During Spring and Summer in the Apennines, I woke up to the morning melody gradually subduing the night noises. As the mist softly lifted, owls, crickets and toads would give way to hungry birds and the busy bees, while at dawn, the distant bark of dogs, and bleating sheep being herded to greener pastures, entered my room in echoes arriving from the facing cliffs. Year-round, on the first floor of the house, when Tarso's snoring turned into heavy footsteps on the wooden boards, I knew it was time to get out of bed.
The massive silence on the Île du Blanchomme startled me. It was as if the night sounds shut down and nothing replaced them in the hour preceding sunrise. Oppressive, the air weighed on my chest like it had condensed into a marble block. Along with the darkness, it reminded me of the only time I had been deep inside a cave, a frightened boy, worried that I would never find the way out from a site I should never have entered in the first place.
For a minute or so, I did not know where I was. First, I recalled the cargo ship, in which womb I had spent so many weeks. But something was missing. There was no reverberation of waves constantly crashing against the hull. Then I recalled having slept on the table at the port, and my sleepless night on the sailboat, with Armand resting his head on my shoulder -- I finally stood up and felt my way along the walls. As I stumbled out of the cave, recognizing Herr Weissmann's house veranda immersed in the night, the compass rose flashed into my mind. My heart banging in my chest, I headed South, to the stair, avoiding my friend's room.
I almost tripped and fell on the way down. Once under the house, a bulky square of blackness parting me from the starry sky, I did not know where to go, nor what to do. The tropical landscape enclosed me in its strangeness. Paralyzed, I just blinked, blinked repeatedly -- and at each blink, the light changed just imperceptibly, mounting, until the horizon was a thin silvery line foretelling the coming day. Just then, my ears met the faint murmur of caressed shores, and suddenly I thought the plants growing was audible, too. But what plants were those, that I could not name?
Feeling the need to take refuge in something familiar, I decided to meditate. At the beach where the two lounge chairs lay, I sat on the sand facing the sunrise -- setting a morning routine that I was to follow for the biggest part of my stay on the Île.
As if blown by the sun itself, a mild breeze travelling from the horizon increased my awareness as I silently sat there, following my breath. My nostrils awakened, touched by the salty smell coming both from the ocean and myself, I realized even my body no longer took to goats -- but to fish. At least, my first tropical meditation felt the more pleasurable when I recalled how sorely I had gasped, during the coldest days spent at the old abandoned factory in Paris, when an incipient pneumonia had clenched my throat.
Reassured, having found refuge in the island within like recommended by the Buddha, when around me the whole island was foreign, I ended the session praying for the well being of all creatures, and that they may be free from suffering -- Armand especially.
I had been deeply touched by my ex-roommate's tears, the previous evening.
I don't remember falling asleep. But a few minutes later, his crying, that rapidly turned into painful sobs, woke me up. As I recall it, I realize how so less noble than my friend I always was. In my hesitation, I happened to fail him -- he who had always helped me.
I still ask myself -- Why didn't I go to him, who was just a few steps away?
Half-opening my eyes, I saw he was still sitting on the sofa in front of my bed. Bent, his elbows pressing his knees, Armand cried hiding his face with both hands. More than troubled, he seemed deeply ashamed. Probably of his own emotions, was my quick guess.
YOU ARE READING
The Last CanvasSpiritual
A starving Italian painter flees Paris in the winter of 1974. His destination -- a tiny private island lost in the Indian Ocean. His destiny -- a soul-crushing love triangle with a French nobleman and a haughty Parisian intellectual. His fate -- inv...