Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Episode 16 | The angel of silence

 We ate in silence. My father concentrated on his food, and never glanced in my direction, as if avoiding me. His story had only given rise to more questions. Why had he and Catherine hidden so many things from me? My father's poverty, his tough beginning as an artist... And if I had understood well, my mother had hidden something about that Armand de Montbelle... probably, that Carlo had left us for him. Otherwise, what was the point in Carlo telling me a story about his relationship with that man who was a complete stranger to me? And that apparition thing? That revelation talk... what was that supposed to be?!

"Ma che meraviglia! This food is really wonderful!" my father exclaimed. He was the typical Italian who enjoyed eating and appreciated good food. "How did you learn about this place, Laurent?"

I dropped the bomb. "It belongs to a friend of Dan Charmand, who recommended it to me..." For almost two decades now, Dan had been the director to Vice's Contemporary Art Museum, where my exhibition was opening the following day. His passionate, diligent work, along with his charisma and unstoppable determination, were responsible for VI/CAM being one of the most important and prestigious museums in the world. Consequently, Dan was one the most powerful and influential men in the Olympus of Art. 

"You know Charmand!" My father was in dismay, without even knowing that Dan had also been my artistic mentor for my whole career.The walls of the Nirvana Lounge were covered with Romantic portraits curated by him, good enough but not too valuable to be displayed in an ambient with the steam and smell of food. Is he trying to teach me another lesson in art?, I had wondered, when I had entered the lounge a couple of hours before. Rules were that the owner of the restaurant couldn't have paid Dan for his consultancy directly, since his position in the Museum did not allow it. But Dan was made free of charge at the lounge, and he had extended that privilege to me for one night. "How come?! Of course... Did you meet him just now, for your show?"

"No, not really. I met Dan... Mr. Charmand, I called him at the beginning, haha... some ten years ago, when I was going to the university here. Dan helped me make the decision to drop out of Journalism School. He has been... like a father to me." I used that word on purpose, to watch Carlo's reaction.

"Dan Charmand... fatherly?!?" Carlo gasped. "That's the first time ever I hear anything nice being said about him! Dictator, despot, tyrant... that's more like him! Have I heard you call him simply... Dan?!" My father couldn't hide his astonishment, and for the first time that evening, he was agitated. "How in hell have you met him?" His voice had raised slightly. I rejoiced at seeing him a bit angry, perhaps jealous even. "Oh my God!" Carlo lifted himself off the chair, as if he was going somewhere. Was he running away? Or was he going to slap me? "Will I see Dan in one of your portraits?!?" He grimaced.

"Haha, Carlo! You mean..." I was enjoying teasing my father, delighted in the strong aversion he showed for Dan. "No, Dan is not one of my ex-lovers..." And having pronounced my friend's name stressing our intimacy, I enjoyed the effect of my words as Carlo raised his eyebrows, and glanced at me severely. I knew just what he was thinking. "Nor is he my present lover, Carlo." I wasn't going to encourage a rumor that had often enough circulated in the Arts world, that among Dan's boys I was the only permanent. "I don't even have one, at the moment... But never mind. I met Dan through Angelo," I had to clean my throat as  I spoke that doomed name, "my boyfriend at the time... Dan owed Angelo a few favors, let's put it that way. And Angelo owed me many favors!" The last two years of my relationship with Angelo had been the worst of my life in Vice City. "He was... continuously cheating me at that time. But I loved him and would forgive him repeatedly... I was so afraid to lose him, I would do anything to keep him, and I think Angelo felt guilty sometimes..." I confessed, though I knew Carlo was interested in Charmand instead of Angelo.

"Angelo insisted I was a better painter than I was a writer, and to prove himself right he arranged an interview for me with Dan. Contrary to my expectations about such an important figure in the Visual Arts world, Dan Charmand agreed to come to my humble atelier one day, to see my amateurish works." I told Carlo.

