View Poll Results: Mircea Cărtărescu

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Thread: Mircea Cărtărescu

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    Default Mircea Cărtărescu

    Mircea Cărtărescu: IEI; or IEE, LII, or SLE?; or EIE or SEI


    - from Nostalgia by Mircea Cărtărescu; pp. 1-5:

    PROLOGUE


    I open the book, the book moans
    I cast for the times, the times are gone



    TUDOR ARGHEZI




    THE ROULETTE PLAYER


    Grant Israel’s consolation
    To the one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.




    I record here (for what reason?) these verses from Eliot. In any case, not as a possible opening for one of my books, because I will never write anything else again. Yet, if I write these lines, I do not regard them as literature, not by far. I have written enough literature, for sixty years I did nothing but that, so let me permit myself now, at the end’s end, one moment of lucidity: everything I wrote after the age of thirty was no more than painful imposture. I’ve had enough of writing without the hope that I would ever surpass myself, that I would ever be capable of leaping over my shadow. It’s true, up to a certain point I have been honest with myself, in the only manner possible for an artist; that is, I wanted to say everything about myself, absolutely everything. But so much more bitter was the illusion, since literature is not the adequate means to say anything real about yourself. From the first lines with which you layer the page, the hand that holds the pen slips into a foreign, mocking hand, as though entering a glove, while your image in the page’s mirror scatters all over the place like quicksilver, so that out of its disordered blobs coagulates the Spider or the Worm or the Degenerate or the Unicorn or the God, when all you wanted to do was simply speak about yourself. Literature is teratology.


    For a few solid years now I’ve been sleeping an agitated sleep and dreaming an old man who goes mad from loneliness. Only the dream reflects me realistically. I wake up weeping from loneliness, even though I may spend the day in the comfort of friends who are still living. I can’t bear to live my life any longer, but the fact that today or tomorrow I will cross into endless death forces me to try to reflect. Because of this, because I must reflect, like someone who is thrown into a labyrinth is forced to seek an exit, even through walls smeared with dung, even through a rathole; this is the only reason I still write these lines. Not particularly to prove (to myself) that God exists. Unfortunately I have never been, despite all my efforts, a believer, I have never had to endure a battle with doubt or denial. It might have been better for me to be a believer, because writing requires drama and drama is born out of the agonizing struggle between hope and despair, where faith plays a role which I imagine is essential. In my youth half the writers converted, while the other half lost faith, which for their literature produced just about the same effect. How I envied them for the fire their demons fanned under the cauldrons where they wallowed as artists! And look at me now, cradled in my nook, a bundle of rags and cartilage, whose mind or heart or faith no one would think to bet on, because there is nothing more to take from me.


    I drowse here in my armchair, terrified at the thought that nothing exists outside anymore other than night, solid as an infinite lump of pitch, a black fog that has slowly gnawed, in pace with the advancing years, cities, houses, streets, faces. The only sun left in the universe seems to reside in the lamp’s light bulb, and the only thing illuminated by it—an old man’s shriveled face.

    After I’m dead, my tomb, my cranny, will continue to float in the black fog, the solid fog, ferrying nowhere these pages which no one will read. But in them is finally . . . everything. I have written a few thousand pages of literature—powder and dust. Intrigues masterfully conducted, marionettes with electrifying grins, but how to say anything, even a little bit, in this immense convention of art? You would like to turn the reader’s heart inside out, but what does he do? At three he’s done with your book, at four he takes up another, no matter how great the book you placed in his hands. But these ten, fifteen pages, they are a different matter, a different game. My reader now is no one else but death. I even see his black eyes, humid, attentive like a young girl’s, reading as I fill up the page, line after line. These pages contain my scheme for immortality.

    I say scheme—although everything—and this is my triumph and my hope—is the truth. How strange: most of the characters populating my books are invented, but they appeared to everyone as copies of reality. Only now do I have the courage to write about someone who is real, someone who lived for a long time in my proximity, but who, according to my conventions, would appear improbable. No reader could accept that in his world, elbowing him in the same streetcar, breathing the same air, might live a man whose life is an actual mathematical proof of an order in which no one believes today, or believes only because it is absurd. But!—the Roulette Player is not a dream, and neither is he the hallucination of a sclerotic brain, nor an alibi. Now, thinking about him, I am convinced that I too made the acquaintance of that beggar at the end of the bridge whom Rilke wrote about, around whom the worlds rotate.



    - pp. 6-8: . . . he was the only being who was fated to catch sight of the infinite mathematical God and challenge him to a wrestling match.

    I claim no merit for knowing him or that I can write about him. I might be able to hoist, but with only his aspect before my eyes, an enormously ramified scaffolding, a paper Babel, a Bildungsroman of a thousand pages, where I, like Thomas Mann’s humble Serenus Zeitblom, would follow with huffing soul the progressive demonizing of the new Adrian. But then, what? Even if by the turn of an absurd fate I could come up with what I hadn’t for sixty years, a masterpiece, I ask myself, what is the good of it? . . . For my final purpose, for my grand stake (next to which all of the world’s masterpieces are nothing but sand in an hourglass or dandelion down), it is enough to list in a few lines the larval life stages of a psychopath: the brutal child . . . who slices insects into sections and kills songbirds with stones, passionate about playing marbles and throwing horseshoes (I remember him perpetually losing, losing money, losing marbles, losing buttons then desperately getting into brawls); the adolescent with moments of epileptic fury and exacerbated erotic appetites; the jailbird sentenced for rape and burglary. I believe that the only one close to him during this last twisted stage of his life was me, perhaps because we had been somehow thrown together since childhood, our parents being neighbors. In any case, he never hit me and looked at me less suspiciously than the rest, whoever they may have been. I remember, each time I visited him—even in prison, where, in the greenish chill of the visiting room, cursing horrendously, he complained all the time of his bad luck at poker—he asked me for money. He wept from the humiliation of being perpetually cleaned out, of being incapable of even one lucky hand among the thousands he played, where he might win money from the others. He sat there on the green bench, a pint-sized man with eyes reddened by conjunctivitis.

    No, it’s impossible for me to speak of him in a realistic manner. How can you realistically present a living parable? Any automatic device, any stylistic trick or turn that hints even slightly at literary prose depresses me, nauseates me. Let me say that after he was released from prison, he took up drinking and after one year hit the skids something horrible. He had no job, and the only places where you could be certain to find him were a few lowlife dives, where for that matter I believe he slept. You saw him ambling from one table to the next, attired in that unmistakable manner that drunks adopt (jacket over bare skin, trousers’ butt dragging on the ground) and bumming a mug of beer. Numerous times I saw the sinister prank, painful even for me, but at the same time amusing, that the usual customers played on him from time to time: they called him to their table and promised him his mug of beer if he could draw the long matchstick from the pair that one of them held in his fist. And they rolled around laughing hysterically when he always drew the short one. Not once, I am certain of this, did he win his beer in this way.

    It was during that period that my first short stories appeared in magazines, and after a time my first short-story volume, which even today I consider the best work I have ever done. I was happy then about each line I wrote, I felt myself competing not with my contemporaries but with the great writers of the world. Slowly I gained entry to the consciousness of the public and the literary world, I was worshipped and violently censured in equal proportion. I got married for the first time and, finally, I felt I was alive. This was in fact fatal for me, because writing doesn’t reconcile itself with happiness and plenty. I had forgotten of course about my friend, when, a few years later, I ran into him again in the most unlikely place: a restaurant in the center of the city, in the low, hallucinatory halo cast by a cluster of chandeliers studded with rainbow flashing prisms. I was speaking quietly with my wife while my gaze roamed through the room, when suddenly my attention was drawn to a group of businessmen who occupied an ostentatiously stacked table. There he sat, in their midst, the center of attention, in his gaunt lankiness, brilliantly outfitted but still displaying the vagabond appearance, his dim hollow eyes. He lounged insouciantly on a chair, while the others prattled on in a sort of uncouth mirth. I have always been repulsed by the burnished cheeks and the ill-bred undertaker garb men of that ilk affect to distinguish themselves. But I was above all perplexed by the unexpected transfiguration of my friend’s material situation. I have no idea if he was happy to see me, he was impenetrable, but he invited us to join them, and as the evening wore on, among the many banalities and stupidities which threaded our conversation, a few imprecise allusions filtered in, enigmatic phrases the businessmen flung over the baroque abundance stacking the table and to which I had no clue how to react. For the following several weeks I sensed the terror of beginning to discern, albeit subconsciously, some vistas which disappeared toward a space other than the bourgeois world which, after all, we inhabited, even if softly hued by art’s posturing. More, I had on numerous occasions, on the street or in my office, the feeling that I was being watched, scrutinized by something indefinite, circumstantial, which floated and dissolved like twilight smoke in the air. Now I know for certain that I was indeed subjected to close scrutiny, because I had been chosen to begin my apprenticeship in the subterranean world of the roulette.

    At times I am filled with happiness at the thought that God could not exist. What years ago seemed a bloody paradise (my life of that period flashes before me in a greenish foreshortening resembling Mantegna’s Christ) appears to me now as an inferno euphemized by forgetting but no less probable and thus, horrifying.




    - pp. 11-24: The roulette player was most certainly the roulette’s star and its reason for being. As a rule, the roulette players were recruited from the great throngs of unfortunates resembling vagabond dogs, the drunks, and jailbirds fresh out on the street, ever in search of bread. Anyone, as long as he was alive and willing to place his soul on the battleground for much, much money (but what did money mean under those conditions?) could become a roulette player. It was also preferable that he was, as much as possible, without social relations: job, family, close friends. The roulette player had five chances in six to survive. He usually received about ten percent of what the boss earned. The boss must be in possession of serious funds, because if his roulette player died, he had to play all the stakes the stockholders wagered against him. The stockholders in their turn had one chance in six to win, but if the roulette player died, they could demand stakes ten times over, or even twenty times, according to prior agreement with the boss. The roulette player, however, did not have five chances out of six to live except the first time he played. Statistically speaking, if he placed the pistol once more against his temple, his chances diminished. At his sixth attempt, his chances dwindled to zero. In fact, until my friend entered the world of the roulette, becoming the Roulette Player in capitals, there were no known cases of survival after even four games. Of course, most of the roulette players played occasionally and would not repeat for anything in the world their dreadful experience. Only a few were attracted by the possibility of making money, and this usually in order to employ a roulette player themselves—and thus becoming bosses—which was actually possible after the second game.

    There is no reason to continue here with further description of the game. It is, in truth, stupid and alluring like any game hallowed by the stain of blood, so pleasing to our despicable nature. I return to the one who destroyed the game by force of the fact that he played it to perfection. From what legend tells (which you could hear at the time in all of the city’s taverns), he was not recruited by any boss but found out single-handedly about the roulette and sold himself. I suspect the boss who hired him was delighted to get a roulette player without any trouble, because long and exasperating transactions were usually necessary, agonizing bargains with those who assigned their souls to the auction block. At the start, any vagabond would demand the moon in the sky, and you needed consummate skill to convince him that his life and his blood were not worth the entire universe, but that instead, they were worth a certain number of paper bills, and that number depended on the demand of the market. A roulette player to whom you didn’t need to demonstrate that he was in fact a nobody, whom you didn’t need to threaten with the police, was unexpected luck, all the more so when he accepted without discussion the first offer, proposed out of the corner of your mouth and with eyes askance in the usual manner of the bosses. About the first few roulette games that my friend participated in, I couldn’t find out very much. I can’t imagine that he was noticed by the stockholders the first and the second time he survived, or even the third. At most, he was thought of as a lucky player. After his fourth, his fifth, he had already become the central figure of the game, a veritable myth that would in fact burgeon exorbitantly in the years that followed. During a period of two years, until our encounter in the restaurant, the Roulette Player lifted the pistol to his temple eight times in various cellars throughout the filthy labyrinths underneath the foundations of our city. Each time, I was told—and later saw it for myself—on his tormented face almost without a forehead, an overwhelming terror etched itself, an animal fear that you couldn’t bear to witness. It seemed as though this very fear cajoled fate and helped him escape. His emotional tension reached a peak when, tightening his eyelids and smirking, he abruptly pulled the trigger. You heard the slight click, after which his frame with its heavy bones crashed softly to the floor: he lost consciousness but was unharmed. For several days he was out cold in his bed, completely emptied of vitality, but then he quickly recovered and took up again the life he usually lived, between the cabaret and the brothel. As hard as he tried—being possessed of a limited imagination—he could not spend as much as he earned and ended up increasingly wealthier. He had long relinquished having a boss; he became his own boss. Why he continued risking his life was an enigma. You could only come up with one explanation, that he did it for a kind of glory, like an athlete who attempts to surpass himself in each race. If that in fact was the truth, it was something entirely new in the world of the roulette, which was always played exclusively for money. Who would get it into his head to become a world champion at surviving? The fact was that the Roulette Player managed to maintain for the time the demented tempo of that race which he ran against only one other competitor: death. And, just when it seemed that this clandestine cavalcade was about to tumble into monotony (those who went to witness my friend’s roulettes did it only out of the desire to see him gone once and for all and not in order to bet, because they had developed the increasingly resigned sentiment they were betting against the devil), the Roulette Player perpetrated his first gesture of defiance which practically liquidated the roulette, pulverizing any possibility of competition besides the one between him and everything that surpasses our unfortunate condition. In the winter of that year he announced, through the ineffable, speedy, and certain network of information of the world of the roulette, that he would organize a special roulette on Christmas night: the revolver’s chamber would be loaded with two bullets instead of one.

    The chances of survival were now only three to one, if you didn’t consider their progressive reduction after so many games. Many connoisseurs, even after the Roulette Player’s death, regarded that Christmas roulette as his stroke of genius, and that everything that followed, though more spectacular, was merely a consequence of that gesture. The subterranean room belonged to a cognac factory and preserved the chemical reek of poor quality alcohol. Though it was larger than other rooms I had been in, that night it was packed. Anywhere you looked, you stared at the faces of well-known figures, officers and painters, industrialists and society women, even a few bearded priests, all of them animated by the unexpected innovation brought to the rules of the roulette. The blackboard on which two young men in shirt-sleeves wrote the odds of the betting occupied the entire wall behind the crate upon which the Roulette Player would take his place. In time he made his appearance, barely discernible through the blue smoke of the cellar. He stepped up on the crate and, after the ceremonial of the detailed verification of weapon and bullet—which lasted longer than usual, as the members of the crowd couldn’t refuse themselves the pleasure of caressing, almost voluptuously, the gun’s barrel—he picked up the pistol, loaded it, shoving the two bullets at random into the openings of the chamber, which he then twirled by rolling his palm over it. The tiny cogged cackle was heard again in the silence of the room, but as always the silence was not disturbed by an explosion, and no flower of blood stained the wall’s plaster. The Roulette Player collapsed from the crate into the arms of those in the first rows, knocking over glasses and propelling rolls of coins over the improvised tables. I wept like a child, from relief and from despair: I had bet a sum which for me was gigantic, and lost, just like all those who had taken an obstinate stance despite the evidence that the Roulette Player’s chance of winning was enormous. We left the tortuous lair, as always in small groups; the night outside, the silence of the outskirts made us feel as we walked that we were the object of a gaze that had dissolved the entire surroundings in the layer of blinding, fluorescent snow that had fallen over everything, over the display windows adorned with Christmas trees and stars of silver paper, over the rare passers-by loaded with packages and bundled-up children, with scars shrouding their mouth and nose. Here and there a woman with cheeks glowing from the humid cold, wrapped in a fur coat, dragged her lover or husband in front of the boots or shawls in the shop windows casting violet and turquoise and azure shadows upon their faces. My walk home took me alongside the children’s playground, where a horde of bewildered urchins smeared with candy paused before the tiny stands selling lemonade and gingerbread. A father huddled in bulky clothes, dragging after him on the thin ice a sled mounted by his little girl, winked at me. He was one of the bosses I had encountered at another roulette. Suddenly I felt horrible.

    Certainly, I promised myself many times to break with the world of the roulette. But during that time I published around two or three books a year; I had the sort of success that preceded a long silence followed by forgetfulness. With each new book I recovered my roulette losses, and then I would dive into it again, under the earth, where a foreboding of flesh and bones lures us while we are still alive. The one thing I wonder a great deal about now is the “idealistic” and “delicate” content of those books, the nauseating D’Annunzionism I indulged in. Noble reflections, royal gestures, silk lace, scintillating mots d’esprit and a narrator who is wise and all-knowing, who spun out of the substance without substance of his stories thousands of dainty charms. Once again lured into the roulette’s conspiracy, it was impossible not to be instantly struck, as though by a wave that becomes progressively hotter and more turbulent, by the news about the new rules of the game tacitly imposed by the overwhelming personality of the Roulette Player. After repeating two more times the double-bullet roulette, he found himself so wealthy, so engaged in owning stock in so many branches of the country’s big businesses, that the roulette, as a lowlife affair, as a source of existence or wealth, became an absurd idea. On the other hand, his odds tended to decline, despite the fanatics who ruined themselves by obstinately playing against him. At a single sign from the Roulette Player, the whole system of bets crumbled. It was now considered in bad taste to organize the roulettes where some miserable vagabond would place the pistol to his temple. There were no more bosses and no more stockholders, and the only one who still organized the roulettes was the Roulette Player. But everything became a spectacle involving tickets rather than bets, a show with only one performer who, from time to time, like a gladiator in the arena, confronted his destiny. The rented halls became progressively more spacious. The tradition of the underground hole was abandoned, along with the reek of blood and manure, the Rembrandtian penumbras. Now the subterranean rooms were decorated with heavy silks with a watery sheen, crystal goblets on the tables that were buried in waves of Dutch lace, furniture decorated with floral intarsia and candelabra with hundreds of prisms and quartz icicles. Instead of ordinary beer, sophisticated drinks were served in bottles contorted into odd shapes. Women in evening gowns were escorted to the tables, from where they inquisitively surveyed the stage on which an orchestra now played, bursting out in every direction with golden funnels of trumpets, curved necks of saxophones, graceful cylinders, in constant motion, of trombones. I suppose that was how the room looked when the Roulette Player loaded the revolver with three bullets. He had now as many possibilities to survive as to play this demented game for the last time. This new ambience, the ostentatious luxury that mantled the roulette’s terrifying insect like a chrysalis, did nothing if not inflame the spectators’ fervor for the smell of death. Everything that follows is very much the truth. The Roulette Player doused his hair with brilliantine and wore a smock with the loose trousers fashionable at the time, but the revolver was real, and so were the bullets, and the probability of the expected “accident”—greater than ever. The weapon circulated through everybody’s hands, leaving on one’s fingers a subtle odor of oil. Not even the most delicate lady in the room concealed her eyes, in whose violet sparkle you could read the perverse craving to witness what many only heard about the roulette: the cranium cracking like an eggshell and the ambiguous liquid substance of the brain gushing on the gown’s lap. As for me, I have always been shaken by the craving of women to be near death, their fascination with men who, almost metaphysically, smell of gunpowder. The incredible success with women of a chimpanzee, haggard and stupid, who from time to time gambles with his own life, must have its roots in this. At no other time, I believe, did they love with such zest, those women, who after witnessing a man’s death went home with their lovers, shedding their bloodied dresses, stained like bandages by the ashen substance and the ocular liquid. But the Roulette Player stepped up on the crate, adorned now with red brocade, lifted the pistol to his temple and, with the same expression of convulsive fright on his face, jerked the trigger. Then, in the silence that suspended everything for the space of a few seconds, all you heard was the thud of his frame hitting the floor. After a few days’ delirium at the hospital, the Roulette Player resumed his usual life. It’s difficult for me to forget his tortured aspect, sprawled on the Bukhara rug at the foot of the crate with his eyes staring upward. Other times the roulette players who survived were booed and hooted by the forlorn stockholders; but now, my friend was cheered like a movie star and his body, plunged into unconsciousness, was surrounded with veneration. Young women, hysterically weeping, swarmed toward him and were happy merely to touch him.

    The roulette with three greased bullets inside the chamber fuses in my mind with the events that followed. It was as though the diabolical arrogance of the Roulette Player propelled him ever more to offend Chance’s divinities. Soon, he announced a roulette with four bullets thrust into the chamber’s alveoli, and then, with five. One single empty opening out of six, one single chance of survival out of six! This game ceased being a game and even the most superficial among those who occupied the velvet armchairs felt—not with their brains, but with their bones and cartilage and nerves—the theological grandeur that the roulette had achieved. After the Roulette Player loaded his weapon and twirled the chamber, unleashing again the tiny staccato cackle of well-oiled black metal, the hexagonal cylinder, heavy with bullets paused—with its single empty space—in front of the hammer. The click of the trigger, which sounded with a hollow echo, and the collapse of the Roulette Player were surrounded by a sacred silence.


    I sit at my writing table with the blanket thrown over me, and yet I am horridly cold. While I wrote those lines, my room, my tomb, has whirled so quickly through the black fog outside that I got sick. I twisted and turned in my bed all night long, a helpless sack of bones steamed by sweat. Outside nothing exists anymore, or will evermore. No matter how long you might journey, in whatever direction, all the way to the infinite, all you would find is the black fog, dense and solid as pitch. The Roulette Player is the stake I wager on and the kernel of dough around which the fluffy bread of the world might grow. Otherwise everything, whether it exists or not, is as flat as a biscuit. If he existed, and he did exist—that is my wager—then the world exists, and I will be no longer forced to shut my eyes; with shriveled skin on my bones, with my flesh as my sheath like a fur of blood, I will march forth for as long as eternity lasts. From this story let me fashion myself an aquarium, the most miserable of aquariums—because I have no interest in a fancy aquarium—where he and I, guarantors of each other’s reality, will attempt to survive, like a couple of semitransparent fish whose heartbeat is on view, dragging along after them a thin strand of excrement. I am horrified at the thought that the aquarium might get punctured. For God’s sake, let me keep trying, though I no longer feel my spine . . .


    For years on end the Roulette Player had the Angel by the lapels, trying his best to throw him and shaking him all over. The evening came, however, when he grabbed him by the throat and, gathering all his strength, stared him deeply in the eye. And the Lord, toward morning, crippled the Roulette Player and changed his name . . . During that last evening, practically the entire upper crust of the city congregated in the huge refrigerated hall beneath the abattoir. The hall’s decor may have appeared entirely odd to those accustomed to the parvenu’s ostentatious luxury of previous halls. I can’t tell whether it was someone’s imagination or a reminiscence from Huysmans’ A rebours that inspired the nostalgic hybrid—a somewhat perverse admixture of promiscuity and refinement—whose effect was far more powerful than the pomp from the previous roulettes. At first sight—with the exception of the sheer size of the hall—you had the impression that you were inside one of the old cellars from the “prehistoric” period of the roulette. The walls were filled with obscene scribblings and inscriptions rudely scratched or traced with charcoal, but an eye with the merest of training could not help but notice right away the aesthetic refinement, the coherent and emotionally stirring manner of a great artist whose name, for obvious reasons, I prefer not to remember. The tables made of precious wood essences and golden moldings simulated the sardine barrels of the bygone era. Crystal mugs imitated the gross aspect of those made from cheap glass, down to the greenish nuance and the artificial blemishes. Gloomy filters scattered a morbid tallow flame light, admixed with waves of bluish smoke, like the cheap stogies of old, except that now they were perfumed with musk in order to awaken a delicately nostalgic sentiment. On the stage, at the front of the hall, brought in from the harbor rested an actual orange crate inscribed with Arabic script. Inside the hall, lured by that evening’s fantastic stakes, you could recognize diverse petroleum magnates in their white burnooses, movie stars and singers in current vogue, industrialists with starched shirt fronts and carnations inside their lapel buttonholes. Everyone agreed at the entrance to have a silk scarf tied around their eyes, not to be removed until they were already in the hall. I myself was a sort of star—I say this with plenty of disgust, in order not to be suspected of a lack of modesty—who attracted the stares of even the most blas among them, even those who were sitting next to me. Never before were my books—which had grown progressively thicker and in keeping with their taste—so highly publicized: noble, yes; first and foremost, noble. Generous, first and foremost, generous. Thus sounded the commendation of the jury when I received the National Prize: “For the noble and generous humanity of his books, for the complete mastery of an expressive language.”

    When the Roulette Player made his appearance in the room, bedecked in bizarre strips of cloth that tastefully simulated rags, and when the master of ceremonies, disguised as a boss, opened the box which he had brought under his arm offering the public a superb ivory-handled Winchester with a shimmering barrel (at present in a private collection), everyone and I stopped breathing. We refused to believe that what was to follow could actually take place: the Roulette Player had announced a few weeks earlier that at the next roulette he would load the revolver with all six bullets! Between the progression—no matter how improbable—from one bullet to five and thence to the present insanity, there was a chasm spanning the distance from one single chance to no chance at all. The last drop of the human which the Roulette Player had still preserved in his attempts had evaporated now under certitude’s million suns. The verification of the bullets and the weapon lasted hours on end. When they were returned to him, the Roulette Player took his place on the crate, made them clatter in his fist like dice, then inserted them, one by one, into the six openings of the chamber. With a violent jerk of his palm, he put them in motion. “Useless,” I remember someone whispering next to me. In the terrifying silence, the tiny cogged cackle of the chamber could be heard clearly. Shaking, his face convulsing, his eyes betraying a terror that you could only witness in those in agony, he lifted the pistol to the temple. The crowd stood up.

    I strained so hard to scrutinize him that I could feel the bulging of the veins in my temples. I could see the pistol’s hammer lifting slowly, appearing to vibrate. And abruptly, as though this vibration propagated itself into the room, I felt the ground run from under my feet. I saw the Roulette Player crumbling from the crate and the revolver discharging with an apocalyptic blast. But the air was already filled with a deafening clamor, split by the screams of the women and the clanging of the capsized bottles, now in splinters. Overtaken by the panic of the constricted space, we stepped on each other in order to scramble out. The tremors lasted a few good minutes, transforming entire streets into piles of debris and twisted metal. In front of the exit, a derailed streetcar crashed into a furniture store and smashed the windows to smithereens. After an hour, the earthquake started again, less forceful now. Who had the courage to venture into their own homes that night? I walked the streets until the morning’s fog whitened the horizon and the dust of the shattered buildings settled on the sidewalks. It wasn’t till then that I remembered the Roulette Player had probably been abandoned there, in the subterranean hall, and I went back to see if he was still living. I found him stretched on the floor, tended to by a few individuals. One of his legs was dislocated at the hip, and he gasped from pain. Next to him lay the revolver, reeking of gunpowder, with only five bullets in the chamber. The sixth left a blackish hole in one of the room’s walls, near the ceiling. I stopped a car on the street and took my childhood friend to the hospital. He recovered quickly, but limped for the rest of the year that he still lived. That evening, he buried the roulette, soon obliterated from everyone’s mind, the way we usually forget anything that we bring to perfection. The younger generations after the war never even suspected that such Mysteries ever existed. I alone bear witness—but for you, no one; but for you, nothing.

    From the evening of the earthquake on, the Roulette Player absconded to his dubious quarters, leaving behind him, as usual, a series of barely hushed-up scandals. It seems he never thought about the roulette again.


    I can’t write even one page a day. Constant pain in the legs and vertebrae. Pain in the fingers, in the ears, along the skin on my face. What will be, what will be after death? I would like to believe, how I would!—that a new life will open up there, that our present state is larval, a period of waiting. That the ego, the I, as long as it exists, must find a means to assure its own permanence. That I will embark upon something more infinite, more complex. Otherwise everything is absurd, and I see no place for the absurd in the world’s design. The billions of galaxies, the imperceptible fields, and finally this world which surrounds my cranium like an aura could not exist if I were unable to know it in its entirety, possess it, be it. Last night, cradled under my blankets, I had a kind of vision. I had just been born from an elongated and bloody belly, unutterably obscene, that propelled me with an odd twirling motion, with infinite speed, leaving behind me tracks of tears, lymph, and blood. I twisted myself like a screw into the night. And suddenly, out of night’s edge, appeared before me a gigantic God of light, so large that my senses and understanding could not contain him. I was headed toward his enormous chest, while the traces of his severe face were shooting upward, flattening out at the edge of my field of vision. Soon I couldn’t see anything but the great yellow light of his chest, which I pierced in my twisting, and after an endless navigation through his flesh of fire, I gushed out through the spine. Gazing behind me as I flew away, I saw this colossal Jehovah plummeting to the left with his face downward. Little by little, he diminished in size and disappeared, once again I was alone in the limitless night. After a time period impossible to appraise (but which I would name eternity), at the edge of my sight arose another enormous God, identical to the first. I pierced him as well and gushed forth into the void. Then, after a new eternity, another one appeared. The row of Gods, perused from behind, proliferated in size. There were hundreds, then thousands, plummeting with face downward to the right and to the left like the teeth of a gigantic zipper of flames. And opening the zipper in my flight, I unveiled the chest of the true God, which I beheld in foreshortening, more grandiose than anything in the world. Twirling and incinerated by his light, I hoisted myself to such a height above him that I could view him in his entirety. How beautiful he was! With hairy chest, like a bull, he displayed a woman’s bosom. His face was youthful, crowned by the flame of his locks braided in thousands of tresses; his hips wide, sheltering his powerful virile organ. In his entirety, from his brow to his soles, he was made only of light. His eyes were half-open, his smile was at once ecstatic and melancholy, while directly over his heart, underneath the left breast, he exposed a horrible wound. Between the fingers of his right hand he held, in an unbearably graceful manner, a red rose. Thus he floated, reclining in the space that strove to contain him, but which appeared soaked through, contained by him . . . I woke up amidst the cold furniture of my room, a senile man weeping dry tears. I wanted to throw away these senseless pages collected here. But what can a man who wrote literature all his life do? How can he escape the arcana of style? How, with what instruments, can you cloak the page with a pure confession, freed from the prison cell of artistic convention? Let me collect myself and have the courage to admit it: You can’t. I’ve known this from the beginning but, in my cornered animal cunning, I concealed my game, my stake, my bet from your gaze. Because, finally, I staked my life on literature. I used, in my masochistic, Pascalian reasoning, everything that causes me to take this “story” (only I know by what effort) to the end: I knew the Roulette Player. Of this I cannot have doubts. In spite of the fact that it was impossible for him to exist, still, he existed. But there is a place in the world where the impossible is possible, namely in fiction, that is, literature. There the laws of statistics can be broken, there you can have a man more powerful than the laws of chance. The Roulette Player couldn’t exist in the world, which is a way of saying that the world in which he existed is fictional, is literature. I have no doubt the Roulette Player is a character. But then I, too, am a character, and so I can’t stop myself from bursting with joy. Because characters never die, they live each time their world is “read.” If he never kisses his beloved, the shepherd painted on the Grecian urn knows at least that he will forever gaze at her. Thus, my wager and my hope. I hope from the bottom of my heart and I have a forceful argument: that the Roulette Player did exist, that I am a character from a tale and that, although I am eighty years old, I will never die, because in fact I never lived. Maybe I do not live in a worthwhile tale, perhaps I am only a secondary character, but for someone at the end of his life any perspective is preferable to that of disappearing forever.


    There were hundreds of speculations regarding the fantastic luck of the Roulette Player. What can I do except add one more, if not more real, at least more coherent than the majority of the others? Being familiar with the Roulette Player since childhood, I know that, in fact, what always distinguished him was not good luck, but on the contrary, bad luck, of the darkest, I would say supernatural, bad luck. Never once did he experience the joy of winning even the most childish game where chance played a role. From the game of marbles to horse races, from throwing horseshoes to poker, it seemed that destiny used him as a clown, always peered at him with an ironic eye. The roulette was his great chance, and it’s bewildering how this man, so rudimentary in his thought, found the cunning to capitalize on the only point to pierce, like a scorpion, fate’s armor and to transform everlasting ridicule into eternal triumph. How? It seems to me simple now, primitive, but at the same time brilliantly simple: The Roulette Player staked his bet against himself. When he lifted the pistol to his temple, he divided himself. His will turned against him and condemned him to death. Each time, he was convinced with his whole being that he would die. From that, the expression of endless horror which appeared on his face. However, his bad luck being absolute, he could only fail each time in his intention to commit suicide. Maybe this explanation is foolish, but as I said, I can’t see another that has a chance to stand on its own. In fact, none of this matters anymore now . . .


    I am tired. I make the effort of a lifetime to write a single page. It will be the last, because the dice are cast and the aquarium is finished. Let me plug up the last leaking crack—and then I will rest next to it, silent and motionless. Only the tresses and veils of swimmers will pulsate from time to time. I await that moment with such voluptuousness that I can barely wait to finish the tale of the Roulette Player. His end came quickly, soon after the six-bullet roulette which he monstrously survived. Less than a year later, returning from gambling one milky morning, he was abruptly dragged into an alleyway off the abandoned path he took home. An adolescent, less than seventeen years old, put a pistol to his temple and demanded his money. He was found a few hours later, dead, with the pistol next to him, from which the unfortunate punk didn’t wipe his fingerprints. The corpse had no trace of a bullet wound, and medical expertise concluded that death was caused by a heart attack. In fact, inside the revolver, which never went off, there were no bullets. The young man was found the same day, hiding at some friends’ house, and everything became clear. His intention was merely to rob. The pistol was empty, and he used it only to intimidate. But the drunk he attacked was overwhelmed by a terrible fear and collapsed to the ground, while the young man lost his head, threw away the revolver, and ran. Because he had no relatives and no one seemed to know him (I myself hid for a few days, till the whole thing blew over), the Roulette Player was buried in a hurry, with a simple cross made of boards stuck on his grave.

    This is how I, too, close my cross and coffin of words, under which, like Lazarus, I will await my return to life when I hear your powerful and clear voice, reader. I close—in order that the tombstone should have an epitaph, in order to complete the circle—with Eliot’s verses, which I love so dearly:


    Grant Israel’s consolation
    To the one who has eighty years and no to-morrow





    - pp. 27-31: I dream enormously, in demented colors. I have sensations in my dreams I never experience in reality. I wrote down hundreds of dreams over the last ten years, some of which repeated themselves convulsively, dragging me underneath the same Caudine Forks of shame and hatred and loneliness. Of course, they say that the writer loses one reader with each chronicled dream, that dreams in a story are tiresome, being nothing but a convenient and worn-out method of plunging into the abyss. Rarely indeed is the dream significant for another. Besides, writers sometimes resort to fabrication, they construct the dream according to preordained specifications in order to both reflect and organize the random reality of the story, like placing the cap of an ink pen in the middle of an amorphous piece of scribble and seeing a naked woman reflected in it. Because I wish to begin this tale with a dream, I am now making an attempt at defending myself against the accusation of laziness and naivet which it would automatically unleash.

    I am, as you well know, an occasional writer of prose. I write only for you, my dear friends, and for myself. My true occupation is commonplace, but I like it and I know its gimmicks very well. The writer’s gimmicks, however, leave me cold. For a year or so since I have been attending your Sunday meetings, I could have learned much regarding the technique through which a story comes together. On the other hand, I was afraid that I didn’t have a lot to say. In fact, until that night when I dreamed what I wish to tell you about, I was convinced there is nothing in my life worth being brought out into the light. Thus, I do not try to leap into the abyss but only wish to begin at the beginning, because I am convinced that, in life as in fiction, the beginning sets the tone. It is so even in madness. I recall how a friend of mine began to go astray. He came over to my studio apartment one evening in a very agitated state and recounted in an oddly coherent way what had happened to him an hour before: “I got on a streetcar to go visit an acquaintance. Because of the cold outside, the windows of the streetcar were steamed up. On a bench in front of me sat a peasant woman in a brown, dirty parka and a green head-scarf. I hadn’t even paid attention to her until she raised her hand, in a thick glove, and wiped a portion of the steamed window. I was staring outside through the stain, which had become transparent, when the streetcar entered a tunnel and the stain became black as pitch against the white background of the rest of the window. Well, the stain reproduced perfectly Goethe’s profile from the well-known shadow silhouette. Everything was there: the straight nose starting directly from the oblique forehead, the wig ending in a pony tail, the firm lips, the round chin . . .”

    But to get to the point and begin the story of the dream I mentioned. Two months ago I dreamt I was locked up in a jar, but one chiseled out as though of crystal rock. I was walking around inside the jar, which from time to time flashed with rainbows, and I gazed with great contentment through its walls at the fluid, flickering world around me. A bird approached from the distant mountains, paddling toward the jar, and the closer it got the larger it became, arching itself around the curved walls. When it got very close, I saw its gigantic almond eye widening as though seen through a magnifying glass and abruptly enclosing me from all sides. I covered my face with a horrified feeling of shame and pleasure. When I uncovered my eyes, I noticed that on the wall of the jar, which sparkled frantically, appeared the thin contours of a door. I rushed at it, frightened at the thought it might be open. But I was relieved: an enormous lock, soft, as though made of flesh, was suspended from the door. On the path that snaked down from the distant mountains and ended at my door walked a little girl. She looked gentle and well mannered as she walked toward me, with wet lips and large bows tied around her pigtails. The walls of the jar had now become square and sparkling clear, and suddenly I felt an irrational fear, a terror I would never experience again. The little girl paused in front of the door and started to pound with her little mother-of-pearl fists on the thick crystal. Trembling, I flung myself to the floor, but would not let her out of my sight. When she grasped the lock, I felt that my entrails were being wrenched, that my heart was exploding. She tore the lock off and, with blood-smeared hands, pushed open the heavy quartz door. She stood frozen on the doorstep in an attitude that is impossible for me to describe to you, for which there are no possible words. And suddenly I saw this same scene, but from somewhere behind the little girl: I was moving away from it, walking on the path leading to the distant mountains, so that I encompassed in my sight an increasingly larger surface of the massive walls of glass or crystal or ice of the jar, which was by no means a jar, but a giant castle, an obtuse construction, with cornices and moldings and chevrons and gorgons and skylights and balconies and crenellations and watchtowers and drainpipes, made from a cold and transparent matter. I stood there writhing on the ground, above the thousands of chambers with translucent walls and the little girl framed by the wide-open door, while from the castle entrance to the center chamber, hundreds of doors with bloody locks flung open against the wall.

