episode 05 | Enslaved by freedom

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There is a difference -- when you want, need to eat, and you can't. That's painful. But once you volunteer to abstain from eating, the dizziness, the cramps, the shaking hands, the stomach ache, that same weakness becomes a trance. I felt I was made more alert, my senses heightened and refined, my ideal of becoming a professional artist strengthened -- because fasting is a depuration, and together with meditation, as my mind became clearer, I felt my spirit starting to rule over my body.

As I was becoming thinner and thinner, my private joke was that in the end I could always make money posing for Giacometti. Ha-ha! But there was no one but me to laugh at my jokes.

Every once in a while I would startle to some noise -- I was afraid of invasions, for there used to be a few homeless people in the neighborhood, some of them violent and dangerous and more desperate than me -- but usually it were only rats or bats or cats in their errands. Only people who needed to hide would venture all the way from Paris downtown to such a faraway district, and it was not very attractive for the homeless, since the chances of survival were rather limited there. I wasn't a burglar, I wasn't a drug dealer, but just the same I wanted to hide from the world. 

And so I painted, day and night, night and day, as if my life depended on that, and not on food.

Actually, painting was more nourishing to me than the canned soup and the stale bread.

Painting was like a prayer. It was similar to my meditation, where I was praying for the well being of all forms of life.

That was so beautifully nourishing, too. I felt thoroughly at peace and fulfilled, even when my pockets and my stomach were empty.

Sleeping seemed to me like a waste of time, a waste of the precious and fragile freedom I had just acquired -- and in time it became a problem too, as Summer gave way to Autumn.

A cold and rainy season started, and I could not go outdoors daily anymore.

Of course, it rained inside the factory. Rain leaked from the ceiling. I had to move my bed away from the walls, where mold -- and even some lichens that I recall being very pretty -- had started growing. I walked avoiding the puddles. On the way to the toilet some of them were so big that I had to place boards to cross them. Like if I were flying, or sitting on top of a high mountain, I could imagine them being lakes on a prairie. Poetical. But the fact is my feet were always wet. A chilly wind hissed through the room, so that there was no shelter from it indoors anymore. Through the broken windows came a vicious smell of old burned wood and wet tires.

I could be hungry, but on top of that, being cold started to weaken me.

Food poisoning became constant, and I realized I was getting seriously sick. 

I had eaten too often from rusted cans. I kept saying to myself there wasn't any real problem. Not to mention the moldy bread that had been my sole starter for so many months. I had been careless, and now I had to face the effects of my self-neglect.

Not just thinning, I was debilitated.

The romantic days of breathing and eating Painting were over. 

But I still just didn't want to give them up! Returning to my former peasantry in the Apennines did not seem only like defeat -- abandoning my Art had seemed like death to me.

But I was facing real death.

In my meditation sessions, that I had to bring indoors, I started praying not only for the happiness of all beings, but for a miracle that would change my situation.

Even if I calmed my mind and heart, my head and stomach were constantly aching. And so were my lungs. Concentrating on my in-breaths and out-breaths was not pleasant anymore, because it meant paying attention to the gasping, coarse sounds that my breathing had become. It was the sound of my own agony.

I started seeing bellow the calm waters of my still life, seeing that it hadn't remained still at all. The muck had surfaced.

You can't imagine the things I did to remain free, Laurent. 

To stick to my idea of freedom. 

Because I didn't want to work in the atelier of some famous painter as a helper -- that might have diverted me from my own expressive ways, which I had just started exploring. I had had enough of teachers and academic, formal training -- once I was all on my own, anything but sticking to my independence seemed like I'd retrogress. And I did not consider looking for a job in a factory, nor in a shop. Nor did I want to go back to painting walls of cafés and shops, like I had often done during the École to earn some money.

I didn't realize it then, but I had been enslaved by my freedom.

Trying to attain a way of living that had never been sustainable.

That was the terrible truth I had to face.

In bed, before I dozed into sleep, I secretly indulged in fantasies where a marchand would get lost in town, wander all the way to the suburbs and bump into the factory and discover my work.

I did not want nor long for the contact with other human beings, but I did fantasize about the art dealers. I wished they'd visit the atelier. You know, over time that abandoned factory had become my atelier... But how could they? Apart from rats, cats and bats, nobody knew where I was. I hadn't seen another person in months.

With winter approaching, I knew it was more than time to face the world outside. 

Better not wait until the streets are covered with snow, I pondered, to get a life -- a job, a home, whatever -- and my health back. Or even -- my final defeat -- a train, back to Italy.

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