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Outside it’s 5 below zero. At 6:45 in the morning she leaves her apartment to walk to the gallery.
It’s a dismal way to earn a living. Oceans of time go by between patrons, the hours stretch like eternities.
Tanya Palovski is a fair Polish woman who looks like Greta Garbo. Or Faye Dunaway, you know the face. She’s living in the States under the auspices of an uncle who has since died. Unless she finds a husband she’ll have to leave because her visa has run out. She lives in a little room of an old hotel, furnished with nothing but occasional light. There is a bit of a gaunt look about her. But with her exquisite face and accent bordering on French, she was able to get a job with Gallery Uno.
There is no reason to open the place so early. Most galleries open at noon – but being down-town, as it is—a lot of people pass on foot between 7 and 9 A.M. and this is, in fact, the best time to sell a painting.
Out of the bitter cold some man runs in, having a few extra minutes before work to look around. This is the time of day when people, fresh from nightmares about the meaninglessness of it all, need resurrection. You have no idea how many people will but a painting under these conditions.
You discover that you have 15 minutes to spare. With your freezing hands and feet you step into a gallery that you have passed a thousand times but have never been in.
Today, you decide to do something to alter your life.
The strung jewels of the days, so sparkling once, now look like plastic pop-beads, even if they’re different colors, as the seasons turn, the days are all the same, dulled by routine. It doesn’t matter if you’re married or single, male or female, or in between. It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO or the janitor.
You know, that run of days when you almost can’t even remember what it was you wanted to do or be.
So, you step into the gallery. It’s an act of desperation. If you don’t find a talisman you might as well kill yourself because you know you’re already dead.
The door swings open to a few empty rooms painted yellow. There are very few things on the walls. This modern art will kill us all. Pictures as meaningless as your life.
A bowl of flowers. An enormous clear glass globe half-filled with water in which stand a few gigantic stems. Behind a formica counter sits a fair, not that young, woman. The spotlight above her head pours down her hair a cascade of light. She is illuminated. She greets you with a knowing smile and turns back to her work, to give you a chance to be alone with the things in this room.
She disappears, so to speak, and you turn again to the paintings. Her illuminated smile gives you hope that something somewhere must have meaning.
You look at the pictures more closely. Large frames, large mats. Small images of total destruction, like pieces of houses burned down or letters ruined by rain.
“If this represents the 21st century,” you think, “then we’re really in trouble.”
Where are the lush, sensuous impressionists who tore things down to atoms but restored them again to a more luminous state. Even the art of ancient Egypt is preferable to this stuff. What are we looking at? What does it mean, these sparse lines that never intersect, these gloomy splashes of colors, these alienated scenes? Where is the sun, for God’s sake! The sun which illuminates all great paintings. Never mind Raphael, even Ingres has light pouring in a window.
You peer closely at these randomly meaningless images. Even as calligraphy it doesn’t work. The sculptures, too, gigantic things, black geometrics, sharp as instruments of torture.
Where is the sun of Van Gogh? Is no one painting in the warmer climes? —or is it a frozen state of the soul? You know it is. You’re sure that mankind is going into an ice-age of frozen Brave New World souls.
The soul will be frozen up by the Anglo-Saxon mania for keeping all roads in good order and never revealing you’re human.
At any rate, you’re disappointed with this art. “Starry Night” it’s not. Not that you could afford any of it anyway. But even if you could you wouldn’t want any of it. Being in the same room with it would drive you to suicide.
Some classical music is playing very low. You hadn’t heard it till now. It sounds like being in heaven.
“Must be Bach or Mozart,” you think—“no one writes anything like that nowadays.
Where are the Vivaldis?
Some exquisite piece of music flows over you and into your ears like rivers of a drug, lulling you on your feet. It is celestial.
You promise yourself to listen only to classical music and to look only at art at least a hundred years old.
I know, I know, you’re saying, even then there was plenty of dross, surely even now, in own time, masterpieces are being created, in some form, somehow. You have to believe that. You know that the problem is with you, that you can’t see it. You’ve been left behind by the train of time. 17-year olds understand it. You don’t.
You’re only 35 and already you don’t understand. Any older and you don’t even try. What is it we’re going towards, a robotic existence? Are we all then to become machines or be replaced by them?
Was Huxley right when he envisioned a future without feelings? Let’s not express our feelings! It might be against the law.
Painting like Van Gogh painted will be against the law.