It was a tense visit, with details I intended to omit from my father. Charmand seemed so rigid at first, and I just waited that moment when he would spit on one of my paintings. His museum had displayed Gerhard Richter and Pierre Soulages, and who was I compared to them? Dan was silent and very solemn, but less arrogant and haughty than I had expected. I had chosen three or four paintings to show to him, and the rest I had hidden, so that there was not much to see. But he did look at each work carefully. 'Bacon meets Gilbert and George' he commented about one of my nudes, a self portrait. I recall he checked on my butt, too, comparing it with the painting. Years later, as we had become intimate friends, he remarked my rear was 'very photogenic'. From the first moment we met, he seemed impressed with my looks, or what he called a 'spiritual beauty'. That afternoon, from the way he constantly observed me, glancing in my direction more than at the paintings, I sensed his greater interest was in me, and not in my art.

 "Just before walking out the door, Dan stated my portraits were 'bold and crude' -- that was all." I summarized to Carlo. "And I didn't get whether it was a compliment or a criticism..." My whole body had been shaking after he left, but that I wouldn't mention to my father. I remember being nervous, of course, but somehow that visit had also been sexually exciting, though Dan had not touched me in anyway, not even shaking hands. Who has said that power is an aphrodisiac? Dan did not have to do much, with his dominant presence and preeminent position, to take men to his bed. "But I guess he liked them," I laughed, "because since that first visit, my career has been practically under his sole guidance." I admitted.

My father seemed at once disgusted and fascinated at my association with Dan Charmand. But before he inquired any further, I moved on with the subject and towards the point that interested me.

"You've never met Angelo, have you, Carlo?" I observed anger and resentment rising in me with the memories of my ex-boyfriend. "I met Angelo a couple of years after you left, we were just teenagers... and we stayed together for almost 8 years. We both joined the Journalism School here in Vice City. We shared a room, we shared a bed, we shared a life... Pretty much like you and your Armand..." I braced myself and inquired "Carlo, you haven't answered my question. Is it... 'like father, like son'?"

"Haha, that's very skillful of you, Laurent. To pose your question that way." Still, Carlo did not seem inclined to answer it. "About me and 'my Armand', as you put it... He is a public figure now." He paused. "You might have heard of him..." Another visual artist, is he? I wondered. Two men with the same profession was a bit cliché, among gay couples. "Professionally, he uses his mother's family name, Purlux Drurien."

"You mean..." I gasped, and almost chocked, "your Armand is the famous architect Armand Purlux Drurien? Oh, I love his work so much!" I was elated. "So clean, elegant and contemporary. So important, too, in the way he humanizes architecture. He's one of my best loved architects!" I did not hide my surprise nor my enthusiasm, and I also wanted to show off my knowledge and let Carlo know how I had grown to be a citizen of the world, so far from that frightened rural teenager he had abandoned. "Didn't he win the Pritzker Prize a few years ago? His program of quality housing for the poor is so dignifying!" I had thought of studying Architecture myself, and Purlux Drurien had been one of my inspirations. And now I discovered my father had shared a bed with him in Paris, and on an island lost in the Indian Ocean. "Wow! Carlo, why are you telling me this story that involves Purlux Drurien? I'm getting more and more confused!"

"Confused how, son? It's about your own genesis... In a way, it is indeed 'like father, like son', Laurent. Can't you see it?" Carlo's glance drifted until he was looking right into his glass of wine, perhaps noticing its deep color or how it reflected the light. But he did not drink from it. "You've become a painter, like me. I haven't met your Angelo, but I know from your mother that he was the only relationship you've had so far..." That came as another surprise, that Carlo knew something about me coming from my mother? Had they been talking? And when? "And it has ended for how many years already? I'm sorry, son, I see you suffer when you talk about him. The point is... Just like I've only had Catherine myself. She's been my only lover, can you believe that?" Carlo gave a sad smile, nevertheless a bit ironic, too.

That remark from my father had hurt. He had just learned about my extensive list of lovers, yet, with acumen he clearly saw and pointed to the fact that Angelo had been my one and only love so far, the one I still hopelessly felt attached -- and perhaps even attracted -- to.

 "I'm a loner, and so are you, Laurent." Carlo continued. "It is like father, like son indeed, but there is more, and you'll understand everything soon!"

