Selene’s last day in Nice arrived like a soft feather gently falling from the sky of a birdless region – soft and unexpected. That morning she grabbed her carry-on, her satchel, and water bottle and bid adieu to her Nicean flat. After whispering words of good riddance for the next flat inhibitor, Selene went down the stairs to be greeted by an early morning and a familiar face. Waiting outside was Nico. They were going to road trip together back to Paris, where Selene would spend the evening and a day to then take-off to Sri Lanka. But prior to the embarkment on her new adventure, Giuseppe had invited Selene over for a pre-departure breakfast.
Nico drove them both to Giuseppe’s beautiful majestic home. Selene was glad that the majestic view would be the last place she would be on Nice prior to take-off. Upon arriving, she felt the sensations of caress from the early morning breeze. Warmly, Giuseppe opened his front door and welcomed Selene and Nico. To her surprise, Tristán and Ms. Laguerre had joined in on the celebration. “Selene, I want to thank you for rekindling my passion for life.” Giuseppe remarked. “Your presence was a gentle nudge from the universe reminding me to never let that inner fire go damp. In life, we’ve all experienced heart shattering losses, illogical situations, and more pain and suffering than any of us ever care to share. Yet those experiences are even more reason to forge forward in life with an open heart saturated with passion.” As they ate, they reminisced on the memories they created during Selene’s short stay. “Selene, I will miss you dearly. It is my hope that you’ll return to Nice someday! You know where to find me. I want to hear of all the people you meet and continue to enchant while you make your way around this globe. Your curiosity and hunger for life on the road have inspired me to take a trip of my own. In all my years of travel, there was one place that seemed to be most elusive: Antartica. In the modern day, it seems much easier to reach. If Tristán here is willing, I’d love for him to accompany me on the voyage to the furthest land below.” With a startled expression, Tristán nodded. “Well, my dear. I know that time is of the essence. Nico, it was a pleasure to meet you. If you’re ever near or around Nice or want company in one of the area cemetery’s, please let me know.” Selene grabbed a couple croissants, a pound of fresh strawberries, and some green grapes for the road. “Wait – before you leave. Let’s all do a toast.” Giuseppe rapidly made his way to his kitchen and returned with five wine glasses and a bottle of rosé. “Here’s to Selene. Here’s to Nico. Here’s to all of us. And most importantly, here’s to life on the road. May you travel. May you explore. May your interactions with this world make you feel alive.” They exchanged hugs. They said their goodbyes. Next destination: Paris.
Though tired from a night without sleep, Selene managed to stay awake as Nico drove through the South East of France heading North. The first part of the drive, they were surrounded by mountains and greenery. They first drove through Cannes, where Selene almost decided to change destination, but stood by her gut to continue on to Sri Lanka. On the road from Cannes towards Marseille, they were surrounded by open meadows, small towns, and the sonder of thousands. They continued driving from Avignon to Valence surrounded by Parc Naturel Régional de Luberon, Parc Naturel des Monts d’Ardèche, and Parc Naturel Régional du Vercors. At around four and a half hours in, they arrived at Lyon. Nico stopped the car overlooking a pleasant view and Selene awakened from a short nap. During her snooze, she had dreamt of a scene of a circus. She could see pulleys, unicycles, and bicycles floating in a gravity zapped space with a pastel-colored kaleidoscopic background. What was it all supposed to represent? She shook her legs, closed her eyes, and inhaled the crisp air. “We’re so close to Geneva. If you had more time here, I’d definitely say we go.” Nico stated. Selene nodded, “I will return.”After a coffee refuel, they were back on the road, halfway to Paris. As Nico continued to drive, the mountainous terrain began to decrease in occurrence. An hour into the drive towards the capital, Selene fell asleep only to be awakened by Nico prior to arrival into the city. “Selene! We’re arrived. Let’s get to my apartment to set down your belongings, grab a bite to eat, and decide what to do with what remains of the day.”
“Dissatisfaction or discontent. Locked in habit or routine. Something taken for granted. A lack of appreciation Emotional detachment or disinterest.” Steve Luca via Japaridze Tarott
Walking towards her flat, or what was to be called her flat for one more day, Selene came across a painting that struck a deeper chord of melancholy than the story of Freya and Giuseppe. As she walked by a gallery she saw a painting that was reminiscent of of Eric and Ariel in a world above the sea. In the middle of a pond there lay a canoe inhabited by a couple. They sat facing away from each other, back to back. The feminine figure in the painting was barely visible – her head turned away from her spectating viewers. All Selene could see was her long hair and her royal blue dress. Facing the audience, was the male figure. He was wearing a black cloak and his eyes were serenely shut with an expression of disappointment. The canoe was neither heading north nor south – or east or west. In the background of the painting there was a pink sky with a setting sun. In between the setting sun and the diverging couple, a tree deeply rooted in water created an organic arch.
