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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Juliette Ideler White 1922 - 2009

Juliette Ideler White
1922 - 2009

Juliette died this afternoon a rich and full year after her lung cancer diagnosis. In that year she went through the Panama Canal, explored Mexico, checked out the Hermitage, and went to a lot of parties in her honor. Nearly to the end she was entertaining guests in her little house on Albion Ridge, taking care of us as much as if not more than being taken care of. Juliette lived until she died.

Two of Juliette's granddaughters kept a blog of her final days that will have a eulogy and any further information. I've posted a Facebook tribute page (Juliette Ideler White Tribute) with a treasury of her photographs (with more to come) and a video friends posted of photos with Juliette playing the soundtrack.

Juliette Ideler White and Paul Festa
portrait by Greg Gorman, 2009

The last letter I wrote Juliette captures something of what I felt for her and feel for her memory:

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Dear Juliette,

Aren’t we cute? You with your chanterelles, me with my Amanita calyptroderma. I cleaned and chopped them all Sunday night when we came home and yesterday James made a year’s supply of mushroom cream sauce. I sautéed more for lunch with leftover beef and Brussels sprouts and some chicken sauce and penne pasta. Three intact caps await stuffing. Sarah Silverman said that when God gives you AIDS, make lemonAIDS, and contemplating what she would say about mushrooms – on second thought maybe I’d better not. Meanwhile, despite excellent digestion after eating these now for four days in a row, I remain creeped out by the Chronicle story people keep forwarding me, about the Lodi family that wound in a hospital waiting for new livers after harvesting Amanita phalloides last week. The story carries a picture of the offending mushrooms and they look just like these. Was it your book or one of the Websites I looked at that added that the Death Caps are delicious?

Speaking of death, I got Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead out of the library and wouldn’t you know it, the musical tragedians (of which I am one) have not one single fucking line. But I signed on. Doing Twelfth Night two years ago was outrageously fun and this is a reunion of that cast and director.

I loved our last weekend together, being with you and your family, having you at the party, vertical or horizontal as the case may have been – it occurs to me that I might not wait until my final illness to order my bed put in the dining room. My last weekend with you was like all the rest in a crucial respect, because, odd as it might sound (to some, but not to me), despite the circumstances it was fun, and it was fun because even in dying you still know how to live, and you’ve taught that by example to me and to everyone around you. I couldn’t be sad in your presence. Back home, awake with my new insomnia, much different story. But with you I was happy, and you were so much more alive than dying, though you were and are teaching, by example, how to do that too. Like putting the bed next to the dining room table, by the window looking out on the rhododendrons and the tree whose name you taught me last visit and which I can’t remember now – some lessons stick better than others.

Fun with photos and mushrooms and granddaughters and a garden party – too much fun to want to interrupt it with sentimental declarations but I’ll risk one now. I was always happy in your presence. Twenty or thirty years of happiness, of carting my friends and boyfriends and parents and husband up the coast to share it, like showing them where the chanterelles come up. I think it was Saturday night that I dreamed I was in the forest at dusk and the place was alive with the sentient spirits of mushrooms. It wasn’t the mushrooms themselves but the spirits of them, in the redwood canopy winking light and communicating something to me that was joyous and exalted. While you’re still here to read this I have to thank you for all the joy.


Cindy said...

What a moving letter to a woman who obviously meant a lot to you. Anyone who reads your letter will wish they knew her too.

Anonymous said...

absolutely beautiful letter paul. i am now very hungry with the mushroom cream sauce thing. who was juliettte and how did you come to know such a wonderful soul?

Paul Festa said...

I think I was eleven or twelve when I met Juliette. It's a little complicated but she was dating an ex of my mother's whom I'd stayed friends with after he and my mom split up. She was a cellist and started roping me into chamber music circles up in Mendocino, and that's how we became friends.

Her great-grandchildren, one of whom as a toddler couldn't quite say "Juliette," called her Juju, which five minutes ago I glimpsed in the Scrabble dictionary - it's "an object regarded as having magical power."

Karl said...

For one month last year, thanks to you, Paul, I got to hang out in the vicinity of Juliette, and in that time: she taught me to identify the bird that was making the call I kept hearing in the woods; talked me through making chicken stock, which I'd never done before; and gave me a clipping from a rose geranium. I made the stock as she taught. The plant is thriving on a table under a window in my kitchen. I only wish I could remember the name of that bird -- I wish that I could ask her again. I feel lucky to have been exposed to Juliette's charm and warmth and smarts. Thanks, Paul, for sharing her. And thanks Juliette, wherever you may be.

