Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel (PAL), Serialized. #19 (“Oh, Phil and his ‘I’m so young’ performances”)

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel, by Mira Tudor

Today’s post is the nineteenth 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!

#19: “Oh, Phil and his ‘I’m so young’ performances”

“Alice, welcome, come inside,” Pamfil said. Alice had showed up at his September 2003 party with vanilla ice cream, her sister’s apple pie, and some boeuf salad she had made herself.

Alice headed to the kitchen table and laid out her offerings. “I came too early,” she said, “but Ettie was in her own world at the piano with her headphones, and I needed to get away.”

Pamfil gave her a hug.

“Who else has come?” Alice asked, stepping away to peek into the living room.

“The two beloved female thirds of Trio Anima,” Pamfil said, his gaze lingering on Alice until she disappeared from view, wondering why she wore black pants when a dress would have hugged her curves so much better.

Alice walked up to Silvia, happy to see her again. They kissed on both cheeks, and then Silvia started some Lara Fabian on the computer and turned to Clara, who was lying on her back on Pamfil’s couch enjoying the music. “Can you improvise something?” Silvia asked her friend and music partner. “I want to sing this.”

Clara stood up and headed to the piano. “I think I can do something.” She started playing an ad lib arrangement.

“Wait,” Silvia called. “I mean, go on, do your thing. I’ll look for the lyrics.”

A few moments later she was by Clara’s side, printed sheet in hand, singing a Lara Fabian song to the latter’s makeshift harmonies. Alice watched from the couch, her torso and head swiveled toward the two women. They both wore tight shirts and knee-length skirts, albeit in different colors, and they played as one, each of them easily adjusting to the other’s performance.

Pamfil came into the room moments after the song began, sat down next to Alice, and put his arm around her. Alice turned her head, smiling both on account of Pamfil’s gesture and as a way to show her delight at seeing Silvia and Clara making music together.

When the song was over, Clara invited Pamfil next to her for a rendition of Otis Redding. Pamfil didn’t have the greatest pipes, but he had a nice baritone timbre, and Otis Redding’s songs, which he always sang lower, suited him well. As he crooned to Clara’s accompaniment, Silvia beat the rhythm on Pamfil’s desk. Trio Anima had seemingly forgotten about Alice, but Alice was beside herself with joy, as she didn’t have much of a voice but loved it when Pamfil’s trio cut loose and sang and played pop songs. And they had lots of fun with it, as Pamfil loved to improvise when he dabbled as a singer.

After their little recital the other guests started pouring in. First came Marcel and Anca, and then Anca’s friend Daria, Vlad, and five others. They all came laden with food and drinks—beer, wine, whiskey, Baileys, carbonated soft drinks, and iced tea; some brought music as well.

As Daria, Anca’s journalist friend, was new to Pamfil’s parties and had somehow missed Vlad at Anca’s parties as well, Pamfil made the introductions.

“You’re friends with Anca?” Vlad asked as they moved away from Pamfil.

“Yes, we took a course in graphic design together. Before Anca got her job as a teacher at Arte,” Daria said. She went into the kitchen to pour herself a glass of wine, Vlad in tow.

“Teaching French?” Vlad asked.

Daria gave him a guttural assent as she helped herself from a platter crammed with veggie rice pilaf, green and black olives, and baked fish fillets.

“So you’re Anca’s age?” Vlad inquired.

“I don’t see the logical connection, but yes, we’re the same age. I’m twenty-six,” Daria said.

“I’m twenty-eight,” Vlad said, looking at the back of her fifties-style A-line dress, where she had a heart-shaped cutout.

Daria turned to look at him. “Yes, you look twenty-eight.”

Vlad’s face fell.

“What’s the matter?” Daria asked, noting the change in Vlad’s mien.

“I was hoping to look older,” Vlad said seriously, his eyes downcast.

“You for real?”

“Very,” Vlad responded with a smile, glancing back at her.

“Go on, get something to eat!” Daria urged him.

