Onward with installment #3 from Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL)! Once again, these go online on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and I will then take them down a month afterward. Enjoy!
If you wish to read the whole novel before I’m finished posting the installments, I have listed the various Amazon links along with a book description here.
First installment: “Nice meeting you, Ela” (July 11, 2021)
#3 (“You could humor me and play some piano”)
Ela’s interest in Pamfil came about so swiftly and strongly that Henriette felt pushed into a corner, reluctant to share her thoughts on him. She wanted to believe doing so was unnecessary anyway—after all, Ela was her friend, and Pamfil, however much of a philanderer, wouldn’t dare work his charms on her. Or would he? Henriette didn’t know what to think. She knew only that in the two years she’d been with him, she felt herself to be the center of his affections. Did that mean he’d never cheated on her? Henriette couldn’t be sure, and, despite her pretense to the contrary, the uncertainty nagged at her. She knew she couldn’t expect to have him all to herself when she herself was living with Haralambie, but still, as time went by, she wished to see that he was making a first step in that direction, to show her that he could be more than he was, that he could be the man Ela wanted him to be, a lover with a lust for life yet someone who reined in his plentiful desire. So perhaps, Henriette thought one day as she was making dinner, she had a duty to tell Ela who Pamfil was. But then again, she considered, maybe Pamfil wasn’t who she thought he was. Maybe he was better. Maybe he wasn’t tempted by other women. Not tempted enough to act on it, that is.
It was with these reflections in mind that two months after her performance show, Henriette invited Ela and Pamfil to a film at the French Cultural Institute’s Elvire Popesco Cinema. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, the three of them deciding their outing based on their schedules rather than on what was playing.
“The Thinker and the Lover,” Henriette mused as her eyes glided over the movie poster. “Interesting. ‘Inspired by the novel Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse.’” She turned to Ela and Pamfil. “Have you read this book?”
“No,” they both said in unison.
“So does this mean the thinker doesn’t love, and the lover doesn’t think?” Henriette quipped, heartily amused at the notion.
“We’ll see,” Pamfil said. “I imagine it’s probably about dominant personality traits rather than a clear-cut dichotomy. I read somewhere that the ‘lover’ is an artist, so he clearly thinks a bit,” he added with a smile.
Some two hours later they were outside again, walking down Dacia Boulevard to Romana Square.
“So how did you like it?” Pamfil asked.
“I liked that the artist was also a wanderer. Many artists are wanderers at heart,” Henriette said.
“I felt sad for the scholar,” Pamfil said. “He helped Goldmund find his path in life but he couldn’t help himself. He died unfulfilled, unloved.”
Henriette shook her head in disbelief at Pamfil’s way of showing his soft side. “But Goldmund loved him,” she countered, even-tempered, keeping her gaze ahead.
“But are they separate people or just separate ideas?” Ela put in.
“What do you mean?” Henriette asked, turning to her friend.
“Maybe Narcissus and Goldmund are facets of the same personality, complementary aspects of one’s psyche rather than opposite characters,” Ela said. “Forces that struggle to express themselves, seeking fulfillment of the mind and the senses.”
“Mediated by the mysterious soul, perhaps,” Henriette interjected with a smile.
“Perhaps.” Ela took in the amber light around her, in the sky and on the beautiful late-nineteenth- and early-twentieth-century villas of French and Neo-Romanian eclecticism down Dacia Boulevard.
Henriette looked at Ela looking at the city at sunset.
“My place?” Pamfil asked. “You could humor me and play some piano,” he added, turning to Henriette. “You and Ela.”
The women agreed amiably, and the three of them took the bus to Pamfil’s place, an old house from around 1900 standing a stone throw’s away from his landlady’s residence.
“This is my home. Small but comfortable,” Pamfil said as he turned the key in the lock. He opened the front door to reveal a snug kitchen, modest-sized but fitted with all the essentials: a cast-iron stove, a sink, four cabinets, and a table with two straight-back chairs and two stools. He then stepped to a door tucked at the back of the kitchen and presented with an all-encompassing gesture his neat bathroom, beautifully decorated with colorful tiles but seemingly tighter than a closet and with the smallest of tubs.
