The Page

A tale of intimacy and loss

Tag: Modernity

Lützowplatz

La PoupéeEverything revolves around the canal: wherever his walks, or rides, take him, he’s always back there, in the Tiergarten, or on Schönerberger Ufer, or closer to home on Tempelhofer Ufer, and all the way to Maybachufer. So it is when he walks through Lützowplatz, on his way to the Nollendorfplatz station, or further west, to the Kurfürstendamm (which he compares with Regent street), as if he was, in a mysterious way, bound tight by the water spirits – or is it by the spirits of the martyrs whose tortured bodies were thrown in the Landwehrkanal?

He rides to Charlottenburg, loses himself in the park, reflects on Queen Luise’s grave – oh! the marmor… – and finds treasures in the Scharf-Gerstenberg museum. For him, the City hides layers after layers of troubling mysteries, to be discovered so slowly, as an endless source of inspiration, an endless flow of loss, wondering and hope, as if generations before him had legated to him their forgotten dreams. Faust’s metropolis has now a firm grip on his soul, and Julian enjoys that servitude. Melissa understands, who shares his passion. But she’s no barbarian, like him, but a native of Köpenick, where the ancient fortress once stood, between two worlds. Sometime, he sees her too as a beautiful ghost, not one from his childhood, but one direct descendant from the slavic tribes that once lived on this land, the old Brandenburg, before Berlin and Germania even existed at all.

The studio on Eylauerstraße is now too small, as Sarah and her husband have brought more books, and some furniture from their East London house, and Melissa has moved her little possessions, finally. So he’s looking for a larger apartment, for the three of them to pursue their dream, where they will work, love, reinvent their shared adventure. He roams in Schöneberg, and further East, along the Spree, always armed with camera and notebook, which makes Sarah smile. None of them ever mentions the Jägerstraße house, it remains taboo, without anyone willing to even question it.

So Julian is on a search, around his beloved Kreuzberg, and further afield, in Schöneberg, in Tempelhof, in Friedrichshain, in Neukölln. He – and Sarah – know what they want, the quiet tree-lined street, a second or third floor, a balcony, two or three good rooms. Melissa’s on the lookout too, now an essential part of this community, and devoted body and soul to the couple. It is the high summer, with the humid heat that renders Berliners a little slower, and Julian himself more meditative. Between bouts of e-mailing estate agents, and photography editing, he manages some writing, and is now looking for a local literary agent, since he wants to publish his two novels with a German house.

Sarah is attentive, sometime even watchful, more often in Berlin now than in London, when she can afford the time off her business. Julian’s sister, Jane, visits them also more frequently. She was around for the Berlin fashion show, and stayed over for a few days. She took immediately to Melissa, who sees her as her “big” sister. Julian’s mind wanders, around the new pair, his sister and his lover, under Sarah’s knowing smile.

Then, one morning, as the three of them breakfast at Ambrosius, at the corner of Einemstraße and Kurfürstenstraße, Sarah decides that her husband is now cured of his phantasms, and back to the reality of the living.

Image: Hans Bellmer, la Poupée (die Puppe, the Doll), courtesy Sammlung Scharf-Gerstenberg, Berlin-Charlottenburg

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Wisdom and renewal

 Melissa was talking to him in his sleep about higher mathematics, about the marvels she was learning with her new teacher. Her new interest in physics amazed him, his recollection of her was of a rather simpler type of girl: how she had changed… But he was trying to follow, she was so keen for him to understand, she was talking with passion, of their future, of the new sense of her own existence, her search for him. She said she would never give him up, she was learning to achieve something: to reach him in his world, the world of the living.

Adoration Sarah and him had stopped calling her “the ghost”. For his wife, Melissa was “your friend”, or, when she felt playful, “your personal alien”. For him she was a new person, who inhabited the body – or more precisely – “a” body, for now inaccessible, so much like that of his long-dead school friend. The girl Melissa of his present had the memories, and much of the spirit, of the other Melissa, but she was a different being. Her difference was her modernity: she was a woman of the 21st, not 20th, century, despite the old fashion style of her Page. For a start the “modern” Melissa was talking to him in his sleep: talking, not appearing, and she was talking to convince, possibly even educate him. Her sentences were as clear as crystal, and, in the morning he remembered everything: what she said about her studies, her teacher Gabrielle, the new chapters of physics and mathematics she had just learnt. She was indeed busy, and seemed to absorb sophisticated mathematical and modern physics concepts and theories that were already beyond Julian’s grasp. He did not understand what she was leading at by telling him about her studies, and how it would allow her to “reach” him. Evidently she knew of a link between the two, between her new knowledge and “their” promised intimacy.

