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SCARABOCCHIO GRACE ANDREACCHI


The right of Grace Andreacchi to be identified as author of this work has been asserted by her in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988. This is a work of fiction. Any similarity of persons, places or events depicted herein to actual persons, places or events is purely coincidental. Copyright © 2008 by Grace Andreacchi Hadas. All rights reserved. Cover image: Medusa by Arnold Böcklin circa 1878, all decorations – public domain, block prints – prints of japan, drawing of Goethe by J.H.W. Tischbein, rose by pdphoto.org, nautilus by C.C. Jones, Union College, Schenectady, N.Y., mosaic cc by spaceodissey at flickr.com, portrait of a girl by Rosalba Carrera, portrait of Goethe by Georg Melchior Kraus, Goethe in the campagna by Tischbein, ‘Mephiostofeles’ by Delacroix, angiogram of hand – public domain, Farbenkreis by Goethe, all other images public domain.


by the same author POETRY AND FEAR GIVE MY HEART EASE MUSIC FOR GLASS ORCHESTRA ELYSIAN SONNETS AND OTHER POEMS VEGETABLE MEDLY (FOR THE THEATRE)


CHAPTER ONE CHAPTER TWO CHAPTER THREE CHAPTER FOUR CHAPTER FIVE

1 91 150 191 244


Burn what you have worshipped, worship what you have burned. – St. Remy


CHAPTER ONE The Ten Golden Sovereigns [from the Poet's Diary] Ash Wednesday I came here first of all to work. By which I mean not only, nor even in the first place, to make black marks on paper, but also to look about me, to observe the passing scene, to tread in the iron-clad footsteps of dead Crusaders along the black shores of a wine dark sea, to pose for my official portrait with the ancient temple of Segeste serving as the highly appropriate backdrop or stage set if you will. I have with me (and yet not with me, for he has a room of his 1


own) a young painter who calls himself Danzig although I am convinced that is not his real name. More than once I have heard the waiter address him in an undertone as ‘Lorenzaccio’. This socalled Danzig claims to have been an officer in the Austrian Navy and to have learned his excellent Italian in Trieste, where he served on board a submarine. He has already painted the Archduke, and now he is to paint me. These are only some of the reasons I have come. There are others, of course, less superficial, less ready of explication - they will be revealed in the course of time. They have a bearing on angels and archangels as well as on other, less benevolent spirits who have long been expecting me. Tomorrow, for example, I have a rendezvous with the Royal Gardener to the Prince of Palermo in the gardens of the Villa Nebbiosa overlooking the sea. I have sent word that I will come an hour before sunset, but I cannot stay long. I must be at the Governor's in time for dinner; the Governor insists on punctuality and apparently has been known to order on-the-spot executions of those who are late to his table. I shall be careful not to make that mistake. We took the corvette from Naples and were nearly drowned. We sailed directly into the heart of a storm, sea and sky were one black and 2


sickening whirlpool. I lay in the bunk shivering with nausea and fear, watching the rats run back and forth across the tilting walls. The water came in and I tasted the dark salt wine of the mythopoĂŤic sea. I shut my eyes tight and was once again an Unborn, rocked in swirling waters, dreaming the pure nameless passions of infancy. When the sky cleared and the dripping sails were unfurled like the white wings of waterbirds shaking off sleep and I staggered on deck to see the sky blue once again in all its cloudless innocence I was almost sorry to be alive, my head stuffed with thousands and millions of names, names for all things as well as their Latin equivalents. I would have liked to linger in that salty twilight a little longer, perhaps passing imperceptibly over into death. I leaned upon the railing and wept, I was angry as a thwarted child, when Danzig appeared, smiling, his shirt open at the throat, his dark hair ruffled by the stiff sea wind - he was altogether poetical in his dishevelment and good humour, and I forgot my sorrow and embraced him heartily. It is not true, what they say, that I have never had a woman. It is merely that, under the eyes of the Archduke, my opportunities have been extremely limited. The Archduke is a strict Catholic, he has fallen into the hands of the Jesuits, 3


and it is enough for him to hear only so much as a whisper of scandal to send for the Inquisition. Besides, he is very jealous of those he loves, and I am conscious of my position as a favourite. It has its (numerous) advantages. I am no Diogenes, as you can tell by the fine cut of my knee breeches, the violet silk of my coat. But there is no denying I am sometimes a little what the French call ĂŠtouffĂŠ. The love of the Archduke is not like that of ordinary mortals, being at once more exigent and more refined. Have I come, then, to wallow in the gutter away from the prying eyes of those that love me too well? Wait and see... Although Danzig was beaming with good spirits on our safe arrival in the harbour at Palermo, he had been disconsolate the night before our departure on account of a half-grown Siamese girl with dirty feet in whose embraces I more than once had surprised him. She had skin the colour of the local marzipan and wore a sprig of crushed jasmine in her hair, another in the sash of her dress. She smiled at me, she offered me an assignation, all with an air of the most winning and angelic innocence strangely at variance with her words, which were uttered in a childish lisp. There was nothing sensual or the least bit voluptuous in her invitation, which was given as the most natural thing in the world - she might 4


have been a well brought-up young girl asking me to tea. I gave her an appointment to come to my room. It was late in the afternoon but the sun was still strong. I had closed the shutters to keep out the heat, and the room was striped as by a brush with streaks of gold. She lay down on the brocade bedcover in her torn pink dress. I sat beside her and began to fondle her. Like a cat, she stretched and trembled, the long, thin lashes swept down over the marzipan cheeks so full and smooth I longed to bite them - so sure was I they would taste of sugared almonds. Closed, her eyelids displayed two humps of pale violet skin where the eyes had been - wide set, upslanting eyes of a ganoid blue so startling I assumed the colour to be artificially enhanced with one of those beauty drugs known to the women of the east. She allowed me to remove her thin rag of a dress. Underneath it she was still a smooth-limbed undeveloped child; there was no tell-tale down on the little mount of the goddess, the hipbones were mere ridges under the sheath of downy skin. I caressed her and she moved her lips as if in prayer, then smiled and wriggled closer to me. She placed a knowing little hand upon me, but alas! It was too late for me to enjoy her. I lay on the bed gasping in the heat, dazzled by the sudden light, for someone had pushed open the shutter. A 5


little Siamese cat came bounding onto the bed and miaowed noisily at the girl. She laughed and sat up, she called the cat Coco and bid her make my acquaintance. I gave her a false name and she gave me her own of Faustina. I gave her a sovereign to hide my shame and vexation, but in truth I was just as glad not to have possessed the child. Perhaps she was too young for me? I am not sure of the cause of my unease in her presence. She was constantly moving her lips as if in prayer. When I kissed her lips and sweetly odorous cheeks I heard the silken swish of her blood, the flutewhistle of the breath rising and falling in her narrow lungs. On the whole I was relieved when she left with her cat on her shoulder, but then the room was terribly quiet, the crumpled bedcover spoke eloquently of her visitation no matter how I tried to smooth it, the light remained in the same golden stripes upon the walls and floor, as though the sun had halted in its journey, and at last I was obliged to go out to escape the resonant void. That evening I asked Danzig to exchange rooms with me, which he did willingly enough, as his was by far the smaller and less desirable of the two. I asked him where he had happened to discover her and he answered that she was one of the little girls who do the laundry for the guests at the hotel. There are many of these Siamese in the 6


Empire now, for during the last war they were imported in large numbers, both male and female, for purposes of prostitution. Strange that I never noticed her before. She must have been in and out of the room many times to collect or deliver my things. Why, the very shirt I was wearing now might have been crimped and pressed by those same agile fingers that had touched me so intimately in the afternoon. I fingered the stuff of the shirt and it seemed to have acquired a new significance, to be whispering something barely audible in the folds of the white cloth, over and over again, like a prayer. The next morning I was accosted outside the door of the inn by two rough-looking characters, the father and brother of the little laundress. Their demand was simple enough - I must marry the girl to make restitution to her family for her outraged virtue. When I expressed myself unwilling to do anything of the kind they immediately suggested the substitution of gold and named a high figure. I had ruined the girl, she would no longer be marriageable among her own people, they explained, and so high a sum would be necessary to keep her for the rest of her days and to soothe the anger and grief of her family. I was unwilling to disabuse them either as to the child's character (which in truth they knew well enough, having 7


played this scene many times before - the two had the slightly bored expressions and tired mannerisms of actors who have been too long in the same roles), or as to my own prowess. Nor was there any question but that the girl had in fact been most crudely violated and that not once but innumerable times, for her character had been thoroughly spoiled. The distress of her relatives might, for all I knew, be genuine enough. Nonetheless, the figure they named was far beyond my means. I named one considerably lower, to which they readily agreed, thus making it clear to me that I had paid too much. I gave them ten golden sovereigns and obtained in exchange the answer to the age old question, ‘What is the price of virtue?’

8


Beethoven's Other Nephew The ships in the harbour at Palermo swim as in the dark dregs at the bottom of a gigantic goblet. Black volcanic headlands rear up on every side, black shadows swarm and dive in the everchanging sea. The line between sea and sky is obscured by a heavy golden mist like that which appears around the Christ Child in certain baroque paintings. Always one hears the melancholy orchestral roar, the rush and retreat of the reaping tide. The sun was low when we arrived, and by the time we had unloaded our boxes and hired a carriage it was nearly dark. It was a steep drive up the mountain to Monreale where, we had been assured by the vetturino, a pleasant inn awaited us. The road was well-paved and the distance not far, we should have been there easily in half an hour. But the vetturino kept stopping every few minutes, only to climb down from the carriage and disappear into the darkness at the side of the road. ‘Driver, why are you stopping? Why don't you go on? Is there something amiss with the carriage?’ I called out. ‘No, no, Signore,’ he replied, approaching to the window from which I had spoken. ‘There is 9


no problem. Don't distress yourself, Signore. We shall be there very soon.’ ‘But why on earth do you keep stopping the carriage?’ I demanded, and began to climb out myself, curious to see what was going on. I caught a glimpse of a brightly lit shrine set into some rocks in the hillside, and a black-faced Madonna draped in gold, from whose breast there protruded the hilt of a golden dagger. The vetturino pushed me roughly back into my seat, apologizing all the while in a soft, wheedling voice. ‘Sorry, Signore, very sorry, forgive me, Signore, you must not get down now. We are nearly there. Only have a little patience, Signore.’ At that point the carriage started up once more and in fact we did not interrupt our journey again until we came to a halt in the courtyard of a little hillside inn. I was given a large pleasant room on the first floor, opening onto a terrace that overlooks Palermo and the sea. They assured me it was the best in the place, and I do not really find any fault with it, although it suffers from an elusive atmosphere of decay. The entire hotel is like this any individual object on which you fasten your eyes presents itself in excellent condition, ordinary and unobjectionable, but somehow the whole wears an air of sombre, brooding regret. Invisible 10


ants make their way across the spotless pink and blue tiles and swarm upon the gilded chandeliers in the dining room. Beneath the smoothly whitewashed walls the cracked and blistered skin of old age appears like the cheeks of an ancient belledame beneath a coat of paint. The terrace is planted with lemon trees and the tiny globular fruits mingle their perfume with the dead odours in the drains. Below the terrace the hill falls away sharply. Far at the bottom the city of Palermo is laid out like a glittering blanket every night. By day it disappears into a pink and blue haze, crowned by the golden aureole that hovers above the wine dark sea. When I had settled my few belongings I called upon Danzig, whose room is next to mine, and asked him to accompany me on a walk before dinner. I always like to obtain some preliminary impressions of my surroundings, and besides my head was heavy from the prolonged ride in the airless carriage. He readily consented and we made our way the half mile or so down the hill to the village of Monreale. It was easy enough to find the main square, for the streets were full of people all hurrying in the same direction, and we had merely to let ourselves be carried forward by the tide. The piazza was brightly lit with electric lights - I could make out the arcade along the 11


north face of the cathedral, and the one remaining tower thrusting its head above the level of the palm trees up into the starry sky. The press of the crowd was too intense to permit of a promenade, so we took seats before a gushing fountain wherein a marble boy was engaged in some lascivious sport with a sea serpent. Before us passed an endless parade of sloe-eyed velvetskinned children dressed in the most elaborate costumes. The boys were attired as Crusaders, Moors, mousquetaires, as Sicilian princes in scarlet cloaks and golden doublets; the little girls like animated flowers in pink and blue, crimson, gold, violet, their broad-brimmed hats drooping with flowers, their skirts billowing over lace petticoats, draped with satin ribbons and sparkling with glass gems. One little beauty in particular caught my eye - she was dressed all in pink, in that distinctly garish hue, merging almost into blue, that is seen in blown roses, or in the thin membranes that surround the eye. Her smooth black hair cascaded from under a lace-encrusted picture hat that tied under her chin in an enormous pink bow. Upon her shoulder she carried a dainty pink parasol edged in lace, which she twirled continually in her lace-mittened hand. She paused before us several times, each time using the parasol as a screen from behind which she trained her curious young 12


animal's eyes upon us. I saw her again much later, back at the hotel, where we returned after dining in the town on pasta drenched in saffron cream and the tender flesh of freshly killed fish. She was sitting on the wall under a lemon tree eating an ice, but the moment she saw us she jumped down and ran away into the dark, her parasol bobbing behind her. That night when I was getting into bed I noticed for the first time the picture of the Madonna del Popolo over the headboard. I was repulsed by this blurry photograph of an artefact from a period antipathetic to my taste and would have liked to remove it from its place over the bed but was afraid of giving offence to the hotel staff. I pondered long over it and finally left it untouched, but I had reason to regret of my magnanimity before morning, for I was held captive all night by the most terrible dreams. The Madonna was weeping inside the picture frame - her tears ran down the glass that covered the tawdry print, soaking the bed. ‘It is nothing,’ I said to myself in my dream. ‘It is only condensation from the excessively damp atmosphere here in the hotel.’ But my heart was troubled - I wanted to comfort the weeping Madonna but had no idea how to go about it. ‘Don't cry, Mother,’ I said, climbing up on the bed and looking into the face of the picture. 13


But her tears continued to flow faster than ever. I felt that I was the sole cause of her grief and that nothing could be done, no restitution was possible. I awoke early all in a sweat. The pillow was soaked with my tears, and the light dancing over the sea was painfully bright. At breakfast I had a chance to observe the other guests at the hotel - they are not numerous. One of these is an old acquaintance of mine, a retired Canadian pianist whose extravagant interpretations I have more than once had occasion to praise in the pages of the Alldeutsche Musikalische Zeitung. He had retired first from the concert stage at the age of thirty-two, then from a lucrative recording career at the age of fifty, and had given himself out to be dead. These successive stages of retreat from reality had in fact rendered him dead in the public eye (although the matchless recordings continued to sell steadily) and perhaps something close to dead in himself, for as he sat there in a sunny corner of the dining room, hunched inside his ubiquitous greatcoat, he had the appearance of something shrunken, mummified, partially dissolved in the intensity of the light that poured in through the plateglass and reflected upwards from the glittering sea, and he did not move, he did not look as if he could ever move, but sat as still as a dead person over his 14


gleaming white coffee cup. I was torn on seeing him thus at breakfast, for on the one hand I wished to preserve my anonymity, I did not wish to have my experience mediated by interaction with any superfluous persons belonging to the past; on the other hand I was moved to pity at the sight of his aloof and deathlike isolation. I compromised and offered him a simple nod by way of greeting, but he gave no indication of having seen me at all. Slowly, slowly, I saw his hand steal out towards the cup. He raised it with infinite slowness to his desiccated lips and drank. I deliberately turned my back to him, not wishing to prolong this painfully lugubrious spectacle throughout the whole of my breakfast, for I am a nervous and uneven breakfaster, the least thing puts me off my food in the morning, and then I won't feel right the rest of the day. The waiter brought me a biscuit ornamented with icing sugar, and a cup of gleaming white enamel identical to that I had seen in the slow-moving hand of my former friend. The waiter had the same sloe eyes and black hair as the children of the night before; his hands were deft and delicate like those of a violinist or a lacemaker. Looking up from my coffee, dazzled by the light, I shielded my eyes for a moment and realised that I was now looking into a large, giltframed mirror that covered the greater part of the 15


wall opposite the plateglass. In the blue-green depths of this mirror the tables in stiff-winged cloths swam like so many white swans gliding upon glassy water, the enamelled Moorish candelabra and painted jugs, the battered piano, the gilded chandeliers were all repeated as a phrase from the first movement of a sonata may reappear at the very end, transposed into a different key and bearing an altogether different significance because its surroundings have changed utterly, because time has intervened, things have happened and failed to happen that have caused us to modify our opinion of this initial phrase, so too the dining room was repeated but not the same, and my friend, modified by time into what significance I had no idea and could hardly be expected to guess, was also there in the very corner of the mirror, his eyes over the now immobilized coffee cup meeting mine in the glass. BARTON BEALE - b. 1932, Little Dip, Saskatchewan, Canada. d. 1982? First prize, piano, Toronto Conservatory, 1950. One of the great pianists of the twentieth century, Beale was particularly noted for his startling interpretations of the classics, and of Sebastian Bach in particular, whereby he influenced irrevocably an entire generation of musicians. His spectacular concert 16


career was cut short by his voluntary retirement from the stage in 1964, after which he devoted himself exclusively to electronic recordings. These include, notably, the Goldberg Variations, J.S. Bach, 1952, The Well-Tempered Clavier, 1960, the entire keyboard oeuvres of Beethoven, Mozart, and most of J.S. Bach, little-known works of the Elizabethan period, works by other members of the Bach family, and again the Goldberg Variations, 1982. He was also an enthusiastic champion of the works of such recent composers as Schönberg, Krenek, and Leverkühn. Beale disappeared under mysterious circumstances shortly after the completion of the second Goldberg recording and is believed to be dead. Beale also achieved a certain notoriety in his lifetime as the author of such articles as ‘The Inverted Möbius Concerto - A Look at Bach's Brandenburgs’ and ‘People in Glass Houses or Why I Gave Up Live Performances’. See biographies by Sir Adrian Gower, Barton Beale, A Life Apart, (1984), and Dominique Lafontaine, Barton Beale, Sa Musique, Sa Vie, (1987). [from The International Musical Encyclopaedia] Danzig came in and, after his customary little bow with hand pressed against the heart, slid into the place that had been laid for him at my side. 17


He was even more sparkling than usual this morning - a mysterious sly smile played about his lips and alerted me that he was up to something. He had brought the portfolio with him and laid it down on the table, then placed his left hand over it. With the right he fingered his shirt ruffle in a coy, absent-minded gesture that drew my attention to the dark column of his throat. ‘Good morning,’ I said, unable to repress a smile at the sight of his cheerfulness. ‘Yes indeed, Meister,’ he replied. ‘Coffee, please,’ he said to the waiter, in English, for he likes to display his contempt for that whole class of people who serve, being himself in something of a servant's capacity to myself, and (I suspect by his manners and appearance, which are very pleasing but a trifle vulgar at times) having his origins in that class that lies just above the servant's and feels compelled to assert its superiority over the same whenever the two come into contact. So, despite his fluent and unaccented Italian, which is really much better than mine, he uses, whenever possible, that universal English that is the hallmark of the educated classes. ‘I hope you were able to sleep, Meister,’ he added in a solicitous tone. I waved a hand in deprecation of all that his question implied, for he 18


is well acquainted with my interminable sleep difficulties, and the topic is an old one between us. ‘Not at all,’ I said. ‘But it's not important. Perhaps tonight will be better. I have the most terrible head... But what have you there? You haven't been at work already?’ He took a large bite from his breakfast biscuit and licked the sugary crumbs from the sides of his mouth with a dextrous pink tongue, then took a swallow of coffee. I was fascinated by the visible passage of the food inside that smooth erect brown column. ‘Have a look,’ he invited me, handing over the portfolio. Inside were several sketches of the children we had seen the night before, including the little girl in pink. ‘Recognize her?’ he said, laying a finger on the picture. ‘Yes, of course - Faustina. But why...?’ I looked up at him in confusion. ‘It was the same girl, Meister,’ he said, shrugging, opening the palms of his hands in bewilderment. ‘The very same. I recognized her right away. Did you not, then?’ I shook my head, then bent over the sketch once more and examined the child in pink. There was certainly a strong resemblance to the little laundress of Naples. ‘But I don't understand,’ I said. ‘What is she doing here? How could she have arrived so soon? She wasn't on the boat with us, I'm certain of it.’ 19


Danzig shrugged again, and his eyes slid away from mine. ‘Oh , well, certain - that's difficult to say, isn't it? She may have been... It was a rough crossing. She may have kept below.’ ‘But why would she come here? And how would she have time to obtain the costume? It was quite the prettiest one there...’ Then, it dawning on me, ‘You haven't brought her here yourself, have you?’ His hands closed over the drawing and he stuffed it, along with the others, back into the portfolio. ‘Certainly not,’ he said, looking into my eyes with the perfect frankness that belongs only to clear blue eyes in a very young face. I knew then that he was lying. ‘Would you like to see her again?’ he asked. His majestic smile was that of a procuress who knows her goods to be of the first order. ‘No!’ I said sharply. ‘I would like to have nothing further to do with her. I only wish you hadn't brought her along, certainly not without consulting me beforehand. Her presence here will constitute a distinct nuisance to me.’ ‘It wasn't me put the idea in her head,’ he said, again meeting me with that gaze of spurious and unshakeable naïveté. ‘The fact is, Meister, you 20


shouldn't have given the father so much. Now she thinks she belongs to you.’ I no longer had any appetite for my breakfast. I crumbled the remains of the biscuit and looked unhappily into the plate, hoping to read some augury there. The sea light reflected on the white ground of the porcelain, imparting to the biscuit deeper hues of golden brown like the striated chalky cliffs that crumble into the sea along the coasts of France. ‘Tell her to go away,’ I said, but softly, to myself. ‘What's that, Meister?’ ‘Yes, give her some money and tell her to go away.’ But in my heart the image of her almond cream skin, united now to the swaying silk skirts and lace parasol, opened like a rose and spread its perfume upwards into my brain. ‘Give her some money,’ I said again, and this time Danzig bowed his head in acknowledgement. At this point another guest came into the dining room and sat down at the table next to ours. He was slight and spectrally pale, a young man fashionably dressed in a bottle green frock coat and riding boots, carrying a small riding whip. His dark hair was tied in a green ribbon, and the exposed right temple, which presented itself to my gaze, was ornamented by a small, neat 21


hole of the type usually associated with a low calibre duelling pistol. The hole was black, scorched, and crusted around the edges with a fine crimped border of dark red coagulated blood. The young gentleman asked for the Neue Zürcher Zeitung and began to read it immediately with minute attention while the waiter poured out his coffee. ‘That is Beethoven's nephew,’ Danzig whispered, leaning towards me across the table. ‘Do you mean Carl?’ I said. ‘No, this is the other nephew, Paul. He suffers terribly from nerves, they say. He is travelling with a private physician. I had a word with the doctor last night.’ And indeed a few moments later a gentleman who was conspicuously of the medical profession came in and took a seat beside young Beethoven. More than once I felt the young man's searching gaze upon me, and I saw him put his head together with the doctor's in consultation. Meanwhile Beale got up from his corner and shuffled across the room onto the adjoining terrace, where I saw him take a seat under the lemon trees and bury his head in his hands.

22


The Stones of Monreale After breakfast we made our way down the hill to the cathedral, I with Heinrich Adams's excellent guide book ready to hand, Danzig with his sketchbook and pencils. Both money and faith being in short supply since the last war, the depredations committed by the firebombs have never been made good, and one can no longer hope to find the glowing outsized reliquary, paved from floor to ceiling with gemmed mosaics, that so fired the American scholar's imagination. Adams spent the last years of his life here, working out his stupendously detailed and ravishingly poetic guide to the Cathedral of our Lady of Monreale. The church as it stands today is but a shell. Still, it is possible to trace, with the help of Adams, the significance of certain isolated fragments of coloured glory that adhere to the crumbling walls like scales to the sides of a too hastily cleaned fish. The roof is entirely gone, but this does not pose a serious problem, as the climate of Sicily is in general warm and dry. A cloth awning of blue 23


and white stripes, similar to those in common use at fairgrounds and country markets, has been set in place and is unfurled on those rare days of bad weather when there is need of it. The great west way stands open to the street, for there are no longer any doors. (The old Romanesque bronze doors were melted down during the war.) One looks from the high stone lintel directly into the face of the ancient Christus Pantocrator, His arms extended in universal gesture above the apse. The white glare of the sun lights His face and hands, lends to His sombre eyes a similitude of life. Below Him are grouped the courtiers of His Sacred Kingdom, damaged beyond recognition by the hand of time, showing only a fragment of a celestial blue robe here, of a golden halo there, where once a saint looked down in glory upon the world of men. The walls are now of bare stone, broken down in part but essentially sound, and as thick as those of any fortress. The relentless light rains down through the empty window embrasures and the empty vault overhead. Underfoot, the pavement of multicoloured marble tiles has cracked open like an overcooked egg - the jewel-green grass leaks from the cracks and spills in vivid patterns across the floor, fertilized by the blood of martyrs, the dung of sheep and goats. The air is bright with the 24


blue wings of Adonis butterflies; they swarm by the hundreds high up in the apse, forming a living mosaic that shivers like wind-blown water upon the dark stones. Doves have made their nests in the niches of the tower, and the sudden rustle of their iridescent wings breaks like a blue wave on a calm sea, pushed towards the shore by who knows what invisible hand. Down the centre of the nave are two rows of antique columns, their capitals flourishing with the autumnal foliage of ancient Rome. No longer restrained by the Christianized iconography of the pulvins, which have been flagellated down to the naked stone, no longer serving any structural purpose, as the roof they were meant to support has been replaced by the divinely sustained vault of heaven, these columns, which never could have achieved more than an uneasy alliance with such rigorous spiritual surroundings at the best of times, are now forlorn, and appear like oversized and overdressed little girls who have come to the wrong party by mistake, and only want to be taken home again. I wandered about with the book in my hand and found I was able, with the help of Adams's careful descriptions, to identify most of the coloured fragments that remain upon the walls. Oddly enough, this identification served only to throw into greater relief the contrast between the 25


Monreale that Adams had known and loved and written about, and the Monreale where I now stood. My pilgrimage had been in vain - Monreale was no more. He had written of a place bloated with the riches of Byzantium, glowing with gold, replete with oriental perfume and splendour. Here the Norman warrior had conquered, and here he had been conquered - ravished by the spirit of the grave, purple-clad east. Now were desolation, tristezza, and the simplicity of the barbarian revealed beneath the borrowed robes. Time had stripped the gilding from this flower of chivalry. Now were sky, wind, stones, light. The old beauties of line and space were fertilized by the felicities of nature, giving birth to a new building compounded of equal parts of memory and desire. Surely these were the bare ruined choirs of poetry, and as poetry they testified to the highest aspirations of man. A poetic place, then. Why is it that the ruin is so often more interesting, and even more beautiful, than the finished building? It is not always so, to be sure there is nothing more depressing than a row of damaged apartment blocks - one averts one's eyes from the sordid mess. But any really fine building - a cathedral, a monastery, a Greek temple pleases me more as a skeleton than as a - what? One can't say as a living body, for these are 26


artefacts from the dead past. More than an embalmed body, perhaps? Having seen the most conspicuous examples of the restorer's art I would say such monstrosities resemble nothing so much as an exhumation clothed in artificial flesh, fitted out with wig and tiara for a bal funebre. No, I prefer a good clean skeleton to the reeking charms of the reanimated. Then, the process of deconstruction is revelatory - Dust thou art, to dust returneth. A ruin is a place full of mysteries revealed. I remember a block of smashed apartments that stood opposite the museum in Frankfurt when I was a child. One could see the way the pipes were fitted inside the walls and connected to toilets and showers, also how the staircases had been arranged, the shaft for the elevator - everything was revealed as in an anatomical drawing. I was fascinated by this spectacle, and never failed to observe it closely whenever I passed by the museum. Mine was the tingling, deep-seated voyeur's delight in seeing that which was never meant to be seen. There was also a house I used to pass every day on my walks in Weimar - it had been bombed by the Inquisition and the inhabitants scattered God knows where. Now their salon lay open to the perusal of every passer-by. There were chairs covered in pink plush upholstery, as I recall, and some china in a 27


corner cupboard. A portrait of a lady hung over the hearth. (I supposed her to be the vanished mistress of the establishment.) Impossible to resist the daily temptation to gaze into the private domain of this unknown family, to gaze with the impunity of a dreamer and the prurient curiosity of a child. I ended by changing the course of my daily constitutional, rather than continue this heedless indulgence. Here at Monreale I am free to clamber over the carcass with a clear conscience, for this is no private grave but only one of the myriad burial mounds wherein lies interred my very own civilization. I pick over these bones with a melancholy respect, much as a man might handle the diaries and letters of a beloved ancestor. And, just as a man's closest secrets may lie sealed within such packets of old paper, tied and taped and labelled ‘to be opened only in the event of my death’, and as, once opened and read, they may bring to sudden life a stranger, flaming with wit and passion, one whom we never knew in life - so too among the ruins of Monreale the long forgotten voice of an ancient glory is heard. I stuffed the book back in my pocket and bid Danzig make me a sketch of the Pantocrator. He knew better than to attempt any conversation with me, for I cannot bear interruption when I am immersed in an aesthetic experience. (I know of 28


nothing more despicable than those so-called artlovers who descend upon a thing of beauty, their mouths going in perpetual commentary upon that which they utterly fail to see. Art is made for silence, and we must keep silence if we would have it speak to us at all.) In a little ruined chapel to the south of the apse I found the original of the Madonna del Popolo that hangs in my room, the same that had tormented my sleep of the night before. She is a stiff faced, doll-like figure in polychromed wood, holding an even stiffer babydoll, the two of them dressed in gold paper crowns and gowns of motheaten blue and silver brocade. Her niche is brightened by a corona of electric stars that burn perpetually in a sky of broken blue marble. There is a powerful odour from the baskets of roses and jasmine at her feet and the smoke from the many candles banked in military rows before her like the torches of a midget garde d'honneur. I knelt down and said a quick Ave Maria, then called upon her thus: ‘Dear Blessed Mother, Please do not torment me any more while I am sleeping! I know you don't mean me any harm, but I'm not feeling at all well, the climate here is very enervating, I'm not used to the food, and then I have so much to worry about - First of all my new book, then there is Danzig, and now also the girl. I beg you 29


Mother, let me be for a little while and I promise on my side to increase my devotions both to yourself and to your Son.’ I had every intention of carrying out this promise, and knew that it would be to my benefit to do so. However, it was highly probable that, as in the past, too many things would interfere with these intentions and, in the end, I would do nothing substantial to improve my spiritual life. Still, Our Lady has never been a harsh Mother to any of her children. She honours our intentions, however false or sententious, she pretends, at least, to believe our promises, and she always forgives us when we come back asking once again for her help. No, never, never has it been known that she turned away from any of her children. I blew a kiss to her painted cheek and helped myself to one of her flowers for my buttonhole. I left Danzig to finish his sketch and made my way across the piazza to the adjoining convent, for I was eager to see the cloister. This cloister, where Adams was assumed into a quasi-spiritual aesthetic rapture so high that his usually meticulous prose cracks open and he begins to babble, was (perhaps miraculously) spared the devastations that were visited upon the nearby cathedral. Built in a burst of furious energy by the conquerors from Hauteville, it is the single most 30


valuable example of twelfth century sculpture that remains to us, now that the west porch of Chartres is no more. (It was upon hearing the news of the bombing of Chartres that Adams took his own life, writing in his last testament that he did not wish to inhabit a world where one could no longer regard the smiling queens of the Portail Royal.) I crossed the empty piazza, my shadow moving quickly past those of the disorderly palms, swishing their black heads in disapproval at my resonant footsteps. I entered a sunny courtyard and rang a bell that sounded somewhere deep inside the walls. I waited and waited for someone to come and open the door. A lizard clung to the lintel, his skin the same bright vermilion as the blistered paint. The shadow of the cathedral tower crept slowly across the broken pavement. Water trickled from a fountain in the centre of the court. Overcome by the heat, I removed my hat and bathed my brow in the cool stream that gushed from the mouth of a smiling dolphin. It was while I was thus engaged that the door opened at last, and, drying myself with my handkerchief, I hastened to greet the Sister. She wore the full black gown, white wimple, and sweeping white tulle veil of the Re-ordered Carmelites. The face encased in the close-fitted coif was neither young nor old, but smooth and yellow like a piece of old 31


silk, and the ancient eyes smiled at me with the innocent coquetry of the virgin. I explained my purpose in calling, and she welcomed me most hospitably, saying that the Abbess was expecting me. Danzig appearing at that moment in the courtyard, he was rapidly included in the invitation. We followed the Sister down a cool, dark corridor whence I caught a glimpse of a flock of nuns moving far in advance, their veils floating behind them like white wings. There was an overwhelming odour of sweetness, for the Sisters are engaged in the manufacture of marzipan, which they fashion into the likenesses of fruits and other comestibles, such as crustaceans, tiny fish, as well as holy images of the Lamb with bloodstained cross, and tiny blue and white Madonnas. ‘It is an honour for us to receive such a distinguished visitor,’ said our guide, softly at my elbow, for I had used my own name in writing to the Abbess, and was expected. ‘The honour is all mine, Sister,’ I replied. ‘Do you by any chance remember a Professor Heinrich Adams, the great American scholar? He died here during the great war.’ ‘Yes, Signore, I remember Professor Adams perfectly well, although I was just a girl at the time. He lost his faith, poor man. We are forbidden to pray for the souls in hell,’ she said, 32


raising a troubled face to mine. ‘Why is that, Signore? I would have thought they needed it most of all.’ I didn't even attempt to answer this poser. Fortunately alike for my reputation and my peace of mind we had arrived at the Abbess's quarters. The little Sister showed us into the reception room and bade us wait while she went to announce us to the Abbess. We found ourselves in a vast chamber hung with dark red watered silk that been much damaged by time; the furnishings consisted of a prie-dieu, a large crucifix, and a few spindly ornamental chairs. The windows looked out upon the brilliant green and gold silence of the cloister. The sunlight fell in rectangular sheets upon the polished dark wooden floor, causing it to shimmer like a pond hidden away in some primeval blood-red forest. I heard, rather than saw, the ghosts and shadows of times past fluttering over the lustrous surface of this pond like the paper-thin leaves of autumn; their faint, rustling voices mingled with the bright fanfares of sunlight upon windowglass and, farther off, the light, twittering voices of the nuns at work. The ceiling and the window embrasures were caked with stucco in the characteristically exuberant Sicilian style - the cherubs over the windows probably the work of Serpotta, but those on the 33


ceiling of more recent date, although in very good taste. Over the central door by which we had entered I noted a group of our Lady presiding over the alliance between Pan-Germania and America. Germania is depicted as a handsome Nordic youth, America as a bold, torch-bearing maiden. The youth and the maiden have joined hands in the act of betrothal, and behind these two graceful figures the Virgin, the globe under her feet and the crown of twelve stars upon her head, extends her arms to bless and protect the peacegiving union. It put me in mind of earlier matrimonial alliances, such as that of the Hapsburg Princess Maria Antoinetta to the King of France, or that of the King of England to the Duchess of Chicago, which also had served to establish or maintain the peace in their day. So too the marriage of these two great earthly powers had put an end at last to bloodshed, and marked the resurgence of Anglo-Germanic culture throughout the Old and New Worlds. United now politically as well as temperamentally, the new Europeans were better able to defend themselves against the hungry hordes of the Third World, who beat incessantly upon the golden doors of civilization, seeking, in their unreasoning greed and envy, to destroy that which they cannot understand. I was in the process of clarifying a 34


few of these observations to Danzig when the door opened and a huge figure, nearly as broad as it was tall, entered and advanced in our direction, its progress as stately and ceremonious as that of a laden ship coming into harbour. This I took to be the Abbess. She came to a halt directly before me, and I knelt and kissed the great hen's-egg ruby that sat upon her enormous finger. ‘So, you wish to see our cloister?’ she said. She spoke without any apparent movement of the facial muscles, so immobilized were the fleshy folds of her cheeks and chin within the hard casement of the wimple. Her face was very like a frog's, although not so green. The voice, too, was deep and frog-like, of a volume in keeping with her tremendous size, and rolled its funerary echo in the dusky great spaces overhead. ‘It is a pleasure to open the cloister to such a distinguished visitor. And your young friend?’ ‘Is here to make a few sketches for my private collection, Your Grace, that is, with Your Grace's permission of course. I am confident that I can answer for him.’ ‘Answer for him?’ she said, her tiny crescentmoon eyebrows shooting towards the upper lip of the white casement. ‘You are a true Christian in that case. Am I not my brother's keeper? And shall you answer for him also before the heavenly 35


throne? Or do you draw the line here below? One must draw it somewhere, or fall into the sin of pride. Come closer, young man,’ she said to Danzig. ‘Closer!’ He stood within a foot of her, and lightly she touched his fresh cheek with her great white paw. ‘I wouldn't presume so far, Your Grace,’ I replied. ‘It is quite enough that I am prepared to answer for him for the duration of the visit which Your Grace is good enough to permit me. I haven't the gift of second sight...’ ‘A pity - it would have been an excellent thing in a poet. I have enjoyed your Iphigeneia so much. 'Who walks upon the smoky waves of dawn But Pallas in her girdle of new gold...' Be seated, gentlemen, please.’ We sat upon the spindly chairs - as she sank down there came an ominous groan from the overburdened wood. ‘If you think to write a poem on Sicily you could do worse. Here you will find a perfect equilibrium of the natural and the supernatural beauties. Etna itself was believed by the ancients to be the navel of the world - your Hindu mystics would appreciate that claim! Have you been to visit the Saint?’ ‘Not yet, Your Grace,’ I replied. ‘Ah well, you must go immediately. She takes a particular interest in visitors from foreign parts. 36


