THE LOVE OF EUROPA
(or “NAUSICA’A OF LAGONISSI”)
SHE CALLED HERSELF EUROPA, and wandered the world from girlhood till death. She lived every kind of life and dreamt every kind of dream. She was wild in her wandering, a drop of free water. She believed only in her life and in her dreams. She called herself Europa, and her god was Beauty.
The day she was born was a feast day in Greece. It was the year ****. Her mother fell sick with strange visions after giving birth to her and spent weeks and years speaking to phantoms from the bed where she lay in the corner of the house. Her father was the one to name her. He named her Nausica’a (Ναυσικάα), after the Phaiakian princess in Homer’s Odyssey, because he believed Nausica’a was the first—and only—character in all of literature who possessed “a soul of pure beauty.” Her father was a poet. He was eccentric and his love for Nausica’a knew no bounds. After church one Sunday he took her for a walk beneath the Acropolis, through the marketplaces of the Plaka . Nausica’a was still small, and in her white dress and braided hair she reminded her father of a Christian angel. ‘When she will be older,’ he thought, ‘she will dress like that and I will compare her to a Pagan nymph.’ But on this Sunday she was still a long ways from showing any signs of an upcoming womanhood; and so he thought she was an angel.
“Where are we, little angel?” he asked her once they reached the Plaka.
“You don’t know, Daddy ?”
He bent down as far as he could on the stones of the street so his face was level with hers. He looked at her sweet face. “Yes, I know. But I want to teach you about the world, about geography, about the city near our home… Look around you and tell me where we are.”
Nausica’a looked around the marketplace, at the stalls selling fruit, and the donkeys roped up, and the peasants milling around.
“We’re in Greece, Daddy!”
Her father then threw back his head and roared with laughter. He looked again at her sweet face and then he stopped laughing and said, “Of course we’re in Greece, sweet girl! But we’re also in the Plaka!”
To this, tiny Nausica’a blushed to her ears. She said nothing, but just blushed with profound embarrassment. Her father saw this. He studied this. Then, wordless, he stood and led her by the hand and he began to cry. A great feeling of lightness was penetrating through his body; his mouth dropped open in a kind of euphoric stupor, and all the while tears flowed from his eyes as fresh water from a fountain. It was the first time Nausica’a saw her father crying tears and she was scared. She didn’t know what he knew. He had been searching for it his entire life. He had devoted himself to poetry to find it. Now, in the middle of his life, he found it. It was in the face of the love of his life, his daughter. She who had never blushed before, now blushed. And in that blushing, he knew, was the existence of God. That was the day her father learned what God was. God was pure beauty. God was his daughter’s face when she blushed.
Years passed and little Nausica’a flowered into adolescence. Now the form of her beautiful face began to show. Now the braids in her hair were woven more beautifully than ever, while her hair was longer and softer than ever. Her body too had changed from that of a child to that of a young girl in flower. But just as Nausica’a bloomed in flower, her mother wilted. Although her mother was still riddled with visions, she no longer spoke to phantoms who came to her in the form of wispy hallucinations as she did when Nausica’a was a child—now she spoke to monsters.
Nausica’a was mostly scared for her father who was spending his evenings in the bedroom where his wife used to sleep beside him. He spent sleepless nights sitting on the edge of his bed, wringing his hands, terror in his eyes. Just as he knew the day when Nausica’a blushed in the Plaka that his beloved daughter would grow into a beautiful soul, so he knew now that his beloved wife’s soul would soon perish. She was going to leave him soon. She would soon be enlisted in the grim army of soldiers in the land of the dead.
And so it came to pass that Nausica’a’s mother died. Her father’s grief was profound, but he tried to bring as much joy into Nausica’a’s life as possible. He forced himself to laugh when she was around. He encouraged her to go play with her friends. All the while, he passed days and nights in his chair mourning for her mother. What he didn’t know, was that Nausica’a didn’t need the distractions of her friends. What she needed was her father. She was in love with him. She was in love with his soul. And so when she saw what was becoming of him after her mother’s death, she broke down in sobs and she fell at his feet.
As water pours off a bed of rocks on the seaside once an ocean wave hits it, and the salt water flows down off the rocks to soak into the sand of the beach, so did Nausica’a’s salty tears flow down from her eyes and soak into her father’s feet when she saw how much pain he was in.
“Daddy!” she cried to him, “Don’t be so sad. We have each other, you and I, we have each other!”
“…It is for you that I am sad, my dear girl—for you have lost your mother. I am not sad for your mother, because she is without pain now. She no longer sees demons. It must be a happy place where she is now, even if it is as dismal as Homer describes it —at least she no longer is in this world seeing demons all the time.”
He pressed his daughter’s hands into his, “No, my girl, I am sad for you because you lost your mother. And because…”
“And because my grief has now made me very ill. My health is gone. I am trying to stay alive for you. I am a very strong man, but this illness is stronger than me.”
“Nonsense, Daddy, you will live forever!”
“Aye, I wish it were the case. I want to see you grow into a woman. I want to see you get married and have a family.”
“Married? A family? Why do you want that?! You are my family, Daddy!”
“At this moment, yes. But you don’t want to waste your sacred youth by taking care of your old, sick father. Soon you need to go outside of our home, you need to go out into the world, my girl. You need to go and live!”
“I will try to, Father, if that is what you wish. But for me, living is living with you. You are all I care about. But if that is what you wish, I will try to live a little outside of our home. I will try to start now. I will go for a walk now.”
With that, she started for the door. All the while, she trembled.
“Nausica’a,” her father stopped her, “Remember one thing…”
“I love my life, but I love you more.”
“And I love you more than I love my life,” Nausica’a replied, and she blushed to her ears for having said this. She felt herself blushing; and her father saw her blush, and once again he felt that euphoria passing through him. Once again he looked upon his daughter blushing, and he saw the existence of God. Nausica’a watched her father’s face as it changed, and she grew extremely nervous and fumbled with the handle on the door. She let herself out of the house then and walked away. That was the last time she ever saw her father.
While Nausica’a was out taking her walk in the countryside of her home in Lagonissi , she spied a beautiful field of wildflowers—blue flowers, the color of the sky, yellow flowers, the color of the sun. She walked to the center of the field and stretched herself out on the blanket of flowers, she looked up at the sky and the sun and felt the warmth of the Grecian afternoon penetrate her entire body.
She had visions in that field. She looked to the blue sky and saw the gods were at work. She felt a tremendous feeling of both peace and wonder. She knew that she was experiencing the divine. Then she heard a rumbling sound coming from far away in the field. She turned her head and saw a white bull running towards her. She was not afraid, she believed the bull to be Zeus coming to take her away .
The mighty white bull stopped its charge when he saw that she was not afraid. He came beside her and she began to caress his back.
“I know who you are,” she said to the bull, “You are Zeus and you’ve come to take me away. I will go with you, but not now. I must say goodbye to my father first, I love him.”
To this the bull looked at her as though to say he knew. He knew and he would come again, as soon as she said goodbye to her father. The bull then charged away, leaving her perplexed in her garden of flowers.
She was too shaken by the appearance of the bull to stay and watch the drama of the gods in the heavens above. She gathered herself and said goodbye to her peaceful assembly of flowers. She started walking back home.
When she arrived at her home, she knew something was wrong. The doctor had come and he saw Nausica’a in the garden. He wanted to take Nausica’a for a walk. She said she had just been for a long walk, and now she wanted to see her father.
“Your father has gone away,” the doctor said, “let’s take a walk together.”
Nausica’a felt as though stunned. She was no longer in control of her thoughts or her actions. She turned with the doctor and began to walk with him. He told her that he had come because he had been called. Her father, he said, lost control of his words and the doctor knew it was serious, and so he hurried to their home. Nausica’a listened while the two of them came to the beach near Nausica’a’s home in Lagonissi.
The doctor said that when he arrived at the house, her father was lucid and at peace, although his words were strange. He said that he saw Nausica’a a few moments before, before she left to take a walk. Her father told him that she was the most beautiful creature that ever, quote, “walked the earth and ate of mortal man’s bread.”
The doctor continued speaking, “Your father said that when you were a child he likened you to a Christian angel, and thought that when you were older you would take the shape of a pagan nymph…
“Now, this last time he saw you,” said the doctor, “he said you showed, for the first time, the signs of an upcoming womanhood. He likened you to the beautiful goddess of youth, Hébé . He said that you were too beautiful to be a mortal, and that through his poetry, he managed to conceive and raise a goddess. He then said that you were too pure to be a pagan goddess, whose beauty might be used to trick mortals; so then he corrected himself and said that you were not a pagan goddess, but a Christian angel after all. He then uttered your name slowly three times, ‘Nausica’a… Nausica’a… Nausica’a…’ and then he died.”
Nausica’a ran from the doctor in a state of shock. She could neither think nor feel, she just ran home. She ran faster than a horse. When she arrived at her home, she met a priest who said solemnly that her father had died and he was taken away from the house. The priest said a quick prayer and said that he died in great peace and bliss, in the company of a doctor, with Nausica’a’s name on his lips. Nausica’a heard all of this still in shock and said she couldn’t believe any of this unless she heard it from her father himself.
“Your father will speak no more,” said the priest, “he is in the company of God now. The two are meeting at this moment in Paradise, and your father is too happy in God’s presence to have need of words.”
With that, the priest made the sign of the cross over Nausica’a and said, “God be with you, child, in your hour of need. And he left her there.
She stood frozen on the spot. She wanted to go inside, so she could hear from her father’s own lips that he felt better. But she was too afraid that he wouldn’t be at home, and the despair of him not being at home would have driven her out of her mind. After a long period standing there, she left the garden and walked away to call on the doctor again.
He was in. He received Nausica’a with a great desire to comfort her. She was hysterical, in tears. She told him she couldn’t go into her house because she was afraid her father wouldn’t be there to tell her he felt better. The doctor looked strangely solemn when she said this. He said something in private to his secretary, and he came back to Nausica’a. She was by then on the ground, on her knees, sobbing.
The secretary came in a moment later and told her she’d prepared a bed for her. She had to help her to her feet and walk with her to the bed. Nausica’a couldn’t remember what happened after that. She believed she must have slept straight for two days and two nights—when she woke up, she burst into tears.
It was night outside. The doctor heard her crying and came into the room where she’d been sleeping. He tried all the words he knew to soothe her. Eventually, she went back to sleep. Only to wake up the next day when it was light outside.
“Your father has been buried,” the doctor said to Nausica’a when she woke up the next time. I will drive you to his… to the place where he is buried.”
Nausica’a was numb and didn’t respond. Silently, she went with the doctor who took her to her father’s grave.
