“I’d like to meet him again,” Ela said.
And she did, a few weeks later, in May 2001, when Henriette invited both Ela and Pamfil to one of her performance pieces, Channeled, at another art gallery in Bucharest. The work involved twenty teenagers of various ages typing in a makeshift chat room, in a physical setup that mimicked that of an Internet café, with the computer desks set flush against the walls of the gallery.
When she arrived there with her two friends, Henriette greeted the gallery assistant, grabbed some informational materials, and proceeded to walk around the room in order to catch some glimpses of the chat conversations.
“Remember when I went to Prague for New Year’s Eve in 1999?” Henriette asked.
Pamfil, who had been browsing a brochure, lifted his gaze to Henriette’s.
“With that friend from high school?” Henriette continued.
“Yes, I remember,” Ela said. “When you broke up with Har.”
“Yes, after a year with Har,” Henriette echoed. She looked at Pamfil. “I went to Prague with a guy, and we fought and went our separate ways, and then we met online in a Bucharest channel—a chat room—on mIRC.”
“And then they had champagne on the Charles Bridge at midnight,” Ela said, smiling at Pamfil.
“Yes, we drank champagne when we met on the Charles Bridge,” Henriette told Pamfil. “We opened the champagne and took a picture of us kissing, in the middle of a crowd that pushed from all sides.”
“Nice story,” Pamfil said. He looked at the people typing on keyboards. “What do they write about?” he asked, his eyes now focused on a screen.
“Ask them,” Henriette replied.
“They look like they’re having fun,” Pamfil said.
“The idea is that online chatting is a form of communication that people engage in to alleviate anxiety,” Henriette explained.
“Interesting,” Ela remarked. “They don’t look anxious.”
“Sometimes boredom is just another word for latent anxiety,” Henriette said. “They may seem like they’re opposite notions, but boredom often gives way to anxiety.”
“Is that from your artist’s statement?” Pamfil asked with a smile.
“It is.” Henriette smiled back.
“Is that what you had in mind when you titled the piece Channeled? The fact that you’re channeling young people’s energies into an activity that helps them psychologically?” Ela asked.
“That, and the fact that chat rooms are called ‘channels’ on mIRC. Also, I wanted to refer obliquely to the fact that what’s channeled is the impulse and need for real communication, and what they get is a travesty of that. And yet it has its value. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded very well in conveying my conflicted stance on technology,” Henriette said pensively. “Let’s talk some more over tea,” she added, switching gears.
They headed to a tea house, revved up by their performances for each other.
“So how was Prague?” Ela asked once they sat down and ordered tea and petits fours. “You never told me much about it, except for the fact that you didn’t get to visit any museums.”
“Yes, I went with this bunch from high school,” Henriette said, settling into her seat.
“Were they fun?” Pamfil asked, his eyes boring into Henriette’s.
“If you consider early mornings spent drunk in bars fun, they were fun, yes. I may have been too sober to appreciate it.”
“Did your boyfriend like his booze too much?” Pamfil asked, a mischievous tone in his voice.
“Hard to say ‘boyfriend,’” Henriette said, darting a look at Pamfil.
“Was this some sort of revenge on Har?” Ela ventured.
“Not really. I wanted to get away, that’s all. Try something else.”
“That’s a good reason,” Pamfil said. He wanted to appear lighthearted, but his comment came out brooding.
Ela sought out his gaze. “Is it?”
“Once you try it, you may discover it isn’t,” Pamfil said with a forced laugh as he met Ela’s eyes. “But unless you try it, you won’t know. So yes, by any means, getting away is fun.”
“But we can’t stay away,” Ela retorted. “Shouldn’t we try to work on our routine instead?”
“Routine. Interesting notion. I’ve thought of it too. Don’t give it much credit, but yes, I’ve given it a lot of thought,” Pamfil said, his eyes lively.
“And?” Ela asked dryly.
Pamfil gave her a keen look. “And it can be a killjoy.”
“Even the routine with a loved one?” Ela probed, peering through the large windows at passersby so as to avoid Pamfil’s piercing eyes.
He kept watching her graceful profile. “There is no routine with a loved one. Lovers are supposed to change each other all the time.”
“Really? You can change men?” Henriette blurted, amused.
“Some women can change some men, yes,” Pamfil responded without missing a beat.