“I’m not hungry. I’m only thirsty,” Vlad said. He held his beer bottle higher for emphasis.

“Let’s sit down,” Daria said. She made herself comfortable on the couch and tucked into her food.

Vlad sat down in an armchair, looking at her.          

“Are you sure you don’t want to eat anything?” Daria asked. “There’s plenty of food for everyone.”

“Yeah, but it’s late.”

“Yes, it is. But I barely ate anything today,” Daria said in between mouthfuls.

“Why? What did you do today?” Vlad asked, eager for the conversation.

“I wrote. And wrote. And wrote,” Daria responded. “Here, have an olive,” she invited, pushing the plate Vlad’s way.

Vlad picked a green olive and then a black one. “They’re very good,” he said. “I should eat more olives.” He took a long swig from his bottle. “They taste great with beer, by the way!”

“I know,” Daria said, her lips curled in a grin.

“So what did you write?” Vlad asked, helping himself to another olive.

“What did I write?” Daria echoed.

“You said you wrote and wrote and wrote today,” Vlad said with a rather dour mien.

“Ah, that,” Daria said, loading her fork. “I wrote two articles.”

“What about?” Vlad asked.

Right then Silvia and Pamfil walked to the piano.

“New song!” Silvia announced.

“Silvia and I will sing ‘Plaisir d’amour’ for you,” Pamfil said.

Everybody cheered and clapped.

Silvia moved to the side of the piano, placing a hand on its top and waiting for Pamfil to get comfortable with his guitar on the piano stool.

As Silvia and Pamfil began to sing about love, with its fleeting joys and the pain that lasts a lifetime, everyone stopped the scraping of plates and their discussions and turned to the piano to enjoy the evening’s surprise.

Vlad quietly commented to Daria that you wouldn’t guess that Silvia was actually a cellist.

When the short musical interlude was over, Pamfil applauded Silvia, and she bent to kiss him on the cheeks.

“They should change their act,” Alice said, speaking to Anca as they enjoyed some apple pie on Pamfil’s bed. “Have you noticed that Silvia never plays her cello here?”

“How are you doing, girls?” Pamfil said, approaching them.

“We were saying that you should maybe change direction,” Alice said, her plate in her lap.

“How so?”

“I don’t know, start something more modern? With your guitar, you and Silvia singing,” Alice said.

“My guitar? You must be kidding,” Pamfil said, locking gazes first with Alice and then with Anca. Anca smiled.

“Your voice, then. Hire someone else for the guitar,” Alice insisted.

“And get rid of my violin playing, just like that?” Pamfil asked with a smirk. “Have you eaten yet? Make sure you do while there’s still time.”

“Some people really like to cling to their old ways,” Alice said to Anca when Pamfil left.

Anca looked at her friend and said nothing. “Would you like some wine? Or Baileys? I’m going to get some for myself too,” she offered after a few moments. She headed into the kitchen to pick up some drinks for both of them and there ran into Silvia, who was ending a conversation with Vlad and Daria and wearing a large grin. Anca gave her a hug and complimented her.

Silvia smiled brightly by way of thanks and headed to the computer to rearrange the playlist. “Vlad agreed to strip for us tonight,” she told Clara, brimming with excitement. Vlad may not have been the smartest man in Silvia’s book, but she was quite enthralled by his physique.

“Really?” Clara responded, unfazed, looking from Pamfil’s desk to where Vlad and Daria were talking and clinking wine glasses.

“He’s the only one who hasn’t done it yet,” Silvia said, her eyes twinkling.

*

“So how was the party?” Henriette asked her sister the next morning.

“Good. You should come to the next one,” Alice said. “I mean, how long are you going to avoid Phil?” she added as she fixed her coffee.

“I think I’m at that point where I’d rather have new experiences than hold on to this masquerade,” Henriette said.

“What masquerade?”

“Oh, Phil and his ‘I’m so young’ performances,” Henriette said, pouring herself coffee from the moka pot into her Chagall-windows mug. “He’s old enough to know better.”

