Thursday 25 February 2016

In search of Juliette

It is almost seven years since we lost the acclaimed “Grandmother of Herbal Medicine”, Juliette de bairacli Levi. Her love of herbs and passion for life in general inspired women and men all over the world. After two years of increasing frailty, news finally came from her daughter’s family in Switzerland that she had passed on in May 2009. Several months later they buried her ashes back on Kythera, the Greek Island she called home.

There was an outpouring of love and remembrance amongst the American herbal community. Susan Weed wrote an eloquent obituary which formed the basis for every other online memorial. Her native land, the land of her first forty years, the home of much of her remaining family including her son stayed silent.

It is hard for anyone who comes from a different country, a different culture to fully understand the circumstances and issues surrounding another. We accept the fragments we are told because we often do not have the means or the inclination to dig deeper for the whole story, to understand the context of the time in which events unfolded.

When I read Susan’s obituary of Juliette some statements seemed “strange”. I did not wish to contact Raffi and Luz, Juliette’s children, at a time when their own grief would be raw so I went instead to the Jewish community in Manchester and learned a great deal from them. I’ve researched online to track what happened to her after her father’s death in 1935 when she moved alone to London whilst the rest of the family sought a new life in Harrogate.

In the past weeks, I’ve been contacted by Juliette’s stepson, who had no knowledge of his father’s first marriage nor of his step-siblings. It seems time to put my notes in order, visit the places where Juliette studied and worked and bring all that information into a clearer light.

The stories have already been told once. They are there in Juliette’s own words and thoughts, scattered like tiny pearls amongst her other tales. It won’t be a short journey, but now is the time to bring them together into a beautiful necklace so the whole world can see what an amazing woman she was.