It's a long way to the top of Monte Pellegrino, but the visit must not be neglected on any account. I can lend you my barouche if you like.’ ‘I thank Your Grace, but that will not be necessary, as I already have a carriage at my disposal. But Your Grace is too kind.’ The little Sister entered again at this juncture, and served Danzig and myself each with a fluted glass of dark golden marsala wine and a plate of marzipan cherries. We sipped the wine and nibbled the sweetmeats with all the solemnity of a Eucharist. ‘Forgive me for not joining you, but this is one day on which we are obliged to observe the strict fast,’ said our hostess. ‘You must have been acquainted with my fellow scholar, Heinrich Adams,’ I remarked, hoping to hear more of the man whose works had so marked my youth and who, more than any single human agency, was responsible for my presence in this faraway place. Her eyes became mere slits in her face as she answered. ‘Professor Adams was a great friend of mine. He often sat where you are sitting now. He had an appreciation of twelfth century stonework superior to that of anyone I have ever known, and I knew Huysmans, Mâle, John Ruskin... I knew them all before the war. He cried like a child the 37


day we got the news about Chartres. I'm afraid he committed a very grievous sin within these very walls...’ ‘Do you refer to his suicide? Because I must take exception to that narrow belief that would condemn a soul in torment to everlasting hell...’ ‘I refer to his happiness,’ she said, opening her eyes wide to pierce me with her stony gaze. At which point she broke into a great, orotund laugh. ‘Don't presume to enlarge my horizons at my age,’ she said. ‘Happiness?’ I echoed. ‘I don't understand. To be happy is surely no sin. What of the seven joys of Mary?’ ‘What of them? Do you know them? One of them is the crucifixion - a savage joy for a mother, I should think, and very little allied to happiness. What are these seven joys of Mary but seven daggers that pierce her Immaculate Heart? Bah! Don't talk to me about happiness - it's a childish state, or rather not childish, for children have more sense - they generally bear their sufferings with sufficient gravity - say, rather, an idiotic state, for only an idiot expects to be happy in this life. And Professor Adams was certainly no idiot, but an extraordinarily intelligent and sensitive man - a man like yourself, perhaps. Consequently, a most unhappy man. Yes, I knew him - the last Puritan! 38


The aged young man from Boston. He sat there in his tweeds smoking Turkish cigarettes and speaking in his low clever voice about beauty, always beauty. But what is this beauty he cherished above everything else? Rubble. God is terrible. He doesn't save us from ourselves. We may break our own hearts - and monuments - if we so desire.’ ‘Then you grant the wanton destruction of beauty to be a sin?’ ‘I grant nothing of the sort! You've seen what remains of our cathedral - does it displease you? I see in your face it does not. The destruction of beauty - of man-made beauty - in other words of art, a sin? A crime? Or a good idea, perhaps? Even an occasional necessity, to free us from those glittering chains that bind us - oh so pleasantly! to the past, to the earth, to ourselves and our own best creations. Idols are made to be broken. How worship a stone Madonna when every dog that crawls on its lice-ridden belly in the dust, every insect on the leaf has more life than this? The Lord God made us, shall His work decay? Don't mistake me - I too have wept for the loss of Chartres - and of Monreale. So too does the Mother weep to see her Child upon the cross. But she would not have it otherwise. That is the secret of Mary's joy, and my friend Adams's despair. 39


Those who pit themselves against the will and the wisdom of God are crushed...I tell you...they are crushed.’ I saw with amazement that the loose flaps of her cheeks were shaking, more frog-like than ever, and the tears coursed in two bright rivulets within the valleys formed by those fleshy appendages. She pulled a lace handkerchief from her sleeve and wiped her face. ‘Forgive an old woman's folly, Professor,’ she said. ‘I have been Abbess here for sixty years. I was but a young woman, and a foolish one, when I knew Professor Adams. Now you will think to yourself - Aha! the usual. But it was not like that. I have told you he was the last Puritan. But I will tell you something else as well - he was a knight. A real knight, in blood-stained armour, like the other ones, his brothers, who came before him and built the spiritual castles of Monreale and Cefalù, of Mont-Saint-Michel and Chartres. He called me 'Principessa', for that title had been mine before I took the veil, and I loved and admired him, as a young and chaste woman may love an older man. You are not so very young yourself, and yet I think you have not yet learned that there is a loss more terrible than that of the most beautiful work of art that ever sprang into being under the hand of man, and that is the loss of a loved human being. I 40


would knock all the cathedrals of Europe into a heap, and burn all the paintings in the Louvre, too, if it would bring back my friend.’ ‘How dare you...’ I whispered, aghast. ‘How dare you?’ ‘Love is a savage thing, Professor.’ The great ruby flashed on her enormous hand as she fingered the crucifix at her breast. ‘The love of God and, the closest we shall get to it in this life, the love of his creatures for one another. There's nothing in the Gospel about your sticks and stones.’ ‘You've no right - no right whatsoever - to destroy culture to gratify the desires of your own heart.’ ‘And you've no right - none at all - to what you call culture. War may be a necessity, if only to rid the world of this excrescence - culture. The men who built the cathedrals loved - not their own work - but the God for whose sake it was done. Very little twelfth century work remains to us, even less from the eleventh, and this was true even before the war. And do you know why? By and large it was deliberately torn down by the next generation to make way for new building. The stones of their fathers were not sufficient to bring heaven closer to earth - they needed their own work, their own sacrifice. No question, then, of 41


your culture. When art has become thoroughly debased, when it no longer has any meaning for anyone, when it no longer seeks to mediate across that great gulf betwixt God and man - then, and only then do we begin to speak of culture. If there is anything sadder than the spectacle of Chartres in ruins, it is that of Chartres, the museum.’ ‘The Centre for Medieval Studies?’ I ventured. ‘Exactly - the so-called Centre for Medieval Studies. You would not remember - you are too young - but when I was a girl people came by the hundreds to Monreale, not to pray, but to gawk stupidly at culture. You see, in this I do not agree with my old friend, Professor Adams. I prefer to let Chartres burn. When we have burned to the ground all the museums and culture palaces in the world, we shall be free to begin again, to create a new art - savage, perhaps, but none the less beautiful for that, and our own. Until that time I prefer to watch and pray, and I leave the culture to the professional aesthetes. And now, if you have sufficiently refreshed yourselves, Sister Portia will show you the way, if not to your heart's desire, at least to that which may serve you as a temporary substitute. But then, you know about the consolations of beauty, don't you Professor? C'est votre metier. And you, my dear boy?’ she said, turning to Danzig. ‘You fancy yourself an artist, 42


but you are already something far more rare - a work of art. Don't allow him to wrinkle his brow and rub charcoal in that lovely hair,’ she said to me peremptorily, and, holding out her hand to be kissed once more, bid us adieu. Again we walked with the little Sister through the dark corridors till we reached the entrance to the cloister. ‘Here you are, Signori. Please take as much time as you like,’ she said and, folding her hands together, made us a graceful bow. She hurried away down the corridor the way we had come, her black and white habit fluttering about her like a pair of diatonic wings. The cloister is made in the shape of a square, enclosed on all sides by a low arcade. In one corner a much littler square has been set within the big - the chiostrino for the King's fountain. The central space is given over to verdure, and a wild, strange garden it is. Overgrown paths of small, brightly coloured bits of glass run from the four sides of the cloister into the garden, but these paths mingle hopelessly with clumps of grass and weeds, and finally lose themselves forever in the general confusion towards the centre. Among the errant paths there blooms a profusion of sweet and pungent greyish herbs, and a single giant aloes, like a green image of Kali the many-armed, the 43


World Destroyer. Two or three ancient palms, growing now at random intervals, for their companions have died or been cut down, cast long, irregular shadows, oddly at variance with the orderly procession of light and shadow thrown out by the arcades. There was a languid stillness over the place, odours of invisible rose and insidious marzipan, and the low, tremulous voice of the fountain singing to itself in the chiostrino. The mystical book of the past lay open for my inspection, turned to the chapter on twelfth century stonework, graven upon the capitals of two hundred and twenty-eight columns. The book lay open, and yet I did not read. The truth is, I was afraid. There was such a stillness in that place - I felt I had come to disturb the dead. Perhaps the Abbess's strange speech had rendered me thus uneasy. Certainly I disliked to hear my motives so impugned. Then, I was loathe to trouble Adams's ghost. If he had really been happy here, perhaps my intrusion was unwelcome. And, moreover, two hundred and twenty-eight capitals was such a lot of stonework to be got through - just the thought of it wearied me. The columns were arranged in pairs, each couple entwined like fond lovers by any of a number of foliated and draped devices. Each slender, white column gleamed 44


with a different pattern of inlaid mosaic - little checkerboards of blue and green, red, black , and golden stars. Above them the still idols (But they are only stones! I told myself) returned my inquisitive gaze. Perhaps they did not wish to be looked at. But I had not come all this way to gawk stupidly! I absolved myself in my heart of the charge. Mine was not the indiscriminate greed of the tourist, for had I not come on purpose, over many thousands of miles and despite many obstacles, to see this very place? You may gawk nonetheless, I thought, and was none the easier for thinking it. I was afraid, too, of being disappointed after such a long journey and so many years of anticipation. I was afraid - of not being disappointed, afraid of the very revelation I sought, whatever revelation awaited me should I dare to read in that Bible of stone the lessons writ by men of iron. I was afraid, as I walked among them - deformis formositas ac formosa deformitas - looking and yet not looking at the little stone manikins, the huntsmen and lions, angels and devils, knights in armour, mermaids, evangelists, acrobats, monsters, Adam and Eve, Salome and John, the massacre of Innocents, and the agony of sinners. These carven figures had a terrible tenacity beside the evanescent realities of the flesh. They put me in mind of those puppets, whose 45


strutting, high-pitched antics cause us to grip the hand of our companion at the Guignol. And yet they were so still...It was hot in the sun. I had taken nothing since breakfast save the marsala and sweets, nor would I have the temerity to break the fast before nightfall, for all that I might claim the traditional traveller's dispensation. I looked about for Danzig and had once again to marvel at that young man's unexpected capacities. He was standing perfectly still at the centre of the overgrown garden, bareheaded in the sun, his young cheeks flushed, his mouth slightly open showing the pearly teeth. A flutter of breath in his slender chest was the only sign of life, for he was handsome and ruddy as a waxwork. His stillness was like that of a cat - an ecstasy of alertness. I smiled to myself, partly in amusement at his childish susceptibility, partly in expectation of some fine drawings from him later in the day, for whenever he is carried away like this I can be sure of an especially rich hoard. I smiled, but nonetheless I felt it uncanny that he was struck so still, as if with the stillness of the stones. Tired and hot, and beginning to be angry both at myself and at my surroundings, I sat down in the shade of the chiostrino and laved my brow with water from the King's fountain. It smelt sweet and mossy, not at all brackish, and I just touched it to my parched 46


lips. I leaned back against the columns and fell into a stupid doze. While I sat there, my eyes but half open, a pretty little cat came and sat opposite to me, on the sunny side of the wall. She was a Siamese cat, with eyes like blue glass beads, and when she began to clean her sleek fur her tongue was as pink as a rose. I allowed my eyes to droop shut. Through my torpor I heard the fountain singing in its own secret language. When I sat up again it was already late in the afternoon, for the air had grown quite cool and the shadows had stretched themselves to enormous lengths across the garden. Danzig came and sat beside me, and wordlessly handed me his day's work. He had caught the mermaid perfectly, that solemn bewitching gaze known to me already from the Lorelei. He had caught the mother clinging desperately to the child being torn from her arms. Here were the vigorous angels, the comical, battling knights. But there were several studies of a head I did not recognize - a drawn, delicate face, I should have said inclined to neurasthenia, prematurely aged around the eyes; a thin mouth, a trifle harsh; the whole overshadowed by a huge, white brow like a skull's, a veritable thought machine in which one sensed the combination and re-combination of innumerable ideas, fired in that brain as in a 47


crucible to produce God alone knew what poisonous, exquisite compounds. ‘Who on earth is this fellow?’ I said to Danzig, holding up one of the sketches of the terrible head. ‘Why, that's you, Meister,’ he replied. ‘Just a few preliminary studies. Soon I'll begin the real work. I'd like to go to Segeste soon to begin work on the background as well.’ ‘Yes, of course...’ I murmured. But it can't be, I thought. I, this ugly white head? I, the handsome court poet of Weimar? But you are nearly forty, a little voice whispered. ‘I hope you like it,’ said Danzig timidly, and I became aware at once that I was frowning furiously; at the same time I realized what an aspect this frown must present affixed as it undoubtedly was to the terrible head of the drawing. Hastily, I replaced the frown with a feigned expression of benevolent indifference - at least this would not frighten anybody! ‘Yes, indeed,’ I said. ‘I like it very much indeed, my boy. Very, very much indeed...’ I handed him the sheaf of drawings with a smile I meant to be reassuring, thus grimacing as if I had the toothache. Danzig had just begun some inquiry after my health when the great bells sounded from the cathedral tower. The pigeons scattered from out the belfry in smoky circles upon 48


the evening sky, turning within that radius of deep, oceanic sound. We took a hurried leave of the Sisters and headed for the church, for we did not wish to be late for the deposition of the ashes. The press of people was tremendous, from the mumbling bundles of old womanhood in black to the numerous children, many of whom were still dressed in the gaudy costumes of the night before. They tumbled underfoot like so many roses blown on the wind. Their suppressed giggles, sudden explosions of laughter, soft glances and flushed cheeks were in odd contrast to the sombre mood of the crowd. I looked about for Faustina, but didn't see her anywhere. The crowd huddled together before the church, the bells thundered on - we were raised to the utmost pitch of expectation awaiting I knew not what. Gradually the bells left off their noise until only one was tolling alone, a single insistent note repeated again and again with untiring regularity. Then I heard it - a low, unearthly, melancholy roar that rose and fell in rhythm like the sea. At once the crowd drew back to make way. Even the children were quiet now, their eyes round with fear. The terrible sound drew closer and closer. The bell tolled on and on, and the very air around us seemed to vibrate like one great resounding bell. Closer, ever closer, like the advancing tide, until at last it rounded the 49


corner of the piazza and rushed upon my sight with the half-expected terror of a dream. A group of men, stripped to the waist, their heads swathed in black hoods from which the eyes looked out through circles in the cloth. They carried heavy whips with which they were striking themselves in rhythmical ferocity, and their backs and shoulders were covered with gore. As they marched they shouted in unison a hymn to the Virgin - it was this terrible chanting that we had heard from afar. The blood flew about like rain - it sprinkled my face and shirtfront. The people pressed forward, tripping over one another in their eagerness to touch the streaming wounds. They dipped little pieces of cloth in the blood and held them to their lips. And still the bell tolled, and still the birds circled in the sky. A few of the children were crying. Now the flagellants processed around the church in the lurid glow of the winter sunset. There must have been two hundred of them all together - all of them young men and beautifully made. The air quivered with the crack of the whips, the monotonous chant, the screams of women and children. The crowd pressed close upon them, groping, beseeching, some on their knees, many sobbing and calling upon the Madonna. Some of the women came forward with garlands which they placed over the 50


heads of the flagellants. Soon the flowers were spattered with red, and the odours of jasmine and almond blossom mingled with the pungent, maddening scent of blood. Into the midst of this bedlam, his advent announced by the ringing of a little silver-voiced bell, came the Bishop in a gown of exequious purple, surrounded by a flock of priests and boys. First came the thurifer, swinging a gemmed censer that wafted sweet clouds of incense over the crowd. Six boys were needed to carry the Bishop's train; another three bore the instruments of the Passion aloft like tutelary deities. Behind them came the trumpeters, dressed in white Battenburg lace and wings fashioned from swans' feathers. Then the priests, six in number, all in purple satin. Last, behind the priests, the boys of the choir, dressed in white, with chaplets of almond and jasmine wreathing their dark locks, drooping against the silk-petal cheeks of their blossoming faces. The Bishop waded through the crowd, casting the Waters of Redemption upon us with a silver aspergillum. His face beneath the laceencrusted mitre was painted like a doll's. At the entrance to the church, he turned and addressed the crowd. ‘Dominus vobiscum.’ ‘Et cum spiritu tuo.’ 51


With a single, animated sigh, people and flagellants alike sank to their knees. The Bishop gave his blessing; we rose and passed on into the ruined church for the ancient and beautiful liturgy that ushers in the season of remorse. The flagellants again took up their whips and resumed their grim procession. All through the service I could hear them just outside the walls, the endless chant rising and sinking, rising and sinking like the sea. Danzig and I found seats halfway down the nave, for the best places were already taken. The terrible Christus glared down into the apse from above the broken remnants of the gaily clad Court of Heaven. The choir launched into Palestrina's dangerously contrapuntal setting of the Dies Irae. They sang with an icy sweetness that pierced to the heart like a gush of pure water. High in the apse their voices mingled with the blue wings of a thousand Adonis butterflies. The Bishop took his seat beneath the great Pantocrator. A boy knelt at his side, bearing a silver salver on which reposed the ashes of all those heretics burnt in the diocese during the previous year. It was dark now - the stars showed like pinpricks of light in the black dome of night and moths were singeing their white wings among the candles. The choir had left off singing, and in the sudden silence the eerie 52


chant of the flagellants sounded louder than before. I even fancied I could hear the whistle and crack of the whips. In silence we fell into line, in silence crawled on our knees towards the gilded episcopal throne. The alate boys had put aside their trumpets in favour of little silver-handled flagelli with which they struck our shoulders as we passed. The floor was jagged as well as hard, and I feared for the knees of my velveteen breeches. Once through the gauntlet one knelt before the Bishop to receive the black thumbprint of Death upon the forehead, and hear the murmured reminder from the episcopal lips, Dust thou art, to dust returneth. One then kissed the bishop's bared foot, which was wiped clean after each kiss by an acolyte with a linen napkin. When it came my turn I kissed the foot hurriedly, not wishing to linger upon the sight and smell of aged flesh. I looked up into the smoothly powdered face, the eyes like two blue-white eggs below the pencilled brows, the thin mouth painted carmine, moving in continuous repetition of that Dust thou art...dust 'turneth...dust th'art...'turneth... At the same time I became aware of the enormous dome of night opening above my head, and looking up I saw stars falling like fiery rain into the dome, and the black wings of demons and the white wings of angels swooping in great arcs that momentarily 53


obliterated this or that vector of the sky. The greasy thumb pressed upon my brow. I turned and scuttled on my knees back to my place in the relative safety of the nave. Babies and children received the mark as well as adults and it was strange to see, in the streets that evening, the grim admonition on the brow of some oblivious infant nodding contentedly in its mother's arms. Those who had stayed away and did not bear the telltale mark had thus acquired a temporary air of immortality, and went about with their eyes averted, as if ashamed to be reminded of our impending doom. After the service the Bishop again blessed the flagellants, and they departed up the steep road into the mountains. Their numbers were increased by two brothers from the town who joined them at the last moment, to the fervent admiration of the crowd. But I imagine they must have frequent need of new blood, for many must succumb to the rigours of such self-punishment. I could hear them chanting for a long time afterwards, more softly as they passed on into the distance. Just when I thought they had finally passed out of hearing, when I had begun to forget them and to think of other things, a sudden gust of wind from the hills would bring to my ears another crescendo of wailing sound. Soon the piazza was empty and 54


nothing remained to mark their passage but the splashes of blood which shone darkly in the moonlight upon the dust and stones.

55


Ein Schwarzer Pudel The observation of fast days is less than rigorous among the Sicilians - this I had opportunity to observe at dinner where we were served with ample portions of seasoned whitefleshed fish, and a creamy risotto in which nuggets of pink seafood were hidden like gems buried in yellow earth. We drank the frosty greenish wine from Alcamo. Not having broken our fast since morning (with the exception of the minor lapse at the Abbess's behest) we ate heartily and without much conversation until the plates had been cleared and the fruit brought in. The nutty, sweet aroma of the food had permeated my hands and lips, the wine I had drunk had perhaps rendered me less vigilant than is my custom. I placed one of the firm black grapes in my mouth and allowed my eyes to close for a moment - the burst of pungent juice caused me to open them again. The candles had been lit at all the tables, and the little wire-bright flames gilded the plates and silverware, the wine goblets, the beautiful hands of the waiter, and the faces of the guests, which were rendered more secretive by the chiaroscuro play of flickering lights. The draped white cloths and burning candles were reminiscent of so many 56


biers, and I asked the waiter why the room was kept so dark. ‘There is no electricity after six o'clock, Signore. We are too high in the mountains...the generator is not adequate. I hope the Signore will not be inconvenienced?’ ‘No, no,’ I said, wishing him away. I didn't like the way he was smiling at Danzig, who was pretending not to notice anything. The many little flames burning on the tabletops and in the hands of the ceramic slaveboys were redoubled in the mirror, where they appeared to float as on a dark sea, and again in the plateglass, where ghostly flames were superimposed upon the jewelled blanket of the city that seemed to lie just the other side of the glass. The lights of Palermo have a curious manner of twinkling in and out of the visible field, due, no doubt to some atmospheric condition with which I am not acquainted. They appear and disappear at different points on the plane, at apparently random intervals of time. The lights from the candles, on the other hand, burn continuously both in their reflections and in themselves, and give the effect of, on the one hand, a double screen onto which the fluent images of candleflames are continuously being projected, and, on the other hand, in three dimensions all around one, of a graveyard or 57


shrine on the occasion of some great religious festival when the peasants come flocking, candles in hand, to beseech the saints or quieten the dead. ‘Disappointing on the whole, was it not, my friend?’ I said, speaking, of course, of the cathedral but interested to see whether he would follow my train of thought or mistake this for a critique of the meal. He answered me at first with a startled flicker of the eyes under the long lashes which was, however, instantly replaced by his habitual expression of alert amiability. ‘You have read too much in Adams, Meister,’ he said. ‘You expected too much - probably you had built up an image in your mind, between reading and imagining, that no reality could have justified.’ ‘It didn't affect you that way, then?’ I said sharply, affecting a certain irritation. He shrugged, and displayed the smile of spurious disingenuity to which I was becoming accustomed. ‘No, Meister, I can't say that it did. But then, I am not well-read like yourself. What is the cathedral of Monreale, or any cathedral, or any other building if you like? To me it's a pile of stones, that's all, more or less beautiful depending on my mood, on the time of day, on the weather, and also, although not necessarily most of all, on 58


the skill of the men who made it. Yes - it's a pile of stones like any other. That's what I was expecting to see, that's what I did see, and consequently I wasn't disappointed. Whereas you were expecting a demonstration of highest principles, even a spiritual revelation of some sort - all this you ask from a pile of stones? I'm not surprised you were disappointed, though I'm very sorry of course. You see, for me, art is not a spiritual but a sensual thing - it belongs to the eyes, and then to the nose, the fingertips...The most beautiful building I have ever seen was an ordinary country railway station on the Adriatic coast, just north of Trieste, from which you could neither smell nor hear the sea and in which nonetheless the sea itself was somehow contained as in a beached ship. To disembark at this station was to feel instantly the whole of the seaside - the rocks falling into the sea, the low, purple hills, the open sky. I felt it much more keenly there in that station than later on the beach itself. But that was a day in summer, impossibly hot. The place stank of diesel fumes and geraniums...I wouldn't want to see it again in another season. It would be an altogether different place and no doubt perfectly ordinary, perhaps even ugly or depressing in a winter rain.’ ‘You're right about Adams,’ I said, musingly. ‘It's like finally coming face to face with another 59


man's mistress about whom you've heard so much. The poor woman can't possibly fulfil the expectations which her devoted lover has taken care to impress upon you. And, acquainted as we are with our friend's rapturous hyperbole, be she ever so beautiful, we must exclaim to ourselves, 'Is this all! What does he see in her?' I can't agree with you about the sensual nature of art, however.’ ‘I didn't expect you to,’ he said. He seemed pleased at the soundness of his own estimation of my character. ‘You see, you're a Puritan, Meister you don't really approve of art.’ ‘My dear boy, it is not as simple as all that. In the first place, I am not a Puritan. On the contrary...’ ‘Kiss me, then,’ he said. There was a pause in which I became aware that the waiter had left off his tasks behind the bar and was watching closely for the outcome of this challenge. The candle flames swayed and sighed in the sweetened, slightly putrid atmosphere that lingered over the fruit and wine. Then I burst into a loud guffaw his childlike audacity amused me so - and laughed until the tears ran down. My laughter had the unintentional, although not unwelcome effect of loosening the inhibitions of the gentleman at the adjoining table (whom I have previously identified 60


as the lesser-known nephew of the great Beethoven). His curious eyes had scarcely left my face during the whole course of the meal, but had fastened themselves with persistent appetite now upon my cheek, now my nose, now my chewing mouth, until he might be said to be dining off my visage more than off his victuals. He was wearing a white tailcoat this evening, and had powdered his hair, which costume served to elevate his already remarkable pallor to the level of the grotesque. This young man now rose and presented himself, with much Teutonic bowing and heel-clicking, at my elbow. ‘Paul van Beethoven at your service,’ he said. ‘My friend and I were wondering if we might share in your little joke? Forgive me if I am intruding, but do I not have the honour of addressing the greatest of living poets, His Excellency Professor Doctor...?’ ‘Not so loud!’ I hissed. ‘Not so loud, young man, if you please. For reasons which it is entirely superfluous for you to know I prefer to enjoy a relative incognito when I travel abroad. Pray, take a seat, sir, and your friend also. We are two gentlemen sorely in need of additional company. That noise you mistook for merriment was merely the eruption brought about by an excess of sustained contact between two friends of unequal 61


temperament.’ Beethoven's nephew sat down on my right and motioned to his physician to join us, which the latter did with alacrity. ‘Doctor Praetorius,’ said young Beethoven, presenting the Doctor. ‘Our fellow traveller is indeed the illustrious poet,’ he said to the doctor, ‘but he prefers to remain anonymous for the moment.’ The doctor bowed low and took the remaining seat on my left. ‘I couldn't help overhearing what you were saying,’ said young Beethoven, ‘about the sensual versus the spiritual in art.’ His voice was high and soft, as if it came from a long way off; it put me in mind of a choirmaster with a sore throat. I had known such a choirmaster in my youth - a gentle young priest who brought upon himself successive fits of laryngitis by the exasperated shrieks with which he would importune us, sixtyfive in number, between the ages of seven and fourteen, to reproduce with greater accuracy and attention the sublime music of Mozart and Palestrina. He eventually had to be sent to a sanatorium in Davos, where he soon died of consumption. Now, most unexpectedly, I heard his voice again in this pale, attenuated nephew of Beethoven, who no doubt also suffers from laryngitis, and who was clearly desirous to lecture me on his infantine theories of aesthetics. (I am 62


not in general fond of the conversation of people younger than myself.) Hearing this voice of my former choirmaster reproduced so exactly by Beethoven's nephew, speaking from out the dark, murmuring ocean of the past, I felt myself waver and lose my footing in time as on an icy path. I felt myself again a jaundiced and cynical ten year old, yawning over the endless coloratura of Exulstate Jubilate and pondering with disgust the dirty neck of the boy in front of me. The candles before me on the table, taking upon themselves the identity of those candles that burned so long ago in the choir, refracted, as in a prism, the room where I sat - the walls spread outwards to the curved delimitations of the apse, the roof flew up to a bossy vault lost in shadows, the jasmine on the table wafted a smell of incense to my stupefied brain and I was thoroughly startled to hear the words, My Uncle Ludwig. ‘Your Uncle Ludwig?’ said I, once again finding my footing in the world of the hotel dining room, in the company of Beethoven's nephew Paul, his physician Praetorius, and my young friend Danzig. ‘What has your Uncle Ludwig to say on the question?’ I asked this with keen interest, for the opinions of the great composer could not fail to enlighten me somehow. 63


‘I was just saying that I am not really very well acquainted with my Uncle Ludwig,’ said young Beethoven apologetically. ‘It is Carl who has lived with him all these years. Despite repeated attempts on my part to recommend myself to him, he has never taken much notice of me. It is Carl he prefers. And Carl is a most worthless fellow! See here - I have even gone so far as to shoot myself in the head in my efforts to attract my Uncle's sympathy. But while this was a most successful coup de theâtre for Carl, in my case the results were very disappointing. He has sent me to Italy to recover my nerves, he has placed me under the care of a private physician, but he takes no personal interest in me whatever.’ Passing his white hands over his face, he began to sob piteously, and the black crusted hole in his temple throbbed convulsively and vomited a few drops of blood, which fell conspicuously upon the white tablecloth. ‘Grotesque, grotesque...’ he cried, sobbing into his hands, and in this grotesque, grotesque I could hear the echoes of other cries belonging to other nephews of other Uncle Ludwigs, nephews on the Wartburg and in the Salzkammergut, at Linderhof and Neuschwanstein, nephews as far afield as the shores of Lake Erie and Baffin Island. I felt that by this grotesque, grotesque he saw and passed 64


judgement on myself, on my violet silk frock coat, on my teeth, on my poetry manicured into mythic grandeur, on that ill-hidden voluptuosity which draws me towards people like Danzig and Faustina despite all my reservations to the contrary. And yet there was nothing personal in this grotesque, grotesque - one felt intuitively that it was a pronouncement on life itself, and would affect each hearer differently according to his own taste for and sense of the grotesque. In a sense this nephew showed himself worthy of his great uncle in his ability to load with meaning a single phrase, for much as his Uncle Ludwig will load a phrase say, a modulation to the sub-mediant - with a meaning at once exhaustive and untranslatable, his nephew had loaded his exclamation of grotesque, grotesque with a meaning that transcended all immediate associations and thereby succeeded in describing a reality instinctively felt but resistant to any further , nonmusical as it were, elucidation. ‘You must not excite yourself, Paul,’ said the Doctor, but the sobbing continued unabated. Slowly, with an expression of some annoyance, the Doctor got to his feet. ‘You must forgive my young charge, gentlemen - his nerves are in a deplorable state. Come along now, Paul,’ he said, and laid a hand upon the boy's convulsive 65


shoulder. ‘Perhaps now that the ice is broken, you gentlemen will do me the honour to visit me in my room one of these evenings. I have several items that might interest you very much, Professor, pertaining to my researches in natural philosophy.’ He jerked young Beethoven expertly from the chair and, holding him by the loose cloth between the shoulder blades, propelled him towards the door. The youth proceeded to drop his hands and his lamentations, and to move, puppet-like, in the direction required. Still keeping a firm grip on his now well-nigh catatonic charge, the Doctor turned to us at the door and made a little bow, bidding us good evening. As the Doctor and Beethoven's nephew were leaving us, a small shadowy something took advantage of the open door to enter the room. It ran swiftly, stealthily, without hesitation to our table and leapt into my lap. It was a little Siamese cat. Her small body was covered with fur the colour of almond cream. Her tiny oval paws and conical ears had the colour of dark chocolate and the nap of silk velvet, and on her pretty face she wore a Venetian mask of the same dark hue. She lashed me with her chocolate tail and settled on my thighs, purring like a small, overheated electrical motor. I reached down to stroke her she arched her back in pleasure and plied her 66


nacreous claws in the cloth of my trousers. Startled by this attack upon the tender flesh of my thighs, I pushed her to the floor. She then commenced to rub herself most lasciviously against my leg and to mew in a piteous, strident tone, all the while fastening on me her enormous blue glass eyes. When she opened her mouth to cry she displayed the pink plush interior of her tiny mouth, lined with snow-white, needle-sharp teeth. I didn't like the way she was looking at me; I didn't like the feel of her silky fur stretched taut over the brittle bones rippling under my palm; I didn't like the impossibly narrow circuit of her pulsing throat, and it occurred to me that it would be an easy thing to wring her neck - I could do it in a moment with one hand - and at that moment I felt within me how the tiny vertebrae would crack, how the silk-clad body would writhe under my grasp, the pink, needle-edged mouth twisting helplessly in the air; I didn't like the voluptuous thrill that accompanied this train of thought and brusquely I said to Danzig, who was leaning back in his chair with the air of someone enjoying a spectacle, ‘Get that animal out of here, can't you?’ By using the expression that animal I tried to dispel the idea of lubricious femininity which the cat had aroused in me. 67