Alice stayed silent for a few seconds. “He’s hosting great parties, I must say.”

Henriette sat down at the kitchen table opposite her sister. “Yeah?”

“I think he’s trying to hook up Vlad and Daria,” Alice said with a smile.

Henriette added some milk and honey to her coffee. “What does Daria do? I forget.” She swirled a teaspoon in her mug.

“She writes for Alina and designs websites,” Alice said.

“I know she’s younger than us, but how old is she?” Henriette inquired.

“Why do you ask?”

“She writes for Alina. And designs websites.”

“She has older colleagues at Alina,” Alice said.

“But she also designs websites. All young people do that these days.”

“She’s twenty-six, Ettie,” Alice said, hoping to end this sudden disagreement. She took a sip of her coffee.

“She’s young,” Henriette repeated, piqued.

“And you, at thirty-six, are old,” her sister retorted.

“Too old to live with you,” Henriette shot back. “We should sell this place and buy new apartments on credit.”

“We don’t have enough money to pay mortgages, Henriette.”

“Then we should make more money.”

“I like my life,” Alice said. “My choices, I mean.”

“I don’t get you!” Henriette exploded. “You push me to work harder and harder, and you ‘like your life.’ But of course! All you do is write and travel. It’s not like you’re pulled in all these directions at the same time, without time or money to recharge your batteries.”

Alice looked at her sister in silence, taking the latter’s acrimony in stride. “Sorry, Henriette, that I’m not more talented,” she spoke after a few beats. Her calm was that of someone who has felt and said that many times.

“I hate it when you say that,” Henriette snapped. “It’s simply not true. And as I told you so many times, comparisons are odious.” She set her Mainz mug down with a bang and got up. “I need to make some changes,” she grumbled, grabbing her coffee mug and putting it in the sink. “I’ve been stagnant too long. I need to travel more to feed my soul.” She made to leave but then turned back and started washing the dishes.

“Then do that, travel,” Alice said after a while, getting up from the table herself.

“It’s no fun traveling alone,” Henriette said. She gave Alice a sad look, hugged her, and then left the kitchen and went into her room.

To be continued . . .

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel (PAL), Serialized. #16 (“And what exactly do you love now?”)

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel, by Mira Tudor

Onward with the sixteenth 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!

#16: “And what exactly do you love now?”

EIGHT

Upon retreating from the world in the one-bedroom apartment she rented with George, Ela languished, mostly, for a good number of months. Her reviews passed muster but she didn’t imbue them with personal epiphanies and the light of life lived, and she often skim-read the books, treating them as a chore she couldn’t pass on to George. But then she started to respond differently to music. She developed a passion for the fado, that Portuguese expression of loss, longing, and dashed hopes. She listened repeatedly to Amália Rodrigues sing about hard solitude and a tender heart, and she discovered another fado singer she liked, Mariza. She delved into Leonard Cohen’s songs and poetry. And then she wrote her assuredly modulated free-verse stanzas.

They were all inspiring things, and yet emotionally she still felt quasi-depleted, with little to offer. For better or worse, she thought the only thing she could do more or less right for the time being was her confessional poetry, a creative pursuit she’d used as a playground since her teenage years and which now maintained her self-confidence. Her poems, she told George, were the only thing about herself that didn’t feel old and tired.

Between August 2001, when she found Pamfil and Henriette together, and the spring of 2003, she spent her time away from both friends and family. Weeks blended together into months, and months into seasons, until she forgot what it was to rejoice at the first snow of winter or the snowdrops of spring.

