Today’s post is the twelfth installment of my serialized novel Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL).
You have all the previous installments HERE.
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!
#12: “as if it [the snow] were sprinkled with diamond dust”
Present day, almost four years later. “Let’s go to Moieciu this weekend,” Anca said to Marcel one evening in November 2001. They were lounging on the bed watching a movie.
“Okay, let’s,” Marcel said, his attention focused on the action of the thriller on TV.
“And let’s invite Lis and Ettie as well,” Anca added.
They decided to go to the Prahova Valley again, the default weekend destination for many Bucharesters. This time Anca and Marcel picked the traditional mountain village of Moieciu de Sus (“Upper Moieciu”), a village some three hours’ drive from Bucharest, set between two mountains—Bucegi and Piatra Craiului—at some 1,100 meters altitude (3,600 feet).
The four friends arrived there to a boat-shaped settlement, its slanting sides covered in a blanket of snow that flickered invitingly in the mid-morning sun. They left their bags in their rooms at the guesthouse, packed their cameras in their backpacks, and went on a pleasant three-hour hike to Bisericuța (“Little Church”) Peak, a 1,322-meter-high plateau crowning a picturesque hill off the main road of the rural community.
Anca wrote a poem about it, “Snow in Upper Moieciu,” waxing lyrical about crystals of snow crunching under their feet like so many tiny jewels; the warp and weft of post-and-rail fences surrounding log cabins and haystacks; and the sunlight flaring through scattered fir trees, whipping the snow, making it look as if it were sprinkled with diamond dust.
“Good, I’m all covered in mud now,” Alice said after Henriette lent her a hand to help her get up.
“How did you fall?” asked Anca. She was coming down the hill behind the sisters with Marcel when Alice slid on a slippery patch of wet ground—which was to be expected: she thought she could brave the challenges of the trip in running shoes.
“I simply glided down,” Alice said, as she walked away from the path to clean her hands with some snow. “But I love how my muscles feel,” she added with a smile as she rejoined the group.
“My stomach is growling,” Marcel said, taking long strides in his sturdy high-ankle hiking boots. “I can’t wait to dig into those steaks.”
“Defeats the whole purpose of climbing up here,” Henriette said. Her tone was cheerful, but she was partly serious too. She liked to pick on Marcel that way.
“I’ve also brought beer,” Marcel said with a smirk.
“I wish there were some way to do this again,” Henriette put in as they approached the village down in the valley.
Marcel stopped to take a candid snapshot of Anca. “You sound like a child wanting to go down the slide again,” he said to Henriette. “No pun intended, Lis, but you could have gotten better shoes.”
“Well, they don’t fit me well anymore. I’ve gained weight.”
“It happens,” Marcel said congenially. “I suggest we go eat.” Marcel held out a hand to Anca. She grasped it and then reached into the right pocket of his jeans to pull him to her. He gave her a kiss.
They were at the guesthouse in another half an hour, and soon after that in the kitchen for lunch. As they had traveled together in the past, the wheels of working together were well greased, and they fell into their tasks easily. Anca boiled coarsely ground cornmeal; Henriette made shepherd’s bulz for everyone, molding polenta into rounded lumps around pieces of soft sheep’s cheese aged in fir tree bark; and Marcel grilled the bulz balls, which they ate with fried eggs.
Then they resumed their cooking, Marcel stepping to the grill to make pork collar steaks, Anca julienning potatoes for French fries, Alice cutting strips of pickled gogoșari bell peppers, and Henriette slicing a drum of cow’s cheese, smoked with oak chips, which they had bought at a roadside stall on their way to Moieciu, together with the sheep’s cheese.
A few months later, in March 2002, Anca and Alice were taking a stroll together through Cișmigiu Park, a place filled at that time of the year with hyacinths, daffodils, and pansies, when Alice brought into the discussion her favorite topic of conversation: Henriette.
“She spends virtually all her free time sculpting,” Alice said. “She’ll end up hurting her back from it—like Silvia with her cello.” She glanced at people buying cotton candy.
“Doesn’t she get tired?” Anca asked, her hazel-green eyes glinting in the soft spring light. “I make the same mistake of working almost every day, but at least I stop around eight, nine o’clock.”
“I do too,” Alice said with a smile, “but she’s worse.” She stooped to take some photos of a bed of colorful pansies. “She often sculpts until eleven or midnight.”
“What is she working on now?” Anca asked, her eyes on Alice’s slightly heavy hips dressed in black-and-white striped denim pants.
“Breasts,” Alice answered, crouching to get a better view of the flowers.
Alice stood up again. “She’s making one pair for each decade.”
“They’re made to suggest transformation over the course of a lifetime. So she starts with the buds of a preteen, and then she does them at twenty, thirty, and so on, ending with the greatly drooping breasts of a ninety-year-old,” Alice explained while she did a few side bends to stretch.
