My serialized novel Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL) continues today with the fourth installment. If you wish to read the previous three, here they are:
#1: “Nice meeting you, Ela” (July 11, 2021)
(And here’s the whole novel, with the various Amazon links and a book description.)
Please note that these posts go online on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and I will then take them down a month afterward. Enjoy!
Today’s installment is chapter 2.
#4: “Anca soaked it all in, feeling, in turns, entranced, excited, and achingly happy”
Costinești, August 1993, almost eight years earlier. As she sat in the circle, her feet crossed at the ankles and her hands on her knees, Anca, who had just turned sixteen, thought about how good she felt in her body. She forgot for a moment about the flying gnats landing on her arms and felt nothing could beat a group with a guitar, singing Beatles songs into the night.
On a wall at the back of the deck where the teenagers provided free entertainment, a naked lightbulb dissolved away some of the darkness. Passersby stopped and looked in, leaning against the posts supporting the roof of the terrace. On the sand, off in the distance, beachgoers’ silhouettes pressed on bed linens to the sound of crashing waves.
At ten o’clock Anca gestured to her boyfriend of two months, Marcel, that she was ready to leave for Disco Ring. Happy to leave the hippie scene to other people, Marcel indicated with a nod that he, too, was okay to get going. Anca stood up, swept back her long, silky hair, brushed off her pants, and hooked two fingers in one of Marcel’s belt loops, inviting him to circle an arm around her waist. They wobbled like this to the dancing grounds, their steps out of sync, Marcel’s faster, as if he wanted to be relieved of the difficult tender gesture as soon as possible, and Anca’s struggling to keep up, fretful at the thought that they still had a lot of adjusting to do, in all sorts of ways.
Half an hour later, as they moved with conviction to a lighthearted, lively song, their sweaters tied around their waists, they had come into a new rhythm together, something so good and powerful that they extended their reach over a large swath of the disco arena and burst into song zestily. The more they danced and vociferated, the more inviting the place seemed, the memory of their swaying limbs entangling them in promises of more good feelings to come, more waves of good vibes to ride.
Midnight was greeted with two slow songs, which Anca, not knowing better, used to call “blues songs.” She liked the first song, liked the whole romance of it, but felt the lyrics to be rather pointless in the end—a man reaching out to someone even as he accepts, in fact, that their moment has passed. She wondered briefly about it, her hands around Marcel’s neck, and then, seeing he was too pensive for her liking, she launched into some wide dance moves, making her rather startled but tickled boyfriend follow her lead. They became almost oblivious to the music, swaying slower and slower until Marcel, holding Anca by the waist, began to search for kisses. Anca then closed her eyes, opening them only briefly a short while later to check if her boyfriend, too, was abstracted from the outside world. He was.
By the start of the next song, a rock ballad, Anca smiled broadly, her cheek next to Marcel’s, whose hands traveled the length of her back underneath her sheet of hair, gently caressing her nape, before they kissed again, this time with an urgency that surprised them both. They continued to dance like that, as a pair and in a group, for a couple more hours, and at three in the morning wandered off into the darkness, reaching their rented shack an hour later.
The following night they decided to forgo the disco, instead spending the late hours strolling on the esplanade, until they came across one of Anca’s second cousins, a twenty-two-year-old guy who lived in Paris with his father, and who now dazzled them with his giddy smiles, tight leather pants, and slim fit shirt. He invited them to a fancy nightclub, and soon the three of them found themselves more or less stunned in place on a white leather banquette in an atmosphere thick with lust and cigarette smoke, watching the joyless spectacle of scantily dressed women trying to outdo one another’s sexy routines as they vied for the attention of older men watching them from the bar. It was not Anca’s and Marcel’s scene, so after half an hour spent there as a gesture of courtesy to Anca’s spiffy relative, they said their goodbyes and quickly took off, eager to caper in the open air in an atmosphere of youthful enthusiasm.
They then walked through the resort aimlessly, enjoying the music pulsing from the loudspeakers, and eventually sat down over some soft drinks at an outdoor café that played feel-good reggae. When the playlist switched to dance, they pulled some of the chairs to the sides and frolicked about next to a guy who monopolized most of the floor, whirling his life out. No food and no sleep for three days, he said, showing Anca a bottle of pills. She took a white tablet from it and commented on its common look. When she gave it back to the guy, she asked herself how many more times he thought it would do the trick before something in his body gave out, or whether no sleep for three days is something to be desired. As if hearing her silent questions, he shared that he used the pills only at the beach, to maximize the experience. Then he resumed his dancing, oblivious to the crowd feeding on his fire.
That night his energy kept Anca and Marcel awake until sunup, when the two of them and a few other people walked to the edge of the water. Anca, happy to watch the sun rise over the sea, wanted a photo of herself. She crossed her slender legs at the ankles, put her hands in the pockets of the flared jeans she had bought the day before, and smiled at the camera, content with her new look. It was their last day at the beach.
Later that summer, while Marcel visited his grandparents in Sighișoara, Anca returned to Costinești on her own. As if looking for something, she spent part of her time there roaming about the resort in the deafening sound of dance music blaring through every major loudspeaker—until, on the third day of her sojourn, she was approached by a guy selling cassettes with psychedelic and progressive rock, blues and blues rock, and folk music, all of it British and American.
“Care to change the music?” the vendor asked, spotting Anca’s silken black hair and her slender silhouette in the crowd.
“Pretty much,” Anca responded, amused. “What do you have?”
“The crème de la crème of 1960s and 1970s rock and folk, and some blues,” he said, taken with Anca’s expressive eyes, green with flecks of hazel.
“Surprise me,” Anca said, basking in the stranger’s searching gaze.
“Okay . . . how about The Doors?” the vendor asked with a lopsided smile. “The Doors of Perception . . .”