Henriette and Alice, knowing they weren’t wanted in person, didn’t visit, but they called on the phone every weekend and sent her emails. In the beginning Ela didn’t check her personal emails for weeks at a time, losing track of time and her social circle. Then, slowly, she reentered her friends’ lives, and as she did so she scribbled some of her last poems about Pamfil. She remembered him barreling through people’s lives, forever young, a raffish combatant. More importantly, she wrote about herself, the woman who, she told herself, trying to encapsulate feelings she wanted contained, had the heft to spurn and forget, until she set off flying in a hot-air balloon away from Pamfil and her friends, traveling to a place of emptiness where the present was blown away, like a dandelion with a head of snow—a place where nothing happened but memories, whirling between all the highs that came to pass and everything that turned to dust.

As the past faded away as a subject and she focused on the present, she began to draw heavily on the spiritually inflected style of Leonard Cohen, the poet and man who moved her to no end. She wrote about herself threadbare here and there, sere of skin where the ghost of him touched her shield, stuck a stencil for him to sear through his mark.

*

“It’s gone. Done. There were only so many arrows in my quiver,” Ela told Alice in April 2003, four months short of two years since Pamfil disappeared from her life. “But it left behind a lot of good stuff.”

Alice smiled. “I can see that.”

“Oh. I meant my outlook on life, not the poems,” Ela said, her face lighting up. She gave Alice a mug of piña colada black tea and poured some more cold water in hers to cool off the brew. A stack of sheets with Ela’s recently completed volume of poetry, Multiple Presents, waited on the table. “Will you give them to him?” Ela asked.

It was the first time since August 2001 that they were talking in person.

“I will if that’s what you want,” Alice said. She got a brownie from a large serving platter in the middle of the kitchen table.

Ela helped herself to a brownie as well. “I want him to know that he has meant so much to me. And that I’m better. That I’ve worked through my feelings and moved on.”

“He’s asked about you, you know,” Alice said, biting into her fudge cake.

Ela sipped her tea. “I know. You told me.” She put her mug down. “I’d like to see him after he reads my poems,” she said, gazing intently at her friend.

“Why? You may be disappointed. He may see nothing of your transformation, or of his role in it,” Alice said. She brushed the crumbs off her hands.

Ela took another bite of her brownie. “Do you think so little of him?”

Alice opened her lips to say something but then changed her mind. She stared into her friend’s hopeful eyes for a few moments.

Ela locked her gaze onto her friend’s. “It’s Ettie, isn’t it?”

“Ettie, you . . . strong women, and yet you were so affected by him. He had such power over you,” Alice responded, her eyes downcast.

“He did! And that was for the best, Lis,” Ela said, putting down the last bit of her brownie. “He made me feel passion, with all its beauty and dangers. I want him to see me now as a lover.”

“As a lover,” Alice repeated incredulously.

“Christians can be lovers,” Ela said earnestly as she cradled her mug. “They well should be. On many levels.”

“That’s true. But why do you care what Phil thinks?”

“He helped awaken me, in a sense. Helped me see what it means to have a passion for life. I want to be a lover from now on, a lover who has been vanquished and then rises up to love with even more passion.” Ela reached for another brownie. “Do you like these?” she asked her friend. “It’s a new recipe for me.”

“Yes, they’re good. I like that you made them moist and chewy this time.”

“It’s Ettie’s recipe. Poor girl still feels she was the reason I ‘broke up with Phil,’ as she keeps saying. As if we’d been together,” Ela said, bemused.

“So, then, why is Phil so important to you?” Alice asked, searching Ela’s eyes for an answer. “I still don’t understand.” She put her mug down. “Especially as he hurt you so much.”

“He crushed me, all right, but then he made me discover passion, and through passion I have come to feel more love,” Ela said.

“But you barely knew him,” Alice said, staring at Ela in disbelief.

“We met at exhibitions, we met in the city . . .” Ela said placatingly.

“But passion is blinding, Ela,” Alice stated bluntly. “You didn’t notice he had something going with Ettie. You didn’t really know him.” She laid her hands around her plate.

“That may be true, but he made me feel passion nonetheless. And then, in time, came the love.”

“For him as well?” Alice asked.

“For him as well,” Ela responded.

“It’s the first time you’re saying this, that it was more than a powerful attraction,” Alice said.