The painting made Selene stop in her tracks – it reminded her of Steven. Selene had met Steven during her senior year as an undergraduate. She had met him at one of her kickboxing classes and had been attracted to the way that he controlled his energy. They instantly connected and cultivated a friendship until the moment prior to Selene taking off to New York – when they began to date. Eventually Steven moved to Brooklyn to be closer to Selene. The day Selene decided to set jet and leave it all behind, she had forgotten one of the most important relationships in her life: Steven. Her 5’10 film making musician. Steven was adventurous, intelligent, dependable, and magnetic. Yet over the years, Selene had taken his presence for granted.
Salty rivers decorated Selene’s cheeks on the midnight hour. After two years of globetrotting, the grief she had packed away in a darkly lit room of her psyche finally gained enough speed to catch up to her conscious being. When she arrived at her flat, she grabbed her laptop, lit another one of Caer’s cigarettes, and began to write an email:
“I know it’s been two years since we last spoke. I’m currently in Nice, France headed to Paris to meet with Nico tomorrow. After that, I’ll be heading to Sri Lanka for some undetermined amount of time. While in Nice, I met an older man by the name of Giuseppe. A recovering world-traveler turned bookstore owner. He shared many adventurous stories, but the most impactful of them all revolved around the loss of his love Freya. They dated, split apart to pursue their individual passions, and fate gave them the opportunity to reunite and build a life together. However, the dream was cut short. Cervical cancer. Freya passed away. As I walked back to my flat, I came across a painting that made me think of our time together. All of a sudden, years of suppressed grief came to the surface and nearly drowned me. Steven, how did I ever not see your beauty? Why did not I not spend more silly time with you? Why wasn’t I able to relax in your presence? Today I thought about your dark sense of humor, your intelligence, your strength, and the way that you simply ‘understood me’. Not because you were some sort of psychic, but because we were somewhat similar – even with varied interests. If I could only travel back in time to stand beside you and watch you smoke a cigarette. If I could only travel back to sit next to you while you played a video game or read a book. If I could only travel back in time to accompany you to a bookstore. If I could only travel back in time to feel that warmth of your embrace. If I could only travel back in time to join you for a death metal dance party – yes, I mean that.
If I could only, but I can’t. I think some people come into our lives to teach us what goodness sounds like, what it feels like, what it looks like. Your presence in my life inspired me to become grounded. In your presence, I felt strong and capable. Not that I don’t have the same attributes without you – I do. It’s just that when we were together, they were amplified. How many times did I hurriedly come back from class or practicum, to lay down next to you and assume the next day was a guarantee? How many times could I have slowed down a little, held you a little closer, kissed you a little deeper, heard you with more intent? After we parted ways, I was busy packing, selling, working at a few coffee shops to make this travel dream of mine come true. Today, I’m sitting from a balcony in Nice living my dreams. The one I spoke to you of. And suddenly, it hit me. You’re not here. Caer, Sofia, Dmitri, and Nico left yesterday. I returned to an empty apartment wishing you would have been waiting for me – with a whiskey coffee in hand. I wanted to crawl in bed with you and watch American Horror Story. I didn’t want to yell about the fact that I was bored because I was ‘indoors and not engaging with the world’. Though I’ve met a lot of people and covered a lot of world, , I still miss you. I seek for you in everyone I meet.
My only hope for you is that you’ve met someone deserving of your attention. Someone that lights up your world and pays attention to the smallest of your details – the rate of your breath, the sound of your beating heart, the scars your skin carry, the tattoos that cover your body and their meanings. I hope they listen to music they can’t stand for the sake of making you happy. I hope they see you as an embodiment of magic – what we all are. I’m not writing this with the expectation of a response. I’m writing this because I’m burning. I’m writing this because I must. I’m writing this because I can. When I boarded that plane at JFK heading straight towards Cartagena, I remember listening to one song endlessly on repeat, while uncontrollably crying – Even Great Things by Elliott Moss:
You can’t have forests without any trees Can’t have rivers without any water You can’t smile without any teeth And now you won’t have me And now you won’t have me It’s always hard to say goodbye But even great things die sometimes
You can’t time without any sand Can’t build cities without any men You can’t lock fingers without any hands I can’t go on, but I hope you can It’s always hard to say goodbye But even great things die sometimes It’s always hard to say goodbye But even great things die sometimes
Don’t worry, I stayed hydrated – the flight attendant gave me a water bottle, free of charge. Prior to settling back into his seat he mysteriously shared some words with me: ‘Sweetie, we’ve all been there’. Cheers to wherever in the world you may be, Steven.
