Return of the Muse

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Ngo Thi Bich Diem did not say much, her reticence and tears said it all.

Fifty years after the all-time classic love song in contemporary Vietnamese music Diem Xua was written, the legendary affair between its subject and composer was revisited at an informal gathering last week.

Diem said her memories of Trinh Cong Son and the song were wonderful, but she did not want to talk about them.

Last week's get-together in Hue Town's Lieu Quan Buddhist Cultural Center was organized by Vietnamese German academic Thai Kim Lan, a Hue native who teaches philosophy, and a group of friends, including teachers and students who'd not seen each other for decades.

The cynosure of all eyes was Diem, always an intriguing subject for the legions who love Trinh Cong Son's songs.

Diem, whose father taught French at the Dong Khanh and Quoc Hoc high schools in Hue, said: "I was born in Hanoi, was brought up in Hue, and moved to Ho Chi Minh City as an adult before studying abroad. Now, I live with my husband and children in the US."

Diem was introduced to Trinh Cong Son by artist Dinh Cuong, who was a student of Diem's father.

She used to live at 46 Phan Chu Trinh Street, on the banks of the An Cuu River, opposite Trinh Cong Son's old house on Nguyen Truong To Street in Hue.

At last week's meeting, writer Buu Y, a close friend of Trinh Cong Son, said, "Son had more than 23 lovers in his life.

"However, his first love for Bich Diem was so deep that he just tried to find her image in later love affairs."

There was no further talk about the affair or why it ended, but Diem's eyes welled up and the tears flowed several times during the meeting.

It is said that her father, a serious, conservative man, did not approve of her relationship with an untidy, long-haired young man. The song was written after she left for Saigon to study at a university in the early 1960s.

Nguyen Dac Xuan, a man who knew Son well, has written that in the early 1960s, Son's family was in financial trouble and had to sell their house on Phan Boi Chau Street and rent an apartment at 11/3 Nguyen Truong To St. Here, he saw Diem walk to and from school every day past his house.

Five decades on, the stories abound and timelines blur.

However, the song lingers in the hearts of millions, a timeless monument to love and the pain of longing.

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