Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Yes Cecil, A Long Story Short, Part Forty-Four

Pavor Loveridge stood flat-footed and sweating lightly before the closed doors of the Cathedrale di San Giusto. The morning visitation period had ended. It was either lunch or prayer time within, or both. A vendor in the parking lot selling panini and hotdog fare was still occupied with a clutch of hungry stragglers, but Pavor overcame the visceral urge and began to take pictures of the church on his cell phone. The Romanesque architecture with its squat bell tower of rustic stone and the main chapel of rustic brick and stone seemed cobbled together over time. The simple Rose window over the entrance was a welcomed detail to the rather austere facade topped by the small Triestine cross.

The shade drew him away leading him to a fenced garden, and over the fence he could see in the distance a small white classical building with Corinthian columns, almost a miniature example, though more elaborate in design, of the Anglican church he had passed on the street below. The gate was open. Turning to the left he noticed a well-dressed older man, with fine grey hair and and clipped Vandyke beard sitting on a bench in the shade, his hat and a wooden black and white patterned chess box beside him. The man's legs were crossed in an urbane fashion, and he nodded at Pavor and said hello in Italian.

“Bon giorno,” Pavor returned with a nod.

“Are you American?” the man enquired.

“Canadian,” he said with a half smile, “Montreal.” He approached the septuagenarian at his siesta.

“Please, please, sit, relax. You have come a long way, no? Canada, Montreal, yes, a long way.”

“It's a beautiful spot here. Very peaceful.”

“The oldest part of Trieste young man, a place where the Romans had their Capitoline temple, and within, Jupiter, Minerva and Juno once looked down upon the citizens and visitors like yourself.” A gust of wind swept over them like an admonishment. The older man spread his arm out in a sweep of the area before them, “A cemetery too it was many years in the past,” he said wistfully. “Yes peaceful, though history, much of it sad, is all around us. This cemetery became a garden full of Roman artifacts, stone remnants, broken columns, but now, most have been moved to the Castle. And there,” he said pointing to the classical building with the Corinthian columns as if in honour of the original Roman temple, “you have the mausoleum or cenotaph to Winckelmann, the father of archaeology. A wealthy lawyer, Domenico Rossetti, long ago formed the Società di Minerva which studied and preserved the history of Trieste, and it was he who was responsible for this garden and mausoleum. A man of many arts he was, he possessed a great library with many rare works of Petrarca. The sculpture within is very well done, Canova was a student of the original artist.”

“I've heard the name of Winckelmann but I didn't know he had a Trieste connection.”

The old man stroked his moustache and bearded chin. “A violent end, a violent end. With his friend the Italian sculptor Cavaceppi, he was travelling north to Germany to revisit his homeland. They reached Munich but Winckelmann had changed his mind. He had been away too long perhaps. He wanted to return. They travelled to Vienna instead and met the royal family and he was given honours of gold and silver medallions but still he continued in his desire to return to his cherished Rome. What does one think? He left Cavaceppi in Austria and made his way to Trieste. Alone. Waiting to catch a ship for Venice, he stayed at one of the old hotels near the harbour, and befriended an Italian peasant staying in the next room who was also waiting for a ship. Arcangeli was his name and he had a criminal past. Winckelmann was secretive about who he was but showed the man his medallions. Well, you can imagine. Arcangeli tried to strangle him with a rope but Winckelmann was strong yes, and then the thief stabbed him before fleeing. When Arcangeli was caught, he defended himself by saying Winckelmann was a spy, a Jew reading a book of magic. Of course antisemitism was not new. The book was Homer's Iliad. In Greek. He was punished by death on the wheel, Ixion, yes, in front of the hotel. Another violent end. And so the wheel of life turns, and turns, and turns.” He paused to brush away a small leaf that had fallen upon his shoulder. “This mausoleum would not exist if Winckelmann had decided to stay in Germany or travel to Greece with another scholar, and yet he must have been disappointed in his return, finding the northern world cold and harsh in comparison, while the warm south, the Classical world, was his dream, a dream to which he returned.” The man shook his head. “Only to find a nightmare, yes, incubo. And to think, he could have stayed in Germany and met Goethe.”

“You know the story quite well.”

“I have had many hours to read, many hours. So,” he resumed, “the realm of chance yes, the decisions and choices of life. In the Cathedrale there are the tombs of Don Carlos and his descendants, the Carlists. But for a woman slapping a man, Don Carlos and family would have ruled Spain. Chance, decisions, choices.”

“Who slapped whom?”