"The next morning meditation..." he continued with his story, "the apparition was there again, before my eyes, in a cloud of light shining brighter than the rising sun."

But since that pacifying dream I had had with the child, I no longer was afraid. My heart was beating really fast, and my body temperature seemed to have decreased, even under the tropical sun, but I was able to slowly stand to my feet -- and the apparition did not evaporate like the other morning.

I approached the child and was able to see his features better -- it was a boy, beautiful like a cherub. And suddenly I understood it... He did not belong to that island. He was not one of the spirits who had not incarnated, nor the ghost of some baby born dead. This boy did not come from the past. This boy was coming from the future to meet me! That boy who visited me at the beach on the Birth Island... I remember for sometime thinking that boy was me, the new Carlo, who had been reborn on that island and had a chance to begin anew. But to answer your other question....

That morning, Armand again met me at the beach. I'd usually swim after my meditation, but instead of going back to the house, I waited for him to join me. Like I said, I knew how he enjoyed his privacy, and I tried not to be too much of a nuisance to him, on that private paradise he had found for himself.

We just silently sat there, exchanging a reassuring glance every once in a while, to again rest our eyes on the boundless horizon that enveloped us -- one could almost be sure that the earth was round, because the horizon resembled a curved line. As a peasant boy, encapsulated by the mountains, I had never dreamed the existence of such limitless spaces. And I was about to turn the Île du Blanchomme into my home, and that expanse and wilderness would be my everyday!

Ships slowly went by announcing our imminent farewell, and I thought we shared the same feeling -- another day together on the island also meant one day less to be together on the island, with Armand's impending departure. After all the excitement of the first two days, my heart had settled and I could sense Armand's melancholy so much stronger.

The silence between us had grown immense.

They say silence is an angel sitting between two people. Was that boy that had appeared to me... that angel of silence? And did Armand sense I was now hiding something from him?

Because ours was an uncomfortable silence, full of expectations -- you could sense the tension in the air, and no angel.

It was a silence born from fear as a father, and a secret as a mother. I sensed Armand staring at me when I was not looking at him, and averting his gaze whenever my eyes tried to meet his. Had Armand seen the boy, too, and was just waiting for me to mention it? Because I sometimes sensed a new and intense curiosity from his part directed towards me, an expectation, as if Armand was silently questioning me.

I suspected he might have seen the apparition, too, and was as bewildered as I was. Little did I know.

Those moments wouldn't last forever, though, and no matter how uncomfortable they were for two loners on a lonely island to bear, suddenly the seed of a conversation would spring up, and our peaceful and pleasurable routine of brotherhood be restored.

Or was it that we had spoken about all that mattered to our souls, and then fallen silent?

Our only remaining conversation topics seemed to be Armand's restoration plans for the house -- he had a few more to share with me, and the corresponding instructions. His biggest concern was the water spring, the one thing differentiating the Île du Blanchomme from the other atoll islands around, and which had turned it into a Portal Island. It was the drinking water to make it possible for women to come and give birth on the Île. It was the source of life -- and Herr Weissmann, noting the water stream would almost disappear during certain periods of the year, had excavated a pool around it, to stop if from flowing directly towards the sea. Armand now wanted to plant a tree, or even more than one, to shade the pool and lessen the evaporation.

"We have to consider which tree that would be." I temporized.

"One with a thick, evergreen canopy." was my friend's comment. "Or we might consider one that bears flowers, and fruits." Armand dreamed of swimming in the pool built by Herr Weissmann, that was encased among rocks, shaded by a natural, flamboyant pergola, adorned with flowers and their scent. "Wouldn't it be lovely to be able to just raise an arm and pick a fruit while we swim?" 

Tropical dreams of an European prince, I thought -- very unpractical. Yet, I did not criticize him. "We should better consider the tree's roots, mon cher ami." I pondered. "The wrong tree could dry the source." Again, Armand marveled at my peasant knowledge, and gave me carte blanche on those matters.

I was more than willingly happy to engage in the labors and challenges he proposed. If on my own I still had not found my place in this life, my best friend was indicating where it could be for me.

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