    I woke up with an uncomfortable sensation which annoyed me all morning, but I didn’t remember the dream until after lunch, at first as flashes of pure emotion in the plexus, then later at school while listening to my students, as unintelligible, painful events. I needed all of the next day to reconstitute what I have told here. And I even have the impression, I don’t know why, that I had remembered much more than I know now but have forgotten it in the meantime. Yes, now as I write, the thought seizes me that I knew what gestures the little girl made in the dream and what words she spoke but feel that I can in no way concentrate on them. I hope to remember them in the course of this telling . . .

    I tried, as usual, after I wrote the dream down, to prepare an anamnesis for it. I began at random, with the intent of remembering a detail from it around which to string a sequence from the dream. After a reverie of about two hours before my coffee cup, during which time I concentrated on the dye-transfer picture glued on it—a purple butterfly with two spots like two immense blue eyes on the wings, fringed with gold and with the thorax shaped like a smooth and disgusting worm—I wrote in my journal the following text, which came to me spontaneously: “When I dream, a little girl leaps over her bed, goes to the window and, with her cheek glued to the glass, gazes at the sun setting over the pink and yellowish houses. She turns to face the bedroom, red as blood, then cuddles again against the wet bedsheets. When I dream, something comes near my paralyzed body, holds my head in its hands, and takes a bite from it as though from a translucent fruit. I open my eyes but do not dare make a move. I jump abruptly from my bed and go to the window. I gaze outside: the entire sky is nothing but stars.” And instantly, as though having uttered a sacred formula, I began to recover a few bits. Some of them I forget, but I know that suddenly I became aware that the jar image was rooted in a discussion I had on the phone with an ex-girlfriend who told me, among other things, that she had bought a pair of hamsters which she kept in a jar, on sawdust. Then my oldest memory came to my mind: I was at most two years old, and my parents lived on Silistra Street. The owner of the house, whose name was Catana, gave me a tiny bell as a gift. I remember even today, with perfect clarity, how I came out of the courtyard of my house and walked with my baby boots into a large muddy puddle spanning the length of the street. I let my little bell fall there in the water, and though I rummaged with my tiny hands through the bottom of the puddle, which was no deeper than a few centimeters, I never found the little bell again. I recall how perplexed I was. From this memory I realized that I must situate the unfurling of the dream much deeper in the past. I concentrated on the little girl, her pigtails tied with enormous bows of starched white cloth. I noticed a resemblance to the peasant women painted by the Dutch masters, women with their heads covered by large and vaulted lace. I thought of all the Dutch bedsheets on which reclined the superbly curved nudes of Ingres, and suddenly I was cornered by a memory: the little girl’s name was Iolanda. Then I had before my eyes the glass door of Entrance One in our apartment building, which was so difficult to open, the Dambovita Mill, the toy watches, so violently and painfully colored, and the image of Bucharest viewed from the balcony, illuminated at night by red and green billboards that flashed off and on. With an exhilaration that is difficult to describe, I disinterred from memory in a few minutes a number of things I was certain I knew nothing about anymore. More, I realized that it was that period of my life which infused me with all that is original and perhaps even unusual. I can’t understand how I managed to block out till now this perfect, mother-of-pearl globe, locked inside the ashen valves of my life as an unmarried and blas teacher, who lives simply because he was born. But I felt extremely happy that I also could have after all some interesting things to write about from my own experience. I am not thinking that I will write a story, but a kind of account, a short and honest narrative of the oddest (in fact, the only odd) period of my life. And I feel the hero of this narrative, even though he was only seven during the time when “the action took place,” is worth being spoken about, because I am convinced he marked forever—though subterraneously in my case—the destiny of all the children who played behind my apartment building on Stefan cel Mare Boulevard.

    The apartment building is eight stories high, while behind it there are now parking lots where the cars shiver next to each other in this winter’s bitter cold. Twenty-one years ago, when we moved here, my mother was barely out of the maternity ward, where she had given birth to my sister. I recall how, in the middle of an absolutely white and empty room where the light splashed in through a window that had neither curtains nor curtain rods, my mother sat on a chair and suckled the baby while blindingly illumined by the spring’s white sun. My head reached exactly as far as the height of the kitchen sink, whose enamel had been chipped by time in such a manner that it displayed on the bottom the outline of a stain which reproduced precisely the contour of Africa, with its principal deserts and rivers.

    The apartment building was in a stage of near-completion. It abutted on one end a building which always made me feel uneasy because of its crenellations and watchtowers, its infinite perspectives—which later I found again in de Chirico—while in the back, facing the mill (another medieval building, of sinister scarlet), it was still propped up by rusty scaffolding. Behind the apartment building the earth was ransacked by sewage ditches, which in places plummeted to the depth of two meters. This was our playing field, separated from the mill’s courtyard by a concrete fence. It was a new world, strange and dirty, full of places to hide; and we, seven or eight boys, aged between five and twelve, armed with blue and pink water pistols we bought for two lei at Little Red Riding Hood, the toy store at that time in the Obor district, became every morning its masters and explorers. That was the old Obor, the true one, where it always smelled of turpentine.




    - pp. 36-39: All day long we chased each other through the labyrinthine sewer ditches. We found our way down through certain spots, walking on top of the pipes painted with pitch and the giant faucets; the smell of dirt invaded our nostrils, or earthworms and larvae, of pitch and fresh putty. It filled us with madness. We armed ourselves with water pistols, covered our faces with masks made of corrugated cardboard we got from the furniture warehouse. In order to make them all the more frightening, we painted the masks at home with leering fangs, with bulging eyes and dilated nostrils. Then we chased each other through the tortuous ducts, while above us a thin slice of sky darkened with the passage of time. When, turning a corner, we came face to face with an enemy, we roared and charged at each other, scraping ourselves and ripping each other’s T-shirts or printed blouses. No one knew who invented the game we called witchbitch. We continued playing it for years without getting tired of it, still playing it even in the eighth grade. It was a mixture of more benign games: cops-and-robbers, hawks-and-doves, hide-and-seek. At the start, there was only one witchbitch, which we picked by counting. The witchbitch alone wore a mask; “she” also carried a stick from which the bark had been removed. She counted to ten with her face to the wall, then charged through the ditches, looking for victims. You could leave the ditches but weren’t allowed to hide on the apartment building’s stairs and jump over the fence in the mill’s courtyard. The witchbitch hunted us through the evil-smelling ditches, and when she succeeded in striking one of us with the stick, she let out a horrific roar. The victim had to remain frozen in a paralyzed position. The witchbitch dragged him by the hand to the lair, where she knuckle-cuffed his head an agreed-upon number of times; thus baptized, the prisoner became a witchbitch himself. He put on a mask, and the hunt continued. Toward evening, when above the mill’s giant towers the first stars glimmered on the still bluish sky, only one survivor remained, hounded by a horde of witchbitches who bellowed their sinister shrieks. The tenants awaited that moment with horror. They threw potatoes and carrots at us from their balconies, while the cleaning ladies lunged at us with their brooms, all to no avail: the witchbitches would not rest till they captured the last victim, usually a tiny child who, upon seeing the game turn to reality, became terror-stricken. At night it was terrifying to come face to face with a single masked witchbitch, let alone an entire flock. The last one to be caught was dragged to the nearest stairs, where the rest of the gang made hideous faces at him and acted like they were about to swallow him. This went on until our indignant mothers came to take us home.


    When we had no taste for playing witchbitch or erasing with the thinned soles of our tennis shoes the blue houses, yellow trees, or the green mothers the girls drew on the asphalt—this just to hear them scream and run home—we would gather the gang and, sitting down on various scattered pieces of curb, begin telling each other all sorts of tales or playing “Film Titles.” I remember how Gimmi the Gypsy told us of his escapade in the mill’s courtyard: “I jumped the fence by the little house with the skull and bones on it. I got very close to the mill. The miller saw me. A few more millers showed up. I turned around and started to run. They threw rocks after me. I ducked. When they ran out of rocks, they took out their pistols. They didn’t get me. They shot at me with machine guns. They shot at my head, I ducked down. They shot at my legs, I jumped up. They brought cannons. I kept on running. They went after me in their tanks, I still kept on running. They sent airplanes and dropped bombs on me, but I reached the fence and jumped over it, there by the gate.” He was so serious when he told us the story, we almost believed him. You barely heard a skeptical, “Yeah sure, man.” When we played Film Titles, we already knew the titles, in alphabetical order. After the Rain was always followed by After the Thief, while Agatha, Give up Your Life of Crime was third. Next, starting with B, the first title was always Babette Goes to War. When someone was stuck, we would whisper to him the wrong answer: “Say Cruise Ship of Iron!” Then, when he said Cruise Ship of Iron, we would shout contemptuously: “There’s no such film.”

    One day, a little boy and his mother moved into an apartment on the first floor of Entrance 3. I had just turned seven and was to go to grade school in the fall (Vova was already in the third grade, while Mimi had to complete the fourth year all over again). The little boy was about the same age as me, and in the beginning there was nothing about him that drew my attention. His mother, on the other hand, was extraordinary, completely different from our own, who washed and ironed all day. She was a lady and was so tall you could barely make out the features of her face, lost as though in a distant horizon. Long and thin, she almost seemed to be sleepwalking amidst the furniture that filled the hallway, giving directions to the porters who dragged their hemp straps all over the place. I never saw her except in purple. Even in the house she wore a robe of red satin. Her hair was jet black, and her face seemed haunted by a bluish shadow glinting with thin traces of rosy mother-of-pearl. The boy sat apathetically in an old easy chair, which, because of its flowered girth, made him look even thinner. He was indeed thin and delicate, with firm eyes, alert and downcast. We came out for a time from our ditches and approached him. We asked him if he was moving into our apartment building and if the endless woman was his mother. But your father, where is he? “My father is a carpenter,” he told us, as though he was answering the question. Eventually we left him alone, because all he did was to give us long stares and short answers. We dove again like devils into our holes and started up again our game of witchbitch.

    During the following days, the little boy showed up again among us. He was very clean. He wore “rompers,” as my mother called them, short pants shaped like bloomers and held up by long suspender straps. He didn’t utter a word. We called him to join us in the ditches, but he didn’t want to. He just stared at us from the first floor. It made us lose our taste for playing, seeing that we had a spectator. He was watching the girls with the same interest, which made us feel contempt toward him. He even asked Mona (of all the girls!) for a piece of purple chalk. Mona, who did not stand on decorum, turned her little rump in beige pants and slapped it with her palm. “You sure you don’t want this?” The boy stared at her absent-mindedly and left. For about a week we spotted him talking every day with the kid who had polio. He explained all sorts of things to him, with the aid of sketches which he drew on the concrete with a piece of chalk he had brought with him and with gestures which I would now call ritualistic. Sometimes it seemed that a translucent spider web stretched out from him. At other times, he pointed with his finger to the sky, smiling enigmatically. During the evenings wrapped in purple fog, dissolving imperceptibly into coffee-brown, we stalked them, protected by our cardboard masks: the metallic glitter of the orthopedic mechanism worn by the first boy and the sibylline gestures of the second took on a bizarre and enigmatic air in our eyes, difficult to decipher. When they went home, always earlier than us, crooked circles and other figures remained on the blue concrete. We erased them hatefully.



    - pp. 41-42: Out of the window, the blue and glittering clouds, swept by the tops of the poplars, unreeled endlessly. When I went downstairs again in the afternoon, I found the gang huddling behind the building. Their mouths wide open, the boys were staring upward at something apparently sensational, something I could not see because of the building’s corner. “Come here, Mircea, man!” they shouted. “Come here and see Mentardy number two. He’s even crazier than the original!” Even Mimi and Vova, who were older and so for whom it was not appropriate to be so easily astonished, seemed hypnotized by what they saw. Luta showed up as well, him with his dark complexion and no eyelashes. Little Nicky, fat and dressed like an aristocrat with his John Lennon glasses, joined the gawking in his perplexed and irritated myopic manner. I stepped up close to the gang and froze.

    Next to the Dambovita mill with its scarlet walls, beyond the concrete fence, loomed the Pioneer bakery. It was an old factory building with a zigzag roof and an odd assortment of troughs whitened by flour headed toward the round windows. Lumpy sat on the fence all day because the workers sent him after newspapers and cigarettes. In exchange, he got roasted buns or hot rolls, which he slobbered over for an entire hour. The bakery was dominated by a brick chimney, red and thick and taller than our building, which rose to the clouds, shooting out over the oval coin-like leaves of the acacia trees. We never saw it up close, but you could make out along its height, all the way to the top, a fire escape that looked like it was sketched with ink; it was protected by rings in the likeness of a trachea. That afternoon, three quarters of the way up, that is, about the level of the sixth floor of our building, we saw a yellow spot. It was the rompers belonging to the new boy who, slowly and heedfully, was climbing to the top of the chimney. His frame, inside a little flowered short-sleeved blouse, covered less than a quarter of the brick tower’s width. The alarmed tenants came out on their pickle-jar-filled balconies and were shouting at him to come down. But, step by step, Mentardy (because eventually that’s what we all ended up calling him, the other Mentardy reverting back to his old nickname of Crazy Dan) was making his way up toward the top of the chimney. Finally, the boy reached the top, lifted himself up on the edge of the chimney, and squatted for a few seconds. The frightened shrieks of the women in the balconies escalated, and a few workers in white overalls and aprons darted across the courtyard toward the base of the chimney. But as though to defy his audience’s fears, Mentardy slowly stood up. Thin as a nail, he remained in the upright position at that dizzy height. He was looking up but signaled with his hand in the direction of the ground, probably at us. Then he began to descend the metal steps, his frame proceeding past all the rings of the fire escape, until he disappeared into the acacia’s foliage. After a short while, gawking through the rhomboid holes of the concrete fence, we spotted him running toward us. He clambered over the fence with difficulty and jumped down right in our middle. He stared at Mimi and said: “I don’t like witchbitch.”



    - pp. 44, 46-51—Just so that you get the idea, I enumerate here a few of the theories I remember, expounded by Mentardy during those evenings, crimson as flames, or the azure mornings, lined by the glittering-yellow walls of Entrance 1:

    . . . . 3. Women never couple with men. They bear a cell in their womb. When they reach the right age, they want to give birth. Then they launch the birth steps. This is what these are: From the cell a flea comes out. From the flea, a beetle. From the beetle, a frog. From the frog, a mouse. From the mouse, a hedgehog. From the hedgehog, a rabbit. From the rabbit, a cat. From the cat, a dog. From the dog, a monkey. From the monkey, a man. Women can stop at any step. Some women give birth to frogs, others to cats. But most of them long for children. They could give birth to a being far more enchanting than a child, because these degrees of birth do not end with man. (And Mentardy concluded: “I saw such a being.”)

    4. People are not of the same kind. They are of four different kinds: Those who have not been born, those who are living, those who have died, and those who have not been born, are not living, and have not died. They are the stars. (This very short word uttered by Mentardy was among his last, shortly before his fall. I see the scene before my eyes. It was about nine o’clock at night, and we were expecting our parents to call for us at any second. We could barely see our eyes glimmering in the dark of the evening. Above the mill, the sky was the color of indigo. A little red star flickered somewhere very far. It was the star on top of The Spark newspaper building. Mentardy seemed to sense something, because I had never seen him exude so much suffering and yearning and nostalgia in his voice than at that moment when he pointed with his finger toward the slice of sky above the mill’s chimneys.)

    5. (He uttered the next words after he witnessed a fight between Paul and Nicky, who had just come out with a few tiny red and tricolor paper flags from a parade. “My dad brought me ten flags from the parade,” said Paul. “Mine brought me fifty flags,” said Nicky. “Mine brought me five hundred flags,” said Paul. “Then my dad brought me one million flags,” said Nicky. “My dad brought me a billion flags from the parade,” said Paul. “Then my dad brought me a quadrillion flags from the parade,” said Nicky. “Mine brought me five million hundreds of quadrillions of flags,” said Paul. “Well, my dad brought me an infinity of flags from the parade,” said Nicky. “And mine brought me a million infinities of flags,” said Paul. “That’s impossible, my dad told me that infinity is the biggest number. There is no bigger number.”) No, there isn’t only one infinity. There is an infinity of infinities. Along this line, ten millimeters long, there is an infinity of points, while on that one, one meter long, there must be even more. I define one kind of infinity as the Bull, because this little bag around my neck is embroidered with a Bull and I imagine that in the little bag I have an infinity, an entire universe where there are many worlds just like ours. But this little bag is nothing compared to me, who is made of an infinity of points. It is just a smaller infinity. And this building is an infinity greater than me. In the whole world there are nothing but infinities, some smaller, some greater: The chair is an infinity, the carnation is an infinity, this piece of chalk is an infinity. Infinities that crowd each other, infinities that eat each other. But there is an infinity that contains all other infinities. I imagine it as an endless herd of bulls.

    6. After you die, you follow a very long path that rises endlessly. You go on and on and little by little your features change. Your nose and your ears retract into the flesh of the face like the little feet of an oyster. Your fingers retract into the flesh of your palm, and your arms get reabsorbed into your shoulders. In the same way, your thighs retract into your hips and you don’t walk anymore, you float along some walls of red brick where your shadow protracts like an elongated disk. You are now so round that you become translucent and begin to see all about you at once. When we’re alive, we see only as though through the slat of a mailbox, but after death we see all around, with our whole skin. We float and stare at the ever nearing brick walls, but then, through a fleshy red brick, we get to a round place. There, in the middle, we see a cell, because we are in the womb of a mother. We get into the cell, and as the birth steps begin, we look out through the eyes of all beings, of the flea, of the beetle, of the frog, of the mouse, of the hedgehog, of the rabbit, of the cat, of the dog, of the monkey, of man, and with a little luck, we get to see through the eyes of the enchanting being who is next in line after man. A dead man is looking at you right now through my eyes.

    7. (In fact, the seventh point is not a “theory,” but a few lines written by Mentardy with large letters, in chalk of different colors, on the smooth, slightly sloping cement surface of the transformer in the inner courtyard. It’s possible he got up early one morning to write them, because we found ourselves looking at them one day in the middle of the summer, about three weeks after his arrival. He said nothing about them. After he was convinced that all of us read these lines, he sat on his metal chair and went on with the tale he had begun the evening before, “Tales of the Asian Peoples.”)

    DO NOT LAUGH AT LUMPY
    DO NOT TORTURE ANIMALS
    DO NOT HARASS GIRLS
    DO NOT PLAY WITCHBITCH
    DO NOT GET DIRTY
    DO NOT TALK DIRTY
    DO NOT LIE
    DO NOT SQUEAL ON EACH OTHER
    DO NOT ARGUE WITH EACH OTHER
    DO NOT FIGHT WITH EACH OTHER

    (From the moment we saw them, we realized we had to live by those words; we even realized that there was something in us that prevented us from turning away from them. For about two or three weeks, no one thought of doing any of the things prohibited on the list.)


    I don’t recall any other similar theories—I say “theories” because I don’t know what else to call them—but all of them were in the spirit of the ones above. They fascinated us because they were the substance of Mentardy’s substance. You had to hear him speak and especially see him gesticulate, you had to feel the enchantment and the fright and the melancholy of those evenings. It was as though we were watching a strange film in muted colors, from coffee-brown to ashen gray, the garnet-red of the mill and the greenish-black of the acacia’s leaves. I don’t need to say that, pausing from the telling of some tales with Arabs and caravans, he left us veiled in the pungent perfume of fiction, ready now for revelation . . .

    That’s how we spent an entire month that summer, huddled around Mentardy. We did nothing without asking him first—and our parents, even though puzzled on account of our clean T-shirts and blouses, were wary about our dependence which, day by day, was turning into fealty. “Honey, what’s that child doing to you, he’s hypnotized all of you!” But we knew nothing but “The Brave in the Tiger’s Skin,” “Ruslan and Ludmila,” “Tristan and Isolde,” and all the other heroes from Mentardy’s stories. Even the girls left behind their silly games and tangled drawings of green women with blue legs and orange houses and gathered around the throne of metal and concrete. They sighed when the stories didn’t have happy endings. And even Mona didn’t show Mentardy her behind anymore but looked at him—her eyes like two green slits—with less hatred than she looked at everyone else. But Iolanda was the closest to him, and you could see the two of them often exchanging a few words. She had gigantic bows tied around her pigtails and called everyone “dearie,” even dolls and cats. Once she amused herself by flinging gooseberries at an enormous spider, immobile in the middle of its web suspended between two trees. She was trying to hit it with the red berries, and when the little ball of claws and feet darted toward the margin of the cobweb, she called out to it: “Wait a minute, dearie, where are you going?” But Mentardy never exceeded a certain reserve in his sporadic dealings with the girls; still, that was a lot more than the rest of us, who never talked to them at all. Certainly, we still played soccer, or brought out our chess table or button-soccer field. But they weren’t the central focus of our interest anymore. At that time, Mentardy went looking for the handicapped boy, and they spoke together for a long time.

    About five or six years ago, around February, I was on a short recess and took a stroll through the city. I was walking out of the Sadoveanu Bookstore and was passing by the Cyclops mall when something like a violent flame sent a shock through my stomach like an unbearable nostalgia. I had been staring in the small window displaying an assortment of lighters and plastic military decorations, located to the right of the tar-reeking entrance to Cyclops. The overwhelming emotion was provoked by the mere sight of a disposable lighter. The color of this lighter, like a Proustian madeleine, elicited a memory from the time of this tale. The lighter was an odd kind of pink, more violet actually, that gave the impression, because of its wavy plastic, of soft and fleshy waters and yellowish half-moons. It was exactly the same color as the little watch I bought for fifty bani the summer of that year, my first watch during the twenty-one years I lived in the building on Stefan cel Mare Boulevard.

    I remember distinctly the afternoon when that character in the red-checkered shirt crept through the corridor which connected Entrance 1 to the rest of the building. He was crawling like an earthworm between the two buildings and almost froze by the gas meter. Finally, having reached safety, he caught his breath as though after a difficult climb and wiped off his plaster-stained elbows. He motioned us to join him and began taking something out of his pocket. No matter how hard I try I can’t recall what he looked like. I see only a white balloon. But in his open palms I make out even the smallest details: yellow and cream chiclets wrapped in cellophane, with a tiny drawing in relief, little golden tin watches with multicolor plastic bands, whirligigs of various hues with two-bladed propellers that glided around two twisted wires until they lifted off, spinning up into the sky. We stood in a circle around him, asking the price of each and every object. Then we scattered, each of us to his own Entrance, in search of money. I bought the watch I mentioned with that uncanny pink-violet band for fifty cents. Mentardy bought a colored whirligig. After the man left, he followed him with his eyes, the way the man slunk away through the crack of the corridor, then shifted his eyelids dreamingly toward the propeller at the base of the two nickel-plated wires twisted around each other. He stared somewhat absent-mindedly at the two cardboard blades, when suddenly they began to twirl all by themselves, faster and faster, till they lifted off into the air, even higher than a meter, and then maintained altitude, twirling for more than a few minutes. He kept staring at the propeller, but as though thinking of something else.

    Before he left, the man in the red-checkered shirt had showed us something else, which he held on his palm with great care, caressing it from time to time. We closed the circle around him. The object in question was a black fountain pen. It displayed a rectangular window, framing a woman dressed in a black one-piece swimsuit. If you lifted the pen with the nib pointing up, the black of the swimsuit turned out to be a slow-draining liquid revealing first the woman’s breasts, then the rest of the body, until she was completely naked: I had never imagined that a woman was like that. “It’s twenty-five lei, off-limits to snot-face kids like you,” the man laughed.

    A little past nine, after everyone went home, Luci and I snuck out behind the building and crawled up the old chestnut in whose hollow we had found the pencil sharpeners. For about a quarter of an hour, we commented on what had just occurred—the arrival of the gewgaw peddler—all the while studying under the pale light of the mill courtyard’s neon our little golden tin watches. Luci had just started one of his tales of lace-clad horses, when we heard Mentardy coming out of the building’s stairwell and, slowly and hesitantly, heading for the sewage ditches. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw him easing himself down into one of them. We nearly fell out of the tree from shock. Mentardy was strolling up and down the dirty labyrinth, making odd gestures that reminded us of witchbitch. He paused and took something out of his rompers’ chest pocket. When he came into closer view, we saw that he had put on a frightening mask, painted with watercolors, much more primitive, much more leering, much more threatening than anything we had come up with in the realm of witchbitch masks. It wasn’t till ten o’clock that he finally climbed out of the ditch and headed for the apartment building’s entrance.

    (I would like to interrupt the telling of the story for a moment. From time to time I feel the need to come up for air. But never so much as right now. Maybe I tried to hang on for too long with my head submerged, my hair waving, under those gelatin-thick waters of that summer, and my eyes are burning from all the gold and the reflections. But I think I am gasping for another, much deeper reason. I think that, I want to say this, I am not so sure I wish to read this text in our literary circle. It is not really literature, and it’s becoming too much of something else. I have been writing for two weeks now and feel the need to put in things that have nothing to do with the history I was writing about before. What I mean is that I am beginning to notice that the act of writing is beginning to change me as a person. When I am not writing, at school or during my free time, I feel and behave like someone in a state of perpetual hallucination. I have not been able to finish correcting my students’ papers this week, because pale images suddenly erupt on my brain’s silver, images that afflict me even when I am listening to my students. Not to mention the fact that I have been suffering from frightening dreams, impossible to recount . . . .)




    - pp. 317-318 [Afterword by Julian Semilian]: The summer of 2004 I returned to the United States from a two-week trip to my childhood city, Bucharest. The suspicious customs man inquired: “What could anyone be doing in a country like Romania for two weeks?” I stared blankly at him.

    It was a good question. A few years before, I translated on a whim a short portion from Mircea Cartarescu’s 1996 novel, Orbitor. His rich, poetic Romanian seemed to find easy passage into English, my second language. I felt that the very words were trying to say themselves in English, and it was strange and delightful to help them along. I sensed that I was gaining entry to Mircea’s dream-brain. This feeling strengthened as I moved on to translating an earlier novel, Nostalgia (1989), at the urging of Andrei Codrescu. Once again, the Romanian writer’s dream-brain urged me to cross over quickly to English, as if we were benefiting from an opening when the linguistic border guards were absent, drugged, or hypnotized. It was almost as if Mircea had already written the book directly into English, except that he’d used Romanian words, and all that was left for me to do was to assist their passage. I imagined that I was the FitzGerald to Mircea’s Khayyam, as in the Borges story, “The Enigma of Edward FitzGerald,” the two of us one in God’s brain. Of course a thousand years had passed between Khayyam and FitzGerald, while Mircea and I are near contemporaries, but I figured that in the brain of Borges’ God, time was merely a literary conceit.

    Translating Nostalgia, I felt that I recovered Bucharest, which I’d left in adolescence, but it was a Bucharest transformed alchemically by Mircea: “I found myself,” he wrote in a recent book of essays, Forever Young, Swaddled in Pixels, “the writer who generated it . . . a plastic, proteiform city which my imagination shaped according to its will . . . .”


    I discovered through Nostalgia also a literary Bucharest I wish I’d experienced. Mircea speaks in the same essay of Ovid S. Crohmalniceanu’s (“Papa Croh”) salon, a defining place for Romanian writers of the Eighties Generation, a movement that was seminal in postwar national literature. It was a literary underground that began at the end of the ‘70s, with a style and impact resembling the Beat Generation and heir to the traditions of the avant-garde and surrealism. The young members of this group—Mircea among them—were initially called the Blue-Jeans Generation, because of the strong influence of American writing. Their work, independent of the official communist ideology, was opposed by the regime from the very beginning. The famous Monday Night Salon saw the poets gathering under the direction of literary critic Nicolae Manolescu, while the fictioneers were led by the immensely erudite Papa Croh himself. The Bucharest of literary salons was the heir of a long tradition with immense consequences for Romania’s intellectual life, and the vibrancy of Mircea’s city inspires his fiction with magic. He compares his three Bucharests, that of his mother, that of his first love, and that of his poetry, to three superimposed brains hiding underneath the human skull: the reptilian, the mammalian, the human. This Bucharest is the rich city where Nostalgia unfolds.



    The reader might wonder, as I did, why Nostalgia is called a novel, when in fact it appears to be a series of unrelated short stories and novellas. There is much written about this book in Romanian literary criticism, but I found Mircea’s own explanation delightful and revealing: “Even though this volume is comprised of five separate stories, each with its own world, it could be said that what we’re dealing with here is a Book, in the old and precious sense of the word. The stories connect subterraneously, caught in the web of the same magical and symbolist thought, of the same stylistic calligraphy. This is a fractalic and holographic novel, in which each part reflects all the others. The first and the last story, linear texts of a parabolic simplicity, are merely the frame for the other ones that make up the book’s marrow and contain the three principal themes: the prodigious child seen as a Jesus of his tiny world, the androgyne as a metaphor for total love, and finally, the nostalgic search for the Creator, in his hypostasis as the book’s author and God.






    - pp. x-xiii [Introduction by Andrei Codrescu]: Mircea Cartarescu is Romania’s leading poet in a country teeming with great (and untranslated) poets, Mihai Eminescu, Tudor Arghezi, and Lucian Blaga, to mention only a few. What makes Romanian poets untranslatable is what makes all poetry untranslatable, plus a level of linguistic play and an excess of metaphysics that go against the grain of the American modernist tradition of plainspeak. Cartarescu, who is the undisputed chef d’ecole of what is called both the Eighties Generation and “Romanian postmodernism,” has argued in a series of brilliant and cogent essays, as well as in his poetry and fiction, for a place for contemporary Romanian sensibility within the great conversation about literature taking place now in Europe and the United States. A few readers may raise an eyebrow now and ask, “What conversation?” which is tant pis, as the French say, because the discussion of literature is neither at an end nor in the hands of specialists. Yet. The case for “minor literatures” has been well made by Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze and has become, thanks to the needs of (mostly American) academics, something called “colonial studies.” Romania, however, was never a colony, and its brilliant exiles often renewed their adopted languages, mostly French, by fertilizing the drying urge-to-theory with a rich infusion of wonder and magic. For instance: reading today, side by side, Tristan Tzara’s poem “L’homme approximatif” and Andre Breton’s “L’amour fou,” one can see exactly why Breton and the young proto-Surrealists of Paris needed Tzara in 1924 and why they distanced themselves as soon as Surrealism found its “logic.” Likewise, the publication of the work of Spanish-language “magical realists” in English in the 1970s gave American writers a new lease on language. One cannot conceive of postmodern American fiction without the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose restoration of the magic of the writerly imagination revived in its wake other strains of imaginative writing, such as Isaac Bashevis Singer’s, a dybbuk who was always here, but not very well seen. American fiction after magic realism parted from the plainspeak of modern American poetry for a time. Unfortunately, a kind of specious realism has emerged now, an imagination-rotting pathogen that is destroying the borders between literature and television, making both the Great Conversation and literature hard to distinguish. Perhaps now is the time for the last Europeans to put in their two cents, hard earned, I might add, through communist censorship, Western neglect, and post-communist disinterest.


    I’ve dragged Cartarescu, unfairly, through this argument, hoping to highlight some qualities of his work that have curative powers. The storyteller(s) of his stories dream the world like Borges’, always aware that one dream opens into another, and that dream into another, and that they are all as real as any reality or the next dream. The dream worlds are a trap for the reader, but the writer is there always, asking the kind of questions about reality that only children and overwrought adolescents ask. In “The Roulette Player,” the writer loses his raison d’tre when chance ceases to exist. In the hugely alive universe of the children in “Mentardy,” a prepubescent messiah loses his magic powers at the advent of sexuality, but not before he has created worlds and magical yearnings in all his followers. The stories-within-stories in the novella “REM” proceed from an adult poetry of the senses reveling des Esseintes-like in the artifices of beauty, on to animated fairy tales coming to life in the telling of a Bucharest Scheherazade. Cartarescu’s evident joy in his creations is a paralyzing aphrodisiac, and the key to reading him is total immersion. One is always in good hands in these stories, notwithstanding the occasional and clownish authorial wringing of these hands. Such moments are not, however, either ornamental or just winks at the reader, they are genuine quests involving the reader as a sort of coauthor. There are times, inside one of Cartarescu’s self-sufficient but connected dream worlds, when one would like to come up for air, but it’s nearly impossible to shake the visceral sensations of his descriptions or characters for very long. They stay with one through any number of “real” rituals before the seduction resumes. Cartarescu’s extraliterary ambition, if he has one, which I doubt, is to induce the effects of a psychedelic in the reader. This is not hyperbole, take it from one who knows whereof he speaks. It helps that Cartarescu is fluent in a variety of popular genres, such as horror, fashion magazines, children’s books, and popular music: the presence of these forms gives his stories a comforting if illusory sense of the existence of “others,” a sense as necessary to a reader as to someone high on LSD.

    Cartarescu is also a structural wizard who builds his stories with the innate skill of a medieval puppeteer, with deft lingering in foreplay, in digression, in excuses to the reader for what’s to follow, in delighted and perverse apologia, all of which serve to bring interest to a pitch, but when the story proper begins the puppeteer is replaced by a spider who does not disappoint. The multiple revelations that follow have a verisimilitude that without the buildup would be simply unbelievable. I am describing, poorly, a craft that is sublimely unique. Cartarescu is a painter as well, displaying a range of impossible colors that must have driven his translator crazy. And colors are not alone: each of the five senses is pursued with a linguistic fury that must have been hell to bring to English. Mircea Cartarescu is well-translated into French (he has won literary prizes there) and into German. He is now, thanks to Julian Semilian, in irreplaceable English. Personally, I would like to eavesdrop on a conversation between Cartarescu’s various translators: how did they do it? how did they recover? Cartarescu wrote this book during the censorious days of Ceausescu’s dictatorship and, to an ideologically conscientious reader, some of the outlandish images could pass for political outrage. I sensed, here and there, the literal dankness of basements and Kafkaesque torture chambers of the regime, and there is certainly enough dust and mud to put one in the mind of the endless socialist construction projects that made life so dreary and cold for adults. But these occasional effects are obliterated by the dazzling detail of feeling and the exacerbated vision of the characters, who are all poised on the edge of something momentous, whether it’s sexuality, death, or the insupportable poetry of the next line. Imagination, like love, conquers all in this fiction, including the classically postmodernist self-reflections, the occasionally ironic self-awareness, and the historical era itself.









    Last edited by HERO; 06-02-2015 at 08:27 PM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by HERO View Post
    Mircea Cărtărescu: IEI; or IEE, LII, or SLE?; or EIE or SEI


    - from Nostalgia by Mircea Cărtărescu; pp. 1-5:

    PROLOGUE


    I open the book, the book moans
    I cast for the times, the times are gone



    TUDOR ARGHEZI




    THE ROULETTE PLAYER


    Grant Israel’s consolation
    To the one who has eighty years and no to-morrow.




    I record here (for what reason?) these verses from Eliot. In any case, not as a possible opening for one of my books, because I will never write anything else again. Yet, if I write these lines, I do not regard them as literature, not by far. I have written enough literature, for sixty years I did nothing but that, so let me permit myself now, at the end’s end, one moment of lucidity: everything I wrote after the age of thirty was no more than painful imposture. I’ve had enough of writing without the hope that I would ever surpass myself, that I would ever be capable of leaping over my shadow. It’s true, up to a certain point I have been honest with myself, in the only manner possible for an artist; that is, I wanted to say everything about myself, absolutely everything. But so much more bitter was the illusion, since literature is not the adequate means to say anything real about yourself. From the first lines with which you layer the page, the hand that holds the pen slips into a foreign, mocking hand, as though entering a glove, while your image in the page’s mirror scatters all over the place like quicksilver, so that out of its disordered blobs coagulates the Spider or the Worm or the Degenerate or the Unicorn or the God, when all you wanted to do was simply speak about yourself. Literature is teratology.