“It took me a while to accept it,” Ela said. “In fact, I was mad at him for a long time without knowing why,” she added. “More tea?” she asked Alice.

Alice nodded yes, and Ela topped up her mug. Then she poured herself more tea as well.

“Mad because he led you on while he was dating Ettie?” Alice put in, feeling the answer was obvious.

“Yes, at first I thought that was it, but in reality I was in shock,” Ela said, taking a gulp from her mug. “He turned my whole world upside down, and I was asking myself all these questions: what it means to live life with a passion, or with love, or with a mixture of the two, what it means to feel both passion and love for the same person, what it means to love someone and life and God, what kind of passion and love you need for that . . .” She picked up another brownie and bit into it. “These brownies are really different from how I usually make them. They’re very good, aren’t they? And the recipe was very similar to mine. Same ingredients, just different quantities.” She drank some more of her tea. “I don’t think he was in love with Ettie,” she said, her gaze meeting Alice’s.

Alice shook her head in disbelief. “And you think he was in love with you?” she asked.

“No, I don’t,” Ela responded with a small smile.

“What then?”

“I think he’d never learned to love,” Ela said. “Love with a passion and tenderly and on a higher level. Just like me. I mean I hadn’t either. I only began to love this way after I met him. Only after he shook my whole way of looking at things.”

“That doesn’t make much sense, his teaching you a kind of love he hasn’t grasped himself,” Alice said.

“I know.”

“And what exactly do you love now?” Alice asked.

“Beauty,” Ela said. “Isn’t Eros the faithful companion of Aphrodite?”

“Now you sound like Plato,” Alice said with a smirk.

Ela chuckled, amused. “In what way?” she asked, putting her mug down.

“In a famous passage in the Symposium, known as the Ladder of Love,” Alice began, “Plato has Socrates tell of his dialogues with a woman named Diotima. According to her, the pursuit of Beauty starts with being attracted to the beauty in a body, then in all bodies, then in a soul and in all souls, till finally you glimpse the beauty of laws, institutions, sciences, and philosophy. Then you contemplate the Idea of Beauty and come to give birth to virtue and wisdom, creating beauty yourself.”

“What about the arts? You mentioned only the sciences.”   

“He leaves them out on purpose. Plato understood artists to operate in the world of appearances, producing imitations of copies of Ideas, and as such twice removed from the latter. Ideas such as Beauty, Justice, the Good, and others. But that’s just a dry way to explain quickly how the arts fit into his Theory of Ideas, and he didn’t reject all works of art either. In fact, the explanation is longer and has to do with the difference between opinions and knowledge, with writers and visual artists who are only aiming at Ideas rather than able to apperceive them (when he talks of poets’ inspiration, he argues that it doesn’t give them access to truths), with the fact that representations of tragic plays stir the passions, and so on. You have to understand that Plato’s love of beauty is rational rather than emotional—he talks through the character of Diotima of a love of the body and one of the soul, one for begetting children and another for begetting virtue and wisdom. Which, incidentally, doesn’t mean that this so-called Platonic love, while aiming at a love of the soul, couldn’t involve sex too.”

“I know,” Ela said with a smile as she got up to make more tea. “Peppermint tea okay?”

“Yes, fine,” Alice responded.

“I’m growing peppermint on my balcony,” Ela said.

“Nice! I can’t wait to taste the tea.”

Ela set an ibrik with water on the stove. The late-afternoon sun sent orange light into her kitchen. They stood silent for a moment, looking out the window.

“I’m thinking of writing a novel,” Ela said, drinking the last of her piña colada tea.

“What about?”

“About beauty in sadness and sadness in beauty. My two favorite ideas these days.”

“But that’s life—more or less,” Alice said, flashing her friend a big smile.

“Yes, but my novel will be mostly about artist lovers,” Ela said, getting up to add some dried peppermint leaves to the water in her ibrik.

“Still too vague,” Alice said with a chuckle.