There wasn’t a soul in sight, even the sun was hidden by an iron sheet of clouds. It was a somber sight, that small grave for such a big man. Nausica’a read the inscription on the headstone in such a daze that she couldn’t understand a word of it. She then toppled down on the fresh soil of the grave and began to kiss the grave with idolatry. The doctor came over and put his hand on her shoulder. She gave a start.
“You know where to find me,” said the doctor, “You only have to place a telephone call and I will come here to pick you up.”
Nausica’a turned away from the doctor and gave her attention back to the grave. The doctor uttered one last time, “You only have to place a telephone call, and I’ll come pick you up. And with that, the doctor was gone, leaving Nausica’a alone in the cemetery with the fresh soil that concealed from her her belovèd father.
Nausica’a lay on that grave sobbing day and night, kissing the soil. She didn’t move. It was winter now, but the cold didn’t affect her. She just lay sobbing, day and night, kissing the soil.
Then her visions began once again…
All around her, all beneath her—the grave and around the grave—there began sprouting wildflowers. Had spring really come? Had she passed the whole winter on this grave, crying for her lost father? Or were these wildflowers just visions? Were they hallucinations?
She took little notice of the wildflowers, and no notice of the warm sunshine that had burned away the iron sheet of clouds, filling the sky with pure blue. She buried her head in the colorful wildflowers on the grave of her father and wept again. It was while she was weeping that she sensed the form of some immense creature standing beside her. She turned her head to look and saw standing next to her was the great white bull.
This time, unlike the time when she had caressed the bull in the park near her house, this time the bull began to speak to her—“It must be a vision, and not reality!” she said aloud.
“I have come back for you,” said the bull, “just as we agreed. Last time, you asked me to come back for you once you said goodbye to your father. Now you have said goodbye to your father, so we can go on our way.”
Nausica’a looked around her again. She looked at the wildflowers abloom in the graveyard. Was it really springtime already? Or were these flowers just a vision? Was this speaking bull nothing but a hallucination? She decided to wait and find out. Instead of agreeing to what the bull was saying, she began to pick the wildflowers from the grass surrounding her father’s grave. She needn’t lay any of the flowers she picked on the grave, since the soil on the grave was abloom with a heavy blanket of wildflowers already. Instead, she started weaving the flowers from around the grave into a necklace. There were flowers as blue as the sky, as yellow as the sun; and all the colors were ever so vibrant as they were aglow with the Grecian sun that shone warm overhead.
Once she had finished weaving the flowers into a great necklace, she presented the bull with the necklace. She laid the necklace over his sturdy head and horns, and let it drape over his strong neck.
The bull seemed very appreciative of this gift and said to her, “Your necklace, dear maiden, is worth more to me than all the burnt offerings that other humans give in the way of smoke on my behalf.”
“I’m glad you like it,” she said.
“Well, you’ve said goodbye to your father,” said the bull, “Are you ready to leave this land and come away with me?”
“Yes,” she replied, believing that this bull was Zeus—a god that her belovèd father respected and honored. “I am ready.”
And with that, she found herself in less than an instant upon the bull’s back and racing at great speed towards the Aegean Sea. Behind her was her home of Lagonissi, the only home she ever knew. In front of her was—Lord Zeus only knew what!
While the majestic white bull was running over the waves of the ocean, the girl held fast to his back. ‘If this is only a vision,’ she thought, ‘then I wish that my life should be one long vision!—for this is greater than anything real!’
Late in the evening, the two reached Italy and settled to pass the night on the western coast. It was a long, sandy beach with the island of Elba in view in the distance. While Nausica’a lay down on the sand to sleep, the bull took leave of her saying, “I will be back in the morning. At sunrise we leave Italy.”
Once Nausica’a was alone, she spoke to the moon aloud. It was the first time she had seen an Italian moon. She told that unfamiliar moon that she hereby renounced her birth name…
“If my father died saying my name, I want that to be the last time that that name be spoken. My father was a profound and poetic man, and he died saying Nausica’a. If ever in the future, anyone ever addresses me by that name, it will be in their own banal and unpoetic way, to achieve their own unaesthetic purpose; and I will lose all taste for that person. I will look upon them with scorn and hatred.”
Just as she finished saying these words to the moon, her bull appeared out of nowhere. He came up beside her and spoke:
“Then henceforth,” he said, “you shall be called Europa, for you are travelling through Europe on the back of a great white bull.”
“If Zeus wills it,” she said to him. And with that, the bull was gone again.
The next morning, just before sunrise, the sleeping adolescent was awoken by a voice…
“Europa?” the voice said, “Wake up, young Europa…” It was her bull. He had come back as promised so the two could leave Italy at sunrise.
“Yes, it is your Europa,” the girl said to the bull, “She is ready to travel on.
Barely did she finish uttering her phrase when she found herself no longer in Italy, but soaring abreast over the Mediterranean Sea atop the back of the great white bull. She held on while they passed over the island of Corsica, then once again over the Mediterranean. In time, they reached another beach, and the bull landed and set his passenger down on the sweet sand.
“Here you are, young Europa,” the bull said to her, “You are in the country which is the center of Europe.”
“Which country am I in?”
“France,” replied the bull, “This is where I leave you.”
“You are abandoning me?” she cried, “But I have nothing except this little white cotton dress I am wearing, and these little sandals on my feet.”
“Honor the gods and you shall want for nothing,” said the bull, “Before I leave you, I will give you a gift. You see, since your father’s death, you have let your hair fall any which way. It is in complete disorder. That is unseemly for a girl who rides across oceans on my back, for I am not just a bull. I am Zeus, the king of the gods. Therefore I will give you back what you wore so proudly while your father was alive, I will give you back your braids. But these will be more resplendent than any other braids on earth, for they are a gift of the almighty Zeus, your protector.”
Barely had Zeus finished speaking, that Europa felt her hair turning into the crown of a queen. She felt on her head, and now on her head there were noble braids, woven by a god, forming bridges across the rivers of her hair.
“Goodbye,” she called to the bull, her friend, and with that Zeus was gone.
Nausica’a was now in the South of France and the visions had stopped. She still wasn’t sure if she had come to France by normal means, or if a god had led her there. She remembered every detail of that great white bull and what he had said to her. She knew it had been real, by the very touch of the noble braids in her hair. And so she began to honor the gods, and they repaid her by bringing her luck…
That evening, she was seated in a café in Cannes with not so much a coin to pay for the coffee she’d ordered. She felt disoriented in that café, being now in such a “normal” situation, since only that morning she had traveled the seas on the back of a god. But she trusted in the gods, and considered her new, normal situation as part of their work. And so, trusting in the gods, they sent her good luck…
While she sat drinking her coffee, a group of people about ten years her age, somewhere in their early twenties, came up to her. A girl with them addressed Nausica’a…
“Vous êtes toute seule? On peut s’assoir avec vous?”
“I don’t speak French,” Nausica’a replied in English.
“Is there no one sitting here?” said the girl, repeating her cheerful question in English, “Can we sit down with you?”
Nausica’a shrugged her shoulders, and four people joined her table. She wasn’t sure what they wanted.
“This is my boyfriend, Jean-Paul,” said the girl. Jean-Paul waved his hand to say hello. “He is a fashion photographer. He saw you and told me he wants to shoot you for an advertisement.”
“What is your name?”
“That is a beautiful name. Will you do it?”
“Do what?” Nausica’a asked.
“Shoot the advertisement with my boyfriend.”
“I guess I have to know what they’re advertising.”
“Here is our telephone number,” the girl said, handing a piece of paper over to Nausica’a. “Call us and my boyfriend will explain everything.” With that, the four people said goodbye to Nausica’a and took their leave. Nausica’a held the number in her hand. She didn’t have a pocket in her dress, and she didn’t have a handbag. She nervously went over to the bar to ask how much for the coffee. She didn’t have a centime to her name. The barman smiled and said that her coffee was paid for. She sighed with relief and left the bar. Now she had to think about where she would sleep that night!…
It was outside of the bar, amid the tables that were scattered on the terrace where revelers were drinking wine and laughing in the air of the mild night, that Nausica’a saw the four people who had come to sit at her table. The girl whose boyfriend was the photographer spotted her right away and said, “Europa! Come join us!” Nausica’a saw that they were laughing as much as anyone. They had a magnum of côte-de-provence wine on their table. Nausica’a had nowhere to go, and so she approached their table.
“Please do sit down,” said the girl who’d given Nausica’a her phone number inside, “My name is Caroline. Do you want some wine? … S’il vous plait!” she called to the waiter in French, “un autre verre vide… pour mademoiselle! ”
She turned back to face Nausica’a… “This is my boyfriend, Jean-Paul, and these are our friends: Jules and his girlfriend Claire.”
“Enchanté! ” they all said, and went on speaking amongst themselves. Nausica’a drank some wine. As she wasn’t accustomed to wine, she grew a little tipsy.
“How long have you been in France?” Caroline asked.
“I arrived today.”
“Where are you from?”
“Oh wow! That’s interesting!” said Caroline, “Exotic!”
By this time, the beauty of young Nausica’a had attracted the general attention of the whole table. Jules asked her, “Did you come here alone, or with friends?”
“No, alone,” said Nausica’a.
“And you know no one here in France?!” asked Claire.
“Not a soul.”
“How did you get here from Greece?” Jules broke in.
“I rode here on the back of a white bull.”
After Nausica’a said this, she blushed to her ears.
“She’s joking!” said one of the people at the table.
“You know why my boyfriend was first taken with you and had you in mind for the photo shoot?” Caroline asked, “It was your braids. I wish I had longer hair. I would make braids just like them.”
Nausica’a wanted to tell Caroline that even if her hair were longer, she could never hope to have braids like hers, since her braids were a gift from the king of the gods. But she didn’t say this. Already, the people at the table thought she was crazy because she said she came to France from Greece on the back of a white bull; so if she said that her braids were a gift from Zeus, they would surely be convinced that she was an absolute nutcase. And besides, Caroline was nice enough to invite her to this table where they had wine and where the people were laughing, and what’s more, they were offering her a job which might mean some money to live on; so Nausica’a decided it wasn’t a good idea to tell Caroline that only a god could give her braids like she had. Caroline would have probably taken it as an insult.
Jean-Paul, the photographer, who had remained silent throughout the banter at the table, now spoke. He said to Nausica’a…
“Europa… About this advertisement… Don’t think of it as selling some unartistic product. It’s a stylish perfume ad. It’s not for a famous perfume, the designer is not well known. She wants a full page ad in an independent fashion magazine to sell her new perfume. The girl she wants to model the perfume, she says, should be ‘young and fresh, radiating a healthy look and natural beauty.’ With your tanned Grecian skin, and the braids in your hair, I thought you would be perfect. The designer will think you are perfect.”
“But I’m not a model,” Nausica’a replied.
