Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel (PAL), Serialized. #5 (“We sometimes need sadness in order to tease away sadness”)

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

And we’ve gotten to the fifth installment of my serialized novel Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL). Sorry about the late post! I got carried away by a friend’s visit to Bucharest 🙂

Please note that I am scheduling the posts from now on for 1 p.m. UTC.

Here are the previous four installments:

#1: “Nice meeting you, Ela” (July 11, 2021)

#2: “That was cute, you fighting with me . . .” (July 14)

#3: “You could humor me and play some piano” (July 17)

#4: “Anca soaked it all in, feeling, in turns, entranced, excited, and achingly happy” (July 21)

(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!

#5: “We sometimes need sadness in order to tease away sadness”

THREE

Bucharest, present day, eight years later. The first Saturday in August 2001, two weeks after Ela played Chopin for him, Pamfil invited Henriette, her sister Alice, and ten other friends of his to one of his monthly weekend parties. Ela would have joined them too, but she had decided to visit her aged grandfather in the countryside.

The guests started trickling in at nine thirty in the evening, and by the time Anca and Marcel stepped in an hour later,to the vibrato sounds of Peter Green’s guitar, the house was abuzz with chatter.

“I like these melancholic bluesy songs,” Anca said as she closed the front door behind her and rose up on her toes to give Pamfil a double-cheek kiss. “Too bad we’ll never be teenagers again,” she said with a smile as she took off her cardigan and hooked it on the coatrack.

“At twenty-four you should be looking resolutely ahead,” Pamfil said, “and not into the past. There will be enough time for that later on.”

“Said the old wolf,” Anca commented, taking a casual jab at her good friend. She then slapped her forehead with an exaggerated gesture. “Are you, by any chance, thirty-four today?”

“Yes,” Pamfil confirmed, tickled.

Marcel, who stood by listening to their exchange, gave Pamfil a pat on the back and walked into the living room.

“Why didn’t you say something? We could have made it more special!” Anca blurted. She gave Pamfil a hug.

“I like to believe that all my parties are special. That we’re not waiting for birthdays to have a good time,” Pamfil replied with a ready smile.

“I get that,” Anca said, all serious. “But I would have liked to get you a gift.”

“What would you have gotten me?” Pamfil inquired with a wink.

“What would you have wanted?” Anca asked with a smile, tilting her head playfully.

“Hard to say,” Pamfil deflected. “Come inside,” he invited, leading her out of the kitchen.

She walked to his desk and busied herself there with the playlist for a few minutes, until Marcel appeared at her side. “Care to dance?” he asked, extending a hand.

“Always,” she accepted with a smile, grasping his fingers in hers and easing herself into his embrace. They danced two songs together and went on to chat with Clara and Silvia, the pianist and the cellist who had formed the ensemble Trio Anima with Pamfil many years before.

“I love Peter Green too,” Silvia said, drinking from her wine glass, “but to me he always sounds unbearably sad. Whereas someone like Otis Redding puts a spring in my step every time.”

De gustibus,” Anca said. “We sometimes need sadness in order to tease away sadness.” 

Silvia smiled. “Once a poet, always a poet.”

“You almost make it sound like a bad thing,” Anca retorted with a smile.

“It’s probably a question of moderation,” Clara said as she leafed through a book listlessly next to Silvia. “As with everything.”

“Yeah, but when you have a vocation that lives in symbiosis with you,” Silvia put in, “you can be tempted to overfeed it.” She put her wine glass down and stretched her back. “I’ve started to have back problems,” she said.

“From cello playing?” Marcel asked.

“And carrying. But yes, I’m straining some muscles,” Silvia replied.

Clara lifted her eyes from her book. “We’re not getting any younger,” she said, gently rubbing Silvia’s upper back.

“I’ll dance to that,” Silvia responded jocularly. She got up and made her way to a group of guests who were capering to Creedence Clearwater Revival songs.

When Henriette and Alice arrived, about eleven o’clock, the party was in full swing. Almost everybody had had their nightcaps, and most of them had had quite a bit to eat as well. 

