Thursday, December 22, 2016

Justin Trudeau & his mom

Left to right - Justin, Margaret, Michel and Sasha Trudeau, 1983


I bought a copy of Justin Trudeau's 2014 autobiography Common Ground and it has some interesting stuff in there. He sometimes has fun being the son of a famous politician. He recounts on page 89 of the paperback edition:
On occasion, my background and family name have led to incidents that were comic and surreal. Like the day, during a trip to Paris, I struck up a conversation on Boulevard Saint-Michel with a retired American professor who had made a name for himself translating Robert Frost's poetry into French. He was an interesting and eminent character who, when I mentioned I was from Canada, began rhapsodizing about "that wonderful prime minister you had in the seventies, the one with the beautiful wife who ran away."
I couldn't resist. I said, "You mean Mom?"

I have to say the Trudeaux, père et fils are the most famous Canadian politicians by far in the United States. Americans normally have no idea what is going on up there in Canada, but even I knew there was a Canadian politician in the 1970s named Pierre Trudeau who had a wife "who ran away."

I recently learned how notorious Margaret Trudeau was in those days, allegedly dating Mick Jagger and Ryan O'Neal, and being photographed at Studio 54. Although Monsieur Trudeau himself was no slouch on the boudoir department there is still and certainly was then, a double standard. And Pierre had a controlled and circumspect character verging on Spartan to hear Justin tell it, while Margaret was and still is emotionally volatile.

As Justin mentions in his book, she's had a lifelong struggle with manic-depression which was only diagnosed fairly late in life. But also, from what I have seen in video interviews and which is apparent in this online print interview too, she has an extremely open personality, and is incredibly candid even, apparently, in spite of herself: a trait that I personally find charming and even admirable, but which is completely unadvisable for any politician's wife.

She was so open that in the 1970s a scandalous photo was published of her, without underpants on. You can see the photo here.

Justin was not aware of the photo until a classmate shoved it in his face. From page 62 of Common Ground:
Sometimes things at school got personal. A few students would try to get a rise out of me by bringing up dirty laundry about my parents' separation, which had long been a stable of the tabloids. I had been somewhat insulated  from this in Ottawa, both because I was well surrounded by a great group of friends who had known me since kindergarten, and because elementary-school children tend not to be as cruel and vulgar as older kids. In the Hobbesian world of high school (in Montreal) some kids regard anything and anyone as fair game. One day an older kid came up and thrust into my hands a notorious picture of my mother that had appeared in an adult magazine. 
Hard as this may be to believe, I had never before seen that picture - never even knew of its existence. And obviously it set me reeling. But I knew this was a critical moment. If I acted shocked or hurt, it would be open season on me for the rest of high school. Everyone would know they could get a rise out of me by shoving the latest bit of gossip in my face. So I simply waved it off, leaving  the bully unsatisfied, and he went off to find an easier mark.
Margaret's wild youth wasn't the only thing that stressed out Justin. He recounts an event from his childhood on page 46:
My mother's mental health deteriorated as I grew older. And there were times that I began to feel that I had to take care of her, rather than the reverse.
One day, a few years after my mother had moved out and was seeing a nice guy named Jimmy, she arrived at my school while I was in gym class saying she had to see me, she needed to talk to me, I must listen to her. In the school hallway she seized my shoulders and through her tears said: "Jimmy left me! He's gone! He even took the TV!"
I did my best to console her, giving her hugs and patting her back and telling her it was all right, that things would get better. I was eleven years old.
What an unusual childhood had Justin Trudeau.

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