‘Right away, Meister, ‘ he said, and stooping down he took hold of the cat and sat her on his shoulder. ‘Will you be requiring anything else, Meister?’ he said, again with that disingenuous smile. Or is it? On my answering in the negative he went out, not through the inner door of the hotel, but through the glass door to the terrace. It was then I became aware of another person in the room besides myself. (The waiter had long since retired to the kitchen.) In the darkest corner of the room, at the only table without a lighted candle, sat the huddled figure of my former friend, Barton Beale, in his habitual greatcoat and muffler. Whether he had materialized at that moment, or had been sitting there unnoticed in the dark throughout the evening, I had no idea. He sat as motionless as the dead. The moment I saw him sitting there in the corner in the dark I felt rather than saw his eyes meet mine and I was sure that he, too, had recognized me. We sat for a long time thus regarding one another in the dark. The night wind blew in from the sea and extinguished the candles, and what had been gilded was now argent in the moonlight. The plates glimmered like huge silver coins, the glasses held a bright, mercuric liquid. All the darkness in the room seemed to concentrate itself in that one corner. Once I heard him shift ever so slightly in his chair 68


and I was certain he was about to speak. My throat suddenly went dry - I was frightened and terribly curious, but he quickly subsided once more into that moveless silence at which he now seemed to excel. I felt that his eyes were no longer upon me, and, being weary in body and soul, I took the opportunity to go up to bed. Only later, as I lay there tossing in my usual fruitless quest for sleep, did it occur to me that perhaps he had been waiting for me to speak first. All my life I have been unable to sleep. As an infant I was the despair of my parents and the unwitting nemesis of a continuous stream of wellintentioned nurses by virtue of my incorrigible sleeplessness. As a young child I learned subterfuge, and became expert at the simulation of sleep - the moveless eyelid so difficult to maintain, the slow, quiet breath, a respiration painfully contrary to the restless anxieties of my heart. In my youth this persistent insomnia revealed itself as an unsuspected asset, for I was able to devote to my studies those hours which others squandered in sleep. Rarely did I sleep more than two or three hours a night, nor was my condition amenable to intervention, for my peculiar and personal form of insomnia is coupled with a hyper-susceptibility to nightmares which every known soporific serves only to heighten to truly unbearable levels of 69


terror and verisimilitude. I have had dreams under the influence of opiates which even now, twenty years later and in broad daylight, cause me to break out in a cold sweat should some inadvertent association call one of them to mind. To the sleep-inducing properties of these drugs I proved all too sensitive and, typically, under a very mild dose, would drop off to sleep for twenty hours of uninterrupted mental torment. It was after one such session of pharmacopic terror that I emerged from the strangling embrace of Morpheus under the delusion that I was being followed by the amphisbaena, an enormous serpent with a head at either end of its hideous body. On the verge of a total breakdown, I was sent by my frantic parents to a sanatorium in Davos, where I came under the care of the notorious Hofrat Behrens. The doctor forbid me all drugs and rebuilt my constitution from the ground up by means of long walks at top speed through the snow, and a bottle of champagne three times a day. It is to this regimen that I still adhere whenever I feel my health to be in danger. Throughout my student years and early manhood I stuck to the regime and was no longer troubled by excessive nightmares. I took top honours in my class. Meanwhile I became more and more aware of an entire nocturnal universe of which the 70


ordinary man in need of eight or ten hours of slothful oblivion is forever ignorant. It is at night that insects creep across the floor, mice scamper, cats prowl, owls shriek, angels speak, ghosts walk, devils talk...At night the cities open their sewers and vomit up the floating faeces, blood, and sperm...In the streets the lights are lit, the windows dark, and I met young girls, powderwhite in moonlight under bobbing aigrettes - I met small boys who tugged at my hand and offered themselves for a handful of coins. I didn't dare give myself up to these pleasures. I knew I was being followed by the Censor, by the agents of the Archduke, by rivals who longed to discredit me, by the long long file of insects that creeps across the floor, by the amphisbaena...I stayed at home and indulged in surreptitious solitary pleasures behind closed doors with the blinds shut tight. Gliding the wet, sticky palm in an ecstasy peopled by a hyperactive imagination, I indulged in lonely orgies that went on till dawn. Unfortunately, as I grew older, my need for sleep increased but my capacity for it remained unchanged. The result is a condition of perpetual exhaustion. I am always tired. Every night I toss for weary hours on my bed of invisible nails. I have become acquainted with all the Proustian intervals between sleep and wakefulness, but sleep 71


itself, for the most part, again and again eludes me. My eyes burn - I must wear dark glasses now during the brightest hours of the day. When at last I do sleep, often it is only to enter a dream world that mimics with additional vigour all the torments of my waking hours - for I dream that I am awake and unable to sleep! Occasionally I achieve a real slumber, I escape momentarily from my obsession, only to enter some dark primeval forest of my own making where new terrors of infinite absurdity and inventiveness await me. This, then, was a night like any other. A night on which I was unable to sleep. I had blown out the candle and lay under a light blanket, for the night was mild and pleasant. I lay with the window open, listening to the distant thunder of the sea, the silver tinkle of moonlight on the blinds, the deep-voiced thrum of clouds over the mountain, the attenuated whisper of my own febrile respirations, the passionate irregular tattoo of my anxious heart, when I heard, like an intimation of immortality blown hither on a wind from heaven, that immaculate annunciatory gesture that serves to introduce the spiritualpianistic exercises of J.S. Bach, the aria to the Goldberg Variations. Someone is playing the piano in the hotel dining room, I said to myself, and at the very 72


moment I said it I added, It's Beale, of course, of course, for the style was unmistakable, partaking as it did of a vigour, a seriousness, a moral beauty, a contrapuntal clarity all long familiar to me from the recordings. Yes, the little sarabande from the Goldbergs - it sounds of starlight, snowy skies, and night air, of echoing rooms filled with empty coffee cups and stubbed out cigarettes, and the lights that glow on sleeping machines. Quickly I rose and, putting on my dressing gown, went downstairs. Taking care not to startle or alarm him, I did not venture into the dining room but took a seat on the terrace just outside. I couldn't see into the darkened room, but I could hear him quite well, for the door was open and the night clear. I sat on the terrace under the lemon trees; the odour of citron lent to this arctic music a faint, borrowed note of tropical ardour. The moon was bright overhead and the sharp black shapes of leaves and branches rippled upon the paving stones like the images of trees that rustle deep within a lake or fountain. He played the aria in a tempo so remote from time, in any other hands it would have dissolved completely, one would have heard only single, isolated fragments drifting like leaves, one by one, upon the languid air. But Beale somehow managed to imply in each note both its progenitors and its progeny. There were 73


unheard reverberations that reached like silver filaments into the ear, connecting moment to moment and note to note. Under this process of intensive deconstruction, one was drawn irresistibly by those silver filaments into closer and closer contact with something felt to be at once invisible, inaudible, unknowable. The Two Goldbergs [from the Alldeutsche Musikalische Zeitung, February 1982] Barton Beale made two famous (or infamous) recordings of the Goldberg Variations - they stand like twin headstones at either end of his career, for the first was also his first-ever recording, the vehicle that catapulted him to fame and an international career, and the second was his last. The earlier sounds like a ghost behind the later, and vice-versa. Whichever one samples one is intermittently aware of the other's pale spectre hovering in the background. Goldberg I is bursting with the sexual exuberance, the joie de vivre and malicious humour of a boy of twenty, and bursting at the seams with a prodigal talent. Despite the breathtaking technical facility, the playing is a little uncertain, a little amateurish - it 74


relies heavily on convention in the conventional bits - ouverture, fugue, quodlibet. In the adagio something happens, something surprising given what has gone before. A revelation of such tenderness is, on the whole, painful to witness. It is like watching a girl undress - a girl who is very pretty and very young, and not quite sure if she is more proud or more ashamed of her nakedness. It is a romantic adagio, as Liszt or even Wagner might have written it; it is moonlight beside the rest, which lies all in sunshine. The later recording is of a profound and arctic sadness. It sounds in turns puritanical, mawkish, hymnal, almost sexless, and then again twisted and degenerate. What was formerly prodigal musicality is now absolute mastery - there is no shaping of the phrase, but the phrase itself, the very thing. There is no piano-playing, there is, almost, no piano. The tempi are more extreme - of a glacial slowness, or rushing like Gadarene swine towards the precipice of chaos. The lowering bass lines gather like storm clouds. The adagio is now of a beauty altogether different from the shy sensuality of Goldberg I. A militant masculine beauty, emphatic, relentless, even harrowing. After this adagio the remaining variations explode one after another in a crescendo of erotic desperation. Then the quodlibet - no longer a 75


piece of Deutsche Freundlichkeit (pace Beale) but a grim little joke from a man to whom everything, including his own despair, is funny. The aria da capo seems to disown and disembody itself, to transcend time and space. The whole unfolds in the hard white light of an empty studio in the farthest hours of the night, the windows dark and a few coloured lights shining like cats' eyes from the consoles. Then the dawn comes up - a winter dawn, flat, stale, and unprofitable - while the greatest pianistic mind of our century sleeps it off in a shabby motel room on the outskirts of Toronto. He lies in the flickering blue light of a television screen wherein whirl the tiny gray and white couples of the Central Canadian Ballroom Dancing Competition. The music? The Beautiful Blue Danube. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * The aria was over - the last G with its chromatic appoggiatura drifted by on the wings of the night wind and was caught by the moonstreaked leaves of the lemon trees, who tossed it back and forth among themselves like a plaything, until at last it died a natural death among the shadowy, odorous fruits. I heard the creak of the door and looked up. Beale came out onto the 76


terrace, swaddled in his usual array of heavy outer garments, a hat pulled low over his forehead. He hesitated for a moment, turning his head from side to side as if in search of something (the errant G?), then seated himself on the bench beside me. Again, I felt his eyes fixed on my face. ‘Hello, Barton,’ I said, cautiously, not wanting to frighten him. Although he sat in shadow, I thought I saw him smile. ‘Hello,’ he said. His voice was softer than I remembered it. Again he subsided into silence, but I took his presence as sufficient invitation this time, and plunged with abandon into an opening conversational gambit. ‘I'm surprised to see you here,’ I said. ‘So am I,’ he said. ‘To tell you the truth, so am I. I'm not here willingly - I was sent. I hate this kind of place. I hate anything at all tropical. The light actually makes me feel sick - there's a profusion of colour that's really nauseating. I can't function in this whole overheated, operatic environment. But - I have to just now...I...It's very important for me to be here just now.’ ‘I thought you'd given up the piano for good?’ ‘I have, really. It's just that, to a certain extent I still rely upon it. It's a spiritual weakness of mine, I'm quite ashamed of it really. But I find I'm unable to sleep - just completely impossible 77


unless I have contact with it, just very minimal contact, say, once a month. But this place is getting to me - it's the second time this week...’ ‘Is it always just the aria?’ ‘No, no...some nights I break down and play the whole thing. Some nights...I play something else altogether. I'm not actually all that crazy about the Goldbergs, to tell you the truth. I'm sick of them. Now the Metamorphosen of Richard Strauss - that's my idea of music. Would you like me to play you the Metamorphosen?’ (? ? ? ! ! ! ! ? ? ?) ‘Yes.’ I followed him into the almost total darkness of the deserted dining room. To my surprise he sat down, not at the piano, but in the same dark corner where I had seen him earlier in the evening. The moonlight gleamed on the open keyboard. Baffled, I too took a seat. Suddenly the piano, by itself, began to play the Metamorphosen of Richard Strauss. Beale had not moved from his seat in the corner. Impossibly, the piano reproduced the entire piece of music as written for twenty-three strings. I heard voices that simply could not have been coming from a single piano. The music was characterized by Beale's typical purity of voice-leading and nervous clarity of tone; there was the usual Bealean out-on-a-limb 78


recklessness in the hectic action of the keys. And yes, it was astoundingly beautiful. Grateful for the cover of darkness, I wept as if I were in pain. ‘How do you do it?’ I said, when it was over. ‘Is there a piano roll, a tape, or what?’ ‘Telekinetic piano,’ he said, and I could feel him smiling in the dark. ‘It only works over short distances - at least so far. I've had success at up to fifty feet, under ideal conditions. But ten to twenty is more the norm. You see, there's a superfluity of physical contact in most pianoplaying. I've felt that ever since I was a kid, but I was never able to work out the practicalities of it until the accident.’ ‘Then there was an accident?’ ‘Oh yes - there was an accident.’ ‘And you were killed instantly?’ He only smiled again by way of an answer. ‘This still is not the final step,’ he said. ‘What then?’ ‘Unheard music. That's the ultimate goal.’ ‘Augenmusik?’ ‘Augenmusik is only the substitution of one area of sensual perception for another. I'm talking about a perception completely independent of the whole tactile-sensual experience. The ear and the eye are both visible appendages to the brain. Located as they are on the outside of the body 79


they're continually bombarded with all kinds of stuff, and corrupted, coarsened by this continuous contact with the world. Because you're a poet immediately you want to substitute eye for ear you know yourself how much of what you do is dependent on the functioning of the eye. All those poetic images you're so fond of - they couldn't exist without the eye. But music, in its purest form, would enter the brain directly, without the mediation of any sensory apparatus. We're used to thinking of music as sensual, as basically a very sensual experience that insinuates itself through the ear. If you look at the ear you'll see just what sort of thing it really is! It's pink, fleshy, curvaceous, it looks like a seashell from some tropical island, like a rococo staircase, like an orchid. It's loaded with nerve endings! But the brain is safely imprisoned inside a real fortress of bone - nothing can touch it. And it's gray - my favourite colour.’ ‘Suppose you could apprehend music somehow with the naked mind - the mind alone whatever it is you're trying to suggest I'm not sure - what then? What would remain for the mind to apprehend without the sensual knowledge of tonal values? A series of mathematical relationships?’ 80


‘Maybe...I don't know,’ he said sadly. There was silence for several minutes, then he began again in a more animated tone. ‘Listen, do you really believe that music - that art - does us good? I tell you, it's exactly the opposite! Just to begin with, take performing. A deliberately demeaning...I mean, you take a situation that's intrinsically private and...How would like to have thirty-five hundred strangers watch while you made love? And then to read a critique of your performance the next day in the newspapers? It's so embarrassing - I felt like a performing seal. I always thought somebody ought to throw me a cracker, you know, or some mackerel, whatever, like they do to the seals. In the opera, if they like the prima donna they throw flowers at her, but I always thought it would be more appropriate to have these little titbits...Bread and circuses, that's what it is, bread and circuses...So you move on to recording - you try to eliminate that whole Roman amphitheatre aspect from your performance. But recordings also falsify and distort. They create an audio-sensual matrix. The good society will have no art, absolutely not.’ ‘And no love?’ I said, just to play devil's advocate. He was clearly insane - there was no 81


sense in what he was saying, but his madman's logic interested me. ‘Love - the emotion or the theological concept? One can love things but not people. Machines, for example. I love machines because they are intrinsically good and kind. They approach the Godhead- they protect us from one another. Music - there are certain pieces of music, yes. And the arctic, that's something you can love. It lets you breathe - you're alone up there. But people? People are essentially unknowable. You can't love what you don't know’ ‘And God? Also unknowable?’ ‘To be sure.’ ‘Then we cannot love Him,’ I concluded. ‘And the Virgin?’ ‘Oh that's different, that's another thing entirely,’ he said, and again lapsed into a meditative silence that lasted several minutes. Outside on the terrace the lemon trees bent their dark heads together as if in conclave. I heard them whispering to one another, and the moonlight tinkling on the plateglass, and a dog barking somewhere not far off. ‘You know, my mother taught me to play the whole of The Well-Tempered Clavier by the time I was ten,’ he said. ‘It's good music, very upright but does it make the world better - or worse? 82


More bearable, or less? When I was ten the answer was definitely yes - better, more bearable. Later on it was no longer so clear. Music is arousing, it excites...rapture, something overextended in the soul. People imagine all sorts of things under its influence. There was the Kreutzer murder of course. Can you imagine a poetry murder? One where the murderer was motivated by fear and jealousy of the poetic power? I can, easily. I've even read about such a case - it's in a book by a Russian, a man by the name of Turgenev, but you know the case I'm referring to, I can see. The one where the mother comes back from the dead and kills her own daughter rather than allow her to fall under the spell of a certain poem. Unless I'm mistaken, it's one of your poems this Turgenev has in mind, too.’ ‘I chalk it up to professional jealousy,’ I said. ‘I don't believe a word of it.’ ‘Neither do I, really, but you have to admit it's possible. That you simply cannot deny.’ ‘So art is dangerous - that's hardly a startling or an original observation. You put the blame on us, but it's life itself that's dangerous, my friend, life itself.’ He shuddered and hid his face in his heavily gloved hands. ‘All right, all right,’ he moaned. 83


‘What about your Metamorphosen? How many people died in the bombing of Munich? A thousand, ten thousand? Some obscene number. But if it hadn't been for that supreme dramatic stage-set, the bombed-out ruin of his home town, Strauss would never have written your Metamorphosen. Was it worth it then? Come here a moment,’ I said. ‘I want to show you something.’ He followed me out onto the terrace. The night had grown cold, the wind keen. ‘Look down there,’ I said, gesturing towards the glimmering lights of Palermo far below. ‘Suppose for an instant that each of those lights represents a human being - a stranger you have never seen and will never know. If I told you that for each of those lights that was extinguished you could have another Metamorphosen, would you really tell me to keep my masterpieces? Think of it, Barton hours and hours of beauty, serenity, wonder...’ He was breathing hard; he turned away from the brink of the hill and faced me. ‘Shut up,’ he said. ‘Don't talk like that. It's devilish to talk like that. You only confirm my entire fallacy. Let's get down to fascistic practicalities - it's evil, what we do.’ We stood side by side in the wind, and the lights of the city twinkled below us like the stars of the Milky Way. ‘My God, it's cold,’ he said, and I noticed he was 84


shivering despite his heavy apparel. ‘I've achieved zero sum circulation,’ he said, in an explanatory tone. ‘It's a sub-clinical arctic condition, a lot of Eskimos have it. Listen, I'll tell you what I object to. It's not art per se. It's the pleasure principle because art is pleasant, to a lot of people, it's a pleasant way to pass the time.’ ‘So is sexual intercourse, so is caressing little girls, so is eating and drinking...’ ‘Exactly! That's what I object to - the hedonism of art. It may be there are things totally untainted by sensuality. You mentioned the Virgin before. A lot of religious art might qualify. A lot wouldn't of course. I mean, that whole grand opera school of Italian painting has got to go. But there are things...the voices of women, for example. They don't even have to be singing, but just speaking in their pretty voices. Or the lights of a recording console - they have these arctic blue and white tones in the middle of the night...And frozen lakes have certain reverberative properties...’ ‘Stones,’ I said. ‘The stones of Venice, the stones of Chartres, the stones of Monreale. And there are statues of the Buddha that have such purity, such goodness. Stone is incorruptible - if you smash it, it merely rearranges itself into a thousand million little fragments of inviolate 85


loveliness. Do you know that the Japanese have temple gardens devoted only to stones? Some of these stones are very ancient - they've been revered for centuries. Some are covered with moss, others immersed part of the way in water. For the most part they appear to be perfectly ordinary stones - I mean they're not startling formations or anything like that. They're just stones. The monks use them as aids in meditation, I believe.’ ‘I went to Garmisch once,’ he said. ‘I wanted to see Strauss's grave, but it wasn't there. They seem to have moved it - no one knew anything about it. It was beautiful there. All this snow and ice, and these huge rocks... I wound up staying a week. It was like Der Zauberberg - I never wanted to leave. I love any place where there's snow.’ ‘Then what in God's name are you doing here?’ I couldn't help but ask again. His eyes shifted evasively. ‘It really wasn't my own idea at all. Listen... do you ever have strange dreams? About angels for example? Most of my dreams are polyphonic there's very little visual element at all. Then one night this Angel suddenly appears. I knew it for an Angel right away - there were several indications. First of all its size - it was enormous, bigger than a man. And it was black, always a 86


somewhat intimidating colour, at least to me, and not one I'd associate with ordinary dream-persons. When it opened its mouth it didn't speak but sang, in a gorgeous, full-out, Wagnerian soprano. The music was like something out of the Götterdämmerung but more intense, if you can believe it. It told me to go immediately to this place in Sicily. I'd never heard of it before - had to look it up in the Baedeker. There's an old cathedral, isn't there? And a convent of Carmelites. Neither of which interests me very much. Something is supposed to happen to me here, something important. I wish it would happen already - I can't take much more of this. The light makes me ill, you know, actually nauseous.’ ‘You should try to sleep a little,’ I said, for he really did look wretched. ‘I've become an insomniac, like Count Kayserling,’ he said, laughing. ‘I suppose I'll have to try his remedy as well.’ Shaking with amusement at his own joke, he went inside and lay down on the sofa under the mirror, and in another moment I heard the buoyant notes of the first of the thirty variations, rippling like laughter in the dark.

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Back in my room again, I lay down in the dark, my astringent wakefulness soothed nearly to somnolence by the sounds of Beale's telekinetic piano. The moonlight, entering through the slatted blinds, threw narrow strips of light across the floor that flickered in visible counterpoint. By this same flickering moonlight I saw the door swing slowly open. At first I saw no one. Then I heard a snuffling sound and cast my eyes lower down, where I beheld a little dog - a little black poodle with fiery eyes that glowed in the dark. He sat down at the foot of the bed and growled at me. ‘Sei ruhig, Pudel!’ I cried. With that he ceased his growling and lolled a pink plush tongue from the side of his mouth in a comical grin. I sat up and called him to me. There was a small envelope affixed to his collar, embossed with the coat of arms of the House of Wittelsbach and inscribed with my name.

Villa Nebbiosa, Palermo Most Highly Honoured Professor! On behalf of His Majesty, Ludwig II, Prince of Palermo and titular King of Bavaria, I write to inform you that your request has found 88


favour in His Majesty's eyes. Be at the west gate tomorrow night, one hour before sunset. Come alone. The poodle will carry your answer. The Royal Gardener This was surprising! I had not been unduly disappointed when a request to view the gardens of the Villa Nebbiosa, submitted on my behalf by the Archduke, had met with no reply. The Prince of Palermo was a notorious recluse and no one was ever admitted to the fabulous gardens. I looked, in some perplexity of mind, at the poodle, who lay on the ground licking his paws. ‘Come here, Pudel,’ I said. He rose and approached me, wagging his tail and whining hopefully. I scribbled an answer in the affirmative and reattached the envelope to the collar. ‘Go home now, Pudel!’ I said. He leaped up, placing his paws against my knees, and licked my face, then ran three times around the room, barking furiously, and out into the night whence he had come. Thoroughly unsettled by this doggy apparition, as well as by the prospect of an entrée to the mysterious gardens, I found sleep had gone to the devil. I therefore composed myself to set down this record of the day's events. Whence it is 89


now dawn. I hope to snatch an hour or two of rest before the sun is up in earnest, for it promises to be a busy day.

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CHAPTER TWO Contrapunctus I The sun comes up so quickly here, I haven't really time to marshal all my forces the way I would like. There's a distressing immediacy inherent in the situation - a do-or-die mentality all too reminiscent of the concert hall begins to insinuate itself - my hands grow cold, the backs of my knees begin to tremble. I must speak to the good Doctor Praetorius about this. If only the various elements involved could be isolated and recorded on tape! The wind factor, the colours in the sky, the variegated wave patterns that trace and erase themselves with a near-instantaneous pointillistic disregard for the complexities of voiceleading. Unfortunately, at present I know of no such redemptive technology. The day must begin, 91


even here (especially here) where the elements tremble in a quasi-celestial tropical nimbus that causes me pain. The situation is far from ideal. The roof of the hotel is partly overshadowed by the mountain, which acts as a gigantic soundboard, vibrations are amplified and re-directed with brutal vigour into the open amphitheatre of the sea. And it's cold up here - very cold - despite the sun or, I begin to suspect, because of it. I was never this cold in darker places. The freezing white light penetrates to the bones pierces the skull freezes the eyeballs, the smooth white air is searing to the lungs - I feel my heart struggling to pump the blood against the freezing floodtide of the day. Still, I cannot allow personal feelings to interfere with the performance of a duty. Perhaps I would prefer to remain forever in the quiet embrace of night. But that is not the question. The question is in fact the inexorable arrival of another day, and the only possible answer is the imposition of the strictest rules of counterpoint. (The alternative is unthinkable - chaos, disintegration, madness, and the end of the world.) Here we go then: Dark the sea, blue, black, wine dark, blood dark - basso ostinato moving now in faint ripples of barely audible light. They spread in anguine curves across the dark mirror and flow into the streets where they 92


lap at the pink and white housefronts, rattle the lemons in the gardens, tickle the sleeping dogs, anoint with chrysm the eyelids sealed above slumbering cheeks - piano, piano - Enter now the middle voice, higher up the hill (the rocky landscape complicates things considerably). The sky itself is still dark - only a sliver of light on the rim is permitted to echo the voice below. In the tenor now the leaves emerge one by one, sticky and new, bleeding green into the dead air. The birds begin their graceful appoggiaturas Suddenly the wind picks up - a difficult moment while I struggle with the enharmonic odours of almond blossom and horse dung - Now the most difficult moment of all, the flash of pain, the leaping light, the great soprano entrance - and at last the sun is really and truly up. The sea is turned once more from wine to water, and from the amphitheatre below sings the whole great howling opera chorus of another day. I was leaning against the parapet, struggling to recover my self-possession after this tremendous expenditure of energy, rubbing my hands in a futile effort to warm them, when I heard the rattle of a carriage in the courtyard below. I peeped down to see who could be arriving so early in the day, and saw a woman getting out of a carriage - at least I assume she is a 93


woman, although she might belong to any of the seven orders of angels. She was tall enough to be an angel, and from her dress, which was richly voluminous of a wine-dark silk, came certain rustling bird-like notes of great sweetness, of the kind I have long associated with celestial beings. She wore a black lace veil; under this her face appeared as a dark flower appears inside a globe of decorated glass. She tilted her head upwards in my direction and looked at me - I am sure of this, for despite the veil I felt her gaze penetrate - a single sonorous C sharp of crystal clarity to my ice-cold, turgid, palpitating heart. I raised my hand in acknowledgement of her attention and she raised hers in return - a salute of almost military simplicity. Two children dressed in white followed her from the carriage - a boy and a girl. The girl held a little black dog in her arms, the boy a bird-cage. I wonder if they will be here long?

[from the Poet's Diary] Thursday Night The Villa Nebbiosa So much has happened, I find it difficult to put my thoughts in order. I feel that my pen would like to run away with me and inscribe some wild, 94


phantasmagorical account of its own. Tonight I feel, more than ever, the limitations of words. As so often in the past, I find myself wishing for the wordless eloquence of music. (As I write this I can hear Barton frolicking about among the translucent overlapping complexities of Strauss's Capriccio. Why Capriccio, of all things? What post-romantic devil's imp whispered in his ear to choose this out of all possibilities?) How much better music says it all! In a language more precise than words, but beyond words. For it is words that falsify - words in general, and the words of this late-flowering pan-European transcontinental hybrid we call, however anachronistically, ‘English’, in particular. Suppose that I have a certain set of experiences - I am amazed, or moved, or frightened, I am touched, I am, perhaps, aroused in some deep part of my being. No sooner do I affix particular words to such an experience, than I sense the very essence of that experience draining away like the scent from a dying flower. Whereas in music I seem to find the experience again, in the fresh immediacy of its actual occurrence. Unfortunately, the truth, analytically speaking, is thereby reduced to its own square root. I am thinking, now, of the rose garden at the Villa Nebbiosa. Strauss's Capriccio gives me the experience of that garden all over 95


again, for the very same sensations overwhelm me as I listen as when I walked there but a few hours hence. Yet I find myself no farther along in my understanding of these sensations after Capriccio than I was before. I have merely added another layer of complexity to my already complex reactions, and may now say to myself not only, ‘This garden inspires me with a whole set of strange and terrible emotions that I find difficult to put into words,’ but may also make the additional, but hardly enlightening, observation, ‘This music of Capriccio inspires me with the same identical set of incomprehensible emotions as does the garden.’ Of Danzig's art as well I have sometimes thought more highly than of my own, for though a drawing falsify in a thousand ways the picture that nature presents to the eye, still it cannot but be true to that great fundamental - the silence, the utter stillness, the complete wordless quiddity of the material world. Even my own, admittedly rather unsatisfactory efforts with the drawing pencil partake of this kind of truth. But the word! The word is but a blunt instrument with which we bludgeon reality into whatever shape we please. By means of this word we impose a meaning rhetorical, satirical, chronological, metaphysical any and every sort of meaning - on the great blank beauty of life. So be it then - tonight I am even 96


more than usually unnerved by this unholy alliance of word and world, of ink and incarnation. I shall opt for the chronological, (lapses into other, less rigorous methodologies to be incurred, no doubt, as needed). Picture me, then, at the appointed hour, outside the gardens of the Villa Nebbiosa. The gate lies close to the lip of the cliff and well away from the house, which faces the road. The villa itself is a large, symmetrical building in the exuberant local style of baroque palaces. I waited for some time at the garden gate - there was no one in sight, and no one came in answer to my summons. The evening was clear and mild and I had time to admire the magnificent view of the sea breaking along the steep, rocky headlands. I had somewhat less admiration for the gate itself, which stood in high relief against a clear sky of aventurine glass. It is made of wrought iron which has been worked very cunningly, indeed one might almost say too cunningly, for while the quality of the workmanship is beyond question, the whole somehow fails to please. There is too great a confusion of whorls and whirligigs, of fretted foliage, iron lace, and the heads of beasts and men grimacing in every grotesquerie of surprise or pain. The view beyond the gate was blocked by a laurel hedge, there was nothing more 97


to be seen but the tops of a few indeterminate palms. At last I espied a white-clad figure coming towards me through the dark shrubbery. Close up, I observed a short, robust man with a florid face, dirty white beard and locks, and small, suspicious, watering eyes. ‘What name?’ he demanded, in a captious tone. Satisfied with my answer, he unlocked the gate and bid me walk in. ‘It is His Majesty's wish,’ he said. ‘You are very fortunate - no one is ever admitted here. But His Majesty is very fond of poetry. He often walks here in the rose garden and recites whole pages of poetry. He knows your books by heart. Especially the Metamorphosen.’ ‘But I didn't write the Metamorphosen...’ I said, in some confusion. ‘Well, something else then. The Giaour?’ ‘No, no - that's not mine either. The Iphigeneia, perhaps?’ I suggested diffidently. ‘Never heard of it,’ he replied. I expressed myself nonetheless sensible of my great good fortune in being permitted to view the gardens, and hoped that I might have the pleasure of expressing my thanks to the Prince in person. ‘He won't see you,’ said the Gardener. ‘He never sees anybody.’ He closed and locked the gate behind me and pocketed the key. I stepped 98


beyond the shielding hedge and into a garden of roses. ‘This is the most beautiful garden in the world,’ said the Gardener, and I easily believed him. Roses grew in profusion, like living Turkey carpets underfoot; they twined themselves in branches and swung from curving trellises, spilled from the white arms of nymphs and the basins of bright, tinkling fountains. Nothing was admitted of either dark or light, all was hushed, the plush petals parting from one another in a thousand rich folds, creamy, wet with dew, sighing with sweet odours, petals of velvet and silk, the red roses mottled purple at the edges like old theatrical costumes, smelling of cinnamon and heart's-blood, the pink a lighter scent, a whiff of fresh earth and decay like a discarded slip worn by a very young actress, the colour faded nearly to white at the heart, and bleeding lavender along the crumpled edge. Twined in the branches of the trees were scentless white roses, hovering like butterflies among the shadowy leaves. I wanted to roll upon the ground and weep, to crush their scented velvet hearts against my own that ached so - I was feeble, dizzy, I thought I was going to be sick. The Gardener led me on. Around a curving hedge and through an allĂŠe alight with almond trees in bloom. Like the convent-raised girls of Palermo, they stretched their thin white arms to 99


one another, and plumped the thin white skirts of their muslin gowns in the stillness of the moment before the minuet. At the end of the allée was a little glass pagoda, bearing on its violet panes the myriad images of the blossoming girls poised for the dance. The Gardener unlocked the door and we walked in. Inside it was terribly cold - our breath went up in clouds of smoke and the panes were coated with the crystalline lace of frost flowers, winking lavender blue in the filtered light. ‘These here are the Martian flowers, Lucida Martianis,’ said the Gardener. ‘Cultivated from seeds brought back by the second Wandervogel Expedition. The only successful attempt to cultivate the plants of other worlds.’ They grew in evenly spaced rows, close to the ground. Leafless, practically stemless, the large spatulate blossoms had something of the appearance of so many heads placed face up in the soil. They were of a livid purplish red, marked with waxy, yellow-white streaks, these streaks besprinkled with a multitude of darker dots. The tall, bright pink stamens thrust into the air with obscene vigour, as if the faces were sticking out their tongues. The smell was putrid, orchideous, deadly sweet. The little glass house was ringing with a shrill, chaotic noise, something like the hum of cicadas. 100


‘Each flower vibrates at a different frequency,’ said the Gardener. ‘As you can see, your presence is highly exciting to them...’ The pink stamens quivered in my direction, the eyeless spotted faces seemed to seek me out. The whistling and buzzing grew louder, louder... ‘Enough!’ I cried, rushing for the door. In my haste I inadvertently trod upon one of the flowers - I felt it recoil and heard its high ululating shriek. Outside it was growing darker, a deep, cobalt wine had been poured into the glass goblet of the sky. A pale moon peeped from behind the skirts of the almond trees. ‘Enough of your Martian monstrosities,’ I said. ‘You might spare me any further exotica of that sort. It is the beautiful, the poetic that interests me, not the horrible. And I haven't very much time. I must be at the Governor's in time for dinner.’ The Gardener looked me up and down sourly - he seemed confirmed in his initial ill opinion of me as not the author of the Metamorphosen. ‘Very well then,’ he said. ‘We won't bother about the thought garden.’ ‘And what, pray tell, is a thought garden?’ said I. ‘Never you mind about it. It's not your style at all. I can see that. Didn't I tell you right at the 101


start that this here is the most beautiful garden in the world?’ ‘You did indeed.’ ‘Well then, there's something here to nourish every part of the soul. There's that which speaks to the eye and to the ear, to the tender little twitchy bunny rabbit nose.’ He twitched his own red nose by way of demonstration, a performance I found in bad taste. ‘There's that to soothe your heart, or madden it if you like. And there's that which speaks to the mind as well - the intellectual pleasures. Ah, His Majesty has the philosophical turn of mind. He's very fond of his thought garden.’ ‘You misunderstand me, my good man. I would like very much to see this...thought garden,’ said I , as nicely as I could, for I was really curious now. While we were speaking a little white bird flew down and perched on a branch just out of reach. It began to sing in a plaintive, sweet voice a snatch of coloratura from Die Zauberflöte. The Gardener looked around, startled, uneasy - I had the impression he expected to see a certain someone in company with the bird, someone he would have preferred me not to meet, but we saw no one. ‘Come along then,’ he said gruffly. The bird flew off into the trees, where it was instantly hidden among the fragrant petticoats. 102


I followed him down a rough path that led along the sea wall. The voice of the sea whispered mournfully in my ears; the water was turning dark as wine as the sun sank ever lower in the sky. I thought again of the Governor's dinner and felt a momentary twitch of fear. The concierge had cautioned me this morning not on any account to be late. But I comforted myself with the thought that surely the Governor's reputation was much exaggerated - it wasn't possible that he actually had people put to death for being late to dinner. And certainly not distinguished visitors like myself. The thought garden was enclosed by a low stone wall into which was set an iron gate of the simplest design. It did not appear to be a garden at all, but rather a square of uncultivated earth, studded here and there with patches of moss, stones, and clumps of wild thyme and lavender. A butterfly was sleeping on a stone - its wings flushed a white symmetry with utmost clarity in the black volcanic rock. I turned and looked over the wall at the darkening sea, then back into the twilit garden. ‘Where are the flowers?’ I said. ‘Eh?’

