Mathilde Alanic: Shine! (part twenty-two)
Once outdoors, Patrice quickened his steps in crossing the immense paved court. When they’d passed the next gate, he heaved a deep sigh and shook his shoulders as though throwing off a burden.
“The Medici fountain! The flowers…ah! It refreshes my soul. If you knew, my poor child, how often I’m overcome with depression in that room, facing that rostrum where they abuse all eloquence! I don’t know if my colleagues suffer this same humiliating malaise…for myself, I feel shrunken, neutered, annihilated, by the problems of the hour, the actions they demand! So much of goodwill is paralyzed by discussion, so many hopeful sparks fly to be immediately snuffed out! Powerless! Powerless! I despair!”
“Despair is just what I’ve been feeling in my own work,” Annie sighed. A diversion could be helpful to him; she knew she was not a nuisance in speaking of herself—and with Patrice she didn’t fear it.
“Here, it’s the eve of vacation…I’ll have free time and I’ve got to use it well. And my brain is tied in knots! A thousand threads are tangled on the loom, and I can’t pull a useful one out!”
“You’ve reached that punishing phase, where thought is a butterfly not yet landed. Yes, the greatest difficulty to composition…to philosophy, literature, art…resides in this choice, the direction to be determined. Creation is a torment that endlessly renews itself. Once the mind accepts a point of departure, the battle without armistice begins—between the inspired and the utilitarian, the abstract and the concrete, between imagination and reality. Whether you shape rhetoric, clay, ink, or paint, this struggle, despite all your efforts, rarely ends with the perfection of your ideal.”
“And for me, the chore makes itself so much more complicated!” A plaintive tone crept into this admission. “I find I can’t fathom beings and things that are antipathetic. I need to love my heroes! Isn’t that infantile? And how démodé, the sympathetic hero!”
“Your example justifies the theory put forward by Wagner—the artist expresses best what he has been deprived of. Thus one depicts more vividly in torrid heat a winter scene of snow and fog…or vice versa. You’ve had the misfortune of that unhappy family. Yet those vignettes of intimacy are just what give charm to ‘Little One’, M. Laffenel assures me. Never be afraid of showing optimism, or even risking ridicule. Affirmation builds, negativity ruins; optimism gives life, pessimism sterilizes and kills.”
This speech of authority and affection struck a powerful chord in Annie. Her thoughts grew giddy, almost exalted. It was like the little wren of the story, carried to the clouds on the strong wings of an eagle. Sweet smells of evening surrounded them. She lifted moist eyes to her companion.
“Ah, monsieur! To listen to you…I feel brave again. I’ve been so afraid I might be a fraud, a fool!”
His expressive face grew young with the broadening of a smile. “Follow the inclinations of your nature. Always be sincere.”
Emboldened to have his approval, she went on: “After all, life doesn’t carry only ugliness, as the realists would like it! The street is out there with its smokes, its nauseating smells and tumult and noise. But here, adorable babies play in the sand, sparrows and pigeons chatter… Away in the distance the young girls strike poses, the leaves toss in the breeze… Things that are pretty and gentle document life just as well…the reality of life, taken from nature. Here is what I want to look at, and forget as much as possible the rest. So did the coal-hauler I saw one morning along the rue de Tuileries. He had stopped his team to look at the red sky and frost, those fantastic crystals that hang from branches, that sowing of diamonds over the earth. He turned his head and moved on, but his eyes were ecstatic. I just know the sight stayed with him for the rest of his day and made his work lighter! He taught me a lesson, this wonderful coalman. Collect every fleeting happiness given you by grace of the gods. And see here, today I have a gift—me too—from the fairies!”
Eagerly Annie searched her bag, stuffed with papers. She drew out a blue envelope and showed it to her companion. “I found this letter in the post at the Gazette Féminine…a Breton reader who shares my name! Odd coincidence!”
Between the quartered pages, a stalk of mauve flowers had been enclosed with care.
“Heather!” Patrice murmured. “All the moorlands are evoked for me!”
In a low voice, he read:
“Madame, my name is Annik Le Goël. The same first and last as yours! This encourages me to write to you, to thank you for your columns, which please us so much! In the last you’d said that no treasure is worth more than a happy childhood. This makes me better appreciate all I owe to my excellent parents. We kissed, with tears in our eyes, after the last line! Your signature is perhaps a pseudonym. Are you Breton? If you come to our country, don’t forget that you have won our friendship. Be assured of sentiments very respectful, from your modest reader. Annik Le Goël.”
“I can’t tell you how touched I was by this naïve little letter!” said Annie.
An emotion stole into the dark eyes of Patrice Conan, while he carefully folded the heather, and the papers, into the blue envelope. “I agree, it’s charming. And postmarked Kergrist, near Carnac! A corner of the earth that Breton blood is strangely drawn to… You speak of coincidences. Well! This afternoon I received at the Senate M. de Kervenno, a friend from school, who lives between that place and this…an old manor where I spent interesting vacations in my youth. We were keen on prehistory; we ran about the countryside visiting, studying, helping to excavate some of the megaliths. It was that, gave me my passion for the legends of the Côtes d’Armor. Ah! Morbihan. How I’d love to return! I dream of finishing my researches on the Celtic religion in that place.”
Shine! (part twenty-three)
(2020, translation, Stephanie Foster; 1922, Mathilde Alanic, Rayonne!)