Saturday, December 01, 2012

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Fourteen

Extinction events. Don't you feel we're on the cusp of one?
Could be but I don't think we'll be around for the party.
Pas pire. C'est un Android.
Je pense à l'achat d'une tablette.
Honestly, I am so tired of struggling with them. The glass ceiling is becoming thicker and thicker.
Have you tried talking to the head of Personnel?

Jerome van Starke tried not to listen to the voices of those around him as he painted, with intention and finesse, a dark cave into the forbidding landscape of his espresso. Quietly, he placed the small spoon on the saucer and attempted halfheartedly to look out the windows of the Café Hermeticum, the view of the street and the passing foot sloggers was obscured by the humidity of warm bodies and their exhalations. But there was not much to see anyway, the fog having extended its veiled visitation. He crossed his legs at the side of his table and casually bounced his finely aged expensive leather boot up and down. An old habit. He took a sip of the dark bitter liquid and, glancing around him, noticed that the other customers were unfamiliar. A younger crowd was now frequenting the café. There was a time when he would overhear conversations about the latest Bertrand Blier film, or a discussion of Réjean Ducharme and the music of Renaud, but change was inevitable. Perhaps he too was involved in an extinction event. Our very lives, he thought, are extinction events.

Cusp. He liked that word. Cusp.

Of course, it was a Monday morning. Conversations were bound to be prosaic. It wasn't a Friday evening, sultry jazz dripping from the speakers.

A glass ceiling. That would be a challenge to paint. An image came to him of men and women walking on a glass floor, mirrored to reflect themselves while below, women and men looked up, seeing only the soles of the shoes walking above them. He tried to think of an old painting that would be adaptable to that image. Lost in this thought, Jerome didn't notice the dark outlines of three men in front of the café window. Two of them remained outside in a shadow play of cigarette rituals while the third made his way to the door. The expensive camel hair coat reaching to the man's knees was the first item that caught Jerome's attention, followed by the face. It was a mature handsome face that would not have been out of place in a magazine featuring models wearing expensive European suits and jackets. He was a customer visually out of place amongst the jeans, tattoos, piercings, and indie Icelandic music coming from the speakers. He watched him approach the counter and order an espresso, his reflection in the large oval mirror catching the mirrored wall behind Jerome creating a cascading effect. Jerome liked to sit in his spot to catch just such moments. The man carried his espresso over to Jerome's table and placed his cup down. He then took off his coat and draped it over the empty third seat. Sitting down with a sigh, he crossed his dark suited legs and looked towards the opaque light from the window. Half turning towards Jerome, he said, “English weather,” and then busied himself in stirring his espresso before tapping the spoon gently on the edge of the cup, a practice and sound that reminded Jerome of his Father. “At least it adds character to an otherwise, mundane world.” He lifted his cup and said, “Shall we toast the day?” Jerome, feeling like a vulnerable piece in a chess game, hesitatingly lifted his cup. They drank in unison.

After a pause, the man drew out a thin portfolio wallet from an inner pocket of his suit jacket and pulled out a business card which he laid before Jerome. “My name is Landgrave, Jonathan Landgrave. I've been asked to make a request on behalf of my client. He would like you to paint his wife's portrait. He has heard of your reputation and knows of your great skill in reproducing older styles of painting.” Mr. Landgrave finished his espresso with a flourish. “The renumeration will be considerable.” He reached into his shirt pocket and extracted a folded piece of paper, and laid it before Jerome. “This is the initial payment to cover your costs. A minor cheque for supplies. He would like you to start tomorrow. My associates,” he gestured to the window, “will pick you up and carry anything you require. There is an excellent room for the sitting with the requisite light.”

Jerome looked at the cheque, images from Fragonard and Nattier flitting through his thoughts.
“Who is your client?”
Mr. Landgrave rose and proceeded to put on his coat. “That will be, I am afraid, undisclosed. He would like a degree of anonymity. I am his appointed agent.”
Jerome opened the folded cheque to see it was made out to him for $2,000, to be drawn on the account of Landgrave and Landgrave, Notaries.
“I shall leave you to think upon the offer. They will pick you up tomorrow morning at 10:30. Oh, the subject or painting to be reproduced is on the back of my business card. We do hope you will accept the proposition. My client admires your skill very much.”

Jerome was hindered in his reply by the very nature of Landgrave's direct and efficient approach. He wasn't used to such abrupt decisive interactions. The notary had already joined his associates and moved off into the fog before Jerome could think of a response. He turned over the business card and read: 'the portrait of Lucrezia Panciatichi by Agnolo Bronzino.' He was intrigued and tempted. This could cover his Triestine vacation. December, January and February in Italy would be a change. Not that much warmer but he could take trips to Florence and Rome and perhaps a diversion to Capri.

Jerome closed his eyes and laid his head back against the cold mirror and tried to visualize the Bronzino portrait. Much satin, velvet, and jewelry darkly framed. It would be a challenge. A fairly straight forward portrait though. No ponderous mythological or religious connotations. He could care less about the meaning of old paintings, he merely enjoyed using their settings. It was all visual to him. The art historians and critics could write their pages and pages of exegesis but it was, for him, form, colour, structure and, the faces. 

His curiosity and his financial self-interest began to dissolve his inertia like a sugar cube in coffee. He could go tomorrow and if he didn't feel at ease, he could back out. He hadn't signed any contract.

He withdrew a small brown notebook from his leather jacket and with his pencil he made notes

Cusp, elaborate.
Glass ceiling / floor.
Bronzino – supplies, size of orig. canvas, new brushes, etc.,
Any perceptive craquelure? Desired replication?
Look up Landgrave and Landgrave.

Then he sketched Jonathan Landgrave's face from memory. A caricature. He wondered if there was fog in the desert. Wondered if his coat was genuine camel hair. Wondered if camel hairs would make good paint brushes.

He walked to the window wrapping his scarf around his neck, and with three fingers, he flourished a thick line at eye level and looked out. The softness in the atmosphere muted the sharp-edged greyness of the fall, a foreground impressionism of wet pavements, bricks and dessicated leaves. Trieste, it could very well be Trieste in a morning fog.

© ralph patrick mackay

1 comment:

Melwyk said...

This is the best one yet :)