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‘The thought flowers - where are they?’ At this reiteration the Gardener broke into a boisterous laugh - nor was it a pleasant sound. ‘Why, they're in your head, you fool!’ he cried. There followed peal upon peal of tuneless laughter. ‘Have you anything else to show me?’ I said, with considerable asperity. ‘Yes indeed, Professor. Step this way,’ he said, still smiling and wiping his eyes. My faux pas had certainly improved his spirits. At this point I wasn't particularly eager to see more, for it was growing late. The gardens were enormous - it had been madness on my part to imagine I could see the whole in a single evening. ‘Perhaps we had better be done for tonight,’ I said. ‘You still haven't seen the historical garden, featuring flowers of the ancient world, the moss garden, the Turkish garden, the cellophane lilac garden, the midget garden, the garden of simples where we grow herbs to soothe all the known ailments of mankind including even a broken heart, the potagerie, the orchard...’ ‘Perhaps tomorrow...’ I began. ‘You will not be permitted to return tomorrow,’ he said shortly. 104


‘But, I don't understand...in that case, why this appointment so late in the day? Soon it will be dark...’ The Gardener smiled at my discomfiture. ‘By order of His Majesty,’ he said. ‘Is this to be my only opportunity?’ I cried. He nodded, still smiling malevolently. ‘Oh dear - and the Governor's dinner, too. Well then, my good man, what is the one thing out of all these marvels I must not go away without having seen? I put myself entirely in your hands. Choose for me, I beg of you.’ ‘The snow garden,’ he said. ‘This way.’ We passed through a dark grove where strange ruby-coloured fruits hung ready in unseasonable ripeness. ‘What are those fruits?’ I asked. ‘Heart's egg,’ replied the Gardener, without turning around. Cautiously, I slipped one into my pocket. It was smooth and cold, heavy as a stone. On the other side of the grove was a garden shut in on all sides by an iron railing. This railing was taller than a man, and appeared to harbour neither door nor gateway of any kind. There were, however, several round apertures set into the rails at about the level of a man's breast. ‘Go ahead and stick your head in if you want to see it,’ said the Gardener. 105


‘But is there no way in?’ I inquired, considerably astonished. ‘No! You cannot walk about in a snow garden - it ruins the snow,’ he said. I grasped the bars and stuck my head through the hole. I saw a plot of earth all covered in snow. The snow appeared crisp and fresh, of an unblemished whiteness. It was not very deep, yet it was more than a mere powder. At the centre of the garden was a little, irregular pond the colour of smoky quartz, its frozen surface dusted with a sugarglaze of snow. Four little snow-clad trees stood in a circle around the pond, their branches meeting to form a lacy white rose like the antique roses of Our Lady that can still be seen above the great cathedral doors of Normandy and the Ile de France. Here and there among the leafless branches hung the glowing red fruits which the Gardener had called ‘heart's egg’, and their sudden notes of colour were like the fragments of ruby-coloured glass that sometimes remain in the old windows to catch the light on winter evenings and send a sudden, unexpected glare into the dark, silent nave, a splash of blood from a crusader's sword, where all is gray and still. By the side of the pond were several large stones, covered partly in moss, partly in snow. Then a clearing, and a graceful statue of a boy - I suppose 106


he was meant for Pan, for he was naked and held a flute to his lips. He stood in an attitude of joyous dance, one leg drawn up at the knee, the ball of one foot the only point of contact with the ground. A pair of little horns peeked from beneath a cap of snow which had settled crookedly upon his head. His bare toes trod in snow. The snow lay like white hands upon his shoulders, it nestled in the crooks of his elbows, on the tender rims of his ears, the tip of his nose, the undulant curve of his upper lip. Here was a metamorphosis by means of snow, such that every object, whether artificial or natural, was fused in its essential being with the snow. So that one could no longer say This is a tree, or This is (a statue of) a boy, a tree like any other, a statue (a boy?) like any other, for they had suffered a snow-change into something rich and strange. I realized then that the snow garden was a very great work of art, for it put me in mind of certain spiritual painters, such as Vermeer and Botticelli, painters in whose work whatever is depicted undergoes a mysterious metamorphosis, so that we speak of a Botticelli Madonna, or a Vermeer room, and immediately call to mind those ethereal worlds, so different from our own, wherein dwell the beings of these great visionaries. We know the milk jug of Vermeer as well as we know the 107


woman who pours from it - we could no more mistake it for the ordinary jug that sits upon our breakfast table than we could mistake the woman for our mother or sister. It is an unearthly jug, a jug made wholly of light and spirit. So, too, in a work by Botticelli, it is not only the face of the Madonna, but also the tendrils of hair escaping from under a veil of some transparent stuff so much lighter and finer than any for sale in the marketplace; it is the angels' glowing feathers, the clarity and brightness of the flowers - it is this world of his own that captivates and charms us until we are quite unable to recall the other, ordinary world and feel we have been transported, bodily, to a heaven of tenderness and grace. ‘It's nearly dark,’ said the Gardener. ‘You'd better be going.’ I turned in some surprise to my guide, for I had quite forgotten the passage of time, so immersed was I in contemplation of the snow garden. Indeed, it was nearly dark - several stars were now visible over head and a thick fog had unfurled from the sea, obscuring all the landscape below. He led me back by a different route than that by which we had come. I caught but dim impressions of other gardens as we passed, for the fog was growing denser by the minute, the night darker, and we went in haste. We passed under a high stone wall from behind 108


which came sweet, disconcerting vibrant sounds I took to be the voices of birds. But, turning the corner, I suddenly collided with a soft tumble of white organza, warm flesh, and fair, be-ribboned hair at the level of my chest, which object my arms instinctively enclosed. She was followed closely by a slightly older boy. It was the voices of these children that I had mistaken for birds, for they had been at play in the walled garden, calling to one another in a musical language of their own invention. The child had not seen me but, wholly occupied by her game, had rushed headlong into the dark. All this she explained to me in an enchanting little voice, and begged my pardon very prettily. She then ran off again, along the shadowy path whence she had so unexpectedly materialized, leaving behind her a whiff of roses and pungent child-sweat. The boy, whom I took to be her brother on account of a close similarity in dress and feature, stood undecided on the path, regarding us solemnly. He wore a white suit with a spreading lace collar, and his light, curling hair was cut close to the head, giving him the oddly severe appearance of a little monk. ‘Buona sera, Master Giovanni,’ said the Gardener, with more affability in his manner than I had observed heretofore. ‘This is the children's garden,’ he said to me. The boy included us both 109


in a single bow, which he executed with the dignity of a child and the elegance of a practiced courtier, and wished us a very good evening. ‘The Prince's children?’ I inquired. ‘Oh no, certainly not. His Majesty has no children of his own,’ replied the Gardener. Again the eerie, bird-like cry sounded from behind the wall, and the boy ran off to join his sister. ‘You'd better hurry,’ said the Gardener. ‘It's very foolish to keep the Governor waiting.’ We passed once more through the rose garden, now drained of its colour in the moonlight and livid with night scents drawn out by the dew. I thought I saw a couple go by among the roses at the other end of the garden - both of them tall and elegant, the woman leaning upon her companion's arm and shielding her face with a little parasol that stood out like a black rose upon the face of night.

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Dinner at the Governor's The coach was waiting just outside the gate, the vetturino in a state of near hysteria. ‘We must hurry, Signore! Look at the sky! Nearly dark! If we don't make the Governor's Palace by nightfall...’ And he drew his hand across his throat in an unequivocal gesture. He slammed the door and cracked the whip, and we took off at a pace that threw me back with some force upon the fusty cushions. Faster and faster we went, gathering momentum, down the steep hill road to Palermo. The palms sighed and grasped at the roof of the carriage, but we were too fast for them and left them far behind, tossing their heads in discontent. Below us the city lights, and above us the stars had begun to twinkle, calling to one another in high sharped notes aquiver with vibrato. Between them lay the sea, whence sounded a great black-voiced bombardon. The molten sun stood still at the horizon and screamed, so that I had to stop my ears against the awful din. At last it gave a final ear-splitting shriek, slid into the sea, and died. In the ensuing peace came the soothing harptones of the moon, the velvet kiss of night air - at that same moment we rattled into the courtyard of the Governor's 111


palace and I was thrown once more among the cushions by the sudden stop. I made my way to the door with a haste not altogether commensurate with my dignity, for something of the vetturino's anxiety had communicated itself to me during the wild ride. Perhaps it was the effect of the unaccustomed speed upon my nerves, perhaps that of the unusual sunset I had just witnessed, which had impressed me as somehow ill-managed, out of control, like a theatrical effect that has gone awry and set fire to the theatre. Whatever the cause, I was absurdly anxious as I mounted the steps, my heart pounding, my knees trembling like a schoolboy's. I had a glimpse of a large, rectangular court lined with deep-throated arcades on all sides. There was a confusion of horses and grooms milling about in the streaky light from the torches. I was admitted by a flunkey in red livery, but from that point on I remember nothing of my entrance save a blaze of electric light and the sharp tic-tac of my footsteps sounding on the marble floor in canonical imitation of those of the flunkey. The Governor proved to be an old man, wizened and not very clean, in a green velvet coat and lavender wig. He came forward, scowling at me for all the world like an old monkey. The dinner guests stood huddled together in terrified silence. 112


Every eye was fixed on this malevolent apparition as it made its way in my direction. ‘You are late, Professor!’ were his first words to me. ‘I trust it is not so, Your Excellency! I understood Your Excellency's invitation to be for the hour of sunset - an event which has only just taken place, as the state of my eardrums informs me. If such sunsets are habitual to these parts I can well appreciate Your Excellency's wisdom in postponing his entertainments until the hour is past. Surely here, where fine conversation and good society must flourish like the roses of summer, one is least able to tolerate the noisy exigencies of nature.’ ‘Have a care, Professor! Have a care!’ he cried, wagging his head and continuing to scowl, but I could see that he was amused nonetheless. ‘We are already on our way to table! I permit no one to be late to my table, sir, not even poets.’ I pressed my advantage home with a deep bow and a hand held over the heart. ‘I beg Your Excellency's indulgence for a stranger to his beautiful country. Your customs, like your enchanting island, are unknown to me, but I hope to make good the knowledge on both counts before I have done.’ Fortunately the Governor expressed himself satisfied with this excusatio, 113


and I heard the guests sigh in audible relief around me. Immediately after this conversation we entered the dining room and took our places at table. I had been assigned the place of honour on the Governor's right - on my right sat my acquaintance of the day before, the Abbess of Monreale. Among those present I also recognized Beethoven's nephew, Doctor Praetorius, and, to my surprise, the ubiquitous Danzig. The remainder of the guests were unknown to me they appeared to be representatives of the local nobility with the exception of one ecclesiastical gentleman, an enormous eminence grise, as inanimate as a stone, sheathed in the well-known black and purple costume of a Papal Inquisitor. The servants brought in the first course, a dish of brightly coloured bĂŞches-de-mer on a bed of golden macaroni fashioned in the likeness of little seashells, the whole swimming in a sauce of pungent lemon cream. One of the footmen, a young man of extraordinary stature and beauty, took up a position behind the Governor and carefully tasted each dish before it was set before that gentleman. I remarked that the macaroni put me in mind of the Conca d'Oro, the local appellation for the beautiful headlands around the harbour. 114


‘Yes,’ said the Governor. ‘We imitate and repeat what we find in nature. We imitate everywhere - in cookery, in art, in architecture. Man's creation copies God's - isn't that so, Signor Farfallone?’ he said, addressing himself to Danzig, who had been following the conversation with his habitual ingratiating smile. ‘Yes indeed, Your Excellency,’ he replied. ‘We must imitate Him. The poor artist really hasn't any choice but to copy nature, or else fall into grotesqueries of all sorts. These slugs, for example,’ he said, holding up a specimen of bright turquoise blue impaled on a fork. ‘These were once uniformly gray. But certain chemicals, released into the sea during the last war, have brought about a mutation. Now we dine off an artificial palette...’ I groaned inwardly at the pun, and felt the Abbess tremble with suppressed laughter at my side. ‘An improvement on nature, then?’ said the Governor, raising his dark eyebrows under the absurd wig, and looking more like a monkey than ever in his grimace of inquiry. ‘That is for your Excellency to decide,’ said Danzig, with typical adroitness. ‘Or,’ turning to the Papal Inquisitor, ‘for His Grace. I only remark the change. After all, these colours exist in a state of nature. It is only the re-combination of form 115


and colour that is original. We artists are all guilty of such re-combinations. Otherwise we would be reduced to mere slavish imitators. The most outlandish art is only a series of highly unexpected re-combinations, inspired mix-ups if you like.’ The Inquisitor, thus addressed, felt called upon to speak, and inclined his large head towards my daring friend. ‘You must also give attention to the moral content,’ he said. His English was thick and throaty, with a typical Roman accent. ‘The combinations, as you call them, are not all equally admissible. There are admissible and inadmissible combinations. The admissible combinations are distinguished by their likeness to, and greater glorification of, the works of God. The inadmissible are those which seek to deceive or mislead...’ ‘The trompe l'oeil at Sant' Ignazio, for example,’ said the Abbess, throwing him a coy look. ‘There's a first-rate piece of theatrical deception for you.’ ‘The trompe l'oeil is innocent,’ said I, ‘precisely because it sets out to deceive. Deception is its avowed intention. The viewer is in on the joke from the start.’ ‘Ah! So you tell me that an artist sets out to lie to us, does lie to us, and the more successfully he 116


lies to us the more we should applaud him!’ said the Abbess. ‘Yes - because we admire his skill in lying as in anything else. Still, we know it's only a trick. We know it's only a painted heaven and a communion of plaster saints.’ ‘The imagination, Principessa,’ said Danzig, ‘is not deceived. It is only the eye that is deceived.’ ‘Go along with your 'principessas'!’ she said, flushing with pleasure. ‘And if the imagination were also to succumb to this deception?’ ‘That is a definition of madness,’ he replied. ‘A man who is deceived by the workings of his own imagination is quite mad.’ ‘You harp too much on the visual qualities of art,’ I said. ‘What of the spiritual, non-material element? What of the mystical properties of art? If art be imitation, then this macaroni is surely a work of art...’ I was cut short by the Abbess's huge laughter. ‘Pas de chance, my poor Poet!’ she cried. ‘You have chosen badly. For nothing is better suited to demonstrate those so-called mystical properties of art to which you allude, than the golden spiral, even in macaroni. It has been called the pattern of perfect growth. It occurs everywhere! From the microscopic forminifera to the farthest galaxies. The heavens are like a great beach, littered with 117


spiral star clusters as with so many outsized seashells. The shark's intestines take the form of internal spirals. So does the cochlea of the human ear. The extinct ammonite, the cyclamen, the echinus on the shields of ancient Troy - the skin papillae at your fingertips, and even the fibrous muscles of your heart - all are fashioned in the same golden spiral that informs the macaroni, which, by the way, is excellent,’ she said, spooning another portion into her great, frog-like mouth. ‘Pardon me,’ said a quiet, well-dressed gentleman wearing the cross of the Knights of Malta, who was seated across the table from me, ‘but the Abbess has spoken to you as a poet. I understand you come from Weimar, and I was wondering if you knew anything of a certain young man who was so much the rage when I visited there several years ago. He was the author of a Book of Sorrows, a love story - a very remarkable young man. He is sure to have done great things by now.’ I acknowledged sheepishly that I myself was the man in question. ‘What, you!’ he said, in obvious surprise, and was inclined at first not to believe me. He looked long at my face, as if puzzling something there. ‘But you must have changed a good deal, then,’ he said at last. 118


The servants filled our glasses once again with the bitter Lacrimae Christi, and the Governor Image: C C1CJones C Jones Union Union College, College, Schenectady, Schenectady NY proposed a toast in my name, as guest of honour, which I was then obliged to return. ‘If you are interested in spirals,’ he said, ‘you must allow me to show you the staircase in the Old Palace. It is a perfect replica of the rare sinistral form of Voluta Vespertilio. The shell is common in these waters, but the left-handed spiral is extremely rare. It suggests the work of a lefthanded artist - there are those who have even whispered the name of the great Leonardo in connection with this staircase.’ ‘Begging Your Excellency's pardon,’ said my acquaintance, the Knight of Malta, ‘but I am somewhat troubled by what you have said about 119


the left-handed artist. In this connection I must mention, I have reason to know it is the righthanded spiral which is favoured by a left-handed man. It was in my youth,’ he said, smiling slightly at me in a conspiratorial manner, ‘that I lost an important match to the great left-handed fencer, Kirchhoffer. It was his remarkable parry with the contre-quarte that did for me - that is, the point of the sword describes the right-hand spiral.’ ‘True!’ said Danzig. ‘And the contre-sixte describes the much more common, and more natural to a right-handed man, the left-hand spiral. But you're speaking of flat spirals. The staircase, or the Voluta of course, is a corkscrew - a cylindrical spiral. It's the left-handed screw that does in fact point to the left-handed screw driver, or, in this case, artist.’ The plates were removed and a second course brought in - a filet of shark garnished with apricots and almond blossoms. While the footmen were busy with the service, I took advantage of the general pause to praise the wine. The Governor smiled in acknowledgement. ‘Chosen for the season,’ he said. ‘We drink the tears of our Saviour.’ I confessed this seemed to me an odd way to commemorate the Passion. It would never have been thus in Weimar, where all spirits are forbidden for the duration of Lent. The 120


Governor shrugged and let his glance wander towards the stony face of the Inquisitor, who took up the challenge. ‘The strictness of the German courts is well known,’ he said. ‘At the table and elsewhere. In Sicily we are not overly concerned with such things - we reserve our strictness for the area of doctrinal orthodoxy.’ ‘As in the case of the Archbishop Pelagius?’ said I, alluding to the infamous former head of the diocese of Palermo. Foolishly, I wished to nettle him, for the wine, to which I am unaccustomed, had loosened my tongue. ‘Did he not call into question the entire efficacy of holy relics?’ ‘The Archbishop Pelagius,’ replied the Inquisitor, ‘has been given up to the secular arm. If any doubt exists in your own mind regarding the manifestation of the divine will through the relics of His saints...’ ‘None whatsoever!’ I hastened to reassure him. ‘You must permit me to arrange a little visit for you to the shrine of Santa Rosalia here in Palermo. There you will see one of the most remarkable collections of holy relics outside of the Vatican.’ He had continued to speak as if I had not spoken. He now directed at me an anything but affable smile from the depths of his great purple jaws. ‘Shall we say four o'clock tomorrow afternoon?’ he 121


added. I could only agree that we should indeed. There was an uncomfortable silence round the table, that was broken at last by my friend, the Knight of Malta. ‘May I inquire what work you are engaged upon at present?’ said he, directing his quiet, searching gaze once more to my face. ‘Another tragedy, perhaps?’ ‘Yes - another Iphigeneia?’ said a man with a purple nose and equally purple evening coat who had not spoken heretofore. (I have neglected to remark that the Abbess was the only lady of the party, but I do so now.) ‘Great stuff, that Iphigeneia. Little girl murdered like that...very nice, very nice. Let's have more of that sort of thing, what?’ I expressed myself unequal to another Iphigeneia. ‘Well, then another Werther?’ said the purple man. ‘Surely you might give us another Werther?’ I shook my head in denial of the possibility of another Werther, and observed the Knight of Malta, across the table, to be shaking his also. ‘No,’ I replied. ‘I hardly know what I shall do next. The old myths are beautiful, but I've grown weary of old myths. The weariness, to be sure, is my own and not theirs, 'forever panting, forever young'. As for Werther, he's a likely young 122


coxcomb! I'm out of all patience with him. And then, I am no longer twenty years old, after all. You must understand, I never had a tragic passion. Werther was a pure work of the imagination - a poet's version of the trompe l'oeil. Indeed, I'm afraid I lead but a second-hand existence at best. Passion troubles me very little, love even less...I've come to question the whole association of poetry with love. Why this obsession with the reproductive capacity? I deny outright its claims to beauty, to mystic grandeur, its so-called redemptive power. I would write an ascetic poetry if I only knew how - a poetry like music, free from the morbid sentiments of the sex urge.’ The shark's flesh was rose pink, crumbling in the mouth, saturated with perfumes of fruit and flower. ‘D-d-do you m-mean to say m-music is an ascetic art?’ said Beethoven's nephew. Speaking for the first time, he had some initial difficulty with his words, and the Doctor bent upon him a look of concentrated vigilance. ‘B-b-because,’ continued young Paul, ‘you are wrong, Sir! I'm sorry, but you are wrong! M-my Uncle Ludwig writes music,’ he added, by way of explanation to the party in general, although quite unnecessarily, as everyone there was well aware of his relation to the famous composer. ‘To my Uncle Ludwig 123


music is a pleasure,’ he said, ‘like wine or...w-w-wwomen.’ At this there was a burst of laughter round the table, more at the comic discomfiture of the nephew in making this revelation than at its content. ‘He weeps because he is deaf, and can no longer hear the music. I have seen him weeping, like this - ‘ He crossed his arms upon his plate and laid his head upon them, then gave out a most terrible wail from the depths of his soul, that set the chandeliers rocking above the table. He lifted his head and looked round at us all, blinking the tears from his eyes. Bits of fish were clinging to the velvet sleeves of his coat. ‘That is how my Uncle Ludwig weeps,’ he said. The Doctor reached over and dextrously cleaned the food from the boy's coatsleeves. ‘I beg your pardon,’ I said gravely. ‘Music is a pleasure, of course. I stand corrected by this young gentleman. What then - can it be an ascetic pleasure? Is not such a thing a contradiction in terms? Pleasure is an indulgence, to be sure, a sensual indulgence. Music enters by the ear. And the cochlea of the human ear is another example of the golden spiral. As is the scroll of the violin.’ ‘I warned you those spirals would lead you up the garden path,’ interjected the Abbess, with a certain malicious glee. 124


‘But music itself,’ I continued, grasping at something I was unable to discern clearly, something swimming about in my brain as in a night fog. I heard Barton's voice saying, Unheard music, that's the ultimate goal! and there materialized before my inner eye his tall, stooped figure and pale face in the moonlight. ‘Unheard music,’ I said, gropingly. ‘What if...what if your Uncle Ludwig's deafness were a gift - a terrible gift, but a gift nonetheless. No longer limited by a sense of hearing, he is free to create a music independent of sensuality. The whole pleasure principle is eliminated at one stroke. And you know, the new quartets really do surpass anything up to this time - they seem to draw near to the ideal in music. My friend, Barton Beale, always claimed his best performances were the ones he couldn't hear. He liked to play with two or three radios tuned to different stations, blasting right beside the piano. To approach the ideal - that would imply a certain moral capacity in art. Something over and above the pleasure principle.’ ‘It is not the church we want, but the sacrifice,’ said the Abbess softly, quoting something from her long memory, ‘Not the emotion of admiration, but the act of adoration.’ ‘Yes!’ I said. ‘Exactly. Who said that?’ But the Abbess only smiled. 125


The shark having been thoroughly demolished, the plates were again cleared and the table set for dessert. Two footmen entered, bearing an enormous silver salver on which reposed what appeared to be a pyramid of pink breasts. ‘Tétons de Vénus!’ cried the Abbess, clapping her hands together in delight. ‘How clever you are, Gonzaga,’ she said to the Governor. The servants made the round of the table, serving us each with a pair of pink, quivering glands. I thought I was going to be sick. ‘What is it?’ I said, attempting to smile. ‘O taste and see,’ replied the Abbess, spooning into the plate before her. The smooth pink skin broke under the spoon, revealing a mound of glâce vanille beneath a coating of marzipan. The delicate odours of vanilla and almond wafted towards me. I tasted and found it delicious. ‘There's another bit of trompe l'oeil for you,’ said the Abbess. ‘Do you enjoy the joke?’ ‘Now that I know it is one,’ I replied. ‘They're so very realistic.’ Dr. Praetorius swivelled his black evening coat, bald head adorned with its corona of white hair, and pair of sharp gray eyes in my direction. ‘For a moment you mistook them for... flesh?’ he said, inserting a question mark only at the very 126


end of his sentence. ‘Yes, it is a beautiful example of making and matching. The texture is so like real skin, the pink of the nipples is so right...And then we bite - so! and discover - what a disappointment! Only a dessert! But why should it not be flesh? What differentiates this from the breast of a living woman? Spirit! Geist! The soul, you will answer me. Of course, the soul. But how can an immaterial soul account for the material process of life? This charming dessert and the breast of a live woman differ not at all in their fundamental chemistry - both consist of a variety of carboniferous compounds, both are mostly water. But the one is engaged in the continuously motivated process of auto-destruction we call life. It consumes itself - and dies. We know that what is alive must die. Why should not what is dead...be brought to life?’ He glanced intently from one face to another round the table, gauging the impact of his words. ‘Flesh,’ he continued, ‘is a spirit-ridden substance. And the horror of flesh that which causes, for example, our honoured guest to recoil when he believes himself to be presented with a real breast upon his dessert plate - is the horror of the other, the natural loathing of the spirit-ridden creature for a flesh other than its own. And what overcomes this horror? Imagine for a moment that the breast presented to the 127


noble poet is indeed one of human flesh, but that it lies, not upon a plate, but fully attached to the body of a living woman. Then how eagerly will he bite and suck the alien flesh! Yes - it is sexual attraction that overcomes for a moment this horror. This much I have concluded after many years of careful experimentation. Perhaps the Professor could find time later this evening to view the results of some of these experiments?’ I expressed myself willing to do so, and sensible of his kindness. ‘Not at all,’ he replied. ‘Then the dish is well-named, according to your theories,’ I said. ‘For it is the power of Venus that attracts us. But isn't there another instance of such an attraction overcoming the natural 'horror' as you call it? I'm thinking of the infant at the mother's breast.’ ‘Bravo, Poeta!’ cried the Abbess. ‘And here in Sicily many a shrine to Venus has been happily turned to the account of Mary Mother. We may suckle in blessedness at her breast like St. Bernard of Clairvaux. You might learn a great deal from St. Bernard,’ she said, regarding me closely, as if she were taking my measure for a suit of clothes. ‘You ought to pray to him. He was the real thing in ascetics, you know. Went in for all sorts of austerities, professed to despise art as a frivolous 128


departure from prayer. His attempt to create an atmosphere for worship that would be sufficiently austere has given the world nothing less than that bravura poetry in stone - Cistercian architecture. Where a Puritan like yourself may indulge himself to the point of satiety in a very orgy of elegance and restraint.’ ‘But I'm not a Puritan...’ I began. ‘Nonsense,’ she said. ‘Of course you are. You are a Puritan, and you are in grave danger of eternal damnation. Pray to St. Bernard! Before you reject out of hand the flesh and all its temptations, remember it was that great ascetic saint who found the culmination of all his prayers in nestling on the breast of Mary Mother.’ ‘But you mistake me,’ I said weakly. ‘I don't reject the flesh. On the contrary, it interests me very much.’ I heard Danzig's melodious laugh, and looked round to find him just pulling apart from Dr. Praetorius, to whom he had certainly been whispering something only the moment before. I frowned at him most severely, but instantly felt a painful throbbing at the temples. I was reminded of the drawing of the terrible head, and tried once again to express with my features at least a semblance of amiability. Danzig had caught my glance and flashed me one of his most voluptuous, full-bodied smiles, a smile of such 129


boyish frankness, girlish tenderness, and altogether devilish charm, I wanted to leap across the table and embrace him , or strike him, I hardly knew which. The table was cleared once again, and plates of fruit were set out - hothouse grapes, the first early apricots, and seedy little love-apples. We drank a pink liqueur that tasted of roses, and set my mind once more inside the gardens of the Villa Nebbiosa where a hot, soft creature came rushing upon me in the dark - rumpled, silky, breathing just such an odour of roses into my startled heart. ‘So, you have been to the gardens of the Villa Nebbiosa, Professor?’ said the Governor, as if reading my thoughts. ‘Tell us, what did you see there? None of us has ever been inside.’ I stared at him in considerable astonishment, I am afraid, for I had understood my visit to be under the strictest secrecy, and was at a loss how to proceed. The Governor laughed - a dry, convulsive sound more like an expression of mechanical distress than of amusement. ‘Come, come - be frank with us,’ he said. ‘If I permit the Prince of Palermo to enjoy his little whims in peace, it is no doubt because I am well able to assure myself of everything that goes on at the Villa Nebbiosa - and everywhere else on this island for that matter. Did he receive you?’ 130


‘No - no, he did not,’ I said truthfully. ‘Ah, then you saw only the Gardener? No one else?’ ‘Yes, only the Gardener. And - that is - yes, the Gardener.’ ‘Come! Then there was someone else?’ ‘I can't say really - it was very dark. There may have been a little girl...’ ‘A girl? But no boy?’ ‘Perhaps there was a boy as well,’ I conceded. ‘Yes - and perhaps a woman as well, eh? That would be the Galli-Curci. I know she is here - I know, you see? And the garden? What did you think of it?’ ‘I thought it was very beautiful...’ I began lamely. I found myself not only unwilling, but unable to put into words the least of my experiences there. ‘Come, be frank!’ said the Governor again, growing angrier by the minute. I saw him exchange looks with the Inquisitor, and reach towards a little silver bell that sat close at hand upon the table. Around me the guests were now strained and silent. ‘There were flowers,’ I said hurriedly. ‘Roses many, many roses...and...and a pool where some tame swans were swimming.’ I looked anxiously at the Governor, but he was smiling and nodding 131


as if to corroborate my story, from which I concluded that what he had said was true, and he had never been inside the garden at all. ‘There was a grove of almond trees,’ I continued, relaxing, beginning to enjoy myself. ‘Remarkable trees - some of them are over four hundred years old. Some are sweet, and some are bitter flowering almond trees. Also some very fine specimens of lemon and orange. Many asparagus beds - I understand the Prince is extremely fond of asparagus.’ The Governor nodded again, but was beginning to wander in his mind, I thought. ‘Then there are many greenhouses to provide fresh vegetables the year round,’ I added. ‘A most ingenious scheme, really, most beneficial to the health. I wonder you don't adopt it on a commercial scale.’ ‘It has been so many years since I last saw my cousin, the Prince,’ said the Abbess. ‘I knew him best when he was still a boy. He used to visit the convent once a year on his name day with his father, the old King Max. He was as beautiful as a girl in those days. No one has seen him these many, many years. He has shut himself away. There are those who whisper that he never grows old, that he is still the same beautiful youth who used to ride his gray charger along the beach in the moonlight all those years ago. May it be so, 132


Ludovico! It is pleasant to think of you so, mon joli petit Prince, le toujours jeune!’ She spoke low and thoughtfully, as if musing to herself alone. ‘He would have been King of Bavaria if it hadn't been for the war. But the Wittelsbachs sided with the French for sentimental reasons - the old King was always a great one for sentiment. It was the family failing, that tendency to convolute romance and politics. The Americans gave him Palermo as a consolation, or perhaps an asylum. He has no real authority of course - only a grand title, a crumbling palazzo, and the most beautiful garden in the world - but the last is his own creation. They say...he is still pining for the snows he has never known...They say...he has made a garden all of snow to staunch the bleeding of his wounded heart. Is it true?’ she said, turning to me, her eyes blinded by tears. ‘Yes,’ I whispered. ‘Yes...’ ‘Tell us about this garden of snow,’ said the Governor. ‘I...I don't remember,’ I stammered. Again the monkey-face wrinkled in displeasure, again the wizened hand crept towards the bell. A terrible silence was broken by the deranged barking of a little black poodle that leaped upon the table, upsetting the plates and throwing the whole party into hopeless disarray. It growled and snapped its 133


jaws ferociously, refusing to be quieted on any account. I took advantage of the general confusion to bid a hasty adieu, and made good my departure.

