Nuala McCann: What my mother always said about old age not being for softies is true
It's satisfying to see beauty in the joy of an everyday life – whether it's celebrating the sex life of chickens, like Isabella Rossellini, or, like me, planting bulbs in containers in our back yard
I'VE always been entranced by Isabella Rossellini… by her youthful beauty, by the glamour of her childhood – the daughter of Ingrid Bergman and the famous film director Roberto Rossellini.
But it is the way that she has faced adversity, that strikes a note.
In my youth and hers, Isabella's face drew me to the Lancome counter in Boots – she was the face of the brand – and the treat of a slash of red lipstick or a double lash mascara. But it's the story of her latter years that makes her a role model.
She may have had the life of a film star but fame and wealth are no passport to happiness – think Judy Garland or Marilyn Monroe.
In 1996, when she was about to turn 44, she was sacked as the face of Lancome. Women dreamed about being young and she was getting older, they said. So they found a younger version of her in Juliette Binoche.
In an interview with make-up guru Sali Hughes in the Guardian, she said that, heartbroken at losing her job, her income and a second family of colleagues, she asked a senior executive what she was to do. “I am not your wet nurse,” he told her.
Then in 2016 they invited her to come back as their muse. They recognised what she had argued – women don't dream of eternal youth, they dream of being independent, powerful and asserting themselves. So instead of turning Lancome down when they came a-knocking at the door, instead of telling them to shove their Rouge Absolu lipsticks up their tight derrieres, she returned.
And now in 2020, I've just read a wonderful interview with the older Isabella – she has aged gracefully. She is pictured in a wildflower meadow holding a rather sweet white hen.
She looks her age – slightly plumper about the face, dark hair cropped in that trademark pixie style – she looks beautiful for her 68 years. But above all she looks happy.
It is a million miles away from the dark, mysterious tortured soul featured in the stills from the film, Blue Velvet. Hers is a beauty of the soul now.
As Simon Hattenstone writes in a recent interview for the Guardian, she is a model, actor, writer, animal behaviourist and farmer who has made a series of films about animals' sex lives which are “funny, educative and a little bit bonkers”.
Rossellini lives on a farm in Long Island with her sheep, goats, chickens, ducks and dogs.
From her farm she has been making films under the title Green Porno and Seduce Me where she dresses up as the different creatures and celebrates the joy of sex as well as the sheer agony of it – the female praying mantis starts eating the male's head even as he is mating with her. He is dying, but he can't let go… she gets her cake and gets to eat it too.
Rossellini's fascination with animal behaviour began when she was just 14 and her father bought her a book. But she didn't have the confidence to pursue that dream and went into the family business – modelling, then acting. It was difficult to live up to her famous mother.
But hers is an inspiring story about the freedom and joy that can come with ageing.
Old age is not for softies, my mother always said, and I'm only coming to understand how true that is and how brave people are as they learn to accept frailties of body and mind.
I'd never be one for giving in gracefully and if lockdown has taught me anything, it is that there's a peacock inside me and I'm a slave to my beautician, my hairdresser, my podiatrist.
Now I'm the evil witch queen looking into the mirror on the wall, wanting to hear a good lie and no word of little Ms Snow White, thank you. Now I look at young people and think that youth is beautiful – they're all so full of vitality and they don't see it.
It's satisfying to see beauty in the joy of an everyday life – whether it's celebrating the sex life of chickens, like Isabella, or, like me, planting bulbs in containers in our back yard.
I pray that when the first green shoots poke their noses above the soil and the days turn again, that these harsh times are beyond us, that we can feel the sap rise, that we can dance to the music of spring.