As Henriette took off her beige corduroy jacket and readjusted her outfit—black pants with a cream dressy shirt, accented by an aventurine, citrine, and smoky quartz pendant—Pamfil darted to his desk to pick the perfect song for a moment he had much anticipated, that of bringing his love for her into the open and forcing her to make the same decision. He decided on a peppy piece, something they could dance more sprightly to despite the weight of the declaration; then he walked back to the living room threshold, where Henriette was taking in the scene distractedly, and gave her a long kiss on the lips.

“I’ve wanted to do this for so long,” he whispered. “Tell the whole world how much I love you.”      

Henriette stroked his cheek, amused. “Then why are you whispering?”

Moments later she was in the kitchen, tempted by the profusion of food laid out on the table on large serving platters: boeuf salad, made with beef and boiled veggies, various sandwiches, fish fillets with veggie rice pilaf, eggplant spread, and stuffed eggs. She took out a plate and a glass from a cupboard and helped herself to two baked-tomato sandwiches and some homemade iced tea.

As she sat down to eat, Pamfil made some quick rounds in the living room. When he joined her again, he curled his right arm around her shoulders.

Henriette turned her cheek toward him and smiled.

“Will you strip for us tonight?” Pamfil asked, getting down on his haunches and enveloping her from the side with his upper body.

Henriette pushed her plate of food away and turned to him with a smile, silently asking for a kiss, which she received. Then they both got up. “Will you strip me?” Henriette said, raising her arms and shimmying against his body, a wide grin on her lips.

Pamfil looked at her with a glint in his eyes.

“Of course I will,” he said.

“Now?”

“Now.” He reached for her hand and ran with her in tow into the living room, where they collapsed on the bed, laughing.

Silvia and Clara, who were standing by, toppled themselves on them, giving the two lovers a heartfelt hug.

A few minutes later, still reeling from the mirthful surprise of the spontaneous gesture of the other two members of his trio, Pamfil extricated himself from the jumble and walked over to his computer to play their striptease song—an original voice-and-guitar composition he had recorded in sport a long time ago and which somehow, one joke to another, had started a popular sexy dance routine at his parties.

That day it was Henriette’s turn to make an impression. She got off the bed and stepped to the wooden desk chair with a catlike grace that extracted applause and hooting from her audience. Then, her green eyes alight with anticipation, she climbed on the desk on all fours like a panther, rose to her feet, swayed her shoulders sensuously as a smile sneaked across her face, and started miming peeling off her shirt. Pamfil, now high on his desk chair himself, pretended to work at her buttons before he actually undid some to reveal her bra, to the great enjoyment of his guests, who cheered and danced and touched the legs and sandaled feet of Henriette as she tried to delay taking off her shirt.

When the song was over, Vlad, Pamfil’s running partner and friend, put on a pop-rock Romanian ballad from the early nineties—a choice he followed with smug looks around the room to assess the approval of his own taste in music. The change in playlist, however, was registered only insofar as it offered a transition to a batch of slow songs, which guests promptly reacted to with invitations to lovers and friends.

Henriette, still on the desk, tried to decide between doing up her shirt and climbing down into Pamfil’s waiting arms. As Pamfil was beaming at her, she went for one last dashing gesture, putting one foot on the chair he was anchoring and swinging the other in the air and then around him as he pulled her close. Then, after landing on her feet, she kept her arms around his neck a moment longer, stroked the back of his head, and tilted her head up to kiss him.

“You never played that song before,” she said after a while as she danced with Pamfil, her face showing surprise at the party going off script a little. It used to be that they danced to the same old singers and bands every time, the vast majority of them from the sixties and seventies, Pamfil’s argument being that there was much to be discovered from those two decades and enough new material at every party to keep guests from getting bored. That said, he did allow his friends a little freedom—making sure to point out that their choices didn’t bear much scrutiny. This time, however, Vlad’s song was somewhat to his liking.

