THE STATE OF NORMALITY
By DOINA HORODNICEANU
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© 2002 Doina Horodniceanu
It’s still Monday and it’s not over yet. I light another cigarette (I smoke a lot, don’t I?); I open the hidden bar in the wall and pour a glass of Chivas. It’s five thirty; the sunset is raining over the city. I pick up the phone, call the station and make arrangements for the miners to be taken back where they belong as soon as possible. Then I go back to the files on my desk.
Here is Victor. Well, this one was better. Self made painter. Full of talent. Full of money and success, after the President's portrait. That was a real good idea.
I remember when Marta took me there, the first time...
The darkness was deep. The stairs shook like hell. Marta was counting in a loud voice.
"Watch out, the twenty-seventh is missing."
Victor, he wasn’t busy anymore! He wasn’t involved in any politics, either governmental or for the Artist’s Union. To him, politics meant only another reason for contemplation or ethics considerations. He was painting and this was his only interest. He wanted to get rid of the embarrassment of his youthful mistakes. He had a few hobbies à la Victor Brauner, and a terrific love for cats. I don’t know where this last passion came from and the intransigence of a psychological explanation regarding the weakness for the feline reign I think is useless to try. He was gathering under his roof round or skinny cats, males and females, aristocratic or not with a generosity lacking any hostility for the human kingdom. His time wasn’t divided between major social worries or responsibilities for a family with kids.
We descended into the stink of cats. In the studio the stench was so strong one could barely smell the ashtrays that littered the place. I kicked a bottle of Vodka across the room. Marta searched for Victor among the oil paintings. On the table were dried pieces of bread and feta cheese. Next to them was a broken onion. The sun couldn't find its way through the window that dirt has claimed first. Separated parts of broken, painted dolls, were scattered all over the place.
"Victor, it's noon! Wake up! I have a surprise for you… I brought someone! Victor!"
Sheets shifted from behind a palette near some stacked canvases and Victor propped himself up on an elbow, his hair matted down on the left side. He would never greet people. He didn’t see the reason for these “conventional habits.” Once I told him that in England son and father would shake their hands every morning, the first one calling his father ‘Sir’. Victor found this very funny: ”Can you imagine how much they drink early in the morning if they need to introduce themselves every day?” The idea of subtle formalism didn’t convince him. Making an acrobatic connection he said: “You see this is why they lost India. Because of their formalism.”
So I waited for him to completely wake up.
"A pretty bad mood, yes? Up a little late last night, yes? Do you see my cigarettes?"
"Ugh, Victor." She found them on the table,
"Here. Come on, get up, and let’s go out.” Marta opened a window. Victor gave her a bad look:
”What are you doing? Close it back! The flies will come in.”
“I told you I can't stand this smell. You are going to die here in all this mess."
Victor lit up. "Not to worry, I'm not that lucky."
He passed me the pack.
"Do you want one?"
"No thanks, I have my own."
I looked at Victor's latest canvas; the colors were still drying. I looked closer; there were a few cat hairs stuck just to the left of the main figure of a...
Victor sat up on his mattress and located a pair of trousers crumpled beneath the palette. He balanced his cigarette on a fold of his pillow as he pulled them on.
"Listen, do any of you, know someone who has a print or a picture or anything like that of a French ship?"
"Ha! What in the world would you need that for?"
"Ah, this idiot I met in the bar last night. He wants me to paint a French ship with Turks on board. Can you believe that?"
"So, now what? You're not going to paint this stupid thing, are you?"
"I guess, yes; I'm going to. This guy, you know, all he wants is a painting of this ship. Must be some kind of a nautical buff. He had this gray suit on, you know, short hair cut. He paid for the drinks and gave me a hundred bucks up front."
"It could be a trap", said Marta.
"What kind of a trap?! I don't see anything wrong - except the stupidity - in a French ship with Turks on board. I'll make the damn picture for him. I don't care. But I need a model or something. This lunatic, he'll probably hang it in some fancy office. Stupid."
"He is right, I don't think it's a trap, either. But here is another offer. This is why I asked Marta to bring me here today. I wanted to talk to you. Two days ago I met this guy, and he asked me if I know a very good painter. I mentioned you and he said he has something really big, but he wants to talk to you first and see your work. He said if we are interested we should meet him tonight, after nine o'clock at the Ambassador Bar. What do you think?"
"Hmm, I'll sleep on it, we'll see. Let's go out and eat something. I still have some money left from last night."
"OK, we'll join you. But I'll take a coffee. I'm not hungry. I slept over at Grandma's", said Marta.
"And I can use a Vodka."
We needed to concentrate and gain some courage to cut through the traffic. If we were not careful enough, we might have been hit by cars speeding from both directions. Entering the little cafe, a curtain of smoke hid familiar faces. Fat spiders hung on the walls; the beer glasses were full of dust and tears; big roaches climbed on boots, and bats sang in old violins. On chairs and on couches sat bony men and one of them spat alcohol with blood. Rats slept in bottles while flies died in the coffee cups and mouths without teeth recited poems. All kinds of smells and smoke floated in the room. Tobacco was hidden in pipes and more often between teeth. Sleeping cats lay on shelves between big bottles of Mastic and jars with old sorbets. On shining copper plates lay lazy baclavales. Chatting in front of a glass full of plum brandy sat the poet.
All this happened a long time after our first meeting at Portitza. Victor was the only one in the group who didn't accept me with a full heart. It was like he had his doubts all the time. I could feel it. It took me years to get to his studio. He told me about his work, his philosophy, and his studies. He explained to me the aqua forte and the printing techniques. Everything in a very accurate, simple, modest style, with a lot of precise observations. I don’t know if he was a genius or not, but everything he told me had common sense and measure.
To be Continued...
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