Dr. Praetorius I had not been back at the hotel more than a quarter of an hour when there came a knock at my door and I opened to find Dr. Praetorius stooping over a guttering candle that lit up his white wisps of hair like a demonic halo. ‘Won't you come and observe my little experiments, Professor?’ he said, and then added in a singsong undertone, ‘Will you, won't you, will you, won't you, Will you join the dance?’ to which accompaniment he executed a species of shuffling dance. He then laughed a singular dry little laugh that was more like a cough than anything else. Somewhat taken aback by this display, I nonetheless accepted the invitation - indeed, to have done otherwise would have been awkward and I had, after all, a certain curiosity as to what manner of ‘experiments’ the strange little Doctor would prove to be engaged upon. I confess it had occurred to me that he did not appear to be a suitable guardian for his sensitive young charge, 134


but this need have no bearing on his aptitude in the field of pure science. I shut the door to my room but neglected to lock it (an omission I was to rue later in the evening), and followed him up the broad staircase in the dark, guided only by the fitful light of the candle. We had climbed to the attic storey before he turned down the narrow corridor and stopped before a heavy oaken door identical to my own. I was wondering to myself why, in an empty hotel, he had been given rooms so far out of the way, when I head a low sobbing and the sound of someone or something thumping at the wall. The Doctor turned to me as if I had spoken aloud. ‘My charge is sometimes restless at night,’ he said. ‘It is better for us to lodge well away from the other guests.’ He unlocked the door to the room and bid me walk in. A pair of candelabra stood upon a table, by the light of which I saw a room similar to my own, although smaller and not so completely furnished. The blinds were down and the curtains drawn, the atmosphere was heavy with the ill-assorted scents of carbolic, candle smoke, and oriental perfume. A joss-stick was burning before an ugly little blackfaced Madonna in the corner. The table was piled high with glass specimen cases which refracted the light in soft, rainbow-coloured patches upon the 135


walls and ceiling. The floor was nearly covered with leather travelling trunks, and it was with some difficulty that I made my way inside the room to take the proffered chair. ‘What is the meaning of life?’ said the Doctor, smiling as at a good joke. ‘Have a look at this, my dear Professor.’ He opened one of the glass cases and selected an object. I took it and examined it closely. It appeared to be an ordinary stone, a piece of hyaline quartz in fact, the crystals beautifully formed and very pure. ‘An ordinary stone?’ said the Doctor, again echoing my thoughts. ‘But look again, my friend. Observe! The crystals are arranged, not in the usual hexagonal prisms, but in an octagonal prism you have never seen before.’ To my surprise, I observed this to be the case. ‘But silicon doesn't exist in octagonal crystals,’ I objected. ‘What is this stuff?’ I handled the rock gingerly, holding it up to the light. It wore the usual aspect of quartz - smooth, hard, clear, and virtually colourless, the crystals formed along diagonal sutures, rising to form narrow, pyramidal prisms at the extremities of the rock. But these prisms were, indeed, octagonal. ‘I call it lapis regignens,’ said the Doctor. ‘Under certain conditions, this stone has the ability to reproduce itself. The specimen you hold in 136


your hand I grew myself from a piece of Indian rock crystal which I first altered by means of an electric current. It has several very interesting properties - for example, the ability to radiate light. Light is stored in the interior of the crystal at the rate of several million particles per second, and is then released at a much slower rate when the ambient radiation falls below a certain level.’ I cupped my hands around the stone and observed it to glow with an inner radiance, milky soft and bright, like unto moonlight. ‘These crystals,’ continued the Doctor, tapping the glass cases upon the table, ‘are in various stages of growth, as you may see for yourself. Now you begin to appreciate the importance of my original question - What is the meaning of life? Is life reproduction perhaps? The ability to generate others of one's own kind? Or is it...something else? I have occupied myself for over thirty years with this question, and I can assure you I have left no stone unturned and no power unsolicited which might help me to the knowledge of life and death. I have entered into communion with powers, the mere naming of which would be enough to raise the tainted smoke of the auto-da-fé...Are you afraid, Professor? I understood you to be a man of scientific temperament, a philosopher in short. Say it isn't so, and I will say no more upon these 137


dangerous matters, but only wish you a very good night.’ ‘Not at all,’ I said. ‘Please go on with your demonstration.’ But my lips were trembling as I spoke. The room, so high above the street, was deathly quiet. I could hear the joss-stick crumbling as it burned, and thought I heard a subdued rustling, as of rats, inside the largest of the travelling trunks. ‘Seien ruhig, Kinder!’ said the Doctor. It was a large, upright trunk of the sort that generally is used to transport coats or other long garments. The Doctor loosed the catch on the trunk and swung open the lid. Inside, dangling from the clothes-rack by thick wires attached to their bodies, were some half dozen or so of puppets, each between a foot and a half and two feet tall. They were painted and costumed in the typical florid Sicilian manner to represent the personalities of the national epic, and I easily recognized Orlando and Rinaldo, the blonde Angelica, and the black-faced Saraceno brandishing his crescent-bladed sword. ‘I had the good fortune to obtain these from a gentleman in Palermo. They cost me a great deal of money, for they are very old, and of the finest workmanship. See here!’ He twisted one of Angelica's golden ringlets around his finger. ‘Real 138


hair! The dress is real silk, and the armour is genuine. The swords, I assure you, are tempered steel, and quite sharp enough to chop off a finger. Then the skin - so life-like! We are not dealing here with marzipan or any such cheap tricks. Touch it - please, go ahead and touch it!’ I had risen from my chair and stood at his side before the open trunk. The puppets hung on the rack at nearly eye level to ourselves. The plumes upon their helmets, dyed turquoise, pink, and red, were stirring although the windows were shut tight and the air in the room was quite still. I took a step closer and felt a hot breath upon my face, like that from an oven. The puppets' eyes seemed to glitter, their hair and clothing seemed to rustle as with a supererogation of life. A suppressed sigh escaped from the depths of the trunk. Carefully I reached out a hand and stroked the cheek of a bold, red-lipped Saracen who was grinning into my face as if in a very ecstasy of irony. But no sooner did my hand make contact with the bearded cheek than I cried out in pain and terror, for the Saracen had caught my finger in his jaws and was biting down hard. ‘Nein, nein!’ cried the Doctor, striking the Saracen upon the nose. Whereupon he released my finger, and I fell back into the chair, convulsed with laughter as by an ague. 139


‘Oh my!’ I cried, wiping my eyes. ‘He...he bit me...He did indeed! Oh my! He...he bit me!’ I was simply unable to stop laughing; my convulsions were truly painful. Meanwhile the Doctor had closed up the trunk and stood looking down at me in disapproval. ‘You are hysterical,’ he said coldly. ‘He...he bit me!’ I said again, still laughing hopelessly. The Horror - I thought - the horror the horror the horror. ‘Obviously,’ replied the Doctor. ‘Yes, you must excuse him. My children are a little unpredictable as yet. They have not yet had time to master all the niceties of polite society. It was only that I took you for a man of science, or I would not have made the introduction.’ My laughter finally abated, I lay back in the chair, still sobbing and hiccupping, and feeling very foolish. I examined the index finger of my right hand - the blood stood in tiny drops in a double row along the first joint of the finger. No further noise came from the trunk. In the renewed silence I heard again, from the other side of the wall, the desperate lamentations of young Beethoven. ‘If you will be good enough to excuse me,’ said the Doctor, ‘I must attend to the well-being of my charge.’ 140


‘Certainly,’ said I, getting to my feet. ‘What's wrong with the boy anyway? Why does he carry on like that?’ ‘The revivification process is not yet complete. You must understand, when I was called in young Paul was already ...gleich Tod. I don't know, how would you say in English?’ ‘Quite dead?’ I volunteered. ‘Yes, just so, he was quite dead. I have been able to restore the semblance of life, the breathing, heartbeats, and so on, but not, so far, the will to life. It is this will that lies at the root of all life. Young Paul must fall in love. Then my treatment will be complete. You look surprised, Professor. But surely you have not so soon forgotten our conversation at the Governor's table? Or do you doubt the ability of dead men to rise? Aphrodite is a powerful goddess, able to breathe life again and again into exhausted flesh. She is the source of all life. But what am I saying! You, the Poet, are intimately acquainted with her, of course.’ A series of loud thumps upon the adjoining wall, accompanied by two or three terrified shrieks, led us to hasten our adieux, and I made my way back to my own room in the dark. I had neglected to take a candle, and nearly broke my neck in getting down the stairs. 141


I found the door to my room slightly ajar. The door to the terrace also stood open, the night air and the moonlight were streaming in, and my papers were lying hither and thither about the room. Quickly I shut the doors and then the window. I stooped to retrieve the papers and, as I did so, thought I heard something mewling softly in the alcove of the bed. I crossed the room, lit a candle, and drew back the bedcurtains. It was the cat. She lay curled up in the very centre of the bed, her paws tucked under her chin, her blue glass-bead eyes winking at me from behind the dark Venetian mask of fur. As she caught sight of me she mewed again - an invitation at once playful and peremptory - opening her tiny mouth to entice me with a glimpse of pink plush and ivory needles. I looked to right and left - there was no one nigh. Gingerly I sat down on the edge of the bed. Her eyes followed me. A third time she mewed and, turning her head away like a little cocotte, stretched her paws towards me, one and one. I saw the pearly crescents of her claws quivering in the soft black nailbeds like slivers of shell buried in black sand. I put out my hand and began to stroke her. I stroked the velvet crown of her head with its infinite tiny striations between the black of the ears and the pale gold of the throat, then around the sides of her face, tickling 142


my fingers in the short fur of her cheeks. She began to purr, a low thrum of pure pleasure that set my teeth on edge with an inexplicable nervous excitement. I moved my hand along her flanks and she trembled, purred, her eyes closed; then she rolled onto her back and presented the pale, downy expanse of her underbelly to my caresses. I lay down beside her and pressed my cheek into her soft belly, pressed my lips in the downy stuff; I heard up close the runaway music of her tiny heart, I inhaled her mysterious musk, while my fingers sought the tender crevices under her arms, behind her ears, under her chin, and fondled the fine-boned limbs and little feet. She was drunk with pleasure now - limp, regardless, and sweet, so sweet...I lifted my head to watch her and she yawned, a full-open-mouthed yawn that showed the inside of her whole tiny pink cavern. The underside of the palette was grooved like a beach from which the tide has receded, leaving a series of parallel ridges in the pink sand, the teeth were curved like tiny scimitars, the sleek matte velvet muzzle was dotted with minute indentations from which the whiskers sprang like lush white weeds. Her mandibles came together sharply, the lips stretched tight against the jaw line in a smile. She regarded me coolly with her glass bead eyes and then - she laughed! I am sure of it, she laughed, 143


the sound was utterly unexpected, but was exactly that of a girl's derisive laughter. ‘Was ist diese Hurerei!’ I cried, reverting, in my excitement, to the tongue of my infancy. I jumped up from the bed and stood there staring, unmanned by that awful laughter, not knowing where to turn. ‘Out! Get out! Right now, immediately - Out!’ I was shaking uncontrollably, the candle nearly dropped from my hand, the flame danced wildly upon curtains and bedposts. She blinked and sat up, then repeated her strange laughter, if anything even more mocking than before. I looked around for something to goad her with but nothing came to hand. In the sheer madness of the moment I threw the lighted candlestick at her. I believe it hit her, for I heard a dull thud, followed by a yowl of pain. This sound somehow redoubled my fury - it took all my selfcontrol to prevent myself from leaping upon her and strangling her right then and there. The room was plunged in darkness now the candle was out. I felt I was suffocating there in the dark, with the doors and windows shut and the feline scent pressing against my face. I pulled open the door to the terrace. She kept up a low, steady complaint, halfway between a mew and a cry, and this sound sent a strange tingle through my blood 144


so that my fingers twitched with the desire to do her some further mischief. ‘Go now,’ I said, through gritted teeth, ‘Go and never come back. Do you hear me? Don't ever come back again! If you come back again - I shall kill you!’ And I believe I even shook my fist at her. She disappeared into the night, still making that low, horrid, animal sound. I sank down exhausted upon the bed. The scent of cat rose up from the sheets to embrace me. I was wet with perspiration, weak at the knees, my heart was going like a jackhammer, and I found, to my shame, that I was on the verge of another erotic spasm, deeper and more terrible than that I had suffered at the hands of that wench, Faustina. I bowed my head to the inevitable. Undressing a little later, I was surprised by something hard and heavy in my breeches' pocket, and drew out the singular fruit called 'heart's egg'. It glowed a deep crimson red in the candlelight. It was hard and clear as a stone, shaped rather like a pear, and its surface was broken into many facets, as in a crystal. Counting the facets, I found there to be eight to each prism. I cupped my hands around the fruit and, sure enough, it gave off a light that dyed the skin of my fingers bright red. I sat looking at it for some time, not sure what to make of it. The air from the terrace had grown 145


very cool and I was beginning to shiver, but still I sat and pondered. At last I decided to say nothing about it but to put it away for the present, and I locked it up in my dispatch-box. Despite the lateness of the hour I was not at all sleepy. I wrapped myself well in my dressing gown and stepped out to the terrace, where Barton's Capriccio was weaving a crystal web in the moonlight. But no sooner had I begun to relax and enjoy the music than once again the cat appeared out of the impenetrable darkness of the garden and leaped onto the railing before me. She trained her glass-bead eyes upon me and began to yowl piteously. There was a dark, wet spot on her fur, just above the shoulder. She licked nervously at the wound and continued to complain. I took refuge in my room, shut the windows and the blinds tight, but still I could hear her wailing just outside. With the windows shut the room is close. Strange, overpowering odours linger in the air. I resolved to add these pages to my diary. Whence the night is gone, even the cat is quiet at last, and Barton has moved on to Lohengrin. What is this terrible thing we call love? A tireless, hidden motor that drives us from the cradle to the grave, until one is tempted to say, the wages of sin is not death, but life. Yet there is something beautiful and good in life, after all. 146


And something blind, the craving mouth that bites the breast that feeds it. How can the same well give forth both pure and poisoned water? Danzig would laugh at this - at me, at all my difficulties. He sees no problem in the easy resolution of desire - he finds it amusing. How learn to laugh at one's weakness rather than weep? (But that business tonight with the cat wasn't funny.) I don't want to laugh if that laughter implies the mockery of all the nobler aspirations of the heart. I have opened the window again - the first light of dawn is just breaking over the sea, gilding the leaves of the orange trees, and in this light I can hear the white, pristine, armorial music of the Swan Knight. Nun sei bedankt, mein lieber Schwann! What was that the Abbess said? It is not the church we want, but the sacrifice. And now to bed, and the hope of a few hours' oblivion in sleep. Contrapunctus II A miserable failure this evening - the sunset nearly a catastrophe. Fortunately I managed to salvage things at the last moment, but not before a painful cacophony had become audible to all and sundry. The sun very powerful here - too late I realized the usual adagio affettuoso to be totally 147


inadequate. It was only the counter-balance of the sea that gave me the time I needed to gain control of the soprano and establish some sort of order out of all this chaos, but it was a close thing. Now I'm afraid to go to bed. Things seem peaceful enough, but who knows what might happen if I were to turn my back for just an instant? There are blackfaced roses blooming on the hillside, their tones may vary as the moon changes its position in the sky. Already I have detected a certain tendency on their part to fall out of line. I think, on the whole, it will be safer for me to remain here where I can keep an eye on things. I can make use of Strauss's Capriccio to support the flowers-and-moonlight thing, and allay the chirpings and mutterings of the night creatures. Bursts of white exuberant light from a bird that sits in a cage on a second storey balcony. The flustered sleepless velvet wings send notes finer than starlight to drift among the silky altos of the orange trees. Also in the alto sounds the pianissimo breath of sleeping children, the flutter of their dreaming eyelids above dark, roseate cheeks. A single light gleams from the attic, whence the flute tones of crystal silica, the breathy rattle of puppets in a velvetlined box, the cracked tenor bell of the good Doctor's sleep, the impotent crescendo of young Beethoven's sobs. From the poet's room only a 148


weak-voiced murmuring dream - he is wandering far away in Germany. And what of Her? Does she wake or sleep? I cannot say. I hear nothing - a blankness so total it bespeaks the complete annihilation of self. She is like a great black flower asleep on the face of the night. Opening, she extinguishes all - moonlight, starlight, the wind falls at her feet, the clouds stand at attention, the very sea obeys her. She spreads a perfume of mordant sweetness - my ears and teeth ache with soundless beauty. If only she would sing! And let me hear her. To swoon, to die in that theatre of acoustical loveliness, the red damask splendour of her open throat: Hojotoho! F端hl meine Brust auch! Was it for this I was summoned to this Godforsaken demon-ridden land? How I long for the snow! The cool white notes that kiss like mother's lips the burning face, and wing their way into the desperate heart. Something from Lohengrin will cool me. Now the moon rolls down the mountain and is swallowed by the wine dark sea. It is time to mount to the roof.

149


CHAPTER THREE [From the Poet's Diary]

New Arrivals I awoke late and breakfasted alone. It is only natural, given the trouble I have sleeping, that occasionally I oversleep myself in the morning. I awoke late, then, groggy, my head ached (that terrible head that frightens those who have yet to grow accustomed to it), there was a vile furze on my tongue and a vile taste in my belly, my eyes smarted and swam in the violent light of the breakfast room - I felt debauched but had nothing to show for it. Unless you take account of empty concourse with phantoms. In particular I dreamt of an indeterminate but very lovely little girl - she wore sometimes the face of the child prostitute, 150


Faustina, but more often that of the little daughter of the sacristan at the cathedral of Strasbourg, a blonde child of the characteristic pink, puffy lips and swollen eyelids mapped with myriad lilac veins, who was the source of endless torment during my university days in that ancient city. At the time I was as yet undecided between art and philology, and the cathedral was to bear a direct, though wordless influence on my subsequent choice. As was little Eva. I took rooms directly on the square, and every morning I was roused by the din of the bells just outside my window, clashing and clanging with a vigour that might have waked the dead, let alone the living. I would leap from the bed and throw open the shutters, the vibrations rushed through my head, lodging in my bones and teeth and skull, where they continued to reverberate for hours afterwards. At times a long, low note would sound inside me as I sat pouring over my books in library or hall - I shuddered with delight at the strange beauty of it, a beauty audible to myself alone. Every morning the square was flooded from behind by the rising sun, the towers filled with a rush of air as cool and blue as Rhine water - they seemed to me gigantic goblets from which I might drink. Every morning, suspecting nothing, I lifted the goblet to my lips and quaffed the Liebestrank. In the evenings I sat 151


at the window and gazed into the face of the cathedral, flushed with rosy liquid light so that one saw as in a glass of Eiswein - not darkly, but gilded, dim - and a terrible melancholy would creep into my heart. The bells tolled for vespers, the dark notes floated out over the city on the silky air, the doves circled round and round the airy towers. I sat at the window and gazed into the heart of the great rose, my own heart full of illimitable pain. Sometimes I held the child on my lap - she was a small child, only five or six years of age at the time, she was fond of me, she would sometimes consent to come to my room if she were bored and could find no playmates. I knew the father well, the sacristan, for we had been over the cathedral many times together, he had shown me what was left of the archives, including several curious incunabula looted from a nearby abbey. There was a very old treatise on singing, and another, of more recent date, concerning witchcraft, that was illuminated with an amusing company of demons and familiars. I still remember one fellow with a hugely distended stomach, pictured in the act of swallowing a man down whole; he had got all but one foot, which still protruded, boot and all, from his mouth. I gave her sweets, little marzipan love apples, and she sat on my lap sucking them sleepily between 152


her pink puffy lips. The golden hair fell in a mass of curls on her little neck, uncombed, her dress was often dirty, torn, for she was a motherless child. The mother had run off to Switzerland with a divinity student and apparently had died there, leaving the little girl, whose name, I have reason to remember, was Eva, in the care of the sacristan. She is all I have in this world, he used to say to me. My daughter is all I have. I knew him well. He trusted his child to me, this child who was all he had in this world. I held her on my lap as the room grew darker - first it was golden, then flushed rose, then the colour of lilacs. In the evening light the statues in the west portal stepped out from their habitual shadows and we looked down upon the newly animated heads of the Wise and Foolish Virgins. The Wise Virgins held their lamps upright and smiled with the smug naĂŻvetĂŠ of good girls everywhere. The Foolish Virgins, their lamps forgotten, turned their pretty heads this way and that, slid their long-lidded eyes - they couldn't help themselves! towards the handsome, well-dressed youth with the apple in his hand, he who is called the Tempter. Behind this young man's exquisite cloak, well out of sight of the Foolish Virgins, lurked a multitude of sins, a writhing mess of snakes, spiders, and corruption. I held little Eva on my lap, I stroked her hair, the 153


nape of her white neck. The room grew darker. When it was quite dark I carried her downstairs and across the square to the tumbledown house under the north tower where her father, the sacristan, would be waiting for her. Sometimes she fell asleep in the dark in my lap. She was soft, so soft...sometimes I dared the least of liberties while she slept - pressed my lips to the blue, beating temple, my cheek to the stiff, sweatstained taffeta curls, prickling my nose and eyelids, drowning in sweet milky childbreath, my stealthy hand crept up her blue-white thigh, careless under the ragged frock, twitching ever so slightly at my touch. I am a madman, I said to myself at these times. I am a poet and a madman. It was the whole entire compactness of her beauty that moved me so - to hot tears, to a horrible, aching desire for I knew not what impossible fulfilment. I was not fond of the child. I longed to do her some mischief - to crush her, to mar her whole blatant unintentional loveliness with my wanton hands. I am a madman. I shall die raving in my own excrement. I hadn't the courage to kill her. I began to write. Though there have been times since when I have said to myself, It would have been worth it. To take her in my hands and...I jibbed at the thought of her actual pain. What I wanted was the sweet sullied silk of her, 154


untouched by terror or remorse. Hence the slow sessions of sweet silent thought with Eva in my arms at the window. I am not even sure that I touched her! So thoroughly did I mingle my dreams with the stuff of life before that darkening square of light. It was of this child that I dreamt last night, the first of such dreams in many years. I had ceased to think of little Eva - worldly cares, courtly affairs, lesser beauties, had driven her from my thoughts. (Although once she had been the very stuff of me nightly, of my dreams, and by day my heart's desire). She came to me again last night, in her whole entire animal skin, in dim, confused nightmares that seemed to go on for hours or even days, of grappling with her in a dark, slimy place, of getting my hands around her tender white throat with its necklace of golden curls...Then she appeared with a scarlet ribbon tied round her throat, which was mottled black with bruises, her face was pale and troubled, she held a lighted candle, I knew her for a ghost. But the image flickered and faded - now it was Faustina I held by the throat and enjoyed, fully at last as I never did in life, thrusting my sword into her rosy little scabbard again and again to the sound of great clanging bells...I awoke late, and in a sweat, troubled and ashamed. I had to take my breakfast 155


alone. The others had already breakfasted, the tables had already been cleared. In the corner of the great mirror I thought I saw the pale ghost of little Eva with the red ribbon around her throat. After breakfast I went out onto the terrace. The wind was hot, sulphurous, jangling with a babble of voices. I followed the sound down the steep path to the garden. There I found Barton Beale, Danzig, the Doctor, and young Beethoven in animated conversation with an unknown lady. Danzig introduced her to me as the famous American diva, Carolina Lily. She is enormously tall, very black, with the face and bearing of a Nubian empress. She was dressed in a gown of iridescent purple silk festooned with black lace, and her face was covered by a black lace veil. The veil did not obscure, but rather dressed with point and filigree the stark bones of her face, much as a composer will cover with a lacework of harmony a powerful, even overwhelming theme. In the long, almond shape of those eyes, in the aquiline nose and stone-cut lips, I caught an echo of those motionless Old Kingdom Queens of the Nile whose startling, impassive beauty has drawn men's hearts across the swirling sands of time. With her were two children, the same I had encountered in the gardens of the Villa Nebbiosa. Their names are Anabelle and Giovanni. It seems 156


they are charity children from the Conservatorio di San Onofrio whom she has adopted as travelling companions. The child Anabelle was holding a sumptuous doll which I recognized as coming from the cabinet of Dr. Praetorius. I had the definite impression that all of the gentlemen were paying court to the lady, and that already a certain rivalry had sprung up between Barton and young Beethoven. The lady was kind enough to express herself enthusiastically on the subject of my work, with which I privately take leave to doubt she is at all acquainted. There was, however, nothing of politesse about my own effusions over her art, for she is arguably the best soprano of her generation, and certainly the only one to do full justice to the Wagnerian roles since the death of Materna. ‘I have had the pleasure,’ said I, ‘the very great pleasure, Signora, to hear you at Bayreuth, I think it was two years ago now? in the Götterdämmerung. Unbelievable! It was simply unbelievable. And I still cherish the memory of the Walküre you sang in New York...’ ‘Only the Wiener Hofoper is good,’ interrupted young Beethoven. ‘I have heard my Uncle Ludwig say it many times. Only the Wiener Hofoper, and even that is only really good once a year. But the problem is - you never know which 157


night it's going to be! I can't tell you how many hours I've wasted - hours, days, even years of my life in the box at the Wiener Hofoper, years all wasted because, it is only really good once a year.’ I found, to my embarrassment, that I still held the lady's hand, which I had taken and kissed in greeting. It was a large, strong-looking hand, enmeshed in a black lace mitten, and the fingernails, lacquered red, stood out like buds at the dark finger-ends. It lay passive and warm in my grasp like a resting cat. I looked into her eyes for a moment and thought I saw a flicker of laughter beneath the veil, but her mouth was steady. I let go of her hand. ‘But I've sung many times at the Hofoper, Mr. Beethoven,’ she said graciously. ‘It's a splendid house, and the orchestra is simply the best in the world - you're perfectly right.’ Young Paul beamed. ‘B-b-but only once a year!’ he insisted. ‘Yes, of course only once a year. But still!’ she countered, and one had the impression she was improvising a comic duet with the boy. Her speaking voice was essentially deep, but multilayered, like certain wines that seem to glimmer with whole worlds of colour within the essential red. She pronounced her words with something of the long drawn-out cadences of her native 158


Georgia, wedded to the clipped Oxford tones no doubt laboriously acquired under a diction coach. The result was a music wholly her own. ‘But still - what satisfaction! To do something as difficult as , say, the Götterdämmerung, and to do it really well - even if it is only once a year! So much must come together. The ground must be prepared, not weeks or months, but years ahead of time. People have given their whole lives to it...’ ‘Schnorr von Carolsfeld...’ said Barton suddenly. He stood a little to one side of us, his hat held, uncharacteristically, in his hand, his eyes fixed on the lady's lovely face. ‘My Tristan!’ she cried, the tears rising in her voice. ‘You understand me, Mr. Beale. But then, you would.’ ‘Call me Barton, please,’ he said. ‘Why, thank you, Barton, I'll do that,’ she said, and now flashed him an enormous ivory smile. How it lit her dark face! She is terrible as a tigress when she smiles. ‘The untimely death of Ludwig Schnorr von Carolsfeld was the inevitable outcome of a rheumatic heart ailment contracted during a childhood illness,’ said the Doctor. He stood, hunched like a crow in his black clothes, and peered at the company from behind his glassy spectacles. But the lady did not appear to have 159


heard this remark. She opened a black lace parasol and set it upon her shoulder, then drew her arm through Beale's and smiled at him again. Her audacity made me gasp, for my friend Barton Beale is notorious for his absolute abhorrence of physical contact. He will go to any lengths to avoid even so much as the exchange of a handshake, and that with people he knows well. He once took to his bed for six months, completely incapacitated, unable to play or even to speak, and all because an ignorant assistant Kappelmeister had ventured to slap him on the back. And here was this woman calmly taking his arm! I saw him flinch, then try to draw back, and then I saw him suddenly go very still and smile. It was a tender, boyish smile, the smile he usually reserves for Bach's toccatas and the occasional pre-war Stabat Mater. ‘How about a walk around this pretty garden? I've always wanted to meet you, Barton,’ she said. His face was not quite so ashy white as I had seen it before, and the ghost of that smile still hovered about his mouth. ‘Somehow our paths never seemed to cross,’ she continued. ‘But I've got all your records. I was even thinking, at one time, of approaching you...But I knew that accompaniment was beneath your notice.’ 160


‘Oh no!’ he cried. ‘There is nothing - no dream of mine - nothing I would rather do than play for you.’ She laughed now, a sound so musically rich and complex it brought us all to a standstill the better to hearken to this aleatory flurry of song. I had fallen into step behind them. On her other side walked young Beethoven, followed closely by his shadow, the good Doctor. Beside me walked the child, Anabelle, and a little behind us went Danzig with the boy. Anabelle was again dressed in white. On the crown of her head she wore a large organdie bow that fluttered, as she walked, like a restless butterfly. Beneath the bow the golden hair flowed over a neck as thin and pliant as a lily stalk. She held the elegant blonde doll carelessly by its arm, its yellow curls trailing in the dust. 161


‘Are you a poet?’ she said, looking up at me. ‘Yes.’ ‘I saw you in the Prince's garden, didn't I?’ ‘Yes, I believe so.’ ‘It was you,’ she said decisively, having looked me up and down. ‘What were you doing there? You didn't come in for supper.’ ‘I went there to see the flowers. I'm very fond of flowers.’ ‘I'm not! I think flowers are dumb. In Paris we have millions of flowers all over the house. Sometimes I can't get to sleep at night for all the flowers. People send them to the Signora, you see.’ ‘Is that where you live, Paris?’ I had noticed that she spoke English with a slight French accent. ‘Yes. The Signora was ill. The doctors said to go south. Do you think she'll die soon?’ She looked at me uncertainly. ‘Certainly not! She looks very well indeed.’ The others had wandered well ahead of us. Danzig and the boy seemed to have taken another path. My head was aching now worse than before. The sun was bright on the dust, on the stones, on the glossy leaves of the orange trees, on the child's white bow, on the dark, reverberating sea beneath us. I closed my eyes for a moment and rubbed the throbbing veins at the temples. 162


‘Don't you feel well?’ she said, and slid her cool little paw into my hand. ‘Do you have a fever?’ ‘No, I don't think so,’ I said, opening my eyes again. I kept hold of her hand. ‘That's a pretty doll you have there.’ She held the doll upright for my inspection. ‘Yes, but she bites. She bit Giovanni this morning. That funny old Doctor gave her to me. But I don't like dolls. I think they're dumb.’ ‘What do you like?’ I hazarded. She answered me so softly I couldn't make out the words. ‘What's that ?’ I said, bending down the better to hear her. She drew her lips close to my ear, I smelled her milk and honey, I could almost feel the silk of her cheek. Her hot breath tickled my ear as she whispered her answer. ‘The Infant of Prague,’ she said. ‘And why is that?’ ‘He has the most beautiful clothes in the world. I was in Prague with the Signora last winter, but we didn't see the Infant there. You have to be extremely good to see the Infant.’ Her face had gone all dreamy and sad, it suddenly resembled her adopted mother's in stillness and splendour. ‘What else do you like?’ I prodded. 163