“It’s not such a bad song for its time,” he said in a mitigating way, a reaction that made Henriette chuckle, for it said so much about Pamfil’s struggle to accept people for who they were, despite his little tyrant ways—despite his strong preferences and his rather rigid notions of the ideal party. The give-and-take he aimed for endeared him to Henriette, used to dealing with a similar combination in Alice, who had become over the years quite a domineering big sister. But now, as she relaxed in Pamfil’s arms, she didn’t think about Alice. She didn’t think about much at all, not even Pamfil’s recent proposition—and Pamfil, too, was lost in their embrace, in the warmth of Henriette’s body and the orangey scent of her skin, as well as the excitement of their pretend stripping together, all of that compelling him to pull her to his chest and cradle the sides of her head and kiss her dark-cherry lips.

As they danced this way in the middle of the room, Anca went to the computer, leaned over Vlad, and played a soulful Otis Redding song.

Pamfil and Henriette, holding each other tight, looked at their friend with twinkling eyes.

“We’re public now, huh?” Henriette said, her arms now wrapped around Pamfil’s hips.

“I guess we are,” Pamfil said in a low voice.

“Only you haven’t asked me if I’m ready to leave Haralambie,” Henriette said, looking into the dark pools of his eyes.

“Why wouldn’t you be?” Pamfil retorted.

“I don’t know, Pamfil . . .” Henriette said.

“What’s holding you back?” Pamfil asked, running both of his hands through the sides of Henriette’s tumbling locks until he threaded his fingers, full of her dark auburn hair, atop her nape.

“The opposite of what’s attracting me to you,” Henriette responded, his gesture giving her shivers of pleasure. “The fact that he doesn’t stir my passions, that he lets me be myself, freely,” she added, a moment later losing her sentence and train of thought to Pamfil’s kiss.

Anca watched them from a corner as she enjoyed a glass of wine. Then the music changed to something with a faster tempo and she went into the kitchen to look for Marcel, who had gone there for some quick snacking. When she reached his side, he started spoon-feeding her boeuf salad.

“I had no idea Henriette was in love with Pamfil,” he said.

“Yeah, she took me in too. Isn’t she still dating Har?”

The lovebirds surprised everyone, in fact, even Alice, who liked to think of herself as observant.

To be continued . . .

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel (PAL), Serialized. #4 (“Anca soaked it all in, feeling, in turns, entranced, excited, and achingly happy”)

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

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)

#2: “That was cute, you fighting with me . . .” (July 14)

#3: “You could humor me and play some piano” (July 17)

(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”

TWO

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.

“Where?”

“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.”

“Why not?”

“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 . . .

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel (PAL), Serialized. #3 (“You could humor me and play some piano”)

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

Onward with installment #3 from Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL)! Once again, these go online on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and I will then take them down a month afterward. Enjoy!

If you wish to read the whole novel before I’m finished posting the installments, I have listed the various Amazon links along with a book description here.

First installment: “Nice meeting you, Ela” (July 11, 2021)

Second installment: “That was cute, you fighting with me . . .” (July 14)

#3 (“You could humor me and play some piano”)

Ela’s interest in Pamfil came about so swiftly and strongly that Henriette felt pushed into a corner, reluctant to share her thoughts on him. She wanted to believe doing so was unnecessary anyway—after all, Ela was her friend, and Pamfil, however much of a philanderer, wouldn’t dare work his charms on her. Or would he? Henriette didn’t know what to think. She knew only that in the two years she’d been with him, she felt herself to be the center of his affections. Did that mean he’d never cheated on her? Henriette couldn’t be sure, and, despite her pretense to the contrary, the uncertainty nagged at her. She knew she couldn’t expect to have him all to herself when she herself was living with Haralambie, but still, as time went by, she wished to see that he was making a first step in that direction, to show her that he could be more than he was, that he could be the man Ela wanted him to be, a lover with a lust for life yet someone who reined in his plentiful desire. So perhaps, Henriette thought one day as she was making dinner, she had a duty to tell Ela who Pamfil was. But then again, she considered, maybe Pamfil wasn’t who she thought he was. Maybe he was better. Maybe he wasn’t tempted by other women. Not tempted enough to act on it, that is.

It was with these reflections in mind that two months after her performance show, Henriette invited Ela and Pamfil to a film at the French Cultural Institute’s Elvire Popesco Cinema. It was a spur-of-the-moment thing, the three of them deciding their outing based on their schedules rather than on what was playing.