“Well, King Ferdinand's third wife died leaving no heir. Don Carlos, his brother, would inherit the throne. But no, Ferdinand marries once more and a daughter is born. But Calomarde, a rogue and President of the Council of Castille, persuaded the young wife that civil war would break if Don Carlos was passed over for this girl, yes? The young wife persuades the dying Ferdinand to sign a decree of revocation but the Queen's sister slapped Calomarde across the face and took this paper and destroyed it. So, due to that slap . . ,” he made a gesture of with his hands before him as if pleading with the goddess of Fortune, “their bones lie here in the Chapel of Saint Charles Borromeo far from Spain. Such is life, no?"

“Yes, I see. Such is life.”

“Umberto Forlan” he said offering his open palm.

“Pavor, Pavor Loveridge” he said shaking the man's hand. He noticed the bowl end of a pipe peeking out of the man's breast pocket like a periscope.

“Pavor, Pavor, your name is European, not English?”

“My Mother was born in Czechoslovakia, my Father was English. Pavor Kristof Loveridge is the result.” He pulled a business card out of his wallet and handed it to him.

Umberto slipped on a pair of reading glasses and squinted at the card bookmarked by his aged thumbnails, nacreous and lined like old beach shells. He nodded and sighed. “An author, man of many words, yes? What books do you write young man?”

Pavor crossed his ankles. “Crime and spy novels, mysteries if you like. Two of them have been translated into Italian. Your English is very good,” he added to change the subject.

“After the war there were many American and British soldiers in Trieste, 'whatever the weather we must move together' was a poster I remember, so there were many occasions to learn phrases and words, many opportunities to ask questions. My Father was self-employed, a photography studio,” he said placing the card in his shirt pocket, “and I used to help him when not in school. Many soldiers came in to have their photograph taken, photographs to send to their Mothers, wives, or sweethearts, and there I was, observing, listening, absorbing everything before my eyes. They were all so spic-and-span or prim-and-proper yes, with their fine uniforms, shining medals and boots, fresh faces and short cropped hair.” He paused looking into the middle distance. “Sticks of gum, chocolate and the occasional coin. I was fortunate. Many were less so. Many. I was only five when the war began, and the American and British troops didn't leave until 1954. Yes, it was about this time of year, the leaves were turning yellow and we hoped the approaching winter winds would be mild.” He laughed lightly to himself. “I just recalled the names the soldiers used for the British Generals in charge, 'Terry Airey' and 'Tom Winter.' It was Major General Thomas Winterton who was here during that last year of the occupation, the worst winter weather and wind on record. Appropriate to his name yes? It was as if all the torments and terrors of the war had swirled up from the depths of hell and swept across the land.” He passed an age-spotted, heavily veined hand through his fine hair and took off the reading glasses which had been propped on the end of his nose which Pavor noticed had a fine tracery of broken blood vessels like rivulets of lava. “Peace had finally come. My parents were secure once more, and I had wanderlust I think the phrase is, yes? With the money I had saved, I went to New York where an uncle lived. I worked in commercial photography, magazines, fashion and that sort of thing from 1955-1967, and picked up more English there. My future wife as well.” He laughed. “Well, it was she who picked me up. A model. We returned to Italy and I took over my Father's studio and cared for my Mother. Now, at 77, I am retired. An old man, as you see, in a cemetery.”

“You must have had great experiences with photography during those years,” Pavor said.

“My Father called photography 'a bridge of time,' 'ponticello di tempo.' Yes, I did, exciting times. But the bridge has changed. In place of studied snaps, we now have the panorama of everyday life, complete, yes? This is good. And this is bad. What must I say, people used to respect the lens, pose before the novelty of the technology and the technologist. Smiles were of course denied, only imbeciles smiled. Then America, smiles were everywhere, yes? And money. There was a time when it was a challenge to discover the nature of an individual hidden within, since everyone was so much alike on the outside; now, it is all revealed on the exterior, people have turned themselves inside out, or so it seems to me.” Umberto had crossed his arms during his light-hearted rant. He turned to Pavor with a smile and said, “Narcissus in the garden?”

“May I take your picture?” Pavor said roistering his cell phone self-consciously.

“Ah, it is good you have a sense of humour. Why not, snap away.” He posed while Pavor took a photograph and then shook his head despairingly when shown the result. “Have you been inside the Cathedrale?”

Pavor settled back on the bench trying to decide what story he had to offer the man. The ineffable truth? The path of his procrastinations? His multi-faceted inhibitions? The hesitations and fears of reoccurring experience? The compromise of his shadows?

“No, I've been wandering and stumbled my way here. The Cathedrale was closed when I arrived.” Pavor crossed his legs in imitation of Umberto. “I parked my car near the Piazza di Trinità and walked out onto the stone pier. At the end of it, I braced myself in the Bora by holding onto that circular brass directional device, it almost felt like a steering wheel of a large truck, gave me a sensation of being at the helm of an enormous barge. Very clever how the artist made it look like it was encircled with rope.” Pavor hesitated over the details of his recent peregrinations. “I wandered along the harbour and then began my overland route. Happenstance and serendipity have guided me here.”

