Henriette, an accomplished sculptor, lives for her work and her dalliances—until she loses the one man she truly loves. Ela, a piano teacher, meets dashing Pamfil, a violinist, and discovers the confusing taste of passion. A bittersweet story of love and friendship for fans of David Nicholls’s One Day.
Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel is a book about the beauty and blindness of several Romanian artists who search for love, happiness, and passion. The story finds them on treacherous journeys, where they are slow to figure out how to best tackle their predicaments. Fortunately, their lovers and friends are there to help . . . but then a newcomer complicates things.
“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 moment. 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 [. . .]
Costineşti, August 1993, almost eight years earlier. […] Later that summer, while Marcel visited his grandparents in Sighişoara, [sixteen-year-old] Anca returned to Costineşti 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.