“I’ll think some more about it,” Ela said, a little unnerved.

“Have you written any of it?” Alice asked.

“No, but I have quite a few poems I want to intersperse in the narrative,” Ela said.

“Will it be inspirational?” Alice asked pointedly.

Ela found herself laughing. “Are you asking me if it’ll be depressing?”

Alice’s smile broadened. “A little.”

Ela chuckled. “No, it won’t,” she said, and proceeded to explain how she planned to make it beautiful. “It starts with wandering around like Alice—not you,” she said with a smile as she read from a piece of paper with put-on panache, “living a life of superimposed uncertainties—you know, uncertain about my purposes in life but no underlying tectonic plate motion to make me really seek a higher love—until they’re suddenly flung out . . . finding myself chained to barren solitude, and then slowly taking revolving steps to grind away my memories, feeling my way around them devoid of meaning, bereft of a soul, till, slowly, a zephyr drifts in, and I hear its call to make it beautiful, to make emptiness sing as I push it out, to wind through words as if it matters.” She took a deep breath. “And then I start the story. That was just the prologue.”

“Will your poems be verse, or part of the narrative?” Alice asked.

“I’ll probably write them as prose, after all.”

“Yes, better. That way you may just get away with it,” Alice said wryly. “Confessional poetry of this kind is not much in vogue these days, but strangely it makes quite an appearance in some novels.”

They joked about it for a while, Ela reciting lines of poetry from her readings and Alice jotting down a few of them, as she, too, had written verse once and now liked to use bits of her favorite public-domain poems in her travel pieces and her short stories. Then they returned to the idea of a novel, and Alice shared that she’d always wanted to write one about her teenage years but couldn’t make it come together.

Finally, they commiserated over having gained weight. It had affected Alice gradually and Ela within the last year and a half, after first having lost eight kilos, and now they were both trying to find the determination to do something about it. Ela decided to start taking long walks with George again, but as the weather got warmer, she felt more and more uncomfortable showing her body to the world.

“So much of life is presentation,” she said one day in May as she and George were strolling in Titan Park. “When I was slim, I didn’t give it much thought, because it was easy to feel presentable,” she added as her gaze glided over the many acacia trees around them, their pendulous racemes of white blossoms radiating a powerful sweet scent.

“Now you understand women who have always had trouble keeping down their weight,” George said. “Maybe some of them never got to be self-confident because they were plagued with excess kilos since their childhood or teenage days.” He stopped to smell an acacia inflorescence.

“True. I thought about it,” Ela said, meeting his harsh thinking on weight matters without a wince. “And it seems that in this respect age is a leveling factor. For one reason or another, most women over thirty-five are prone to gain weight.”

“Well, you’re not there yet. But yeah, slower metabolism,” George put in.

“Also stress,” Ela pointed out. “Stress, more responsibilities, less time to make better dietary choices, less inclination.” She took in a few deep breaths of the scented air.

“That and lack of exercise,” George added.

To be continued . . .

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel (PAL), Serialized. #15 (“Two candles burned on the sink”)

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel, by Mira Tudor

Today’s post is the fifteenth 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!

#15: “Two candles burned on the sink”

Present day, nine years later. “It appears I have a new job,” Anca said to Alice one day in August 2002 when they met near Romana Square at the French library of the Arte Educational Center. “I’ll be teaching here,” she whispered excitedly.

Alice, who was poring over a Beaux Arts magazine, got up and embraced her friend.

Anca pulled up a chair and sat down.

“I didn’t know you considered teaching again,” Alice said. Anca had taught French for a few years before turning to translation work.

“Well, the pay is much better here, and the students more appealing,” Anca said. “Actually interested in French and French culture.”

Alice hugged her friend again. “Happy for you.”

“I have to go now,” Anca said, pulling away from Alice’s arms and getting up. “Have to tell Marcel the good news.”

As they said their goodbyes, one of Anca’s pals, Alain, entered the library. He saw the two friends and walked up to them.

