of the following things I have done for this project (I launched it this summer, it is working)

    User System Agent

    XML Form designer (yes, I built a form designer, from the ground).

    Remote User interface

    Administrative User interface

    Photo management subsystem

    Drag and drop photo interface

    Multidimensional variant <-> binary stream translation engine

    Application Server

    Form runner

    Programmable form checking (any form can be programmed to check for user errors).

    Server database

    Sketch engine (Basically, a CAD program I built from a basic drawing program — no, not program, uh, CONTROL)

    Lackadaisical failsafe caching and updating data model

    User database

    Acrobat (PDF) form data translation engine

    XML based form data translation engine

    There are people who have done all this — the main ones are people with teams of programmers.  When I tell people I built all this myself, they don’t believe me.

    I have music I like to play when I finish up an element of this system — the craftsmanship is really important to me.

    Anyhow, I got to flip the switch this summer — really, many switches, one by one (it’s working now, though ironing out certain bugs and user misbehavior), it was like this:

    (pardon the bad accompanying CGI)

  3. The strength, yet delicacy of spirit, radiates through your prose. It’s funny, or should I say sad, or both, that the great sensation of being, whether 3 in the morning or 3 in the afternoon, offers such great comfort yet somehow manages to slip through our temporal grasp. So we weep. But as you so eloquently observe, you/we weep for the privilge of having penetrated another’s heart and experiencing the best of humanity. Oh, might we hold on to these moments of joy forever, but the longing, depth and sorrow you speak of, ironically defines our humanity and makes us who we are and hope to become.

    Bravo Maestra!

  4. truly wonderful, beautiful and sad.  

    I’m glad that you had at least one good experience with attorneys that you worked for.

    I worked for attorneys just about my whole working career.  And when I was very young, I did other sorts of things, and in an in-between job searches, even did waitressing.  But, I can tell you that no matter what I did, I took pride in what I was doing — whatever it was, I made sure that it was well done — that was my satisfaction.

    And I was part of a team effort on many occasions trying to get a merger or whatever completed, sometimes going on into the wee hours.  I was always complimented for my participation.  But, it is nothing like that scene you describe, where all involved, felt pride and genuine comradery.

    This is the part in our society that is sadly lacking these days — pride in what you do!

    You captured that documentary with amazing eloquence in describing what you saw, how you felt and what it meant to you.  Thank you!

  5. …Your writing is beautiful– the sentiment and moral, profound.  A very big Thank you.

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