“Later that week Anca sent a number of poems to the magazine Literary Romania. “Tell Me” was among them. It talked of roasted potatoes and onions, rooibos tea with honey, and perky sad music on the CD player. It considered whether life is ever more than swapping stories in a kitchen over a poor man’s meal shared threeways, each bite charmed with sunlight and music. It described an intoxicating scene with a long-haired woman in a vaporous dress, pirouetting on the kitchen table to humor her boyfriend, who then grabbed her by the thighs and hips and put her down in front of the piano, where she played God knows what, for she used no sheets, and she and her man were the only musicians in the room. Finally, it mentioned her bare foot pushing the brass pedal with conviction, her launching into Chopin’s Revolutionary Etude, whirling its listeners like a tornado, and her cutting loose as more water for tea boiled on the stove, and the guests were invited to crack walnut shells for a makeshift dessert.”
Nika at prettylittlebibliophileweb.wordpress.com has posted a glowing review of Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel. I am tremendously happy when my book touches so many chords with a reader, and I’m especially thankful for hearing from readers like Nika who say my book changed their life in some way.
Here’s Nika’s review, complete with many quotes from PAL.
And here’s Nika’s Instagram post of PAL
Thank you, Nika!
“So when it was conceived,” Alice began again, “The Kiss was about Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini, contemporaries of Dante who appear in his Divine Comedy, in Canto V of his Inferno. While in reality they carried on as lovers for years, in Dante’s Inferno they were surprised one day by Francesca’s husband as they kissed each other for the first time while reading about Lancelot and Queen Guinevere’s first kiss. Francesca’s husband, who was Paolo’s older brother, killed them both, condemning them along with other lustful sinners to the raging storm winds of the second circle of Hell.”
. . .
“I was browsing the other day through Rodin on Art and Artists: Conversations with Paul Gsell,” Alice said, “that Dover edition from 1983 Har gave me for my birthday last year, and it was wonderful to read, in Rodin’s own words, how he looked at Greek Classical art, how much he admired it for the way it answered to both nature and one ideal form or another, for being rooted in close observation of the particular as well as in a quest for the essential. He saw the academic art’s disdain for the truth of the flesh as misguided, leading not to beauty but to cold sculptures, devoid of life. Besides, for Rodin showing beauty meant showing spirit, character.”
Henriette took a drink from her mug. “Yes, the marble version of The Kiss is certainly more than a knickknack. I wonder why he called it that. Did he see it as too decorative—not arresting enough?”
“I think it was his way of saying that his sculpture presented a kiss too superficially, yes. That it didn’t capture enough expressions of deep feelings, that it didn’t do enough to invite the imagination to explore narrative dimensions,” Alice said, basking in the gentle glow of autumnal morning light. “But I think quite the opposite is true. Sustaining this representation of a passionate embrace is the great arc of Rodin’s art, with the transformations his own passion and intellect operate in order to show inner truths: the truth of a kiss withheld for a long time, of passion marrying the tender feelings of love, and of an embrace that tells a story, not least because you can easily see it in motion.”
“In motion?” Henriette asked. “Various poses? Many sculptors did that.”
“Yes, they did,” her sister answered. “In Rodin on Art and Artists Rodin describes how he, too, conceived his figures by putting together fragments of various poses normally seen in sequence, and I think you see here how Paolo and Francesca turn to each other. You see the tightness of his leg muscles under the impact of intense, heart-stopping desire, when she first moves towards him, you see his hand resting gently on her thigh, his arm muscles firm so he doesn’t lay too much weight on her, and then you see him bending his neck to kiss her and abandoning himself to his emotions.”
Studious Creatives nominated me for this award yesterday. It was a nice surprise. Thank you!
So here’s how this works. The Rules:
- Thank the person who nominated you and link their blog
- Share seven things about yourself
- Nominate others (up to 15)
- Include this set of rules
- Inform your nominees
Seven Things About Me:
- I place great value on my friendships, and I nurture them.
- I once wanted to become an art history professor. As that didn’t happen, I’m now looking to share my love of art with other people through this blog and my novels.
- I treasure encounters with warm, generous contemporary artists, and you wouldn’t believe how many of them are so very happy to make your acquaintance and see you engage with their works (and guide you through them), whether you know much about art or not.
- I once did a semi-independent course in painting, and while my grade wasn’t that great, every few hours that I worked on my project I entered an immersive state of flow which gave me an inner perspective on an important element that gets artists hooked to their art. I did try other artistic pursuits before and after that, but neither of them have been that rewarding.
- My favorite month in Bucharest is September. Temperatures are in the mid and high twenties, and every year I look forward to spending more time outside in the early afternoon, as the golden light and the colors of the vegetation are wonderful. Much of it stays that way until mid-November. I am including some pictures for reference. Somehow I don’t have September photos from recent years; the ones you see below are from October and November.
- I’m a strange ambivert. I derive energy from people . . . and then I get really tired.
- I don’t have a favorite place on earth, but I do have great memories from many places; and I am trying hard to discover ever more of what Bucharest has to offer.
My Nominated Blogs:
“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.
“It is so intense, it makes you want to stay alive. To keep going. To keep chasing it or trying to make it last. We call it something indefinable that goes by the name of love, but, essentially, it is a puzzle we can’t work out. I’m not sure I’d want to work it out either.”—Amrita Sarkar, Of Opinions
Fellow WordPress blogger Amrita Sarkar of ofopinions.wordpress.com has expanded her blog posts into a book of the same name, Of Opinions. With thoughts ranging from beauty to emotion and memory, anxieties, and relationships and social media, this book is a map to how a gifted twenty-something experiences and judges the world.