“My camera will decide that,” said Jean-Paul, “It knows if the girl it is shooting is a natural model or not. The advantage you have is that you are natural and young, and you do not consider yourself a model. Too many young girls become models because they believe they were born to be stars. They love to show themselves off. And this shows in the camera and it makes the campaign turn out bad. All you have to do is come by for a few pictures and we’ll see if the results are good or not.”
Caroline bent over to Nausica’a and asked her quietly where she was staying in France…
“I haven’t had time to look for a hotel or anything, seeing as I just got here.”
“A hotel?” said Caroline, “Don’t do that! You simply need to stay with us until this ad is done.” They had a spare bedroom in their apartment in Cannes. “Will you stay with us?”
“Alright,” said Nausica’a.
Caroline and Jean-Paul lived in the hills overlooking Cannes. It was a comfortable little apartment, with all kinds of people coming and going. Nausica’a met the designer who wanted the perfume ad. She was a hard woman, jittery and very skinny, with bulging eyes. She spoke a lot and never listened. Although she seemed to complain about everything, the test photographs turned out so well that she couldn’t help but to be pleased. Her perfume had a terrible name: “Éclat sauvage ,” but she wasn’t herself entirely sold on the name. In fact, when the photographer introduced her to her model after the shoot, she said, “Europa! What a powerful name! It’s so, very, Greek! Maybe I should change my perfume’s name to Europa!”
And so the ad was sold, and Nausica’a had a French perfume named after her. ‘It was all Zeus’ doing,’ she believed, ‘He was the patron of my father, and now he is my patron.’ The perfume had a launch party at a boutique on the Croisette . A talented, but unknown, fashion designer created Nausica’a’s dress for the occasion. She was made-up to resemble Aphrodite—in braids, of course.
With the help of the glossy perfume ad, Nausica’a was signed a few days later to a modelling agency. It wasn’t an elite agency, but they were reputed enough, and their models seemed to get jobs. It was the agency’s practice to house groups of models together, in apartments owned by the agency. This kept models “serious” and dissuaded them from bingeing on social activities.
Nausica’a found life in this agency apartment to be stifling. She was housed with five other girls—all were from Russia or the Ukraine. The other girls spent their evenings sitting around the kitchen table, eating cucumbers and reading beauty magazines.
“It says that eighty percent of all models who make any money whatsoever in modeling are from Russia or eastern countries,” said one of her roommates, reading from a fashion magazine, “The other twenty percent come from all over—most of them from Brazil.”
“That’s because we’re tall in Russia,” one of them said.
“Swedish girls are tall.”
“Yes, but they don’t have oriental cheekbones like we do.”
“Nausica’a is Greek, and she’s not exceptionally tall, and she’s a model.”
“She’s a model, but not a mannequin ,” said one of the girls.
“So much the better,” said another, “models are usually beautiful, whereas mannequins all look like sickly cocaine addicts.”
“Why did somebody put the cucumbers on the stove?” shouted one of the models, “You are not supposed to cook cucumbers!”
Nausica’a took her leave from the table. She had no friends amongst these girls. They bored her. But she was afraid that she was the one who was boring to them. Regardless, she would go seek solace in the quiet of her own room.
‘They are not dreamers,’ Nausica’a told herself as she lay to sleep that night. ‘They may dream at night, but don’t also small babies and animals dream at night? To dream by day and dream aloud: Is this not the reward for all the troubles we humans must face? Oh, when will I begin to dream again? When will I have another vision?—another bull in a field of wildflowers?’
Nausica’a’s agency arranged for her to get a full-time visa so she could work legally in France. She began taking French lessons—five days of the week in class; and at night she studied her French from a book. She had a few photo shoots here and there, and lots—an inexhaustible amount!—of castings. She took her first lover soon, a boy named Gilles.
He was a couple years older than she. She was impressed by his tattoos, his love of driving fast, the fact that he didn’t care about fashion people. She would invite him to parties thrown by designers; he would come drunk usually, and the two would leave.
“I like you,” he would tell her, “because I get to practice my English with you.”
“Is that why you like me?”
“I like you because you’re sexy.”
“And…?” she would ask.
It’s true, Gilles wasn’t a poet, but he was more poetic than the Russian dolls Nausica’a lived with. And he was fun.
There came a day when Nausica’a lost out on a photo job because her French was too bad. The designer was a nervous, flamboyant-type, very gay, who wanted everything “exactly as it should be.” He only spoke French. Nausica’a couldn’t understand all the demands he was putting on her: “Turn your face that way! … No, act this way” and such. Finally, he lost his nerve and said, “You need to replace that girl. She can’t even speak any languages!”
This experience made Nausica’a realize the truth: that she was a foreigner living abroad in a new country. And that adaptation was going to be necessary for her survival. Survival: no small matter.
She decided that she needed to speak only French. She needed to stop speaking English entirely in her daily life. Of course, the Russian dolls she lived with couldn’t speak French, but she hardly spoke to them anyway. No, she would have to cut ties with anyone who refused to speak French with her—after all, if they refused to speak French with her, they would be in a sense trying to diminish her ability to survive in the society where she lived. Only a toxic person, she decided, would attempt to interfere with her goal of surviving in life.
The first person she told of her decision was Gilles. He laughed and said her French was hardly good enough to hold a conversation. She got discouraged and the two went to have a drink. She found, however, that after two glasses of champagne, she could hold a conversation quite well in French. If it wasn’t interesting for the person she was speaking to, at any rate, at least she entertained herself.
She drank yet another glass of champagne and started talking to Gilles only in French. He, in turn, would respond only in English. This annoyed her, but she didn’t care. She felt happy enough with the champagne that she didn’t care about anything. She just rambled on in broken French and felt alive and free. At the end of the night, Gilles dropped her off and he seemed annoyed with the evening.
The next night was Gilles’ birthday. Nausica’a had planned to cook Greek food for him at his house. They drank retsina and ouzo, and Nausica’a gave him his birthday gift and again she felt alive and free—with the wine and the spirits, she began speaking broken French again, and Gilles said, “Please, Nausica’a, it’s my birthday… speak in English!”
She obeyed because it was his birthday, but the next morning when she awoke next to his naked skin, she said, “Bonjour, mon amour,” and continued on in French. It wasn’t as easy to speak French in the morning—without wine to help her. But she did her best.
Gilles showered and took her home, and after that day, he stopped calling her. It seemed the only reason he’d loved her was because he could practice his English with her.
Nausica’a was in need of friends. It had been ages since she lost contact with Caroline, Jean-Paul, Jules and Claire. She couldn’t stand other models, and there was a barrier between models and people “higher up” in the profession. As she only wanted to meet people with whom she could speak French, and since she only seemed to be able to speak French after a couple of drinks, she began going out at night to cafés.
She preferred the bars and cafés that were “populaire”—those of the working class—both because she could go alone and people wouldn’t take her for a prostitute (they would just assume she was a student). And also, because the working class people of Cannes rarely spoke any other language besides French.
And so she would stand at the bar, cheerful as ever, and drink her white wine—champagne would be seen as snobbery in such places—and welcome conversation with anyone who wanted to talk. She met all kinds of people: old drunk men, young students girls, handsome drunk student boys from good families who wanted to pick her up, old lonely women who wanted to tell her about “how terrible life treats ya.”
Her French did improve rapidly—along with her tolerance for wine—and what’s more, she did not learn the bookish French of exchange school students, instead she learned the real French of the streets, the French of the bars and night cafés.She learned all of the slang and colloquial expressions. And so from then on she was quite impressive on photo shoots when she could out-swear the frustrated designers and cameramen.
The years went by and Nausica’a blossomed into a beautiful young woman. She had long since moved out of the agency apartment, and now she lived on her own. She wished her father was alive to see her now—no longer the little Christian angel, now she was a florid pagan nymph—always with braids in her hair!—the same braids that were a gift from Zeus so many years ago…
She wished her father could see her now, speaking French and living in France. She read poetry in his honor. She read Homer in Greek and she read the French poets in French. She read poetic novels of love and, like all young women, she dreamed about that one love.
She had many lovers since Gilles. Some of them left an impact on her, such that she would get a discreet and very feminine tattoo somewhere on her body once the affair ended. But ever since her first lover, Gilles, she did her best to find “nice guys”—ones who didn’t drink too much, and who treated women better than Gilles did.
Nausica’a had one lover who was more serious than all the rest. He was called Julien, and he was about as “nice” as they come. He was open with Nausica’a about his craziest fantasies. The only problem was that she didn’t find them crazy enough. He was what French people call a pantouflard—meaning he liked to stay at home in his pantoufles, or slippers. He didn’t go out, and he hated travel. He hated it when Nausica’a’s agency sent her abroad on an assignment. Sometimes she would get to go to Milan or Prague for a few days for a photo shoot. He imagined the worst and would leave message after message at the receptions of her hotels.
She would get back at him for his jealousy by telling him lies about all the wild things she did behind his back in these foreign cities…
“Handsome and rich older men, fast cars, and tons of cocaine,” she would say when the two were in bed together, “Are you jealous?”
“You know I am. But I know you are lying.”
“I am about this trip, but just wait until they fly me to Rio de Janeiro!”
Nausica’a was so open with Julien in bed, that one morning, while the two were holding each other, he asked her how she got her name Europa.
“That wasn’t always my name,” she said, “I’ll tell you something but it’s just between you and me. Promise me you will never tell a soul.”
“I promise,” he said.
“My real name is Nausica’a. I was named after the princess in The Odyssey. But one day when I was young I had a vision… Zeus came to me in the form of a bull, like in the myth of Europa. And he said to me that from now on, my name would be Europa. It was right after my father’s death. Have you ever had visions?”
“No,” he told her.
Later in the day, the two were getting dressed. Julien said to her, “I’m going to go home for a while. I have a few bills I have to mail today. Can I come for dinner tonight?”
“If you want.”
“I’ll bring groceries. What do you want to eat?”
“Broccoli?” asked Julien.
“Of course,” said Nausica’a, “And yogurt for tomorrow morning.” This was at a time when Nausica’a was only eating broccoli for dinner—and yogurt with honey for breakfast and lunch.
“Okay,” he kissed her before starting for the door, “I’ll bring you broccoli and see you tonight, my sweet, little Nausica’a.” And with that he left.
Hearing Julien call her Nausica’a instead of Europa left her feeling as though she’d been punched in the stomach. Not only did he call her Nausica’a, which was inexcusable in itself, but he also did so in a phrase where he mentioned such a banal thing as “broccoli.”
‘How could he?’ she wondered, ‘My dear father last uttered that name as he lay dying… and now Julien says it with nonchalance as he tells me he will come to see me tonight? And with broccoli! How could he say that name, when I told it to him in bed as a secret? And in the same sentence as broccoli?!’ Nausica’a was stunned. She was devastated.