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 dominant personality traits rather 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 down Dacia Boulevard.

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.”

The women agreed amiably, and the three of them took the bus to Pamfil’s place, an old house from around 1900 standing a stone throw’s away from his landlady’s residence.

“This is my home. Small but comfortable,” Pamfil said as he turned the key in the lock. He opened the front door to reveal a snug kitchen, modest-sized but fitted with all the essentials: a cast-iron stove, a sink, four cabinets, and a table with two straight-back chairs and two stools. He then stepped to a door tucked at the back of the kitchen and presented with an all-encompassing gesture his neat bathroom, beautifully decorated with colorful tiles but seemingly tighter than a closet and with the smallest of tubs.

“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 time. 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, trying to decide how to approach their face-off.

In the meantime, as his guests fretted, Pamfil busied himself in the kitchen. When he walked back in, unattuned to the vibes given off by the two women, he approached them in his usual bouncy way. First he spoke to Ela, inquiring if she’d be happy with some green tea with peppermint.

Ela nodded with a smile, doing her best to be gracious like Pamfil and match his debonair presence, despite her tension.

Henriette, in turn, found herself a little bothered, not so much in anticipation of her upcoming performance, but rather at the way Pamfil was treating Ela, giving his attention to her, acting all charming and happy. “Ettie?” he asked, shaking her out of her reverie.

“Okay,” Henriette said, her mind snapping back to Pamfil’s question about minty green tea, one of his favorite brews and, by extension, now one of her first choices in tea as well.

Pamfil went back into the kitchen.

Willing to end the charade sooner, Henriette gestured to Ela to go to the piano.

Ela wiped her hands on her pants. “You play first.”

Henriette got up, walked over to the piano, and browsed through Pamfil’s music sheets, looking for a piece that might shake Ela’s confidence. She settled for a fragment from Ravel’s Piano Concerto for the Left Hand.

During Henriette’s performance, Ela sat nailed to the couch, watching, from her friend’s back, the latter’s wandering left hand as it moved with ease and feeling over the keyboard, covering expertly the bases of both hands.

After a few minutes Henriette put her left hand in her lap, next to her right hand, and turned to look at Pamfil, who appeared in the doorway.

“I thought it was Ela,” Pamfil said.

“Ela asked me to go first,” Henriette said, nodding to Ela, who stepped up to the piano to take her friend’s place. She chose Chopin’s Minute Waltz, a short yet difficult work, which she played sensitively and richly, moving with deft fluidity and articulation on the keys.

When Ela finished playing, Henriette, who could appreciate the piece as more than just a cute little waltz inspired by a dog chasing its tail, cheered from the settee, pleasantly impressed.

Standing in the doorway, Pamfil applauded his guests heartily and presented them with two mugs of hot tea. “Play some more,” he entreated.

“What would you like?” Ela asked.

“More Chopin.”

Ela set down her tea, placed her foot on the pedal and her fingers on the keys, and started Chopin’s Prelude No. 8 in F sharp minor, a virtuosic piece of mixed emotions, one that for all its ebullient molto agitato tempo conveyed a lot more despondency than buoyancy of spirit.

Pamfil sat on the bed, looking at the talented pianist unfurling her skills for him, taking in her small frame, childlike fingers, and coiled dark hair falling around her shoulders. He thought back to what Ela had told him earlier in the day as they walked away from the movie, how tired she was of Chopin preludes, and of most of her young students, who played them with little, if any, grace.

Ela finished her prelude in no time, picked up her bag, and headed for the door, nodding to Henriette to join her. Pamfil sat on the edge of his bed watching them leave.

To be continued . . .

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel (PAL), Serialized. #2 (“That was cute, you fighting with me . . .”)

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

This past weekend I started serializing my first novel, Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL), here on my blog. I will publish it on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and will then take down the posts a month later. If you wish to read the whole novel before I’m finished posting the installments, I have listed the various Amazon links along with a book description here.

Here’s the first installment: “Nice meeting you, Ela” (July 11, 2021)

And here’s the ending of that first installment, together with today’s bit.

“Remember when I went to Prague for New Year’s Eve in 1999?” Henriette asked.