    For a few solid years now I’ve been sleeping an agitated sleep and dreaming an old man who goes mad from loneliness. Only the dream reflects me realistically. I wake up weeping from loneliness, even though I may spend the day in the comfort of friends who are still living. I can’t bear to live my life any longer, but the fact that today or tomorrow I will cross into endless death forces me to try to reflect. Because of this, because I must reflect, like someone who is thrown into a labyrinth is forced to seek an exit, even through walls smeared with dung, even through a rathole; this is the only reason I still write these lines. Not particularly to prove (to myself) that God exists. Unfortunately I have never been, despite all my efforts, a believer, I have never had to endure a battle with doubt or denial. It might have been better for me to be a believer, because writing requires drama and drama is born out of the agonizing struggle between hope and despair, where faith plays a role which I imagine is essential. In my youth half the writers converted, while the other half lost faith, which for their literature produced just about the same effect. How I envied them for the fire their demons fanned under the cauldrons where they wallowed as artists! And look at me now, cradled in my nook, a bundle of rags and cartilage, whose mind or heart or faith no one would think to bet on, because there is nothing more to take from me.


    I drowse here in my armchair, terrified at the thought that nothing exists outside anymore other than night, solid as an infinite lump of pitch, a black fog that has slowly gnawed, in pace with the advancing years, cities, houses, streets, faces. The only sun left in the universe seems to reside in the lamp’s light bulb, and the only thing illuminated by it—an old man’s shriveled face.

    After I’m dead, my tomb, my cranny, will continue to float in the black fog, the solid fog, ferrying nowhere these pages which no one will read. But in them is finally . . . everything. I have written a few thousand pages of literature—powder and dust. Intrigues masterfully conducted, marionettes with electrifying grins, but how to say anything, even a little bit, in this immense convention of art? You would like to turn the reader’s heart inside out, but what does he do? At three he’s done with your book, at four he takes up another, no matter how great the book you placed in his hands. But these ten, fifteen pages, they are a different matter, a different game. My reader now is no one else but death. I even see his black eyes, humid, attentive like a young girl’s, reading as I fill up the page, line after line. These pages contain my scheme for immortality.

    I say scheme—although everything—and this is my triumph and my hope—is the truth. How strange: most of the characters populating my books are invented, but they appeared to everyone as copies of reality. Only now do I have the courage to write about someone who is real, someone who lived for a long time in my proximity, but who, according to my conventions, would appear improbable. No reader could accept that in his world, elbowing him in the same streetcar, breathing the same air, might live a man whose life is an actual mathematical proof of an order in which no one believes today, or believes only because it is absurd. But!—the Roulette Player is not a dream, and neither is he the hallucination of a sclerotic brain, nor an alibi. Now, thinking about him, I am convinced that I too made the acquaintance of that beggar at the end of the bridge whom Rilke wrote about, around whom the worlds rotate.



    - pp. 6-8: . . . he was the only being who was fated to catch sight of the infinite mathematical God and challenge him to a wrestling match.

    I claim no merit for knowing him or that I can write about him. I might be able to hoist, but with only his aspect before my eyes, an enormously ramified scaffolding, a paper Babel, a Bildungsroman of a thousand pages, where I, like Thomas Mann’s humble Serenus Zeitblom, would follow with huffing soul the progressive demonizing of the new Adrian. But then, what? Even if by the turn of an absurd fate I could come up with what I hadn’t for sixty years, a masterpiece, I ask myself, what is the good of it? . . . For my final purpose, for my grand stake (next to which all of the world’s masterpieces are nothing but sand in an hourglass or dandelion down), it is enough to list in a few lines the larval life stages of a psychopath: the brutal child . . . who slices insects into sections and kills songbirds with stones, passionate about playing marbles and throwing horseshoes (I remember him perpetually losing, losing money, losing marbles, losing buttons then desperately getting into brawls); the adolescent with moments of epileptic fury and exacerbated erotic appetites; the jailbird sentenced for rape and burglary. I believe that the only one close to him during this last twisted stage of his life was me, perhaps because we had been somehow thrown together since childhood, our parents being neighbors. In any case, he never hit me and looked at me less suspiciously than the rest, whoever they may have been. I remember, each time I visited him—even in prison, where, in the greenish chill of the visiting room, cursing horrendously, he complained all the time of his bad luck at poker—he asked me for money. He wept from the humiliation of being perpetually cleaned out, of being incapable of even one lucky hand among the thousands he played, where he might win money from the others. He sat there on the green bench, a pint-sized man with eyes reddened by conjunctivitis.

    No, it’s impossible for me to speak of him in a realistic manner. How can you realistically present a living parable? Any automatic device, any stylistic trick or turn that hints even slightly at literary prose depresses me, nauseates me. Let me say that after he was released from prison, he took up drinking and after one year hit the skids something horrible. He had no job, and the only places where you could be certain to find him were a few lowlife dives, where for that matter I believe he slept. You saw him ambling from one table to the next, attired in that unmistakable manner that drunks adopt (jacket over bare skin, trousers’ butt dragging on the ground) and bumming a mug of beer. Numerous times I saw the sinister prank, painful even for me, but at the same time amusing, that the usual customers played on him from time to time: they called him to their table and promised him his mug of beer if he could draw the long matchstick from the pair that one of them held in his fist. And they rolled around laughing hysterically when he always drew the short one. Not once, I am certain of this, did he win his beer in this way.

    It was during that period that my first short stories appeared in magazines, and after a time my first short-story volume, which even today I consider the best work I have ever done. I was happy then about each line I wrote, I felt myself competing not with my contemporaries but with the great writers of the world. Slowly I gained entry to the consciousness of the public and the literary world, I was worshipped and violently censured in equal proportion. I got married for the first time and, finally, I felt I was alive. This was in fact fatal for me, because writing doesn’t reconcile itself with happiness and plenty. I had forgotten of course about my friend, when, a few years later, I ran into him again in the most unlikely place: a restaurant in the center of the city, in the low, hallucinatory halo cast by a cluster of chandeliers studded with rainbow flashing prisms. I was speaking quietly with my wife while my gaze roamed through the room, when suddenly my attention was drawn to a group of businessmen who occupied an ostentatiously stacked table. There he sat, in their midst, the center of attention, in his gaunt lankiness, brilliantly outfitted but still displaying the vagabond appearance, his dim hollow eyes. He lounged insouciantly on a chair, while the others prattled on in a sort of uncouth mirth. I have always been repulsed by the burnished cheeks and the ill-bred undertaker garb men of that ilk affect to distinguish themselves. But I was above all perplexed by the unexpected transfiguration of my friend’s material situation. I have no idea if he was happy to see me, he was impenetrable, but he invited us to join them, and as the evening wore on, among the many banalities and stupidities which threaded our conversation, a few imprecise allusions filtered in, enigmatic phrases the businessmen flung over the baroque abundance stacking the table and to which I had no clue how to react. For the following several weeks I sensed the terror of beginning to discern, albeit subconsciously, some vistas which disappeared toward a space other than the bourgeois world which, after all, we inhabited, even if softly hued by art’s posturing. More, I had on numerous occasions, on the street or in my office, the feeling that I was being watched, scrutinized by something indefinite, circumstantial, which floated and dissolved like twilight smoke in the air. Now I know for certain that I was indeed subjected to close scrutiny, because I had been chosen to begin my apprenticeship in the subterranean world of the roulette.

    At times I am filled with happiness at the thought that God could not exist. What years ago seemed a bloody paradise (my life of that period flashes before me in a greenish foreshortening resembling Mantegna’s Christ) appears to me now as an inferno euphemized by forgetting but no less probable and thus, horrifying.




    - pp. 11-24: The roulette player was most certainly the roulette’s star and its reason for being. As a rule, the roulette players were recruited from the great throngs of unfortunates resembling vagabond dogs, the drunks, and jailbirds fresh out on the street, ever in search of bread. Anyone, as long as he was alive and willing to place his soul on the battleground for much, much money (but what did money mean under those conditions?) could become a roulette player. It was also preferable that he was, as much as possible, without social relations: job, family, close friends. The roulette player had five chances in six to survive. He usually received about ten percent of what the boss earned. The boss must be in possession of serious funds, because if his roulette player died, he had to play all the stakes the stockholders wagered against him. The stockholders in their turn had one chance in six to win, but if the roulette player died, they could demand stakes ten times over, or even twenty times, according to prior agreement with the boss. The roulette player, however, did not have five chances out of six to live except the first time he played. Statistically speaking, if he placed the pistol once more against his temple, his chances diminished. At his sixth attempt, his chances dwindled to zero. In fact, until my friend entered the world of the roulette, becoming the Roulette Player in capitals, there were no known cases of survival after even four games. Of course, most of the roulette players played occasionally and would not repeat for anything in the world their dreadful experience. Only a few were attracted by the possibility of making money, and this usually in order to employ a roulette player themselves—and thus becoming bosses—which was actually possible after the second game.

    There is no reason to continue here with further description of the game. It is, in truth, stupid and alluring like any game hallowed by the stain of blood, so pleasing to our despicable nature. I return to the one who destroyed the game by force of the fact that he played it to perfection. From what legend tells (which you could hear at the time in all of the city’s taverns), he was not recruited by any boss but found out single-handedly about the roulette and sold himself. I suspect the boss who hired him was delighted to get a roulette player without any trouble, because long and exasperating transactions were usually necessary, agonizing bargains with those who assigned their souls to the auction block. At the start, any vagabond would demand the moon in the sky, and you needed consummate skill to convince him that his life and his blood were not worth the entire universe, but that instead, they were worth a certain number of paper bills, and that number depended on the demand of the market. A roulette player to whom you didn’t need to demonstrate that he was in fact a nobody, whom you didn’t need to threaten with the police, was unexpected luck, all the more so when he accepted without discussion the first offer, proposed out of the corner of your mouth and with eyes askance in the usual manner of the bosses. About the first few roulette games that my friend participated in, I couldn’t find out very much. I can’t imagine that he was noticed by the stockholders the first and the second time he survived, or even the third. At most, he was thought of as a lucky player. After his fourth, his fifth, he had already become the central figure of the game, a veritable myth that would in fact burgeon exorbitantly in the years that followed. During a period of two years, until our encounter in the restaurant, the Roulette Player lifted the pistol to his temple eight times in various cellars throughout the filthy labyrinths underneath the foundations of our city. Each time, I was told—and later saw it for myself—on his tormented face almost without a forehead, an overwhelming terror etched itself, an animal fear that you couldn’t bear to witness. It seemed as though this very fear cajoled fate and helped him escape. His emotional tension reached a peak when, tightening his eyelids and smirking, he abruptly pulled the trigger. You heard the slight click, after which his frame with its heavy bones crashed softly to the floor: he lost consciousness but was unharmed. For several days he was out cold in his bed, completely emptied of vitality, but then he quickly recovered and took up again the life he usually lived, between the cabaret and the brothel. As hard as he tried—being possessed of a limited imagination—he could not spend as much as he earned and ended up increasingly wealthier. He had long relinquished having a boss; he became his own boss. Why he continued risking his life was an enigma. You could only come up with one explanation, that he did it for a kind of glory, like an athlete who attempts to surpass himself in each race. If that in fact was the truth, it was something entirely new in the world of the roulette, which was always played exclusively for money. Who would get it into his head to become a world champion at surviving? The fact was that the Roulette Player managed to maintain for the time the demented tempo of that race which he ran against only one other competitor: death. And, just when it seemed that this clandestine cavalcade was about to tumble into monotony (those who went to witness my friend’s roulettes did it only out of the desire to see him gone once and for all and not in order to bet, because they had developed the increasingly resigned sentiment they were betting against the devil), the Roulette Player perpetrated his first gesture of defiance which practically liquidated the roulette, pulverizing any possibility of competition besides the one between him and everything that surpasses our unfortunate condition. In the winter of that year he announced, through the ineffable, speedy, and certain network of information of the world of the roulette, that he would organize a special roulette on Christmas night: the revolver’s chamber would be loaded with two bullets instead of one.

    The chances of survival were now only three to one, if you didn’t consider their progressive reduction after so many games. Many connoisseurs, even after the Roulette Player’s death, regarded that Christmas roulette as his stroke of genius, and that everything that followed, though more spectacular, was merely a consequence of that gesture. The subterranean room belonged to a cognac factory and preserved the chemical reek of poor quality alcohol. Though it was larger than other rooms I had been in, that night it was packed. Anywhere you looked, you stared at the faces of well-known figures, officers and painters, industrialists and society women, even a few bearded priests, all of them animated by the unexpected innovation brought to the rules of the roulette. The blackboard on which two young men in shirt-sleeves wrote the odds of the betting occupied the entire wall behind the crate upon which the Roulette Player would take his place. In time he made his appearance, barely discernible through the blue smoke of the cellar. He stepped up on the crate and, after the ceremonial of the detailed verification of weapon and bullet—which lasted longer than usual, as the members of the crowd couldn’t refuse themselves the pleasure of caressing, almost voluptuously, the gun’s barrel—he picked up the pistol, loaded it, shoving the two bullets at random into the openings of the chamber, which he then twirled by rolling his palm over it. The tiny cogged cackle was heard again in the silence of the room, but as always the silence was not disturbed by an explosion, and no flower of blood stained the wall’s plaster. The Roulette Player collapsed from the crate into the arms of those in the first rows, knocking over glasses and propelling rolls of coins over the improvised tables. I wept like a child, from relief and from despair: I had bet a sum which for me was gigantic, and lost, just like all those who had taken an obstinate stance despite the evidence that the Roulette Player’s chance of winning was enormous. We left the tortuous lair, as always in small groups; the night outside, the silence of the outskirts made us feel as we walked that we were the object of a gaze that had dissolved the entire surroundings in the layer of blinding, fluorescent snow that had fallen over everything, over the display windows adorned with Christmas trees and stars of silver paper, over the rare passers-by loaded with packages and bundled-up children, with scars shrouding their mouth and nose. Here and there a woman with cheeks glowing from the humid cold, wrapped in a fur coat, dragged her lover or husband in front of the boots or shawls in the shop windows casting violet and turquoise and azure shadows upon their faces. My walk home took me alongside the children’s playground, where a horde of bewildered urchins smeared with candy paused before the tiny stands selling lemonade and gingerbread. A father huddled in bulky clothes, dragging after him on the thin ice a sled mounted by his little girl, winked at me. He was one of the bosses I had encountered at another roulette. Suddenly I felt horrible.

    Certainly, I promised myself many times to break with the world of the roulette. But during that time I published around two or three books a year; I had the sort of success that preceded a long silence followed by forgetfulness. With each new book I recovered my roulette losses, and then I would dive into it again, under the earth, where a foreboding of flesh and bones lures us while we are still alive. The one thing I wonder a great deal about now is the “idealistic” and “delicate” content of those books, the nauseating D’Annunzionism I indulged in. Noble reflections, royal gestures, silk lace, scintillating mots d’esprit and a narrator who is wise and all-knowing, who spun out of the substance without substance of his stories thousands of dainty charms. Once again lured into the roulette’s conspiracy, it was impossible not to be instantly struck, as though by a wave that becomes progressively hotter and more turbulent, by the news about the new rules of the game tacitly imposed by the overwhelming personality of the Roulette Player. After repeating two more times the double-bullet roulette, he found himself so wealthy, so engaged in owning stock in so many branches of the country’s big businesses, that the roulette, as a lowlife affair, as a source of existence or wealth, became an absurd idea. On the other hand, his odds tended to decline, despite the fanatics who ruined themselves by obstinately playing against him. At a single sign from the Roulette Player, the whole system of bets crumbled. It was now considered in bad taste to organize the roulettes where some miserable vagabond would place the pistol to his temple. There were no more bosses and no more stockholders, and the only one who still organized the roulettes was the Roulette Player. But everything became a spectacle involving tickets rather than bets, a show with only one performer who, from time to time, like a gladiator in the arena, confronted his destiny. The rented halls became progressively more spacious. The tradition of the underground hole was abandoned, along with the reek of blood and manure, the Rembrandtian penumbras. Now the subterranean rooms were decorated with heavy silks with a watery sheen, crystal goblets on the tables that were buried in waves of Dutch lace, furniture decorated with floral intarsia and candelabra with hundreds of prisms and quartz icicles. Instead of ordinary beer, sophisticated drinks were served in bottles contorted into odd shapes. Women in evening gowns were escorted to the tables, from where they inquisitively surveyed the stage on which an orchestra now played, bursting out in every direction with golden funnels of trumpets, curved necks of saxophones, graceful cylinders, in constant motion, of trombones. I suppose that was how the room looked when the Roulette Player loaded the revolver with three bullets. He had now as many possibilities to survive as to play this demented game for the last time. This new ambience, the ostentatious luxury that mantled the roulette’s terrifying insect like a chrysalis, did nothing if not inflame the spectators’ fervor for the smell of death. Everything that follows is very much the truth. The Roulette Player doused his hair with brilliantine and wore a smock with the loose trousers fashionable at the time, but the revolver was real, and so were the bullets, and the probability of the expected “accident”—greater than ever. The weapon circulated through everybody’s hands, leaving on one’s fingers a subtle odor of oil. Not even the most delicate lady in the room concealed her eyes, in whose violet sparkle you could read the perverse craving to witness what many only heard about the roulette: the cranium cracking like an eggshell and the ambiguous liquid substance of the brain gushing on the gown’s lap. As for me, I have always been shaken by the craving of women to be near death, their fascination with men who, almost metaphysically, smell of gunpowder. The incredible success with women of a chimpanzee, haggard and stupid, who from time to time gambles with his own life, must have its roots in this. At no other time, I believe, did they love with such zest, those women, who after witnessing a man’s death went home with their lovers, shedding their bloodied dresses, stained like bandages by the ashen substance and the ocular liquid. But the Roulette Player stepped up on the crate, adorned now with red brocade, lifted the pistol to his temple and, with the same expression of convulsive fright on his face, jerked the trigger. Then, in the silence that suspended everything for the space of a few seconds, all you heard was the thud of his frame hitting the floor. After a few days’ delirium at the hospital, the Roulette Player resumed his usual life. It’s difficult for me to forget his tortured aspect, sprawled on the Bukhara rug at the foot of the crate with his eyes staring upward. Other times the roulette players who survived were booed and hooted by the forlorn stockholders; but now, my friend was cheered like a movie star and his body, plunged into unconsciousness, was surrounded with veneration. Young women, hysterically weeping, swarmed toward him and were happy merely to touch him.

    The roulette with three greased bullets inside the chamber fuses in my mind with the events that followed. It was as though the diabolical arrogance of the Roulette Player propelled him ever more to offend Chance’s divinities. Soon, he announced a roulette with four bullets thrust into the chamber’s alveoli, and then, with five. One single empty opening out of six, one single chance of survival out of six! This game ceased being a game and even the most superficial among those who occupied the velvet armchairs felt—not with their brains, but with their bones and cartilage and nerves—the theological grandeur that the roulette had achieved. After the Roulette Player loaded his weapon and twirled the chamber, unleashing again the tiny staccato cackle of well-oiled black metal, the hexagonal cylinder, heavy with bullets paused—with its single empty space—in front of the hammer. The click of the trigger, which sounded with a hollow echo, and the collapse of the Roulette Player were surrounded by a sacred silence.


    I sit at my writing table with the blanket thrown over me, and yet I am horridly cold. While I wrote those lines, my room, my tomb, has whirled so quickly through the black fog outside that I got sick. I twisted and turned in my bed all night long, a helpless sack of bones steamed by sweat. Outside nothing exists anymore, or will evermore. No matter how long you might journey, in whatever direction, all the way to the infinite, all you would find is the black fog, dense and solid as pitch. The Roulette Player is the stake I wager on and the kernel of dough around which the fluffy bread of the world might grow. Otherwise everything, whether it exists or not, is as flat as a biscuit. If he existed, and he did exist—that is my wager—then the world exists, and I will be no longer forced to shut my eyes; with shriveled skin on my bones, with my flesh as my sheath like a fur of blood, I will march forth for as long as eternity lasts. From this story let me fashion myself an aquarium, the most miserable of aquariums—because I have no interest in a fancy aquarium—where he and I, guarantors of each other’s reality, will attempt to survive, like a couple of semitransparent fish whose heartbeat is on view, dragging along after them a thin strand of excrement. I am horrified at the thought that the aquarium might get punctured. For God’s sake, let me keep trying, though I no longer feel my spine . . .


    For years on end the Roulette Player had the Angel by the lapels, trying his best to throw him and shaking him all over. The evening came, however, when he grabbed him by the throat and, gathering all his strength, stared him deeply in the eye. And the Lord, toward morning, crippled the Roulette Player and changed his name . . . During that last evening, practically the entire upper crust of the city congregated in the huge refrigerated hall beneath the abattoir. The hall’s decor may have appeared entirely odd to those accustomed to the parvenu’s ostentatious luxury of previous halls. I can’t tell whether it was someone’s imagination or a reminiscence from Huysmans’ A rebours that inspired the nostalgic hybrid—a somewhat perverse admixture of promiscuity and refinement—whose effect was far more powerful than the pomp from the previous roulettes. At first sight—with the exception of the sheer size of the hall—you had the impression that you were inside one of the old cellars from the “prehistoric” period of the roulette. The walls were filled with obscene scribblings and inscriptions rudely scratched or traced with charcoal, but an eye with the merest of training could not help but notice right away the aesthetic refinement, the coherent and emotionally stirring manner of a great artist whose name, for obvious reasons, I prefer not to remember. The tables made of precious wood essences and golden moldings simulated the sardine barrels of the bygone era. Crystal mugs imitated the gross aspect of those made from cheap glass, down to the greenish nuance and the artificial blemishes. Gloomy filters scattered a morbid tallow flame light, admixed with waves of bluish smoke, like the cheap stogies of old, except that now they were perfumed with musk in order to awaken a delicately nostalgic sentiment. On the stage, at the front of the hall, brought in from the harbor rested an actual orange crate inscribed with Arabic script. Inside the hall, lured by that evening’s fantastic stakes, you could recognize diverse petroleum magnates in their white burnooses, movie stars and singers in current vogue, industrialists with starched shirt fronts and carnations inside their lapel buttonholes. Everyone agreed at the entrance to have a silk scarf tied around their eyes, not to be removed until they were already in the hall. I myself was a sort of star—I say this with plenty of disgust, in order not to be suspected of a lack of modesty—who attracted the stares of even the most blas among them, even those who were sitting next to me. Never before were my books—which had grown progressively thicker and in keeping with their taste—so highly publicized: noble, yes; first and foremost, noble. Generous, first and foremost, generous. Thus sounded the commendation of the jury when I received the National Prize: “For the noble and generous humanity of his books, for the complete mastery of an expressive language.”

    When the Roulette Player made his appearance in the room, bedecked in bizarre strips of cloth that tastefully simulated rags, and when the master of ceremonies, disguised as a boss, opened the box which he had brought under his arm offering the public a superb ivory-handled Winchester with a shimmering barrel (at present in a private collection), everyone and I stopped breathing. We refused to believe that what was to follow could actually take place: the Roulette Player had announced a few weeks earlier that at the next roulette he would load the revolver with all six bullets! Between the progression—no matter how improbable—from one bullet to five and thence to the present insanity, there was a chasm spanning the distance from one single chance to no chance at all. The last drop of the human which the Roulette Player had still preserved in his attempts had evaporated now under certitude’s million suns. The verification of the bullets and the weapon lasted hours on end. When they were returned to him, the Roulette Player took his place on the crate, made them clatter in his fist like dice, then inserted them, one by one, into the six openings of the chamber. With a violent jerk of his palm, he put them in motion. “Useless,” I remember someone whispering next to me. In the terrifying silence, the tiny cogged cackle of the chamber could be heard clearly. Shaking, his face convulsing, his eyes betraying a terror that you could only witness in those in agony, he lifted the pistol to the temple. The crowd stood up.

    I strained so hard to scrutinize him that I could feel the bulging of the veins in my temples. I could see the pistol’s hammer lifting slowly, appearing to vibrate. And abruptly, as though this vibration propagated itself into the room, I felt the ground run from under my feet. I saw the Roulette Player crumbling from the crate and the revolver discharging with an apocalyptic blast. But the air was already filled with a deafening clamor, split by the screams of the women and the clanging of the capsized bottles, now in splinters. Overtaken by the panic of the constricted space, we stepped on each other in order to scramble out. The tremors lasted a few good minutes, transforming entire streets into piles of debris and twisted metal. In front of the exit, a derailed streetcar crashed into a furniture store and smashed the windows to smithereens. After an hour, the earthquake started again, less forceful now. Who had the courage to venture into their own homes that night? I walked the streets until the morning’s fog whitened the horizon and the dust of the shattered buildings settled on the sidewalks. It wasn’t till then that I remembered the Roulette Player had probably been abandoned there, in the subterranean hall, and I went back to see if he was still living. I found him stretched on the floor, tended to by a few individuals. One of his legs was dislocated at the hip, and he gasped from pain. Next to him lay the revolver, reeking of gunpowder, with only five bullets in the chamber. The sixth left a blackish hole in one of the room’s walls, near the ceiling. I stopped a car on the street and took my childhood friend to the hospital. He recovered quickly, but limped for the rest of the year that he still lived. That evening, he buried the roulette, soon obliterated from everyone’s mind, the way we usually forget anything that we bring to perfection. The younger generations after the war never even suspected that such Mysteries ever existed. I alone bear witness—but for you, no one; but for you, nothing.

    From the evening of the earthquake on, the Roulette Player absconded to his dubious quarters, leaving behind him, as usual, a series of barely hushed-up scandals. It seems he never thought about the roulette again.


    I can’t write even one page a day. Constant pain in the legs and vertebrae. Pain in the fingers, in the ears, along the skin on my face. What will be, what will be after death? I would like to believe, how I would!—that a new life will open up there, that our present state is larval, a period of waiting. That the ego, the I, as long as it exists, must find a means to assure its own permanence. That I will embark upon something more infinite, more complex. Otherwise everything is absurd, and I see no place for the absurd in the world’s design. The billions of galaxies, the imperceptible fields, and finally this world which surrounds my cranium like an aura could not exist if I were unable to know it in its entirety, possess it, be it. Last night, cradled under my blankets, I had a kind of vision. I had just been born from an elongated and bloody belly, unutterably obscene, that propelled me with an odd twirling motion, with infinite speed, leaving behind me tracks of tears, lymph, and blood. I twisted myself like a screw into the night. And suddenly, out of night’s edge, appeared before me a gigantic God of light, so large that my senses and understanding could not contain him. I was headed toward his enormous chest, while the traces of his severe face were shooting upward, flattening out at the edge of my field of vision. Soon I couldn’t see anything but the great yellow light of his chest, which I pierced in my twisting, and after an endless navigation through his flesh of fire, I gushed out through the spine. Gazing behind me as I flew away, I saw this colossal Jehovah plummeting to the left with his face downward. Little by little, he diminished in size and disappeared, once again I was alone in the limitless night. After a time period impossible to appraise (but which I would name eternity), at the edge of my sight arose another enormous God, identical to the first. I pierced him as well and gushed forth into the void. Then, after a new eternity, another one appeared. The row of Gods, perused from behind, proliferated in size. There were hundreds, then thousands, plummeting with face downward to the right and to the left like the teeth of a gigantic zipper of flames. And opening the zipper in my flight, I unveiled the chest of the true God, which I beheld in foreshortening, more grandiose than anything in the world. Twirling and incinerated by his light, I hoisted myself to such a height above him that I could view him in his entirety. How beautiful he was! With hairy chest, like a bull, he displayed a woman’s bosom. His face was youthful, crowned by the flame of his locks braided in thousands of tresses; his hips wide, sheltering his powerful virile organ. In his entirety, from his brow to his soles, he was made only of light. His eyes were half-open, his smile was at once ecstatic and melancholy, while directly over his heart, underneath the left breast, he exposed a horrible wound. Between the fingers of his right hand he held, in an unbearably graceful manner, a red rose. Thus he floated, reclining in the space that strove to contain him, but which appeared soaked through, contained by him . . . I woke up amidst the cold furniture of my room, a senile man weeping dry tears. I wanted to throw away these senseless pages collected here. But what can a man who wrote literature all his life do? How can he escape the arcana of style? How, with what instruments, can you cloak the page with a pure confession, freed from the prison cell of artistic convention? Let me collect myself and have the courage to admit it: You can’t. I’ve known this from the beginning but, in my cornered animal cunning, I concealed my game, my stake, my bet from your gaze. Because, finally, I staked my life on literature. I used, in my masochistic, Pascalian reasoning, everything that causes me to take this “story” (only I know by what effort) to the end: I knew the Roulette Player. Of this I cannot have doubts. In spite of the fact that it was impossible for him to exist, still, he existed. But there is a place in the world where the impossible is possible, namely in fiction, that is, literature. There the laws of statistics can be broken, there you can have a man more powerful than the laws of chance. The Roulette Player couldn’t exist in the world, which is a way of saying that the world in which he existed is fictional, is literature. I have no doubt the Roulette Player is a character. But then I, too, am a character, and so I can’t stop myself from bursting with joy. Because characters never die, they live each time their world is “read.” If he never kisses his beloved, the shepherd painted on the Grecian urn knows at least that he will forever gaze at her. Thus, my wager and my hope. I hope from the bottom of my heart and I have a forceful argument: that the Roulette Player did exist, that I am a character from a tale and that, although I am eighty years old, I will never die, because in fact I never lived. Maybe I do not live in a worthwhile tale, perhaps I am only a secondary character, but for someone at the end of his life any perspective is preferable to that of disappearing forever.


    There were hundreds of speculations regarding the fantastic luck of the Roulette Player. What can I do except add one more, if not more real, at least more coherent than the majority of the others? Being familiar with the Roulette Player since childhood, I know that, in fact, what always distinguished him was not good luck, but on the contrary, bad luck, of the darkest, I would say supernatural, bad luck. Never once did he experience the joy of winning even the most childish game where chance played a role. From the game of marbles to horse races, from throwing horseshoes to poker, it seemed that destiny used him as a clown, always peered at him with an ironic eye. The roulette was his great chance, and it’s bewildering how this man, so rudimentary in his thought, found the cunning to capitalize on the only point to pierce, like a scorpion, fate’s armor and to transform everlasting ridicule into eternal triumph. How? It seems to me simple now, primitive, but at the same time brilliantly simple: The Roulette Player staked his bet against himself. When he lifted the pistol to his temple, he divided himself. His will turned against him and condemned him to death. Each time, he was convinced with his whole being that he would die. From that, the expression of endless horror which appeared on his face. However, his bad luck being absolute, he could only fail each time in his intention to commit suicide. Maybe this explanation is foolish, but as I said, I can’t see another that has a chance to stand on its own. In fact, none of this matters anymore now . . .


    I am tired. I make the effort of a lifetime to write a single page. It will be the last, because the dice are cast and the aquarium is finished. Let me plug up the last leaking crack—and then I will rest next to it, silent and motionless. Only the tresses and veils of swimmers will pulsate from time to time. I await that moment with such voluptuousness that I can barely wait to finish the tale of the Roulette Player. His end came quickly, soon after the six-bullet roulette which he monstrously survived. Less than a year later, returning from gambling one milky morning, he was abruptly dragged into an alleyway off the abandoned path he took home. An adolescent, less than seventeen years old, put a pistol to his temple and demanded his money. He was found a few hours later, dead, with the pistol next to him, from which the unfortunate punk didn’t wipe his fingerprints. The corpse had no trace of a bullet wound, and medical expertise concluded that death was caused by a heart attack. In fact, inside the revolver, which never went off, there were no bullets. The young man was found the same day, hiding at some friends’ house, and everything became clear. His intention was merely to rob. The pistol was empty, and he used it only to intimidate. But the drunk he attacked was overwhelmed by a terrible fear and collapsed to the ground, while the young man lost his head, threw away the revolver, and ran. Because he had no relatives and no one seemed to know him (I myself hid for a few days, till the whole thing blew over), the Roulette Player was buried in a hurry, with a simple cross made of boards stuck on his grave.

    This is how I, too, close my cross and coffin of words, under which, like Lazarus, I will await my return to life when I hear your powerful and clear voice, reader. I close—in order that the tombstone should have an epitaph, in order to complete the circle—with Eliot’s verses, which I love so dearly:


    Grant Israel’s consolation
    To the one who has eighty years and no to-morrow





    - pp. 27-31: I dream enormously, in demented colors. I have sensations in my dreams I never experience in reality. I wrote down hundreds of dreams over the last ten years, some of which repeated themselves convulsively, dragging me underneath the same Caudine Forks of shame and hatred and loneliness. Of course, they say that the writer loses one reader with each chronicled dream, that dreams in a story are tiresome, being nothing but a convenient and worn-out method of plunging into the abyss. Rarely indeed is the dream significant for another. Besides, writers sometimes resort to fabrication, they construct the dream according to preordained specifications in order to both reflect and organize the random reality of the story, like placing the cap of an ink pen in the middle of an amorphous piece of scribble and seeing a naked woman reflected in it. Because I wish to begin this tale with a dream, I am now making an attempt at defending myself against the accusation of laziness and naivet which it would automatically unleash.

    I am, as you well know, an occasional writer of prose. I write only for you, my dear friends, and for myself. My true occupation is commonplace, but I like it and I know its gimmicks very well. The writer’s gimmicks, however, leave me cold. For a year or so since I have been attending your Sunday meetings, I could have learned much regarding the technique through which a story comes together. On the other hand, I was afraid that I didn’t have a lot to say. In fact, until that night when I dreamed what I wish to tell you about, I was convinced there is nothing in my life worth being brought out into the light. Thus, I do not try to leap into the abyss but only wish to begin at the beginning, because I am convinced that, in life as in fiction, the beginning sets the tone. It is so even in madness. I recall how a friend of mine began to go astray. He came over to my studio apartment one evening in a very agitated state and recounted in an oddly coherent way what had happened to him an hour before: “I got on a streetcar to go visit an acquaintance. Because of the cold outside, the windows of the streetcar were steamed up. On a bench in front of me sat a peasant woman in a brown, dirty parka and a green head-scarf. I hadn’t even paid attention to her until she raised her hand, in a thick glove, and wiped a portion of the steamed window. I was staring outside through the stain, which had become transparent, when the streetcar entered a tunnel and the stain became black as pitch against the white background of the rest of the window. Well, the stain reproduced perfectly Goethe’s profile from the well-known shadow silhouette. Everything was there: the straight nose starting directly from the oblique forehead, the wig ending in a pony tail, the firm lips, the round chin . . .”

    But to get to the point and begin the story of the dream I mentioned. Two months ago I dreamt I was locked up in a jar, but one chiseled out as though of crystal rock. I was walking around inside the jar, which from time to time flashed with rainbows, and I gazed with great contentment through its walls at the fluid, flickering world around me. A bird approached from the distant mountains, paddling toward the jar, and the closer it got the larger it became, arching itself around the curved walls. When it got very close, I saw its gigantic almond eye widening as though seen through a magnifying glass and abruptly enclosing me from all sides. I covered my face with a horrified feeling of shame and pleasure. When I uncovered my eyes, I noticed that on the wall of the jar, which sparkled frantically, appeared the thin contours of a door. I rushed at it, frightened at the thought it might be open. But I was relieved: an enormous lock, soft, as though made of flesh, was suspended from the door. On the path that snaked down from the distant mountains and ended at my door walked a little girl. She looked gentle and well mannered as she walked toward me, with wet lips and large bows tied around her pigtails. The walls of the jar had now become square and sparkling clear, and suddenly I felt an irrational fear, a terror I would never experience again. The little girl paused in front of the door and started to pound with her little mother-of-pearl fists on the thick crystal. Trembling, I flung myself to the floor, but would not let her out of my sight. When she grasped the lock, I felt that my entrails were being wrenched, that my heart was exploding. She tore the lock off and, with blood-smeared hands, pushed open the heavy quartz door. She stood frozen on the doorstep in an attitude that is impossible for me to describe to you, for which there are no possible words. And suddenly I saw this same scene, but from somewhere behind the little girl: I was moving away from it, walking on the path leading to the distant mountains, so that I encompassed in my sight an increasingly larger surface of the massive walls of glass or crystal or ice of the jar, which was by no means a jar, but a giant castle, an obtuse construction, with cornices and moldings and chevrons and gorgons and skylights and balconies and crenellations and watchtowers and drainpipes, made from a cold and transparent matter. I stood there writhing on the ground, above the thousands of chambers with translucent walls and the little girl framed by the wide-open door, while from the castle entrance to the center chamber, hundreds of doors with bloody locks flung open against the wall.

    I woke up with an uncomfortable sensation which annoyed me all morning, but I didn’t remember the dream until after lunch, at first as flashes of pure emotion in the plexus, then later at school while listening to my students, as unintelligible, painful events. I needed all of the next day to reconstitute what I have told here. And I even have the impression, I don’t know why, that I had remembered much more than I know now but have forgotten it in the meantime. Yes, now as I write, the thought seizes me that I knew what gestures the little girl made in the dream and what words she spoke but feel that I can in no way concentrate on them. I hope to remember them in the course of this telling . . .