The world would be a better place if it were governed by Italians.
Where is the gold light of Giotto, the white light of Botticelli?
There is the clear light of that fellow who paints interiors like a designer, rooms dominated by huge windows with wonderful views.
Maybe you should look for a poster of his, not too expensive, frame it yourself and hang it up in your home.
Then every morning instead of looking out your own windows you have a suddenly different view, filled with sunlight.
The woman is reading, pretending to be occupied. Perhaps she is thinking about something. You’re tempted to speak but don’t want to interrupt her reverie.
Outside the world is blue with snow slashing the air like knives, dark as midnight, 5 below.
“Thank you!” you say as you open the door, hit by a blast of cold wind. She looks up. Her pointed chin and agate eyes and crown of spun gold, a work of art herself.
The wind pushes you back in.
When the lights went out at the wedding, except for the groom, everyone knew why.
It happened just like that, just like the hand of God reaching down and putting out the lights. Just as the lavish sit-down dinner was about to be served.
He should have seen it coming. All afternoon it snowed. By twilight he should have known. The quantities of it should have been alarming. But he was lulled by the blueness of it all. In New York it was never this blue, there it was always white, grey or black. It was the blueness that sucked him into complacence. He should have seen it was a blizzard. Not that he could have stopped the wedding, if he had foreseen the outcome, but it could have been postponed. The following Saturday night, for example, or even the next night, it would have gone off without a hitch. How was it that this very day had been picked so long in advance, of all the days why was it this day more snow would fall than ever before?
He couldn’t understand it.
Asher Rifkin was from a Hasidic family back east. He’d met Lily at Yeshiva University and had every reason to believe he was making a good marriage. You never knew, of course, with Jews out west what they were made of. They were not Orthodox, he knew that, though Lily had pretended to be more so than she really was and everyone in her family, when he came to visit, was terrified he might find them not traditional enough.
Well, they fell in love anyway. Now he sat in the dark room with 300 people he didn’t know. There was loud talk and confusion. The power had gone out. “Surely,” he thought, “it will return in a moment.” Everyone expected that in a few minutes, perhaps half an hour at most, the lights would come on, dinner would be served, alas, probably cold—but the wedding party would progress with hot coffee and cake and music for dancing the night away.
“Don’t worry,” said his father-in-law, beside him, with a broad red face. “In a minute it will be like nothing happened.”
This was to him, however, a most ominous sign. Even if the lights came back on instantly, it had happened. A sign from God. Something somewhere was wrong. He would go into this marriage with a blot on his mind, a stain on the purity of the union, a shadow of a doubt that would plague him the rest of his life. He would spend his marriage waiting for something to go wrong.
Why couldn’t the power have gone out before the ceremony? When he could still have reconsidered things.
Not only was the darkness in the room as black as the grave, as no one seemed to be able to locate any candles, but it was becoming very cold.
People were grumbling, openly voicing complaints, getting up, fumbling around, demanding their coats. Better to get home before the blizzard imprisoned them.
There was the rising level of noise one expects to break into pandemonium.
“Don’t worry,” his father-in-law was saying. “The main thing is the ceremony. Now you’re already married. Everything will be fine.”
When a few candles were finally brought in most everyone seized the opportunity to find their coats and depart.
By the faint light of the candles in the room where few remained he noticed the death-mask of his mother-in-law. She had planned this wedding for a year, no expense was spared. She would show everyone who had ever talked behind her back that her daughter could marry into a devout, famous family of rabbis. She had driven herself crazy with all the arrangements, everything had to be perfect and she invited everyone she knew. Now this! She sat grim faced and furious with the Fates that pursued her. Was there never an end? Would she never be forgiven?
The groom looks at the bride. By candlelight she looks purer than ever. In a state of shock beyond tears.
He looks at his father-in-law. From the smile lines you can tell he has never given anything a second thought. His conscience is clear. He just does what he wants. If others don’t like it, that’s their problem. He works primarily on his tan.
The groom’s eyes come to rest again on the face of his mother-in-law. Her fists are clenched. Her mouth is twisted as mangled steel and her tongue as sharp, but she holds it. She could tell them all a thing or two! Didn’t these beastly herds clamoring for their coats understand anything about love or money? Damn them all, it was their curse. What difference could it possibly make to anyone that she took her best friend’s husband? That he left his wife with three small children, well, that was his choice. So what if the woman was now destitute after telling her lawyer, “I trust him, he’ll take care of me.” Whose fault was it that the son was in a car wreck at 19 and became a paraplegic? They’d been married now for over twenty years. Life had been good to them, as if the price had been paid, had even given them a child, her innocent child, “my child, our child,” she thinks.