Pamfil, who’d been browsing a brochure, lifted his gaze to Henriette’s.

“With those friends from high school?” Henriette continued.

“Yes, I remember,” Ela said. “When you broke up with Har.”

“Yes, after a year with Har,” Henriette echoed. She looked at Pamfil. “I went to Prague with those old classmates and a guy, and we fought and went our separate ways, and then we met online in a Bucharest channel—a chat room—on mIRC.”

“And then they had champagne on the Charles Bridge at midnight,” Ela said, smiling at Pamfil.

“Yes, we drank champagne when we met on the Charles Bridge,” Henriette told Pamfil. “We opened the champagne and took a picture of us kissing, in the middle of a crowd that pushed from all sides.” 

“Nice story,” Pamfil said. He looked at the people typing on keyboards. “What do they write about?” he asked, his eyes now focused on a screen.

“Ask them,” Henriette replied.

“They look like they’re having fun,” Pamfil said.

“One of the ideas is that online chatting is a form of communication that people engage in to alleviate anxiety,” Henriette explained.

“Interesting,” Ela remarked. “They don’t look anxious.” Her gaze then landed on a boy who kept dragging his teeth over his lips. “Well, maybe some of them.” She turned to Henriette. “Is that what you had in mind when you titled the piece Channeled? The fact that you’re channeling young people’s energies into an activity that helps them psychologically?”

“That, and the fact that chat rooms are called ‘channels’ on mIRC,” Henriette clarified. “Also, I wanted to refer obliquely to the fact that what’s channeled is the impulse and need for real communication, and what they get is a travesty of that. And yet it has its value. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded very well in conveying my conflicted stance on technology,” Henriette said pensively. She fiddled with her neck scarf. “Let’s talk some more over tea,” she invited, switching gears.

They headed to a tea house, revved up by their performances for each other.

#2 (“That was cute, you fighting with me . . .”)

“So how was Prague?” Ela asked once they sat down and ordered tea and petits fours. “You never told me much about it, except for the fact that you didn’t get to visit any museums.”

“Yes, I went with this bunch from high school,” Henriette said, settling into her seat.

“Were they fun?” Pamfil asked, his eyes boring into Henriette’s.

“If you consider early mornings spent drunk in bars fun, they were fun, yes. I may have been too sober to appreciate it.”

“Did your boyfriend like his booze too much?” Pamfil asked, a mischievous tone in his voice.

“Hard to say ‘boyfriend,’” Henriette said, darting a look at Pamfil.

“Was this some sort of revenge on Har?” Ela ventured.

“Not really. I wanted to get away, that’s all. Try something else.”

“That’s a good reason,” Pamfil said. He wanted to appear lighthearted, but his comment came out brooding.

Ela sought out his gaze. “Is it?”

“Once you try it, you may discover it isn’t,” Pamfil said with a forced laugh as he met Ela’s eyes. “But unless you try it, you won’t know. So yes, by any means, getting away is fun.”

“But we can’t stay away,” Ela retorted. “Shouldn’t we try to work on our routine instead?”

“Routine. Interesting notion. I’ve thought of it too. Don’t give it much credit, but yes, I’ve given it a lot of thought,” Pamfil said, his eyes lively.

“And?” Ela asked dryly.

Pamfil gave her a keen look. “And it can be a killjoy.”

“Even the routine with a loved one?” Ela probed, peering through the large windows at passersby to avoid Pamfil’s piercing eyes.

He kept watching her graceful profile. “There is no routine with a loved one. Lovers are supposed to change each other all the time.”

“Really? You can change men?” Henriette blurted, amused.

“Some women can change some men, yes,” Pamfil responded without missing a beat.

The waitress came with cups of tea and minicakes.

Ela smoothed back her hair. “I’m surprised you say that—about men.” She helped herself to a cup of tea and put some sugar in it. “I was reading a magazine the other day,” she went on softly, “and the author explained that men compartmentalize their lives, unlike women, who mentally and emotionally connect all aspects of their existence.”