    I tried, as usual, after I wrote the dream down, to prepare an anamnesis for it. I began at random, with the intent of remembering a detail from it around which to string a sequence from the dream. After a reverie of about two hours before my coffee cup, during which time I concentrated on the dye-transfer picture glued on it—a purple butterfly with two spots like two immense blue eyes on the wings, fringed with gold and with the thorax shaped like a smooth and disgusting worm—I wrote in my journal the following text, which came to me spontaneously: “When I dream, a little girl leaps over her bed, goes to the window and, with her cheek glued to the glass, gazes at the sun setting over the pink and yellowish houses. She turns to face the bedroom, red as blood, then cuddles again against the wet bedsheets. When I dream, something comes near my paralyzed body, holds my head in its hands, and takes a bite from it as though from a translucent fruit. I open my eyes but do not dare make a move. I jump abruptly from my bed and go to the window. I gaze outside: the entire sky is nothing but stars.” And instantly, as though having uttered a sacred formula, I began to recover a few bits. Some of them I forget, but I know that suddenly I became aware that the jar image was rooted in a discussion I had on the phone with an ex-girlfriend who told me, among other things, that she had bought a pair of hamsters which she kept in a jar, on sawdust. Then my oldest memory came to my mind: I was at most two years old, and my parents lived on Silistra Street. The owner of the house, whose name was Catana, gave me a tiny bell as a gift. I remember even today, with perfect clarity, how I came out of the courtyard of my house and walked with my baby boots into a large muddy puddle spanning the length of the street. I let my little bell fall there in the water, and though I rummaged with my tiny hands through the bottom of the puddle, which was no deeper than a few centimeters, I never found the little bell again. I recall how perplexed I was. From this memory I realized that I must situate the unfurling of the dream much deeper in the past. I concentrated on the little girl, her pigtails tied with enormous bows of starched white cloth. I noticed a resemblance to the peasant women painted by the Dutch masters, women with their heads covered by large and vaulted lace. I thought of all the Dutch bedsheets on which reclined the superbly curved nudes of Ingres, and suddenly I was cornered by a memory: the little girl’s name was Iolanda. Then I had before my eyes the glass door of Entrance One in our apartment building, which was so difficult to open, the Dambovita Mill, the toy watches, so violently and painfully colored, and the image of Bucharest viewed from the balcony, illuminated at night by red and green billboards that flashed off and on. With an exhilaration that is difficult to describe, I disinterred from memory in a few minutes a number of things I was certain I knew nothing about anymore. More, I realized that it was that period of my life which infused me with all that is original and perhaps even unusual. I can’t understand how I managed to block out till now this perfect, mother-of-pearl globe, locked inside the ashen valves of my life as an unmarried and blas teacher, who lives simply because he was born. But I felt extremely happy that I also could have after all some interesting things to write about from my own experience. I am not thinking that I will write a story, but a kind of account, a short and honest narrative of the oddest (in fact, the only odd) period of my life. And I feel the hero of this narrative, even though he was only seven during the time when “the action took place,” is worth being spoken about, because I am convinced he marked forever—though subterraneously in my case—the destiny of all the children who played behind my apartment building on Stefan cel Mare Boulevard.

    The apartment building is eight stories high, while behind it there are now parking lots where the cars shiver next to each other in this winter’s bitter cold. Twenty-one years ago, when we moved here, my mother was barely out of the maternity ward, where she had given birth to my sister. I recall how, in the middle of an absolutely white and empty room where the light splashed in through a window that had neither curtains nor curtain rods, my mother sat on a chair and suckled the baby while blindingly illumined by the spring’s white sun. My head reached exactly as far as the height of the kitchen sink, whose enamel had been chipped by time in such a manner that it displayed on the bottom the outline of a stain which reproduced precisely the contour of Africa, with its principal deserts and rivers.

    The apartment building was in a stage of near-completion. It abutted on one end a building which always made me feel uneasy because of its crenellations and watchtowers, its infinite perspectives—which later I found again in de Chirico—while in the back, facing the mill (another medieval building, of sinister scarlet), it was still propped up by rusty scaffolding. Behind the apartment building the earth was ransacked by sewage ditches, which in places plummeted to the depth of two meters. This was our playing field, separated from the mill’s courtyard by a concrete fence. It was a new world, strange and dirty, full of places to hide; and we, seven or eight boys, aged between five and twelve, armed with blue and pink water pistols we bought for two lei at Little Red Riding Hood, the toy store at that time in the Obor district, became every morning its masters and explorers. That was the old Obor, the true one, where it always smelled of turpentine.




    - pp. 36-39: All day long we chased each other through the labyrinthine sewer ditches. We found our way down through certain spots, walking on top of the pipes painted with pitch and the giant faucets; the smell of dirt invaded our nostrils, or earthworms and larvae, of pitch and fresh putty. It filled us with madness. We armed ourselves with water pistols, covered our faces with masks made of corrugated cardboard we got from the furniture warehouse. In order to make them all the more frightening, we painted the masks at home with leering fangs, with bulging eyes and dilated nostrils. Then we chased each other through the tortuous ducts, while above us a thin slice of sky darkened with the passage of time. When, turning a corner, we came face to face with an enemy, we roared and charged at each other, scraping ourselves and ripping each other’s T-shirts or printed blouses. No one knew who invented the game we called witchbitch. We continued playing it for years without getting tired of it, still playing it even in the eighth grade. It was a mixture of more benign games: cops-and-robbers, hawks-and-doves, hide-and-seek. At the start, there was only one witchbitch, which we picked by counting. The witchbitch alone wore a mask; “she” also carried a stick from which the bark had been removed. She counted to ten with her face to the wall, then charged through the ditches, looking for victims. You could leave the ditches but weren’t allowed to hide on the apartment building’s stairs and jump over the fence in the mill’s courtyard. The witchbitch hunted us through the evil-smelling ditches, and when she succeeded in striking one of us with the stick, she let out a horrific roar. The victim had to remain frozen in a paralyzed position. The witchbitch dragged him by the hand to the lair, where she knuckle-cuffed his head an agreed-upon number of times; thus baptized, the prisoner became a witchbitch himself. He put on a mask, and the hunt continued. Toward evening, when above the mill’s giant towers the first stars glimmered on the still bluish sky, only one survivor remained, hounded by a horde of witchbitches who bellowed their sinister shrieks. The tenants awaited that moment with horror. They threw potatoes and carrots at us from their balconies, while the cleaning ladies lunged at us with their brooms, all to no avail: the witchbitches would not rest till they captured the last victim, usually a tiny child who, upon seeing the game turn to reality, became terror-stricken. At night it was terrifying to come face to face with a single masked witchbitch, let alone an entire flock. The last one to be caught was dragged to the nearest stairs, where the rest of the gang made hideous faces at him and acted like they were about to swallow him. This went on until our indignant mothers came to take us home.


    When we had no taste for playing witchbitch or erasing with the thinned soles of our tennis shoes the blue houses, yellow trees, or the green mothers the girls drew on the asphalt—this just to hear them scream and run home—we would gather the gang and, sitting down on various scattered pieces of curb, begin telling each other all sorts of tales or playing “Film Titles.” I remember how Gimmi the Gypsy told us of his escapade in the mill’s courtyard: “I jumped the fence by the little house with the skull and bones on it. I got very close to the mill. The miller saw me. A few more millers showed up. I turned around and started to run. They threw rocks after me. I ducked. When they ran out of rocks, they took out their pistols. They didn’t get me. They shot at me with machine guns. They shot at my head, I ducked down. They shot at my legs, I jumped up. They brought cannons. I kept on running. They went after me in their tanks, I still kept on running. They sent airplanes and dropped bombs on me, but I reached the fence and jumped over it, there by the gate.” He was so serious when he told us the story, we almost believed him. You barely heard a skeptical, “Yeah sure, man.” When we played Film Titles, we already knew the titles, in alphabetical order. After the Rain was always followed by After the Thief, while Agatha, Give up Your Life of Crime was third. Next, starting with B, the first title was always Babette Goes to War. When someone was stuck, we would whisper to him the wrong answer: “Say Cruise Ship of Iron!” Then, when he said Cruise Ship of Iron, we would shout contemptuously: “There’s no such film.”

    One day, a little boy and his mother moved into an apartment on the first floor of Entrance 3. I had just turned seven and was to go to grade school in the fall (Vova was already in the third grade, while Mimi had to complete the fourth year all over again). The little boy was about the same age as me, and in the beginning there was nothing about him that drew my attention. His mother, on the other hand, was extraordinary, completely different from our own, who washed and ironed all day. She was a lady and was so tall you could barely make out the features of her face, lost as though in a distant horizon. Long and thin, she almost seemed to be sleepwalking amidst the furniture that filled the hallway, giving directions to the porters who dragged their hemp straps all over the place. I never saw her except in purple. Even in the house she wore a robe of red satin. Her hair was jet black, and her face seemed haunted by a bluish shadow glinting with thin traces of rosy mother-of-pearl. The boy sat apathetically in an old easy chair, which, because of its flowered girth, made him look even thinner. He was indeed thin and delicate, with firm eyes, alert and downcast. We came out for a time from our ditches and approached him. We asked him if he was moving into our apartment building and if the endless woman was his mother. But your father, where is he? “My father is a carpenter,” he told us, as though he was answering the question. Eventually we left him alone, because all he did was to give us long stares and short answers. We dove again like devils into our holes and started up again our game of witchbitch.

    During the following days, the little boy showed up again among us. He was very clean. He wore “rompers,” as my mother called them, short pants shaped like bloomers and held up by long suspender straps. He didn’t utter a word. We called him to join us in the ditches, but he didn’t want to. He just stared at us from the first floor. It made us lose our taste for playing, seeing that we had a spectator. He was watching the girls with the same interest, which made us feel contempt toward him. He even asked Mona (of all the girls!) for a piece of purple chalk. Mona, who did not stand on decorum, turned her little rump in beige pants and slapped it with her palm. “You sure you don’t want this?” The boy stared at her absent-mindedly and left. For about a week we spotted him talking every day with the kid who had polio. He explained all sorts of things to him, with the aid of sketches which he drew on the concrete with a piece of chalk he had brought with him and with gestures which I would now call ritualistic. Sometimes it seemed that a translucent spider web stretched out from him. At other times, he pointed with his finger to the sky, smiling enigmatically. During the evenings wrapped in purple fog, dissolving imperceptibly into coffee-brown, we stalked them, protected by our cardboard masks: the metallic glitter of the orthopedic mechanism worn by the first boy and the sibylline gestures of the second took on a bizarre and enigmatic air in our eyes, difficult to decipher. When they went home, always earlier than us, crooked circles and other figures remained on the blue concrete. We erased them hatefully.



    - pp. 41-42: Out of the window, the blue and glittering clouds, swept by the tops of the poplars, unreeled endlessly. When I went downstairs again in the afternoon, I found the gang huddling behind the building. Their mouths wide open, the boys were staring upward at something apparently sensational, something I could not see because of the building’s corner. “Come here, Mircea, man!” they shouted. “Come here and see Mentardy number two. He’s even crazier than the original!” Even Mimi and Vova, who were older and so for whom it was not appropriate to be so easily astonished, seemed hypnotized by what they saw. Luta showed up as well, him with his dark complexion and no eyelashes. Little Nicky, fat and dressed like an aristocrat with his John Lennon glasses, joined the gawking in his perplexed and irritated myopic manner. I stepped up close to the gang and froze.

    Next to the Dambovita mill with its scarlet walls, beyond the concrete fence, loomed the Pioneer bakery. It was an old factory building with a zigzag roof and an odd assortment of troughs whitened by flour headed toward the round windows. Lumpy sat on the fence all day because the workers sent him after newspapers and cigarettes. In exchange, he got roasted buns or hot rolls, which he slobbered over for an entire hour. The bakery was dominated by a brick chimney, red and thick and taller than our building, which rose to the clouds, shooting out over the oval coin-like leaves of the acacia trees. We never saw it up close, but you could make out along its height, all the way to the top, a fire escape that looked like it was sketched with ink; it was protected by rings in the likeness of a trachea. That afternoon, three quarters of the way up, that is, about the level of the sixth floor of our building, we saw a yellow spot. It was the rompers belonging to the new boy who, slowly and heedfully, was climbing to the top of the chimney. His frame, inside a little flowered short-sleeved blouse, covered less than a quarter of the brick tower’s width. The alarmed tenants came out on their pickle-jar-filled balconies and were shouting at him to come down. But, step by step, Mentardy (because eventually that’s what we all ended up calling him, the other Mentardy reverting back to his old nickname of Crazy Dan) was making his way up toward the top of the chimney. Finally, the boy reached the top, lifted himself up on the edge of the chimney, and squatted for a few seconds. The frightened shrieks of the women in the balconies escalated, and a few workers in white overalls and aprons darted across the courtyard toward the base of the chimney. But as though to defy his audience’s fears, Mentardy slowly stood up. Thin as a nail, he remained in the upright position at that dizzy height. He was looking up but signaled with his hand in the direction of the ground, probably at us. Then he began to descend the metal steps, his frame proceeding past all the rings of the fire escape, until he disappeared into the acacia’s foliage. After a short while, gawking through the rhomboid holes of the concrete fence, we spotted him running toward us. He clambered over the fence with difficulty and jumped down right in our middle. He stared at Mimi and said: “I don’t like witchbitch.”



    - pp. 44, 46-51—Just so that you get the idea, I enumerate here a few of the theories I remember, expounded by Mentardy during those evenings, crimson as flames, or the azure mornings, lined by the glittering-yellow walls of Entrance 1:

    . . . . 3. Women never couple with men. They bear a cell in their womb. When they reach the right age, they want to give birth. Then they launch the birth steps. This is what these are: From the cell a flea comes out. From the flea, a beetle. From the beetle, a frog. From the frog, a mouse. From the mouse, a hedgehog. From the hedgehog, a rabbit. From the rabbit, a cat. From the cat, a dog. From the dog, a monkey. From the monkey, a man. Women can stop at any step. Some women give birth to frogs, others to cats. But most of them long for children. They could give birth to a being far more enchanting than a child, because these degrees of birth do not end with man. (And Mentardy concluded: “I saw such a being.”)

    4. People are not of the same kind. They are of four different kinds: Those who have not been born, those who are living, those who have died, and those who have not been born, are not living, and have not died. They are the stars. (This very short word uttered by Mentardy was among his last, shortly before his fall. I see the scene before my eyes. It was about nine o’clock at night, and we were expecting our parents to call for us at any second. We could barely see our eyes glimmering in the dark of the evening. Above the mill, the sky was the color of indigo. A little red star flickered somewhere very far. It was the star on top of The Spark newspaper building. Mentardy seemed to sense something, because I had never seen him exude so much suffering and yearning and nostalgia in his voice than at that moment when he pointed with his finger toward the slice of sky above the mill’s chimneys.)

    5. (He uttered the next words after he witnessed a fight between Paul and Nicky, who had just come out with a few tiny red and tricolor paper flags from a parade. “My dad brought me ten flags from the parade,” said Paul. “Mine brought me fifty flags,” said Nicky. “Mine brought me five hundred flags,” said Paul. “Then my dad brought me one million flags,” said Nicky. “My dad brought me a billion flags from the parade,” said Paul. “Then my dad brought me a quadrillion flags from the parade,” said Nicky. “Mine brought me five million hundreds of quadrillions of flags,” said Paul. “Well, my dad brought me an infinity of flags from the parade,” said Nicky. “And mine brought me a million infinities of flags,” said Paul. “That’s impossible, my dad told me that infinity is the biggest number. There is no bigger number.”) No, there isn’t only one infinity. There is an infinity of infinities. Along this line, ten millimeters long, there is an infinity of points, while on that one, one meter long, there must be even more. I define one kind of infinity as the Bull, because this little bag around my neck is embroidered with a Bull and I imagine that in the little bag I have an infinity, an entire universe where there are many worlds just like ours. But this little bag is nothing compared to me, who is made of an infinity of points. It is just a smaller infinity. And this building is an infinity greater than me. In the whole world there are nothing but infinites, some smaller, some greater: The chair is an infinity, the carnation is an infinity, this piece of chalk is an infinity. Infinities that crowd each other, infinities that eat each other. But there is an infinity that contains all other infinities. I imagine it as an endless herd of bulls.

    6. After you die, you follow a very long path that rises endlessly. You go on and on and little by little your features change. Your nose and your ears retract into the flesh of the face like the little feet of an oyster. Your fingers retract into the flesh of your palm, and your arms get reabsorbed into your shoulders. In the same way, your thighs retract into your hips and you don’t walk anymore, you float along some walls of red brick where your shadow protracts like an elongated disk. You are now so round that you become translucent and begin to see all about you at once. When we’re alive, we see only as though through the slat of a mailbox, but after death we see all around, with our whole skin. We float and stare at the ever nearing brick walls, but then, through a fleshy red brick, we get to a round place. There, in the middle, we see a cell, because we are in the womb of a mother. We get into the cell, and as the birth steps begin, we look out through the eyes of all beings, of the flea, of the beetle, of the frog, of the mouse, of the hedgehog, of the rabbit, of the cat, of the dog, of the monkey, of man, and with a little luck, we get to see through the eyes of the enchanting being who is next in line after man. A dead man is looking at you right now through my eyes.

    7. (In fact, the seventh point is not a “theory,” but a few lines written by Mentardy with large letters, in chalk of different colors, on the smooth, slightly sloping cement surface of the transformer in the inner courtyard. It’s possible he got up early one morning to write them, because we found ourselves looking at them one day in the middle of the summer, about three weeks after his arrival. He said nothing about them. After he was convinced that all of us read these lines, he sat on his metal chair and went on with the tale he had begun the evening before, “Tales of the Asian Peoples.”)

    DO NOT LAUGH AT LUMPY
    DO NOT TORTURE ANIMALS
    DO NOT HARASS GIRLS
    DO NOT PLAY WITCHBITCH
    DO NOT GET DIRTY
    DO NOT TALK DIRTY
    DO NOT LIE
    DO NOT SQUEAL ON EACH OTHER
    DO NOT ARGUE WITH EACH OTHER
    DO NOT FIGHT WITH EACH OTHER

    (From the moment we saw them, we realized we had to live by those words; we even realized that there was something in us that prevented us from turning away from them. For about two or three weeks, no one thought of doing any of the things prohibited on the list.)


    I don’t recall any other similar theories—I say “theories” because I don’t know what else to call them—but all of them were in the spirit of the ones above. They fascinated us because they were the substance of Mentardy’s substance. You had to hear him speak and especially see him gesticulate, you had to feel the enchantment and the fright and the melancholy of those evenings. It was as though we were watching a strange film in muted colors, from coffee-brown to ashen gray, the garnet-red of the mill and the greenish-black of the acacia’s leaves. I don’t need to say that, pausing from the telling of some tales with Arabs and caravans, he left us veiled in the pungent perfume of fiction, ready now for revelation . . .

    That’s how we spent an entire month that summer, huddled around Mentardy. We did nothing without asking him first—and our parents, even though puzzled on account of our clean T-shirts and blouses, were wary about our dependence which, day by day, was turning into fealty. “Honey, what’s that child doing to you, he’s hypnotized all of you!” But we knew nothing but “The Brave in the Tiger’s Skin,” “Ruslan and Ludmila,” “Tristan and Isolde,” and all the other heroes from Mentardy’s stories. Even the girls left behind their silly games and tangled drawings of green women with blue legs and orange houses and gathered around the throne of metal and concrete. They sighed when the stories didn’t have happy endings. And even Mona didn’t show Mentardy her behind anymore but looked at him—her eyes like two green slits—with less hatred than she looked at everyone else. But Iolanda was the closest to him, and you could see the two of them often exchanging a few words. She had gigantic bows tied around her pigtails and called everyone “dearie,” even dolls and cats. Once she amused herself by flinging gooseberries at an enormous spider, immobile in the middle of its web suspended between two trees. She was trying to hit it with the red berries, and when the little ball of claws and feet darted toward the margin of the cobweb, she called out to it: “Wait a minute, dearie, where are you going?” But Mentardy never exceeded a certain reserve in his sporadic dealings with the girls; still, that was a lot more than the rest of us, who never talked to them at all. Certainly, we still played soccer, or brought out our chess table or button-soccer field. But they weren’t the central focus of our interest anymore. At that time, Mentardy went looking for the handicapped boy, and they spoke together for a long time.

    About five or six years ago, around February, I was on a short recess and took a stroll through the city. I was walking out of the Sadoveanu Bookstore and was passing by the Cyclops mall when something like a violent flame sent a shock through my stomach like an unbearable nostalgia. I had been staring in the small window displaying an assortment of lighters and plastic military decorations, located to the right of the tar-reeking entrance to Cyclops. The overwhelming emotion was provoked by the mere sight of a disposable lighter. The color of this lighter, like a Proustian madeleine, elicited a memory from the time of this tale. The lighter was an odd kind of pink, more violet actually, that gave the impression, because of its wavy plastic, of soft and fleshy waters and yellowish half-moons. It was exactly the same color as the little watch I bought for fifty bani the summer of that year, my first watch during the twenty-one years I lived in the building on Stefan cel Mare Boulevard.

    I remember distinctly the afternoon when that character in the red-checkered shirt crept through the corridor which connected Entrance 1 to the rest of the building. He was crawling like an earthworm between the two buildings and almost froze by the gas meter. Finally, having reached safety, he caught his breath as though after a difficult climb and wiped off his plaster-stained elbows. He motioned us to join him and began taking something out of his pocket. No matter how hard I try I can’t recall what he looked like. I see only a white balloon. But in his open palms I make out even the smallest details: yellow and cream chiclets wrapped in cellophane, with a tiny drawing in relief, little golden tin watches with multicolor plastic bands, whirligigs of various hues with two-bladed propellers that glided around two twisted wires until they lifted off, spinning up into the sky. We stood in a circle around him, asking the price of each and every object. Then we scattered, each of us to his own Entrance, in search of money. I bought the watch I mentioned with that uncanny pink-violet band for fifty cents. Mentardy bought a colored whirligig. After the man left, he followed him with his eyes, the way the man slunk away through the crack of the corridor, then shifted his eyelids dreamingly toward the propeller at the base of the two nickel-plated wires twisted around each other. He stared somewhat absent-mindedly at the two cardboard blades, when suddenly they began to twirl all by themselves, faster and faster, till they lifted off into the air, even higher than a meter, and then maintained altitude, twirling for more than a few minutes. He kept staring at the propeller, but as though thinking of something else.

    Before he left, the man in the red-checkered shirt had showed us something else, which he held on his palm with great care, caressing it from time to time. We closed the circle around him. The object in question was a black fountain pen. It displayed a rectangular window, framing a woman dressed in a black one-piece swimsuit. If you lifted the pen with the nib pointing up, the black of the swimsuit turned out to be a slow-draining liquid revealing first the woman’s breasts, then the rest of the body, until she was completely naked: I had never imagined that a woman was like that. “It’s twenty-five lei, off-limits to snot-face kids like you,” the man laughed.

    A little past nine, after everyone went home, Luci and I snuck out behind the building and crawled up the old chestnut in whose hollow we had found the pencil sharpeners. For about a quarter of an hour, we commented on what had just occurred—the arrival of the gewgaw peddler—all the while studying under the pale light of the mill courtyard’s neon our little golden tin watches. Luci had just started one of his tales of lace-clad horses, when we heard Mentardy coming out of the building’s stairwell and, slowly and hesitantly, heading for the sewage ditches. We couldn’t believe our eyes when we saw him easing himself down into one of them. We nearly fell out of the tree from shock. Mentardy was strolling up and down the dirty labyrinth, making odd gestures that reminded us of witchbitch. He paused and took something out of his rompers’ chest pocket. When he came into closer view, we saw that he had put on a frightening mask, painted with watercolors, much more primitive, much more leering, much more threatening than anything we had come up with in the realm of witchbitch masks. It wasn’t till ten o’clock that he finally climbed out of the ditch and headed for the apartment building’s entrance.

    (I would like to interrupt the telling of the story for a moment. From time to time I feel the need to come up for air. But never so much as right now. Maybe I tried to hang on for too long with my head submerged, my hair waving, under those gelatin-thick waters of that summer, and my eyes are burning from all the gold and the reflections. But I think I am gasping for another, much deeper reason. I think that, I want to say this, I am not so sure I wish to read this text in our literary circle. It is not really literature, and it’s becoming too much of something else. I have been writing for two weeks now and feel the need to put in things that have nothing to do with the history I was writing about before. What I mean is that I am beginning to notice that the act of writing is beginning to change me as a person. When I am not writing, at school or during my free time, I feel and behave like someone in a state of perpetual hallucination. I have not been able to finish correcting my students’ papers this week, because pale images suddenly erupt on my brain’s silver, images that afflict me even when I am listening to my students. Not to mention the fact that I have been suffering from frightening dreams, impossible to recount . . . .)




    - pp. 317-318 [Afterword by Julian Semilian]: The summer of 2004 I returned to the United States from a two-week trip to my childhood city, Bucharest. The suspicious customs man inquired: “What could anyone be doing in a country like Romania for two weeks?” I stared blankly at him.

    It was a good question. A few years before, I translated on a whim a short portion from Mircea Cartarescu’s 1996 novel, Orbitor. His rich, poetic Romanian seemed to find easy passage into English, my second language. I felt that the very words were trying to say themselves in English, and it was strange and delightful to help them along. I sensed that I was gaining entry to Mircea’s dream-brain. This feeling strengthened as I moved on to translating an earlier novel, Nostalgia (1989), at the urging of Andrei Codrescu. Once again, the Romanian writer’s dream-brain urged me to cross over quickly to English, as if we were benefiting from an opening when the linguistic border guards were absent, drugged, or hypnotized. It was almost as if Mirchea had already written the book directly into English, except that he’d used Romanian words, and all that was left for me to do was to assist their passage. I imagined that I was the FitzGerald to Mircea’s Khayyam, as in the Borges story, “The Enigma of Edward FitzGerald,” the two of us one in God’s brain. Of course a thousand years had passed between Khayyam and FitzGerald, while Mircea and I are near contemporaries, but I figured that in the brain of Borges’ God, time was merely a literary conceit.

    Translating Nostalgia, I felt that I recovered Bucharest, which I’d left in adolescence, but it was a Bucharest transformed alchemically by Mircea: “I found myself,” he wrote in a recent book of essays, Forever Young, Swaddled in Pixels, “the writer who generated it . . . a plastic, proteiform city which my imagination shaped according to its will . . . .”


    I discovered through Nostalgia also a literary Bucharest I wish I’d experienced. Mircea speaks in the same essay of Ovid S. Crohmalniceanu’s (“Papa Croh”) salon, a defining place for Romanian writers of the Eighties Generation, a movement that was seminal in postwar national literature. It was a literary underground that began at the end of the ‘70s, with a style and impact resembling the Beat Generation and heir to the traditions of the avant-garde and surrealism. The young members of this group—Mircea among them—were initially called the Blue-Jeans Generation, because of the strong influence of American writing. Their work, independent of the official communist ideology, was opposed by the regime from the very beginning. The famous Monday Night Salon saw the poets gathering under the direction of literary critic Nicolae Manolescu, while the fictioneers were led by the immensely erudite Papa Croh himself. The Bucharest of literary salons was the heir of a long tradition with immense consequences for Romania’s intellectual life, and the vibrancy of Mircea’s city inspires his fiction with magic. He compares his three Bucharests, that of his mother, that of his first love, and that of his poetry, to three superimposed brains hiding underneath the human skull: the reptilian, the mammalian, the human. This Bucharest is the rich city where Nostalgia unfolds.



    The reader might wonder, as I did, why Nostalgia is called a novel, when in fact it appears to be a series of unrelated short stories and novellas. There is much written about this book in Romanian literary criticism, but I found Mircea’s own explanation delightful and revealing: “Even though this volume is comprised of five separate stories, each with its own world, it could be said that what we’re dealing with here is a Book, in the old and precious sense of the word. The stories connect subterraneously, caught in the web of the same magical and symbolist thought, of the same stylistic calligraphy. This is a fractalic and holographic novel, in which each part reflects all the others. The first and the last story, linear texts of a parabolic simplicity, are merely the frame for the other ones that make up the book’s marrow and contain the three principal themes: the prodigious child seen as a Jesus of his tiny world, the androgyne as a metaphor for total love, and finally, the nostalgic search for the Creator, in his hypostasis as the book’s author and God.






    - pp. x-xiii [Introduction by Andrei Codrescu]: Mircea Cartarescu is Romania’s leading poet in a country teeming with great (and untranslated) poets, Mihai Eminescu, Tudor Arghezi, and Lucian Blaga, to mention only a few. What makes Romanian poets untranslatable is what makes all poetry untranslatable, plus a level of linguistic play and an excess of metaphysics that go against the grain of the American modernist tradition of plainspeak. Cartarescu, who is the undisputed chef d’ecole of what is called both the Eighties Generation and “Romanian postmodernism,” has argued in a series of brilliant and cogent essays, as well as in his poetry and fiction, for a place for contemporary Romanian sensibility within the great conversation about literature taking place now in Europe and the United States. A few readers may raise an eyebrow now and ask, “What conversation?” which is tant pis, as the French say, because the discussion of literature is neither at an end nor in the hands of specialists. Yet. The case for “minor literatures” has been well made by Jacques Derrida and Gilles Deleuze and has become, thanks to the needs of (mostly American) academics, something called “colonial studies.” Romania, however, was never a colony, and its brilliant exiles often renewed their adopted languages, mostly French, by fertilizing the drying urge-to-theory with a rich infusion of wonder and magic. For instance: reading today, side by side, Tristan Tzara’s poem “L’homme approximatif” and Andre Breton’s “L’amour fou,” one can see exactly why Breton and the young proto-Surrealists of Paris needed Tzara in 1924 and why they distanced themselves as soon as Surrealism found its “logic.” Likewise, the publication of the work of Spanish-language “magical realists” in English in the 1970s gave American writers a new lease on language. One cannot conceive of postmodern American fiction without the work of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, whose restoration of the magic of the writerly imagination revived in its wake other strains of imaginative writing, such as Isaac Bashevis Singer’s, a dybbuk who was always here, but not very well seen. American fiction after magic realism parted from the plainspeak of modern American poetry for a time. Unfortunately, a kind of specious realism has emerged now, an imagination-rotting pathogen that is destroying the borders between literature and television, making both the Great Conversation and literature hard to distinguish. Perhaps now is the time for the last Europeans to put in their two cents, hard earned, I might add, through communist censorship, Western neglect, and post-communist disinterest.


    I’ve dragged Cartarescu, unfairly, through this argument, hoping to highlight some qualities of his work that have curative powers. The storyteller(s) of his stories dream the world like Borges’, always aware that one dream opens into another, and that dream into another, and that they are all as real as any reality or the next dream. The dream worlds are a trap for the reader, but the writer is there always, asking the kind of questions about reality that only children and overwrought adolescents ask. In “The Roulette Player,” the writer loses his raison d’tre when chance ceases to exist. In the hugely alive universe of the children in “Mentardy,” a prepubescent messiah loses his magic powers at the advent of sexuality, but not before he has created worlds and magical yearnings in all his followers. The stories-within-stories in the novella “REM” proceed from an adult poetry of the senses reveling des Esseintes-like in the artifices of beauty, on to animated fairy tales coming to life in the telling of a Bucharest Scheherazade. Cartarescu’s evident joy in his creations is a paralyzing aphrodisiac, and the key to reading him is total immersion. One is always in good hands in these stories, notwithstanding the occasional and clownish authorial wringing of these hands. Such moments are not, however, either ornamental or just winks at the reader, they are genuine quests involving the reader as a sort of coauthor. There are times, inside one of Cartarescu’s self-sufficient but connected dream worlds, when one would like to come up for air, but it’s nearly impossible to shake the visceral sensations of his descriptions or characters for very long. They stay with one through any number of “real” rituals before the seduction resumes. Cartarescu’s extraliterary ambition, if he has one, which I doubt, is to induce the effects of a psychedelic in the reader. This is not hyperbole, take it from one who knows whereof he speaks. It helps that Cartarescu is fluent in a variety of popular genres, such as horror, fashion magazines, children’s books, and popular music: the presence of these forms gives his stories a comforting if illusory sense of the existence of “others,” a sense as necessary to a reader as to someone high on LSD.

    Cartarescu is also a structural wizard who builds his stories with the innate skill of a medieval puppeteer, with deft lingering in foreplay, in digression, in excuses to the reader for what’s to follow, in delighted and perverse apologia, all of which serve to bring interest to a pitch, but when the story proper begins the puppeteer is replaced by a spider who does not disappoint. The multiple revelations that follow have a verisimilitude that without the buildup would be simply unbelievable. I am describing, poorly, a craft that is sublimely unique. Cartarescu is a painter as well, displaying a range of impossible colors that must have driven his translator crazy. And colors are not alone: each of the five senses is pursued with a linguistic fury that must have been hell to bring to English. Mircea Cartarescu is well-translated into French (he has won literary prizes there) and into German. He is now, thanks to Julian Semilian, in irreplaceable English. Personally, I would like to eavesdrop on a conversation between Cartarescu’s various translators: how did they do it? how did they recover? Cartarescu wrote this book during the censorious days of Ceausescu’s dictatorship and, to an ideologically conscientious reader, some of the outlandish images could pass for political outrage. I sensed, here and there, the literal dankness of basements and Kafkaesque torture chambers of the regime, and there is certainly enough dust and mud to put one in the mind of the endless socialist construction projects that made life so dreary and cold for adults. But these occasional effects are obliterated by the dazzling detail of feeling and the exacerbated vision of the characters, who are all poised on the edge of something momentous, whether it’s sexuality, death, or the insupportable poetry of the next line. Imagination, like love, conquers all in this fiction, including the classically postmodernist self-reflections, the occasionally ironic self-awareness, and the historical era itself.








    I'd be damned. When did Cartarescu get as famous as the 16types.
    He's a Ne user, Delta NF by my books (Nostalgia is one of the books I HAD TO read more than 2 times; others are not as concentrated in their substance, but he's very good anyway).

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    IEI or EIE

    Nostalgia by Mircea Cărtărescu; p. 96-8 (“The Twins”)

    I was in my last year of high school and about to turn eighteen. I was progressively worried about my future. Only a year before I had decided to renounce, categorically and without regrets, everything pertaining to life, the “joy of being alive.” People who seemed content with their small lives disgusted me. I saw myself as universal, ready to become the cosmos itself. But soon, it became physically impossible to endure this mode of life. Little by little, I began feeling like a failure rather than a genius. This change took place under the weight of loneliness. Before, I was content to be left alone, to lock myself in the house for weeks, to read till I couldn’t see anymore. I cursed if I had to answer the phone. During the first two years of high school, my fellow students would invite me to parties or birthdays, or to the discotheque in the school’s auditorium, but since I never went they stopped inviting me. They viewed me with the horror mixed with the reluctant admiration reserved for the chrysalis that might someday become a butterfly but also God knows what sort of horrific vermin. Even those who took my side—because despite it all, I was being talked about—couldn’t imagine themselves having a personal relationship with me. When I turned seventeen they prepared a gift for me, elegantly wrapped in paper and tied with a ribbon, but which no one had the courage to hand me: Instead, they placed it on my desk. They were flustered and a little frightened of their own gesture, as though they were presenting an offering to an unearthly being. Even today, I have no idea what the contents of the box were, because I left it on the desk without touching it. I had lost all traces of humanity—I realized this—but I believed it was the only way to progress along the path to becoming superhuman. During the break between my eleventh and twelfth years, I had attained such a degree of solitude that I was frightened for my sanity. For the period of three months, I constantly sensed that my heart was heavy with an abstract love, a love for no one. I couldn’t stand being home for a moment. I would go out and roam the streets of Bucharest, translucently golden from the sun, incessantly expecting to meet someone unknown. I stared with envy at the strolling couples with their arms around each other . . . .

    I could hardly wait for school to begin again, something that had never happened to me before. Because I felt very alone, like a fallen angel, or at least one in grave danger of falling. But I knew that in order to remain an angel, I had to ignore what I was fighting inside me, which was perhaps malignant and had progressively gained more power over me. Many times, I would wake up weeping from loneliness.