‘I'd like to have a boyfriend,’ she said. ‘You give them kisses and they buy you things.’ ‘Do you like giving kisses?’ ‘Depends.’ She tugged hard at my hand. ‘Here - kneel down,’ she said. Obediently I knelt in the dust. I felt the heat of it burn my knees. ‘Now, close your eyes,’ she commanded. I closed them. She kissed me on the mouth with her small, wet, cherry-red, almond-milk rosebud of a mouth. I opened my eyes and found them directly on a level with her own. ‘Did you like that one at all?’ I hazarded. ‘Did you?’ she countered. ‘Very much.’ ‘They always say that,’ she sighed. ‘May I have another?’ ‘Not now.’ Slowly I got to my feet, wiping the dust from the knees of my trousers. ‘Are you a real poet?’ she said. ‘Certainly I am. I'm a very well-known poet.’ ‘Are you famous?’ ‘Certainly.’ ‘As famous as the Signora?’ ‘In my own line of work, yes.’ She appeared to turn this bit of information over in her mind for a few moments. ‘‘Say some poetry,’ she commanded. ‘Bright as the brow of even-handed Zeus 164


gleams the brand of evening in the west.’ ‘What does it mean?’ she demanded. ‘It means the sun is going down.’ ‘Then why not say so?’ The wind was ruffling her curls into the semblance of a golden necklace about her small, white throat. ‘Will you write a poem for me?’ she added. ‘Yes indeed, if you wish it. And then...will you kiss me again?’ ‘Depends if it's a good poem or not. Don't put anything dumb in it - no Greeks. I don't like Greek - it makes my head hurt. Only put whether you like me very much and all that sort of thing.’ ‘Very well, Mademoiselle, your wish is my command.’ We were coming up on the others at the brow of the cliff. Danzig waved to us, the boy ran up to meet his sister, Barton kept his eyes on the lady, and Beethoven kept his eyes on Barton. The Doctor somehow contrived to give the impression of regarding us all at the same time. ‘Meister!’ began Danzig as soon as I was within earshot. ‘We've come up with a wonderful plan. It only needs your word to go ahead. You know that trip to Segeste that we've been planning? Well, I just happened to mention it, and it turns out that Signora Lily also wishes to visit the temple. We discuss it a little among ourselves and it turns out, in short, 165


that everybody wants to visit the temple. What I say is, how would it be if we made up a party and all went together to Segeste? I can arrange for carriages, food...’ ‘It would be delightful,’ I said, and had the pleasure of feeling the lady's smile turn, like a searchlight, in my direction for a moment. Anabelle squeezed my hand, but was oddly silent. ‘Are you quite certain we won't interfere with your work, Professor?’ said the lady. ‘Please, Signora, allow me to reassure you. The work we have in hand can in no way be impeded, but only advanced, by the addition of such charming company.’ It was settled that we would go on the morrow, leaving before dawn so as to have the full day ahead of us. Danzig hurried off to see to the arrangements. As our little group was breaking up, the black poodle came bounding upon us suddenly from God knows where, barking and yapping like a mad thing. He ran right up to me, placed his paws against my knees, and carried on as if possessed by a whole legion of devils. ‘Down, Mephisto! Down!’ said la Lily, and whacked him soundly on the rump. ‘I'm sorry - I don't know what's gotten into him!’ His fangs were inches from my leg, his eyes rolled in their 166


sockets, his paws scrabbled at the good cloth of my trousers; I was trembling from head to foot. ‘Mephisto, down!’ she cried, whacking him again. This time the dog got down, but continued to growl at me deep in his throat. I drew my handkerchief across my face with shaking hands and heard them all laughing at me. ‘I'm terribly sorry! He didn't hurt you, did he?’ she said. ‘Hush now, Mephisto! Hush your mouth, child!’ ‘N-n-no. I don't think so,’ I replied. Again they laughed. ‘Mephisto, you're a bad, bad dog,’ she said, taking hold of his nose. The dog whined and looked up at her with great stupid eyes full of love. His red tongue lolled between his slavering jaws. ‘I'm so sorry, Professor. He's usually very gentle,’ she said. ‘Please, Signora, don't mention it.’ It was at this point I suddenly remembered my appointment with the Papal Inquisitor. I ordered the carriage for the afternoon and, excusing myself to the company, went upstairs to lie down. Relics Santa Rosalia, a Norman princess and the patroness of this town, has her shrine at the top of Monte Pellegrino, which no doubt owes its name to the many pilgrims who make their way to the 167


spot. This daughter of the grim-faced, northern conquerors fled to a cave on the mountain, where she led a life of ceaseless prayer and unimaginable austerities. She has a particular love for the people of Palermo, having saved them twice from destruction: once at the time of the great plague, and again during the cluster bombings of the last war. She is said to intercede on their behalf in matters great and small. Monte Pellegrino is a barren mass of grey pleistocene limestone. No tree, no shrub can grow there, but only a scanty covering of dark green lichen that blends imperceptibly with the rock. The road, which is cut into the side of the mountain in a series of terrifying zig-zags, has fallen into disrepair, and I found that it would not be possible for the carriage to proceed. At the foot of the hill, however, were gathered several small, disreputable-looking urchins with donkeys, each of whom rushed to offer me his services in a shrill, ululating Arabian shriek. Also at the foot of the hill, in the shade of a copse of lemon trees, stood an impressive equipage bearing the Governor's arms. And the Governor himself, in the event, for no sooner had the dust settled around my carriage wheels, than the door to this equipage was opened by a shabby footman, and the Governor himself stepped out. I hastened to meet him. 168


He had donned a dingy white silk cloak and battered tricorne; from beneath this unlikely headgear his wizened face appeared more monkeyish than ever. He clasped my hand and peered anxiously into my face. ‘Ha! There you are! That's all right then. I've just received a letter from your friend, the Archduke. It seems His Imperial Highness takes a great deal of interest in your well-being. Is that so?’ ‘I believe it to be so, Your Excellency.’ ‘And you have come to Sicily for your health, is that correct?’ ‘Partly for my health, yes. Also to enlarge my horizons, Your Excellency, and to accomplish the portrait in the authentic classical style which His Imperial Highness wishes to have completed on the spot.’ ‘Have a care, Professor! The Sicilian climate can be very unhealthy at this time of year, when the wind blows from the north. Do I make myself clear? When the wind blows, for example, from Rome. Beware the north wind! I would so much dislike to be obliged to send a tragic account of your visit to His Imperial Highness in Weimar. Give your attention to that north wind! Wrap yourself up well! Do I make myself clear?’ 169


‘Your Excellency is beautifully clear, as always.’ ‘Good, good.’ He grasped my hand once more in his monkey's paw. ‘Then I wish you a good afternoon!’ He hurried back to his waiting carriage, the door was shut, the whip cracked, and he whirled away in a cloud of grey-gold dust. After much shrill and theatrical negotiation between the urchins and the vetturino, a donkey was chosen at last, and a price agreed upon. Soon I was seated on the creature's sorry back, being led on by a dirty child with a stick, who alternately cajoled and beat the donkey up the slippery path. It wasn't too bad so long as I kept my eyes forward, but once I made the mistake of looking back and - my God! Such an abyss - nothing but white mist and sharp, grey rocks! I shuddered and shut my eyes, I clung to the donkey's back. I heard the dull thud of the stick upon the animal's flanks, the curses and cries of the dirty child, the stones, displaced by our passage, tumbling into the abyss. We reached the top at last, and turned a corner to face a steep cliff. The facade of the church has been built directly into the rock, and commands a spectacular view of the headlands, the city, and the dark, murmuring bay. The door to the church was opened by a small boy in a dirty white 170


cassock. ‘Please to follow me, Signore,’ he said. He shut the door behind us and drew the heavy bolt. ‘Why do you lock the door?’ I said. My voice came rolling back to me in echo upon echo; the flame of the boy's candle seemed to jump at the unexpected sound. ‘Thieves, Signore,’ he whispered, and he crossed himself hurriedly, as if afraid. The door leads into a narrow passage formed by the natural rock, and filled with votive offerings to the Saint flowers, trinkets, naïve depictions of the saintly doings painted on tile or wood; the broken axle from a cart whose owner had survived the accident; the nets of undrowned fishermen; various parts of the body, such as arms, legs, or heart, which the Saint had healed, modelled in gold, silver, or plaster of Paris; headscarves, jewellery, scraps of lace - it was like a bazaar, and flowers, everywhere flowers, great banks of odorous roses, lilies trembling on thin stems, spiced carnations, almond blossom, and the fragrant jasmine were strewn over the rocky floor. The cave where the princess once took refuge now forms the body of the church. The plain, unadorned rock is dripping with damp, and in order to circumvent this problem, a network of pipes has been fitted to the crevices in the walls. 171


These pipes catch the water and direct it to a cistern where the people may help themselves to it, for it is said to be good against every kind of misfortune. The wild appearance of these pipes, running in every direction among the rocks, is like that of some giant species of cactus, for the pipes have turned bright green with the moss that grows upon them. One hears the steady plop! plop! as the water drips into the cistern. I followed the sound of the boy's footfall and the flicker of his candle. There were whisperings, scufflings, once something ran over my shoe. There must be rats, I thought. We passed by a side altar, stopping to genuflect before a rosy, smiling infant in a lace and taffeta gown and tiny crown. He held a tiny golden sceptre over the wavering flames and banks of white carnations - the Infant of Prague. We passed on to the chancel, which was enclosed by a heavy iron grille. Behind this grille loomed the black and purple eminence of His Grace, the Papal Inquisitor. He pushed at the gate - it uttered a shriek that rebounded horribly through the empty vaults and set off a thousand mutterings and flutterings on all sides. ‘Come in, please, Professor,’ he said. ‘I have been expecting you. I pray you will give your utmost attention to what I am about to say. Do not attempt to touch the relics, or the consequences 172


may be very serious. Just last week a child lost three fingers because the mother foolishly thought to heal him by contact with the Blessed Alphonso. The relics are neither trifles nor fetishes, but agents of the Divine Will. Do you understand?’ ‘Yes, Your Grace,’ I whispered. ‘Excellent. Then follow me.’ I stepped cautiously behind his swaying black and purple bulk, my feet sliding over the slippery rock as if upon ice. Behind me went the boy with the candle. The chancel is set round with glittering glass coffins and gold and silver reliquary boxes; at the east end stands a wrought silver altar, and, directly below the altar, a glass cage. The coffins contain the bodies of dead crusaders, dressed in half-armour and stiff gold lace that is dropping to pieces. Despite their extreme emaciation, they seem to be at least partially alive - their heads turned on the silken pillows, their eyes in the hollow sockets opened and shut. A pair of eyes, attributed to St. Lucy, reposed on a gold plate they were bloodless, bright as blue glass beads, they followed our progress about the room. Beside them, on another such plate, lay a pair of ripe young breasts of transparent pink and white flesh, these attributed to Saint Agatha, the virgin whose flesh no man could touch. The breasts gave 173


off a strange and beautiful odour, ardent, silky sweet, of almonds, roses, and dew, of milk and decay. I bent over them and drank the scent. I longed to touch them, just once, to see if they were real, to see if they might heal me of my ill-defined, torturous longings. I drank deeply of the scented breasts, I had begun to sweat, my hands were trembling. There were roses everywhere, quivering like ardent tongues of flame, roses upon the altar and underfoot, and piled to make a nest for the fragrant breasts of little Agatha. I leaned close, closer...I was very close. ‘Do not touch the relics!’ cried the Inquisitor at my side. I started, and drew my hands together behind my back, out of temptation. ‘The roses are from St. Dorothea,’ he continued. ‘They were brought back from Constantinople during the second crusade.’ One of the crusaders was mumbling audibly in his glass box in a mixture of German and Italian, but I was unable to distinguish the words. ‘The Blessed Alphonso,’ said the Inquisitor, indicating this same box, ‘was responsible for the finding of the roses of St. Dorothea, and for their transportation to Palermo.’ The mumbling in the box ceased, but the dead eyes continued to look at me. We now drew near to the silver altar. I knelt down and peered into the glass cage - it was lit 174


from below by a row of brass lanterns, and bound all around with a filigree of golden wire, so that one saw as through a shimmering golden haze. I saw a beautiful young princess reclining upon a heap of jewels. Her head rested upon her beringed hand, her long, golden tresses mingled with the cloth-of-gold of her fine dress. Her cheeks were white, white as lilies, dewy fresh as roses flushed at dawn. There was a streak of dirt upon one - the right cheek. I was terrified by this streak of dirt - I wanted to break the glass and wipe it from her lovely sleeping face. How had it come there, into a sealed box? There must be a leak somewhere, humidity, corruption...I was unable to bear the sight of that single streak of dirt! Then the light shifted and the mark vanished as the shadows moved within the glass box. Now the two cheeks were once again white as lilies, white with the sheen of unblemished marble. The Inquisitor knelt beside me and addressed the sleeping Saint: ‘Oh adorable Princess and Virgin Santa Rosalia, through love for our Crucified Redeemer you suffered torments, privations, fastings, and mortifications of the flesh. Grant that by your grace we too may tame our rebellious passions and mortify the flesh for the love of Christ. Keep us in your holy protection, 175


liberate us from the scourge of sin, and lead us to the glory of Christ, Our Lord. AMEN.’ ‘AMEN,’ echoed the boy and I. The three of us then got to our feet. ‘The prayer to Santa Rosalia, when made before the holy relics, carries an indulgence of one hundred and fifty years,’ said the Inquisitor. He was watching me closely. I felt the skin prickle on the back of my neck. ‘One hundred and fifty years? It would not be enough,’ I said. ‘Are your sins as scarlet, my son? He shall make them like snow.’ ‘No, Your Grace. It is the will to sin that I cannot master. 'If thine eye offend thee, pluck it out.' But I haven't the courage - I prefer to keep my eyes about me.’ ‘The day will come,’ he said, drawing himself up to his full height and girth, purple and black as a great spider blotting out the light, ‘that Day of Wrath, when you shall weep tears of blood from those very eyes. Too late then to pluck! Pluck, pluck - the evil eye that offends thee!’ He made as if to snatch my eyes - I gave a wordless cry of terror and covered my face with my hands. The voice of my distress passed like a gust of wind over flames and flowers, the shadows leapt upon the walls, and a frightened bat, dislodged from its 176


lair in the darkness above us, smote the side of my head. Suddenly the cave was filled with quiet laughter as from a multitude of people far away. I removed my trembling hands from before my eyes and looked around for the source of this strange mirth. The Blessed Alphonso was half out of his box, his tissue-paper skin stretched to the utmost in a horrible rictus mortis. The others, too, had turned in their places to remark me, and on every face I saw signs of the same ghostly laughter. Even Santa Rosalia wore a delicate little moue of scandalized delight. Tentatively, I turned my gaze towards the Papal Inquisitor. His great purple jaws were drawn back in a goblin's grin. ‘De profundis clamavi,’ he intoned. ‘ Who can know the depths of the human heart? Oceans cannot contain it. What depths, what depths! To what vile depths hast thou descended in thy heart? Oh man - it is the Fool who has said in his heart There is no God!’ A shudder went round the room. The boy dropped the candle - it sputtered and went out, then rolled over and over across the uneven floor, finally coming to rest at the foot of the altar. ‘No!’ I cried. ‘It isn't true. I never said it!’ ‘Fool!’ he continued. ‘Madman! Thou shalt die raving in thine own excrement. Thou art food for the foul fiend!’ 177


‘I don't understand. What is it I've done?’ I said. He gave a great belly laugh in which he was joined by the light, aerial laughter of the relics; the candle flames dipped and swayed and seemed to be laughing too, the roses quivered - only the boy was solemn as ever. ‘I don't understand!’ mimicked the Inquisitor. ‘But you will, my friend, you will. Liar, hypocrite, fool, and thousand times madman - You will!’ ‘And the one hundred and fifty years?’ I inquired. ‘Are more than enough to save you - if your heart be pure.’ ‘Oh, but that's impossible,’ I said bitterly. ‘Then how will you save yourself?’ he said. Be careful now, I thought. Be careful. It's a trap. ‘I wish with all my heart to be sorry. Still, I am not sorry. And, while it is true that I am not sorry, nonetheless, I am terribly sorry that I am not sorry.’ ‘Scruples!’ he cried. ‘O vanitas vanitatum You are no true madman, then, but merely another scrupulous soi-disant poet. I will pray for you, Professor.’ He held out his hand and I was so flustered that I thought for a moment to shake it, and only when he stopped me with a severe frown did I remember to kiss the gold ring bearing the papal insignia. 178


I have had a narrow escape, for I do not think he was altogether convinced of my orthodoxy. In the strange atmosphere of that chapel, under the influence of the relics, I might have said anything. Fortunately, I managed to keep my head - but for that one cry of fear. The Papal Inquisitor may represent the truth about God. In which case - I am a madman, I shall die raving and be cast into the eternal fire. For I confess to these pages (and should they ever fall into the wrong hands, may God have mercy on my soul!), in my heart of hearts I long for those sweet intemperate delights, not merely of the body but of the soul. The truth My life has been but one long ache of desire for something soft, sweet, infinitely beautiful, something all my own, wordless magnificent whole perfect - one long ache, but always I have hesitated, drawn back, I was afraid, always, of the night and dreams, of the amphisbaena, of the Inquisitor and the Archduke, of the public eye, and, most of all, of the darkness in my own heart. But I have always longed to go to the end of that darkness. Here in this land of musky, gilded glory I have staggered to the very brink of that darkness. Now the shadows surround me on all sides, they whisper to me night and day, they pull my hair, call me by name, they stand beside me in the mirror, and behind my chair at meals, they lie 179


down beside me at night. This morning I kissed a child on the mouth. I have only to take one little step further to throw aside a lifetime of discipline and regrets. But we shall see. Tomorrow we go to Segeste - the Tigress, the Little Flower, the Young Cub, the Nephew, the Doctor, the Artist - and I. Kiss me, he said. I should have done it. If I had him here now, I might. He has a pretty mouth, my Danzig, a pretty, insolent young mouth. But not so pretty as the Little Flower's. The sun went down in thunder and rain tonight the sea is black and ridged with white rills of foam. They say the foam of the sea is all that remains of those who give their souls for love. Romantic nonsense no doubt - but still, the sea has a thousand voices on nights like this. It seems to sing - what is it that it seems to sing? A nervous chromatic murmur - passionate and strange. Or is that only Barton at the piano? Curiously, I am not at all tired, despite my lack of sleep and the lateness of the hour. I have placed the heart's egg on the table before me, where it glows with a rosy, living light. I mustn’t forget the poem for Anabelle. And it's past time for my letter to the Archduke. To work.

180


For Anabelle

Heart's fruit ruby thy mouth's sweet breath draw me down to gentle death; Blossom bee drops tongue to taste honey gums the eyes - In haste light the wings on the lily-rose, There, with my heart in her hand she goes Satin seams her stomach bare, silks the touch of her windy hair, lines with pink the living mouth whence I languish in fearful drouth. Crook-necked lily, darling rose, There - with my heart in her hand she goes, To taste thy heaven 'tis worth all hell My beautiful beautiful Anabelle. 181


A Fan's Notes [from the Alldeutsche Musikalische Zeitung] There's a moment towards the end of the seemingly endless reiteration of the refrain to the title song on this album (Rock-a My Soul and Other Spiritual Songs, Carolina Lily, Phillips CV 32470), when the combination of lush vocals, down and dirty acoustical mix, and bedrock material gets to be too much, and I reach for my handkerchief. We all know Signora Lily can sing. Not for nothing has she trod the boards from Bayreuth to Beirut, in season and out of season. To opera she has brought a dedication usually associated with other, less worldly venues (the Trappists spring to mind), an attitude which has led her into enough resounding battles with conductors to give rise to the question, when the curtain goes up on yet another Walk端re at the Wiener Hofoper - Which will it be tonight, the Lady or the Tigress? Gifted with the biggest, most overwhelming sound this side of the Mighty Wurlitzer, she has resisted the natural temptation to fall back on that sound as the sufficient justification it certainly is, and has steadily cultivated a musical intelligence and taste, a 182


sharpness of delivery, and a purity of understanding that would raise even a mediocre voice to the halls of Valhalla. Reclusive off-stage, she has never sought the approbation of the great non-opera-going public with the kind of album that reheats a few chestnuts from the smouldering campfires of Broadway, adds a double helping of Lennon and McCartney for the youth market, and throws in ‘God Bless America’ just to let you know where the heart is. All of which is to say that an album of non-classical repertoire from la Lily is definitely an event. Like other black American sopranos before her (one thinks especially of Leontyne Price) she has a superb sense of cadential rhythm, this not unrelated to her ability to super the distinctive patterns of black American speech and music upon the rhythmic conceits of the operatic tradition. One can only speculate on the impetus for the present recording (the liner notes are terse to the point of inaudibility), but presumably the lady felt she had something to say in this idiom. And say it she does. Just to choose one moment out of many, the closing sequence of ‘A City Called Heaven’, beginning with ‘Sometimes I'm tossed and driven’, is characterized by the same introspective austerity that she brings to the closing soliloquy, ‘Morgen Mittag um Elf’, in Strauss's Capriccio. 183


To the technical debate, Wort oder Ton, she gives the absolute answer by rendering the two together with such amazing grace as to annihilate distinctions even in the minds of unbelievers. So deeply is the meaning of the Word imbedded in the sound, not so much of the music - for the meaning of the particular notes is more or less accidental to the extent that, while there is never any doubt that her notes are perfectly just, they might just as well be otherwise - but in the sound of that voice, the unique instrument that is la Lily, that the identification is complete, the transsubstantiation takes place before our wond'ring ears, and we can no more separate das Wort from der Ton than we can the body from the blood that sustains it. To my ear the piano accompaniment, credited to Brigham Starr, lacks the necessary provocation. Mr. Starr's playing ambles alongside, then runs to catch up - and who could ever catch la Lily? But several of the cuts are a capella (as they should be in this repertoire), allowing the full flavour of that Kreislerian vibrato to grab us by the throat, and also allowing la Lily the necessary room to demonstrate the perfection of her attributes in such matters as rubato, portamento (given here as a deep Georgia slide right out of the cotton fields that gave this little white boy the shivers), and 184


messa di voce. She is nothing less than infallible, but to say that la Lily is a goddess of her art is only to state what everyone knows already. The album also features a photograph of la Lily in tiger-skin and rubies. She is smiling. What I'd like to see next is Signora Lily up against the old Kapellmeister of Leipzig - think what she could do with Mein Herze Schwimmt im Blut or Widerstehe doch der SĂźnde. If she should care to retire the hapless Mr. Starr, I know of a notso-young Canadian pianist with a taste for the stuff who would jump at the chance to escort her through the thorny thickets and dark woods of that Old High German arcadia while she, in turn, leads him towards the light.

[from the unpublished diaries of Ludwig II, Prince of Palermo and titular King of Bavaria] 18 February I mark this day with a †. St. Louis, King and Saint, Pray for me. St. Michael the Archangel, Pray for me. Guardian Angels, Watch over me and guide me. Domine, non sum dignus. I have seen an Angel with my bodily eyes. Oh, that the Friend had lived to see this day! She walked with 185


me above an hour in the rose garden. Elle 辿tait comme une belle fleur assise entre les fleurs. From this Day I adjure all sin, especially the unclean kiss. I mark thy brow with a sacred kiss of love and friendship. Was tra端mte mir von Tristans Ehre? From now on I shall live for her alone. * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * ** Monreale sometime in February My dear Alphonse, You must be wondering what's happened to me - and Anabelle and Giovanni and Mephisto. You will have heard, by now, about the cancelled Walk端re in Berlin. What nobody knows (but I count upon your discretion entirely) is that this time it wasn't temperament at all, but most persistent sore throat. Strange - I've never suffered from it before, not even in Salzburg, where the drafts are notorious. Doctors were called in the utmost secrecy - I was thumped and man-handled in the usual manner - powders were dissolved and administered without any discernible effect. In the end I had to sacrifice Walk端re after all. I was advised to take a complete holiday, somewhere 186


with clean, dry air and no music. I remembered what you had said about your Uncle Heinrich and the cathedral at Monreale, and thought I would have a look around for myself. I haven't actually seen it yet, except from the outside, but it seems to be more a ruin than a church, although still in use. It has a beautiful smashed tower of the type you taught me to love in Normandy. Sicily is a rich, velvet dark, golden sort of place. The air is clean and dry - throat already much better. Palermo is in a very dilapidated state - Monreale a little better, though the hotel has ants. There aren't many travellers this time of year, but what there is - is choice. I've made the acquaintance of the Canadian pianist, Barton Beale. It seems he isn't dead after all, but I think he must have been very ill for a long time, for he looks more dead than alive. He still plays, though, more absolutely than ever. Also here at the inn are a nephew of the great Beethoven, Paul by name (not Carl), and some German poet-or-other of great distinction and awkward manners, whose name I didn't catch. The poet goes about with a gorgeous young Austrian poseur - all boot polish and eyelashes really more your type than mine, Alphonse. Young Beethoven seems deranged - apparently he shot himself, poor boy, and is undergoing some sort of mysterious cure with a creepy doctor. The 187


doctor wears black and rubs his hands a lot. He made the mistake of giving Anabelle a doll - she swears it tried to bite her! We dined the first night with the Prince of Palermo - he is not what you would expect. He's still a boy - I'd say not more than twenty-two or three, very dreamy and romantic. It seems Wagner is the great passion of his life (thus the invitation) - he knows all the operas by heart, words and music. The visit was accomplished in great secrecy - I was led to understand that ordinarily he receives no one. We ate in total privacy, the Prince himself poured the wine, and at the end of the meal the table disappeared through a trap door like the one at Covent Garden, only to rise again, laden with fruit and dessert. This was the only time I saw him smile. The place is in a sorry condition - the frescos are dropping to pieces, and furniture all wet with salt water. But the garden is beautiful. We walked for a while before dinner in the rose garden. In the dark the petals took on the colours of old theatrical costumes - they reminded me of those we used to wear in the little theatres of the South, always red velvet, smelling of mildew and other people's sweat. As we were saying goodnight the Prince pressed a velvet box into my hand, and begged me 188


to accept a gift. I did not want to take it, for I thought he might wonder later if I had come to see him in the hope of such an eventuality. But he pressed me, saying that I had made him so happy, and that if I rejected his gift I would be rejecting his heart as well, for it was a special gift, a rare gem known as ‘heart's egg’. ‘When a man gives a woman the heart's egg, he is giving her his heart,’ he said. What could I do? I took it, of course. It's very lovely - deep red, with an odd light that seems to come from inside it. It is shaped like an egg, and about the size of one too. This is how I came to add the Prince's heart to my collection of objets d'art et de la nature. When I returned to the inn, I found my room had been filled with baskets of roses from the Prince's garden. Tonight there are flashes of lightning over the hills, and the soft patter of rain. The lightning is silent and bright as bombs going off in another world. Continue to love me, Alphonse, even as I love you –

Carolina

189


Contrapunctus III Hot silent screams of light in the hills - ah moonflower opens its heart in darkness - ah ah low notes sweet unbearable clarinet spice UNBEARABLE - ah ah - Flash! and Again! Trees beat scarlet wings by moonlight rising chromaticstepped silver-gold over sea-sliding wet-gliding water lapping low - Blue slice of a mermaid's tail sweet singing in the foam - High, among angels, a descant over thunder.

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CHAPTER FOUR tant么t libre, tant么t recherch茅e

I am a poor pilgrim of sorrow I've come to this great land alone I've heard of a city called Heaven and I started to make Heaven my home. (traditional) Heaven (Latin caelum) The exact location of the city called Heaven is not known. For a long time it was thought to lie somewhere just beyond the outer atmosphere of earth; recently this belief has 191


been discredited by the Apollo and Wandervogel expeditions. These have revealed the existence of a great deal of empty space (some say an infinity but the hypothesis is impossible to confirm) punctuated by clusters of stars similar to our own sun. Certain celestial geographers have proposed that the stars may in fact be the seraphim who, we read, are continually on fire with love for God. This hypothesis appears to hold out new hope that we may yet be at least in the vicinity of the heavenly city. Radio telescopes have managed to capture and record the seemingly random noise emitted by the stars. This strangely beautiful cacophony may prove to be the renowned song of the seraphim, who are said to sing the divine praises without ceasing. Of course, it may not. The theory has been put forward (Dr. Karlheinz Klopweisser, CBC broadcast, April 1982) that the seraphic song is of a polyphonic complexity so abstruse as to render it incomprehensible to the ear, although not necessarily to the mind, of man. As many as several billion different voices may be active in the contrapuntal texture of the heavenly host. What it looks like up there: Streets paved with gold. No bad architecture. No restoration. Impossibly tall, slender towers (no gravity). 192


Rivers of sweet milk and golden honey flowing everywhere. The inhabitants of Heaven: The first and rightful inhabitants of Heaven are the holy angels. They are beautiful and strong, with great wings on their backs like mighty birds. The wings are of extremely delicate coloration and range from the purest white tinged with snow-tones of blue and pink, to the brightly variegated patterns in red and green common among Flemish or lowland angels. The seraphim are a special case, having wings made entirely of fire, but no living man has ever seen a seraph. The angels are like us in their passionate and intellective faculties, but unlike us in their disposition to good. For, although they are capable of the mean or evil action, nearly all the angels are good. (The bad angels have been banished from the city of Heaven and haunt the upper air, where they seek the destruction of men's souls. Vide, Devils.) The angels are exceedingly passionate, for they love God with their whole hearts, and this love is their entire being. The love of the angels will sometimes take the form of sorrow, as when weeping angels embrace the instruments of Christ's passion. This sweet sorrow is to be understood as a necessary part to the perfect joy of the angels. The angels are also exceedingly wise, for they live always in the 193


light of the Divine Wisdom. Angels have been known to take the forms of men and to mingle with men on earth to do them good, even to lie with the sons and daughters of men when this was needful for their salvation. [Encyclopaedia Universalis] ********* Segeste, February 20 Dearest, Most Beloved Noble Friend! I have been to the site of the ancient temple and can now give you a most accurate idea of both its beauties and its dispositions. The site itself is remarkable - high among fertile hills, with just a corner of the sea in view and no sign of human habitation anywhere, for the old city seems to have vanished without a trace, and no new settlement has sprung up here. According to the vetturino, the natives consider the place to be unlucky, or some such superstition - I was unable to get details, for on my pressing the matter he became sullen and refused to answer. Apparently the people dislike any talk of the old gods, especially here in their former dwelling place. 194


One approaches via a steep overgrown path the temple, visible from a long way off, disappears completely for the duration of the climb, only to reappear suddenly in all its glory as one crests the hill. It seems never to have been completed - the steps remain uneven with the ground, and the floor, hewn out of the living rock, has never been paved. In addition, I noticed the small projections on the stones that must have been used to attach the pull ropes at the quarry. Ordinarily, these would be cut away at the finish. The columns are all in their original places - six each to the front and back, counting those at the corners, and twelve each along the sides, exclusive of the corners. They are of the greatest simplicity and perfection, for their whole art lies in their arrangement in the greatest possible equilibrium with the least possible fuss. There is no straining after effect, no tiresome (and tiring) stonework to beguile the eye. The air and the hills fill the spaces between the columns with continuously vibrating panels of green-gold light. The hillsides are covered in jasmine, and the bushy, low-growing mediterranean thyme. The wild fennel reaches heights of up to ten feet and provides good cover for the various small game that forage in the hills. The vetturino claims there are leopards in the region, but the only cats I saw were strays of the 195


common domestic variety. These, however, were numerous. I should also mention the remarkable number of fireflies that appeared at sunset. The hills were ablaze with them, and in all colours - pink, green, blue, a deep lavender, orange, as well as the usual white. Nobody seems to know the origin of this startling phenomenon, nor was I able to discover if it is recent or of long standing. The Sicilians seem to have no sense of history whatever - If you ask a Sicilian the age of anything he will look at you in puzzlement and answer, ‘Old, Signore. Very old.’ If the question is pursued beyond this point he will wave his hands dramatically and say, ‘A hundred years...five hundred years. No - maybe five thousand years. How should I know, Signore? I didn't put it there - that's all I can say.’ Thus you may easily imagine my frustration in the matter of the fireflies. In any event, they are very pretty. Danzig continues to show himself a worthy companion. I can promise Your Imperial Highness a fine record of all we have seen, for he draws not only with skill but with real insight into the nature of things. (But this Y.I.H. knows already.) Work has begun on the portrait as well, and is progressing nicely. 196


Meanwhile I am gathering much food for thought. My Friend must forgive me if I have been laconic of late. The overwhelming impressions of new and strange surroundings, the complications of travel, and the demands of local society have all taken their toll upon my good intentions. Do not disturb yourself about my health - it has improved enormously. The clean, dry air is most beneficial to both the digestive and the irascible or ‘nervous’ functions. Weimar is always in my thoughts. If I have caused Your Imperial Highness any unwarranted grief through my hasty departure I am sure you will find it in your generous heart to forgive a man driven close to the brink by daily cares and ill health. I look forward with love and longing to that happy day when I shall return to Weimar, so much improved in mind and body - until such time I remain – Ever Your Imperial Highness's most devoted and humble Friend and Servant, ‘Baron Cassatta’ P.S. I have been given this name by the vetturino who finds it impossible to pronounce my assumed 197


cognomen, but approximation.

has

arrived

at

this

subtle

******** Segeste, evening My dear Alphonse, We set out before dawn for the temple at Segeste, the children and I with Mr. Beale in one carriage; the Poet, the Austrian, young Beethoven, and the Doctor in another. We lost our way in the dark in the mountains around Monte Lepre. The sun came up in thunder and it started to rain. The vetturino proposed a short-cut through the fields, but the carriages got stuck in the mud and we had to get out and walk. I rather enjoyed it than not the smell of good fresh earth after rain, and raindrops glittering on all the vines. But the Poet took it badly and made a terrible fuss. Anabelle is the only one who can handle him. When we had regained the road she begged to go in his carriage, so we had young Beethoven with us instead. I saw her through the window sitting on his lap, the little flirt! I've no fears for Anabelle - that child is incorruptible. Some for our German friend, but he's old enough to look out for himself. 198


Arrived at last - then a picnic lunch, up to chocolate snails and French champagne. After lunch we sang canons - the Austrian has a pretty tenor, and I was able to coax some likely sounds in the general direction of the bass from Mr. Beale. He told us an interesting story about J.S. Bach - It seems that when Bach played the organ he took such delight in making the fullest possible harmonies that he would depress additional keys with a stick held between his teeth! I'm afraid our music-making didn't agree with Mr. Beethoven he had a kind of fit. I suppose the polyphony was too much for the poor child in his condition. The temple is marvellous - very grand, and would make a perfect setting for Gluck's IphigĂŠnie. The Poet gave us a long la-di-da in Greek - I don't believe anybody understood a word of it. Greeks aside, the place also puts me in mind of Valhalla. The wind was chasing storm clouds all day long, and even when the sun shone there was thunder in the nearby hills. More than once I thought I heard the trumpets sound for the Valkyries. Perhaps one set of gods is much like another? There aren't any gods here now, though. Only a tribe of stray cats that come around begging for scraps. They seem lost among these windy hills, especially one pretty little Siamese that gave the Poet quite a turn, for she would 199


attach herself to him. Some people just don't like animals. (He's frightened of Mephisto too, if you can believe it.) There is no inn, only an abandoned palazzo far down in the valley where we have put up for the night. From the window I can see hundreds of fireflies twinkling like Christmas lights upon the hills. A little lizard has crawled out onto my writing table and is looking at me with great curiosity - it must be a long time since anyone has come into this house to disturb his peace. He's a pretty fellow, silver-skinned, with eyes like jewels. I wonder if I could make a pet of him? I don't suppose I'll be here long enough to try. The children are asleep in each other's arms. Now someone's knocking softly at the door. I wonder who it could be at this hour? Do not forget to love me -