Umberto gazed at him sideways with increasing interest. “Bora? Young man, this is but a light breeze. You must come back in February or March. The past few years the Bora has been ferocious. I remember 1954 the year that broke all records.” He paused remembering the past and shook his head. “Perhaps that is what prompted my departure,” he said, looking down at his suede shoes as if they were the ones that had launched him on his travels. “Now, I venture off to Capri for three or four weeks when the weather is difficult here. Many writers have sought refuge there. Have you been?”

“No, but I'd like to visit,” he said wondering if Umberto had ever met Graham Greene and other writers. “I am staying in Villa Opicina till the end of next June. House sitting. A Professor of Archaeology here in Trieste is teaching in China, and my agent arranged it so I could be alone to concentrate on my next book.”

Umberto looked at Pavor's hands and noticed he didn't have a ring. “You are unmarried?”

Feeling a sense of freedom that comes with strangers in a strange land, Pavor welcomed the chance to reveal secrets, welcomed the chance to release the suppressed emotions hammering away at his consciousness. “I was married once. When I was doing my undergraduate degree, I met Victoria and we married and had a child, Tamara. I took a Master's degree and then I studied law, and practiced for a number of years in Montreal. Life was good. On a trip to visit her Mother, my wife's car was hit by a truck. Tamara was with her. It was a long time ago. I lost my direction. I gave up law and started to write.” Pavor felt both guilty and relieved to have told someone, and realized that only before the eyes of experience could he have relinquished his story, only before a man like Umberto, a stranger sitting in a cemetery telling him stories of the past, could he have been so arbitrary with such an absolute.

The wind in the trees filled the awkward silence between them. “I am very sorry for your loss,” Umberto said, tapping Pavor's knee. “Life,” he said shaking his head knowingly. “Do you have someone else special in your life?”

“Yes, yes, I've invited her to visit.”

“Good, good. So, my friend, what is this book you are writing?”

Pavor shifted on the bench and looked up to the trees and their yellowing leaves like desiccated smiles. “A friend of mine is an investigative reporter and she told me a story at a dinner party back in January. It was a story she thought I would find of interest for one of my novels. I've been sketching it out in my head for the past nine months. She was investigating the death of a man who worked in the secret intelligence world, research of some kind. His lawyer gave her his journals and papers. He believed he had been slowly murdered by his employers by the abuse of new-found scientific techniques. He was single, no close family. The motive is what she couldn't discover. There is always a motive. Money didn't seem to be one. He was comfortable and had no vices. He lived a simple life. Yearly visits to New York to see the new plays. Museum visits, that type of activity. Cultured and quiet. A reader of non-fiction. History mainly.”

“A disagreement with his employers perhaps? A motive for them?” Umberto offered. “Perhaps he was preparing to reveal secrets. Secrets concerning these scientific abuses.”

“Yes,” Pavor said squinting up to the trees. “That's one possibility.”

“Or love, that ultimate motive of our species, no?”

Pavor looked up between the trees to see layers of fair weather clouds like jagged coastlines moving towards each other in the cross-currents, the vapours swirling backwards, dissimulating, deflecting, deforming, before silently colliding, merging in a display of aerial tectonics. He wondered if the edges of clouds were fractal.

“Love, hmm, I never considered that possibility.”



He didn't recognize the voice of the woman who answered the phone. “Hello, my name is Arthur Roquebrune, I'm calling from Montreal for Thérèse LaFlamme, or Tess Sinclair as she sometimes calls herself. I am a friend.”

Martine Haugen was struck with the familiarity of the man's name, her thoughts now divided between the recollection of the past, and the immediate enquiry for Tess. “Hello Mr. Roquebrune, my name is Martine Haugen, yes Tess has been staying here as my guest. I have been away a number of days. Tess was not here when I arrived today. She didn't leave a note so I imagine she is just out shopping. Shall I have her phone you back?”

Arthur Roquebrune sat at his desk, his mind likewise searching the past as her name was familiar to him. He saw a very tall woman, six foot two perhaps, long straight blond hair, long pale features. Where had they met? “Yes, that would be very kind of you.” And as he gave her the phone number at his home and at his office, he remembered. It had been at a conference in Paris. “Your name seems very familiar to me Ms. Haugen. Did we meet in Paris in 2002?”

“I was just thinking the same, yes, the conference, of course. Your name seemed very familiar to me as well. You presented a paper on the rights of the deceased.”

“Yes, very kind of you to remember. It seems so long ago. Well, I am very pleased that Tess has found such a good friend. Tess can call me anytime, no hesitation. Thank you very much Martine. Farvel.”

“Very good Arthur. Farvel.”

He eased himself back in his leather chair remembering Paris and the affairs of the heart.

© ralph patrick mackay

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