    . . . . Who was I to be her boyfriend? An ugly and bizarre boy, on the threshold of schizophrenia, who knew nothing outside of a smattering of literature, who had no experience of life. I dressed randomly, I had never traveled, I had no friends. All I could give her was my blind fear of losing her. For me, Gina was much more than a girlfriend, she was a being impossible to endure, a drug far too strong but which I couldn’t live without. I knew sooner or later that everything would fall apart, that Gina would leave me.


    p. 134-8

    The weather has gotten worse. Last night, I couldn’t sleep because of the thunder and lightning. We don’t even have drapes over the windows. When the entire room filled with that electric, palpitating blue, followed by that blast that nearly excoriated your bones, all the girls began to scream so loud that the night nurse on duty showed up and stayed with us, telling stories and singing, like in The Sound of Music. Mira and Altamira held each other tight and, cheek to cheek, stared around with frightened eyes like baby monkeys, while Lavita, in her multicolored bed with the sheets pulled over her head, howled like a hyena. On the bedsheets she had drawn a postage stamp, about a half-meter in length, with the perforations perfectly lined up, and with a picture of the wooden church from the Village Museum. And of course, Elisabeta, whose condition is getting worse by the day, found it necessary to fall again and started to foam at the mouth and shake like a madwoman. The nurse had to turn on the lights, put a pillow under her head, and press a hand over the mouth and nose, holding her tight for about thirty seconds until the convulsions abated. And this morning, when the nurse came in with the medicine cart, Elizabeta swallowed her tranquilizers with hollow eyes and propped herself up on the pillows. They didn’t give her breakfast, which awakened our suspicions, and when the doctor came in, together with two nurses—one of them carrying a nickel-plated metal box—we understood they were getting ready to subject Elisabeta to that horrible process we knew about only from stories: lumbar puncture. Nothing frightened the girls more than these words. Paula and Maia—the latter a woman of about fifty who had been in the ward the longest and suffered from enuresis and nocturnal ambulatory automatism—told us about a sick woman whose spinal cord was punctured right before their very eyes and whose lower body became paralyzed. They said that if they ever blew air into your brain in order to conduct an encephalogram, you would end up with such headaches that until they sucked back out all the air, you were sorry you ever had a head on your shoulders. It made us gawk with horror and fascination at the martyrdom of Elisabeta, who was all drugged up and had no idea what was happening to her. A nurse removed her pajamas, leaving her sitting up with her naked breasts on the white metal bed, then, pressing her chin into the chest and bending her spine, grabbed ahold of her shoulders and nape. The vertebrae, like some lustrous knots of skin, and the elongated ribs broke into view from under the yellowish skin, which made you think of an ungraceful, masculine back. The target was just below the halfway point down the spine. The doctor palpated it with a rapid motion, and the nurse dabbed it with a piece of cotton doused, I think, in iodine. Then, from under the slice of medical gauze in the sterilized case, she extracted a thin long syringe with the plunger drawn all the way back, to which she attached a long needle, thick as a crocheting pin, with the tip slashed at an oblique angle. It seemed strange, but I did not see any trace of sadism on the faces of those who were getting ready to conduct torture, who were performing with an inhuman coldness. In all the paintings of martyrs and saints, with their bodies crammed with arrows shot from a short distance, with breasts severed and then placed upon golden platters, with heads carried under the armpit of the decapitated body, with intestines extracted from the belly and spun around on a giant spindle, with virgins sawed in half from head to waist, the headsmen are portrayed as hideous, emaciated, leering at the sight of the suffering. They have sores, leprosy, astigmatism, fingers without nails: It is clear which side they are on. But now—look at Elisabeta, unsightly, epileptic unwashed, in the hands of learned and delicate beings in white coats, nonetheless, manipulating the devil’s tools in a manner that provokes panic and suffering. I never believed that dentists, surgeons, and others of that ilk torture you for your own good: All pain is bad, whether physical or moral, bad and humiliating. The burlier nurse, with greenish shadows under her white coat suggesting the slip, grabbed the syringe, aimed the needle toward that point between the vertebrae that glittered like spit on account of the iodine and, heaving, stabbed the needle into the skin. She paused for an instant, then stabbed again, until a tiny crack was heard. Elisabeta moaned in an odd, nearly sensual way, and then began to sigh. The nurse quickly detached the needle from the syringe at the very moment when golden drops—the spinal fluid—gushed out from its wide end; they collected it inside a gleamingly clean test tube. The girl huffed and moaned louder and louder until, with an effort, the needle came out, and then she howled with a raucous voice. They kept her balled up for a few more minutes, with a piece of cotton pressed over the needle stab; then, they put her pajamas back on and slowly stretched her out on her back. Her head had to be kept still for at least twenty-four hours. Most of the women were ill and turned their heads; Lavita hid under her bedsheets and cried her heart out. Only I and the lady with the facial paresis saw everything; I twisting my locks with a nervous finger, she, her face frozen in a harlequin expression, smiling with one half of her face, weeping with the other, blinking the single eye. That was my entertainment for the night and morning . . .

    The doctor came by my bed a moment ago and asked if I was done with my writing. Oh, Lord, no, not yet. What do these pages, spread out over the sheets and the night table, contain? Are they her work, or mine? Can I still discern what is hers and what is mine? Again, I am afraid. Lost in the landscape of her brain, stepping upon uncertain terrains, through mother-of-pearl and pinkish zones, submerged in the valleys of her circumvolutions, in her vestibular precipices. Plunged into narrow paths along the obscure forest of her prosencephalon, mirroring myself in the waters of the epiphysis (but looking at whom?), crossing above the memory bolgias howling in the melted pitch, writhing under rains of fire flakes, rising, purified, in the mesencephalon full of reptiles and fanged birds, lost there in the arborescent ferns. And upward, exploring the ecstatic states of the six layers of the neocortex, painted with Gina’s portrait, deformed like a fetus over the hemispheres: flattened forehead, mouth with thick lips and enormous tongue, minuscule body, but hands with grotesquely fanned fingers the size of the entire body. And everywhere the conclave of worms, of insects, of reptiles, of mammalians, the gala-gatherings of Ramapithecines, Australopithecines, Pithecanthropes, then the Cro-Magnons, the Romans, the Celts, the Dacians, the Slavs, the Tartars, the great-grandparents, the grandparents (Maricu and Tanicu), the parents, the relatives, the friends, myself meeting with myself in her brain, but no Virgil, no Beatrice, not any sort of redemption, no climbing to the stars. I roam through the labyrinths of her mind, I pull the levers that roll her eyes, push on the pedals that cause her knees to bend. I stare at my thin fingers, my new fingers, the nail polish already peeling. It is with them that I have been holding my ballpoint pen. Therefore—who is the writer?

    I don’t have much longer to go. I will be finished in a few days. And then, because I have less shame than Lavita, I will leave this pile of pages on the night table. Let anyone read them, let them imagine what they will. Let them find any motivation they wish, let them interpret in any way they wish this mirror cover, this text, this texture, this textile. This rag, successful only when nothing can be seen through it. I wish neither to weave it endlessly nor to unravel at night what I weave by day; on the contrary, I begin now to take things even further, to enter the dragon’s lair or the lair of Kafka’s insect or Rilke’s terrifying angel (I am certain, one way or another he will hold me close to his heart). But to write, in conclusion, that after our separation, following the ugly scene in the Garden of the Icons, Gina and I didn’t talk for at least three weeks, maybe even an entire month. It was a dark period for me, and I don’t know how I managed to come out of it. I wasn’t able to read anymore, to study during that period when my high school finals were coming up, and especially my entrance exams for the university. I had lost my self-possession, I didn’t know how to go on living. I couldn’t even walk by myself anymore like I did before, as a remedy for loneliness, couldn’t play Ping-Pong or go to the movies. A few of my closer classmates (I didn’t have any real friends) felt the need to help and attempted to shake me out of my erotopathia. She was becoming progressively opaque in my eyes, as if she had developed an indecipherable mother-of-pearl crust. She didn’t even pay any attention to me at school. After the first weeks of the spring trimester, I moved away from our desk without getting any reaction from her. She was greatly changed, as if she had aged by a few years. Her bearing had acquired a new kind of pride and defiance. She exhibited confidence, she finally appeared to know what she wanted, she was mature and strong. She didn’t put on airs anymore when she spoke with her friends, but instead enunciated everything in a kind of declaratory conviction, which according to her was a sign of experience. She was a woman, she had no time anymore for questioning herself, for self-contemplation, she knew.



    p. 84

    I remember the heavy winters of that period, with snow mounting all the way up to the school’s windows, with the twilights descending in waves of ashen-scarlet over the chestnuts in the courtyard and the nostalgic feeling I always got from the brick warehouse next to the school. The air became the color of coffee, and in the sleet awaiting them at the end of the school day, the boys with soaked mittens and snowballs in their fists were awaiting the surge of girls flaunting their purple eyes, scintillating as birds. The early stars sprinkled the harsh air while we, at the end of the school hours under the glare of bulbs, gazed in bewilderment at the grotesque succession of chemical formulas, the odd ratios of Avogadro’s number, the crooked, crystal figures of spatial geometry. At other times, the snow fell profusely while we, staring out the window during our Romanian literature hour, had the sensation that the entire room was flying obliquely and at hyperspeed like a spaceship into the air. The electric light in the classroom, contrasting with the immensity of the darkness outside, gave us an atavistic sentiment of intimacy, of shelter, such as primitive man must have experienced in his cave. The world became small, and it was easy to be alive.











    p. 89-94

    Lili, whose arrival I awaited anxiously, showed up late, long after the program started. It was a kind of musical, improvised after The Enchanted Grove, and we, the boys, were drooling over Lizuca, a tall girl in the seventh grade, incredibly well proportioned and decked out only in ballet leotards. By her side, costumed like a dog and leaping around like a clown, was a small boy named Patrocle. The stage was filled with children-butterflies, children-flowers, and other things of that sort. The old speakers emitted a continuous rumble which at its source was the sweet song of children. I was probably the first to see Lili. She was dressed in a simple outfit, with a very low-cut, sleeveless white blouse and a black shirt high above the knees. If she had showed up at the beginning, they wouldn’t have let her in, because you could see her thighs. She held a pale pink rose between her fingers and strolled in flouncing through the plushy seats with her unique style of grace. She sat down at a distance from us, and sat alone for a while, sniffing the rose from time to time. Then, she changed her mind and came toward us, finding a seat two rows above me. My eyes were constantly shifting toward her. Once, when I turned to see her, pretending that I wanted to say something to one of my friends, I couldn’t believe my eyes: Lili was sitting cross-legged, in an attitude which would have seemed indecent had it not been so charming. You could see her legs with their white and toned skin all the way up, and I suddenly became aware that she was staring straight at me. I don’t remember when she moved next to me. She was powerfully perfumed. She smiled and stared at me from the corner of her eyes. I was staring straight at the pantomime on the stage. Then she took my hand. Astounded, I turned my head toward her and wrenched my hand away. “Andrei, why do you avoid me?” she asked, and took my hand into hers again. “Leave me alone,” I said, “they’ll see us,” but I wasn’t strong enough to withdraw my hand again. I looked straight ahead and began to shake. There were other sections in the auditorium next to the orchestra or other places where no one sat because of the loud sound or the distance from the stage. It was toward one of those places that Lili eventually dragged me. We sat there next to one another, Lili playing with the rose while I was sweating and feeling lost. She didn’t even pay too much attention to me, she knew her presence and her perfume were enough to rattle me. All the kids were turning their heads toward us and leering suggestively. When I couldn’t bear it any longer, I stood up and dashed out of the first exit I found. I heard her voice ringing after me, soft and ironic, and then all the way home I chattered and shivered and ran. I threw myself on the bed, unable to even move. I developed a fever; my mother was terrified when she read the thermometer. She gave me pills and then called the doctor. For a few days, the first of summer break, I was ill, sleeping fitfully, with hallucinatory dreams. Time after time, writhing in my humid sheets, I would open my eyes and stare through the blue air of my room bleached by the moon toward the armchair by the bed. There, I would see Lili very clearly in her halter-top school uniform, with hair tied back and her glimmering lips, smiling oddly and ironically. I would get up from the bed and touch her hair, her shoulders; I was convinced she was totally real. I felt a warm fluid flowing from my chest to my fingertips, and my hands, as if driven by an internal knowledge, attempted to undress her. But she was all of one piece, her clothes one with her body. She was no more than a statue of glassy consistency, but alive and moving. She could not be undressed.


    . . . . My eroticism entered a phase of aggressive inhibition. Everything was paradoxical, unsolvable. I searched through art books or catalogues for erotic passages or nudes while on the other hand something in me was against these impulses. I felt that I was inherently different from the others, that love and everything related to it was not for me, that I traveled a road which took me way beyond the banal human condition. In fact, through this tendency toward absolutism, which I experienced so intently at the time, I came to believe that it was eroticism itself which prevented man from realizing himself, that love—and thus woman—was the cause leading to trivialization, to failure. For two years, in that state of alienation which I have been attempting to explain, I created for myself a monstrous system of ideas. I had determined that I didn’t have the right to get to know a girl because I had a higher mission to fulfill. I was convinced that immortality depends upon chastity and the moment you love or make love you taint yourself past all hope. This wasn’t because of any sort of lucid realization but impulses which I could not deny. Of course, I agonized by myself but couldn’t do it any other way.

    Woman meant monster to me. I saw in her a modified man, a crippled man. The breasts, the fat which defined parts of her body, the widened hips, the hair so different than man’s, all these seemed to me disgraceful infirmities. Feminine conduct, the grace of certain gestures, the dissimilar psychology, I took these to be a form of affectation. I viewed with hatred girls who dressed stylishly, took care of their looks, and flirted with boys. For me, it meant only that they were exhibiting their erotic desires. I had read that the female spider devours the male during the process of coupling, and I had begun to write a story in the fantastic style, in which I imagined what it might be like if the female destroyed the male during sex in the world of humans. I pictured the dilemma of the male caught between two fundamental instincts. To know for certain you would be destroyed by her, and yet be unable to escape her fascination . . . Or, I was thinking of the strange case of the praying mantis, who during copulation gnaws away at her lover. Or the female scorpion, who can find in a few seconds the male’s single vulnerable place, the only fissure in his chitinous armature, and pricks him there with the venomous needle in her tail . . .




    p. 117-125

    I walked out of Gina’s room feeling dizzy, incapable of thought. It was dark in the hallway of the apartment, the old folks had long gone to bed, while the television in the corner was swallowed by the penumbra. The only glimmer, metallic and lustrous, Rembrandt-like, came from the edge of a large copper tray on a small table. I stepped out into the street, and though it was nearly midnight, I walked all the way home through the apocalyptic snow, painfully pushed to the side by the snowploughs. In their blinding, blue headlights, the snow seemed to fall incessantly, as though to bury the entire world. My gloves were wet and soft, frozen crusts permeated my fingers. While passing by illuminated windows with motionless mannequins on skis wearing the latest fashions in sweaters and jackets, I saw in the red-and-green fluorescent light an entwined couple heading toward me. From their book bags, I gathered they were students. Once they got closer, I was amazed at the girl’s resemblance to Gina: the same springy walk on interminable heels, the same fur coat. Her fox hat with the reddish glow was also the same as Gina’s. I felt I was really losing my mind when it became clear that it was actually Gina heading toward me, her hand in the boy’s pocket and laughing convulsively. I took a close look at him once we were practically face-to-face with each other. He had long and pallid features, eyes deep in their sockets and a barely burgeoning mustache, like an auburn shadow underneath his lanky nostrils. We stared for an instant into each other’s eyes before they went on, toward Gina’s street: the young man was I.

    From that day on, I went over to Gina’s place often. For a while, she seemed to have forgotten Silviu. Winter slipped away from us in the madness of her room, where she was different each time, where an emotional nuance different from any I had lived before revealed itself to me each time I caressed her, taking me further each time. One evening, she brought from another room some twenty-odd old dresses, left from her grandmother and great-grandmother, yellow as saffron, with shawls hung with silk tassels and belts embroidered with gold thread. She put on diamond earrings and twirling like a whirligig, while we drank a kind of cocktail made of oranges and Havana Club, modeled for me every single one of those dresses. Thus arrayed, with a peasant scarf shrouding her head, she looked like a Russian doll—or as I saw her then, Grushenka in The Brothers Karamazov. In another dress whose waist ended at the breasts, a gorgeously designed dcolletage, and a large hat whose faded blue ribbon clasped the chin, Gina resembled Adele H. But she looked best as a Russian, because of her cunning smile and her sweet eyes lacking sweetness, sweet in a kind of cerebral mode. We were already very dizzy when she hid behind the wardrobe’s door in order to put on a slip her mother had brought her from Paris. The slip was black and shiny, with silk lace. It was very short, revealing her G-string, also of black silk. This sensual vestment contrasted with her innocence, her goodness, her childlike face. I took her in my arms and stretched her out on the floor. We began to make out, gripped by a hopeless fury. Huffing, clutching my shoulders with all her strength, she sighed in my ear: “Andrei, no, it’s not possible now, but I swear, I swear Andrei, I will be yours . . .” I had lost my head completely, but I think I was even more afraid than she was. The erotic act seemed to me a distant rite, one in which I couldn’t believe I would ever participate. I was afraid instinct was not enough, that I wouldn’t know what to do, how to do it . . . I suffered, in an amplified way, from the complex my lack of experience gave me, I felt I should be the one who knows. This seemed to be an obstacle that could take Gina away from me. Later, I considered that if I had then even the smallest amorous experience, Gina would have been mine, and maybe (maybe!) would have stayed mine forever. But now, we were wasting our encounters in that room full of glass icons, in fearful exasperation.

    At school, we were good friends, we were together all the time. We sat at the same desk, and everyone knew about our relationship. It is possible that they gossiped about us, because Gina’s girlfriends instinctively hated her, and while they respected me, they thought of me as some poor unlucky monster who just ended up in bad company, something that was going to even further ruin me. Yes, they viewed me with pity and horror, as if to say: Wake up now, you unlucky fool! In the hallway Gina, holding my arm, touchingly tiny in her halter-top uniform, would tell me about her labyrinthine dreams, with multicolored butterflies sailing through marble temples, or would show off by asking me to go and get her a pretzel. Many times, I saw in her translucent eyes, hiding in half-shadow, so much sadness that I would become sad too, feeling that my entire life was built on sand, that everything that connected us was an illusion. Then, I wouldn’t speak a word the whole day and she, squeaking and pulling at me (“Hey, Andrei, don’t be like that . . .”), would try to make me laugh. Or she would draw on my notebook a little flower, under which she inscribed in a fraction of a second: GINA. And our story continued, despite the feeling that began to haunt me at that time, that I wouldn’t be able to keep her and it would be best to separate right then and there, because it would be much worse later. Each time I noticed that she was bored or in a bad mood, each time she sent me home when we arrived at her gate in the evening, I would sense that everything was finished, that she found herself another boyfriend, that she wanted to get rid of me. But she always came back, despite my behavior, many times violent (for no reason at all, I wouldn’t speak with her an entire day, until she came to me with her eyes filled with tears, while at other times, out of the suicidal impulse to end it all very quickly, I would tell her directly to leave me alone), and I believe even now that during that period at the end of the trimester she felt for me very deeply.

    But during the first days of the spring break, we didn’t see each other at all. The winter weather began to abate, and the icicles were melting under a glowing blue sky. The snow melted in a few days, and the pavement on Stefan cel Mare began to show up from under the layer of muddy dirt. I stood by the window entire afternoons, looking out on the city and thinking of her. When I called, she told me she was sick with the flu; then, as the days passed, her grandmother answered the phone and wouldn’t let me talk to her, telling me that Gina couldn’t get out of bed or that she was taking a bath and would call me in an hour. But the evenings came and went, and Gina didn’t call. It was odd, though, that at the time I did not doubt her. I was used to her being honest with me. What hurt me most was that I saw slipping away from me the chance of spending the New Year’s Eve celebration with her, at some friends’ place where we had been invited. I saw her over and over again in my imagination, toasting champagne with me in the trembling candlelight, and then kissing at midnight . . . I secretly ordered a custom-made three-piece suit, my first, and I was proud of how I looked in it. I didn’t know how to dance, but my sister taught me a few steps, and in my moments of enthusiasm I thought I could actually cut the mustard. I was getting ready to be a new man, to show her I had changed, that I could be a “man of the world,” not just a library rat.

    Because during that period, through Gina’s influence, I began to open my eyes to the world around me and became progressively more aware of what a drab and anachronistic life I was leading. I ogled for hours massive fashion magazines with heavy and shiny pages full of images of elegant women. I wondered if there were indeed men who enjoyed the lips and flesh of those women, if there were such interiors of velvet and walnut where such couples sipped their J&B and made love. I wanted a motorcycle like Silviu, an AKAI component system with cylindrical metal cases like my classmates, I wanted the easy and beautiful life I intuited was to be Gina’s lot. I started to suffer because of my looks, which seemed to me pitiful, because of my lack of money, because I couldn’t take Gina to a bar in the center of Bucharest, because I couldn’t take her on a trip to the mountains. But, primarily, I hated my unkempt dreamer mentality, which I knew would always prevent me from living the life I wished. I felt a pang in my heart each time Gina mentioned her skiing winters or her never-ending games of canasta (she had even begun learning bridge and was wasting her nights at bridge clubs, or at least that’s what her grandmother told me on the phone), because I knew the mirage of those snobbish distractions irremediably distanced her from me. I couldn’t read a book without identifying the characters with me or with her. I read, for instance, The Last Night of Love . . . and Dania’s Games. Both these books informed me, more, they demonstrated with near mathematical precision, that she would not stay with me, that she would eventually leave me, drawn by the life she was fit for and in which the only place I could assume was a mere amusing memory of her youth. (I could almost hear her, imagining an encounter with her after a number of years: “How embarrassing you were, darling . . .”) Still, I wanted to try, if not actually to live, at least to mimic this way of life, because the fear of losing her was more powerful than my own ways, more powerful than the need to preserve my own personality. I would have liked to adapt myself to her from the bottom of my heart, to let myself be shaped by her, to let her “take me in hand” and turn me into a “man of the world.” Because of this, I thought of the New Year’s Eve celebration as a departure point in my journey toward becoming the kind of man she desired.

    When I called Gina again on December 29th, as I did every evening, her grandfather told me that she had left Bucharest to go to some relatives who had invited her to spend New Year’s Eve with them. I knew she had no relatives outside Bucharest, so either she stayed in Bucharest or went to a mountain resort with someone else. Gina would toast champagne and kiss someone else under the candles’ quivering light. Not even after hanging up could I believe it, could I imagine that it was possible. I stayed home for New Year’s. My parents didn’t prepare anything special: a liter of wine, no more. About nine o’clock, they turned on the television and remained frozen in front of it. My sister had been invited to spend the New Year with some friends, so that the house seemed even colder and more drab than usual. At midnight, we turned off the lights, and against the bluish figures on television, we kissed and drank the cheap wine from the state-owned store. Then, I dressed and went out for some fresh air. I couldn’t control myself and thought only of her during the moment after the last second of the outgoing year and continued thinking of her as I walked along Stefan cel Mare, dark and frozen and drably lit by the orange lights, like a passage to inferno.






    p. 131-4

    I told her many times that I loved her, but it never made her happy, so I finally lost the courage to tell her anymore. I lost any sense of initiative I ever had. I had to do what Gina wanted, unconditionally. She was the one who got the theater tickets, she was the one who proposed we go to the movies; and if we went into a pastry shop or, with the coming of spring, stopped at a bistro, she never allowed me to pay for both of us. She always said no to anything that I suggested, even the most normal things. Sometimes, we even saw each other on Sundays, but only when she felt like it. If I proposed something for the following Sunday, she would initially agree, but then I could be certain to receive a phone call Saturday night cancelling our meeting. Certainly, at times I couldn’t bear any more of this dependence that she imposed on me and became violent. I would even leave her in the middle of the street; I would tell her the most insulting words in order to end the misery that was accumulating between us. During those moments, however, Gina, who had been cold and contemptuous until then, began to cry, to tell me that she didn’t want us to split up, that she liked me more than anyone else. I wasn’t able to resist this emotional pressure and gave in each time with a feeling of guilt. But then, the same cycle resumed, and the contempt and ennui she showed me became once again the essential ingredient of our relationship. It was all the more depressing because I had been waiting for spring as a sort of rebirth from the winter’s inferno. We left our heavy coats behind, and under the brilliant and humid sun, caught by the whirlwind of raw smells, even the leprosy of the shops on Venera Street and the bathroom-yellow of the Silvestru school seemed to take on the enchantment of a new and clean world. From the courtyards, you could hear the clatter of hooves, and the shiny granite of the pavement began to reflect, albeit distortedly, the blue of the sky. In place of the winter gloom through which I had walked Gina home, we wended our way now through the dense crepuscule with its heavy scent of grass and old limestone, with purple windows and bluish cornices. And now when Gina flaunted her femininity on Sundays, arrayed in her delicate blouses and checkered skirts held together by a large safety pin with a striated stone, now when we walked together along our familiar routes on Pitar Mos Street, Stefan cel Mare Boulevard, Cosmonaut Plaza, and just when I was beginning to feel capable of forgetting and starting from the beginning again, she would become cold, unrecognizably so. Her indifference was becoming the normal routine. Only after a few drinks did she become more affectionate, adding insult to injury. In April, I wrote in my diary: “I find fewer things worth writing about. Last night in the rain, with Gina annoyed with me—her familiar facade of a carefree vamp—we haunted all the crowded bars (how does she know them so well: let’s go to the Union, let’s go to Capsa, let’s go to the Spanish Salon . . . ?), we waited half an hour at the Continental only to be told we couldn’t have drinks without dinner (Gina knocking over the salt shaker and me reproaching her), then at Muntenia, dark sweet beer, music, me prattling about everything, progressively more agitated, her making faces, her eyes roaming over those characters hunched over the tables full of glasses, bottles, lighters, their fingers holding cigarettes, then again through the rain, she more temperate now under the umbrella, holding my arm with both hands, baby-talking, and then in the hallway (‘Never change your love’), and then, next to each other, in the back, on the steps of the stairs, speaking exquisitely, seriously about love, then, the punch in the solar plexus, unexpectedly: “You know, I am in love . . .” and me believing at first, believing against belief and hoping against hope that she is referring to me, but after a moment: ‘Today, I drank to our divorce, OK? I know who the future will be . . .’ To which, though I knew she was serious, I tried to answer jokingly. I took her face in my palms. She had that air of somnolent cunning: je m’en fiche [I do not care]. I stared into her eyes, concentrating harder than ever before. I forced her to remain in that position for a few whole minutes.”


    Before the catastrophe, I remember only one event, when during spring break, we saw each other one more time. We were to meet at the Garden of the Icons in the morning. The air was cold and the sky extremely blue between the still bare trees. She was dressed with a colored wool poncho over her jeans that covered the tips of her shoes. We sat on a bench on the sidewalk separating the park from Pictor Verona Street. There was no one in the park, only an older woman in the distance with a coffee-colored dog wearing a vest and traipsing after her. I held my arm around Gina’s shoulder, and she, kind and sensitive, knew these were to be the last moments of an ultimately beautiful relationship and savored its melancholy end. I spoke to her quietly. I told her once again I couldn’t give her up, that I loved her very much. She told me that we could remain friends, that friendship is a beautiful sentiment, more beautiful than love, and so on. That she was not happy, that she felt she was in grave danger. “I think he only wants to have fun with me. He likes to play around with women.” And I sensed that she really lived the panic she manifested when she told me this. We sat for a few moments staring absent-mindedly toward the posters of the Bulandra theater, toward the dog that ran between the black trees, until she asked me to kiss her. Because of the lipstick, her lips tasted like perfume. I asked her while I caressed her not to tell me anything more about Silviu. She interrupted me and started to laugh between the tears: “Silviu? You are a little behind the times. His name is Serban . . . Here he is.” And breaking away from me—so utterly amused that she forgot to act sensitively—she extracted from underneath her blouse a medallion on a golden chain and popped it open with her nail, revealing a tiny black-and-white photo of a thin young man with short blond hair. It was the first time I saw proof that she had a boyfriend. Until then, though rationally I knew it all the time, I had expected that she was making it up in order to make me jealous. Only now did I see myself marginalized in her world, insignificant, and I couldn’t prevent myself from showing my revolt, my humiliation and pain. I tried to insult her, to hurt her feelings, until both of us stood up and left in different directions. I burst into tears at the trolley station by the church, not giving a damn who was watching me. I cried silently in the trolley, the tears spilling directly onto my jacket, and at home in front of my mother I had an actual attack of hysteria. I threw myself on the floor in the hallway and, dragging the rug with me, I cried like a child, waving my arms in desperate fury. My mother tried to calm me down, cursing that “good-for-nothing Gina who brought my boy to such a state . . .” Only after half an hour was I able to sit quietly in a chair, but I couldn’t eat anything. I felt that my only choice was to destroy myself, that there was no reason for me to go on living. I could barely breathe. After about an hour, she called me. She asked me to forgive her, which made me feel better. But this time I had absolutely no hope. On the contrary, I knew that it was absolutely necessary to forget her, otherwise I would not survive.










    p. 151-4

    We broke into a circular room that attempted to present the process of ontogenesis by drawing parallels between fish, reptiles, birds, mammals, and finally humans. On the mounts submerged in alcohol, you could view the evolution of an embryo from the phases barely visible with the naked eye—the morula, the blastula, the gastrula—to the differentiation of the organs. In their evolution, the embryos passed through archaic phases, developed gills, reptilian characteristics, avatistic formations that later became reabsorbed, a veritable metempsychosis, the wheel of karma, the incessant cycle of existence. On a wall hung a sectioned cast revealing the position of the fetus in the womb of a pregnant woman. I recalled the atrocities of the Tartar wars: babies wrenched alive from the mothers’ bellies. Further on, distributed in a sequence on a shelf on the wall, were tens of jars containing malformed fetuses: macrocephalic or acephalic, infants with a single central eye, with a single nostril above the lips, with three legs, one of which had no foot, with minuscule, armless palms emerging directly from the shoulders like tiny wings. How uncanny they looked, wrinkled and pale or mollusk-yellow, with their distended skin drooping on their bones! What slothful stares in their eyes shrouded by flaking lids! They seemed wise and in no small measure satisfied that they didn’t get their turn at living. They catalogued between frogs and geniuses, impossible to face in their cynical carnality. Dangling their umbilical cords in the nauseating liquid, their gaze seemed to pin us, they seemed to take us in. Gina perused them, not with horror like me, but with a kind of placid resignation, as though contemplating a piece of ugly furniture in the house where you’ve lived all your life and which you’d never think of exchanging. We crossed that chamber, examining each abortive creature separately. As she had done with the snake, Gina glued her palms to the curved walls of one of the jars and, with painful concentration, she stared deeply into the eyes the pallid gnome. Finally, through a narrow door that I had not noticed, we entered a garret-like room the size of Raskolnikov’s “wardrobe,” with peeling posters on the walls, an old sofa that occupied more than half the space, and a tiny bookshelf. I remember some of the ragged volumes: The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Nerval’s Daughters of Fire, Dostoyevsky’s Netochka Nezvanova, and a book of Blake’s engravings, with plates from The Book of Urizen. One of the plates had been torn out and attached with thumbtacks to the wooden door: It depicted a kneeling woman, seen from the back, looking into a fountain. Above her scintillated a gigantic black sun. We sat on the sofa, and Gina pulled from under the bed a shoebox filled with all sorts of knickknacks: Christmas tree ornaments, dolls with crunched heads, old photos, used tickets and postcards, a rusty syringe, a stethoscope. “When I was very, very small, I discovered the way to this place. I would bring everything here that made me happy, everything I liked: my dolls, gifts from relatives, I would bring my cookies here so I could eat them in peace. I don’t think I missed a single night when I didn’t roam through the museum, alone amidst all my animals. This is how I imagined the old man’s daughter from Penelope’s tales, roaming among the ridiculous dragons. I know them all, they are all in the grips of bewitchment, as I am too. But most of all I like this little room, deep, deep, deep in the middle of it all. This is where I feel that I am really myself.” While she spoke, Gina, now long transfigured, became another, a strange sorceress, a priestess with ecstatically joined hands. I took her in my arms and put her down on the sofa. We made love, for the first time in our lives. It is not out of modesty, which has no place in these pages, that I speak little about those gestures, those sensations, but simply because I didn’t for one moment have the consciousness of what was happening to me. Though completely naked but more alive than ever, she seemed now to possess an infinite contour that lacked reality. She was, in succession, a mouth on whose lips the skin had faded, a small breast, waves of hair scattered on a pillow, agitated breath. When I entered, the mosaic of all those impressions melted and seemed to ooze, soft as plasticine and of the same color, and smelling almost like linseed. I suddenly had a sense of the All. It was like a pale light, a kind of tension without limits, an intuition without communication. We spent a moment in suspension and then, like lizards in the morning, shook off the stupor and returned to our limited life.

    I woke up transformed, transferred into Gina. It is impossible to postpone the description, the experience of having lived through that moment, indescribable and unlikely for anyone to have lived through. I lay on my back and looked at myself in the pupils of the diffuse being leaning over me: I saw Gina’s face there, slightly deformed by the eye’s sphericity. When the cone of my consciousness quieted a little, I became aware that the being above me had my features and was staring at me with unceasing terror. I looked at my body, which was the body of the woman I loved: I had her arms, her breasts, her hair, her hips, her legs. I had her skin and her bones and on my lips the ether taste of her rouge. One ear glittered with her emerald earring; I spotted the other earring amidst our crumpled clothes on the bed. And she was me, the long and lanky male frame, bones showing through the skinny chest, narrow hips, the sex like a worm between the hairy thighs, and especially, my face, my eyes, my elongated jaws, my mustache above sensual and suffering lips. It was me hovering above myself, in a way that I had never seen myself, not even in dreams, as though I had come out of my body after death and was contemplating myself from all angles. If she had changed into a rhinoceros or an insect, it would not have been so shocking. Horrified, we stared at each other for a long time without speaking or touching each other. We were too tired and dumbfounded to even think. We dressed mechanically, mixing up our clothes, having to exchange them a few times. Our gestures were uncertain, our movements stuttered, the hand fumbled in its grasping. We looked at one another like beings from another world, whose functioning depended on an entirely different chemistry, biology, psychology. Suddenly, the person in front of me fell on the bed and began to weep violently, sobbing and moaning, pounding the pillow with clenched fists and shaking all over like someone possessed. But out of those outbursts of wailing, another sound became distinguishable. It came from beyond the wooden door and resembled rustling, an admixture of soft sounds: ripples, crackles, a soft clatter like that of brushes or maracas. Hearing this, the one next to me (I speak this way because I can’t call that person “he”) became silent, then, with a perplexed expression grabbed my hand and dragged me with an unsuspected force out of the room. Stepping forward, the heel of my shoe pierced the giant butterfly, ragged wings still softly fluttering on the floor.

    That muffled jungle sound intensified with each passing instant. Bursting out into the fetus chamber, we saw them opening their eyes wide and making bizarre gestures in their greenish jars. One of them managed to clamber on top of the cylinder’s edge and was getting ready to jump to the ground, dragging after it an umbilical cord half a meter long. I would have been paralyzed with horror had not Andrei yanked me quickly out of the room.











    p. 69-71

    “After a night of agitated sleep, a horrific insect woke up transformed into the author of these lines.” This is how I might begin—inverting the phrase at the start of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”—the story which I have thought about relating here, if I wished to publish it. It would be a dramatic beginning, which would not diminish its veracity, taking into consideration that the insect is me. More so, much more so than Gregor Samsa, let us say to the degree that the insect was a Hoffmann, or a Nerval, or a Novalis. Like all these Romantics, I will write not to construct a story, but to exorcise an obsession, to protect my poor soul from a monster, a monster terrifying not through hideousness but beauty. I am thinking now of Rilke’s unbearably beautiful angel, and I would like to quote something from the “First Elegy,” but since I have been here, it seems as though my memory’s resources have, if not darkened, at least fogged up a bit. (I am afraid. A few moments ago, I was sitting on the sofa, staring distractedly at all those icons painted on glass with a predominance of bright red and azure, at the yellowish and shiny keys of the upright piano, at the secretary with the peeling wooden doors, painted with a sorrowful character with a dark, Byzantine face, wrapped in an ample blue toga cascading into multiple folds and holding in his hand a budding branch; behind him, the violet beyond darkens, and the red clouds leak sadly between the cypress trees. Below, written in golden letters: AMOR OMNIA VINCIT. I stared at that space, unendingly tall, bordered by the rich drapes covering the windows, and asked myself if her blood, irrigating the lobes of my brain through thousands of tiny tubes, might not, little by little, relocate her being in me; if her past, emanating from this room filled with sculpted furniture and hammered copper, would not march out in skeletal troops against my own memories, as in Brueghel’s Apocalypse. I leaped to my feet at this thought, exactly the same way I did a week ago, when I decided never to look at myself in the mirror again. And just as I sewed together then this rough hemp cloth that I used to cover the mirror’s waters, I decided now to write, to make out of these pages another cloth, another weft, to protect me—this time not from her body but her psyche, from her sorrows, her madness, her happiness, her stupidity, her idealism and her baseness, her superb rapacity.) I would like to read, but where are the books? The illiterate darling, the only good things on the three or four shelves she calls a library are the books I gave her: a gorgeous Huizinga, a Baltrusaitis on Gothic art, that’s about all. As for the rest, dictionaries, folk art books, bad novels, all unreadable. Still, and this is just one of her contradictions, not only did she read, she also wrote verses. She even kept a journal where she wrote down her strange and colorful dreams, impossible to psychoanalyze, fairy tales really, of paradisiacal gardens. I think the wealth of colors and light in her dreams was caused by the fact she slept with her eyes open: I never saw anyone sleep like that before. It was frightening to watch her sleep, it was like watching a dead person. I will not attempt to explain here why I loved her, it is unexplainable, like all natural things.




    p. 155-160

    I know nothing new about Gina. Who she is now, how she is surviving. I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. I don’t recognize any longer in this alien body the girl who was my obsession and madness for the duration of a year, maybe the last one of my life. To attempt to continue living under these conditions seems absurd. I protected my consciousness from seeing her body by covering the mirrors with the beguiling texture of sheets. But I can’t protect myself from her self, which ambushes me on the far more perfidious paths of the psyche. The monster has me, he crept up on top of me and clenches me tight in his paws. I fuse with him like the damned in the thieves’ infernal bolgia. Even these thoughts, I ask myself, are they mine or hers? Where does this sweetness that coats so many of the pages of my confession come from? This pathetic style, which goes against my nature? Could they not be the beast’s venoms, the juice trickling out of his gums? It was a mistake to begin this writing, to raise this curtain, to act in this psychodrama, with the peanut gallery and box seats all empty. Whom did I write this comedy for? Are you, now, next to me? Can you, now, help me?