“Yes, that’s true of most men,” Pamfil said, biting half of a chocolate-frosted minicake. “Compartmentalization also explains why men, more than women, can lead highly unbalanced lives,” he continued as Ela sipped her tea and Henriette dove into the platter of sweet treats. “Women not only experience more of a unity between the areas of their lives, but they also tend to evaluate them against each other and suffer when they fall behind on the career or family track, for instance. Whereas we men—and some women—are different. We can get obsessed with something, and if we do well there, our positive energy carries over to other parts of our lives, and we fail to see that they, too, may need some improvement.”

“Interesting,” Ela said, looking at the platter and picking up a tiny piece of cake with ganache and tart cherries in the middle. “But I thought you just said that men compartmentalize their lives,” she added, raising her gaze to meet Pamfil’s.

“Yes, but mostly in the sense that we can tune out thoughts when we change activities,” Pamfil said. “But hormonal energy is different. For instance, when we play video games, we get a release of testosterone after each success that involves competition with random players online, much like when we fight for a woman—in this respect our brains don’t distinguish between a real-life accomplishment and a virtual one. So we get hooked on the virtual world. Of course neurotransmitters play a part too. But the idea is that after a win in a multiplayer video game, our testosterone spikes, and then it stays in our systems for a while, making us overconfident in other areas of our lives as well. And so we don’t develop enough skills we may need in relationships, for instance, because we overestimate our abilities!” He emptied his cup. “Ready to go?” he then asked his table companions, seeing they had finished both their minicakes and tea.

“So you don’t believe in technology, after all?” Henriette asked Pamfil after they left the tea house and said goodbye to Ela.

“You know I do, but what I’m trying to say is that we shouldn’t treat technology mindlessly. When you’re an adult and have responsibilities, you don’t have much time left, but these kids, they seem to have all the time in the world to stay online,” Pamfil said. “So your exhibition, what is it really about?”

Henriette gave a small laugh. “I wrote that bit about the alleviation of anxiety for the press, but you know what it’s about,” she said.

“About us in Prague.”

“Yes.”

“That was cute, you fighting with me and walking into the darkness on New Year’s Eve,” Pamfil said.

“We were so in love,” Henriette said with a big smile, fixing him with her gaze.

Pamfil wondered for a moment whether to respond to her comment. “Do your kids enter real chat rooms, or just fake ones among themselves?” he asked. A whiff of Henriette’s floral perfume, carried by a breeze, teased his senses.

“I set up a chat room for all of them, and there’s also private messaging, of course,” Henriette said. “But they can’t talk to each other in person. Until the wrap-up party, that is.” She pulled out her neck scarf and used it to tie her wavy, restless hair.

“Shouldn’t you teach them that the thrill is better if they do it the other way around?” Pamfil asked, seeking confirmation in Henriette’s eyes. “If they start the communication in real life and then flirt online?”

“I think it can work either way. The stories we tell people when we get to know them online are often different from the ones we tell each other in person.”

“And that’s good?” Pamfil asked, mesmerized by the way the turquoise and green tones in her scarf complemented her fair complexion, her dappled sea-green irises, dark auburn hair, and full, deep-red lips.

“As with all things, it depends from one situation to another,” Henriette said, her fingertips seeking, tantalizingly, the back of his hand. “It certainly says a lot about the power of words to create worlds. And people.”

They fell silent after that, both of them thinking about Haralambie, who believed that words help create people more than people do. They’d had that discussion before, and there was no use rehashing it. Not because they had explored every facet of it—they hadn’t—but because it involved Haralambie, and while any other topic blossomed with every new discussion they had about it, when it came to Haralambie, Pamfil had the feeling that there was little to add, little to change in their impression of him. And anything that involved Haralambie unnerved Pamfil—Henriette knew that, and she tried to keep her two relationships separate.

She would have liked to keep Ela separate too, but Ela had become quite a barnacle after her two meetings with Pamfil, insisting that she sensed something about the man, that he was “a breath of fresh air.” However tired the metaphor, Henriette couldn’t help but agree. Pamfil was, indeed, fresh. Not artless, though, but young and alive—quite to Henriette’s liking, until Ela entered the scene, all eager to know better a man who, however gregarious, essentially kept to himself. A man who could offer heartrending tenderness without offering his heart. A man who was in no hurry to give that heart to someone because, as he once said to one of his buddies, unaware that Henriette overheard him, he had only one heart and couldn’t trust a woman, any woman, with it.