The essays are a sort of distilled college compositions, imbued with the insights of a student who wants to own each thesis statement. While I would have preferred conversations structured by their antecedents, there’s an urgency and freshness in Amrita Sarkar’s writing that would have been lost in a more academic essay. And it’s that approach that leads the author to some pleasant moments of discovery, and the older reader to a reconsideration of how to frame certain age-old questions and some new ones, about beauty, about what we give and take when we’re active on social media, about how millenials engage with other people, the media, and their aspirations—and more.
“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 personality dominants 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.
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.”
“Hey! Glad you could make it!” exclaimed Henriette, enveloping her younger friend Ela in a hug and wafts of sea breeze fragrance before giving her the customary kiss on both cheeks.
Ela readjusted her glasses, amused at how exuberant Henriette still was at thirty-four.
“Should we go in?” Henriette prompted, opening the door with a flourish.
Ela stepped gingerly into the exhibition space. “Beautiful place,” she remarked, noting how the sunbeams streaming through the large glass wall glinted off the rough, irregular surfaces of bronze-cast works.
“Coffee, tea?” Henriette asked as Ela removed her scarf and trench coat.
“Tea. But I want to look at the sculptures first.”
“See if you can spot mine,” Henriette called after her.
A few moments later the bell on the door tinkled, and Pamfil, a tall, dark-eyed man with a mop of wavy black hair entered the gallery, his eyes on Henriette.
“Hello, Ettie,” he said with a smile, taking a cursory look around the gallery. Ela was by now at the other end of the room, engrossed in a sculpture depicting a hybrid between the torso of a woman and the trunk of a tree.
“Hello, Phil,” Henriette returned nonchalantly.
“How are you doing?” Pamfil asked.
“Came to see the show with a friend of mine,” Henriette responded. She grabbed a tea mug and headed with Pamfil in tow to where Ela was photographing a work displaying a heart squeezed under a tall stack of books.
“Reminds me of Har,” Ela said, taking the mug from Henriette. “He’s spending more time with books than with people.”
“He does,” Pamfil interjected carelessly, throwing the remark in Henriette’s direction.
Henriette gave him a sly smile.
“You know Haralambie?” Ela asked, turning to the new visitor with curiosity.
“Heard this and that about him,” Pamfil responded, his words slipping out slowly, carefully as he appraised Ela’s soft chestnut eyes and thick eyebrows, her dark ringlets of hair, and her petite body, inviting in a flattering dress and waist-length cardigan. His eyes lingered a moment too long on her breasts.
“Sorry, where are my manners?” Henriette blurted. “Ela, this my friend Pamfil. Pamfil, this is Ela, my very good friend.”
The two guests shook hands, their faces lit up by smiles.
Henriette looked around the room, pretending to ponder the exhibition. Her gaze returned to the heart sculpture. “So you recognized one of my pieces,” she said to Ela, while the latter sipped her hot, minty brew. “Here’s another,” she went on, pointing her guests to a Janus-faced flattened head kissing a woman on each side.
Pamfil spent a moment taking in the work. “Cute. You must have really enjoyed shrinking this guy’s brain,” he teased.
“Is that revenge on someone from your past?” Ela asked.
Henriette bypassed her friends’ last remarks. “How’s your tea, Ela?”
“Girls, I have to bow out,” Pamfil said. “It was nice seeing you, Ettie.”
Henriette couldn’t restrain a smirk.
Pamfil put out a hand to Ela. “Nice meeting you, Ela.”
When it was time for them, too, to leave, Ela turned to her friend. “That guy, Pamfil . . .” she started. “He’s rather handsome.”
“He is,” Henriette affirmed.
“How do you know him?” Ela asked.
“We met at a party.”
“Do you like him?”
“He’s okay,” Henriette responded, a little disconcerted.
“I’d like to meet him again,” Ela said.
Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel is now available on Amazon. Here’s an excerpt.
“Why are you always leaving your things in the middle of the floor?” Haralambie asked. His girlfriend didn’t respond, so he stepped out of the kitchen to seek her.
He had left her in the living room, writing up an artist’s statement for a recent batch of sculptures. Now he found her there stretching in her chair, her long fingers woven through her flowing, wavy red hair. She gave him a rueful look and then settled back to get on with her work at the computer.
“Henriette, this is not just your studio. I live here too,” Haralambie said with a sigh. He crouched to gather her latest clay pieces, her sculpting utensils and plastic sheets, and took them to the balcony. Henriette helped, but halfheartedly. Her mind was on the blurb she was drafting that morning. She said as much to Haralambie, but her focus had already shifted, so when he returned to the kitchen to finish his coffee and smoke another cigarette, she put on a sixties rock ballad. Soon she was swaying gently to and fro, swinging her arms around gracefully, and twirling her hands up in the air—until she noticed Haralambie leaning against the doorframe.
“Is that what it’s like at those parties of yours?” he asked.
“No, but that’s how I like it sometimes,” she responded provocatively, a wicked smile on her lips.
Haralambie walked over to her, cupped her face in his hands, and planted a kiss on her lips. “You’re not sixteen anymore, Henriette, and you know it.”