“It’s an interesting concept,” Anca said, her gaze moving unconsciously to her friend’s bust, which seemed fuller than usual and pushed up, indicating a seriously padded bra.
“What can you say, right?” Alice snorted, amused that her friend was eyeing her chest.
They resumed their walking, heading now down a plane tree alley.
“I’ve never seen the breasts of a ninety-year-old,” Anca remarked, amused.
“Alice Neel painted herself naked at eighty,” Alice said, looking at the mottled bark of the trees. “The point being that in this youth-fixated Western world we don’t realize how invisible the human body becomes after a certain age. When I first saw two naked seventy-five-year-olds making love in a movie and enjoying their bodies together at the edge of the sea, I was shocked. And I had seen Alice Neel’s paintings and other images like that.”
“Such as?” Anca asked.
“Vanitas images, sculptural groups mostly, and then Dürer, Rodin, Otto Dix . . .” Alice responded, gazing into the distance at people pushing strollers and kids running about in a sandy play area.
“But isn’t she objectifying women if she’s showing only a fetish part of their bodies?” Anca asked, eyeing an elderly man handling an old bellows camera set on a tripod.
“I’ve thought of that too,” Alice said, taking a photo of the man and his subject. “She says she might do the whole body at some point. But I think those images would be too powerful and would take away from the emotional strength women get as they get older.”
“That’s true,” Anca said. She looked at kids on the playground swinging on monkey bars. “But on the other hand, if you show only the breasts, you don’t convey the notion of psychological strength, either.”
“Which is why I suggested she do the hands as well,” Alice said.
Anca smiled. “On the breasts?”
Alice gave a congenial laugh and invited Anca to a beer at the restaurant in the center of the park.
“I like that you found a way to Ela,” Anca said once they received their orders.
“Yeah, Ela . . .” Alice mused, cradling the glass in her hands. “I simply share with her what it feels like to be active. Remind her what you and I are living for, in the hope that the dialogue—or monologue—will awaken in her memories and the desire to get out of her shell,” Alice said.
“Do you still write to her every day?” Anca asked.
Alice glanced up at her friend. “I do,” she said. “She needs to know that we’re thinking of her,” she added, taking a mental picture of Anca as she was then, with her perfect gamine cut and her dappled green eyes set off so beautifully by the dark mascara. “And she needs to be reminded of who she is.” She looked away, out the window, at two lovers walking along with their arms curled against each other. “She’s hurting because Phil wanted her before he knew who she was,” she said eventually.
“But that’s the definition of infatuation,” Anca blurted rather loudly, putting her mug down with a thunk that surprised them both. “Or does she imagine that Phil loved her?” she then asked more quietly.
“I have a feeling that she’s imagining she loves him. Loves, not loved,” Alice said.
“Hasn’t she heard of sexual attraction?” Anca said in a small voice.
Alice smiled slyly by way of a response.
“I heard I’m not invited to your next party,” Pamfil said, strolling by Anca’s side after running into her downtown one afternoon in June 2002.
“Well, you know how it is, jealous boyfriends and all,” Anca said, lifting a corner of her lips puckishly.
Pamfil didn’t respond to the jab in any way. They walked a few steps in silence. “How long have you two been together?”
“Nine years?” Pamfil reacted. He ran his gaze unconsciously over her slim body and then gave her a pasted grin.
Anca smiled at his uneasiness around her.
“I remember when we met at the beach. You were so young and beautiful with your long black hair,” Pamfil said as they stopped at a crossing. “So, you won’t invite me to your party?” he asked after a pause, as they started crossing the street.
“Sorry, Marcel has taken you off the guest list for now,” Anca said with a half-laugh. “He’s just being ridiculous,” she added once they were back on a sidewalk.
“Will I see you at my place?” Pamfil asked, casually reaching out for her hand and giving it a squeeze. He tilted his head at her. “Party is next Saturday.”
Anca smiled despite herself but then quickly regained her sangfroid. “So soon? It’s been a month already?”
“My cherries are ripe,” Pamfil said with a smile, releasing Anca’s hand. “Next Saturday’s theme is cherries and sangria. I give you the cherries, and you all make the desserts. I make the sangria.”
“Sounds like fun,” Anca said, slowly recovering from Pamfil’s touch. She waved goodbye and walked away. Then she turned around. “Remember not to come to my party,” she called, the jocular note in her voice disguising her concern.
“Will you come to mine?” he asked, his tone almost entreating.
Anca stifled a laugh. “I’ll have to convince Marcel.”
Pamfil watched her with twinkling eyes for a moment. “If you’re coming, stop by this week to get some cherries.”
To be continued . . .