That night she closed her door to Julien, and she never opened it to him again. He knocked and pleaded through the closed door, but for her it may have well been a whispering ghost in the night, for he was no longer anything for her.
Nausica’a never missed Julien. He was, for her, like a dinner every night of broccoli with lemon juice, salt and pepper. When one eats that same dish every night, one doesn’t miss it the night it’s gone.
The agency and Nausica’a continued their contract together. She continued to live in Cannes and she considered herself happy. She got to travel on assignments now and again. She went to Paris for a few shoots, and she visited some of Europe’s fascinating capitals. She never did go to Rio de Janeiro or New York or anywhere far. She knew she was not ever going to be a supermodel, and she had no desire to be one. Her beauty was in her softness, her sensual hair and godlike braids, her enchanting eyes and feminine mouth. She didn’t desire to have that exotic, alien-like “beauty” that supermodels had, with their grotesque cheekbones and horrific mouths. No, unlike them, Nausica’a had a beauty that would not fade into something monstrous. She was still very young; but when she was older, she would amaze men with her grace and charm and the look in her eyes. These were gifts from her father—that eternally handsome man—and gifts from Zeus. Oh, Zeus! Her patron god! How long it had been since she had had a vision from him! She knew that visions from the gods were gifts alone for those who wander. People who never travel but stay in the same place, destined to stay in the same place, are rarely visited by the gods.
She had just finished reading a novel written by an American writer who lived in Paris. It was the story of a “wanderess.” The heroine was a girl like herself, an orphan whose mother and father were dead; she wandered around Europe in search of life’s meaning. This wanderess too had been visited by a god. The god in this novel came in the disguise of a fortuneteller. The god led her to find the love of her life.
Nausica’a believed that she too was made to wander. She always believed this. Travelling for photo shoots, she knew, was not the same as wandering. Wandering and travelling are as alike as snow and rain.
But she had spent years in Cannes, in a foreign country, speaking a foreign tongue. Was this not wandering? It had been for a time, she knew, but to remain there in that town would not be wandering. She thought of the heroine in the novel and wondered what she would do in Nausica’a’s situation.
It was later that week that her boss came to visit her at the agency. He was holding a brown envelope.
“We received a request for a model,” he began, “from a novelist in Paris. It seems he needs a model for the cover of his new book that’s coming out soon. I came to ask you in person, Europa, because I thought I noticed you were reading a novel of his a while back. His name is Salvador Saint-Thomas. We are going to send a packet of headshots up to Paris for him to look at. Should we include your headshots in the bunch?”
“No,” Nausica’a said without hesitation.
“Oh!” Her boss was surprised. “Maybe you didn’t like his book?”
“Oh, I did!”
Nausica’a paused a moment.
“I did like it.”
“…It’s just that, I don’t like Paris much. You sent me there for those eye cream ads, and another time for Givenchy. I didn’t like the city at all.”
“So we should assume that you do not ever want to return to Paris? What if you have a job offer in Paris that is a model’s dream? A once-in-a-lifetime opportunity?”
“Oh well, I should like to know about it! …It’s just that, right now… Well, you see, it’s the month of November; and Paris must be dreadful in November.”
“It is dreadful in November, my child.” Then he added… “Okay, I’ll take official note of this: Mademoiselle Europa is happy to work in Paris, except when the weather is dreadful. And I am not to send her headshots along with the other models’ for this novelist in Paris to review them.”
Nausica’a smiled at this, she said yes, not to send her headshots—although inwardly she was aching. Her heart felt terrible anguish.
All through the days that followed, Nausica’a dwelled on the concept of wandering. She believed only through wandering could she make her visions reappear. She thought of riding a horse across the plains of Europe. Would that bring back the magical sensation she felt long ago when she rode on the back of that immortal bull? If she wandered up north one summer, to Norway or to Saint Petersburg where the summer days were endless, would those northern lights shine as vibrant as that field of yellow and blue flowers on that day in Greece when she first met Zeus? If she sailed across the grandeur of the oceans: to the Americas, to Mexico, or across the Pacific to Hawaii or Tahiti, would those oceans leave her in awe, as though she were witnessing the grandeur of the gods?
Those who are meant to wander: some act on it after a long, prolonged train of thought, others after a crisis of emotion, while others are pulled on a journey by an outside force: a messenger comes along and puts a roadmap into their hands and bravery into their hearts. Those who resist the urge are doomed to a lifetime of regret… “What if I had gone…?” they ask themselves for the rest of their lives. The one thing Nausica’a knew was that she needed a break from the agency, if only for a few days; she needed time to see if her, so-called, call-to-adventure would either seize her, or if it would pass on its way. She hoped and she feared that it would pass peacefully by, leaving her to her easy and predictable life in Cannes.
That afternoon, Nausica’a missed her appointments at the agency. Before that, at noontime, her boss discovered something was wrong. His secretary came from his office to find him at lunch. She told him that while she was verifying models’ commission checks, which were kept in the cabinet of his desk, she discovered that Nausica’a’s check was missing.
Her boss abandoned his lunch to go through his office to look into that matter, and to look to see if anything else was stolen. It appeared that the only thing missing from his office was Nausica’a’s check from his filing cabinet. He made a quick call to his bank and found that her check had been cashed only moments before—signed with her signature…
“Cocaine,” he muttered aloud, “It’s a pity. You know, and she didn’t seem like the type! Oh well, it happens to almost all models sooner or later…”
While her boss was musing on the downward spiral his Greek model’s life was taking, Nausica’a was strolling happily through a crowded market street, high with pleasure. There was no cocaine in her blood, only the thrill of adventure. Covering her hands, she wore cashmere mittens; covering her body, a short-cropped pepper-colored wool coat to fight the November chill. There were so many things around her in that marketplace which she never found in her neighborhood in Cannes. She found a Greek import store, and she stopped in to look at the treasures she had enjoyed when she was a child. She wanted to get the long-stemmed capers and the feta, but all she bought was a package of green olives and a jar of Greek honey. She took her sack of purchases and swung it as she walked away from the market, towards the métro station, line ten.
The train zipped underground past the Odéon station, and it stopped in the Paris neighborhood of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. Nausica’a got off there. Saint-Germain was her destination.
She had drawn herself a little roadmap, and she found the rue des Saints-Pères easy enough. There was a post office on the corner after a block where she stopped in and asked the postman to put her honey and olives in a mailing parcel. She also bought a strip of stamps and pasted them on the parcel and sealed it up. She then scrawled an address on the front of the padded manila paper and tucked the parcel under her arm.
After the rue des Saints-Pères, she turned down the rue de l’Université , where her roadmap reached its conclusion.
The building was a hôtel particulier , a grand and immense structure, old and richly adorned. The main gate was open and Nausica’a passed through it into a large and stately courtyard.
She stood there agape in that elegant cobblestoned courtyards and looked up at the high windows and the polished white stone walls surrounding her. “He lives in a palace!” she sighed.
The gardienne of the building spied Nausica’a in the courtyard and flew off her perch to investigate the uninvited guest. “Oui, mademoiselle?” she asked in a heavy Portuguese accent.
“Oh!” Nausica’a turned to the gardienne, “Excusez-moi. I have a package to deliver to Monsieur Saint-Thomas.”
The gardienne looked her up and down with suspicion. She then looked at the parcel. “I will take it to him.”
“You cannot. I mean… I need to deliver it in person because I need his response right away.”
“I take care of matters where it concerns Monsieur…”
“It’s urgent,” said Nausica’a, “I need his response this instant.”
“Then I will go with you,” said the gardienne.
The old woman led Nausica’a through one of the many entrances in the courtyard into a stairwell. She called the elevator. Nausica’a glanced around. The woodwork of the stairs was polished like a mirror and smelled of fresh cleaning solvents, and the tapestries on the walls were rich and beautiful. She got the uneasy feeling that this novelist was a very proper man, living in a prim, luxurious and very sterile palace, and that this was to be a formal, brief, and overall uncomfortable meeting.
As with almost all Parisian apartment houses, there were six floors in this one—the sixth being full of small rooms called chambres de bonnes, or “maids’ quarters.” The gardienne punched the button for the fifth floor and the elevator ascended. Upstairs, the hallway was unusually narrow and dim. The paint was flaking off the walls. It contrasted sharply with the rest of the building. The gardienne advanced ahead and hobbled up to a small door that stood halfway open. She called in humbly, “Monsieur Saint-Thomas?”
Nausica’a couldn’t hear a reply, but she heard the gardienne mumbling something about a package being delivered as she advanced a few steps through the open door.
“But you see,” the gardienne finally said so loudly that it echoed through the hallway, “It is a mademoiselle who is delivering the package. And I have never seen a young girl whose job it was to deliver packages!”
Finally the low voice of a man sounded out loudly… “Damn it, I am in the middle of a sentence here! I don’t care who is delivering the package, send her in!”
With that, the gardienne stomped out of the doorway and threw Nausica’a an angry glance. “Monsieur will see you now!” she said with a slight growl, and she stomped away cursing in Portuguese.
Nausica’a bowed her head timidly and started towards the open doorway. But what she saw inside was nothing like what she had imagined!
“Enfin! Le chapitre est terminé! ” a man exclaimed in triumph. Exaltation sounded in his voice. He didn’t turn his head to see his guest, but remained at his desk with his back turned. Nausica’a took that moment of privacy to look around the room the novelist occupied:
If the corridor leading to the apartment was a mess of flaking paint, his apartment was an antique relic of another age. It was not dirty, no, and the paint on the walls was white and looked somewhat fresh—it wasn’t flaking; yet the room was a mess. It appeared to be the novelist’s writing-room combined with his kitchen. Off to the left, a sink and stove was piled with used coffee cups, empty wine bottles and glasses.
The only light in the room came from two sources: one, at the far end of the room where there was a window looking out into the morning over the rooftops of Paris; the other light came from a single, solitary light bulb on a lamp standing on a table near the writer’s desk. The lamp had no shade, and Nausica’a could distinctly hear the light bulb fizzling. It fizzled as it burned soft golden light that glowed on the left shoulder of the novelist who remained motionless, his back all the while turned to Nausica’a. What she didn’t know was that the fizzling of the light bulb would have been inaudible to ordinary ears. When Nausica’a had left the city of Paris outside, and passed through the writer’s courtyard and the corridor leading to his apartment, she had left ordinary time behind her; as soon as she entered the writer’s apartment, she had entered into magical time.
She was not aware of this change, so she wouldn’t have been able to wonder if the light bulb’s transition into magical time wasn’t a vision sent by Zeus. In any case, it was not a vision, but a feeling. All-powerful Zeus, of course, could just as easily send feelings as he could visions, but Nausica’a could not have mused on this possibility. For her, the fizzling light bulb was just that: a fizzling light bulb.