Carolina

* * * * * * * * * *

200


[from the Poet's diary] Segeste We started before dawn, Danzig and I sharing a carriage with Beethoven and the Doctor. I would have preferred Barton's company but he had firmly attached himself to the Lily and so I had to make do with the companions enumerated above. I simply cannot understand the behaviour of the elements here - the sun was a full half hour late this morning in its rising. When at last it grew light amidst rain and thunder it became apparent that we had lost the way. A foolish attempt to rectify the matter by recourse to a little-used cart track through the fields only led to a quandary of mud and miscalculation. God only knows how long we went on walking through wet, dark fields, the earth squelching at every footstep like a living thing. When at last we regained the road my feet were thoroughly soaked and my heart, once again, was thumping painfully. Fortunately, I persuaded the child Anabelle to sit with me - Beethoven was only too willing to take her place beside la Lily. It seems the charms of the Ewigweiblichkeit easily supersede those of Calliope. But I scarcely lament the loss - the boy is not a fit companion; he is forever bursting into tears at unexpected 201


moments, which has an unsettling effect on the nerves. The rest of the journey was pleasant - the child even climbed in my lap and recited some of her school verses. She speaks French very prettily, with a pure accent, and trills the r's like a bird. She had not forgotten the poem I promised her, au contraire, she made me recite it for her twice. I think it pleased her, for she kissed me this time without demur and said it was ‘trés joli’ and ‘a million times better than old Ronsard’. I know Danzig liked it, for his eyelashes were wet, and he kissed me also. This time I permitted it. (The Doctor had taken the box seat, saying he preferred the open air. It was stuffy in the carriage, for I must keep the windows closed to avoid draughts, and the velvet cushions were redolent of mould and stale perfume.) Danzig's kiss was rough compared to the child's (for all that he shaves twice a day, morning and evening, to maintain that boyish complexion - I've seen him at it often enough). I could feel the pressure of teeth behind his loose, rather wet mouth, and even the incipient movement of tongue. I kept my lips closed. For Anabelle I opened them, a little, and was rewarded with the light fairy flutter of her lithe langue du chat over my teeth. Afterwards I stroked the nape of her neck while she looked out 202


at the window. The neck is ivory pale and slender as a lily-stalk. Danzig slouched among the cushions and watched me silently, that inimitable smile on his face. Once he stirred from his somnolent position and took the child's foot in his hand. He proceeded to caress the lower leg slowly, carefully, as if he meant to take a cast of it. Anabelle only turned her head, smiled vaguely, and then continued to look out at the window. When he had done with this examination he again subsided into the cushions, whence he smiled at me more unbearably than ever out of those blue eyes with their dancing girl's lashes until I thought I would weep with vexation. When at last we arrived we had to make our way by foot up a steep path, much overgrown with fennel and wild eglantine. At the top the ground suddenly clears and levels out and Eccola! The temple. It has a curious animate quality, stronger than that of any building I have ever seen. It seems to be waiting here on this isolated hilltop, waiting, like Br端nhilde, throughout the ages, for a hero sans peur et sans reproche (Alas! not I) to break its golden slumber with a kiss. I don't believe it to be fast asleep, however, but rather in a state of suspended animation in which it is conscious of all that takes place around it. It is the state we know in dreams 203


when the figments of the dream world move and speak before us, but we ourselves are unable to move or speak in response - we lie as if bound hand and foot, as if gagged, while the horrible and the beautiful have their way with us. The temple bears no decoration of any kind, for it was never completed - even the crenellations on the columns have not been cut. Thus its gold and white body appears fully naked, mutilated by the hand of time, for the soft travertine limestone of which it was built is everywhere crumbling to dust. The columns are modelled with great strength and finesse - oi efhboi, oi kaloi. They stand erect before us in all their twenty-five-hundred-year-old youth and beauty, smiling, dreaming, here on this faraway hillside, and one feels that, whatever lessons the world has learnt since of stupidity and sordid care, it has never taught them to these straining tremulous golden youths. As it was already past noon, we sat down immediately to a picnic lunch. There is something very delightful about dining in the open air - the salt always gets into the butter and the gravy on one's coat, but it is delightful nonetheless. I must admit, Danzig did an excellent job with the provisions - there were cold meats, crevettes, chocolate, even champagne. When enough of the last item had been imbibed, Signora Lily proposed 204


a little music. The ever-resourceful Danzig fetched his guitar from the carriage and started us off with ‘Deh, vieni alla finestra’. He has a light, flexible tenor voice, more in the Italian style than in the Austrian. The lady then gave us Carmen's HabaĂąera - over a lightly strummed bass, she sang at the slow tempo of a tigress on the prowl. She stalked the bird of love, caught it, and - ate it up! The effect was unique to my experience - like being caressed all over by a trumpet. As no one else volunteered to sing, the lady then suggested we try a canon. After much discussion and laughter, Barton agreed to sing the bass and young Beethoven the alto. I myself am unable to sing, as is the Doctor. There are but two classes of people in this world - those who cannot sing, and those who cannot stop singing. Unfortunately, I belong to the former category, while my friend, Barton Beale, belongs most emphatically to the latter. Although not a good singer, for while he (just) maintains the pitch, his rather heavy baritone emerges with a rough, throaty quality reminiscent of the boom-horns that sound in the night to warn the ships off shore, nevertheless Barton has always been a mad, an absolutely incorrigible singer, for he sings at all times, in season and out of season, at meals, during conversations, at his own concerts, even while making recordings, so that there is not 205


a single recording of his that is not marred by the sound of this awful singing. Damped down, on the later recordings, by all the technical wizardry available, it has a pathetic, breathless tone, as if a poltergeist were being strangled somewhere offstage; I generally find these even harder to take than the old, pre-1967 recordings, where the demon is in full cry. They began with a simple canon at the unison, the lady singing dux and the gentlemen comes (for she easily makes more noise than the three of them put together). It was something of the old Master Palestrina's - the resulting harmonies were very pleasing. Each being well amused by his own success, they proceeded to greater endeavours, taking on canons at the fifth and third, then augmented and inverted canons, and even those that are said to move like a crab, i.e. backwards; they progressed from two to three and then four voices, drawing examples from the German and Venetian masters, examples of ever more terrifying complexity, until the air around us was alive with twinkling lights. Danzig had laid aside the guitar and was singing with all his might, his strong brown throat pulsing with every note. Anabelle sat beside me, eating petits fours and trying to catch the flying sparks in her fist. I could feel the warmth of her little body along the side of 206


my ribcage where she had disposed herself as if I were a sofa cushion. There were crumbs everywhere, in her hair and on her lips, on the blanket, in the grass. The overturned champagne glasses now filled up with pink afternoon light. Birds came to peck at the crumbs and lingered for the music, walking fearlessly among us. Their wings, neatly furled, dappled blue and gray, yellow and scarlet, all opened together with a rush of sound that added one more layer to the crystalline canonic structure with such quiet force we were all of us seized by a sudden and simultaneous desire to laugh - and the canon fell to the ground, with a crash like the shattering of a plate glass window. I looked at my friend Barton. He was sitting upright, his hands around his knees, his eyes shining with God knows what amalgam of mischief, amor, polyphony, and champagne. I made the startling observation that he appeared significantly younger than he had the day before. I hadn't had the opportunity to observe him closely until this sudden break in the music, for we had gone our separate ways all morning, so I am unable to pinpoint precisely when the change took place. It might have been overnight, or it might have been during the journey. (I wonder if the Lily's idea of a carriage ride is anything like her young ward's?) Be that as 207


it may - we've all heard or spoken of people looking ‘ten years younger’ - it's an accepted idiom in the everyday style galant. But my friend, Barton, actually looks a full ten years younger than he did yesterday. Yesterday he was a haggard, motheaten demi-centenarian, gazing up at the world from beneath a frozen pool of glacial ice; today he is a smiling, puckish lad of forty, just beginning to lose his hair, beautiful American teeth still in good shape - the same lad that I remember so well from our days on the Alldeutsche Musikalische Zeitung. The lady reclined at his side, her regal head at rest upon one hand; the other hand lay, ever so casually, on Barton's shoulder (!); it clung there like a lithe brown lizard, the jewelled rings aglow like living eyes. She had removed her veil, and her naked face displayed a pair of fine, arched eyebrows of such supreme elegance as one is accustomed to find only over the doors of the best romanesque ecclesiastical buildings. When she laughed she closed her eyes, and the eyebrows seemed to laugh also, rising higher up the dark forehead towards the velvet shadow of her hat. Young Beethoven sat at her feet, his eyes those of a woebegone pup. The boy-child, John or Giovanni, whatever his name is, had wandered off to 208


clamber among the ruins - I could just make out his tiny silhouette against the sky. ‘My turn to be dux,’ said Barton, smiling with a mischievous glee that suddenly recalled to me his twenty-year-old Mozart recordings. ‘Let's see who can follow. Dum-da dum-da DUM-da dum, da Dum-da dum-da DUM-da dum!’ He began, with habitual gusto, the joyous last fugue from Bach's Toccata in D major. There were groans, laughter on all sides, followed by attempts, more or less successful, to join in. The lady took to the soprano with ease, Danzig seemed less certain, Beethoven was struggling. He blundered, frowned, then fell silent, clapping his hands over his ears. The others continued unabated, their voices spinning threads of golden smoke into the air. Then Danzig, too, lost the thread, found it again, then lost it for good, dropping out with a comical glance of despair at the heavens and a quick bow for the lady. Now it was between the two of them: the bass line came smashing out with crazed abandon, answered by the sweet frenzy of the soprano. At first it seemed the power of the bass must conquer, only to be swept aside by the wave of penetrating sound from above. They were on their feet now, nearly eye to eye (for Barton is the typically tall, athletic American type, though not quite so tall as the lady), facing one 209


another across the crumpled blanket. The fugue gathered itself up, gaining momentum for the finale when - Aaaaaaaaah!!! A horrible scream rent the air. The singers stopped short, their mouths still open. The golden smoke that, just a moment ago, had filled the little grove, went whirling away over our heads. The scream echoed back from the distant hills. A dark cloud covered the sun. There was silence, and then the broken sobs of young Beethoven, grovelling at the diva's feet. Slowly the Doctor, who had fallen into a doze, roused himself and made his way to where the boy lay. He knelt down and took his pulse, then shook his head at us. ‘Too bad, really too bad. All this excitement. He was just beginning to make some progress.’ ‘Whatever is ailing the child?’ said the lady. Beethoven had managed to get hold of the hem of her gown and was pulling it towards himself with great violence, the while he shook with sobs and the tears streamed from his eyes. The lady allowed herself to be drawn in this manner. She knelt on the grass beside him and took his head between her hands. ‘My patient is suffering from the after-effects of a lethal gunshot directed to the right temporal lobe. He is in a highly nervous condition. He 210


requires absolute rest. Please, Madame, I beg you...’ ‘Why, he don't need nothing but a little love, do you child?’ she said. She smoothed his hair and he stopped crying. ‘Everybody needs a little love to get by. That's a fact.’ She settled down on the ground, gathering up the folds of her lovely gown (she was wearing a blue silk today, under a cloak of dark blue velvet) and laid the boy's head in her ample lap. Then she sang, in the pure unadulterated tones of her homeland: There is a balm in Gilead to make the wounded whole There is a balm in Gilead to soothe the sin-sick soul. And so on. There were no more tears. I have never known such peace. The sun came out and lit the tops of the distant hills, the wind died to a whisper. And my heart, which had been beating painfully in my breast all day, was quieted. I won't even attempt to describe the voice with which she accomplished all this - for how should I do it? To speak of vibrato, timbre, of overtones what nonsense! To drag out the entire inefficacious armoury of ill-omened adjectives No! But I will say this - Before she began to sing she was surrounded by a pack of eager, 211


incoherent, dissatisfied men. After, we were but so many children she held in the palm of her hand. After lunch I made a careful examination of the temple in all its particulars. My little Anabelle joined her brother in a mysterious game that involved much climbing up and jumping off the ruins, much hiding in the tall grass and behind the columns, whispers, and sudden shrieks of laughter that sent blue-white sparks high into the air, where they mingled with the darker cries of the roving birds of prey and were carried away on the wind. Danzig set to work in good earnest and made some preliminary studies of the temple from different angles. He then asked me to sit for a while before the temple, that he might try the effect in a few sketches. He posed me sitting on a boulder in a semi-reclining position, the temple and hills behind and to my left. My head was turned three-quarters, my gaze directed into the valley below and, farther, out towards the sea. Of course, I was obliged to remove my dark glasses for the sitting, but as I was allowed to keep my hat I was not too uncomfortable. Danzig was good enough to say that he found the hat, a widebrimmed felt I purchased in Naples, most flattering. It does give me something of a bohemian air, as the soft brim can be turned this way or that according to one's fancy - hardly the 212


thing for Weimar! Danzig arranged it so that it curved well down on the left, shadowing that whole side of my face and softening considerably the impact of the terrible head. I actually don't mind sitting to portraits, for it leaves me free to think (provided the artist is not a chatterer, which Danzig is not, for while he is working scarcely a word ever passes his lips). I am by nature a passive man, with no great desire for physical exercise. Even as a child I was not fond of running about, but preferred mental to physical exertions. For a while I occupied myself with observing the changing light in the valley. I could see the blue figure of the Lily walking erect under her parasol, young Beethoven at her side, and the Doctor following behind them like a shadow. When I tired of this I turned my attention to Danzig's face - I think he must have Italian blood somewhere in his background, for the flare of the nostrils and the full, small mouth are remarkably like those of Caravaggio's shepherds; the eyes, however, are pure Austrian, of frank, alpine blue. ‘Why do they call you Lorenzaccio?’ I said, breaking the unspoken rule that I am not to address him while he is at work. He appeared not to have heard me, but went on with his sketching unabated. I watched the quick movement of his 213


eyes - from the paper to my face and back again. Another five minutes went by. ‘It's only a joke, Meister,’ he said suddenly, without lifting his eyes from the paper. ‘My Christian name is Lauritz or Lorenzo.’ ‘Which is it?’ I said. ‘Don't you know?’ He laughed quietly to himself and examined my face again, then returned his gaze to the paper. ‘Whichever pleases you, Meister. Just as you like,’ he said. I sensed the futility of pursuing the question and relapsed into the silence he undoubtedly preferred. The lady and her companions had passed out of sight - there was no sign of humanity in all the wild valley before me. From the temple at my back came the distant cries of the children at play, the sounds broken and 214


tossed by the wind into odd, diaphonic ornaments as sharp and bright as shards of glass. I heard a quick, heavy step on the path behind me and Barton came lumbering into view. He cast a curious glance in the direction of Danzig's busy fingers but he did not do what ninety-nine out of a hundred people would have done - he did not ask to see the sketch. He waved at me - a tentative greeting, for he was uncertain whether or not he might address me. He was about to pass on into the valley, presumably in search of the Ewigweiblichkeit, when I arrested him with a trivial remark as to how he liked the temple. ‘It's great, just great,’ he said. He stood well to the side of Danzig, directly in my line of sight but on lower ground than I, so that I had a view of the top of his head, his forehead and eyes - he had to lift his head a little to address me, and this small accident of place lent him a temporary air of deference that was most pleasing. ‘You don't find it, perhaps, a little - naked?’ I said. ‘Oh, I like that. I really do. It's like something Anton Webern might have done in his cups.’ ‘The temple reminds you of Anton Webern?’ ‘Sure! Why not? I mean, the temple has more thirty-second notes, so to speak, but the basic 215


concept is very similar to that of Webern's Opus 27.’ ‘I don't understand. Don't you think of the Greeks? Of the glorious civilization that produced this work of art?’ ‘Well, frankly, no. I can't say that I do. You see, I wasn't educated in that tradition at all. Unlike you - and I say it with a certain sense that the loss is mine, to be sure - I'm not really all that familiar with Greek civilization. I mean - what is it? A lot of guys running around in bedsheets with vine leaves on their heads...’ ‘Laurel,’ I said, perhaps a bit testily. ‘What's that?’ ‘Laurel leaves. The Greek people were accustomed to honour their poets with a crown of laurel leaves.’ ‘Well, whatever. You see what I mean? That whole tradition is alien to me.’ ‘You're a barbarian,’ I said, aghast. ‘Perfectly true.’ He smiled. He didn't seem at all perturbed by the idea. I reflected that the idea quite probably was not new to him, that probably he had known himself to be a barbarian for quite some time now. ‘We mostly are over there, you know,’ he added. ‘I don't think that necessarily invalidates one's whole reaction - it changes it of course. The whole experience becomes open in a 216


way that's unthinkable for your typical European of the old school. For you just the name ‘Segeste’ implies something - correct me if I'm wrong here. But as I understand it, it exists within a whole context of art and culture, history, poetry - what was all that stuff you gave us after lunch?’ (I have neglected to mention that before the musical entertainment I allowed myself to be prevailed upon to recite from the immortal bard the moving passage that describes the grief of Aiakides' horses: Hippoi d'Aiakidao maches apaneuthen eontes Klaion epei de prota puthesthen heniochoio En koniesi pesontos huph'Hektoros androphonoio .....etc.) ‘The horses of Aiakides,’ I said. ‘Right - the horses, of course. They wept because they had no more worlds to conquer, is that right?’ ‘No, no - that was Alexander the Great! You're mixing everything up!’ ‘I know I am. But you see, what I would argue is that in the present instance ignorance is nothing but an asset. I mean, you don't really need all this mediation - all this crap (excuse my French) that stands between you and the thing itself. It makes 217


art into artefact, into a history lesson, it kills it dead. It's the whole Baedeker's approach to art that I object to. Hit you over the head with the facts until there are so many stars in your eyes you can't see straight. Art is meant to be meaningful on its own terms - visceral, by which I don't necessarily mean of the viscera, but of the spirit. It's meant to provoke thought, above all to induce contemplation. And a truly contemplative state of mind is one in which the head has been completely emptied of facts. The whole aim of contemplation, and I'm speaking here not only of the western but of the eastern tradition as well, is to empty the mind of all the garbage that accumulates there - all the facts - and by emptying to make room for God. Or whatever.’ ‘But I've seen you with the Baedeker in your hand!’ ‘True, and I suppose I'm as guilty as the next man of filling my head with a lot of superfluous garbage. But, unlike you, I don't find it all that interesting.’ ‘Are you referring to the Iliad as garbage? I just want to be sure I understand you correctly...’ ‘Not at all! Not at all, and it would be impossible for me to do so because, as you can see, I really don't know the Iliad at all. As I've already confessed, that entire tradition is more or less a 218


closed book to me. It may be very good stuff, beautiful, first-rate stuff, but I just don't happen to know it - that's all. But what I am saying is, my whole reaction to the temple isn't invalidated by that particular caesura. On the contrary...’ ‘Then you prefer a musically illiterate listener to a musically educated one?’ ‘Basically, yes. I think I do. Perhaps 'illiterate' is a bit strong, but on the whole I would have to say I've found the intelligent layman's opinions on musical matters (we'll leave aside the unintelligent layman as not much use to anybody), I say I've found the intelligent layman's opinions to be far more unbiased and musically sound than those of the music professionals. Which is only to say that they agree more closely with my own.’ ‘But your own opinions would hardly qualify according to your own criteria.’ ‘Only too true. And I reserve the right to hold them nonetheless. A man's entitled to his own opinions. But he'd better be damned sure they are his own opinions and not something he's put together out of a lot of second-hand lumber he had lying around in his brain-attic. Take painting for example...’ ‘I wish you would. How do you expect to understand a painting without reference to the whole art-historical matrix that gave birth to it?’ 219


‘But I don't want to understand it. I want to see it. A painting isn't an argument, or, at least, it shouldn't be. It's a picture of something. It was painted so that people could see it, and, in the act of seeing, reach out to a kind of wordless contemplation of the thing seen. The more you talk about it, the more you even think about it, the further away it gets. And you don't even necessarily have to have seen the thing itself for the painting to have its effect. I mean - have you ever seen an angel?’ I was unable to restrain a smile at this unexpected turn in the conversation. ‘Certainly not,’ I replied. ‘Have you?’ ‘No. Well, that is, not until recently...Anyway, presuming you've never seen one, what is the meaning of a picture such as Giovanni Bellini's 'Annunciation', just to choose one out of a thousand because it happens to be a favourite of mine. Do you know the picture? It's in the Scuola di Carità in Venice - it's a big piece, the Virgin on the right, and Gabriel in red rushing in on the left...’ ‘I know the picture.’ ‘Well - what do you make of it? You can go and look up the natural history of angels - you can check Thomas Aquinas, Bernardus Silvestris, check the encyclopaedia - none of them will tell 220


you if the angel Gabriel was wearing red that day. The point is - does it induce a state of contemplation in which the essential idea of the angel makes itself understood? Assuming it does, you have a genuine, by which I mean unmediated, experience. For me it does it every time - I just love that picture! I mean, you could be from Mars, you don't have to have ever heard of angels, and one look! But I don't conclude from the picture that all angels have curly hair, or wear only red. On the contrary, I happen to know...’ ‘Yes?’ ‘No, nothing. But do you get my point?’ ‘I think I do. But do you not also see, as you like to put it, that the painting is a work of Giovanni Bellini, that it was painted in the typical style of the late quattrocento, in the typically brilliant palette of the Venetian school, that it treats of a traditional subject in the context of religious devotion...’ ‘No. I see only the angel. And I think, I'd swear as a matter of fact - that's all I was ever meant to see.’ ‘But you do know who painted the picture!’ ‘But I don't care. I try to forget. In the same way, when I play, I would hope that people could forget who it is that's playing - I mean, the name of the guy depressing the keys, that should be 221


nothing. When I'm gone I'd like to be not so much remembered as forgotten. I'd like to be the guy whose playing is so good you forget him, you forget the composer, you even forget yourself for a little while. What difference does it make who wrote it? You know, some of the prettiest baroque pieces for violin were written by Fritz Kreisler in the nineteen-twenties. Why are we so terrified of false attributions? Art is not a personal statement it's the submission of the personality to something greater than itself.’ ‘And that something is?’ ‘The idea of God. Look at your temple! Nothing but God, God, and more God. Those old Greeks of yours knew what they were about when they built that thing up there on the hill.’ ‘Yes, they knew what they were about.’ I looked for a moment over my shoulder and saw it, set like an ivory miniature among the green-gold hills, its pale sides now glowing pink in the late afternoon sun and all the air around it golden like a sea of honey. In the sudden silence I could hear Danzig's pencil scratching at the page, and the sharp, melancholy cries of the wild birds and the children at play. ‘Then, according to you, art is inner ostensive?’ I said. ‘Hell, life is inner ostensive,’ he said, and laughed, the sharp, nervous sound I remembered 222


so well. It sounded as if from a long way off; there were sudden lines of pain around his eyes as if it hurt him to laugh. ‘That's all for today, Meister, and thank you,’ said Danzig. I looked at him in astonishment, for I didn't realize how quickly the time had flown by. Already the evening star was overhead. As Danzig was packing up his gear and I, enjoying the renewed freedom of my limbs, was indulging in a discreet stretch, the Lily appeared, holding her two children by the hands and followed closely by Paul and the Doctor. Young Beethoven appeared haggard and depressed; he stood with a hand on the Doctor's shoulder and looked as if he might collapse at any moment. The Doctor, having retreated from his confidences of the other night, was more of a cipher than ever, his expression a careful blank that suggested nothing. ‘Good evening, gentlemen,’ said the Lily, ‘And can you believe it is evening?’ She treated us all to one of her ferocious smiles. As we were murmuring appropriate greetings, Barton pushed to the front and took her hand. He stooped and kissed it with a shy, hesitant galanterie. I noticed that, despite her magnificent size, her wrists are very delicate, and the large, long-fingered hands seem almost too heavy for such slender supports, the more so tonight as they were laden with 223


jewelled rings and veiled in lace - they appeared like fruits that had been left too long to ripen and were weighing down the boughs that bore them. With her free hand she lightly touched the back of his head and he straightened up and smiled at her. ‘Why, where have you been all day, honey?’ she said. ‘I'm ready for that little trip to the ends of the earth you promised me. Shall we go?’ Barton said nothing at all, but this time offered her his arm, and together they climbed the hill in the direction of the temple. In silence we watched them go into the red and pink glory of the sunset. I don't believe I have ever seen such a sunset. Above the bands of bright, clear colour, the sky rang with a long, low, sweet note that echoed and re-echoed from all the darkening hills. I looked around at my companions, whose faces were stained like cathedral glass by the evening light. Paul looked as if he were about to cry again. The children stood with their arms around one another, Anabelle resting her head on her brother's shoulder in a gesture at once childish and womanly that touched me to the heart - the white bow had flopped over to cover part of her face, and gave her the air of a butterfly at rest. Danzig leaned over and whispered something to the Doctor, who laughed softly and repeatedly. 224


‘Ha-ha! Yes, you are right, young man, no doubt about it. Oh - ha-ha-ha! But that's very true, the way you put it! Ha-ha-ha!’ Paul began to laugh as well, though only out of sympathy, I thought. ‘Can't we share the joke?’ I said. ‘Certainly, Professor. Our young friend here has just made the observation that my charge has improved very much lately. Yes? Isn't that right? Perhaps you have noticed something as well? No? But I assure you it is true.’ Then, in a louder voice, speaking with exaggerated clarity, ‘You are much better now, aren't you, Paul?’ ‘Murderer,’ said Paul, softly, under his breath, looking not at the Doctor but out towards the temple on the hill. ‘Murderer murderer murderer, I'll kill you I kill you I'll kill you.’ ‘You see,’ said the Doctor, ‘Already he begins to love. The cure is under way at last.’ I looked in some perplexity at the boy's fixed stare and mumbling lips, but was distracted from making any reply by a gentle tug at my hand. It was Anabelle. Heart's fruit ruby thy mouth's sweet breath...’What's in your pocket?’ she said. I drew out the heart's egg and showed it to her. I had slipped it in my pocket just before leaving - I don't know why. I didn't like to leave it at the inn. She held it in her hand; it dyed her little fingers bright 225


red. ‘It's almost ready,’ she said. ‘Soon it will hatch.’ She held it out to me solemnly. ‘Keep it,’ I said. ‘I want you to have it.’ She looked at me uncertainly for a moment, then smiled and secreted it about her person. ‘All right,’ she said. ‘But the Signora won't like it.’ Now the hills were in shadow and the many-coloured fireflies were winking like fairy lights among the fennel. Again she tugged at my hand. ‘Come,’ she said. ‘I'll show you something good.’ I followed her into the dark. She led me to a deep ravine where the wild jasmine grew in profusion. Above us the sky was stained the terrible red and gold of a martyr's window; it made a translucent roof between the two walls of rock and filled the narrow space with barbarous light. Anabelle's face was crimson, her lips violet, her thin arms striped with gold. I took hold of her arm just above the wrist - I could feel the blood rushing through the narrow veins. Draw me down to gentle death... Corrado del Huerta, Fillippo Peni, Dr. Hippolyte Sauvage, John Silk, Lucius van Helsing, and the man who will be known forever only as ‘M’ - these are the real poets - these ghouls and murderers who tear little girls to pieces with their bare teeth. One reads of these honourable madmen, one sees them, from time to time, brought to the gallows before a screaming crowd 226


at the Prado San SebĂĄstian, the Piazza d'Espagna, the Place de la Concorde, the California Institute of Correction. I am speaking here not of the ordinary, but only of the extraordinary murderer. Any brute may kill a child in a moment of pique, in a drunken rage or a fit of uncontrollable libido. Such crimes have no more poetry about them than any other accident of nature, and whatever poetry they possess is theirs accidentally. But the true poet, the man who can smell the sweet fear in infant sweat - the slow torturer, the delicate rapist, the poet, the madman - they usually die quietly, and the crowd gives a sudden groan of fear as the body swings free. They die quietly, without demur, like their victims, who are generally too exhausted by love to scream any more. It was during my student days that they caught van Helsing. They brought him in procession through the streets to the Place de la CathĂŠdrale, accompanied by the obligatory brass band intoning a lugubrious opera chorus. He wore the regulation white robe and his hands were tied with the regulation red silk cord. He was a small man, with the large, troubled eyes of a poet. In the cart with him were two noblemen, members of the Confraternity of the Good Death. One held a crucifix continually before his eyes, while the other talked to him in a low voice. On reaching the 227


place the band left off playing and the crowd began to murmur, a slow, angry, deep-voiced murmur like the sea just before the onset of a storm. The sky was grey, I remember, and a light rain was falling. He mounted the scaffold to the sound of a muffled drum, then the bells began to toll, and the crowd fell silent before this little man, this consummate artist. ‘He cut off their nipples and ate them,’ said my landlord, whispering into my ear, polluting my ear with his rancid, beerswiller's breath. No wonder his wife ran away. We stood at the window of my little bachelor room, which commanded a splendid view onto the place and the west front of the cathedral. From inside that very small room the great rose window seemed to fill the entire sky, seemed, at times, to spin like a crazy wheel of fortune, especially when they were ringing the bells, and they were ringing them now as van Helsing mounted the scaffold. The wheel began to spin and the little room to spin with it, around and around and around. A great artist was about to die. He had refused the last sacraments - he was about to begin a life of eternal torment. At his feet were disposed the red and black figurines of the brass band, the white plumes were waving good-bye from atop their bi-corne hats, the brass mouths of tubas and trumpets were gaping in astonishment at his audacity. Beyond 228


these and gathered on all sides - the restless grey murmuring sea of the crowd. He will die quietly, I thought, as he mounted the scaffold. He will die without demur. ‘...cut off their nipples,’ my landlord was saying. On my lap little Eva was scratching her knee. She scratched it until it bled. ‘Stop that!’ I said, and slapped her as hard as I dared. The crowd gave a sudden groan, the body swung free. I have forgotten exactly what happened in the ravine. I remember nothing from the moment I took hold of her arm just above the wrist until I staggered to my feet, several hours later, to find her partially dissected body beneath me. I vomited hard among the leaves. There was blood on my clothing; there were tiny black ants crawling over her face. Above us the sky was still lit like a martyr's window, red and gold. I have never seen such a sky - it burned for hours. I thought the night would never come. Then it came all at once - I climbed out of the ravine to find the whole countryside asleep in the peaceful dark, and the fireflies winking like fairy lights upon the hills.