“And now the living room,” Pamfil invited, walking his visitors into a stunning high-ceilinged, whitewashed salon/bedroom, clean and tidy, and spacious enough to allow for what to Ela seemed like an impressive array of furniture for only one room: a bed, a wardrobe, a settee, two empty accent tables, two armchairs, a computer desk, several tall and narrow bookcases and CD shelves, and Henriette’s favorite piece, an upright piano—next to which, resting on the floor in a corner, were Pamfil’s predilect musical instruments, a violin and an acoustic guitar.
Ela found it a particularly welcoming environment, not only because it was nicely tidy and clean, but also because everything in it was old, worn-out, and, as such, not strident but rather self-effacing—a notion Ela embraced in her work as a piano teacher even as she sometimes felt it had been an obstacle in her life, keeping her from becoming, if not a concert pianist, then maybe an accompanying pianist for a violinist like Pamfil, or for one of the musical talent shows on TV.
She was good, or better said, she had been good once; now that she was in Pamfil’s home to show her prowess, she felt inadequate. True, she often spent extra hours after teaching keeping her fingers nimble, but somewhere along the way she stopped teaching herself new pieces, and to her that meant she stagnated in the interpretation of the old pieces too, for so often when you’re confronted with the challenge of interpreting a new work, you realize how you may improve an old one. But such thinking was not helping her much at this time. She had to muster whatever confidence she could and get on with it. She decided to rest a little—and calm down—on the settee before playing, so she wiped her hands on her thighs and spent a few moments studying Henriette, who sat down at the desk, herself, too, in the throes of anticipation, trying to decide how to approach their face-off.
In the meantime, as his guests fretted, Pamfil busied himself in the kitchen. When he walked back in, unattuned to the vibes given off by the two women, he approached them in his usual bouncy way. First he spoke to Ela, inquiring if she’d be happy with some green tea with peppermint.
Ela nodded with a smile, doing her best to be gracious like Pamfil and match his debonair presence, despite her tension.
Henriette, in turn, found herself a little bothered, not so much in anticipation of her upcoming performance, but rather at the way Pamfil was treating Ela, giving his attention to her, acting all charming and happy. “Ettie?” he asked, shaking her out of her reverie.
“Okay,” Henriette said, her mind snapping back to Pamfil’s question about minty green tea, one of his favorite brews and, by extension, now one of her first choices in tea as well.
Pamfil went back into the kitchen.
Willing to end the charade sooner, Henriette gestured to Ela to go to the piano.
Ela wiped her hands on her pants. “You play first.”
Henriette got up, walked over to the piano, and browsed through Pamfil’s music sheets, looking for a piece that might shake Ela’s confidence. She settled for a fragment from Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand.
During Henriette’s performance, Ela sat nailed to the couch, watching, from her friend’s back, the latter’s wandering left hand as it moved with ease and feeling over the keyboard, covering expertly the bases of both hands.
After a few minutes Henriette put her left hand in her lap, next to her right hand, and turned to look at Pamfil, who appeared in the doorway.
“I thought it was Ela,” Pamfil said.
“Ela asked me to go first,” Henriette said, nodding to Ela, who stepped up to the piano to take her friend’s place. She chose Chopin’s Minute Waltz, a short yet difficult work, which she played sensitively and richly, moving with deft fluidity and articulation on the keys.
When Ela finished playing, Henriette, who could appreciate the piece as more than just a cute little waltz inspired by a dog chasing its tail, cheered from the settee, pleasantly impressed.
Standing in the doorway, Pamfil applauded his guests heartily and presented them with two mugs of hot tea. “Play some more,” he entreated.
“What would you like?” Ela asked.
Ela set down her tea, placed her foot on the pedal and her fingers on the keys, and started Chopin’s Prelude No. 8 in F sharp minor, a virtuosic piece of mixed emotions, one that for all its ebullient molto agitato tempo conveyed a lot more despondency than buoyancy of spirit.
Pamfil sat on the bed, looking at the talented pianist unfurling her skills for him, taking in her small frame, childlike fingers, and coiled dark hair falling around her shoulders. He thought back to what Ela had told him earlier in the day as they walked away from the movie, how tired she was of Chopin preludes, and of most of her young students, who played them with little, if any, grace.
Ela finished her prelude in no time, picked up her bag, and headed for the door, nodding to Henriette to join her. Pamfil sat on the edge of his bed watching them leave.
To be continued . . .