At last, the writer turned around and stood up to greet his guest. ‘Athena has changed this writer into a god!’ thought Nausica’a when she saw the face and body of the novelist, ‘Just like in The Odyssey when the princess Nausica’a first meets Odysseus. He had washed up naked and covered in seaweed on the beach of her island, but the goddess Athena made the naked stranger taller, stronger, and more godlike to behold .’
Such were Nausica’a’s thoughts when she first saw the novelist; but it was not that he was indeed a god in form and beauty, saying that would be an exaggeration. But Nausica’a had romanticized the image of this novelist so much in her thoughts and dreams that now that she beheld him for real, it was not like looking upon a normal human stranger, but like looking upon a Homeric hero.
When her first romantic impression subsided, she studied him more realistically. He was, in fact, extraordinarily tall; but he was not naked like Odysseus was when the princess Nausica’a met him on the beach. Still, he was dressed only in a sleeping shirt and house pants—his hair tousled—as though he had climbed straight from the bed where he slept to this desk where he had been writing. The one thing that was absolutely godlike about him, however, was the way he smiled at Nausica’a when he greeted her. It was the kind of smile that would soothe the nerves of any woman or girl who arrives uninvited at a stranger’s home. His smile beamed a charismatic courtesy that sent a shudder of happiness through the feminine form of Nausica’a’s body. ‘So I am not disturbing his morning and his writing, after all!’ she thought.
The first thing the novelist said to her was, “You don’t look like a typical package deliverer. And so I will offer you coffee, or wine, and a place to sit.”
“Mmm… coffee,” she replied, “Coffee would be good, and a place to sit. I have been travelling for hours.”
The novelist put a Bialetti kettle on the stove to brew the coffee. “My name is Salvador Saint-Thomas,” he said, “But you probably know that or else you wouldn’t have found me.” He showed her to the armchair that was at the end of the room near the window. It was the only other seat in the room besides the wooden chair where the novelist worked at his desk.
Nausica’a sat in the armchair and looked out the window at the zinc rooftops of the Parisian buildings with their white stones, and at the clear blue sky above them. The chair felt very comfortable to her after the hard seats on the train and the métro. Her place by the window was also the only place in that room that was well-lit, the cold November sun had peeked up over the rooftops and bathed the area around her in its fresh light.
Nausica’a set her handbag on the floor near the chair. There was a small table crouched between the chair and the window, but she thought twice about setting her bag on that table. ‘It might seems strange to him if I put it on the table,’ she thought, and so she set it on the floor. She then looked straight ahead of her and saw before her a door that stood halfway open. It was the writer’s bedroom. ‘So he doesn’t sleep on the wooden floor by his desk,’ she laughed to herself. Unlike his writing room and kitchen, which was a mess, his bedroom appeared neat and clean. Only his bed was disheveled, the sheets were rumpled and pulled back. Nausica’a was happy that he wasn’t the type of man who lived alone but made his own bed every morning after waking.
He had told her his full name earlier.
“Yes, I know who you are. I’ve come with a great request of you.”
“A request?” he asked, “This is why you travelled to Paris? You said you’d been travelling for hours. From where?”
“From Cannes. Oh, I know it’s not that far, I know. I mean, it’s still in France. But I left so early this morning that it wasn’t even yet light outside when I left. And I only arrived in Paris an hour ago, and I came straight here.”
“From Cannes, you say? That’s funny. I just received a package from Cannes yesterday. From a modelling agency. They sent me a bunch of headshots of models. Don’t they have a clue that models’ headshots don’t interest me in the slightest?”
“They don’t? I mean… I know about that, about that package. It came from my agency. Or from my old agency, rather. I don’t work for them anymore. I left them. I left them to come here.”
When Nausica’a said this, Salvador Saint-Thomas squinted at her as if to see her better; or as if the light were suddenly too bright in the room and it hurt his eyes. He walked over to the table by his desk and turned out the lamp whose bulb had been fizzling during their meeting. Now, save his creaking footsteps on the wood, there was no sound; there was no fizzling—magical time had ceased. And so they spoke seriously…
“You left your agency to come here?” he asked, “So then you know about the job I’m offering? I need a model for the cover of my next novel. I need her to be seated on a balcony at night, the city and the full moon behind her. I need her to be playing the guitar, serenading the night, you see…”
“Can I pay you a compliment?” Nausica’a asked him.
“Yes, a compliment.”
“Of course,” Salvador replied, “Compliments are what writers need most. Even if we are good writers, you see. Even if we are great writers, and we believe in ourselves and in our work. In spite of that, we are constantly haunted by critics who love to go where we go… just so they can kick us in the muse!” Salvador laughed after he said this, and it was such a goodhearted laugh that it made Nausica’a feel, once again, a sensation of great comfort and welcome. ‘No,’ she thought, when she heard him laugh, ‘I’m not disturbing his morning and his writing after all!’
“My compliment isn’t about your writing,” she told him, “I could compliment you on that, but I won’t. It’s about your French. It’s excellent! You have a slight American accent, but that adds charm. You see, usually Americans who live in France speak terrible French, or no French at all, and many of them have lived in France for years!”
“It’s because they never made the break with their native tongue,” Salvador replied, “There comes a day when an expatriate has to realize that he is trying to live in a foreign country. And if this person can’t speak the local language, his chance at survival is at risk.”
Nausica’a flushed with excitement when she heard this. What the novelist was saying to her was exactly what she had come to learn for herself years before. It was the reason why her first lover, Gilles, had left her. She yearned to tell the novelist that she too learned this first-hand, and that this was the reason why her own French was so good. But before she began speaking, she caught sight of the novelist’s lamp by his writing desk. She looked at the bulb that was no longer glowing, and she felt a sudden sadness because the fizzling had stopped. She didn’t consciously realize that what she wanted was to go back into magical time. But that is what she wanted. She wanted magical time to come back; and so, wordless, she looked into the novelist’s eyes as though to ask him to bring it back for her. He could read desire in her eyes, and it was at this instant that fate, or maybe it was chance, or else the god of the heavens, Zeus, made a cloud appear from nowhere to blot out the sun beyond the window. All of a sudden it grew very dim in the writer’s apartment. And so Salvador went back over to his desk and turned the lamp back on. And once again, the bulb started fizzling. Thus he brought forth the return to magical time.
Salvador then approached Nausica’a and crouched down to where she was sitting in his armchair. “Let me tell you the first sentence of the new novel I am writing,” he said to her as the bulb fizzled and the magic grew. “I just started writing this novel yesterday morning, and I worked on it the whole day and all through the night last night, and all of this morning too. I only slept for an hour last night. I had to in order to keep the creativity alive. No one knows about this novel, you see; so you have to promise me to keep this between you and me. I normally don’t share my inspirations with people. But I feel like I can make an exception with you. The first line is:
“Le monde ne ferait jamais une reine d'une fille qui se réfugie dans une maison à rêvasser, sans jamais voyager.
“You see, the novel will be in English. That same line that will begin the novel in English is:
“Never did the world make a queen of a girl who hides in houses and dreams without traveling.
“What do you think of it? I first told the incipit to you in French because even when I discuss my writing with someone—writing destined to appear in English—I discuss it in French. I hate speaking English. It’s not that I hate it, it’s just that it’s bad for my art. Writing literature, of course, is to be done in English—for that is my native language, my sacred language. But, as far as I’m concerned, anything that is not literature should be spoken in French. If I hear banal chatter in English, I feel like what a priest must feel if he hears swearing in his church. But it’s not just banal chatter either. I admit, after these eleven or twelve years I’ve spent living in France, I’ve forgotten how to speak English. I’m afraid that today,” he laughed, “I wouldn’t even know how to make love in English!”
Nausica’a didn’t know how to express herself at that moment. All she could think of to reply was, “I feel the same way.”
“I’m sorry, I was rambling on,” Salvador said, “Excuse me.” He then thanked his guest for the compliment she gave him and likewise complimented her on her own excellent French. “You have an accent too,” he told her, “Where are you from?”
When she told him, he begged her not to get him started because he would keep her until nightfall with praises of her country. He would have extolled Greece, the epics of Homer, and everything else that her civilization has given to the world.
Nausica’a already knew that Salvador idolized Homer. So much was obvious from his novel that she’d read. She now desired to read all of his other books. She desired more than anything to tell him at that moment that she too loved Homer, and how no one idolized Homer more than her dear father. But Nausica’a knew that if she brought all of that up, she would keep the novelist from his work—she would talk and talk, and listen to him talk, until long after nightfall.
Yet again, Nausica’a heard the light bulb fizzling, and she felt incredibly happy to be in the company of this man. But there was something bothering him. He soon began to pace the floor.
“You say that these headshots came from your modelling agency in Cannes,” he said to her, “You are a model, then?”
“I was a model,” she replied, “I told you that already, I left the agency…” Salvador interrupted her. Suddenly, nervously, as if by a conscious impulse or else one that was completely unconscious, he walked over to the lamp and he turned it off. The bulb that had been glowing now dimmed and died; and thus ended, once again, the magical time for these two people.
Nausica’a grew nervous. She fidgeted. “I left the agency yesterday. You see, after I found out yesterday morning that you sent a request to my boss asking for a model for your book cover, I waited for the lunch hour when my boss went to a restaurant to eat, and I snooped in his office and found your address in the envelope you’d sent him. I copied your address down and left the agency then and never went back. I also didn’t sleep last night. I lay awake thinking. Then this morning, before dawn, I walked in the dark to the train station and got on the first train for Paris. I did all of this for a reason. You see, Monsieur Saint-Thomas, I have a great request to ask of you.”
Salvador was irritated by her words. Once again, he started to pace the floor. All the while, he muttered half replies to her. Then finally he came out and said to her clearly…
“I’m very upset by all this, Mademoiselle! This ‘Monsieur Saint-Thomas,’ you say, ‘I have a great request to ask of you.’ Do you understand, this is the way a lot of people come to me! ‘I have a great request to ask of you,’ they all say. It sounds to me like you are a model who rummaged through your boss’ office to get my address so you could come here and ask me for a job directly, and thus bypass your agency’s fees to make more money by working directly with the client.”
“I would never have even thought of that!” Nausica’a said. She grew baffled. She grew fearful, “Honestly, I swear! I didn’t come here for the job. Like I told you, I left the agency. I left modelling altogether! I don’t want the job! That is not why I am here!”
“You don’t want the job?! What then do you want?!” All of a sudden, he couldn’t make her out. Why then had she come to him?
“I don’t want to model anymore!”
Then why did she come to him?
“I came to you for another reason…”
Did she hope that in coming to him that morning she would be saved from her life of modelling?
“First of all, I need to leave Cannes and never go back!”