Anca looked at him questioningly.
Pamfil, the vendor, gave a small laugh. “It’s a book by Aldous Huxley—who himself lifted the phrase from a poem by William Blake. Aldous Huxley is the one who wrote Brave New World. He took mescaline and entered mind-expanding trances. It inspired Jim Morrison to call his band The Doors—given that he aimed to be such a shamanic figure himself.” He then played a few songs by the Los Angeles band for her. They had Anca hooked—and stumped as to where to listen to that kind of music some more.
“You can come to my place,” Pamfil said, appraising her waifish silhouette. “I’m here with friends from the Conservatory,” he went on. “One of them left early, so we have a free bed. That way you can listen to everything.”
“You a musician?” Anca asked, suddenly very interested in Pamfil.
“I play the violin,” he responded with a smile, happy to see in her warm gaze that she might appreciate classical music as well. “So, are you coming?” he asked after a moment of reverie.
“To my place. To stay with us.”
“Okay,” Anca said, bringing her hands together with a clap in a thank-you gesture.
Pamfil smiled, charmed by her enthusiasm. “It’s a deal, then. I’ll tell the guys you’re coming.”
Anca smiled back, delighted. “Okay.”
With Pamfil and his music, Anca discovered a different intensity of being alive. She twirled in the room like a girl turning into a woman by magic as she listened to The Doors to her heart’s content, and several times she took that energy outside the dorm while playing their songs in her head. She didn’t know what to make of Jim Morrison’s poetry, but, like koans, his verse left her hovering in a space where she could receive new meanings and feelings.
She also fell in love with Joan Baez, and at noon, when Pamfil was selling his tapes and his friends were away for lunch, she went with determination after the folk musician’s soaring inflections, besotted with her purity of voice, richness of tone, the joy that swelled and ebbed in her music as she tackled sad stories, and her talent as a guitar player.
And then there was Led Zeppelin. Anca played their ballads over and over again, feeling them weave their way in, more beguiling with each turn and return, until they erupted from the pit of her stomach in bursts of guitar, voice, and drums. She couldn’t have enough of Jimmy Page’s guitar-picking and Robert Plant’s whispering and caterwauling, of all the drumming, strumming, screaming, and wailing.
Anca’s soul was metamorphosing in contact with this new music, and Pamfil kept the process going by supplying her with information and new songs. In the mornings, as she did stretching exercises, he provided the aural background, and in the evenings, as they took walks together, he introduced her to stories from the lives of her newly favorite musicians as well as from Woodstock—that four-day festival of August 1969, with its hundreds of thousands of flower-power hippies and the amazing lineup of musicians in their midst regaling them with some of the best rock and folk music of the late sixties, and capturing, as they did so, much of the spirit of that period. Anca soaked it all in, feeling, in turns, entranced, excited, and achingly happy.
When it was clear to him that he was about to form a new devotee, Pamfil took Anca to Costinești village, where a buddy of his had a VCR. First, he showed her a videotape with Woodstock’s crowd and music, with the rain, LSD, mud slides, portable toilets, people bathing in the river, and the electrifying acts onstage. Then, with Anca primed for lyrical effusions, came the diary reading. They lay down on their bellies on a couch in a room x-rayed by amber sunbeams, and Pamfil shared page after page of his diary in a flirtatious, come-hither voice. Anca, propped on her forearms, anchored her gaze on his handwriting in an attempt to trick her mind out of dwelling on his hair, which brushed against her right cheek as he adjusted the position of his elbows, or his black eyes, which searched for her gaze as he coyly assessed the impact of his spoken word—but she could neither read nor listen to Pamfil’s private thoughts. His baritone timbre and his rich mane of wavy locks—à la Jim Morrison—obscured access to the meanings of his words, the latter becoming a negligible core wrapped in the fullness of the moment.
“Where did you go?” Pamfil asked with his lopsided smile when he closed his notebook and turned to find her studying his lips.
“I was getting lost in your hypnotic way of reciting,” Anca said, turning on her side. “Thanks for bringing me back.” She placed her head on his chest, and he ran his fingers through her soft hair.
Later that day, as they finished dinner, Anca noticed he was woolgathering. “What are you thinking of?” she asked casually.
“Vama Veche. I didn’t go this summer at all,” Pamfil said. “Would you care to make a trip there?”
“The nudist beach?” Anca asked.
“Yes, the nudist beach,” Pamfil responded with a half-smile. “But you can keep your bathing suit on if you’re not comfortable without it.”
Anca looked straight into Pamfil’s dark eyes. “It sounds like I wouldn’t be completely comfortable either way.”
“Because everyone will give me weird looks if I’m not naked.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“When do you want to go? This weekend?” Anca asked.
“This weekend I’m visiting my parents in Constanța,” Pamfil said. “And it’s crowded there on the weekends anyway. We’ll go when I come back.”
The following Monday, loaded with a tent, two foam sleeping mats and two sleeping bags, and some kitchen utensils, they arrived in Vama Veche, the old customs point on the Black Sea Coast. No sooner had they put up their tent than Pamfil started making the rounds to greet longtime friends and their nudist pals, leaving Anca to bask in the sun and the sound of waves crashing on the shore, and to write poems: musings about people embracing on the sand in the foam of the sea; about waves holding in abeyance the everyday grind; moments that expanded as she tuned in to the breakers’ dance, to the breeze and undercurrents coaxing them onshore, bringing forth pebbles and shells; the awareness that on that enclave, where she felt life rippling softly through her body, slowing and quieting the rattle of her thoughts, her high hobbyhorses—being clever, being cultured, being creative—were swept away by the immense relief and joy of riding, light and supple, the surf of the present, her mind, body, and soul in harmony.
To be continued . . .