229


Contrapunctus IV I admit I'm a teeny bit proud of what I achieved tonight. Something truly symphonic in the sunset line. I've been experimenting for a while with the various effects to be had by siphoning off and reintegrating the different visual and auditory phenomena at hand, and I've been aware for some time that these are in turn directly activated by the present spiritual energies, both human and otherwise. But tonight I discovered a direct physical conduit for the transfer of spiritual energy. By tapping into it I was able to produce a four hour extravaganza, a symphonic poem of real complexity and throat-catching beauty. But the effort has left me so totally exhausted, I wonder if I will ever be able to do it again? Of course, she is so strong, with her blood in me I feel capable of anything. She showed me how to drink blood from her lips (this sounds disgusting, but isn't) and I scattered huge drops of it like red rose petals across the sky. She showed me - other things as well, conduits, direct conduits, a manner of physical re-integration that annihilates the ego in a welter of ambiguous chords: Male/Female, Black/White, Hard/Soft, Angel/Demon, Sing/Scream, Death/Sleep. 230


Vade retro, Satanas! [from The Diary of a Madman, the complete and unexpurgated diaries of Lucius van Helsing, New York and Munich, 1968] In the beginning was the Word. The poets Lord Byron and Ibn Hazim dined with me tonight. I asked them how they dared give expression to those desires which all men hide in darkness. ‘My dear fellow,’ said B. ‘It's simplicity itself. A poet may scribble damn-all he pleases and none's the worse for it. Let his verses be ever so shocking the gentlemen will call him a scoundrel and think 231


him a fine fellow, the ladies will all rush to invite him to their supper parties, and the poor devil may line his pockets handsomely. I like your wine, by the way.’ I refilled his glass and watched him drink. His eyes are light grey, with a darker ring around the rim of the iris. The eyelashes are very long and curling, the hair also. I wonder if he uses a curling iron? He seemed to enjoy the food very much. Ibn Hazim said nothing, but sat and smoked one scented cigarette after another, and stroked his black beard with a long white hand. Once he opened his lips as if to speak, but it was only to emit a cloud of lavender, patchouli, and saffron rose * * * * * * * * * * The Poetic Genius is the first principle. The consummation of the Eternal Word will be brought about by an increase in sensual enjoyment. * * * * * * * * * * When I first discovered the child's body I was ignorant of its significance, although certain it would be useful to me in some way. Later I realized. ******* 232


The streak of dirt. ******* Upon the right plump white cheek taut with pink blood from the bare bone beneath eye socket diagonal towards the little rounded chin. When I first discovered the child's body I did not notice the single streak of dirt upon the right cheek. It was only later, in thinking it over, that the poetry of that single streak of dirt made itself felt to me. As, in a symphony, the force of a certain passage given to the oboe will pass unnoticed at first hearing, only to rise, later, in the memory and give meaning to the whole so that one says, Yes! That is what is meant after all. I had the body with me. I laid it on the bed and uncovered the head. The streak of dirt was there still. * * * * * * * * * * I made a journey to Hell, in the company of a certain Angel who styles himself my guardian. I walked freely among the flames of Hell, enjoying the torments on every side. ‘Come away from this place!’ said the Angel. But I wished to stay. What to the Angel were unspeakable torments were to 233


me infinite delights. I saw five demons sitting upon black clouds, and these were the Five Senses: Sight - the demon of Desire Hearing - the demon of Thought Taste - the demon of Pleasure Smell - the demon of Disgust Touch - the demon of Gratification * * * * * * * * * * I am incapable of writing a single poem. Words escape me - I haven't the power. Byron does it, Spenser, Keats, Ibn Hazim - those god-like men who create with words. I have only things to play with. Pre-made things, products of another brain, that must be materially broken to suit my fancies. By the time I had noticed the streak of dirt it was too late. The child no longer lay among the damp leaves at the bottom of the ravine in the endless twilight. Indoors, the effect was not the same. I was present at the execution of the poet, William Blake, on a charge of heresy. He had dark, burning eyes, a pair of heavy, white hands, a sensual mouth. His hair was uncurled. His books were thrown upon the pyre. Whereas I shall die wordlessly. There was an odour of roasted poet. He shrieked and sang, and called upon the angels to save him. Whereas I shall die in silence, bereft 234


of the dignity of words, like a common thug upon the gallows. But they'll have to catch me first. * * * * * * * * * * I have been examining a portrait of one of my ancestors, Cardinal Marianus Johannes Nepomuk van Helsing, done by the Bolognese artist, Lorenzaccio. I believe that I bear a remarkable likeness to this portrait. The Cardinal is facing three-quarters, his face is pale and flabby, he wears a wide-brimmed hat. Behind him in the distance is an ancient ruin upon a hill, the whole bathed in the blue electrical light found only in Florentine paintings and the interrogation chambers of the Holy Inquisition. The face is oddly shaped, elongated almost to the point of deformity, as are the long, white fingers, but this elongation is typical of Lorenzaccio's late mannerist style. My own face, my own fingers, show the same peculiar mannerist attenuation. The portrait was never completed. The Cardinal was arrested for heresy, his infamous Treaty on Harmony was burned, and he was exiled to the monastery of Porta Caeli on a tiny island off the coast of Spain. Where he died shortly after his installation. A few letters and an Apologia, written during the weeks before his death, are 235


among the scanty treasures remaining to the ancient family of van Helsing. From the careful perusal of these documents I have come to believe that the Cardinal took his own life. * * * * * * * * * * Why not a picnic? I said. I knew she would not be able to resist the idea of a picnic. On such a day. On such a beautiful blue Alpine day it's into the carriage with little Eva and up, up into the mountains. All the brooks are running, all the birdies singing, she can pick wildflowers to her heart's content. We walk and walk in the mountains. We have left the carriage far behind. If she grows tired I will carry her on my back. Brrrrrrrr!!! Down, disgusting animal! I say to myself. Not yet, I say. It isn't time yet. My long long fingers are coiled around her bare white knees. Let's sing! I say. It's good to sing when you're walking in the mountains. Can you sing a round? Eva can. Make new friends but keep the old, One is silver and the other's gold. Very nice. You sang that very well. We are new friends, you and I. But I haven't forgotten my old friends - Elsie and Myriam, Anna, Magdalena, and Lucy. All of my friends are girl-friends. I tried to 236


make friends with a boy once but it hadn't the same flavour at all, at all. No poet can write in every key. Eva is jealous now - she wants to know more of Elsie and Myriam, Anna, Magdalena, and Lucy. All in good time, my sweet dove. I had a dove, and the sweet dove died...We sit down under the trees. I give her to eat: sardine sandwiches, white peas, honey cakes, oranges. I peel the orange for her with my knife. It's very sharp. She mustn’t touch it! Later I will eat the sweet pink nipples, I'll cut them off neatly with this very knife. Food of the gods. Of angels. Angel's-food. I run laughing among the flames of hell. Going home in the carriage we lost our way in the mountains. It started to rain, there was mud, thunder. She sat with her head resting on my shoulder, as if she were only sleeping. She slipped to the floor and I took her on my lap. It was difficult, her legs were growing stiff. Only later did I remember the streak of dirt upon her cheek, and by then it was too late. We arrived home just before dark. *******

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Porta Caeli 14th June, 1638 From Marianus, Abbot of Porta Caeli, to his Friend, nay, Brother, nay, Beloved Son, Alfonso, Duke of Mantua, Greetings! It is impossible to imagine anything more horrible than this rock on which I awake to find myself again, every morning, at sunrise, at first cock-crow, day after day. To the tedious monotony of the weather one must add rancid food, brackish water, undrinkable wine, and brutish, ignorant companions. Weep with me, my Friend! I am not what I once was. Yet in my heart am I ever unchanged, unchanging, and unchangeable - to God, to thee, and indeed to all those principles I did most truthfully set down in my Treatise, as the whole world knows. I have been silenced, and still I must speak, if only to thee, my beloved Alfonso, if only in the darkest secrecy. For truth loves the light, and He who brought light to the world will one day reveal what must now be hid in darkness. The infernal harmonies are stronger here than ever they were in Rome. The sea on all sides is infested with numberless demons who assault my ears with their continuous cacophony. They 238


sometimes appear to my bodily eyes, particularly at the hours of sunrise and sunset, when a general disequilibrium prevails. They are extremely ugly, black, with thick, horny hides and frightful teeth. Their entire delight is to mock me, and the torments multiply daily. They chatter in my ears when I am at prayer, disarrange my garments, and have even attempted liberties with my person while I lay unguarded in sleep! The other day one of them took the form of a little child and sat down by the side of the narrow way where I go daily to walk and pray. The place is very rocky and steep, and the sea dashes against the rocks on every hand. You can imagine my surprise to find a child alone in such a place. He was crying piteously and showed me his little foot, which bore a grievous wound. I took him in my arms to comfort him - I had it in mind to carry him to the Infirmarian. He had the ivory skin and curling black hair that are common coin among Spanish children. His eyes were a clear grey, lucid with tears, blinking slowly open and shut like watery windows onto another world. There was a streak of dirt upon his cheek; I suppose it had come there when he wiped his tears with a grubby hand. As I stared at this streak of dirt on the lovely face he changed in my arms to a laughing, spitting demon. He slipped from my grasp, ran to the 239


highest point of the promontory, and danced upon it, mad with glee. My despair knew no bounds. I longed to throw myself down upon the rocks. I made the sign of the cross and he vanished from my sight. Still I hear him chattering, now before me, now behind me, a thousand times a day. Thus am I tormented every day and hour. The worst is the mid-day, when the sun is at the zenith and all the demons cry out in a crescendo of fury that they shall be burnt alive, the palm trees rasp their yellow fronds, the blue air shivers, and every grain of sand along the shore screams in an agony of heat and fear. I do not think I can bear this life much longer. Pray for me, Alfonso, and remember the love he bears thee who signs himself, Your Father in Christ,

Marianus Johannes Nepomuk Cardinal van Helsing and Abbot of Porta Caeli * * * * * * * * * *

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Wien Your Imperial Highness! - forgive lateness of reply, by no means intentional Y.I.H. will understand all when I say I am no longer able to hear above a whisper due to the constant and unrelenting noise on all sides as at this moment the clatter of sunlight upon the blinds, shriek of red geraniums in the window boxes - unbearable to me - I have told the girl ten thousand times to throw them away but she is a devil in human form, she absolutely delights in my torment. Then the black river of the street rushing headlong below my windows day and night the chumble of rotting wood behind the plaster moths chewing in duple time the clothing in the wardrobe fruit on the table decomposing hourly and minutely in slow, descending Lydian cadences that ebb away, morendo, in arpeggiated chords - If I go out in the street it is worse - I am sure to pass a horse, a woman, a child - the child is sure to have a streak of dirt upon its face - And then there is my nephew Carl, I ask Y.I.H. - who could work in the midst of such an uproar? I will do my best to send the quartet by the end of the month for the Happy Occasion. Believe me ever 241


Your Imperial Highness's Most Obedient, Most Faithful!

* * * * * * * * * * Hell (Latin Infernus) A region of fiery lakes and varied terrain, exact location has not been determined. Some scholars have maintained that the world we inhabit now is, in fact, Hell (de Santis, Tollès), but this view was declared heretical by the Council of Chicago (1948). Anecdotal evidence suggests that the climate is hot and arid, temperatures possibly reaching as high as 1000 degrees Fahrenheit in the pits or cauldrons. There is no exit from Hell. What it smells like: Rotten fruit. Orchids. Petroleum by-products. Monkey cage. Sulphur. Inhabitants: The fallen angels are the only certain inhabitants of Hell. Their angelic beauty was changed forever to unbearable ugliness at the time of the Fall, but they are permitted to assume the loveliest, most enticing forms in order to seduce the sons of men. They are said to practice a kind of music, of multiple textures and ambiguous forms, expressive of the endless fear, pain, and 242


horror of Hell. (Vide Treatise on Harmony, M.J.N. van Helsing, but rare.) The hearing of these infernal harmonies has led to permanent madness in several cases, i.e. that of Blessed Antoninus of Messina, the sisters Gloria and Amalia von Roederer, and the entire village of Possenhofen (1932). The last was a temporary crisis brought about by an infestation of poltergeists during the annual music festival. The inhabitants of Hell enjoy complete freedom of desire. [Encyclopaedia Universalis]

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CHAPTER FIVE One Year Later [from the Poet's diary] I crossed the lake in a blue haze, the white swans were everywhere, in the cracked ice along the shore, upon the deeper water, and flying before me, their wings like bright shadows upon the snow. I had no idea in which direction lay the castle, for while the island is small, it is covered with a dense, neglected wood. The boatman gave no answer to my repeated inquiries, indeed, there was that deep silence in his blank white slab of a face that distinguishes those who are deaf from birth. Nor had anyone come to meet me at the landing. I thought Barton might have come, considering that it was he who had sent for me. 244


The boat departed at once for the opposite shore; I was left to the solitary contemplation of its blue wake washing the reeds and the soft white bellies of the nesting swans. I took the path (there was but one) into the wood and staggered about for perhaps the better part of an hour through dank swamps choked with rotting leaves, up hillsides slippery with ice, my feet were wet through, my head hot (for the sun shone unbearably through the mist), my heart began to race, my knees to tremble. I was whipped on the head and shoulders by the wind-swept branches of the trees, my knees were cut by brambles and my hands upon rocks. Away from the shore there were no swans, no birds at all, the only sounds were of my own irregular breathing, my unhappy heartbeat, the crashing of the leaves and bracken under my feet, the soughing of the wind. I stumbled on the ruins of an old abbey - nothing but a pile of stones all tumbled together in a heap. Only the inscriptions on a few mossy tombstones remained to betray its former character. I stood on the crest of a hill and looked around for some sign of the castle, but all I could see were the bare, whitened heads of the winter trees on every side. Then suddenly I heard a child, a lithe, laughing girlchild, and the breath of a boy-child coming behind in hot pursuit. I ran towards the sound, they 245


could be but a few yards before me, but the trees hid them from my sight. The path went plunging into a ravine, only to rise up more steeply than before. At the top of the hill I emerged quite suddenly from the wood onto a grassy lawn and there was the castle at last. A formal garden dressed in fresh snow was spread like a piece of French lace in the midst of this improbable wilderness, and the little rococo castle stood before it like a gold and silver toy, glittering with ice and softly coloured marble in the winter sun. I saw no sign of the children anywhere about. Inside the castle the gimcrack vanities of the mad Bavarian monarchs are devolving into their original constituents: a cushion taken up in the hand dissolves into a mass of silk thread that clings like a spider's web to one's fingers; tiles of lapis lazuli lie smashed and trodden into corners like bits of a fallen heaven; the gilt from flute and cornice has dripped like candlewax onto the carpets ; gay bouquets of Meissen are smothered and choked by the twisted veins of ivy that sprout from the candle-sockets and twine themselves about the helpless flowers; the mirrors are misted with the same blue mist that thickens the air over wood and lake. A man might see anything in such a mist - a ghost, a shadow, a laughing child. 246


The Lily herself came downstairs to receive me. ‘I'm so glad you could come,’ she said, in that honey-dripping foghorn of a voice. ‘He's been asking for you day and night.’ ‘I had one or two matters to attend to first - I came as quickly as was possible for me at such short notice.’ ‘Yes, of course. But he's very impatient.’ ‘I don't understand - what seems to be the problem? Is he ill? I'm not a doctor, after all, only a poet.’ ‘No, not ill. And we've had the doctor. It's...something else. I'm afraid you'll find him very much changed.’ ‘Changed? In what way changed?’ ‘He's a lot...younger.’ ‘Hmmmm.’ ‘Yes, and that's not all. It was my birthday last week and he gave me this.’ She handed me a narrow velvet case. I snapped it open carelessly, expecting to see a bracelet or some such trinket. What I saw was a small dried sausage, very shrivelled and quite black. It gave off an unpleasant odour, at once rancid and sweet. ‘Rather a peculiar gift,’ I agreed. ‘You don't understand. That's his finger.’ ‘I beg your pardon?’ 247


‘It's the little finger off his left hand. He says he doesn't need it any more. And that's not all he's tried other...experiments he calls them.’ ‘Where is he?’ ‘Upstairs. I'll show you - it's better. He doesn't trust the servants. But listen - don't get the wrong idea. At first he was so happy. He was happy with me. I don't know what's gone wrong. Some children just seem born to misery, don't they?’ ‘How are the children?’ I asked perfunctorily. ‘Just fine, thank you. Didn't you pass them in the garden?’ ‘Perhaps I'd better see my room now, if you don't mind.’ ‘Yes, of course. I am sorry. It's a long journey, isn't it? A long weary journey after all.’ The bed is hung with purple velvet, embroidered with the coat of arms of the Wittelsbachs. A dozen Bavarian maidens sewed their lives away to make this pretty thing, but the moth and the worm have also done their work, and all that remain are dust and tatters, fit for a shroud. On the table was a bowl of fruit - hungry, I helped myself to a pear, but it was over-ripe, the juice trickled onto my coat, the odour clung to my hand, sweet, like the blackened finger. I spat it 248


out. I opened the wardrobe and a torrent of stray notes came rushing out - the lisping Wagnerian lullaby that drags the heart, heavy as a stone, to the bottom of the lake and soothes it there with the memory of death. I shut the drawer, and the music as suddenly stopped. The notes continued to echo for a moment in the opaque stillness of the room, like the ripples after a stone has sunk in still water. I was laying out my toilet things when I caught sight of her in the mirror - Anabelle. She was sitting on the bed, her legs folded under her like a cat's, she was smiling. There was a dark streak upon her cheek. She watched me as I came close, closer, I was very close. She did not appear to be breathing at all. Up close the dark streak revealed itself to be composed of dozens of tiny black ants that were crawling from under her hair, into the socket of her right eye, across the creamy white cheek, and down into the corner of her mouth. The horror, I thought. The horror, the horror. The room began to spin, my stomach to heave, I shut my eyes. When I opened them again she was gone. I was rummaging in the vast wardrobe amidst rotten lace and snatches of the Triebschen Idyll when again I caught sight of a familiar face in the mirror. This time it was young Beethoven. He gave no answer to my hearty greeting, nor did he 249


appear to take any notice of my proffered hand. Indeed, he seemed to be in a kind of trance. He held a large notebook bound in red morocco leather which, after some hesitation, he placed in my outstretched hand.

[from the Conversation Book of Paul van Beethoven] Why don't you speak to us, Paul? Can you hear me? Why don't you answer? 250


Answer me now, Paul. I command you to answer! Find the symphorion. What is the symphorion? Answer us please, Paul. Paul! Please answer! The sum of all possible music would not be possible without the infinite goodness of God. Find it. Is it a machine? It is light from light. If we find it, then will you speak to us? The operation of divine grace will bring about the instantaneous assent of even an unwilling heart. Where are we to look for it? Paul, answer me now please. Where are we to look? That was only the first act. Now it is time for the Queen's aria. I looked up to find the Lily in the open doorway where young Beethoven had been standing a moment before. ‘I didn't know you had Paul with you also,’ I said. ‘What could I do?’ She shrugged her enormous shoulders, raised her beautiful, romanesque eyebrows over the glittering eyes. ‘He would come. Nobody invited him or anything 251


like that. But I can't bear to let the child suffer, and he would come.’ I thrust the conversation book into her hands. ‘And what is the meaning of this, if I may ask?’ ‘Oh, that. The Doctor calls it hysterical deafness. Barton doesn't believe him - he thinks the boy is faking and was deaf all along, even before the accident. But then, Barton thinks most people are deaf.’ ‘Including yourself?’ ‘Oh no. No, of course not.’ ‘I see. And I suppose I am taken for deaf also?’ ‘Demi,’ she said, showing her terrible tigress teeth in a smile. I always will allow this woman to get under my skin. ‘What is the symphorion?’ ‘I wish I knew. Hadn't you better come along and see Barton now? He's been asking for you again.’ ‘I am entirely at your service, Signora.’ At first I could see nothing, the room was that dark. I felt a rush of cold air at the door - He won't have a fire, I thought. There was a reek of something unbearably sweet, half-rotten, caught and frozen in the still air, there was a silence, not 252


of heaviness, nor of expectation, but a curious crystalline silence akin to that which follows a heavy fall of snow. Patches of darker black were discernible in the gloom; these gradually resolved themselves into furniture - a piano, several chairs, a writing table, a narrow bed with the gothic outline of a medieval tomb. I felt my way to the window and pulled aside one of the heavy draperies, admitting a flood of arctic light. Then I saw that the room was filled with white lilies, thrust into every possible receptacle, and lying in great loose armfuls on the furniture and floor. Barton was huddled on the bed, his arms wrapped tightly around his drawn-up knees. A lock of dark hair had fallen across his brow. He looked elfin, sorrowful, pale, he looked but twenty-five. ‘Ludwig sent them,’ he said. He spoke softly, but his voice had an odd sharpness to it that seemed to ring in the cold air and touch, like a breath of frost, the dying flowers. I ventured no response to his assertion, as I was not able to determine in my own mind to what or whom he was referring. ‘The flowers,’ he added, after a pause. ‘The Prince of Palermo sent them. He thinks I'm sick, or maybe even dead. I'm not sure what exactly Mother told him. What did she tell you?’ ‘That you wished to see me. That is was a matter of life and death.’ 253


‘It is!’ ‘Well, as you can see, here I am.’ I drew closer to the bed, stepping over the flowers as best I could. ‘And now, what can I do for you, my friend?’ ‘Listen!’ He held up his hand. I saw that the fingers were black and shrivelled, in several places the white bone protruded through the skin. At the same moment I heard a piercing shriek - G sharp, rising to B sharp, then to an unbearable C sharp the note was held, prolonged, it swelled, it filled the room, it seemed about to burst the confines of my skull, a taut, nerve-destroying vibrato-less scream. The blood gushed from my nose and mouth, I fell, gasping, to my knees, I clapped my hands over my tortured ears but to no avail. Then, just as suddenly, it stopped. ‘What is it?’ I said, getting to my feet, dabbing at the blood that bespattered my shirtfront. ‘I hear it all he time,’ he said. ‘I'm not sure where it's coming from, although I've got a pretty good idea. Have you seen Beethoven's nephew?’ ‘Yes. Yes, I have.’ ‘He's got a story about having mislaid the music for a new quartet. Beethoven sent him out to deliver the parts to Schuppanzigh, because he didn't trust Holz - Holz, you see, has a certain fondness for the bottle. But whom does Paul run 254


into on the way but friend Holz. They stop at the Schwarzspanier, they play a little billiards, and now the quartet can't be found. I think I know where it is, though, at least most of it.’ He tapped his forehead significantly. ‘It's like a lightning rod for music, especially anything polyphonic. Always has been, ever since I was a kid. I used to get the whole Toronto Symphony regularly, Tuesday and Saturday nights at eight. Anyway, I think I've got it. The first movement is a fugue in C sharp minor, a really melancholy, Weltschmerz kind of thing, and with those weird tonalities on the strings the effect is a little...Well - you heard what it's like.’ ‘Is that the symphorion?’ ‘I think so. The sum total of all musical possibilities. And what I want to know is - what do I do now? I could probably notate it and send it off to Vienna, or even give it to Paul and let him try again. That would introduce a kind of contrary motion the composer would be sure to appreciate. Of course, after that I would be completely and permanently deaf. Perhaps I should just have my head crushed, carefully, like a walnut, and the quartet extracted that way. You see the difficulty I'm in. It really comes down to a theological question - Did God make the world for us to love? Or is it all a gigantic trap for our downfall? I 255


mean, it's not an exclusively musical question at all, although the musical implications are enormous. And I presume it's those implications Beethoven is working out here. Thank God the Inquisition are a bunch of musical illiterates or Uncle Ludwig might find himself before an Interrogation Committee. But as it is they're totally unaware of anything more advanced than a cantus firmus, maybe a little canonic imitation in two voices...I'm not sure what Beethoven is doing here is primarily music at all.’ ‘What then? Augenmusik?’ He laughed in delight or perhaps derision at my question. ‘No, although it certainly works on that level as well. As Augenmusik the C sharp minor is a definite winner. But Augenmusik is only another artistic conceit. He's trying to get away from that whole aesthetic sickness, that love of art for its own sake, rather than for the sake of God. It's an attempt to separate music from its sensual component, which, in strictly musical terms is impossible. In strictly musical terms the child Anabelle is a viol d'amore - look at the slope of the shoulders, the light, thin construction, whereas Mother...Ah!’ He lapsed into a curious, trance-like silence. I waited several minutes for him to continue; the silence grew deeper, the room colder, the light from the window grew dim. Barton sat 256


with his mouth a little open, as it had stopped in mid-speech, his dark eyes were fixed questioningly on a spot a little above my head. His mouth is full and soft; in his new, youthful face it blooms like a ripe rose. I wonder what exactly his relations may be with the Lily? Does he take that enormous, darkly glowing musical object in his arms, does he pinion it between those long, athletic legs, does he draw torrential music from its mahogany heart of darkness? It is difficult to imagine him in such a position - it would require a strength of which he hardly seems capable. He has the true pianist's temperament, and I can only imagine him happy in the embrace of that lumbering exo-skeleton, that brute musicmachine which he is accustomed to abuse at will. From a close engagement with anything alive I believe he would shrink. His is not so much the air of a man who has never had a woman, as of a boy who has not yet even wanted one. A certain mischief goes out of us once we take up with women. But then, if he is not her lover, what is he? Barton forbearing to speak, I was obliged to break the glacial silence that had settled over the room and was threatening to immure the two of us in permanent ice. ‘What has happened to your hands, my friend?’ He looked at me, then down at 257


his hands. He held them out before him and regarded them wonderingly, flexing the long, black, skeleton-thin fingers. The little finger was missing from the left hand. ‘Necrosis,’ he said. ‘Irreversible.’ ‘You remind me of someone - a young lady whose acquaintance we made one winter evening in Davos. Do you remember Karen?’ ‘Yes, of course I do. Certainly I remember Karen. Do you think I'm going to die soon?’ ‘It's possible. You have the look.’ He seemed to reflect on this with some pleasure. ‘I never play now,’ he said. ‘It would be fatal for me to play.’ ‘Not even the telekinetic piano?’ ‘Oh - that. Sometimes, late at night. A little Wagner. Nothing else.’ He got up from the bed and crossed the room to where a miscellaneous pile of rubbish lay jumbled together on the table. ‘Here - have a look at this,’ he said, and handed me a white plaster mask. Strongly marked nose and mouth, Teutonic chin, terrible, terrible head...’Wagner,’ he said. ‘Ludwig sent it to Mother for her birthday. It's a genuine deathmask.’ I duly expressed my admiration for the thing. He traced the sunken lines of the plaster cheek before replacing it on the table. ‘Wagner,’ he said again, looking out upon the snowbound 258


landscape as if the uneasy spirit he had named were wandering there. ‘Wagner believed in redemption. Have you ever noticed that nobody really believes in the necessity of his own death, but everybody believes in redemption? There's that whole ideal romantic redemption-throughlove thing. Elisabeth, Senta...’ ‘Elsa? Kundry?’ I said. He laughed and held up a hand. ‘I know, I know. Don't rush me. I was just getting to Parsifal. The point is, there's a romantic equation that goes love equals redemption. But it doesn't always work out that way in practice. In practice it can also go, love equals hell. Sometimes I think we're all headed there - straight into the heart of the C sharp minor quartet. Incidentally, the form of the quartet is itself problematic - I can't decide if the superposition of irrelevant material is meant to be taken seriously, as a kind of analogy, or if it's just another heavy Teutonic joke along the lines of 'muss es sein'. You know, Wagner made a very close study of the late Beethoven quartets you could even say he taught himself how to compose by the study of these quartets, and he said that they contained 'the melancholy that lies at the heart of all sound'. Which might just be a lot of romantic hot air, but I don't think so. I think Wagner knew what he was talking about, and I 259


think those quartets, if fully understood, would bring about the total redemption of the human race. If fully understood. Wagner made exactly the same claim for his Ring Cycle. But of course they never will be fully understood, or understood at all most likely...But Wagner understood Beethoven, and he understood what Beethoven was trying to do. Maybe for this he earned a place beside the celestial throne. I, for one, certainly hope so. I myself played Beethoven for years without understanding - I still don't really understand what he's getting at a lot of the time with his naive, blundering tunes stretched out into all those crazy over-developments - or maybe it's just a case of disharmonic temperaments. Be that as it may, nowadays I play only Wagner.’ ‘Not the Goldbergs?’ ‘Especially not the Goldbergs. The Goldbergs is essentially a second-rate piece of music. I mean - it's nice enough in its way, it has a nice symmetry, a lot of cleverness, one really good tune - but it's not a major musical event. That's exactly what appealed to me about the Goldbergs in the first place. There was a time when I needed that kind of vessel into which I could pour my music.’ ‘Then why record it again?’

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‘I wanted to hear what I had become. Because of its very insignificance, the Goldbergs was perfect.’ ‘But your recording is superb!’ He laughed at this. ‘I thank you, sir! But I'm afraid it's me you're reacting to there, not the music. You know, I love all this stuff from the critics. I think there was something of the sort from yourself if I'm not mistaken - 'Unveils the rich harmonies and unsuspected beauties of this hitherto neglected masterpiece'. And I have to laugh because - it's like the emperor's new clothes - there's nothing there! No neglected masterpiece, no hidden beauties, just a relatively simple piece, thirty variations on a very simple ground - the rest is prestidigitation.’ ‘Then why not play Beethoven?’ ‘I'll tell you. Do you remember, in Palermo, I spoke to you one night about the need for unheard music? Total deafness is the necessary precondition. This was Beethoven's almost accidental discovery - the felix culpa that gave birth to a music not temporal, but eternal. These latest quartets, C sharp minor and so on, reflect an interior spiritual reality that, translated into auditory sensations becomes simply unbearable. This is the problem - inadvertently I've intercepted 261


something on the aural plane that's entirely beyond...It's not just the C sharp minor, there's the A minor, for example, with its practical demonstration of unbearable grief in the Lydische Tonart, there's the complete torture chamber of the Grosse Fuge in B flat - I've thought of cutting off my ears but I'm doubtful it would help.’ ‘You really should talk to a doctor about this,’ I said. ‘I talked to the doctor! He gave me some pills to help me sleep but it's no use. I only dream the damn things over and over again. Now if I could just find one extra note - just one single superfluous note! But it's an art that admits only the strictly necessary - it's the exact equivalent in sound of the church at Citeaux. Despite the complex layers of meaning there's no ornament properly speaking whatsoever - precisely because the layers of sound, of light and so on are layers of meaning. This is the end of art - ascetic, concentric, invisible - leading directly to God. The senses, the imagination, life on earth - all of these are cast aside, there isn't room for them.’ ‘But God made the world...’ ‘To tempt us to damnation.’ ‘Do you really think so? Do you really suppose the entire world - life, colour, sound and 262


sense, is - what did you call it? A gigantic trap to bring about our downfall?’ ‘I'm sure of it. There's no other possible explanation. If I didn't believe it, I'd be obliged to regard art as a toy to titillate the senses, I'd be obliged to prefer the sexual incantations of Italian opera to the spirituality of Bach, and pink would become my favourite colour instead of grey. I'd go out of my mind. I really would.’ ‘That is Jansenist heresy.’ ‘I know it is. I realize that. I can't help it.’ ‘Listen to me a moment. Many years ago, when I was a student in Strasbourg, I was troubled by this same heresy. I settled down to make a careful study of the matter. Unigenitus had just been released. The war had been over some time, but much of the city was still in ruins. And one night, as I sat up late puzzling over this very encyclical - I remember I had but a single candle for illumination - I heard a strange music in the street. Someone had made an instrument from the torn-out entrails of a dead automobile and was playing Beethoven's Ode to Joy. And I thought, Yes, the old Bonn Master is right. It is joy, after all, this fierce joy that animates the world. Music began with a shout of joy, when the first man opened his eyes in that beautiful garden and cried aloud - I am! Of course there is terror in it as well, 263


here is pain, yes when I take the little viol in my arms and hope to play, but fear I will crush it, destroy it altogether in my quest for beauty, my thirst, my desire for beauty. The trouble with you Jansenists is you don't admit the power of beauty, the truth of it. You want to colour the world with your own fear or rather discolour it, drain it to a uniform grey. Believe me, my friend, life is not like that. Life is the colour of blood, and, yes, of flesh.’ ‘But everything's dead here!’ he cried. I was startled by the sudden note of grief - his voice had risen sharply up the scale, and the statement lingered long in the dark room, exciting plangent echoes from the ghostly mirror, the carved gothic tomb of a bed, the slowly dying flowers. ‘Everything! The buildings are all falling apart, the people are all dead - the music, the art, the landscapes, even the faith is dead! You talk about beauty and truth as if you knew anything about them - when all you know is death! Do you think Mother hasn't told me about your little experiment 264


with Anabelle? Look at your poetry - what do you see? Dead Greeks! Don't talk to me about timeless myths and all that crap. You're more than half in love with easeful death - this whole lousy continent, hell, this whole lousy civilization is in love with death. Only Mother can help me. We're going back, you know. As soon as I figure out a way to get rid of this.’ He tapped his forehead angrily, as if he hoped to be able to dislodge the unwanted music by brute force. ‘Listen, I have a dream for Mother and me. Sometime soon we're clearing out of here. And we're heading north - I mean really north. I've always wanted to live above the Arctic Circle and, by God, I'm going to do it. Do you know, above a certain latitude the only colours are grey and white? That's right, grey, my favourite colour. There's room up there, fresh air, you can breathe up there. There's no art up there. Hell, if I want art I've got twenty-five trillion snowflakes and each one different from all the others. Yes sir, I've got rocky mountains, polar bears, frozen lakes, the whole howling wilderness is mine. All I've got to do is tap my heels together three times and say to myself 'There's no place like home'. But first, I've got to get rid of this symphorion. I'll give it to Paul - he can take it back to Vienna. You've got to help me - you're a 265


poet and, what's even more to the point, a critic. Tell me what to do - I'm listening.’ ‘But my dear young friend, I haven't the faintest idea!’ We sat for several minutes regarding one another ruefully in the crystalline silence. Then he bounded to his feet again. ‘Do you think maybe the walnut technique would work? I've got a poker here somewhere you might try that...’ ‘Certainly not! I am not going to be a party to violence of any kind.’ ‘No? I thought you had a taste for that sort of thing. I guess the context doesn't appeal to you. I guess you'd like it better if we were to engage in a little polymorphous perversity first, just to put you in the mood. Then you'd smash my head for me with impunity, and write a sonnet about it afterwards. 'Red the blood of roses on the snow/ The grey worm nibbles at the leaking brain' - et cetera, et cetera. OK, no violence. What then?’ ‘Perhaps, er, she you call 'Mother' could be of some help to you?’ He shook his head decidedly. ‘Out of the question. It's way over her head. This isn't an American problem. It's a thoroughly European thing I've got here and...But here, listen a minute and you'll see what I mean. There's the Lydische Tonart thing - Beethoven calls it a 266


'canzone di ringraziamento', but it sounds like an elegy for an entire civilization...’ ‘No!’ I cried, clapping my hands over my ears. ‘No more, please! I find it unbearable.’ Barton laughed, slapping his knees in delight. ‘OK, OK, I won't, you'll have to take my word for it. There's this great springing up of sexual vitality in the andante section - you can't miss it but the adagios, especially the last reprise with these repetitive dissonant chords - Dum-Da! Dum-Da! There are your fallen rose petals if you like. It's very very elegiac, even tragic. It's really quite tragic...’ His voice took a falling cadence, and came to a rest on the last word. I had been observing him closely throughout our conversation, and had come to certain conclusions in my own mind regarding his situation. Now it was time to make these known to him. ‘My dear friend, what you ask is impossible. You will never be rid of the symphorion, as you call it. There is no road back through the woods from knowledge to original innocence - not even death. You may return to your beautiful country, but the knowledge will go with you, and live beside you always, like a shadow on those pure snows. As to the C sharp minor quartet, set your mind at rest. The manuscript was not lost - Why, Holz reclaimed it at the café that very afternoon 267


and took it off to Schuppanzigh. The entire set of five quartets was brought out by Schott & Sons over a year ago. All this business about a lost quartet is just the usual mad rubbish from the nephew. He seeks to make himself important by claiming to have lost something of great value. You may relieve yourself of any burden concerning the fate of that quartet. But I'm afraid what's in your head is there to stay.’ He lay down full length on the bed and shut his eyes. He lay there a long time without moving. I sat and listened to the high, silvery whistle of breath coursing in and out of his chest, the rapid tattoo of his heart, the low, melancholy note of falling night as the light faded from the window and the blue air around us deepened to a purple twilight. Suddenly he started up and looked around him with a wild, desperate air. ‘My God, the sunset!’ he cried. ‘I'm late!’ He sprang to his feet and tore open the door. I followed him in a wild chase up the spiral stair of the tower and out onto the roof of the castle. He stood at the parapet, gazing out over the snow-whitened woods and fields, over the dark, shadowy lake where the swans were gathering for the night, beyond these to the rose-tipped mountains and the sky a mass of blooming roses shot with evening's gold. Softly, from all sides, came the rapturous strains of an old 268


Vienna waltz, gliding from hilltop to lake, and back into the roseate clouds. ‘Good bye, Old World,’ he whispered . Then he turned to me and smiled, a tender, boyish smile that reminded me for a moment of Danzig. ‘Good bye, my old friend,’ he said. ‘I'd shake your hand, but I've always had an aversion to that particular operation. I'm heading north. Where the sun only sets once a year, and once it's down it stays that way for a while. Don't forget to love me. I'll be thinking of you up there.’ Once more he turned his face to the rose and violet loveliness of the wooded valley below. ‘Good bye,’ he whispered again to the dying world, and there were tears standing in his eyes. ‘I guess I'll miss you after all.’ He raised his arms and began to conduct, and as he waved his arms the parti-coloured clouds began to swoop and dive, the sky began to spin like a huge pastel ballroom above our heads, and the waltz, gathering momentum like a storm, came crashing fortissimo about our ears. My friend, Barton Beale, fell lifeless into my arms. The Idea of North ...farther and farther north, past the tangled disharmonies of cities and towns, over fields green or fallow, dry or soaked with rain, over sighing 269


forests singing pines rasping oaks gory maples all golden-headed things, rivers that bound and leap and spin, and come to rest in noiseless fields of ice, we're heading north here, father and farther north, beyond the reach of night, beyond smoke, air, colour, breath, conception, time - always farther north now we're flying over snow, snow alone, not a house, not a tree, through a sky of measureless white, beyond the moon, beyond the stars, farther and farther north, the fields thick with frostflowers, the lake a window of ice, the white bears come running to greet us, the snowbirds settle on our hands and arms, we shall sleep in white bearskins under the snow we shall eat frozen fish we shall make ice babies, when we speak no sound our words float frozen frosty bubbles on the cold still deaf-and-dumb white white white

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Grace Andreacchi was born and raised in New York City but has lived on the far side of the great ocean for many years - sometimes in Paris, sometimes Berlin, and nowadays in London. Works include the novels Give my Heart Ease, which received the New American Writing Award, and Music for Glass Orchestra, and the play Vegetable Medley (New York and Boston). Stories and poetry appear in both on-line and print journals. Her work can be viewed at http://graceandreacchi.com. 272


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