Salvador finally responded to her… “But how am I supposed to help with this? Why did you suddenly choose me for this? You obviously chose me with enough passion to rummage through your boss’ office and take the predawn train to Paris!”
“I didn’t rummage, I snooped;and I took the predawn train to Paris because I knew that only you can help me!” She shouted these words, and she threw her head down into her hands in desperation. Her hands she held open on her knees, her palms up, as though waiting to catch something that would fall from the sky.
The novelist waited for her to regain herself. All the while, his apartment grew dim as though night were falling. Nausica’a felt this change in the light too and she looked up and her look of anguish faded. It was only midday then, but it seemed like the hour of twilight. The noontime sun, coincidentally, had disappeared over the rooftop of the novelist’s apartment in Paris. But there was another reason for the fading light—something more strange and profound. As Nausica’a looked up from her hands where her face had fallen in desperation, she heard music; it had just started playing.
She looked around herself, now with a look of complete serenity, as she wondered where the speakers were. She suspected that there might be no speakers at all, but rather that an orchestra had assembled somewhere nearby. She grew inspired and she looked boldly into Salvador’s eyes. He watched her gaze carefully. As the music gained in intensity and the strings began to play, her gaze grew more intense and profound. Hers was a gaze both courageous and emotional. He thought he saw tears beginning to well in her eyes.
“Do you know this piece of music?” he asked her.
“No,” she uttered, her voice quivering with emotion.
“It’s ‘The Moldau’ by the composer Smetana. It is one of my favorite pieces. Listening to it helps me write sometimes.”
“Where is it coming from?” she asked him, again looking around the room for speakers. She saw none.
“It’s coming from everywhere,” he replied.
“From everywhere? So everyone can hear this song?”
“No. Only you and I can hear it.”
Now her eyes were thoroughly glistening with tears as she looked at him. The novelist wanted to study her face clearly, to see the tears glistening on her eyelids; and so he went to the lamp and turned it on once again. And then he came back to Nausica’a and crouched down before her where she sat so he could study her face and her eyes in the lamplight…
And then it happened to Nausica’a. The sound of the fizzling light bulb coincided with the music that came from everywhere, and from nowhere at the same time, and she grew bold and excited to the point where she believed she was going to lose her mind. Was it another vision from Zeus, she wondered? After so many years with no visions, where no sounds were sent to her from the heavens… with nothing to guide her… where before she had a few drops of tears on her eyelids, now they began to pour freely down her steaming cheeks.
“How so beautiful it is!” she cried aloud as she took Salvador’s hands and clasped his hands against hers and pressed this stranger’s hands to her wet cheeks. She then flushed red with embarrassment. She dropped his hands and he put them back on his knees. With hers, she covered her face and said, “I’m sorry to have taken your hands. For I don’t know you, and you don’t know me. It’s just that…”
And with that, she withdrew her hands that she’d pressed to her face, she took them off her cheeks and she beamed Salvador a great and sincere smile. “It’s just that… it’s so beautiful!”
Salvador smiled a knowing look and stood and walked the few steps over to the window. “It’s alright that you took my hands,” he said to her kindly, “In fact, it’s good that you did it. For now we are no longer in ordinary time. You and I are in magical time. And anything is permissible in magical time, anything goes.”
“Magical time?! What is magical time?”
“What is magical time?” he asked, “You hear the music that is playing?”
“Oh yes! That is what made me so emotional.”
“And you hear the fizzling of the light bulb on that lamp?”
“Oh yes! That is what made me cry so profusely.”
“These two things were our entrance into magical time.”
The writer then returned to where Nausica’a was sitting by the window, and he crouched once again down in front of her and this time it was he who took her hands. He held her hands in his and he said:
“Don’t think that it was a god who sent this music to play at this moment. Don’t think that it was sent by some all-powerful force. There is a reason that I know this song by heart, you see; it was I who sent this music to play, this music that comes from nowhere and from everywhere.”
“I see!” she cried, and held his hands tightly. Her own hands were steaming hot from her emotions, “It is you who are Zeus! You are the all-powerful one!”
“No, I’m afraid I am not Zeus, dear girl. I do not have the force to send thunderbolts screaming through the skies. I do not have the ability to make a cloud cover the sun in the way that the cloud covered the sun today, which made me turn the lamp on—that lamp whose sizzling bulb added what was needed to create our magical time…
“No,” he continued, “I am not Zeus on High. I am but a simple novelist who wrote that book about the ‘wanderess’ girl. I am just a novelist who created a story. But now I am helping, along with you, to create this story—our story! You see, I made this music play from nowhere so that we would leave behind all talk of things small, and talk of things real.”
“You say you are not Zeus,” Nausica’a smiled, and then she laughed and her beauty shone brighter than ever as she laughed with tears on her lips, “You say you are not Zeus on High, who can make lightning scream across the sky, but Zeus cannot write a novel to save his immortal life! Zeus cannot choose music as beautiful as this to create magical time and also participate in what we are participating in now…
“No,” Nausica’a continued, “You, my dear novelist, are mightier than Zeus, and when I am with you, I feel stronger than any goddess on Mount Olympus.” And Nausica’a did indeed feel stronger than a goddess. Now that the two were in magical time, she felt strong enough to finally make her confession to Salvador. And so she took her hands from his and wiped the mighty tears from her cheeks, and she immediately returned her hands to his and she told him:
“I am ready to confess why I came to you, why I quit the agency and my life in Cannes, and came to see you in Paris. It was not to get the modelling job at all. It was because of your book about the ‘wanderess.’ I read it over so many times I can’t tell you! I loved it! It inspired me to leave the agency, to leave modelling altogether, and to risk everything by coming to Paris to see you!…”
As Nausica’a took a breath in between phrases, the novelist sighed, for although he did believe in his work, he rarely heard praise as sincere as this. And like all artists, he was sensitive to people’s true opinion of his work; for their always lurked that never-ending shadow of self-doubt that he could not shake, no matter how many good book reviews he got. There was always that never-ending shadow that followed him, laughing at him, telling him that he was ridiculous and his work was ridiculous. But this young lady’s sincere praise encouraged him beyond belief; and what’s more, it inspired him…
“I loved it so much!” Nausica’a went on, “that when my boss asked me if I wanted my headshots sent to you in a bunch with headshots of all the other models, I felt both strong desire and great humiliation. Desire, because I wanted you to see me and to like me. And humiliation, because I felt like my boss was reducing me to a simple ‘head amongst the bunch.’ … ‘What if this great novelist whom I admire immensely,’ I thought, ‘saw my face and said, “Hmm, very nice… a lot of these girls are very nice.” What a humiliating thought to be placed in a lot with these silly, stupid girls that work for the same agency as me!…
“No,” she went on, “I wanted you to see me as I see you. I wanted us to admire each other, because I am much more than just a stupid headshot. So I knew then that I needed to come to you. But! That is not the whole reason!…
“There is more… When I read your novel about the wanderess girl, I felt like I was she! I identified with her so much! Okay, so we are both orphans, yes, but there are other more profound reasons why I felt like her… You see, Salvador, I knew that you created her and sent her a magical guide in the form of a fortuneteller in order to lead her to her destiny. And so I knew that if I met you, I could ask you with all my heart to please do the same for me… You could do with me like you did with your heroine! You could send me on a path that will show me some magical omen. I know that you can guide me, like you guided your heroine, so that I too may find my destiny!”
At this, Nausica’a’s confession, the novelist took his hands from her beautiful, steaming palms, and he smiled a great sincere smile and pressed his hands to his heart. “My dear young lady, you flatter me so much, I feel like my face must be glowing red!” He stood up from her and took a few steps away and turned to look out the window at the rooftops of Paris. He then turned back to face Nausica’a who sat waiting, almost trembling, to hear the outcome of her fate…
“I will help you all I can,” he pledged to her, “Yet, know that I am just a novelist, nothing more. I am a mortal man who created a simple story. Of course, I’ve done things in real life: I created our atmosphere of the lamp and the music today to bring us into magical time. You have noticed that the song has ended. Don’t worry, we can replay it all you want. But for now it has ended because we must leave magical time for a moment so that we can talk seriously…
“Like I said, I am just a simple novelist who penned a simple story about a fictional young woman. You, however, are a real and complex young woman who needs to be in the caring hands of a real god who can write your story as it needs to be written. If I were to be your guide, it would be the mortal leading the trusting. And if anything bad happened to you, I would never forgive myself. Yet, who cares about that! I don’t care about me in this situation. I could give a damn about myself! Let me do a million things that I will never forgive myself for! I will find some god, or the work of cursèd fate to blame… It’s for you that I am worried, my dear. I feel that I am too mortal for this task you ask of me. Sure, I can create music to play for us, and I can keep bulbs fizzling, even when they want to stop fizzling. I can also create these things for you, when you are away from me, out on your own, at the poignant moments in your life. I can create these magical things when I want you to be moved by emotion so you that you will make some magical decision… But what if I sent you music at the wrong moments and you were moved to make a decision that hurt you in the end?”
To this, the clever girl responded, “You are not a simple novelist, my dear, you are a great novelist! And you have the power, I give you the power, to write my life as though I were your character. And as your character, you, the great novelist that you are, will know perfectly well how to create magical time for me only at the moments when I should be making a magical decision.”
“You are a brave young woman,” Salvador said as he leant down once more in front of her, “Please, girl, let me think for a moment…” Saying this, he stood again and disappeared from the room. He went through the doorway leading to his bedroom and returned a moment later carrying a simple wooden chair which he placed in front of the armchair where Nausica’a was seated and was waiting for him.
“I have thought,” he said once he sat down in the chair, and he took Nausica’a’s steaming hands in his once again. Her cheeks still shone with the wet tears on her face. With her hands, she coursed them nervously along the braids that were wrapped around her head and tied in the back against her long, flowing hair, “I have thought,” he said, “And I am up for the challenge. I will guide you on your way—as you go about your way. I will give you the visions that Zeus used to give you before he abandoned you on the shores of the Côte d’Azur. So do not be afraid. Go about your way and know that you have me to guide you. And I will do my best to protect you.”
With this, his words, her hands in his started steaming hotly; her tears began once again to stream from her eyes. “But what now?!” she asked, “You say ‘go about your way’ but I have no way to go about! Can’t I stay here? With you?”
“By your own request,” he told her, “you have entered into the life of a wanderess. So go about your way and go wander! Do not go back to Cannes, there is nothing for you there. You told me yourself you do not want to return there. Cannes is too small for you. You are too cultured, too intelligent, and too creative, to return to the life lived by those ‘silly girls’ you work with. So go wander! Go far from Cannes, far from Greece, and trust in your way.”
“But if I leave you, I leave magical time behind!”
“You will once again have magical time in your life. Do not be afraid.”