She hit send, closed her laptop, lit another cigarette, and laid on the floor looking at the unusually bright star lit sky.
Giuseppe’s gleeful demeanor darkened. His eye gaze shifted from the beauty of Parc Phoenix to memories of a distant past – almost as if the mention of her name had haunted him. “Freya? What makes you ask?” Selene quickly noted his change in body language – from the shift of his gaze to a slight slouch on his shoulder – Who was this woman? How exactly did she fit into Giuseppe’s life? “Ms. Laguerre?” Selene nodded. “Well, I think this is a conversation best saved for the bookstore. I can provide you with visuals – photographs, paintings, things of the like. What do you say we head to Trois de Jardins?” Selene shook her head yes and asked, “Would it be possible to stop by my flat on the way? I left my phone charger and I often use an application on my phone to catch rides back to the flat when it’s late at night.” Giuseppe responded, “Well, of course.”
They arrived in the building where Selene’s flat was located and the smell of cigarettes overpowered the hallway. While Selene entered the apartment to get her phone charger, Giuseppe relished in the nicotine tinted air in the old brick building. The aroma reminded him a New Year’s Eve he had spent with Freya in Boston. The year prior, both had taken a road trip across the United States starting in Los Angeles. For the entire month of December, they had stayed in a small apartment that belonged to one of the sibling’s of a friend of Freya’s. “All set.” Selene came out of the flat ready to head to the bookstore. As they walked towards the bookstore Giuseppe began to tell Selene of that New Year’s Eve they had spent in the city among some of Freya’s friend. The joy he had felt. The year had been 1994.
Upon arriving at the bookstore, Giuseppe looked around, opened the store, turned on a small light and headed straight towards the painting room. He then remembered there was something he had forgotten. “Ah! The photo album!” He went to a small safe in the southeast corner of the room Selene had failed to notice the first time she entered. He opened the safe and pulled out what appeared to be a photo album. Giuseppe flipped through the pages until he pulled out a photo of a lovely ballerina. The photo was labeled as Freya (1965). “Right after I left Brazil in 1977, I went to Italy. My intention was to spend some time with my parents as they were in their fifties and time wasn’t moving backwards. I was twenty-six and it had been exactly a decade since I last had visited Naples. I remember arriving and feeling a warm embrace – as if the city never held onto any grudges for me having left. After a few nights home, I became restless. I think my parents wanted to keep me all to themselves – based on my travel patterns, they were afraid it was the last time they were to see me. On a Friday night, January 27th to be exact, I decided to head to a pub in the center of the city. It was there that I met Freya. Her hair was up in a tight ballerina bun, she wore a sleeveless, patterned dress that rested right above the knee, and high-heels. She made the room brighter. That night I had the courage to speak to her. We spoke for the entirety of the night and once the pub closed, we walked around the city until we saw the sunrise. That night, I asked her if it was possible to see her again. She told me to meet her at the same pub the following Friday.”
Giuseppe flipped through the photo book frantically searching for something. Suddenly, he stopped and carefully pulled another photograph out of its encasing – a photo of the pub from March 1968. “How long did you stay in Naples?” Giuseppe chuckled. “I had promised my parents that I was only going to stay for a two-week time period. Yet, the week after meeting Freya, she was all I could think about. Normally, I would be planning for my next city, for my next stay, for my next adventure. That week was different. Every corner I turned, I would do so hoping and praying I would run into the lovely ballerina I had met at the pub. At this point in my life, I had met my fair share of beautiful people, but Freya’s intense and direct energy was captivating in a manner I barely have the words to describe. I’ve spent the rest of my life buried in books in an attempt to find the right words to describe the essence of her soul.” Selene looked at the old man in front of her light up as he spoke of this woman that had changed the way he perceived the world.
He continued, “The following Friday, I awaked with an all-consuming joie de vivre. I remember nearly skipping on my way to the pub! That night, I asked Freya that if at all possible, I wanted to see her more often. I still remember her laughter and the twinkle in her eyes when she responded, ‘I’ll have to see if it that’s possible’. She led a demanding life devoted to the dance universe. It was her passion. I still can feel sensations in my body arise when I remember the first time that I saw her dance in front of an audience – it’s almost as if she was possessed by the all the muses themselves. Eventually we began to see each other more often. My two weeks turned into months. I found a job in Naples. Got a small apartment near the pub. And lived contently in one place for a while. At the same time, I reconnected with a lot of my childhood friends. My life flourished. However, one evening while flipping through my travel journals I felt a deep melancholy settle in my soul. On a Thursday evening, while waiting for Freya, I took out a map from my satchel – one I always carried with me. There was still so much world for me left to see. When Freya arrived, I asked her to travel the world with me. I told her of this elaborate story of us I had managed to craft that afternoon. Freya began to cry and then spoke to me in anger, ‘How dare you insinuate that I leave my dance career behind! You are like those other men!’ She walked out of the coffee shop and ran down the street. I chased after her. I apologized – but suddenly it seemed as if something had been broken.” Giuseppe’s story reminded Selene a lot of the story Mr. Flaubert had shared with her. However, it seemed that though Mr. Flaubert had eventually found a new Mrs. Flaubert, Giuseppe had not.
