Janette Bertrand is exactly as you imagine.
The most famous nonagenarian in Quebec barely opens the door to her bright residence in downtown Montreal when I already feel a bit like my grandmother. But in reality I am with one of the figures of Quebec culture who has contributed the most to changing, for the better, the fate of his society.
Ms. Bertrand notices that I’m hobbling a little, because of my missing left leg, asks me a few questions about my handicap and, without me realizing it, I start telling my life story to the one I came to interview – a role reversal that usually horrifies me to no end.
I shouldn’t be surprised though: getting people to talk about their most intimate things is the art she’s been working on for longer than I’ve been in the world.
“After Everyone Talks About It, a few weeks ago, we went out with the mayor,” she tells me about the traditional meals to which guests of Sunday high mass are invited. And during this dinner, Ms. Bertrand did not hesitate to kindly express to Valérie Plante her grievances regarding the sidewalks of Montreal and, more generally, the difficulties that travel in this city represents in winter for disabled. We both know something about it.
In addition to her shaky balance when she walks without a walker, Ms. Bertrand, whom I would have a hard time not calling Janette, doesn’t look her 98 years at all. The adjective “incredible” is used indiscriminately, but there is indeed something purely incredible in his liveliness of mind, in his humor and in his knowledge of the issues that drive current affairs.
Colleague Léa Carrier’s recent report on the masculinist resurgence alarmed her greatly, and isn’t there something deeply distressing about her having to experience yet another episode of this kind? But as she says so well, we cannot end “8,000 years of domination of women” by men without resistance. If the show still existed, it would certainly have a rich subject to explore at the Parler pour parole table.
Ms. Bertrand was born in another era – I raise my eyebrows when she slips into a phrase that Lionel Groulx taught her – but she is undeniably a woman of our time.
A woman, feminist, who has not said her last word against patriarchy, which will of course have been the fight of her entire existence. A fight involves many advances and almost as many reversals. Changing diapers? Such was her destiny as well as that of all women in Quebec, recalls the warmest of rebels in My life in three acts, her autobiography launched in 2004, of which a new expanded edition has just been published.
So she made it her mission to improve the lot of women by improving her own. “It was selfish, deep down,” she emphasizes. This, you will agree, is a very humble reading of his contribution.
Janette Bertrand is not slowing down. Two weekends ago, she spent several hours meeting her readers at the Montreal Book Fair. Right after our visit last Wednesday, she was expected somewhere downtown for a shoot. The omnicommunicator multiplies the interviews, while her place in the pantheon of the builders of modern Quebec has long been cemented.
“It’s because I’m aware that there might be something people can take from what I say,” she explains. Me, I’m a thief, I grab what I need from reading, from the cinema, from the theater. It’s to go get things that we read, that we go out. Sometimes you don’t find anything, but other times you find a sentence that will mark your life. »
What makes her happy today? A box of May West brought back from the supermarket by her young lover, Donald, 22 years her junior. A shopping trip with her eldest daughter, Dominique, who is 75 years old (her youngest great-grandson is 1 year old). Go see your “boyfriend” Debbie Lynch-White play at the theater.
But not slowing down is also for Janette Bertrand a way of honoring the gift she received, at the start of adulthood, by surviving – almost a miracle – tuberculosis, after 10 months of what we called great cure.
“I was sure that in the fall, the leaves would fall and I would die,” she remembers, recalling the other young patients she saw leaving, feet first, with the morgue truck. “So when you stay alive, after coming so close to death…” She won’t finish her sentence, but her ellipsis will say it all.
Janette Bertrand does not believe in God. “But I believe in humans. I believe we only have life. I believe in it very strongly. And that’s why I live so intensely. It’s that we have to live it, this life, until the end, because I won’t have another. »