To be continued . . .

Poets, Artists, Lovers: A Novel (PAL), Serialized. #1 (“Nice meeting you, Ela”)

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

Hi,

I have decided to serialize my novel Poets, Artists, Lovers (PAL), self-published in 2017 on Amazon. I will be publishing the installments on Saturdays and Wednesdays, and I will then take them down a month later. If you wish to read the whole novel before I’m finished posting the installments, here are the various Amazon links.

Please note that PAL is the first in a planned trilogy but can be read as a standalone novel as well. Enjoy!

So without further ado, let’s begin 🙂

ONE

“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.”

*

“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 is 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’ remarks. “How’s your tea, Ela?”

“Great.”

“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. “This guy, Pamfil . . .” she started, still organizing her thoughts. “He’s rather handsome.”

“He is,” Henriette affirmed.

“How do you know him?” Ela asked.

“We met at a conference.”

“Do you like him?”

“He’s okay,” Henriette responded, a little disconcerted.

“I’d like to meet him again,” Ela said.

And she did. A few weeks later, in May 2001, Henriette invited both Ela and Pamfil to see a performance piece of hers, called Channeled, which she was rather excited about, even though it was very simple in conception: twenty teenagers of various ages chatting among themselves over three weekends on a local network as they sat crammed next to each other at narrow computer desks—the physical setup, with the desks set flush against the walls of a small art gallery in a U-shape, mimicking that of an internet café.

When Henriette and her friends arrived at the show one Saturday afternoon, they were all immediately struck by how much the performers were drawn, almost magnetically, to the words building up their virtual bubbles, even as they were also restless—biting their lips anxiously, stroking their chins while pondering a response, or tilting their heads at the screen in disbelief or amusement before pushing back their chairs and typing feverishly again.

Henriette stood watching her volunteers for a few moments, lost in her own thoughts as she observed their gestures and considered asking each of these teenagers, eventually, for their take on her piece through open-ended interviews. Then she grabbed some informational materials for her guests, and the three of them proceeded to walk around the room in order to catch some glimpses of the chat conversations.

“Remember when I went to Prague for New Year’s Eve in 1999?” Henriette asked.

Pamfil, who’d been browsing a brochure, lifted his gaze to Henriette’s.

“With those friends from high school?” Henriette continued.

“Yes, I remember,” Ela said. “When you broke up with Har.”

“Yes, after a year with Har,” Henriette echoed. She looked at Pamfil. “I went to Prague with those old classmates and a guy, and we fought and went our separate ways, and then we met online in a Bucharest channel—a chat room—on mIRC.”

“And then they had champagne on the Charles Bridge at midnight,” Ela said, smiling at Pamfil.

“Yes, we drank champagne when we met on the Charles Bridge,” Henriette told Pamfil. “We opened the champagne and took a picture of us kissing, in the middle of a crowd that pushed from all sides.” 

“Nice story,” Pamfil said. He looked at the people typing on keyboards. “What do they write about?” he asked, his eyes now focused on a screen.

“Ask them,” Henriette replied.

“They look like they’re having fun,” Pamfil said.

“One of the ideas is that online chatting is a form of communication that people engage in to alleviate anxiety,” Henriette explained.

“Interesting,” Ela remarked. “They don’t look anxious.” Her gaze then landed on a boy who kept dragging his teeth over his lips. “Well, maybe some of them.” She turned to Henriette. “Is that what you had in mind when you titled the piece Channeled? The fact that you’re channeling young people’s energies into an activity that helps them psychologically?”

“That, and the fact that chat rooms are called ‘channels’ on mIRC,” Henriette clarified. “Also, I wanted to refer obliquely to the fact that what’s channeled is the impulse and need for real communication, and what they get is a travesty of that. And yet it has its value. I’m not sure I’ve succeeded very well in conveying my conflicted stance on technology,” Henriette said pensively. She fiddled with her neck scarf. “Let’s talk some more over tea,” she invited, switching gears.

They headed to a tea house, revved up by their performances for each other.

To be continued . . .