“I am not afraid. I have you to guide me.” And with that, she kissed the novelists hands and let them fall and stood up and wiped the tears from her face. It was no use, because new tears started to sprout from her eyes, replacing those she had wiped away.
“I am going now,” she cried, and she hugged the novelist hard, hoping it would not be the last time she hugged him. He too hugged her back. She took his hands a final time and she brought them to her lips and she kissed them hard; and she said, “Thank you! Oh, you dear man, my heart thanks you as it has never before thanked another living soul. Thank you, thank you!”
“I will walk you downstairs,” he said as he guided her outside into the corridor. There was light in the corridor now. It had been so bleak when she came here guided by the gardienne. But now it was warmly lit. For it was Salvador who guided her now. The once-chipped paint was gone. Now the paint was fresh and beautiful. At first she wasn’t sure if it was Salvador or Zeus who had changed the ambience of the corridor—anyway, since her arrival in Cannes, she believed Zeus had left her life forever. No, she knew it was Salvador who had changed the ambiance in the corridor. She knew it was Salvador who was now her immortal protector. She knew this as soon as that eternal music began once again to play. And as he led her to the elevator, and down through the lobby into the courtyard, the music that came from nowhere and from everywhere, followed the couple as they walked together.
It was in the courtyard that Nausica’a saw a sight that blew her mind: Not only was she in magical time, but she was also in the eternal sublime… For in that same courtyard she had passed through to meet the novelist, where she had remarked its quaint stone rockeries planted with green ivy and vines—all green and grey—she now saw a sight to behold! As Salvador now accompanied her, that same courtyard was now abloom with a multitude of colorful flowers—as many petals of flowers as there are grains of sand on a beach: orchids and pussy willows, hibiscus and hyacinths—and all were lit by the rays of the vibrant sun. Salvador’s courtyard had suddenly turned into the Garden of Eden. And what was all of this for, if not to add magic to their farewell? It was indeed a magic that was greater than any dream Nausica’a had ever dreamt. In that orchard of flowers, Nausica’a said farewell to the novelist.
“But wait!” he called to her as she was walking through the main gate, “I never even asked you your name!”
The girl turned around and beamed him a smile. “Europa!” she called back, smiling; and then she ran back to him.
Now that the two were face to face again, she smiled at him, panting from running, and said to him again, “Europa is my name.”
“Europa,” the novelist said with joy in his voice, “It’s nice to meet you, Europa! Tell me, did you by any chance come from Greece to France on the back of a white bull?”
“Hey, how did you guess that?! So you know the myth of Europa!” The moment she said this, she blushed with embarrassment. She instantly felt stupid for asking that question. ‘Why did I ask that?’ she thought, ‘He is a novelist! And he loves Homer! Of course he knows the myth of Europa!’
“Yes,” he smiled to her, “I know the myth.” The way Salvador smiled at Nausica’a his charismatic smile, it erased all the shame Nausica’a had felt for asking such a dumb question. She felt reassured by that smile of his. She loved his smile.
“Europa became the queen of Crete. But you, my dear Europa, will become the queen of the world. So go now and wander far, be it on the back of a deathless bull or on the soles of your precious feet.”
And with that, she turned her back to her friend with tears flowing from her eyes—those eyes that shone with gratitude for the beauty of their meeting. She then left forever the courtyard which she would never again come to see for the rest of her life. Never again would Nausica’a see that writer’s home on the rue de l’Université. And so, in that magical time, she felt this goodbye deep within herself. And so she had great tears in her eyes as she left him alone in his Garden of Eden of multitudinous colors, while she herself went off alone into the vast, grey bustling world of strangers in that city called Paris.
When Salvador returned to his apartment, there was no longer any music, and his lamp bulb no longer fizzled. He was not a god, just a man; and he couldn’t have brought back magical time even if he wanted to. He didn’t realize it, but he needed Europa for magical time, and she was no longer there.
He would not work anymore that day, instead he went to bed so he could think about that mysterious Greek creature who had walked so bravely into his apartment that morning. She had come that morning like a shade, and she left like a dream.
There was so much he wanted to say to her which he didn’t. He lay on his bed, the window open, a blanket over his body to warm him from the cold autumn air that blew in from the window. ‘I would have liked to tell her how brave she was to leave her agency in Cannes… all those parties that filled her nights, and the glittering cameras that filled her days. To tell her how brave she was in coming here, to face a strange man in his apartment whom she knew only from a book he’d written. But mostly he wanted to tell her that he admired her because of her emotional nature; because of her ability to see, and believe in, visions.
“But why this sudden desire to have told her things you didn’t?” he asked himself aloud, “After all, she is just a young model, isn’t she? Why these sudden regrets for not having spoken certain words and emotions to a silly model?…
“Yet still, she inspires you, Salvador Saint-Thomas. Maybe she inspires you because she is Greek and you have a naïve superstition that she may be a blood descendant of the immortal Homer? Is that the reason she inspires you?”
Salvador had a habit of talking to himself aloud in the third-person. He also habitually referred to himself in the third-person when he talked to other people. In an interview once, a reporter asked him if he was inspired by modern literature.
“Modern what?” he replied, “You call that literature?! Do you really think Salvador Saint-Thomas would be inspired by the garbage they publish these days?!”
The reporter took the mention of his full name in the third-person for snobbery. But Salvador believed it wasn’t snobbery. A novelist talks about himself in the third-person to distance himself from the works he creates. When a novelist speaks of himself in the first-person, his image and his work begins to marry each other; and through this, his work suffers.
But that was there and then. Here and now he was on his bed thinking about Europa. “Is it because she is Greek that I cannot stop thinking about her? Nonsense! If I wanted, I could go on a book tour in Athens and meet a ton of Greek beauties and liken them all to Aphrodite!
“No!” he continued speaking aloud to himself in his bedroom, “It is not because she’s related to Homer—although that is definitely attractive—it’s because of the qualities she demonstrated to me today: She is creative and she is wild! She does spontaneous things, like take predawn trains across the country. You were an idiot, Salvador, to group her with the silly models she works with. You think that she had any other choice than to become a model, after Zeus dropped her off on the shores of France?
“Wait… Do you really believe she rode on a white bull from Greece to France? By the gods, I do! That is the kind of wild thing that would happen to a wild girl like her! For she truly is a magical girl!”
One would think from Salvador’s discourse with himself that he was falling in love. ‘Impossible!’ he said, “I’ve only met her once!… And besides, I have no way of finding her. All I know of her is that her name is Europa and she used to work for such-and-such an agency in Cannes. But she will never go back there, for I sent her wandering! And so her old agency would have absolutely no way of finding the bread-crumbs she’s left behind. And anyway, a wanderess of her spirit will never leave a trail of bread crumbs behind her!—ah, that girl!”
But the fact that Salvador spoke these words beginning with “Impossible! I’ve only met her once!” was proof enough that his feelings for her were deeper than one usually develops for a passing fashion model who stops by a novelist’s apartment one morning to announce that she’s quit her career to follow in the footsteps of the novelist’s heroine. No, it was true. Salvador had stronger feelings for her than he realized that day.
Nausica’a, meanwhile, was floating like a butterfly through Paris. At one point she stopped, she looked down at her arm. She noticed she still had the package with her that she had brought to the novelist’s apartment. ‘I should have liked to leave him with the Greek olives and honey—oh well!’
She continued walking and when she passed a bum sitting on the road asking for spare change, she handed him the package of olives and honey and continued on her way.
Nausica’a strolled in a daze of disbelief along the boulevard Saint-Germain in the direction of the Quartier Latin, in her memory she relived her show of bravery during that brief but poignantly-beautiful meeting with her writer. Their meeting left her in place above the clouds, where aeroplains fly, where the sun always shines. She loved it that he didn’t compliment her even one single time on her beauty! As a model, she heard this compliment everyday. In fact, she heard nothing but this compliment! Oh, how she had always desired to even be once complimented on something other thanher beauty! Salvador did just that: he complimented her on her culture, on her intelligence, on her creativity; and on her bravery—her courage! These were the compliments she’d yearned to hear for years!
Salvador, she discovered, was the most beautiful person she’d ever met. Their meeting left her in such a daze that she left her route towards the Quartier Latin, and began to simply roam aimlessly around Paris. Meanwhile, the cars and the autobuses, all zipped by her and around her. She gave no notice. Her head was abuzz with thoughts of him… ‘What an amazing man!’ she laughed out loud. Meanwhile, the passersby on the sidewalk all stopped to stare at her… Where was she going, this entranced female, waywardly-walking, with a beautiful grin pasted on her lovely face?
The only thing that brought her back to the real world was when she wondered if he too felt even remotely like she did. ‘He probably gets so many thousands of fan letters, that I am just one of many for him!’ But she just laughed at this, for she didn’t care. ‘Let me be one of thousands! For I feel so good now!’ Then she worried about him. ‘Maybe I am special for him! And he has no way of contacting me! All he knows is my first name! He sent me ‘wandering’ before I left. How could he know where I’ve wandered to?!’
Fortunately, she knew his address by heart and she was going to write him a letter very soon. She knew exactly what she was going to write!
Salvador put away the book he had spent days and nights working on, and which he was writing the moment Europa entered his apartment that November morning. Everything had changed for him since her visit. Instead of writing, he read books, he read newspapers, anything to keep his mind off of her.
Then, two days later, he received a letter from her…
My Great Friend,
You sent me wandering, and I did indeed go wandering! It’s true, I never left Paris…. but I wandered all throughout Paris until my feet were blue! And to tell you the truth, all of my thoughts were of you! Of you and of our meeting together. Oh, I must walked the same streets over and over, all the while happily thinking of you.
Finally, I couldn’t go any farther, and so by nightfall, I stumbled on a building where there was advertised an attic for rent by the week. It on the rue des Fossés St-Bernard . I am staying here now. As you know, the rue des Fossés-Saint-Bernard is in the fifth arrondissement of Paris, near the métro line-ten which goes directly to your house. But I know that you do not want another surprise visit from me. And since, as you told me, to “go wandering,” I will leave Paris as soon as possible. This is the reason I didn’t write my current address on the envelope because I plan on staying here only a day or two. The next letter I send will have an address on it so you can write me!—Oh, please write me as soon as you possibly can!!
Je t’embrasse très fort !
Nausica’a’s letter left Salvador enraptured. So she would continue writing to him! He knew deep down that her letters were going to inspire his art—his life. These, of course were the same thing: art and life. Love, art, and life are all intertwined and go to make up the artist; so that the artist is not merely an artist, not one who lives, not one who loves, not a person at all. The artist is a spirit. And only the one who can understand this can ever love an artist.
Yet, Nausica’a’s letter was so short, and there wasn’t another that immediately followed, and so Salvador was left hungry for more—more inspiration—oh well! He would just have to wait, and moreover, to write… to write in his books what was missing in his real life. He would have to write his hunger.
