Dan Miron

Excerpt from

Novel, Ego. Prose series, Polirom, 2013, 416 pages

Copyright: Polirom

Translation rights sold to: All rights available

Excerpt from

I admit that nowadays it’s not exactly usual to receive letters from a stranger, a certain M., who claims to be in love with you, after having seen you in his childhood (or rather adolescence) on a poster with a reproduction of a painting by Austrian artist Gustav Klimt. It is frustrating not to be able to reply to him, not having either a name or address to go by, and it is just as annoying to realise that you are unable to resist such sui generis epistolary seduction. Cursed by the curiosity he is so skilled at arousing in you with nothing but crumbs, you let him goad you into opening the violet envelope, each time always the same (I don’t know whether it is a coincidence or whether violet holds some special significance for him), which you have begun to wait for with undisguised and irritating excitement, like a child waiting for a birthday present.

When I read the first letter, even though its lyricism seemed rather suspect to me (might he be making fun of me, taking me for a silly goose?), I reacted to it in a childish way. I immediately went to the large mirror that hangs in the hall and I looked at myself, in the manner you would study a painting: detached at first and then with increasing empathy, as if you wished to get behind the canvas, beneath the layer of pigments and the texture of the canvas, and at the same time to see everything with the painter’s eyes, to discover him hiding in some corner. Unfortunately, however hard I tried, all I could see was myself, or rather my vexed reflection; nowhere could I see him: M. I searched on the Internet for the famous portrait of Adela Bloch Bauer, the first in the series. I had once seen it in an album, without it ever entering my head that one fine day a mysterious stranger (might M. stand for monsieur?) would categorically claim that I resembled her, that I more than resembled her: I was the contemporary incarnation of the painter’s muse, with whom he had fallen head over heels in love. Whether with her or with me, it was unclear.

Do I look like Adele? Hmm, only vaguely. Even Cati, who is sitting in my lap, gives sceptical wave of her right paw. Obviously, I have brown hair and dark eyes, like Adele, but that is about all. They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and I know it from my own experience. You make a cut out of the other person’s face or body in a certain random posture or in the best light, and then you contemplate it, bewitched, all by yourself, in moments of reverie, or in your dreams, endlessly beautifying him with attractive details. What counts a great deal is the circumstances in which you saw him for the first time: the gentle light, the flattering angle, things that painters, photographers and cameramen are best at, or else mood, health, the season, the conjunction of the stars, or whatnot. The problem is whether the bewitchment continues after you get to know the other person better, if love withstands the test of time, and unless the magical glow proves ultimately to be cheap stage lighting or, contrariwise, a disturbing illumination.
And another thing intrigues me to the point of exasperation. Why, in his first letter, does he talk about Simonetta Vespucci, Sandro Botticelli’s muse? And after that why does he compare Simonetta with Adele? Hang on a moment: he told me already. Let me reread the letter. Ah, yes, he talks about the angelic woman and the femme fatale, as opposing incarnations of the feminine. It would be interesting to know in which category M. places me. Might he be a painter, a photographer, a writer, anyhow an artist, whose fluctuating, fitful imagination needs the patronage of a protective goddess and, for reasons obscure to me, despite his passionate confessions hitherto, might he have decided that I be the chosen one, his inspirational muse?