Anca made the introductions. “My friend Alice, a travel and fiction writer—and a poet,” she said as Alice extended a hand.

“I’m not much of a poet,” Alice told Alain.

“And Alain, the best French teacher ever,” Anca said, smiling.

C’est très gentil à toi, Anca,” Alain began in French, “but that’s probably your teenage excitement still lingering somewhere,” he continued in Romanian.

“You speak very good Romanian,” Alice said.

“I was married to a Romanian woman. She came back to Romania after December 1989, and I came with her,” Alain said. “Cigarette, anyone?” he asked.

Before they had a chance to respond, Anca and Alice followed Alain outside. They walked to the side of the building, and Alain invited them to partake of his Gauloises pack. They both declined.

“Didn’t Jim Morrison smoke these?” Alice said, eyeing her new acquaintance, who seemed to be skinnier than any man she knew, including Haralambie.

“I think he smoked Marlboros,” Alain said, his gaze flitting to Alice’s generous bust. He lit up a Gauloise.

“Actually, he probably smoked a lot of different cigarettes, just as he did with drugs,” Anca said, smiling at Alice. “I read that sometimes he took all kinds of drugs in succession. He believed he could only get inspired if he got severely intoxicated. Certainly not pleasantly intoxicated. But most of all, I think he wanted to push his mind to the limit.”

Alain puffed away on his Gauloise. “You girls still busy here at the library?” he asked, flicking the ash of his cigarette.

“I was looking over some magazines for an article,” Alice said.

“Can’t you borrow them?” Alain asked, taking another drag.

“Yes, I can, sure.”

“Then borrow them and let me invite you both to an early dinner.”

A few minutes later they were strolling up Dacia Boulevard to a small restaurant.

“They make a good Provençal stew here, with all kinds of seafood,” Alain said as they sat down, Alain on one side of the table and Anca and Alice on the other.

A busboy stopped by with menus, followed by a waiter who greeted them and listed the specials.

Alain put his menu down. “What will you have?” he asked, looking in turn at Anca and Alice.

“We decided to try that stew,” Anca said, having asked Alice for her input moments earlier.

“Good choice,” Alain said with a smile. He ordered the same for himself and then asked for a semisweet white wine from the Loire Valley.

“From the Loire Valley?” Alice asked in surprise. “Wouldn’t it be better to pair it with a wine from Provence?”

“Maybe,” Alain said with a smile. “But I prefer this one.”

“Alice writes travel articles,” Anca reminded him once they had ordered.

“That sounds like a great job,” Alain said, enveloping Alice in a warm, luminous gaze.

“I haven’t traveled that much,” Alice said. “I spend five percent of my time traveling and ninety-five percent of it reading and writing about my travels,” she quipped. “I’m exaggerating a little, but you get the idea.”

“When do you have time to sleep?” Alain asked with a wry smile.

“Sometimes I sleep on my travels too,” Alice said, mimicking Alain’s smile. “It’s not all work.”

“Travel is not work. It’s inspiration,” Alain said brightly. “And it’s so good to have inspiration in life.”

Alice smiled back. “It is, yes.”

Anca looked wistfully at them as they talked.

Their waiter came back and poured them all some water.

“Have you always had this job?” Alain asked. He took a sip from his glass.

“No, not really. There was a time when I wanted to be a university professor.”

“Which field?”

“Art history.”

“Ah, that explains your interest in the beautiful things of life,” Alain said.

“If you wish,” Alice responded, amusement coloring her voice. She cooled her hands on her water glass.

“So what happened to art history?” Alain asked.

“Ah, that,” she muttered. She paused and started to play with a napkin. “I use it in my writing,” she eventually added. She then turned her gaze back up to Alain. “What about you? Have you always been teaching French?”

“I taught literature in France,” Alain said. “And here I’m teaching a bit of everything. French, French literature, French culture.”

Alice smiled by way of a response.