In those days, Salvador could only write a few paragraphs each day. Oh, there were times before when he wrote like a maniac, but at this time, he was moving slow. He always desired to write his books with the consistent and amazing speed of Balzac. No, he didn’t like Balzac. Balzac bored Salvador to tears. He believed his books were written without passion. Balzac had a strong addiction to coffee, and used coffee to keep himself writing morning and night, day after day, year after year. Unfortunately, coffee had no effect on Salvador. Salvador could drink twenty cups in an hour and fall asleep directly afterwards. No, coffee wouldn’t do for Salvador. What Salvador needed was awoman. The way Salvador watched a woman as she lay in his bed in the morning light, her naked legs covered only by a thin sheet, the way her legs would tremble softly shaking, quivering… Salvador observed her legs half-naked, half-covered by the cotton sheet, and likened them as they quivered to the strings of a well-strung classical guitar played by a master musician. Each shudder of her legs beneath the sheet was the vibration of the string of the plucked guitar uttering a gentle and romantic ode that went to fill the citrus-scented air with a sweet serenade that filled Salvador’s heart with perfection, inspiring him to write and create… to write and write until his fingers exploded in a passion that can only be felt when one reads the lines of a perfect poem or hears a song gloriously played, or listens enraptured to the breath of a woman as breaths her sweet breath after she’s come to the most sensual of all climaxes a body can experience.
And yet, Nausica’a’s letter came so late, and it was so short, that it left Salvador hungry for more inspiration. It was about a week later that Salvador received the second letter from Europa. It was postmarked from Hungary, and his gardienne delivered the letter the first thing in the morning the day it arrived. Mornings were a crucial time for Salvador. They set the tone for the novelist’s workday that would follow. He always worked the best in the morning, and so if there were some nasty bill collector that wanted to unload the miseries of his gloomy profession on Salvador’s literary soul, his gardienne would save the envelope and deliver it in the late afternoon so it wouldn’t ruin Salvador’s workday. But Salvador’s dried-up old gardienne had no idea how a young demoiselle like his Europa could possibly ruin his workday, so she thought nothing other than to deliver her letter the moment it arrived, first thing in the morning. Reading it took all of the literary strength out of Salvador’s soul…
I just arrived in Budapest—well, three days ago. It is an incredible city… sprawling. One must take a taxi everywhere; or if one wants to be alone, one takes the gondola up the hilltop to the quiet part of the city on the other side of the Danube.
I also walk for hours each day and I buy paprika in every market I pass. I probably have four kilos of paprika in my traveler’s sack! I’m sure it helps me to lose weight… Goodness!—I’m still thinking like a model when I travel! I need to stop! Anyways, the food is so awful here! I’m sure you’ve been to Budapest, but understand that I must write you letters as though you haven’t been to these places I visit; otherwise, I’ll assume you know “everything” and I won’t dare to tell you my impressions of the things that are new to me. By being a model at a young age, by having a father who was a poet and who constantly wondered at why we do what we do, these things have inspired me to not eat animals—except for fish. Models believe that fish helps hair, skin and fingernails look nice, and many Greek poets, like my father, believe that Greece produced so many great thinkers because we are eaters of fish… Anyways, there is absolutely nothing on a menu in Budapest that offers fish, or vegetables with no meat! It is too hard to eat here, and eating is such an essential part of life, don’t you agree? I will write you more letters as my journey progresses. You can write to me as often as you wish. I am at the Öröm Hotel in the Tenth District. It is near the Népliget Park, which is a beautiful place to walk. They say it is the biggest park in all of Budapest. Oh, I almost forgot to mention to you my favorite of all places in the city… Before dinner every night, I wander up and down the Place Liszt, up and down, again and again!
I don’t much like Liszt as a composer, but I love the promenade that’s named after him! The only thing that strikes me as odd, is that—seated at the countless tables outdoors where drinks are served—there are eight girls for every one guy! ‘There must have been a war recently,’ I think to myself, ‘…lots of casualties! Or perhaps Hungary is at war right now?!’ What else could explain there being so many young ladies—and all of them so pretty!—seated all in groups of other girls, with just a couple of guys here and there randomly spaced?—how odd! Anyways, I am here now, at the Place Liszt, alone with my cup of coffee, writing this letter to you. I hope you are happy.
But this is not all I want to say to you—to describe a city you probably already know. What you don’t know is how I have yearned for our ‘magical time’ ever since I went wandering.
It caused Salvador great pain to have to suffer this letter from Europa. He quickly tore out a sheet of fresh paper to reply to her. He wanted more than anything to begin by saying that he had no gerbil, nor hamster, nor any other rodent, but that he wanted to run out and buy a plump hamster so that he could tear her letter into shreds and fill the beast’s cage with the letter shreds and let it piss and defecate all over it, and then roll its filthy body in the mess. Instead of writing back to the girl his revelry of rodent revenge for having wasted his time and spoiled his mood that morning, he instead reached for the telephone to call up Budapest.
“The Öröm Hotel please,” he said, “Yes, hello. I’ll be travelling to Budapest soon and I’ll need a room. Yes, for one person. What are your rates? Per day, I see. I see, breakfast included… Well, thank you!” And he hung up the phone.
It turned out that the Öröm was a one-star hotel in an industrial neighborhood of Budapest, offering rooms at dirt-cheap prices. Salvador’s hamster idea vanished in a plume of smoke. He instead got out his checkbook, wrote a decent-sized check for Europa, and then dashed off the following letter to her…
PLAKA: (Greek: Πλάκα) is a historical neighborhood at the base of the Acropolis in Athens. It was developed around the ruins of the ancient Athenian Agora which dates to either the 6th or 7th Century B.C. The name “Plaka” wasn’t given to the neighborhood, however, until the early 19th Century.
SHE BELIEVED THE BULL TO BE ZEUS COMING TO TAKE HER AWAY: A reference to the myth of Europa, after which Zeus names Nausica’a in the novel. The earliest literary reference to Europa is found in The Iliad. According to Greek mythology, Europa was a Phoenician princess abducted by Zeus. After becoming infatuated with her, Zeus came to Europa in the form of a friendly white bull with the intention of seducing her. Europa was not afraid of the bull and began to caress him. She then mounted him and he took her to Crete where he revealed himself to her as Zeus. He then made her the queen of Crete. The continent of Europe is named after her.
HÉBÉ: (Greek: Ἥβη) The Greek goddess of youth, daughter of Zeus and Hera. The word “hébé” is also used to describe the time at which a girl or woman has reached the climax of her beauty, in contrast to the masculine version: “Aristeia” (ἀριστεία), the time when a Greek man fights his ‘best fight’ in battle.
BURNT OFFERINGS: In Homeric epic, humans make sacrifices to the gods in the way of ‘burnt offerings.’ It should be noted that humans would eat all edible parts of the animals they killed and only burn the bones and other inedible parts to supplicate the gods. This may seem like a strange practice to modern readers, but one must understand that in ancient times, protein was scarce, and a sufficient amount of vital resources were expended in the physical labor of the hunt. In Homer’s epics, the gods seem not only appreciative of these inedible burnt offerings, they make the reader believe that receiving these sacrifices is one of the greatest joys of being a god.
MANNEQUIN: The French word ‘mannequin’ refers to a runway model, as opposed to a ‘modèle’ who poses either for photographers or for painters. Height requirements for mannequins are significantly higher than they are for modèles.
HÔTEL PARTICULIER: (Fr) A large French townhouse or mansion, once inhabited by the nobility. The word hôtel comes from the Old-French ‘hostel’—meaning ‘inn’—and is used today not just for commercial hotels, but also for French mansions, French cities’ Town Hall (Hôtel de Ville’), and their principal hospitals (see: ‘Hôtel-Dieu’).
GARDIENNE: (Fr) ‘Concierge’ (feminine form). The guardiennes of Parisian apartment houses live on the premises and are in charge of multiple duties including cleaning and delivering tenants’ mail. A surprising number of Parisian guardiennes are natives of Portugal.
MADE THE STRANGER…MORE GODLIKE TO BE HOLD: Payne’s character Nausica’a is making a reference to Book VI of The Odyssey, where Odysseus meets the princess of Phaeacians, also named Nausica’a (Ναυσικάα) in Homer’s epic. In The Odyssey, a shipwrecked Odysseus is washed ashore on the island of the Phaeacians where their princess is playing ball with her handmaidens. The goddess Athena (the divine protector of Odysseus) made Nausica’a throw the ball and miss, which sent the ball into the sea where Odysseus lay. When the girls cried out, Odysseus was awoken from his sleep, whereupon he approached the princess. Athena gave the princess the gift of courage so that she would greet the naked stranger (xenos). Later, after Odysseus washes the brine and seaweed from his body, Athena makes him “taller, stronger, and more godlike to behold,” so that when he comes back to Nausica’a she admires his beauty and even suggests that she would be happy to have such a man for a husband.
RUE DES FOSSÉS-SAINT-BERNARD: Roman Payne lived at 5, rue des Fossés-Saint-Bernard for one year, from 2000 to 2001. It was while he was living in this 10-meter² studio, which he referred to as his ‘writing room,’ that he began work on his first novel. A year later, he was nearly finished with the novel when the only existing copy of the manuscript was stolen in The Hague, while Payne was travelling from Paris to Amsterdam to take photographs for a fashion magazine. He also wrote many songs for the guitar in his writing-room. And he claims that his fondest memory from the year he spent in that room was one day when he received a formal reply from Leonard Cohen’s manager stating that she would be “delighted” to listen to a demo of Payne’s renditions of Cohen’s songs (Note: Leonard Cohen is Payne’s all-time-favourite musician and living poet). Sadly; however, Payne was unable to record the demo for Cohen’s manager. One week after he received her letter, the tip of his middle finger on his right plucking-hand was cut off while Payne was attempting to climb to the top of La Notre Dame de Paris. Luckily for Payne, a very distinguished hospital is located about 50 meters away from the Notre Dame, and Payne was in enough shock following the accident to actually pick his torn finger from the ground and carry it with him to the hospital. The moment he entered the hospital, the front of his white, summer dress suit covered in blood, he announced aloud: “Je viens de me couper le doigt!” whereupon he lost consciousness and fell to the floor. After the operation, a nurse woke Payne and said, “You were extremely lucky! Our best surgeon was on duty when you arrived. He fixed your finger, you will regain full use soon, only a minor scar, etc.” …But what was Payne trying to do, by climbing La Notre Dame de Paris in his best white suit? Was he crazy? According to Medical Examiner who ran blood tests on Payne during the operation: ‘He was not drunk at the time. One must believe he only wanted to climb to the top of Notre Dame. When we are young, we sometimes have those desires.’