In his second letter, M. tells me the story of, as he puts it, a vendetta that took place more than half a century ago in a village in the Carpathians I am familiar with: Izvoarele. It is a dark story whose tangled threads link our families, which were related far back in time. He claims that his grandfather, Gheorghe, and Catrina, my grandfather Anghel’s sister, were in love during the turbulent period following the Second World War.
It is true that I had seen documentaries and read books about the partisans in the Carpathians who fought a vain battle against the communists in the years after the war, but I must say that I wasn’t convinced. Maybe those people were real heroes. I don’t know. In my opinion nobody is born hero. You become a hero, sometimes in strange, unbelievable circumstances. And then the tone of the confessions and the historical retrospectives sounded somehow false to me, encomiastic, as if the partisans were re enacting the classic battle between Good and Evil, calqued in reverse from the films and history books of the communist period; by means of a spectacular metamorphosis that took place after the revolution, the partisans went from being bandits to being the noblest possible characters, while the heroes of the communist period, the militiamen and secret police, now played the rôle of bloodthirsty beasts and villains. What was missing, I believed, in my naivety as a mere viewer/reader, was the essence, the tragedy, the civil war between Romanians sundered by history, by personal convictions and beliefs that placed them in different camps. I would have liked to find out what the partisans and their brutal persecutors thought, what individual truths drove those protagonists, who could so quickly exchange rôles, the victims becoming executioners and the executioners victims, how much was belief and how much was fanaticism, fear, betrayal, desperation, opportunism. The mythologising of the partisans, which was understandable immediately after the revolution, after the ban on access to the archives in the communist period was lifted, has increased considerably, transforming them, through no fault of their own, into marionettes used by our self seeking anti communists in their political struggle against their left wing adversaries, who have only just crawled from beneath the skirts of the old regime, or against young intellectual hotheads, who beneath the ideological banner of anti consumerism, the emancipation of women, homosexuals, animals, the environment and God knows what else, are seeking a kind of pure, auroral, militant communism or a revolutionary radicalism cleansed of all the burdensome stigmas of totalitarianism. Don’t get me wrong: I would like to distance myself from all ideological fervour, but I’m uninterested in politics, whether right wing or left wing, and I think that neither is right or that both are mistaken in an absolute way. My nose cannot stand strong smells and I have an allergy, whether innate or acquired, it doesn’t matter which, to black and white. I prefer boring shades of grey. And this is why I found it comforting to read a much more lifelike story, one that did not insist on serving up the truth on a plate, in capital letters, but rather allowed me to search it out for myself. That’s enough of that! I got rather carried away there.

M. had revealed to me a family story that directly concerned me. It is true that I knew a few rather vague things about it, far less than he imagined. My father was Catrina’s nephew. Catrina was the woman who was hopelessly in love with Gheorghe, the son of the enemy, who had sacrificed his sentiments to the vengeful fury of the voice of the blood. I imagined the two youngsters hiding away from the suspicious eyes and wagging tongues of the village, up in the mountains, bashfully embracing, kissing, caressing each other on the run, without knowing whether they were pursued by the invisible Erinyes, the merciless, bloodthirsty Furies.

I also read the third letter with mixed feelings. I found out that M. had seen me for the first time in a bookshop, at a book launch. And so I am the Violet Stain and I am beginning to understand why he insists on sending his letters in violet envelopes. It is true that I like to wear clothes that are in shades of violet and Parma violets are among my favourite flowers. But when had we met? To my embarrassment I do not remember. I am in the habit of going to bookshops and antiquarian booksellers, it is true, but I have a profound dislike for book launches and society events, even those with a cultural flavour. I am a great reader, if you will forgive my modest pride, and I nurture the hope, which I have not shared with anyone else, that in the not too distant future I will become a true writer. I once wrote a few poems in the raw, sensual, autobiographical style then in fashion. I’m not very happy with them, even if they were published in a few major literary magazines. I don’t want to be thought of as a poet or a prose writer, not yet at least. I have a blog, where I publish my impressions of books and other things, of which I am very proud, because it is visited by lots of interested people and has been noticed by a few real writers. In short, my blog gets a lot of traffic, and quality traffic at that. The blog is called Lucifer. It’s not a theological or mystical allusion, but comes from my first name: Lucia. And it also comes from the idea, stupid or naïve, I don’t know which, of attempting to write asexually, in neither a feminine nor a masculine way. For me – and I know it’s not saying much – my blog has already become a mode of thought and expression. I have noticed, even if it is no great discovery, that writing often brings greater substance and clarity to my thinking. Of course, I have also kept a diary for a long time, where I do exactly what I am doing now, but I would never publish my thoughts about this ambiguous, irritating/exciting situation in which the mysterious man who insists on sending me his letters has placed me. Only Cati, my best friend, has access to my diary, as her discretion is above all suspicion. Look at her slowly blinking in agreement, with her beautiful sapphire eyes.

M. told me that he knows of my blog, and that that’s how he found out my name, but if he doesn’t want us to communicate in his space, why should I do so in mine? Obviously, I’m aware that the situation is equivocal, but given that he was the one who chose this old, romantic, intimate form of communication, I don’t see why I shouldn’t abide by the rules of the game, at least until his intentions become clearer.


Translated by Alistair Ian Blyth



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