    Unfortunately, next to me now, staring languorously over my shoulder, is only Lavita, who is waiting for her bedsheets to be changed. While waiting, she keeps on composing her love letters, with her diverse colored-ink pens, directly onto her body, which she has covered everywhere she could reach with naive letters and drawings. Now she is writing on her chest, with green ink: Please write me back, and next to it she scrawls a girl’s head with brown hair, blue eyes, and red lips. That’s how it is. In any case, it will be necessary to get out of here, where I am doing nothing but endlessly postponing the fight with the beast. My obsession does not allow itself to be exorcised, writing this I do not become myself again, and I don’t want, O Lord, I don’t want to remain like this. That’s why I postpone any decision until I return to the world. There I will decide what I will do and, especially, how I will do it. These pages, lying in a heap on the night table, are a greater failure than what I am recounting. I will burn them this very evening. I decided not to leave them anymore in the care of the doctor or anyone else, because if they read them they would never let me out of here, or I might even end up in worse places. I will simulate—with disgust—normality; I will be a well-behaved little Gina, ready to make her grandparents happy, having returned to normal thoughts after a bout with hysteria.

    Why am I continuing to write these lines, if I know that I will destroy everything? Why am I composing, look, one letter, and then again, another? Isn’t it maybe to barter for another mouthful of air, and one more after that?

    No, it must be ended, finally. All right. I am finished.


    You wrench the wardrobe’s mirror door out of its hinges and fling it to the floor. A muffled clatter informs you the mirror has cracked, falling face down on the floor from which you had removed the rug. The rolled-up rug lies on the sofa, over the fanciful pillows of velvet and orange silk. You drag the upright piano on its casters to the middle of the room and lean the Persian rug against it. Heaving horribly, you lift the sofa on its side and prop it as well against the glossy piano. It fits perfectly between the bronze candleholders soldered to the piano’s top. You pause to catch your breath and wipe your dusty hands over the yellow blouse covering your breasts. You go to the window. Venera Street blinks weakly, with the pavement’s stones gleaming purplish sparks under the autumn’s laden twilight. The willow with a long branch tapping against the marquee palpitates in the gentle breath of wind. An orange cat spotted with dark rust dozes at the crossing of two branches. You leave the window open, but pull shut the scarlet damask drapes. A reddish penumbra permeates the room. A ray of light, piercing through the drapes, collides against the burnished corner of the library, supporting the metal crucifix that glows abruptly with a white flame. You begin to remove the books from the library and arrange them, with a specific goal in mind, on the floor around the piano and the sofa. You take the great Baltrusaitis from its cardboard box and read the dedication: “To Gina, with love, to remember that under the obscene rococo of our world and flesh, our bones are Gothic and our spirit is Gothic. Andrei, Feb. 197 . . .” You leaf through the great poet’s pages, so full of chimeras. You place the book on the floor next to the others. You suddenly mimic a maddened rock guitarist, leaning back and clutching the guitar’s neck with your left hand. “Into the fiiiire!” you scream, and begin to laugh.





    p. 289

    EPILOGUE


    There is only one problem in the world: How does one break through the chrysalis and become a butterfly?

    THOMAS MANN




    p. 300-6 (“The Architect”)

    It was already three o’clock in the morning when, exhausted and hungry, the architect Popescu wobbled in through the door of the apartment. Standing in the kitchen, he guzzled down, without bothering to discriminate, whatever he found in the refrigerator. His mind was filled with sounds. Hour after hour, he had pressed at random the black and white keys, one key at a time or several keys simultaneously, feeling like an adolescent waking up unexpectedly in the bed of his first woman. He would have liked to remain there eternally, to try out all the possibilities, pressing each of the keys, at first one at a time, then two, then three . . . A few of the sound sequences made him happy, as though he had previously known them and awaited them for a long time; the others, however, the most in fact, wounded and insulted not only his hearing, but perhaps his entire being. He sprawled out on the living room sofa and fell into a comforting sleep, for the first time in months.

    Every day now, after the hours he spent at work, Emil Popescu sat in the comfortable seat of his Dacia and resumed his sounding of the horn. After a few decades, when enormous quantities of studies, monographs, commentaries, articles, diploma and doctorate dissertations—tens, even hundreds of times more voluminous than those about Dante, Shakespeare, and Dostoyevsky put together—were consecrated to the architect, these few months of sotto voce groping on the keys of the Reghin organ would come to receive the name of his “subterranean” or “underground” period. From time to time, a neighbor or an old friend would come by to sweeten his solitude, taking the seat next to him and marveling each time at the uncanny aspect of a car furnished with an organ instead of a dashboard and steering wheel. Without interrupting for one moment his saraband of sounds, the architect patiently explained that the fundamental function of the automobile is not, as it is commonly thought, to shorten distances, transporting a person from one place to another. That was but the secondary function, and if you thought about it, without any real value. The nobility of the automobile lay in the sound of its horn, that is, in communicating and expressing itself. The sounding of the horn, as conceived by Emil Popescu, was the voice of the automobile, until now oppressed and throttled by man, reduced to a single animalistic and guttural sound, but from now on liberated, dignified, and sovereign. We complained about the invasion of the technical, about the lack of dialogue with the machine, but we never thought about giving the machine a chance to express itself. It was not absolutely necessary that machines functioned, but it was, in point of fact, an elemental right of theirs to be able to express themselves. Having taken the explanation to that point, the architect’s eyes sparkled in such a maniacal manner that the neighbor rushed his goodbyes and clambered up to his apartment, where he felt disturbed for the rest of the day, unable to decide whether to laugh or feel pity.


    The “underground” period lasted until the next spring. Once the natural fence and the acacias behind the apartment building turned green, Emil Popescu turned up his speakers, so that you could hear what he played over the radius of a few meters but without disturbing the neighbors. Many of the neighbors made it their custom to walk by the architect’s automobile each afternoon, fascinated by the penetrating harmonies that began to take wing, each day more flawless than the last. During the first days of spring, the architect obstinately resumed the same monotonous but pleasing sequence of complete notes, each growing as though from the previous one and transmitting an odd state of ataraxia. “Sounds kind of like Pink Floyd,” the kids in the neighborhood would find themselves murmuring, but quickly sensing it was a Pink Floyd “in agony.” Indifferent to the commentaries, our hero resumed, day after day and with evident enchantment, sequences of whole notes that glistened mutely and profoundly. Telente, the Gypsy violinist from entrance Number 6, whose three daughters wrapped themselves in silver fox furs, possibly in homage to the incredible succession of men that trafficked through their home day and night, listened attentively to the architect’s music, swearing with professional admiration under his handlebar mustache. It was a scale, he sensed that right away, but a scale he had never heard before. At the restaurant Hora where he played, Telente sketched during a break the sequence of ten whole notes which he had heard from Emil Popescu. For a few seconds, the knives and the forks of the various clientele that frequented the restaurant remained frozen in the air, as if time itself had suddenly dissolved, but the fiddler, as though frightened of himself, resumed the melody he had been playing before, “Long Ago Tango,” his great success with the public. After the end of the set, Telente downed a beer with the band members, who had recently been joined by a new saxophone player; he was a quiet young man who, after graduating from the conservatory, chose not to move to the village Argaseni in the township of Bacau, where he was to be assigned the position of music teacher. But his friends from the restaurant’s band still nicknamed him the Professor and took jesting pride in the fact that at least one of them could read music. That evening, he asked Telente in passing to tell him about the scale he had played after their arrangement of the Beatles song “Something.” Telente could hardly wait to talk about the show behind his apartment building. The Professor listened to him absent-mindedly, pondering about the ironies inherent in history and remembering a passage from Eliot’s “Gerontian.” Yes, only traps, only snares and tortuous paths . . . The scale that had been the glory of Pythagoras, the celebrated musical scale comprising ten sounds, each corresponding with one of the planets (the last being the mysterious Antichthon, while the first the Sun itself) and composed to harmonize with the Rule of the Golden Mean, was now being reinvented by some maniac who played it over and over again like a scratched record. At home, in his little room measuring two meters by a little more than one, walls lined to the ceiling with frayed-cover books and a collage representing St. Augustine staring at the bare breasts of a woman from God knows what dirty magazine, the Professor wrote in his journal a few notes about the matters discussed at the restaurant. But he paused halfway through a sentence, because at eleven his friend Iolanda, recently divorced and desirous of rapture, knocked on his door.

    During this time, Elena, the good wife of the architect, consulted with myriads of psychiatrists, whom she brought home under different pretexts to take a look at the architect. Their opinions differed. Certainly, it was not a usual case. Most of them were inclined to speak about monomania, the type shared by stamp or cactus collectors. But who could track precisely the border between a simple hobby and a psychopathological manifestation? Was it not true that there were many examples of absurd passions that lead, under the heading of normality, to manifestations of abnormality? Didn’t everyone know somebody who threw a television set out the window during a soccer game? Weren’t there cases where some retired old man living on his pension committed suicide after losing a game of backgammon? As long as her husband still managed to fulfill his duties at work and live according to the social conventions of family life, Elena would do well to be patient. Ultimately, she should not forget that she took Emil Popescu as her husband for better or worse. She could be certain that, once declared mentally insane but as long as his delirious state did not present a danger to society, the care of the architect would still fall to the hands of the family. She shouldn’t rush with the divorce; she should wait a while; after all, they had already accomplished so much together, and besides, you couldn’t abandon a man like a dog. Other husbands were far worse; they cheated on their wives, drank, practiced sexual perversions; how many women didn’t wish that their good-for-nothing husbands would sit down after dinner and play the . . . well, play something. Before the wisdom of these professional prescriptions, which found their echo in those of the family, the poor woman resigned herself to resume her waiting. It was very difficult. The architect was not the same man, nothing relating to her or to their home interested him anymore. She tried for a time to sleep next to him on the bed and even intended to show tenderness, but not only did he lack any amorous desires, he was not even conscious that such things existed. In time, he was losing the most elementary human notions. Each morning, for instance, he had to be reminded to shave.

    Telente now made it a point to walk by the cream-colored Dacia every day. Before heading for trolley Number 95, which he took to get to the city’s center, from where, in order to get to work, he took Number 88, he would listen for a few minutes to some of the architect’s musical phrases. He quickly realized that the architect did not repeat the same scale incessantly but that he built tiny melodies based on it, uncontrovertibly proving that a technical evolution was actually taking place. His fingers, at first wobbling and awkward, became agile and supple, while their tips became firm as ivory. Still, the melodies had no rhythm, flowing on in whole notes only, or even in double notes, in drawn-out litanies. The adept fiddler of devilish tunes, of the Gypsy glissando and tremolo strains of the cabaret, could not swallow what Emil Popescu was producing. He retained, however, a fragment that seemed to him more melodious and accomplished than the rest, and, after closing time, played it as a curiosity for the Professor. This time the saxophone player pricked up his ears, because the melody seemed to him unbearably familiar. No, it was no longer a question of coincidence. Once every thousand years, someone, pressing the keys at random, might reproduce a musical scale composed of ten sounds, but this time it was different. Back inside his basement hole, the preoccupied Professor reviewed his notes from the conservatory regarding archaic music. He tried again a few times on his saxophone (his great frustration was the lack of an upright piano, for which, in any case, there was no room) those few phrases of melody which, played on that barbaric and yet refined instrument, sounded novel and penetrating. Invigorated, he noted in his journal that “the same maniac” succeeded in the bizarre performance of reinventing, note by note, through God knows what parapsychological intuition, the score of the single Orphic hymn that managed to survive from Greek antiquity. It must be, further wrote the Professor, something similar to “speaking in tongues” or those visions men have about cities they had never visited. The very next day, he asked Telente to introduce him to the automobile organist.

    The meeting between the Professor and Emil Popescu is historical. It cannot be overestimated what role the young saxophonist played in popularizing the gigantic oeuvre and personality of the architect. From the very first notes emitted by the organ, to which he listened while sitting in the passenger seat of the automobile where he had been amiably invited, the Professor intuited what was in fact taking place: After playing the Orphic hymn a couple more times, the organist moved unexpectedly to something else. It was a new scale in his repertoire, but a scale that was thousands of years old and might have been sung on the shores of Asia Minor. After playing this minor scale a few times, Emil Popescu began improvising on its foundation. The Professor asked him a few questions and realized from the answers that the architect had no idea that he was making music. Transported, he did not cease with his theories about the diverse aspects of the man-machine communication through the sound of the horn. What he did was no more than a modulated form of horn sounding, dictated to him by his intimate relationship with the automobile. More than that you couldn’t get out of him. While he paid no attention whatsoever to the Professor’s attempts to speak to him about scales and melodies, his fingers contoured in the summer air a paean devoted to Apollo, in which the saxophone player recognized a composition by Onesicrates. Only toward evening did he manage to tear himself away. From that moment on, the Professor showed up every day to listen to the fantastic creations of the organist. At night, when he was not under attack by the sensual and enrapturing Iolanda, the young man read and reread his manuals of musical history, marking with a check the stage the architect had reached, attempting even to foresee the steps he would take next. Because, exhausting one after the other the successive stages of antiquity, one afternoon Emil Popescu took the saxophone player by surprise with the first sounds of a Gregorian cantus planus in a swell of unmistakable majesty. About that time, the neighbors began to take renewed interest in their eccentric cotenant. The old ladies in particular were positively impressed: This “church music,” although different from the one they knew, had a pleasing effect on them. For two weeks now, you could spot a group of grandmothers dozing off on their kitchen chairs next to the architect’s Dacia.

    For the Professor, all doubts were now gone. He also abandoned his job, left everything behind, even Iolanda, in order to be constantly with the architect. His journal, which until then contained no more than weekly notes about the books he read and impressions of concerts, in addition to a few details about his amorous affairs, now grew to roman-fleuve proportions. Everything was in there, in a jumble of crooked text and musical staves, marking the unlikely explosions of spirit through which Emil Popescu managed to cross from one juncture to the next, from one mental state to the next, from one set of conventions to the next, duplicating, rediscovering step by step the history of music. Of this the architect himself had no understanding. In a hopelessly entangled confusion, his scales and exercises of harmony and counterpoint concatenated late into the night air behind the apartment building, glistening here for ten minutes in a diamondlike limpid melody, plunging again there in pursuits and moody preoccupations. The seasons changed, admixing their colors, projecting their clouds over the shifting skies, but each twilight and each star-rise found the two men behind the windshield of the Dacia 1300, which was now filthy with dust to the utmost degree. Fortunately, the Professor took care to charge up the battery from time to time and to pass the sponge over the cream-colored sheet metal, to protect it from disappearing into rust. The children playing behind the apartment building made sure to puncture holes in all four tires of the automobile.

    From time to time, Elena came by as well, sitting behind them in the back seat, not so much to listen to the sophisticated melodies of her husband—at this point, he was proceeding through the contrapuntal fury of Dunstable, Palestrina, Dufay, Ockegem, Josquin des Pres, and more particularly Orlando di Lasso, overlapping nearly alchemical chords—but because the deeply romantic aspect of the young saxophone player, why shouldn’t we say it, began to attract her.



    p. 308-16

    He [Emil Popescu] had changed much during the few years since the fatal sounding of the stray horn of his Dacia. He had become enormously obese; though he ate nearly nothing, the skin of his face extended over his cheeks, while the eyes, coming closer and closer together, acquired a fixed look, paying attention to nothing in this world. A spider web of sparse beard strands, unusually long, twisted on his cheeks. But it was his hands that surpassed even the pathological, crossing the border into teratology. His fingers, over thirty centimeters in length, spread out like a fan comprising the entire keyboard. Thick crisscrossing ropes of muscles hoisted the phalanges, contracting and relaxing at an incredible velocity. The tips of his fingers sped like nervous mosquito legs across the cold keys. With these monstrous hands, Emil Popescu performed entire concerts by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky in a state of constant hallucination, reinventing them without ever having heard them before. Whenever he stopped playing, his fingers, which now reached down to his knees, gave him unbearable pain, so that after only two years the architect left his job, remaining practically unfettered by any ties with customary social life. He now played without interruption, day and night. Short notices about the Romanian organist began to appear in the curiosity columns of all the great newspapers and magazines. Reporters from the New York Herald-Tribune, Life, Strange and Astonishing Stories, Paris Match, and Penthouse were now teeming behind the Berceni apartment building, flashing their sophisticated cameras, recording entire video and audio cassettes with the enchanting music of the architect and his incoherent muttering. The Professor hovered around them, “translating” the words of the organist and, at the beginning of spring, published simultaneously in Paris and London the notes he had scribbled in his journals under the title Un Genie aux Portes de l’Orient, or A Man of Genius at the Gates of the Orient. The unimaginable success of these publications among the ranks of musicians as well as those of laymen, followed immediately by others in various other tongues, hoisted Emil Popescu to the status of the “man of the hour” in the entire world.

    In the years that followed, the saxophone player, now married to Elena, traveled the world, untiringly holding one conference after another. Elena raised the child alone. Emil Popescu became the best-known Romanian artist on earth, and a Japanese firm presented him with a magnificent Mishiba synthesizer in order to open up new possibilities of expression. After a journey via airplanes and various trucks, the gigantic instrument, measuring eleven meters in length and two in height, finally reached its destination behind the apartment building. A few tenants had to give up their parking spaces, and the carpet-beater rack had to be repositioned a few meters away. A special construction, of transparent plexiglas, protected the contraption from the ravages of weather. The two Japanese specialists who had accompanied it mounted the entire installation and attempted to persuade the architect to move under the plexiglas roof. It was impossible, however, to remove him from the car. The automobile’s cream-colored body was, for Emil Popescu, just as important as the music itself. Ingenious as usual, the Japanese resorted to the only possible solution. They shifted the architect to the back seat, removed the front seat and the old keyboard of the Reghin organ, and in a few days installed the immense apparatus in its place. It was a dizzy tangle of screens, potentiometers, monitors with electronic displays, with eight extra rows of special keys, so that you could almost believe you found yourself before the controls of a spaceship. The two little men, after activating the synthesizer, attempted to enter into conversation with the celebrated musician. Their surprise and relief were indeed great when they saw that the architect handled the electronic apparatus, pressed the buttons, and adjusted the frequencies as if he had spent his whole life handling such things. From the initial pressing of the keys a striking purity and richness of sound that shamed the primitive squeak of the Reghin blasted out into the regions of air: The successive waves, soaring upward at first, then withheld like a gigantic anguish, of Ravel’s La Valse.

    The great Mishiba could reconstruct any sound, natural or artificial. For a few years, Emil Popescu did nothing but explore incessantly the fantastic possibilities of the synthesizer. From time to time, among the most faithful renderings of natural sounds—like the rustling of dry leaves, warbles of blackbirds, the gushing of river springs, inflections of feminine voices of a sweetness that dissolved one into nothingness, the turbulence of landings and takeoffs, the babbling of dolphins—the saxophone player, inasmuch as he still tarried around the Dacia behind the apartment building, had the opportunity to feverishly note pieces of a disturbing orchestration. One could hear, with a pure and simple clarity of timbre impossible to obtain in a natural manner, flutes and violas, horns and bassoons, triangles and tympani, weaving their melodic lines into filigreed melodies or glistening dissonances. The architect’s paws, with tens of articulations of the fingers, sped across the hundreds of keys, adjusted the thousands of concurrent frequencies, programmed simultaneously entire orchestras. The modest speakers of the Reghin organ had been replaced by a globe of special wire, with a diameter longer than three meters and capable of emitting a quadraphonic sound with a directed multiple echo. Along with the minor disadvantage of the demolition of the apartment building — the tenants had been forced out due to the pronounced state of stress — came a great advantage: Most of Bucharest found itself permanently under the umbrella of sounds emitted by the architect. The ground of the now leveled apartment building was surrounded by a wall of concrete and wood. The serial music of Schoenberg and Webern agreed with the pine trees planted around its circumference, so that their needled branches soon began to distend, angling over the rusty Dacia and surrounding with coffee-colored needles the Plexiglas block where the enormous belly of the synthesizer player slept, next to the two Japanese specialists, who by now had begun to lose their hair. Day and night, the music bellowed and rumbled, vibrated and warbled, monopolizing the surroundings.

    The saxophone player and his Elena occupied the metal and glass villa which had been built on the foundations of the previous apartment building. They lived in peace, surrounded by the powerful smell of ozone. They began to realize they were getting old when their boy got married. The Professor was regarded as a brilliant impresario, but after a while no one seemed to have any need of his services. He was still invited to conventions as an honorary president, but the only thing that was demanded of him was to tell and retell the circumstances of his meeting with Emil Popescu, whose popularity did not appear to follow any fashion or trend, but grew ceaselessly in an exponential manner. Listeners of all generations demanded the same music, something that was sociologically inexplicable and unheard of until then. Three quarters of all cable television and videocassette markets were dedicated to the concerts of Emil Popescu.

    The crucial moment of the inauguration of the architect’s melocracy came and went unnoticed by public opinion. It took place one evening when the saxophone player, returning from a conference at the new Athenaeum, found Elena, now portly and gray, listening in a trance to the music of her ex-husband. Their old agreement required that they didn’t speak about him and that he was accorded no more attention than that demanded by legal obligation. Ever since she stopped feeding him, Elena seemed to have forgotten about him completely. But now on the veranda, she was listening in ecstasy to the desperate screams of electronically simulated guitars. The Professor went into a rage. He was moved by the music as well, but this time he paid no attention to its bewitching charm. In a moment of lucidity, he saw himself: a little old man who had earned his existence like a circus master, exposing a monster of nightmares to the public curiosity. He was abruptly overwhelmed by an intense hatred for him who, a few steps off out into the night, psychically ravished his wife and reconquered her love through the power of music. He left Elena and headed for the kitchen. He grabbed a glistening loin chopper, the kind used to portion slabs of meat, and rushed toward the contours of the outmoded Dacia, flickering pallidly in the dark. The Professor glared at the sheet-metal of the body, literally eaten away by rust, the crooked rims of the erstwhile wheels, the windows without windshields. But inside, where the dashboard once was, thousands of green and blue lights glittered fantastically. They blinked rhythmically off and on, exercising a hypnotic effect upon the saxophone player. He approached the car and peered inside.


    The architect was there. His deformed, naked, and whitish body weighed at least four hundred kilograms; it had long burst out of its clothes and literally filled, the way the snail fills up its shell, the entire back of the car, even overflowing a little out of the windows. His head had joined his torso, his features, like finely traced lines, could barely be spotted on his fleshy face, while his eyes fused into a single eye that perused in one glance the entire complicated machinery of the command counter of the synthesizer. His elbows and his upper arms had been reabsorbed into his ribs, so that two bouquets of fingers issued directly out of his torso, each comprising an assemblage of complexly articulated twiglike filaments, which pressed incessantly on the mother-of-pearl keys. The Professor felt like vomiting, overtaken by a shiver of sacred horror before this unhumanlike being. In order to force himself not to retreat, he turned off the headlights and headed for the front door. As he pulled on it, it came off its rotted hinges and fell on the grass like a crooked splinter from a shell. He grabbed firmly the bundle of fingers and began to hack at them furiously. Blood and bits of fingers dribbled on the greasy flesh of Emil Popescu, but he appeared not to react in any way. The remaining bundle of fingers continued imperturbably to crepitate upon the keys. A weighty reek, like a room where a woman gives birth, emanated from underneath the needled branches. When the last finger fell, throbbing on the striated tire at the feet of the architect, the saxophone player—his hatchet glittering under the powder of tiny stars—circled around the front of the automobile remains, through which the darkened engine could be partially spotted, and clasped tight in his fist the stub from which the other bundle of fingers shot out. But this time, at the very instant he was about to strike with all of his power, something astonishing occurred. Abruptly, the fingers trembled delicately over the stacking keyboard’s layers, like the trepidation of the phylloxera’s antennae and, out of the great sphere of metallic mesh, a few overwhelming chords dispersed into the air. It was no longer Alban Berg, and nor was it Orff, Duke Ellington, or even Pink Floyd. It was nothing that had ever been heard, nothing the human mind could conceive that could ever be heard. The saxophone player froze and listened. It was a form of music not to be listened to with one’s ears, but with the whole of the skin at once, a form of music that filled the canals of the veins with echoes and turned the bone structure to resonance. Like a dose of mescaline reaching the brain, the gates of the soul, or a sweet spider injecting the dissolving enzymes into the victim’s flesh, that music substituted itself for the soul and, like a perfidious homunculus, took over the reins of the body in its firm hands. Then, like a sequence of azure peristaltic waves, the music leaked down to the jugulars, invaded the lymphatic canals, irrigated the fusiform packets of the muscles, appropriated, along the length of the spinal nerves, the internal organs, the hexagonal cells of the liver, the heart with its electrical embryos, the suprarenal and the great precincts of the urinal bladder, descended into the calves like a mist of twilight, and sped along the femur, tibia, and fibula to the tips of the toes, replacing with a musical tangle every cell, each mitochondrion, each crumb of nucleic acid. Overwhelmed, seized by the sensation that the world was coming apart, which, it is said, may be known only by those experiencing a heart attack, the saxophone player tumbled down on the grass next to the car door. He had the impression that the great transparent leaf of the sky in which the stars were encrusted was distorting itself, that it advanced toward him, that it molded to his body and wrapped itself tight around it like a multihued shroud. He lost consciousness.


    When he awoke, it was already light, but the Dacia’s palpitating shadow on the grass protected him from the sun’s melted disk. He was covered with blood. The stub from which he had chopped off those gigantic fingers had already scarred, and the likeness of tiny fingernails began to bud in their place. The Professor began to weep painfully, choking and sobbing. He felt himself capable of nothing anymore. The world seemed to him an inferno of ash, impossible to tolerate. He longed from the bottom of his entrails for those chords he had heard the night before. For about eight hours he suffered horribly. He felt sick, in his body and in his soul. A paranoid delirium grew under his skull, and he grabbed the meat cleaver again, determined this time to kill the architect for real. But the same ecstatic music threw him again to the ground.

    He understood that the architect emitted those dolorously melodious sounds like a poisoned secretion against any aggression. It was enough only to pretend to strike him in order to hear once more the music he could no longer live without. The stronger the aggression, the stronger the music’s power to take possession. Year after year, practically until the end of his life, the saxophone player viciously profited from this discovery. In order to enhance the effect of the music, he attempted, in succession, to asphyxiate, set on fire, boil, dynamite, electrocute, and irradiate the architect. Each time the melodic line shifted, the sonorous and the extrasonorous volutes swiveled in new ways, in compositions more powerful and penetrating than anything that had ever been realized by any other composer. In those moments, the architect no longer imitated any styles and modalities already in existence, but became a superartist and superinterpreter. Over the decades, the entire mentality of humanity transmuted under the overwhelming influence of the architect. There were no more conflicts, because the only concern of every single human being was to listen day and night to the uninterrupted recital. The only thing anyone ever wrote was about the architect: entire newspapers about the architect, books about the architect. The only paintings ever painted were official portraits of the architect, and every poem was a hymn of glory devoted to the architect. People worked only to insure minimal means of sustenance and for the maintenance of the vast network of satellites continuously rebroadcasting the architect’s music. Humans loved one another to the music of the architect, and when they were buried, they shared the same funeral music.

    The two Japanese men who took care of the great Mishiba entered the realm of legend, and after their death two others followed; they took on the names of the former. Thus, in the course of the centuries, an entire dynasty of Japanese men came by turns to the tiny oasis under the pine-needle branches. Pilgrims from all over the world came to listen to the sacred music directly from the original source. Thousands of attempts on the architect’s life were organized in order to incite the defensive reaction, that music which was hundreds of times more profound than the ordinary. The hunger for music became monstrous; it obsessed the minds of men to such a degree that, in a moment of collective madness, they determined, out of an irrepressible desire to dissolve into harmony, to exterminate the architect by means of thermonuclear rockets. The moment when the finger of the man in uniform approached the button that would unleash the few thousands of nuclear strikes, the music blasted like flamethrowers from all reception apparatuses, in concatenations of tonalities and unbearable frequencies. The majority of humans were carbonized, while the survivors became no more than accessories to the architect. Their lives were preserved by music alone. Blood circulation, the movement of thought, the digestion of food, were supported artificially by the melodic weave issuing from under the fingers of the architect. With those few million survivors acting in synchronicity like termites, the architect built a new synthesizer of unconceivable complexity, unfolding over a quarter of the planet. The monster himself grew. The body of the Dacia remained encrusted on his whitish spinal chord like a minuscule shell. His body occupied a vast surface, while his fingers, infinitely ramified, extended from his two forearms and circled all around him like a spider web. At the first touch of the billion terminal keys, the last humans turned to powder. This was no longer music—or perhaps it was the music which the Pythagoreans spoke about. No human ear was capable of hearing it, because it was no longer made up of sounds, nor of matter, but penetrated the cosmic pulsations, weaving itself into them and forcing them to transmute. Throughout millions of years, the architect modulated his melodies so that they caused the acceleration of the fusion process at the core of the stars, producing the surrounding matter, provoking the explosion of stars having now reached critical mass, forming the marvelous supernovae that shriveled the tinier stars until they became white dwarfs, pulsars, or desperate black holes through which matter disappeared into another universe. It was supernatural to be able to view how the billions of yellow stars and those glittering white or bluish crowded into the spidery levels, spinners of the galaxies. Most were double or even multiple systems, like the Pleiades or the Hyades; some, like Regulus, Syrius, Rigel, and Arcturus, were a few times larger than the Sun; and others, of a positive magnitude of +14 and beyond, glittered and throbbed, coagulated and exploded, receiving instantaneously the rhythmical waves from the new synthesizer. After four billion years, the sun began to dilate, comprising at first the orbit of Mercury, followed by Venus, overflowing like dough the vicinity of the Earth. The Earth, however, was no longer visible, being enclosed in its entirety in the organic mass of the architect; it was of spherical form, of solar dimensions, with two plethoric arms endowed with filaments like the arms of a medusa. The great synthesizer was now an internal element of the immense body. The moment the Sun exploded, hurling into space volatile, etherlike matter in the form of purple and violet flames, scintillating in millions of fringes, the architect began his leisurely migration toward the center of the galaxy.

    The universe was aging; it wrinkled like a fig, its matter crumbling like rot. Even interstellar space, otherwise flexible and vaporous, brimming with methane clouds and strands of golden dust, became rigid and tough. Through it the architect now advanced, like an ever-expanding nebula, swallowing whole constellations, fluttering in the motion of electromagnetic fields, but permanently emitting, like a great wish, his own rhythms, fresh and imperative. When he reached the center, his arms, twisted in a spiral, filled the entire space of the erstwhile galaxy. The matter of his body and his arms, having reached in the course of the migration an extreme state of rarefaction, condensed itself during a period of incommensurable time, lost its consistency, and became star crumbs, which ignited suddenly in the darkened and empty universe. A young galaxy revolved now, throbbing, pulsating in place of the old one.





    p. 270-1 (“REM”)

    When we got tired of all that playing around the pyre, we constituted ourselves into the Great Tribunal. It was headed, of course, by Carnation, the orange queen, and we, the others, were her aides, judges, and executioners. It was the puppet who was to appear before us. Because the tiny doll couldn’t be found, I myself picked up Zizi from one of the benches and offered her as the accused. The game had bewitched and entranced me, and in any case, I was so dizzy and oppressed by an evil feeling inside that I didn’t realize my vile deed till the next day. But then I cried in vain. With her hands twisted behind her and tied together with a piece of thread, Zizi stood before us, supported by the wall behind her. We scowled at her and flicked our claws to scratch her. Sullenly, Carnation ordered us to utter our accusations. For every accusation, the fire would shoot out violently while Zizi looked as though she recoiled, her hair standing on end. The first one to step forward and make an accusation was Whale, who pointed with her finger at Zizi and shouted: “You are small, you are a freak, you don’t deserve to live anymore.” Ada spoke with a silky and perfidious voice: “You can’t read, you can’t write, you can’t count. You barely know your name. Death to you!” Carmina leered: “You’re filled with sawdust and wool. Shame on you! Let’s finish her off, once and for all!” Puia whispered from where she stood, lost in that same cold dream from which she never awakened: “You are ugly. You are a sloppy dresser. Who would ever marry you? No, doll, it’s better like this . . .” Carnation flung ruthlessly over her shoulder: “You are so stupid you would set your own clothes on fire. You’d better write your last will and testament, you’re history.” I murmured: “That’s what they want, Zizi. I don’t matter now. Don’t ruin our game, Zizi. For us it’s only a game, and you’re too small and limp to understand.” Ester, with her voice that always seemed to be asking a question, nasalizing entrancingly, added her own straws to the fire: “You have no life, that’s why you have to die. You don’t exist, that’s why you have to disappear.” Zizi’s fate was sealed; there was no escape. Carnation uttered the sentence: “The Black Tribunal sentences her to die by hanging and by burning on the pyre.” We rushed to carry out the sentence, because we were afraid that Zizi, who was still dumbfounded and hadn’t yet had a chance to comprehend her miserable situation, would start to sob, which might cause us to have a change of heart. We found two boards that had been glued together at a right angle, which we thrust into the cracked floorboard of the classroom. We got the rope from the string at the back of a poster showcasing the rape plant. In a silence in which you could only hear the crackle of the flames, we stripped Zizi of all her clothes—which I had sewn myself with so much dedication—and we threw them, one by one, into the fire. Her little dress rose instantly to the ceiling, like a butterfly of flames and ashes. Naked, Zizi looked pitiful: It was an amorphous body of rag with a badly sewn plaster head on top. She was dirty and gray.



    - from Born in Utopia: An Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Romanian Poetry; p. 270 (Mircea Cărtărescu):

    LITTLE ELEGY

    Love me, ‘cause I Iove you too,
    care for me, ‘cause I care for you,
    the sun’s yellow, the sky blue, the clouds pale turquoise,
    so, dear, let’s enjoy this life

    “. . . till the silver cord be loosed,
    or the golden bowl be broken . . .”

    the fields are green, the roads are deep in dust
    the hills are golden, the brick viaducts breathe,
    you’re a sweet girl at a vacation’s end
    your mother, she’s an honest woman.

    try to treat me gently, don’t torture me,
    don’t give free rein to the aggressiveness in you;
    keep thoughts of marriage on a tight leash, just let things flow,
    and when you make love, don’t believe you’re making love.

    I’m fed up with love affairs fraught with tantrums —
    you must have have had experiences like this too: biting the pillow, hour after hour of
    tennis only to make yourself forget
    phone calls when you’re trembling as if plugged in the hell with
    those days, the hell with “my soulmate,” “my doll-baby”

    love me, ‘cause I love you too,
    care for me, ‘cause I care for you,
    so what if now we’re short of money, let’s enjoy the pleasure
    of love, let’s hurry up and live

    “. . . till the silver cord be loosed,
    or the golden bowl be broken . . .”


    —translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Mirela Surdulescu
    Last edited by HERO; 06-02-2015 at 08:11 PM.

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    Nostalgia by Mircea Cărtărescu; p. 96-8 (“The Twins”)

    I was in my last year of high school and about to turn eighteen. I was progressively worried about my future. Only a year before I had decided to renounce, categorically and without regrets, everything pertaining to life, the “joy of being alive.” People who seemed content with their small lives disgusted me. I saw myself as universal, ready to become the cosmos itself. But soon, it became physically impossible to endure this mode of life. Little by little, I began feeling like a failure rather than a genius. This change took place under the weight of loneliness. Before, I was content to be left alone, to lock myself in the house for weeks, to read till I couldn’t see anymore. I cursed if I had to answer the phone. During the first two years of high school, my fellow students would invite me to parties or birthdays, or to the discotheque in the school’s auditorium, but since I never went they stopped inviting me. They viewed me with the horror mixed with the reluctant admiration reserved for the chrysalis that might someday become a butterfly but also God knows what sort of horrific vermin. Even those who took my side—because despite it all, I was being talked about—couldn’t imagine themselves having a personal relationship with me. When I turned seventeen they prepared a gift for me, elegantly wrapped in paper and tied with a ribbon, but which no one had the courage to hand me: Instead, they placed it on my desk. They were flustered and a little frightened of their own gesture, as though they were presenting an offering to an unearthly being. Even today, I have no idea what the contents of the box were, because I left it on the desk without touching it. I had lost all traces of humanity—I realized this—but I believed it was the only way to progress along the path to becoming superhuman. During the break between my eleventh and twelfth years, I had attained such a degree of solitude that I was frightened for my sanity. For the period of three months, I constantly sensed that my heart was heavy with an abstract love, a love for no one. I couldn’t stand being home for a moment. I would go out and roam the streets of Bucharest, translucently golden from the sun, incessantly expecting to meet someone unknown. I stared with envy at the strolling couples with their arms around each other . . . .

