Simply the Best

I can still hear you Marie, singing at the top of your lungs Tina Turner’s song, playing on my car’s CD player. It was a sunny morning back in May 2005 and I was doing the driving between Jerusalem and Jaffa on the Mediterranean coast while Aviram Zino, our newly met young friend, journalist and fixer — you immediately detected in him a high potential for entertainment — was sharing the experience. For you adored Tina Turner and after singing “Simply the Best,” you switched with exhilaration to Tina’s “What’s Love Got to Do With It,” much to our delight. But make no mistake: we had embarked that day on serious work research inspired by you as always. Marie, you had come to spend a few days with me in Jerusalem where I was posted; you did not want to be in London while your partner of those days was moving out, and on top of that you wanted to explore the possibility of us renting a sailboat and making it to Gaza by July 2005, at which time Israel was poised to dismantle Jewish settlements from that Palestinian territory. Gaza was supposed to be a closed military area on evacuation day and you Marie as usual were coming out with Colvinesque plans to be in the right place at the right time to cover the Story no matter what the constraints were. In the end, we were there in Gaza that summer in the settlement of Neve Dekalim on evacuation day — the three of us, you, Aviram and me sharing a tiny room rented to a Jewish settler, and what a memorable experience covering that story together had been…

Our friendship started in Baghdad in 1990 when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. For weeks and months, during the day, we’d be covering the story and at night we’d help western diplomats still based there to empty their champagne fridges ahead of their planned departure from Iraq on the eve of the war on Saddam planned by the international coalition in January 1991…your love, your passion, your commitment to your work was only matched by your incredible joie de vivre and your sense of humor and fun. I can still hear you say to me, “Marie’s here, it’s party time!”

I can see us posing as Australian expats infiltrating in Hebron in the West bank in February 1994, a city that had been closed militarily by the Israeli army in the wake of a massacre of Palestinian worshippers. I can still see us in Baghdad on a May 2003 afternoon after Saddam had fled the capital city sharing a nice afternoon with Kate and Wafa at the Hunting club and being interviewed for a documentary about your life made by one of your filmmaker friends. For you were a star and despite you being one of the most renowned foreign war correspondents of our times , you always had in your traveling bag a pair of stilettos and a miniskirt that did justice to your spectacular allure. How many times were we locked together inside Gaza covering one of those stories where we’d be, under shelling, touring hospitals and writing about those innocent civilians — particularly the children caught in war. Or in Washington with Yasser Arafat in 1993 when on the White House lawn he concluded the Oslo peace accords with Shimon Peres, Yitzhak Rabin in the presence of US President Bill Clinton.

But most importantly we were friends and we shared our joys and sorrows. You would come to Paris or Jerusalem to stay with me and you would sometimes turn to me for comfort. I remember you calling me from London — I was on assignment covering a story somewhere in the Middle East, asking me to sit down because you had something terrible to tell me, and then you burst into tears and broke the news: your estranged husband Juan Carlos Gumuccio had shot himself in Bolivia a day or so before while Anna, his daughter from a previous marriage, was still vacationing with you. You put young Anna on the phone and asked me to share with her some words and memories about her father. You were so worried about her, about her reaction to the breaking of the news of the passing of her father.

Because that’s who you were, Marie — always worrying about your friends and loved ones and finding time to comfort them, including me — and how I relish the moments spent with you in London at your great house in Hammersmith or before that in Notting Hill. Do you remember that day when I took you with Wafa to my mother’s ancestral home in what was before 1948 the city of Jaffa in Palestine? We had some fish for lunch at “Raouf and Athina,” a seaside restaurant, and visited with some distant relatives of mine there. At times, I would find you irritating; you would go incommunicado for days or weeks and not return the calls of your numerous friends. And then you’d surface again and say to me with your charming ways, “Darling, forgive me, I have been such a bad friend to you.” But Marie, Darling you were never a bad friend. On all counts, you were, you are, and you will always be for me SIMPLY THE BEST.

— Dominique Roch