Susan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Susan said...

I am a friend of Alex's and have known Juliette for many years. She always made me feel as if I held a special and exalted place in her heart and mind, one reserved just for me. I know that this ability -- to hold each of us as unique and essential -- was among Juju's many gifts. Your contributions in "Letters to Juliette" speak to the vital nature of your relationship with her. We're all so fortunate to have basked in her light, aren't we? P.S. In the mushroom photo, you two couldn't be cuter.

alexandra lexton-metzner said...

A beautiful letter to our Juju. Thanks for that. I'll post to the final blogs (P.S. Chris started the blog)the link to your site. xxxx.... Alex
Also, Max called Juliette gunnkg-gunnkg. He couldn't pronounce the J... though his version of the letter seems more complicated. I called her Juju, though I think I could actually pronounce Juliette.

Susan said...

I am a friend of Alex's and had known Juliette for many years. She always made me feel as if I held a special and exalted place in her heart and mind, one reserved just for me. I know that this ability --to make everyone she encountered feel unique and essential -- was among Juju's many gifts. Your contributions on this blog and in "Letters to Juliette" speak to the vital nature of your relationship with her. We're all so fortunate to have basked in her light, aren't we? P.S. In the mushroom photo, you two couldn't be cuter. - Sue

Yael said...


Your letter is extremely beautiful, touching and so fitting to who Juliette is/was. I was wanting to write something about her, but after reading your... poetry really, I will let your letter, (and I think many will agree), speak to what it was I wanted so much to say.

Thank you for your voice that expresses so much of what is true and dear about Juliette. We carry Juliette with love in our hearts. A very happy treasure to own.

With Thanks and Love,

About Me

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Paul Festa’s first film, Apparition of the Eternal Church (2006, 51 min), captures the responses of 31 artists to the apocalyptic music of Olivier Messiaen (with Justin Bond, John Cameron Mitchell, Harold Bloom; screenings: Grace Cathedral, Barbican Centre, Library of Congress; “Remarkable”The New Yorker; “Stunning”Chicago Sun-Times; “Sublime”Globe & Mail; numerous awards). Festa performs the Tchaikovsky violin concerto, opposite members of the San Francisco Ballet and The Cockettes, in his award-winning second film, The Glitter Emergency (2010, 20 min), a silent-film drag ballet comedy (“Enormous visual and musical inventiveness…full of pleasure and joy...Festa gives a bravura performance."—Film Threat). He produced, wrote and edited, with director Austin Forbord, and was chief archivist, for the Emmy-nominated documentary Stage Left: A Story of Theater in San Francisco (2010, 80 min: with Robin Williams, Bill Irwin, Peter Coyote; screenings: Geary Theater, KQED; “Intriguing...entertaining...a valuable record”—Variety). Performances as violinist and actor: ODC Theater, Center for Performance Research, Kunst-Stoff, TheatreFIRST, North Bay Shakespeare, Albert Fuller's Helicon Ensemble (Merkin Hall, Weill Hall at Carnegie Hall, Alice Tully Hall). US, Boston, NYC, SF, LA and DC (Coolidge Auditorium at the Library of Congress on the “Betts” Stradivarius) premieres of Messiaen’s Fantaisie for violin and piano. He is the author of OH MY GOD: Messiaen in the Ear of the Unbeliever, based on Apparition of the Eternal Church, and several anthologized essays, and has written for The Daily Beast, Salon, Nerve, and The New York Times Book Review. Current projects include a novel and Tie It Into My Hand (2014, ca. 80 min), a documentary feature that has screened as a work in progress at the Cannes film market and at ODC Theater in San Francisco (with Alan Cumming, Gary Graffman, Peter Coyote, Mink Stole, Robert Pinsky; "A fascinating exploration of the artistic life, as rollickingly entertaining as it is insightful and stirring."San Francisco Bay Guardian). Education: Yale (B.A.; prizes, honors, distinction), Juilliard (Cert., Adv. Cert., scholarships). Residencies: Yaddo, MacDowell, ODC Theater, Centre des Récollets.