    I could hardly wait for school to begin again, something that had never happened to me before. Because I felt very alone, like a fallen angel, or at least one in grave danger of falling. But I knew that in order to remain an angel, I had to ignore what I was fighting inside me, which was perhaps malignant and had progressively gained more power over me. Many times, I would wake up weeping from loneliness.

    . . . . Who was I to be her boyfriend? An ugly and bizarre boy, on the threshold of schizophrenia, who knew nothing outside of a smattering of literature, who had no experience of life. I dressed randomly, I had never traveled, I had no friends. All I could give her was my blind fear of losing her. For me, Gina was much more than a girlfriend, she was a being impossible to endure, a drug far too strong but which I couldn’t live without. I knew sooner or later that everything would fall apart, that Gina would leave me.


    p. 134-8

    The weather has gotten worse. Last night, I couldn’t sleep because of the thunder and lightning. We don’t even have drapes over the windows. When the entire room filled with that electric, palpitating blue, followed by that blast that nearly excoriated your bones, all the girls began to scream so loud that the night nurse on duty showed up and stayed with us, telling stories and singing, like in The Sound of Music. Mira and Altamira held each other tight and, cheek to cheek, stared around with frightened eyes like baby monkeys, while Lavita, in her multicolored bed with the sheets pulled over her head, howled like a hyena. On the bedsheets she had drawn a postage stamp, about a half-meter in length, with the perforations perfectly lined up, and with a picture of the wooden church from the Village Museum. And of course, Elisabeta, whose condition is getting worse by the day, found it necessary to fall again and started to foam at the mouth and shake like a madwoman. The nurse had to turn on the lights, put a pillow under her head, and press a hand over the mouth and nose, holding her tight for about thirty seconds until the convulsions abated. And this morning, when the nurse came in with the medicine cart, Elizabeta swallowed her tranquilizers with hollow eyes and propped herself up on the pillows. They didn’t give her breakfast, which awakened our suspicions, and when the doctor came in, together with two nurses—one of them carrying a nickel-plated metal box—we understood they were getting ready to subject Elisabeta to that horrible process we knew about only from stories: lumbar puncture. Nothing frightened the girls more than these words. Paula and Maia—the latter a woman of about fifty who had been in the ward the longest and suffered from enuresis and nocturnal ambulatory automatism—told us about a sick woman whose spinal cord was punctured right before their very eyes and whose lower body became paralyzed. They said that if they ever blew air into your brain in order to conduct an encephalogram, you would end up with such headaches that until they sucked back out all the air, you were sorry you ever had a head on your shoulders. It made us gawk with horror and fascination at the martyrdom of Elisabeta, who was all drugged up and had no idea what was happening to her. A nurse removed her pajamas, leaving her sitting up with her naked breasts on the white metal bed, then, pressing her chin into the chest and bending her spine, grabbed ahold of her shoulders and nape. The vertebrae, like some lustrous knots of skin, and the elongated ribs broke into view from under the yellowish skin, which made you think of an ungraceful, masculine back. The target was just below the halfway point down the spine. The doctor palpated it with a rapid motion, and the nurse dabbed it with a piece of cotton doused, I think, in iodine. Then, from under the slice of medical gauze in the sterilized case, she extracted a thin long syringe with the plunger drawn all the way back, to which she attached a long needle, thick as a crocheting pin, with the tip slashed at an oblique angle. It seemed strange, but I did not see any trace of sadism on the faces of those who were getting ready to conduct torture, who were performing with an inhuman coldness. In all the paintings of martyrs and saints, with their bodies crammed with arrows shot from a short distance, with breasts severed and then placed upon golden platters, with heads carried under the armpit of the decapitated body, with intestines extracted from the belly and spun around on a giant spindle, with virgins sawed in half from head to waist, the headsmen are portrayed as hideous, emaciated, leering at the sight of the suffering. They have sores, leprosy, astigmatism, fingers without nails: It is clear which side they are on. But now—look at Elisabeta, unsightly, epileptic unwashed, in the hands of learned and delicate beings in white coats, nonetheless, manipulating the devil’s tools in a manner that provokes panic and suffering. I never believed that dentists, surgeons, and others of that ilk torture you for your own good: All pain is bad, whether physical or moral, bad and humiliating. The burlier nurse, with greenish shadows under her white coat suggesting the slip, grabbed the syringe, aimed the needle toward that point between the vertebrae that glittered like spit on account of the iodine and, heaving, stabbed the needle into the skin. She paused for an instant, then stabbed again, until a tiny crack was heard. Elisabeta moaned in an odd, nearly sensual way, and then began to sigh. The nurse quickly detached the needle from the syringe at the very moment when golden drops—the spinal fluid—gushed out from its wide end; they collected it inside a gleamingly clean test tube. The girl huffed and moaned louder and louder until, with an effort, the needle came out, and then she howled with a raucous voice. They kept her balled up for a few more minutes, with a piece of cotton pressed over the needle stab; then, they put her pajamas back on and slowly stretched her out on her back. Her head had to be kept still for at least twenty-four hours. Most of the women were ill and turned their heads; Lavita hid under her bedsheets and cried her heart out. Only I and the lady with the facial paresis saw everything; I twisting my locks with a nervous finger, she, her face frozen in a harlequin expression, smiling with one half of her face, weeping with the other, blinking the single eye. That was my entertainment for the night and morning . . .

    The doctor came by my bed a moment ago and asked if I was done with my writing. Oh, Lord, no, not yet. What do these pages, spread out over the sheets and the night table, contain? Are they her work, or mine? Can I still discern what is hers and what is mine? Again, I am afraid. Lost in the landscape of her brain, stepping upon uncertain terrains, through mother-of-pearl and pinkish zones, submerged in the valleys of her circumvolutions, in her vestibular precipices. Plunged into narrow paths along the obscure forest of her prosencephalon, mirroring myself in the waters of the epiphysis (but looking at whom?), crossing above the memory bolgias howling in the melted pitch, writhing under rains of fire flakes, rising, purified, in the mesencephalon full of reptiles and fanged birds, lost there in the arborescent ferns. And upward, exploring the ecstatic states of the six layers of the neocortex, painted with Gina’s portrait, deformed like a fetus over the hemispheres: flattened forehead, mouth with thick lips and enormous tongue, minuscule body, but hands with grotesquely fanned fingers the size of the entire body. And everywhere the conclave of worms, of insects, of reptiles, of mammalians, the gala-gatherings of Ramapithecines, Australopithecines, Pithecanthropes, then the Cro-Magnons, the Romans, the Celts, the Dacians, the Slavs, the Tartars, the great-grandparents, the grandparents (Maricu and Tanicu), the parents, the relatives, the friends, myself meeting with myself in her brain, but no Virgil, no Beatrice, not any sort of redemption, no climbing to the stars. I roam through the labyrinths of her mind, I pull the levers that roll her eyes, push on the pedals that cause her knees to bend. I stare at my thin fingers, my new fingers, the nail polish already peeling. It is with them that I have been holding my ballpoint pen. Therefore—who is the writer?

    I don’t have much longer to go. I will be finished in a few days. And then, because I have less shame than Lavita, I will leave this pile of pages on the night table. Let anyone read them, let them imagine what they will. Let them find any motivation they wish, let them interpret in any way they wish this mirror cover, this text, this texture, this textile. This rag, successful only when nothing can be seen through it. I wish neither to weave it endlessly nor to unravel at night what I weave by day; on the contrary, I begin now to take things even further, to enter the dragon’s lair or the lair of Kafka’s insect or Rilke’s terrifying angel (I am certain, one way or another he will hold me close to his heart). But to write, in conclusion, that after our separation, following the ugly scene in the Garden of the Icons, Gina and I didn’t talk for at least three weeks, maybe even an entire month. It was a dark period for me, and I don’t know how I managed to come out of it. I wasn’t able to read anymore, to study during that period when my high school finals were coming up, and especially my entrance exams for the university. I had lost my self-possession, I didn’t know how to go on living. I couldn’t even walk by myself anymore like I did before, as a remedy for loneliness, couldn’t play Ping-Pong or go to the movies. A few of my closer classmates (I didn’t have any real friends) felt the need to help and attempted to shake me out of my erotopathia. She was becoming progressively opaque in my eyes, as if she had developed an indecipherable mother-of-pearl crust. She didn’t even pay any attention to me at school. After the first weeks of the spring trimester, I moved away from our desk without getting any reaction from her. She was greatly changed, as if she had aged by a few years. Her bearing had acquired a new kind of pride and defiance. She exhibited confidence, she finally appeared to know what she wanted, she was mature and strong. She didn’t put on airs anymore when she spoke with her friends, but instead enunciated everything in a kind of declaratory conviction, which according to her was a sign of experience. She was a woman, she had no time anymore for questioning herself, for self-contemplation, she knew.



    p. 84

    I remember the heavy winters of that period, with snow mounting all the way up to the school’s windows, with the twilights descending in waves of ashen-scarlet over the chestnuts in the courtyard and the nostalgic feeling I always got from the brick warehouse next to the school. The air became the color of coffee, and in the sleet awaiting them at the end of the school day, the boys with soaked mittens and snowballs in their fists were awaiting the surge of girls flaunting their purple eyes, scintillating as birds. The early stars sprinkled the harsh air while we, at the end of the school hours under the glare of bulbs, gazed in bewilderment at the grotesque succession of chemical formulas, the odd ratios of Avogadro’s number, the crooked, crystal figures of spatial geometry. At other times, the snow fell profusely while we, staring out the window during our Romanian literature hour, had the sensation that the entire room was flying obliquely and at hyperspeed like a spaceship into the air. The electric light in the classroom, contrasting with the immensity of the darkness outside, gave us an atavistic sentiment of intimacy, of shelter, such as primitive man must have experienced in his cave. The world became small, and it was easy to be alive.











    p. 89-94

    Lili, whose arrival I awaited anxiously, showed up late, long after the program started. It was a kind of musical, improvised after The Enchanted Grove, and we, the boys, were drooling over Lizuca, a tall girl in the seventh grade, incredibly well proportioned and decked out only in ballet leotards. By her side, costumed like a dog and leaping around like a clown, was a small boy named Patrocle. The stage was filled with children-butterflies, children-flowers, and other things of that sort. The old speakers emitted a continuous rumble which at its source was the sweet song of children. I was probably the first to see Lili. She was dressed in a simple outfit, with a very low-cut, sleeveless white blouse and a black shirt high above the knees. If she had showed up at the beginning, they wouldn’t have let her in, because you could see her thighs. She held a pale pink rose between her fingers and strolled in flouncing through the plushy seats with her unique style of grace. She sat down at a distance from us, and sat alone for a while, sniffing the rose from time to time. Then, she changed her mind and came toward us, finding a seat two rows above me. My eyes were constantly shifting toward her. Once, when I turned to see her, pretending that I wanted to say something to one of my friends, I couldn’t believe my eyes: Lili was sitting cross-legged, in an attitude which would have seemed indecent had it not been so charming. You could see her legs with their white and toned skin all the way up, and I suddenly became aware that she was staring straight at me. I don’t remember when she moved next to me. She was powerfully perfumed. She smiled and stared at me from the corner of her eyes. I was staring straight at the pantomime on the stage. Then she took my hand. Astounded, I turned my head toward her and wrenched my hand away. “Andrei, why do you avoid me?” she asked, and took my hand into hers again. “Leave me alone,” I said, “they’ll see us,” but I wasn’t strong enough to withdraw my hand again. I looked straight ahead and began to shake. There were other sections in the auditorium next to the orchestra or other places where no one sat because of the loud sound or the distance from the stage. It was toward one of those places that Lili eventually dragged me. We sat there next to one another, Lili playing with the rose while I was sweating and feeling lost. She didn’t even pay too much attention to me, she knew her presence and her perfume were enough to rattle me. All the kids were turning their heads toward us and leering suggestively. When I couldn’t bear it any longer, I stood up and dashed out of the first exit I found. I heard her voice ringing after me, soft and ironic, and then all the way home I chattered and shivered and ran. I threw myself on the bed, unable to even move. I developed a fever; my mother was terrified when she read the thermometer. She gave me pills and then called the doctor. For a few days, the first of summer break, I was ill, sleeping fitfully, with hallucinatory dreams. Time after time, writhing in my humid sheets, I would open my eyes and stare through the blue air of my room bleached by the moon toward the armchair by the bed. There, I would see Lili very clearly in her halter-top school uniform, with hair tied back and her glimmering lips, smiling oddly and ironically. I would get up from the bed and touch her hair, her shoulders; I was convinced she was totally real. I felt a warm fluid flowing from my chest to my fingertips, and my hands, as if driven by an internal knowledge, attempted to undress her. But she was all of one piece, her clothes one with her body. She was no more than a statue of glassy consistency, but alive and moving. She could not be undressed.


    . . . . My eroticism entered a phase of aggressive inhibition. Everything was paradoxical, unsolvable. I searched through art books or catalogues for erotic passages or nudes while on the other hand something in me was against these impulses. I felt that I was inherently different from the others, that love and everything related to it was not for me, that I traveled a road which took me way beyond the banal human condition. In fact, through this tendency toward absolutism, which I experienced so intently at the time, I came to believe that it was eroticism itself which prevented man from realizing himself, that love—and thus woman—was the cause leading to trivialization, to failure. For two years, in that state of alienation which I have been attempting to explain, I created for myself a monstrous system of ideas. I had determined that I didn’t have the right to get to know a girl because I had a higher mission to fulfill. I was convinced that immortality depends upon chastity and the moment you love or make love you taint yourself past all hope. This wasn’t because of any sort of lucid realization but impulses which I could not deny. Of course, I agonized by myself but couldn’t do it any other way.

    Woman meant monster to me. I saw in her a modified man, a crippled man. The breasts, the fat which defined parts of her body, the widened hips, the hair so different than man’s, all these seemed to me disgraceful infirmities. Feminine conduct, the grace of certain gestures, the dissimilar psychology, I took these to be a form of affectation. I viewed with hatred girls who dressed stylishly, took care of their looks, and flirted with boys. For me, it meant only that they were exhibiting their erotic desires. I had read that the female spider devours the male during the process of coupling, and I had begun to write a story in the fantastic style, in which I imagined what it might be like if the female destroyed the male during sex in the world of humans. I pictured the dilemma of the male caught between two fundamental instincts. To know for certain you would be destroyed by her, and yet be unable to escape her fascination . . . Or, I was thinking of the strange case of the praying mantis, who during copulation gnaws away at her lover. Or the female scorpion, who can find in a few seconds the male’s single vulnerable place, the only fissure in his chitinous armature, and pricks him there with the venomous needle in her tail . . .




    p. 117-125

    I walked out of Gina’s room feeling dizzy, incapable of thought. It was dark in the hallway of the apartment, the old folks had long gone to bed, while the television in the corner was swallowed by the penumbra. The only glimmer, metallic and lustrous, Rembrandt-like, came from the edge of a large copper tray on a small table. I stepped out into the street, and though it was nearly midnight, I walked all the way home through the apocalyptic snow, painfully pushed to the side by the snowploughs. In their blinding, blue headlights, the snow seemed to fall incessantly, as though to bury the entire world. My gloves were wet and soft, frozen crusts permeated my fingers. While passing by illuminated windows with motionless mannequins on skis wearing the latest fashions in sweaters and jackets, I saw in the red-and-green fluorescent light an entwined couple heading toward me. From their book bags, I gathered they were students. Once they got closer, I was amazed at the girl’s resemblance to Gina: the same springy walk on interminable heels, the same fur coat. Her fox hat with the reddish glow was also the same as Gina’s. I felt I was really losing my mind when it became clear that it was actually Gina heading toward me, her hand in the boy’s pocket and laughing convulsively. I took a close look at him once we were practically face-to-face with each other. He had long and pallid features, eyes deep in their sockets and a barely burgeoning mustache, like an auburn shadow underneath his lanky nostrils. We stared for an instant into each other’s eyes before they went on, toward Gina’s street: the young man was I.

    From that day on, I went over to Gina’s place often. For a while, she seemed to have forgotten Silviu. Winter slipped away from us in the madness of her room, where she was different each time, where an emotional nuance different from any I had lived before revealed itself to me each time I caressed her, taking me further each time. One evening, she brought from another room some twenty-odd old dresses, left from her grandmother and great-grandmother, yellow as saffron, with shawls hung with silk tassels and belts embroidered with gold thread. She put on diamond earrings and twirling like a whirligig, while we drank a kind of cocktail made of oranges and Havana Club, modeled for me every single one of those dresses. Thus arrayed, with a peasant scarf shrouding her head, she looked like a Russian doll—or as I saw her then, Grushenka in The Brothers Karamazov. In another dress whose waist ended at the breasts, a gorgeously designed dcolletage, and a large hat whose faded blue ribbon clasped the chin, Gina resembled Adele H. But she looked best as a Russian, because of her cunning smile and her sweet eyes lacking sweetness, sweet in a kind of cerebral mode. We were already very dizzy when she hid behind the wardrobe’s door in order to put on a slip her mother had brought her from Paris. The slip was black and shiny, with silk lace. It was very short, revealing her G-string, also of black silk. This sensual vestment contrasted with her innocence, her goodness, her childlike face. I took her in my arms and stretched her out on the floor. We began to make out, gripped by a hopeless fury. Huffing, clutching my shoulders with all her strength, she sighed in my ear: “Andrei, no, it’s not possible now, but I swear, I swear Andrei, I will be yours . . .” I had lost my head completely, but I think I was even more afraid than she was. The erotic act seemed to me a distant rite, one in which I couldn’t believe I would ever participate. I was afraid instinct was not enough, that I wouldn’t know what to do, how to do it . . . I suffered, in an amplified way, from the complex my lack of experience gave me, I felt I should be the one who knows. This seemed to be an obstacle that could take Gina away from me. Later, I considered that if I had then even the smallest amorous experience, Gina would have been mine, and maybe (maybe!) would have stayed mine forever. But now, we were wasting our encounters in that room full of glass icons, in fearful exasperation.

    At school, we were good friends, we were together all the time. We sat at the same desk, and everyone knew about our relationship. It is possible that they gossiped about us, because Gina’s girlfriends instinctively hated her, and while they respected me, they thought of me as some poor unlucky monster who just ended up in bad company, something that was going to even further ruin me. Yes, they viewed me with pity and horror, as if to say: Wake up now, you unlucky fool! In the hallway Gina, holding my arm, touchingly tiny in her halter-top uniform, would tell me about her labyrinthine dreams, with multicolored butterflies sailing through marble temples, or would show off by asking me to go and get her a pretzel. Many times, I saw in her translucent eyes, hiding in half-shadow, so much sadness that I would become sad too, feeling that my entire life was built on sand, that everything that connected us was an illusion. Then, I wouldn’t speak a word the whole day and she, squeaking and pulling at me (“Hey, Andrei, don’t be like that . . .”), would try to make me laugh. Or she would draw on my notebook a little flower, under which she inscribed in a fraction of a second: GINA. And our story continued, despite the feeling that began to haunt me at that time, that I wouldn’t be able to keep her and it would be best to separate right then and there, because it would be much worse later. Each time I noticed that she was bored or in a bad mood, each time she sent me home when we arrived at her gate in the evening, I would sense that everything was finished, that she found herself another boyfriend, that she wanted to get rid of me. But she always came back, despite my behavior, many times violent (for no reason at all, I wouldn’t speak with her an entire day, until she came to me with her eyes filled with tears, while at other times, out of the suicidal impulse to end it all very quickly, I would tell her directly to leave me alone), and I believe even now that during that period at the end of the trimester she felt for me very deeply.

    But during the first days of the spring break, we didn’t see each other at all. The winter weather began to abate, and the icicles were melting under a glowing blue sky. The snow melted in a few days, and the pavement on Stefan cel Mare began to show up from under the layer of muddy dirt. I stood by the window entire afternoons, looking out on the city and thinking of her. When I called, she told me she was sick with the flu; then, as the days passed, her grandmother answered the phone and wouldn’t let me talk to her, telling me that Gina couldn’t get out of bed or that she was taking a bath and would call me in an hour. But the evenings came and went, and Gina didn’t call. It was odd, though, that at the time I did not doubt her. I was used to her being honest with me. What hurt me most was that I saw slipping away from me the chance of spending the New Year’s Eve celebration with her, at some friends’ place where we had been invited. I saw her over and over again in my imagination, toasting champagne with me in the trembling candlelight, and then kissing at midnight . . . I secretly ordered a custom-made three-piece suit, my first, and I was proud of how I looked in it. I didn’t know how to dance, but my sister taught me a few steps, and in my moments of enthusiasm I thought I could actually cut the mustard. I was getting ready to be a new man, to show her I had changed, that I could be a “man of the world,” not just a library rat.

    Because during that period, through Gina’s influence, I began to open my eyes to the world around me and became progressively more aware of what a drab and anachronistic life I was leading. I ogled for hours massive fashion magazines with heavy and shiny pages full of images of elegant women. I wondered if there were indeed men who enjoyed the lips and flesh of those women, if there were such interiors of velvet and walnut where such couples sipped their J&B and made love. I wanted a motorcycle like Silviu, an AKAI component system with cylindrical metal cases like my classmates, I wanted the easy and beautiful life I intuited was to be Gina’s lot. I started to suffer because of my looks, which seemed to me pitiful, because of my lack of money, because I couldn’t take Gina to a bar in the center of Bucharest, because I couldn’t take her on a trip to the mountains. But, primarily, I hated my unkempt dreamer mentality, which I knew would always prevent me from living the life I wished. I felt a pang in my heart each time Gina mentioned her skiing winters or her never-ending games of canasta (she had even begun learning bridge and was wasting her nights at bridge clubs, or at least that’s what her grandmother told me on the phone), because I knew the mirage of those snobbish distractions irremediably distanced her from me. I couldn’t read a book without identifying the characters with me or with her. I read, for instance, The Last Night of Love . . . and Dania’s Games. Both these books informed me, more, they demonstrated with near mathematical precision, that she would not stay with me, that she would eventually leave me, drawn by the life she was fit for and in which the only place I could assume was a mere amusing memory of her youth. (I could almost hear her, imagining an encounter with her after a number of years: “How embarrassing you were, darling . . .”) Still, I wanted to try, if not actually to live, at least to mimic this way of life, because the fear of losing her was more powerful than my own ways, more powerful than the need to preserve my own personality. I would have liked to adapt myself to her from the bottom of my heart, to let myself be shaped by her, to let her “take me in hand” and turn me into a “man of the world.” Because of this, I thought of the New Year’s Eve celebration as a departure point in my journey toward becoming the kind of man she desired.

    When I called Gina again on December 29th, as I did every evening, her grandfather told me that she had left Bucharest to go to some relatives who had invited her to spend New Year’s Eve with them. I knew she had no relatives outside Bucharest, so either she stayed in Bucharest or went to a mountain resort with someone else. Gina would toast champagne and kiss someone else under the candles’ quivering light. Not even after hanging up could I believe it, could I imagine that it was possible. I stayed home for New Year’s. My parents didn’t prepare anything special: a liter of wine, no more. About nine o’clock, they turned on the television and remained frozen in front of it. My sister had been invited to spend the New Year with some friends, so that the house seemed even colder and more drab than usual. At midnight, we turned off the lights, and against the bluish figures on television, we kissed and drank the cheap wine from the state-owned store. Then, I dressed and went out for some fresh air. I couldn’t control myself and thought only of her during the moment after the last second of the outgoing year and continued thinking of her as I walked along Stefan cel Mare, dark and frozen and drably lit by the orange lights, like a passage to inferno.






    p. 131-4

    I told her many times that I loved her, but it never made her happy, so I finally lost the courage to tell her anymore. I lost any sense of initiative I ever had. I had to do what Gina wanted, unconditionally. She was the one who got the theater tickets, she was the one who proposed we go to the movies; and if we went into a pastry shop or, with the coming of spring, stopped at a bistro, she never allowed me to pay for both of us. She always said no to anything that I suggested, even the most normal things. Sometimes, we even saw each other on Sundays, but only when she felt like it. If I proposed something for the following Sunday, she would initially agree, but then I could be certain to receive a phone call Saturday night cancelling our meeting. Certainly, at times I couldn’t bear any more of this dependence that she imposed on me and became violent. I would even leave her in the middle of the street; I would tell her the most insulting words in order to end the misery that was accumulating between us. During those moments, however, Gina, who had been cold and contemptuous until then, began to cry, to tell me that she didn’t want us to split up, that she liked me more than anyone else. I wasn’t able to resist this emotional pressure and gave in each time with a feeling of guilt. But then, the same cycle resumed, and the contempt and ennui she showed me became once again the essential ingredient of our relationship. It was all the more depressing because I had been waiting for spring as a sort of rebirth from the winter’s inferno. We left our heavy coats behind, and under the brilliant and humid sun, caught by the whirlwind of raw smells, even the leprosy of the shops on Venera Street and the bathroom-yellow of the Silvestru school seemed to take on the enchantment of a new and clean world. From the courtyards, you could hear the clatter of hooves, and the shiny granite of the pavement began to reflect, albeit distortedly, the blue of the sky. In place of the winter gloom through which I had walked Gina home, we wended our way now through the dense crepuscule with its heavy scent of grass and old limestone, with purple windows and bluish cornices. And now when Gina flaunted her femininity on Sundays, arrayed in her delicate blouses and checkered skirts held together by a large safety pin with a striated stone, now when we walked together along our familiar routes on Pitar Mos Street, Stefan cel Mare Boulevard, Cosmonaut Plaza, and just when I was beginning to feel capable of forgetting and starting from the beginning again, she would become cold, unrecognizably so. Her indifference was becoming the normal routine. Only after a few drinks did she become more affectionate, adding insult to injury. In April, I wrote in my diary: “I find fewer things worth writing about. Last night in the rain, with Gina annoyed with me—her familiar facade of a carefree vamp—we haunted all the crowded bars (how does she know them so well: let’s go to the Union, let’s go to Capsa, let’s go to the Spanish Salon . . . ?), we waited half an hour at the Continental only to be told we couldn’t have drinks without dinner (Gina knocking over the salt shaker and me reproaching her), then at Muntenia, dark sweet beer, music, me prattling about everything, progressively more agitated, her making faces, her eyes roaming over those characters hunched over the tables full of glasses, bottles, lighters, their fingers holding cigarettes, then again through the rain, she more temperate now under the umbrella, holding my arm with both hands, baby-talking, and then in the hallway (‘Never change your love’), and then, next to each other, in the back, on the steps of the stairs, speaking exquisitely, seriously about love, then, the punch in the solar plexus, unexpectedly: “You know, I am in love . . .” and me believing at first, believing against belief and hoping against hope that she is referring to me, but after a moment: ‘Today, I drank to our divorce, OK? I know who the future will be . . .’ To which, though I knew she was serious, I tried to answer jokingly. I took her face in my palms. She had that air of somnolent cunning: je m’en fiche [I do not care]. I stared into her eyes, concentrating harder than ever before. I forced her to remain in that position for a few whole minutes.”


    Before the catastrophe, I remember only one event, when during spring break, we saw each other one more time. We were to meet at the Garden of the Icons in the morning. The air was cold and the sky extremely blue between the still bare trees. She was dressed with a colored wool poncho over her jeans that covered the tips of her shoes. We sat on a bench on the sidewalk separating the park from Pictor Verona Street. There was no one in the park, only an older woman in the distance with a coffee-colored dog wearing a vest and traipsing after her. I held my arm around Gina’s shoulder, and she, kind and sensitive, knew these were to be the last moments of an ultimately beautiful relationship and savored its melancholy end. I spoke to her quietly. I told her once again I couldn’t give her up, that I loved her very much. She told me that we could remain friends, that friendship is a beautiful sentiment, more beautiful than love, and so on. That she was not happy, that she felt she was in grave danger. “I think he only wants to have fun with me. He likes to play around with women.” And I sensed that she really lived the panic she manifested when she told me this. We sat for a few moments staring absent-mindedly toward the posters of the Bulandra theater, toward the dog that ran between the black trees, until she asked me to kiss her. Because of the lipstick, her lips tasted like perfume. I asked her while I caressed her not to tell me anything more about Silviu. She interrupted me and started to laugh between the tears: “Silviu? You are a little behind the times. His name is Serban . . . Here he is.” And breaking away from me—so utterly amused that she forgot to act sensitively—she extracted from underneath her blouse a medallion on a golden chain and popped it open with her nail, revealing a tiny black-and-white photo of a thin young man with short blond hair. It was the first time I saw proof that she had a boyfriend. Until then, though rationally I knew it all the time, I had expected that she was making it up in order to make me jealous. Only now did I see myself marginalized in her world, insignificant, and I couldn’t prevent myself from showing my revolt, my humiliation and pain. I tried to insult her, to hurt her feelings, until both of us stood up and left in different directions. I burst into tears at the trolley station by the church, not giving a damn who was watching me. I cried silently in the trolley, the tears spilling directly onto my jacket, and at home in front of my mother I had an actual attack of hysteria. I threw myself on the floor in the hallway and, dragging the rug with me, I cried like a child, waving my arms in desperate fury. My mother tried to calm me down, cursing that “good-for-nothing Gina who brought my boy to such a state . . .” Only after half an hour was I able to sit quietly in a chair, but I couldn’t eat anything. I felt that my only choice was to destroy myself, that there was no reason for me to go on living. I could barely breathe. After about an hour, she called me. She asked me to forgive her, which made me feel better. But this time I had absolutely no hope. On the contrary, I knew that it was absolutely necessary to forget her, otherwise I would not survive.










    p. 151-4

    We broke into a circular room that attempted to present the process of ontogenesis by drawing parallels between fish, reptiles, birds, mammals, and finally humans. On the mounts submerged in alcohol, you could view the evolution of an embryo from the phases barely visible with the naked eye—the morula, the blastula, the gastrula—to the differentiation of the organs. In their evolution, the embryos passed through archaic phases, developed gills, reptilian characteristics, avatistic formations that later became reabsorbed, a veritable metempsychosis, the wheel of karma, the incessant cycle of existence. On a wall hung a sectioned cast revealing the position of the fetus in the womb of a pregnant woman. I recalled the atrocities of the Tartar wars: babies wrenched alive from the mothers’ bellies. Further on, distributed in a sequence on a shelf on the wall, were tens of jars containing malformed fetuses: macrocephalic or acephalic, infants with a single central eye, with a single nostril above the lips, with three legs, one of which had no foot, with minuscule, armless palms emerging directly from the shoulders like tiny wings. How uncanny they looked, wrinkled and pale or mollusk-yellow, with their distended skin drooping on their bones! What slothful stares in their eyes shrouded by flaking lids! They seemed wise and in no small measure satisfied that they didn’t get their turn at living. They catalogued between frogs and geniuses, impossible to face in their cynical carnality. Dangling their umbilical cords in the nauseating liquid, their gaze seemed to pin us, they seemed to take us in. Gina perused them, not with horror like me, but with a kind of placid resignation, as though contemplating a piece of ugly furniture in the house where you’ve lived all your life and which you’d never think of exchanging. We crossed that chamber, examining each abortive creature separately. As she had done with the snake, Gina glued her palms to the curved walls of one of the jars and, with painful concentration, she stared deeply into the eyes the pallid gnome. Finally, through a narrow door that I had not noticed, we entered a garret-like room the size of Raskolnikov’s “wardrobe,” with peeling posters on the walls, an old sofa that occupied more than half the space, and a tiny bookshelf. I remember some of the ragged volumes: The Tibetan Book of the Dead, Nerval’s Daughters of Fire, Dostoyevsky’s Netochka Nezvanova, and a book of Blake’s engravings, with plates from The Book of Urizen. One of the plates had been torn out and attached with thumbtacks to the wooden door: It depicted a kneeling woman, seen from the back, looking into a fountain. Above her scintillated a gigantic black sun. We sat on the sofa, and Gina pulled from under the bed a shoebox filled with all sorts of knickknacks: Christmas tree ornaments, dolls with crunched heads, old photos, used tickets and postcards, a rusty syringe, a stethoscope. “When I was very, very small, I discovered the way to this place. I would bring everything here that made me happy, everything I liked: my dolls, gifts from relatives, I would bring my cookies here so I could eat them in peace. I don’t think I missed a single night when I didn’t roam through the museum, alone amidst all my animals. This is how I imagined the old man’s daughter from Penelope’s tales, roaming among the ridiculous dragons. I know them all, they are all in the grips of bewitchment, as I am too. But most of all I like this little room, deep, deep, deep in the middle of it all. This is where I feel that I am really myself.” While she spoke, Gina, now long transfigured, became another, a strange sorceress, a priestess with ecstatically joined hands. I took her in my arms and put her down on the sofa. We made love, for the first time in our lives. It is not out of modesty, which has no place in these pages, that I speak little about those gestures, those sensations, but simply because I didn’t for one moment have the consciousness of what was happening to me. Though completely naked but more alive than ever, she seemed now to possess an infinite contour that lacked reality. She was, in succession, a mouth on whose lips the skin had faded, a small breast, waves of hair scattered on a pillow, agitated breath. When I entered, the mosaic of all those impressions melted and seemed to ooze, soft as plasticine and of the same color, and smelling almost like linseed. I suddenly had a sense of the All. It was like a pale light, a kind of tension without limits, an intuition without communication. We spent a moment in suspension and then, like lizards in the morning, shook off the stupor and returned to our limited life.

    I woke up transformed, transferred into Gina. It is impossible to postpone the description, the experience of having lived through that moment, indescribable and unlikely for anyone to have lived through. I lay on my back and looked at myself in the pupils of the diffuse being leaning over me: I saw Gina’s face there, slightly deformed by the eye’s sphericity. When the cone of my consciousness quieted a little, I became aware that the being above me had my features and was staring at me with unceasing terror. I looked at my body, which was the body of the woman I loved: I had her arms, her breasts, her hair, her hips, her legs. I had her skin and her bones and on my lips the ether taste of her rouge. One ear glittered with her emerald earring; I spotted the other earring amidst our crumpled clothes on the bed. And she was me, the long and lanky male frame, bones showing through the skinny chest, narrow hips, the sex like a worm between the hairy thighs, and especially, my face, my eyes, my elongated jaws, my mustache above sensual and suffering lips. It was me hovering above myself, in a way that I had never seen myself, not even in dreams, as though I had come out of my body after death and was contemplating myself from all angles. If she had changed into a rhinoceros or an insect, it would not have been so shocking. Horrified, we stared at each other for a long time without speaking or touching each other. We were too tired and dumbfounded to even think. We dressed mechanically, mixing up our clothes, having to exchange them a few times. Our gestures were uncertain, our movements stuttered, the hand fumbled in its grasping. We looked at one another like beings from another world, whose functioning depended on an entirely different chemistry, biology, psychology. Suddenly, the person in front of me fell on the bed and began to weep violently, sobbing and moaning, pounding the pillow with clenched fists and shaking all over like someone possessed. But out of those outbursts of wailing, another sound became distinguishable. It came from beyond the wooden door and resembled rustling, an admixture of soft sounds: ripples, crackles, a soft clatter like that of brushes or maracas. Hearing this, the one next to me (I speak this way because I can’t call that person “he”) became silent, then, with a perplexed expression grabbed my hand and dragged me with an unsuspected force out of the room. Stepping forward, the heel of my shoe pierced the giant butterfly, ragged wings still softly fluttering on the floor.

