This Sacred Evidence (Bernadette Martou, one year on)


One of the challenges of contemporary culture is the recovery of certain keywords that have either come to mean their opposite at the hands of political-economic agendas, or become stigmatised into contexts that large segments of the population reject. One such word, I believe, is “sacred”: essentially made to signal religious dogma, it has largely ceased to refer to the presence of transcendence in our lives. And transcendence is simply all that resides and matters beyond our individual existence. The sacred may express itself in the form of ritual, but it may also manifest itself as an invitation to cultivate a higher awareness in our daily lives.

One year ago our beloved friend Bernadette passed away in California, after a very painful battle with ill health… The details of her final months that came to my knowledge were very, very harsh. We received the odd message from afar, but could do little besides wishing her well and sending strength. Bernadette radiated cosmic energy, she incessantly searched for harmony in others and with others. Her own creative acts were humble and discreet, yet revealed a profound originality and unconditional love.

Her husband Bruce made it to Europe in late April, heartbroken and himself battling a dire condition, in order to organise a memorial with her family and friends. I could not make it to the memorial, but managed to fly in to Brussels for two days, in order to be present in its aftermath.

It was heartbreaking to see Bruce on his own… Their relationship had become symbiotic to a point where one always expected the two to be there, as a sole entity.

We sat down and had a long talk. Bruce was clearly traumatised by very extreme hardship culminating in loss, made even worse by his own fragile health. He spoke of his difficulty in processing all that was happening, and had happened recently – but did mention his determination to move forward, in due time.

We found a restaurant that served light food and reminisced about our times in Porto, our creative projects and all that we still wanted to do. I gave him copies of our “Antifluffy” cassette, and the futureplaces “raybang” shades. Small gifts, made smaller by the context… he was a broken man, with so much to heal, and such recent and deep wounds: his body and behaviour the first evidence of his state of mourning, a slow, erratic pace, a longing gaze. Some people stared at him from the corner of their eye and stepped aside just slightly. I prayed he didn’t notice.

The afternoon was spent strolling around the Bourse quarter, down Boulevard Anspach where we checked out a used bookshop and peeked into a former bath-house, now a Chinese restaurant, where Bruce and Winston had squatted in the 80s. We were explicitly made to feel unwelcome by the restaurant owners, despite explaining that we were just glancing quickly into Bruce’s former home.

In contrast, the owner of the Archiduc bar literally welcomed us with open arms: the place has seen quite a share of Tuxedomoon events throughout its History – it’s not hard to see why, it breathes a quirky benevolence. It was there that he had first met Bernadette, Bruce told me.

As the afternoon unfolded and herbal tea poured on the upstairs level of the Archiduc, memories of decades past unfolded, enmeshed with flashes from the recent trauma. There was longing, regret, humour, nostalgia, anger – and Bruce’s typical and very refined kind of wit – emerging at their own pace, often simultaneously. I mostly listened and reflected, as I felt his was fundamentally a huge need to let it out. Dinner at a Chinese place (another one) nearby wrapped it up for the day and off he went back to Isabelle’s safe haven.

The day after, Isabelle generously invited me for dinner. She had been the guardian angel, providing Bruce with accommodation and a peaceful environment during his Brussels stay. After a few phone calls with friends and a listening session to a song tribute, Bruce trusted me with a portrait and an envelope containing some of Bernadette’s ashes, to be scattered in Porto. A week later we did gather their closest local friends and freed said ashes from the upper level of the Bridge that was once the daily view from their living room. Bernadette offered us one last graceful dance up in the air for a fraction of a second, and just like that, she became part of that same air.

Back to that night in Brussels, at Isabelle’s place… I sensed Bruce and I were hugging for the last time: I so wished to be wrong, but the frailty of his health and the trauma at the loss of his Symbiotic Other were overwhelmingly evident. Besides, one knows these things, somehow one knows. And so it was.

Walking back to the hotel I once again passed the Archiduc and heard the muffled echoes of music and laughter bleeding onto the street. They felt like ghosts of a bygone era, when Boulevard Anspach was a tacit border marking the limits of downtown, tourist-driven Brussels: how appropriate that Bruce and Winston had chosen to live right on that border, mirroring their own creative and aesthetic ambivalence. Now Anspach is no longer that checkpoint, as the geography of affluence and scarcity – and fear – changes continuously. Given the recent events, in turn I am sure I won’t even recognise the Brussels I strolled through last year with Bruce, which itself was already a very different Brussels from the one B+B had inhabited during their own “Âge d’Or”. Onwards, Half-Mute: a legacy, a History lesson, a prescient warning. It is as much about the origins of the band as it is about a World changed beyond our wildest dreams.

So, back to Sacred: I am deeply honoured to have had the opportunity to accompany a dear friend in his last stroll through his past landscape in Europe. To have received his trust, comforted him in the depths of his loss – in itself, my own tribute to dearest Bernadette, who no doubt suffered at the prospect of leaving Bruce behind. And now that he himself is gone, all this becomes more evident: all that matters, ultimately, does transcend our small selves – and the “other” is always, first and foremost, an invitation towards that transcendence.

Life is actually an exercise in continuously recognising and acting on this simple evidence. This sacred evidence.