“And you, Anca, will you give up translating now that you have a new job?” Alain asked.

Anca drank from her water glass before responding. “I think so, yes. At least for a while, until I get settled.”

“You’ll be fine,” Alain said encouragingly. “And you can always come to me for tips.” He gave her a ready grin.

Anca smiled back affably. “I took classes with him when I was in high school,” she explained to Alice.

Alice looked at Alain, taken aback. “Really?”

“Yes,” Alain responded, amused. “But not here. At another educational center close to University Square, where I’ve been teaching since 1990.”

“Then we met again in 1997,” Anca said.

The waiter came with the food and the wine, filled their glasses, and left them to exert their taste buds and imaginations on wine tasting, looking for different aromas and flavors.

“Let’s eat,” Alain said mirthfully after ten minutes. “The food is wonderful too. Bon appétit!”

Bon appétit!” his fellow diners echoed.

“Yum,” Alice said, impressed by the stew.

“It’s the orange zest and the fennel,” Alain said.

“And you taste all that?” Anca asked in feigned amazement.

“Why? They’re easy to spot,” Alain said.

“I’m always surprised that you can still taste things,” Anca said with a smirk.

“Anca thinks my palate must be ruined because I smoke,” Alain told Alice between small mouthfuls of food.

“I would expect that too,” Alice said, her soft brown eyes smiling at Alain. “But you seem to be doing really well on that front.”

“I don’t smoke that much,” Alain said in mock defensiveness.

“I’ve never asked you before, but why do you smoke?” Anca asked, her sly smile attenuating the severity of her question.

“Teaching makes me do it,” Alain quipped.

Anca laughed.

*

“I was expecting you sooner,” Marcel said, opening the door for Anca, who was fumbling with her keys in the darkness of their floor’s hallway.

Anca wrapped her arms around him and heaved a sigh of exhaustion.

He put his arms around her. “I ran a bath for you.”

“Oh good. Although I imagine the water’s cold already?” She put her purse down and took off her sandals.

“No, I ran it fifteen minutes ago,” he said, slipping his hands underneath her blouse.

“Let’s go take a bath, then,” Anca said with an impish grin, peeling the shirt off Marcel.

A minute later, they were both in the tub, in near darkness.

Two candles burned on the sink.

*

“Anca?” Marcel called from their kitchen the next morning.

Anca was searching through the closet for something to wear. “Yes . . .”

“Let’s have a party this weekend.”

“This weekend? Okay.” She decided on a black pencil skirt and a fitted indigo office shirt with abstract floral patterns.

He stepped into their bedroom and watched her get dressed. “And invite Pamfil too.”

She turned and gave him a questioning look. “Why don’t you invite him yourself?” she said playfully.

“He’s your special friend, not mine,” he said.

Anca chuckled. “You can be quite something.” She put on her lace bra and her shirt.

“Is that all you have to say about it?”

“Why? You expected me to say something else?” she snapped.

“I expected you to be honest. With me, with yourself . . .” he said.

“I have to go,” she said, picking up her purse. “Don’t wait for me tonight,” she called from the doorway. “Alain and I are taking a journalist friend of his around Bucharest, and then we’re having a late dinner together. The guy is visiting Romania for two weeks.” She walked out, closed the door, and immediately came back.

“I’d forgotten. We’re going to Phil’s concert first, and then to dinner.”

She rummaged in her purse. “Do you see a program anywhere? I can’t remember what he’s playing.”

Marcel walked around the living room and spotted the program notes on her desk. He took a quick look.

“Clara Schumann’s Piano Trio.” He gave her the sheet. “He certainly likes women. Although I have to admire her for her piano artistry, which apparently was up there with Liszt’s and Anton Rubinstein’s.”

Anca put the program in her purse and looked straight at Marcel. “You’re right to admire her. She was a talented musician and a promoter of the music she believed in. See you tonight.”

And with that she turned on her high heels and left their apartment.

To be continued . . .

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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 D. Nicholls’s One Day.

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