She was running away from Manhattan like some fleeing a conflagration. She saw, all of a sudden, how tawdry it was. The brick buildings with their blank windows seemed to be toppling, locked in by pavement littered with both trash and humankind. The faces of the people suddenly frightened her. People, even close friends seemed twisted in upon themselves, all were seeing shrinks. The fantasies played out in the workplace shrank in stagnant apartments. Old people lived in the same rooms for 50 years and never changed a thing.
She had made the mistake of befriending one of them in her building. She had helped old Mrs. Tannenbaum with groceries, and been invited in. The room, like a time capsule, with its doilies and dust-encrusted plastic flowers, exuded a kind of death – beyond death, decay. That and all the twisted faces on the people she passed in the street, from madmen to your average defeated soul.
There were those, of course, who did not work, they could be seen in diamonds and furs, getting out of limousines near Lincoln Center. They had their opiates and plastic surgeons to smooth out their faces, but on the faces of ordinary men and women the twisted forces of the city could be seen, the two sides asymmetrical and twisted like a yin/yang sign.
The parkway on Riverside Drive offered some reprieve, in terms of grass and trees, but she never knew what she might encounter there and watched the sunsets only through her windows, which faced the other way. In the morning her three east facing windows were flooded by a sun 93 million miles away. It struck her as remarkable. But then, the rooms themselves, allegedly former servants’ quarters but more like a pantry, had dingy walls and cockroaches, the formerly handsome building facing the Hudson had degenerated and the people within it seemed sunk too, into themselves.
The summers were, made by the concrete, infernal. The winters were dismal, even visually. The run of events had gone in such a way that she suddenly had no option.
Things loomed in on her, she saw the buildings caving in, a mass concrete grave.
The bare trees bent with a yearning that could never be fulfilled. The sky shone faintly behind its layer of smog, as behind frosted glass.
Another winter looked her in the eye, with its icy wind blowing debris through black streets.
The many layers of exhaust-colored snow looked like a geologic site in which she had died a long time ago.
Gloria Matucci, of Italian extraction, one of 10 children, the oldest in fact, had foresworn marriage and parenthood. She slogged through the slushy streets, shoulder bag weighing her down, and groceries. And her own bulk too, and her hairy arms, really she should have been a man, except that she was raped by some teenagers at the entrance to the subway last night and she is trudging from the hospital to the police station. Her shoulder bag seems filled with rocks.
The buildings looming over her leaned in. A long-time relationship had fallen apart, or so it seemed, while she was off visiting her sister. When she got back last week, it turned out to be over. Everything was ending here it seemed.
Her sister lived in Denver, an incredibly clear place in which there seemed to be nothing to do. That was fine with her. She skipped filing a police report, ran home, gave her cat to her neighbor’s daughter (a successful ploy), threw everything she could fit into a suitcase and called the airport. She could get out the next day. She could stay with Phyllis until she got a job. She could get her own place, try to make a new, completely different life for herself.
It was so clear out there, the sky was so blue and clouds drifted through it like ships, like Spanish galleons.
In Manhattan, not only could you not see the sun and its attendant shadows, you never saw a cloud either—there was just a sheet of haze.
The clouds in Colorado alone were worth the price of living there. And you could actually see the shadows of clouds moving across the landscape down below, like submarines.
To live in between these two phenomena, to breathe the air, to take a single breath, was all she wanted.
Ever since last night she couldn’t breathe. They had begun by making cracks about her breasts, which were ample, and ended by nearly killing her. She hated men. If only Lucy had been more dependable they could have bought a farm in upstate New York. Or they could have even stayed in the city, anywhere in the city as long as they were together, her lithe body and blond hair, like an angel. As beautiful as an angel, but with the heart of the Devil himself.
It wasn’t just this time, it was all the time. Lucy would be unfaithful, talk about it, make her jealous, they would break up but eventually Lucy’s pleading for forgiveness wore her down. Lucy was becoming a weight, a problem. She had already called twice, crying.
Not this time, thought Gloria, not this time.
От издателя: Book Description In the first in a new series of brief biographies, bestselling author Peter Ackroyd brilliantly evokes...