    That muffled jungle sound intensified with each passing instant. Bursting out into the fetus chamber, we saw them opening their eyes wide and making bizarre gestures in their greenish jars. One of them managed to clamber on top of the cylinder’s edge and was getting ready to jump to the ground, dragging after it an umbilical cord half a meter long. I would have been paralyzed with horror had not Andrei yanked me quickly out of the room.











    p. 69-71

    “After a night of agitated sleep, a horrific insect woke up transformed into the author of these lines.” This is how I might begin—inverting the phrase at the start of Kafka’s “Metamorphosis”—the story which I have thought about relating here, if I wished to publish it. It would be a dramatic beginning, which would not diminish its veracity, taking into consideration that the insect is me. More so, much more so than Gregor Samsa, let us say to the degree that the insect was a Hoffmann, or a Nerval, or a Novalis. Like all these Romantics, I will write not to construct a story, but to exorcise an obsession, to protect my poor soul from a monster, a monster terrifying not through hideousness but beauty. I am thinking now of Rilke’s unbearably beautiful angel, and I would like to quote something from the “First Elegy,” but since I have been here, it seems as though my memory’s resources have, if not darkened, at least fogged up a bit. (I am afraid. A few moments ago, I was sitting on the sofa, staring distractedly at all those icons painted on glass with a predominance of bright red and azure, at the yellowish and shiny keys of the upright piano, at the secretary with the peeling wooden doors, painted with a sorrowful character with a dark, Byzantine face, wrapped in an ample blue toga cascading into multiple folds and holding in his hand a budding branch; behind him, the violet beyond darkens, and the red clouds leak sadly between the cypress trees. Below, written in golden letters: AMOR OMNIA VINCIT. I stared at that space, unendingly tall, bordered by the rich drapes covering the windows, and asked myself if her blood, irrigating the lobes of my brain through thousands of tiny tubes, might not, little by little, relocate her being in me; if her past, emanating from this room filled with sculpted furniture and hammered copper, would not march out in skeletal troops against my own memories, as in Brueghel’s Apocalypse. I leaped to my feet at this thought, exactly the same way I did a week ago, when I decided never to look at myself in the mirror again. And just as I sewed together then this rough hemp cloth that I used to cover the mirror’s waters, I decided now to write, to make out of these pages another cloth, another weft, to protect me—this time not from her body but her psyche, from her sorrows, her madness, her happiness, her stupidity, her idealism and her baseness, her superb rapacity.) I would like to read, but where are the books? The illiterate darling, the only good things on the three or four shelves she calls a library are the books I gave her: a gorgeous Huizinga, a Baltrusaitis on Gothic art, that’s about all. As for the rest, dictionaries, folk art books, bad novels, all unreadable. Still, and this is just one of her contradictions, not only did she read, she also wrote verses. She even kept a journal where she wrote down her strange and colorful dreams, impossible to psychoanalyze, fairy tales really, of paradisiacal gardens. I think the wealth of colors and light in her dreams was caused by the fact she slept with her eyes open: I never saw anyone sleep like that before. It was frightening to watch her sleep, it was like watching a dead person. I will not attempt to explain here why I loved her, it is unexplainable, like all natural things.




    p. 155-160

    I know nothing new about Gina. Who she is now, how she is surviving. I don’t know, and I don’t want to know. I don’t recognize any longer in this alien body the girl who was my obsession and madness for the duration of a year, maybe the last one of my life. To attempt to continue living under these conditions seems absurd. I protected my consciousness from seeing her body by covering the mirrors with the beguiling texture of sheets. But I can’t protect myself from her self, which ambushes me on the far more perfidious paths of the psyche. The monster has me, he crept up on top of me and clenches me tight in his paws. I fuse with him like the damned in the thieves’ infernal bolgia. Even these thoughts, I ask myself, are they mine or hers? Where does this sweetness that coats so many of the pages of my confession come from? This pathetic style, which goes against my nature? Could they not be the beast’s venoms, the juice trickling out of his gums? It was a mistake to begin this writing, to raise this curtain, to act in this psychodrama, with the peanut gallery and box seats all empty. Whom did I write this comedy for? Are you, now, next to me? Can you, now, help me?

    Unfortunately, next to me now, staring languorously over my shoulder, is only Lavita, who is waiting for her bedsheets to be changed. While waiting, she keeps on composing her love letters, with her diverse colored-ink pens, directly onto her body, which she has covered everywhere she could reach with naive letters and drawings. Now she is writing on her chest, with green ink: Please write me back, and next to it she scrawls a girl’s head with brown hair, blue eyes, and red lips. That’s how it is. In any case, it will be necessary to get out of here, where I am doing nothing but endlessly postponing the fight with the beast. My obsession does not allow itself to be exorcised, writing this I do not become myself again, and I don’t want, O Lord, I don’t want to remain like this. That’s why I postpone any decision until I return to the world. There I will decide what I will do and, especially, how I will do it. These pages, lying in a heap on the night table, are a greater failure than what I am recounting. I will burn them this very evening. I decided not to leave them anymore in the care of the doctor or anyone else, because if they read them they would never let me out of here, or I might even end up in worse places. I will simulate—with disgust—normality; I will be a well-behaved little Gina, ready to make her grandparents happy, having returned to normal thoughts after a bout with hysteria.

    Why am I continuing to write these lines, if I know that I will destroy everything? Why am I composing, look, one letter, and then again, another? Isn’t it maybe to barter for another mouthful of air, and one more after that?

    No, it must be ended, finally. All right. I am finished.


    You wrench the wardrobe’s mirror door out of its hinges and fling it to the floor. A muffled clatter informs you the mirror has cracked, falling face down on the floor from which you had removed the rug. The rolled-up rug lies on the sofa, over the fanciful pillows of velvet and orange silk. You drag the upright piano on its casters to the middle of the room and lean the Persian rug against it. Heaving horribly, you lift the sofa on its side and prop it as well against the glossy piano. It fits perfectly between the bronze candleholders soldered to the piano’s top. You pause to catch your breath and wipe your dusty hands over the yellow blouse covering your breasts. You go to the window. Venera Street blinks weakly, with the pavement’s stones gleaming purplish sparks under the autumn’s laden twilight. The willow with a long branch tapping against the marquee palpitates in the gentle breath of wind. An orange cat spotted with dark rust dozes at the crossing of two branches. You leave the window open, but pull shut the scarlet damask drapes. A reddish penumbra permeates the room. A ray of light, piercing through the drapes, collides against the burnished corner of the library, supporting the metal crucifix that glows abruptly with a white flame. You begin to remove the books from the library and arrange them, with a specific goal in mind, on the floor around the piano and the sofa. You take the great Baltrusaitis from its cardboard box and read the dedication: “To Gina, with love, to remember that under the obscene rococo of our world and flesh, our bones are Gothic and our spirit is Gothic. Andrei, Feb. 197 . . .” You leaf through the great poet’s pages, so full of chimeras. You place the book on the floor next to the others. You suddenly mimic a maddened rock guitarist, leaning back and clutching the guitar’s neck with your left hand. “Into the fiiiire!” you scream, and begin to laugh.





    p. 289

    EPILOGUE


    There is only one problem in the world: How does one break through the chrysalis and become a butterfly?

    THOMAS MANN




    p. 300-6 (“The Architect”)

    It was already three o’clock in the morning when, exhausted and hungry, the architect Popescu wobbled in through the door of the apartment. Standing in the kitchen, he guzzled down, without bothering to discriminate, whatever he found in the refrigerator. His mind was filled with sounds. Hour after hour, he had pressed at random the black and white keys, one key at a time or several keys simultaneously, feeling like an adolescent waking up unexpectedly in the bed of his first woman. He would have liked to remain there eternally, to try out all the possibilities, pressing each of the keys, at first one at a time, then two, then three . . . A few of the sound sequences made him happy, as though he had previously known them and awaited them for a long time; the others, however, the most in fact, wounded and insulted not only his hearing, but perhaps his entire being. He sprawled out on the living room sofa and fell into a comforting sleep, for the first time in months.

    Every day now, after the hours he spent at work, Emil Popescu sat in the comfortable seat of his Dacia and resumed his sounding of the horn. After a few decades, when enormous quantities of studies, monographs, commentaries, articles, diploma and doctorate dissertations—tens, even hundreds of times more voluminous than those about Dante, Shakespeare, and Dostoyevsky put together—were consecrated to the architect, these few months of sotto voce groping on the keys of the Reghin organ would come to receive the name of his “subterranean” or “underground” period. From time to time, a neighbor or an old friend would come by to sweeten his solitude, taking the seat next to him and marveling each time at the uncanny aspect of a car furnished with an organ instead of a dashboard and steering wheel. Without interrupting for one moment his saraband of sounds, the architect patiently explained that the fundamental function of the automobile is not, as it is commonly thought, to shorten distances, transporting a person from one place to another. That was but the secondary function, and if you thought about it, without any real value. The nobility of the automobile lay in the sound of its horn, that is, in communicating and expressing itself. The sounding of the horn, as conceived by Emil Popescu, was the voice of the automobile, until now oppressed and throttled by man, reduced to a single animalistic and guttural sound, but from now on liberated, dignified, and sovereign. We complained about the invasion of the technical, about the lack of dialogue with the machine, but we never thought about giving the machine a chance to express itself. It was not absolutely necessary that machines functioned, but it was, in point of fact, an elemental right of theirs to be able to express themselves. Having taken the explanation to that point, the architect’s eyes sparkled in such a maniacal manner that the neighbor rushed his goodbyes and clambered up to his apartment, where he felt disturbed for the rest of the day, unable to decide whether to laugh or feel pity.


    The “underground” period lasted until the next spring. Once the natural fence and the acacias behind the apartment building turned green, Emil Popescu turned up his speakers, so that you could hear what he played over the radius of a few meters but without disturbing the neighbors. Many of the neighbors made it their custom to walk by the architect’s automobile each afternoon, fascinated by the penetrating harmonies that began to take wing, each day more flawless than the last. During the first days of spring, the architect obstinately resumed the same monotonous but pleasing sequence of complete notes, each growing as though from the previous one and transmitting an odd state of ataraxia. “Sounds kind of like Pink Floyd,” the kids in the neighborhood would find themselves murmuring, but quickly sensing it was a Pink Floyd “in agony.” Indifferent to the commentaries, our hero resumed, day after day and with evident enchantment, sequences of whole notes that glistened mutely and profoundly. Telente, the Gypsy violinist from entrance Number 6, whose three daughters wrapped themselves in silver fox furs, possibly in homage to the incredible succession of men that trafficked through their home day and night, listened attentively to the architect’s music, swearing with professional admiration under his handlebar mustache. It was a scale, he sensed that right away, but a scale he had never heard before. At the restaurant Hora where he played, Telente sketched during a break the sequence of ten whole notes which he had heard from Emil Popescu. For a few seconds, the knives and the forks of the various clientele that frequented the restaurant remained frozen in the air, as if time itself had suddenly dissolved, but the fiddler, as though frightened of himself, resumed the melody he had been playing before, “Long Ago Tango,” his great success with the public. After the end of the set, Telente downed a beer with the band members, who had recently been joined by a new saxophone player; he was a quiet young man who, after graduating from the conservatory, chose not to move to the village Argaseni in the township of Bacau, where he was to be assigned the position of music teacher. But his friends from the restaurant’s band still nicknamed him the Professor and took jesting pride in the fact that at least one of them could read music. That evening, he asked Telente in passing to tell him about the scale he had played after their arrangement of the Beatles song “Something.” Telente could hardly wait to talk about the show behind his apartment building. The Professor listened to him absent-mindedly, pondering about the ironies inherent in history and remembering a passage from Eliot’s “Gerontian.” Yes, only traps, only snares and tortuous paths . . . The scale that had been the glory of Pythagoras, the celebrated musical scale comprising ten sounds, each corresponding with one of the planets (the last being the mysterious Antichthon, while the first the Sun itself) and composed to harmonize with the Rule of the Golden Mean, was now being reinvented by some maniac who played it over and over again like a scratched record. At home, in his little room measuring two meters by a little more than one, walls lined to the ceiling with frayed-cover books and a collage representing St. Augustine staring at the bare breasts of a woman from God knows what dirty magazine, the Professor wrote in his journal a few notes about the matters discussed at the restaurant. But he paused halfway through a sentence, because at eleven his friend Iolanda, recently divorced and desirous of rapture, knocked on his door.

    During this time, Elena, the good wife of the architect, consulted with myriads of psychiatrists, whom she brought home under different pretexts to take a look at the architect. Their opinions differed. Certainly, it was not a usual case. Most of them were inclined to speak about monomania, the type shared by stamp or cactus collectors. But who could track precisely the border between a simple hobby and a psychopathological manifestation? Was it not true that there were many examples of absurd passions that lead, under the heading of normality, to manifestations of abnormality? Didn’t everyone know somebody who threw a television set out the window during a soccer game? Weren’t there cases where some retired old man living on his pension committed suicide after losing a game of backgammon? As long as her husband still managed to fulfill his duties at work and live according to the social conventions of family life, Elena would do well to be patient. Ultimately, she should not forget that she took Emil Popescu as her husband for better or worse. She could be certain that, once declared mentally insane but as long as his delirious state did not present a danger to society, the care of the architect would still fall to the hands of the family. She shouldn’t rush with the divorce; she should wait a while; after all, they had already accomplished so much together, and besides, you couldn’t abandon a man like a dog. Other husbands were far worse; they cheated on their wives, drank, practiced sexual perversions; how many women didn’t wish that their good-for-nothing husbands would sit down after dinner and play the . . . well, play something. Before the wisdom of these professional prescriptions, which found their echo in those of the family, the poor woman resigned herself to resume her waiting. It was very difficult. The architect was not the same man, nothing relating to her or to their home interested him anymore. She tried for a time to sleep next to him on the bed and even intended to show tenderness, but not only did he lack any amorous desires, he was not even conscious that such things existed. In time, he was losing the most elementary human notions. Each morning, for instance, he had to be reminded to shave.

    Telente now made it a point to walk by the cream-colored Dacia every day. Before heading for trolley Number 95, which he took to get to the city’s center, from where, in order to get to work, he took Number 88, he would listen for a few minutes to some of the architect’s musical phrases. He quickly realized that the architect did not repeat the same scale incessantly but that he built tiny melodies based on it, uncontrovertibly proving that a technical evolution was actually taking place. His fingers, at first wobbling and awkward, became agile and supple, while their tips became firm as ivory. Still, the melodies had no rhythm, flowing on in whole notes only, or even in double notes, in drawn-out litanies. The adept fiddler of devilish tunes, of the Gypsy glissando and tremolo strains of the cabaret, could not swallow what Emil Popescu was producing. He retained, however, a fragment that seemed to him more melodious and accomplished than the rest, and, after closing time, played it as a curiosity for the Professor. This time the saxophone player pricked up his ears, because the melody seemed to him unbearably familiar. No, it was no longer a question of coincidence. Once every thousand years, someone, pressing the keys at random, might reproduce a musical scale composed of ten sounds, but this time it was different. Back inside his basement hole, the preoccupied Professor reviewed his notes from the conservatory regarding archaic music. He tried again a few times on his saxophone (his great frustration was the lack of an upright piano, for which, in any case, there was no room) those few phrases of melody which, played on that barbaric and yet refined instrument, sounded novel and penetrating. Invigorated, he noted in his journal that “the same maniac” succeeded in the bizarre performance of reinventing, note by note, through God knows what parapsychological intuition, the score of the single Orphic hymn that managed to survive from Greek antiquity. It must be, further wrote the Professor, something similar to “speaking in tongues” or those visions men have about cities they had never visited. The very next day, he asked Telente to introduce him to the automobile organist.

    The meeting between the Professor and Emil Popescu is historical. It cannot be overestimated what role the young saxophonist played in popularizing the gigantic oeuvre and personality of the architect. From the very first notes emitted by the organ, to which he listened while sitting in the passenger seat of the automobile where he had been amiably invited, the Professor intuited what was in fact taking place: After playing the Orphic hymn a couple more times, the organist moved unexpectedly to something else. It was a new scale in his repertoire, but a scale that was thousands of years old and might have been sung on the shores of Asia Minor. After playing this minor scale a few times, Emil Popescu began improvising on its foundation. The Professor asked him a few questions and realized from the answers that the architect had no idea that he was making music. Transported, he did not cease with his theories about the diverse aspects of the man-machine communication through the sound of the horn. What he did was no more than a modulated form of horn sounding, dictated to him by his intimate relationship with the automobile. More than that you couldn’t get out of him. While he paid no attention whatsoever to the Professor’s attempts to speak to him about scales and melodies, his fingers contoured in the summer air a paean devoted to Apollo, in which the saxophone player recognized a composition by Onesicrates. Only toward evening did he manage to tear himself away. From that moment on, the Professor showed up every day to listen to the fantastic creations of the organist. At night, when he was not under attack by the sensual and enrapturing Iolanda, the young man read and reread his manuals of musical history, marking with a check the stage the architect had reached, attempting even to foresee the steps he would take next. Because, exhausting one after the other the successive stages of antiquity, one afternoon Emil Popescu took the saxophone player by surprise with the first sounds of a Gregorian cantus planus in a swell of unmistakable majesty. About that time, the neighbors began to take renewed interest in their eccentric cotenant. The old ladies in particular were positively impressed: This “church music,” although different from the one they knew, had a pleasing effect on them. For two weeks now, you could spot a group of grandmothers dozing off on their kitchen chairs next to the architect’s Dacia.

    For the Professor, all doubts were now gone. He also abandoned his job, left everything behind, even Iolanda, in order to be constantly with the architect. His journal, which until then contained no more than weekly notes about the books he read and impressions of concerts, in addition to a few details about his amorous affairs, now grew to roman-fleuve proportions. Everything was in there, in a jumble of crooked text and musical staves, marking the unlikely explosions of spirit through which Emil Popescu managed to cross from one juncture to the next, from one mental state to the next, from one set of conventions to the next, duplicating, rediscovering step by step the history of music. Of this the architect himself had no understanding. In a hopelessly entangled confusion, his scales and exercises of harmony and counterpoint concatenated late into the night air behind the apartment building, glistening here for ten minutes in a diamondlike limpid melody, plunging again there in pursuits and moody preoccupations. The seasons changed, admixing their colors, projecting their clouds over the shifting skies, but each twilight and each star-rise found the two men behind the windshield of the Dacia 1300, which was now filthy with dust to the utmost degree. Fortunately, the Professor took care to charge up the battery from time to time and to pass the sponge over the cream-colored sheet metal, to protect it from disappearing into rust. The children playing behind the apartment building made sure to puncture holes in all four tires of the automobile.

    From time to time, Elena came by as well, sitting behind them in the back seat, not so much to listen to the sophisticated melodies of her husband—at this point, he was proceeding through the contrapuntal fury of Dunstable, Palestrina, Dufay, Ockegem, Josquin des Pres, and more particularly Orlando di Lasso, overlapping nearly alchemical chords—but because the deeply romantic aspect of the young saxophone player, why shouldn’t we say it, began to attract her.



    p. 308-16

    He [Emil Popescu] had changed much during the few years since the fatal sounding of the stray horn of his Dacia. He had become enormously obese; though he ate nearly nothing, the skin of his face extended over his cheeks, while the eyes, coming closer and closer together, acquired a fixed look, paying attention to nothing in this world. A spider web of sparse beard strands, unusually long, twisted on his cheeks. But it was his hands that surpassed even the pathological, crossing the border into teratology. His fingers, over thirty centimeters in length, spread out like a fan comprising the entire keyboard. Thick crisscrossing ropes of muscles hoisted the phalanges, contracting and relaxing at an incredible velocity. The tips of his fingers sped like nervous mosquito legs across the cold keys. With these monstrous hands, Emil Popescu performed entire concerts by Beethoven and Tchaikovsky in a state of constant hallucination, reinventing them without ever having heard them before. Whenever he stopped playing, his fingers, which now reached down to his knees, gave him unbearable pain, so that after only two years the architect left his job, remaining practically unfettered by any ties with customary social life. He now played without interruption, day and night. Short notices about the Romanian organist began to appear in the curiosity columns of all the great newspapers and magazines. Reporters from the New York Herald-Tribune, Life, Strange and Astonishing Stories, Paris Match, and Penthouse were now teeming behind the Berceni apartment building, flashing their sophisticated cameras, recording entire video and audio cassettes with the enchanting music of the architect and his incoherent muttering. The Professor hovered around them, “translating” the words of the organist and, at the beginning of spring, published simultaneously in Paris and London the notes he had scribbled in his journals under the title Un Genie aux Portes de l’Orient, or A Man of Genius at the Gates of the Orient. The unimaginable success of these publications among the ranks of musicians as well as those of laymen, followed immediately by others in various other tongues, hoisted Emil Popescu to the status of the “man of the hour” in the entire world.

    In the years that followed, the saxophone player, now married to Elena, traveled the world, untiringly holding one conference after another. Elena raised the child alone. Emil Popescu became the best-known Romanian artist on earth, and a Japanese firm presented him with a magnificent Mishiba synthesizer in order to open up new possibilities of expression. After a journey via airplanes and various trucks, the gigantic instrument, measuring eleven meters in length and two in height, finally reached its destination behind the apartment building. A few tenants had to give up their parking spaces, and the carpet-beater rack had to be repositioned a few meters away. A special construction, of transparent plexiglas, protected the contraption from the ravages of weather. The two Japanese specialists who had accompanied it mounted the entire installation and attempted to persuade the architect to move under the plexiglas roof. It was impossible, however, to remove him from the car. The automobile’s cream-colored body was, for Emil Popescu, just as important as the music itself. Ingenious as usual, the Japanese resorted to the only possible solution. They shifted the architect to the back seat, removed the front seat and the old keyboard of the Reghin organ, and in a few days installed the immense apparatus in its place. It was a dizzy tangle of screens, potentiometers, monitors with electronic displays, with eight extra rows of special keys, so that you could almost believe you found yourself before the controls of a spaceship. The two little men, after activating the synthesizer, attempted to enter into conversation with the celebrated musician. Their surprise and relief were indeed great when they saw that the architect handled the electronic apparatus, pressed the buttons, and adjusted the frequencies as if he had spent his whole life handling such things. From the initial pressing of the keys a striking purity and richness of sound that shamed the primitive squeak of the Reghin blasted out into the regions of air: The successive waves, soaring upward at first, then withheld like a gigantic anguish, of Ravel’s La Valse.

    The great Mishiba could reconstruct any sound, natural or artificial. For a few years, Emil Popescu did nothing but explore incessantly the fantastic possibilities of the synthesizer. From time to time, among the most faithful renderings of natural sounds—like the rustling of dry leaves, warbles of blackbirds, the gushing of river springs, inflections of feminine voices of a sweetness that dissolved one into nothingness, the turbulence of landings and takeoffs, the babbling of dolphins—the saxophone player, inasmuch as he still tarried around the Dacia behind the apartment building, had the opportunity to feverishly note pieces of a disturbing orchestration. One could hear, with a pure and simple clarity of timbre impossible to obtain in a natural manner, flutes and violas, horns and bassoons, triangles and tympani, weaving their melodic lines into filigreed melodies or glistening dissonances. The architect’s paws, with tens of articulations of the fingers, sped across the hundreds of keys, adjusted the thousands of concurrent frequencies, programmed simultaneously entire orchestras. The modest speakers of the Reghin organ had been replaced by a globe of special wire, with a diameter longer than three meters and capable of emitting a quadraphonic sound with a directed multiple echo. Along with the minor disadvantage of the demolition of the apartment building — the tenants had been forced out due to the pronounced state of stress — came a great advantage: Most of Bucharest found itself permanently under the umbrella of sounds emitted by the architect. The ground of the now leveled apartment building was surrounded by a wall of concrete and wood. The serial music of Schoenberg and Webern agreed with the pine trees planted around its circumference, so that their needled branches soon began to distend, angling over the rusty Dacia and surrounding with coffee-colored needles the Plexiglas block where the enormous belly of the synthesizer player slept, next to the two Japanese specialists, who by now had begun to lose their hair. Day and night, the music bellowed and rumbled, vibrated and warbled, monopolizing the surroundings.

    The saxophone player and his Elena occupied the metal and glass villa which had been built on the foundations of the previous apartment building. They lived in peace, surrounded by the powerful smell of ozone. They began to realize they were getting old when their boy got married. The Professor was regarded as a brilliant impresario, but after a while no one seemed to have any need of his services. He was still invited to conventions as an honorary president, but the only thing that was demanded of him was to tell and retell the circumstances of his meeting with Emil Popescu, whose popularity did not appear to follow any fashion or trend, but grew ceaselessly in an exponential manner. Listeners of all generations demanded the same music, something that was sociologically inexplicable and unheard of until then. Three quarters of all cable television and videocassette markets were dedicated to the concerts of Emil Popescu.

    The crucial moment of the inauguration of the architect’s melocracy came and went unnoticed by public opinion. It took place one evening when the saxophone player, returning from a conference at the new Athenaeum, found Elena, now portly and gray, listening in a trance to the music of her ex-husband. Their old agreement required that they didn’t speak about him and that he was accorded no more attention than that demanded by legal obligation. Ever since she stopped feeding him, Elena seemed to have forgotten about him completely. But now on the veranda, she was listening in ecstasy to the desperate screams of electronically simulated guitars. The Professor went into a rage. He was moved by the music as well, but this time he paid no attention to its bewitching charm. In a moment of lucidity, he saw himself: a little old man who had earned his existence like a circus master, exposing a monster of nightmares to the public curiosity. He was abruptly overwhelmed by an intense hatred for him who, a few steps off out into the night, psychically ravished his wife and reconquered her love through the power of music. He left Elena and headed for the kitchen. He grabbed a glistening loin chopper, the kind used to portion slabs of meat, and rushed toward the contours of the outmoded Dacia, flickering pallidly in the dark. The Professor glared at the sheet-metal of the body, literally eaten away by rust, the crooked rims of the erstwhile wheels, the windows without windshields. But inside, where the dashboard once was, thousands of green and blue lights glittered fantastically. They blinked rhythmically off and on, exercising a hypnotic effect upon the saxophone player. He approached the car and peered inside.


    The architect was there. His deformed, naked, and whitish body weighed at least four hundred kilograms; it had long burst out of its clothes and literally filled, the way the snail fills up its shell, the entire back of the car, even overflowing a little out of the windows. His head had joined his torso, his features, like finely traced lines, could barely be spotted on his fleshy face, while his eyes fused into a single eye that perused in one glance the entire complicated machinery of the command counter of the synthesizer. His elbows and his upper arms had been reabsorbed into his ribs, so that two bouquets of fingers issued directly out of his torso, each comprising an assemblage of complexly articulated twiglike filaments, which pressed incessantly on the mother-of-pearl keys. The Professor felt like vomiting, overtaken by a shiver of sacred horror before this unhumanlike being. In order to force himself not to retreat, he turned off the headlights and headed for the front door. As he pulled on it, it came off its rotted hinges and fell on the grass like a crooked splinter from a shell. He grabbed firmly the bundle of fingers and began to hack at them furiously. Blood and bits of fingers dribbled on the greasy flesh of Emil Popescu, but he appeared not to react in any way. The remaining bundle of fingers continued imperturbably to crepitate upon the keys. A weighty reek, like a room where a woman gives birth, emanated from underneath the needled branches. When the last finger fell, throbbing on the striated tire at the feet of the architect, the saxophone player—his hatchet glittering under the powder of tiny stars—circled around the front of the automobile remains, through which the darkened engine could be partially spotted, and clasped tight in his fist the stub from which the other bundle of fingers shot out. But this time, at the very instant he was about to strike with all of his power, something astonishing occurred. Abruptly, the fingers trembled delicately over the stacking keyboard’s layers, like the trepidation of the phylloxera’s antennae and, out of the great sphere of metallic mesh, a few overwhelming chords dispersed into the air. It was no longer Alban Berg, and nor was it Orff, Duke Ellington, or even Pink Floyd. It was nothing that had ever been heard, nothing the human mind could conceive that could ever be heard. The saxophone player froze and listened. It was a form of music not to be listened to with one’s ears, but with the whole of the skin at once, a form of music that filled the canals of the veins with echoes and turned the bone structure to resonance. Like a dose of mescaline reaching the brain, the gates of the soul, or a sweet spider injecting the dissolving enzymes into the victim’s flesh, that music substituted itself for the soul and, like a perfidious homunculus, took over the reins of the body in its firm hands. Then, like a sequence of azure peristaltic waves, the music leaked down to the jugulars, invaded the lymphatic canals, irrigated the fusiform packets of the muscles, appropriated, along the length of the spinal nerves, the internal organs, the hexagonal cells of the liver, the heart with its electrical embryos, the suprarenal and the great precincts of the urinal bladder, descended into the calves like a mist of twilight, and sped along the femur, tibia, and fibula to the tips of the toes, replacing with a musical tangle every cell, each mitochondrion, each crumb of nucleic acid. Overwhelmed, seized by the sensation that the world was coming apart, which, it is said, may be known only by those experiencing a heart attack, the saxophone player tumbled down on the grass next to the car door. He had the impression that the great transparent leaf of the sky in which the stars were encrusted was distorting itself, that it advanced toward him, that it molded to his body and wrapped itself tight around it like a multihued shroud. He lost consciousness.


    When he awoke, it was already light, but the Dacia’s palpitating shadow on the grass protected him from the sun’s melted disk. He was covered with blood. The stub from which he had chopped off those gigantic fingers had already scarred, and the likeness of tiny fingernails began to bud in their place. The Professor began to weep painfully, choking and sobbing. He felt himself capable of nothing anymore. The world seemed to him an inferno of ash, impossible to tolerate. He longed from the bottom of his entrails for those chords he had heard the night before. For about eight hours he suffered horribly. He felt sick, in his body and in his soul. A paranoid delirium grew under his skull, and he grabbed the meat cleaver again, determined this time to kill the architect for real. But the same ecstatic music threw him again to the ground.

    He understood that the architect emitted those dolorously melodious sounds like a poisoned secretion against any aggression. It was enough only to pretend to strike him in order to hear once more the music he could no longer live without. The stronger the aggression, the stronger the music’s power to take possession. Year after year, practically until the end of his life, the saxophone player viciously profited from this discovery. In order to enhance the effect of the music, he attempted, in succession, to asphyxiate, set on fire, boil, dynamite, electrocute, and irradiate the architect. Each time the melodic line shifted, the sonorous and the extrasonorous volutes swiveled in new ways, in compositions more powerful and penetrating than anything that had ever been realized by any other composer. In those moments, the architect no longer imitated any styles and modalities already in existence, but became a superartist and superinterpreter. Over the decades, the entire mentality of humanity transmuted under the overwhelming influence of the architect. There were no more conflicts, because the only concern of every single human being was to listen day and night to the uninterrupted recital. The only thing anyone ever wrote was about the architect: entire newspapers about the architect, books about the architect. The only paintings ever painted were official portraits of the architect, and every poem was a hymn of glory devoted to the architect. People worked only to insure minimal means of sustenance and for the maintenance of the vast network of satellites continuously rebroadcasting the architect’s music. Humans loved one another to the music of the architect, and when they were buried, they shared the same funeral music.

    The two Japanese men who took care of the great Mishiba entered the realm of legend, and after their death two others followed; they took on the names of the former. Thus, in the course of the centuries, an entire dynasty of Japanese men came by turns to the tiny oasis under the pine-needle branches. Pilgrims from all over the world came to listen to the sacred music directly from the original source. Thousands of attempts on the architect’s life were organized in order to incite the defensive reaction, that music which was hundreds of times more profound than the ordinary. The hunger for music became monstrous; it obsessed the minds of men to such a degree that, in a moment of collective madness, they determined, out of an irrepressible desire to dissolve into harmony, to exterminate the architect by means of thermonuclear rockets. The moment when the finger of the man in uniform approached the button that would unleash the few thousands of nuclear strikes, the music blasted like flamethrowers from all reception apparatuses, in concatenations of tonalities and unbearable frequencies. The majority of humans were carbonized, while the survivors became no more than accessories to the architect. Their lives were preserved by music alone. Blood circulation, the movement of thought, the digestion of food, were supported artificially by the melodic weave issuing from under the fingers of the architect. With those few million survivors acting in synchronicity like termites, the architect built a new synthesizer of unconceivable complexity, unfolding over a quarter of the planet. The monster himself grew. The body of the Dacia remained encrusted on his whitish spinal chord like a minuscule shell. His body occupied a vast surface, while his fingers, infinitely ramified, extended from his two forearms and circled all around him like a spider web. At the first touch of the billion terminal keys, the last humans turned to powder. This was no longer music—or perhaps it was the music which the Pythagoreans spoke about. No human ear was capable of hearing it, because it was no longer made up of sounds, nor of matter, but penetrated the cosmic pulsations, weaving itself into them and forcing them to transmute. Throughout millions of years, the architect modulated his melodies so that they caused the acceleration of the fusion process at the core of the stars, producing the surrounding matter, provoking the explosion of stars having now reached critical mass, forming the marvelous supernovae that shriveled the tinier stars until they became white dwarfs, pulsars, or desperate black holes through which matter disappeared into another universe. It was supernatural to be able to view how the billions of yellow stars and those glittering white or bluish crowded into the spidery levels, spinners of the galaxies. Most were double or even multiple systems, like the Pleiades or the Hyades; some, like Regulus, Syrius, Rigel, and Arcturus, were a few times larger than the Sun; and others, of a positive magnitude of +14 and beyond, glittered and throbbed, coagulated and exploded, receiving instantaneously the rhythmical waves from the new synthesizer. After four billion years, the sun began to dilate, comprising at first the orbit of Mercury, followed by Venus, overflowing like dough the vicinity of the Earth. The Earth, however, was no longer visible, being enclosed in its entirety in the organic mass of the architect; it was of spherical form, of solar dimensions, with two plethoric arms endowed with filaments like the arms of a medusa. The great synthesizer was now an internal element of the immense body. The moment the Sun exploded, hurling into space volatile, etherlike matter in the form of purple and violet flames, scintillating in millions of fringes, the architect began his leisurely migration toward the center of the galaxy.

    The universe was aging; it wrinkled like a fig, its matter crumbling like rot. Even interstellar space, otherwise flexible and vaporous, brimming with methane clouds and strands of golden dust, became rigid and tough. Through it the architect now advanced, like an ever-expanding nebula, swallowing whole constellations, fluttering in the motion of electromagnetic fields, but permanently emitting, like a great wish, his own rhythms, fresh and imperative. When he reached the center, his arms, twisted in a spiral, filled the entire space of the erstwhile galaxy. The matter of his body and his arms, having reached in the course of the migration an extreme state of rarefaction, condensed itself during a period of incommensurable time, lost its consistency, and became star crumbs, which ignited suddenly in the darkened and empty universe. A young galaxy revolved now, throbbing, pulsating in place of the old one.





    p. 270-1 (“REM”)

    When we got tired of all that playing around the pyre, we constituted ourselves into the Great Tribunal. It was headed, of course, by Carnation, the orange queen, and we, the others, were her aides, judges, and executioners. It was the puppet who was to appear before us. Because the tiny doll couldn’t be found, I myself picked up Zizi from one of the benches and offered her as the accused. The game had bewitched and entranced me, and in any case, I was so dizzy and oppressed by an evil feeling inside that I didn’t realize my vile deed till the next day. But then I cried in vain. With her hands twisted behind her and tied together with a piece of thread, Zizi stood before us, supported by the wall behind her. We scowled at her and flicked our claws to scratch her. Sullenly, Carnation ordered us to utter our accusations. For every accusation, the fire would shoot out violently while Zizi looked as though she recoiled, her hair standing on end. The first one to step forward and make an accusation was Whale, who pointed with her finger at Zizi and shouted: “You are small, you are a freak, you don’t deserve to live anymore.” Ada spoke with a silky and perfidious voice: “You can’t read, you can’t write, you can’t count. You barely know your name. Death to you!” Carmina leered: “You’re filled with sawdust and wool. Shame on you! Let’s finish her off, once and for all!” Puia whispered from where she stood, lost in that same cold dream from which she never awakened: “You are ugly. You are a sloppy dresser. Who would ever marry you? No, doll, it’s better like this . . .” Carnation flung ruthlessly over her shoulder: “You are so stupid you would set your own clothes on fire. You’d better write your last will and testament, you’re history.” I murmured: “That’s what they want, Zizi. I don’t matter now. Don’t ruin our game, Zizi. For us it’s only a game, and you’re too small and limp to understand.” Ester, with her voice that always seemed to be asking a question, nasalizing entrancingly, added her own straws to the fire: “You have no life, that’s why you have to die. You don’t exist, that’s why you have to disappear.” Zizi’s fate was sealed; there was no escape. Carnation uttered the sentence: “The Black Tribunal sentences her to die by hanging and by burning on the pyre.” We rushed to carry out the sentence, because we were afraid that Zizi, who was still dumbfounded and hadn’t yet had a chance to comprehend her miserable situation, would start to sob, which might cause us to have a change of heart. We found two boards that had been glued together at a right angle, which we thrust into the cracked floorboard of the classroom. We got the rope from the string at the back of a poster showcasing the rape plant. In a silence in which you could only hear the crackle of the flames, we stripped Zizi of all her clothes—which I had sewn myself with so much dedication—and we threw them, one by one, into the fire. Her little dress rose instantly to the ceiling, like a butterfly of flames and ashes. Naked, Zizi looked pitiful: It was an amorphous body of rag with a badly sewn plaster head on top. She was dirty and gray.



    - from Born in Utopia: An Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Romanian Poetry; p. 270 (Mircea Cărtărescu):

    LITTLE ELEGY

    Love me, ‘cause I Iove you too,
    care for me, ‘cause I care for you,
    the sun’s yellow, the sky blue, the clouds pale turquoise,
    so, dear, let’s enjoy this life

    “. . . till the silver cord be loosed,
    or the golden bowl be broken . . .”

    the fields are green, the roads are deep in dust
    the hills are golden, the brick viaducts breathe,
    you’re a sweet girl at a vacation’s end
    your mother, she’s an honest woman.

    try to treat me gently, don’t torture me,
    don’t give free rein to the aggressiveness in you;
    keep thoughts of marriage on a tight leash, just let things flow,
    and when you make love, don’t believe you’re making love.

    I’m fed up with love affairs fraught with tantrums —
    you must have have had experiences like this too: biting the pillow, hour after hour of
    tennis only to make yourself forget
    phone calls when you’re trembling as if plugged in the hell with
    those days, the hell with “my soulmate,” “my doll-baby”

    love me, ‘cause I love you too,
    care for me, ‘cause I care for you,
    so what if now we’re short of money, let’s enjoy the pleasure
    of love, let’s hurry up and live

    “. . . till the silver cord be loosed,
    or the golden bowl be broken . . .”



    —translated by Adam J. Sorkin and Mirela Surdulescu
    Last edited by HERO; 06-02-2015 at 08:10 PM.

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