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A Great Family Tree20 July 2010 Zie Nederlandse versie
by Arnold Jansen op de Haar
This week Zsa Zsa Gábor (aged 93) fell out of her bed and as a result has broken a number of bones. The picture of this marvel of plastic surgery holding a poodle is implanted on my mind. Actually, it belongs to the memories of my youth; I didn’t know she was still alive.
Zsa Zsa was what you call a socialite in the English language: someone who knows everyone worth knowing, while it remains a mystery why this should be the case. Zsa Zsa Gábor was the Paris Hilton of her time. From time to time socialites are cast in a movie, but this is due to their appearance and influential contacts.
For a while Zsa Zsa was married to Paris’ great-grandfather, so that she is in fact her step great-grandmother. Every time Zsa Zsa changed husbands, she made the headlines. She is known for this observation: ‘I am a perfect housekeeper: every time I divorce I keep the house.’ I do think it is the perfect finish for a socialite: falling out of bed at the end of your life.
There is no Dutch word for socialite. Maybe The Netherlands is too small to accommodate a person living off their fame. I know of just one instance: Marijke Helwegen. Until last year she handled the PR for a plastic surgeon. Helwegen herself has been reconstructed to such an extent that she resembles Betty Boop. Nowadays she performs with pigeons: ‘You can now book Marijke and her pigeons for any event’. Why you would want to do this is not entirely clear.
Zsa Zsa Gábor has always been a truly modern socialite. By ‘modern’ I mean a socialite who is famous for being famous. In her time there were socialites who did have talent, for example Sophia Loren, Catherine Deneuve or Audrey Hepburn. All were acknowledged actresses.
Apparently Paris Hilton is descended from Charlemagne (Charles the Great). However, this is not particularly special as one third of the Western European population happens to be related to him. The odd thing is that because of the popular press we know all about the relatives of socialites; in contrast most people are very ill informed about their own family history.
My maternal grandfather was born in 1882 and died in 1946. I wasn’t born until 1962, so I never met him. Yet I know a lot about him through the stories of my mother (aged 86) and my Aunt Ted (aged 84). Grandfather Jacques’ dearest wish was to write a book. Aunt Ted, who has no children, looks after his papers. Recently she said: ‘When I am dead you have to read his letters, they are wonderful.’
Uncle Henk has investigated my father’s family tree. He traced it back to 1737. At the end of his life he got a bit confused and suddenly extended the tree to the start of the first century AC, to the Kaninefaten, a tribe who lived in western part of The Netherlands before and during the Roman conquest.
Uncle Henk is now dead and resides with the Kaninefaten in a box under my desk. Not his body of course but his archive. I inherited it because I am a writer. I wish I could convey to Uncle Henk that he hasn’t been forgotten.
I have no children so I am an end node in the tree. At some point in the future I will receive the archive of Aunt Ted. What will become of the box-of-Uncle-Henk?
I think I should give Paris Hilton a call. I’d ask ‘Wouldn’t it be marvellous if we produced a few kids with your good looks and my brain?’ following Marilyn Monroe’s apocryphal suggestion when she met Einstein. ‘But what if it turns out to be the reverse?’ is the reply attributed to Einstein. Well, you do live on through children.
I have an extensive family tree. Maybe that is the way to Paris’ heart. I’m sure Charlemagne can be introduced by being creative. Or else I can proclaim to be the last of the Kaninefaten. That is bound to impress. I am in for a curious conversation: ‘I am just calling because Zsa Zsa Gábor has fallen out of her bed!’
© Arnold Jansen op de Haar
© Translation Holland Park Press
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