However he was no longer anxious about her, nor thinking about his “lost years”. She – or someone – had carefully edited her Page, which now was more accurate, and only contained what, to him, looked like original material. It also went beyond their “story”, which, for Julian, was reassuring. He visited her page regularly and had started to write on her wall. What he wrote was comments on what he’d heard in his sleep, reflections on the work she’d told him about. He’d checked some of the articles she quoted during her conversation, and it was all genuine. She was reading very recent papers on astrophysics, astronomy and quantum physics, that were far beyond the comprehension of a college girl, or even most graduate students. For he saw her as she was when he left: same age, same looks, same appearance to the living. And indeed Melissa had confirmed, via her Page, that she was as she had always been since her “return”, more than twenty years ago. Sadly – he thought – he could not meet her, or, at least he could not yet: in his dreams there was, always, an expectation that that “barrier” was not final, that Melissa would find a way. His rational mind was telling him it was all a fable, that there was no such thing as coming back from the dead. But the beautiful fact was he did not see it as that anymore, but rather, as a subtle reincarnation, one of these rare miracles of genetics that, once in a millennium, created an identical twin, but remote in time from the sibling. The first Melissa had died, of that he was certain, but someone who was very much like her, had been born, and was looking for him.

Sarah thought the two of them, her husband and whoever it was who was claiming the person of Melissa, suffered from a sweet delusion. She did not have a complete theory of what had happened in reality, but she imagined a friend of both of them, someone who had known them both in their youth, perhaps one of the “jealous” girls of Julian’s college memories, had somehow picked up Julian’s current whereabouts and created the “myth”: she would be Melissa, reconstructed and, ultimately, reincarnated. Julian was sharing all his dreams with his wife, so that Sarah, herself not a mediocre physicist, knew of Melissa’s work and had concluded that the person behind it all was a serious scientist or mathematician. In her view this confirmed the prosaic nature of the phenomenon Melissa: a real living human being, who was pursuing something that might have started as a joke, or a bet. But Sarah would not speculate where this may lead to: she was just keeping note of what Julian told her about the night’s voice.

So Julian was deep in his work, and was beginning to follow a new routine. His dreams recurred once or twice a week, which was enough to keep his mind awake to Melissa’s progress, without becoming obsessive. Most of his awake time he did not think too much of his friend, but concentrated on his writing, and on his wife. Then, one night, Melissa said she wanted him to meet her teacher, Gabrielle.

Peace

Norwegian_woodAs I look at those pictures, at the colours beginning to fade, and those faces not yet totally forgotten, I recall those instants I never seized, all those years back, before peace reached me. And peace, I owe to you, my love, you brought me down to reality, and to acceptance of the world. Yet I cannot entirely forget that other life, those other lives. These places still impregnated of the then recent disasters, the long wars, the signs of destruction still present all around us. Europe was then still on her knees.

From time to time, an article, a book, a scent, brings me back to those years, to a youth full of longing and unhappiness. The world was young… no, it was the old world, but we were young, naive, and dangerous. The calamities of today pale in insignificance compared to what was then the daily life of our parents: the sheer poverty, the cold, the threats, and the still smoking ruins. Yet there was also hope, born from the deep soul of their hearts.

This is when I met Melissa, both of us, me more than her, innocent and ignorant. This story is that of our loss, and the strange way we found each other again, decades apart, in a world we could never have then imagined. A world of shadows. But I have first to write about the present, this fabulous mixture of the seedy and the wonderful, called modernity, although this term is now, so passé…

This coming year, after much consideration, and with your help my love, I am leaving behind those preoccupations, the business where I have made my fortune, for indulging in my long postponed passions. I will be the writer – even if unpublished – that I have longed to be since my school days, and also the serious runner, the one unconstrained by time and professional duties: freedom. Freedom to train, to spend long hours refining the person I want to be. Then there will be the long hikes in the mountains we both love: and there will be pictures, of you.

And so, on the threshold of a new year, I will start anew. Soon I will have forgotten the illusions of ambition, the jealousies, the petty envy of lesser mortals. I will live again. My close friends will be the blank page, where I will share those memories and longings I care most for, and those beautiful lenses that will help me to see the world with new eyes. Soon I will roam those streets, in the city that has adopted me, reluctantly at first, but, ultimately, without looking back.

I will, but not now, I am just observing the clear sky from my desk, that faces our garden: a pale blue sky of December, small frayed clouds already tainted pink by the early sunset. Familiar tunes float through the room. My wife, Sarah, is upstairs washing her hair. Peace.

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