27 On the subject of art and history
Christine turned out to have a licentious character. I cannot blame her. If anything, I would applaud her. Rightabout her husband's thoughts; he quietly complies and lives with the knowledge that his wife leads a jocund life, collecting lovers.
I do appreciate the man's writings; the lack of affection his wife displays towards him does not dissuade him from sending her sonnets of love. Be as it may, I must confess that the world has a great writer in Fernandino; he is an outstanding craftsman of words, a man who can bend language to his will. Whether he writes of Christine or subjects of inanimate nature; his mind is sharp and his words are sensitive, firm, and sure. They are at least far better than the nonsensical poems of Basir.
"He doesn't love me. He loves sonnets," Christine says one evening in response to her admirer's jealous comments. "You have nothing to worry about, my dear, there is no affection between my husband and me."
The balcony doors are opened and the curtains dance in the late spring breeze. The clouds overhead remind me of the sheep that used to pass by me when I was a silent resident upon my hill. Both women are sitting upon a bench perched in the middle of the terrace, offering an astonishing view of the south cantons of Florence to whoever wishes for it. Before them stands a painting, depicting the duchess.
The works I see come to life by Christine' lover are praiseworthy. The painter has Christine as her patroness in her studies and goes by the name of Angela Traian. My mind and heart leaped the first time I heard that name. Dear artist, you don't resemble her in the slightest, but hearing her name again brings me such happiness, such delight that I barely dare to breathe.
"Ideas about beauty and expression - in reality, artists rarely talk about it. While, on the other hand, it is exactly what spectators usually worry about," the young woman says to Christine as they discuss her latest work, "the reason is, partly, that artists like me are shy to use words like 'beauty'. We would find it far more acceptable to speak about 'expressing one's feelings' or similar phrasings."
"Still, I think it is a beautiful painting," Christine says, rising. She picks up one of the thin pencils by the stand and squeezes her eyes, studying her pictorial on the canvas. In my modest opinion, Angela did her justice. The blond hair in the painting depicts the lavish way her hair curls around her frame; it almost depicts the spring in her step when she walks, and the tone of her laugh when throwing her head back. In all honesty, until now - I had never believed that a mere picture could capture a person in all their delight.
"What are you doing, Madame? My piece!"
"I'm fixing it." Christine doesn't let her lover persuade her and bids her to sit down again with a soft smile.
The artist sighs, leans back, throws her feet over the side and says; "why would you want to paint anyway?"
"I enjoy it, I suppose."
"But,- you don't need to paint."
"Yet I wish to do so."
"You have everything you want already."
"Yes! Look around us, if only my apartment by the Arno was this magnificent."
"It's a cage, sweetheart. A nice one, but a cage nonetheless. Drawing calms me, painting fills me with rapture. I get lost in it..."
"Did you like the one I had brought over at the beginning of the week?"
"I did. It now hangs in the salon on the first floor, we shall visit it later on."
"Why is it that you ask me to depict these historical events?"
"Perhaps I simply wish to see life as it was."
"What is it to you?"
"It sets aflame my dreams of long-forgotten societies. Do you not get that certain sensation when entering a long lost ruin? Doesn't emotion fill you when you touch the ruins of Coddu Vecchio, and suddenly you find that centuries are bridged? Don't you get a quit rapture in your chest, imagining people, walking those paths hundreds of years before you? As I experience such feelings, I may sense it as an attachment, desperation to see it for what it was, a bitterness to know that I shall never be able to do so. Or perhaps, ambivalence, a drive to competence, anxiety, spaciness, or simply as a pressure in my body that I need to discharge."
"Aren't you romanticising things?"
"Am I? Do you not feel it? That saddens me, for it is such rapture. In this kind of situation, a visit to a lonesome and forgotten place will eventually appear monumental as form."
"I do enjoy hearing you talk about it, so don't let me stop you." She bids the noblewoman to come hither. Christine lets the painting for what it is and sets herself down next to her. Who, enjoying their proximity, lays her legs in the other' lap.
"I imagine melodrama. I rethink the sensing of history, and of the historic. When entering an old monument, the very air around you feels ancient and your intuitions feels off: a sensation that could impel me to recast the impact of gestures, noticings, impulses, moments. Inviting me to reimagine the past."
"It seems compelling. But is most of what you wish me to paint not mere tales and myths? What do we really know of history?"
"Nothing. It is not an exact science."
"Once, I was told by - I do not remember her name - that it is the collective memory of humankind."
"Isn't there a distinction between memory and history? I imagine there is. Because of the historiography, direct memory, originally a matter of the obvious and the spontaneous, has changed into an indirect construction; something that is considered and initiated. Years ago, I heard one of the theoreticians of Paris wonder whether true, authentic memory still exists."
"Were you allowed in the university?" The artist asks.
"Of course not. I snuck in. - Now, tension may exist between individual and collective memory. The collective memory can never include all individual memories. Generalization and selection take place in its formation: groups are always excluded. They do not find their specific story in the dominant discourse."
"So, it may happen that personal memories do not rhyme with collective memory?"
"Perhaps. It may happen."
Next to me on the dressing table is a collection of jewellery, opposite a grand bookcase with books about unexpected subjects, about history and the art of forging gold and even about the adventures of the sexual organs, because no aspect of human existence may remain unexposed, Christine advocates, even though it is a taboo.
A bit further away from me is a device that I first consider a musical instrument. It is a tinkling percussion that systematically makes itself heard without anyone playing it. But at a certain moment, I understand the usefulness of this musical tormentor. Christine's very young servant asks about it, and she says;
"He ticks away the moments that are irrevocably over." And calls it: "a clock."
With the sounds of the 'clock' instrument she keeps me from my sleep, but I behave like a tolerant old fool, and I give the youth her boasting.
Both Christine and Angela are full-fledged scholars, hungry for knowledge. Often after their romantic exploits, they come up with a topic that can be discussed. One night I hear Christine say: "We like to compare life with a journey, and our thinking with a compass that helps us not to get lost. But, what do we do with time? He's playing a strange game with us, isn't he. I wonder every moment of my life: is the world in which we wander eternal or not?"
In response, Angela reclines, puts her hands behind her head and continues the discussion. Yet I am thrown off by the topic at hand, and no longer pay attention.
Am I eternal? Perhaps? No- no, I am not, and I will not wish for it. What if I am? No, I don't wish to be. I wish to be free of this wooden prison, with its gold and embellishments, with its dust and ash and polished edges.
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Yet do I want this to end? Yes. But do I wish for it to end now? Perhaps. If I were given the conundrum of either vanishing this very moment or living forever- I would certainly choose evanesce.
It frightens me, Mia, it frightens me,- oh, how it dismays me. Have I the right to hope it will become better than this? How many more years need to pass by me? Disconsolateness, anger, and violent hopelessness - I claim to be apathetic, detached from physical and emotional experiences, and uncaring of the people that I meet - yet I'm only fooling myself.
My mind itself; I'm treating it all like it's already forfeited. Perhaps I am simply broken. I beset myself with grief and self-pity. Should I refuse myself any hope? Experience has taught me it is better that way. Less painful, perhaps.
It's easier to distance myself from them, these children. This way I can convince myself that I'm lonely out of my own accord. It's easier than conceiving I'm alone because I'm unheard or even insignificant to the very people in this room, in this palace, or even in this outstretched world.