“In July of 1978, I gathered all of my savings, packed all of my bags and headed to India.After arriving, I felt an empty void in my soul for the many days, weeks, and months that came. I wrote to Freya on a daily basis. So much so that the india post workers knew me by my first name. Freya never responded to any of my letters. I painted this painting – Two of Winds to try and capture what I felt was going on between us.” Selene looked at the painting in front of her. The painting was a lot more minimal that Giuseppe’s other paintings. It wore a light blue, slightly cloudy background and had an odd figure in the forefront. The head of the figure was in the shape of a bat – forming a dark face in the middle. From the wings of the bat, the body was split into two. The right side of the body was yellow and bore a geometric shape. The left side of the body was that of snake. Both pieces were conjoined by a conch from which a pair of hands protruded; the right holding a spear, the left holding a sword. That Christmas, December of 1978, she appeared in front of my apartment. It was a rather embarrassing day. I was walking home with a woman I had just gone on a date with, only to be greeted by a fiercely powerful ballerina at my door. When I arrived at my door that evening, I remember bursting into laughter. I remember feeling tense and saying, ‘Freya, next time you plan to visit, please warn me in advance!’ The woman I had walked home with must have felt the tension because she simply walked away. There we were – Freya and I, face to face. After our encounter in India, I continued to travel and Freya continued to visit me during the holidays. This arrangement was ongoing for five years. She continued dancing, I continued to voyage. In 1983, Freya relocated to Nice to become a dance teacher – eventually opening a studio of her own. I followed her there and we began to build a life. And here I am today.”
Selene looked at the calendar sitting on top of the bookshelf. She stared at the date it displayed – her second to last night in Nice. Though her time there had been riddled by illness, not exactly what she had expected, it had been transformative. “Where is Freya today?” Holding back tears, Giuseppe responded: “We built a beautiful life. In the beginning, while she continued to establish her dance school, I continued to travel solo. Once her school was established, we traveled together. We would go to two countries per year for extended periods of time. She loved it!” Giuseppe laughed as he spoke of her joy. “A year after our New Year’s Eve in Boston, she was diagnosed with late stage cervical cancer. A year after her diagnosis, in November of 1997, she passed away. Well my dear, I think it’s time I close shop and you head back. You have long travels ahead of you.” Selene said her goodbyes to Giuseppe. That night, instead of calling a ride home, she decided to walk under the full moon. While she took breath after breath on the streets of Nice she contemplated the pain that we all carried, the grief that has been in residence with the joys of the brightest souls on Earth – the full range of feelings in the human experience.
“Realization and recognition of success. An end to hardship or suffering. Luxury and refinement. Gracious living with appreciation for the arts and the finer things.” Steve Luca via Japaridze Tarot
That evening was the last where Selene, Caer, Sofia, Dmitri, and Nico would all be together in Nice. The following morning, Caer, Sofia, and Dmitri would make their way back to the States, while Nico would head back to Paris. Though Selene still wasn’t feeling at her best, she wouldn’t be able to live with herself if she didn’t spend at least one last time with her friends. They made their way to the Tramway and once they got off, they were en route to rue Chauvain for a restaurant called Le Boudoir. As they entered, their host walked towards them. To Selene’s disbelief, it was Tristán. “Tristán!” Selene exclaimed. “Great to see you.” Caer, Sofia, Dmitri and Nico all remained silent. “These must be your friends.” Tristán added. “Eek! I apologize about that. Yes, these are my friends. This is their last night in Nice so we thought we’d get something to eat to spend some time together without the fuss and messiness of cooking.” Tristán chuckled. “Follow me.”
Dmitri had called ahead of time and they were seated near one of the restaurant windows. Selene, Caer, and Sofia sat on a large leather upholstered seat against one of the restaurant walls. Across from them, Dmitri and Nico sat in purple cloth upholstered chairs. While the bunch ordered away with decadent meals, Selene opted for a small salad and some tea. Though she was feeling well enough to be present with her friends, she didn’t want to jeopardize the moment by making adventurous food choices too soon. Tristán bid the crew farewell prior to his shift ending. They all talked, laughed, and reminisced on moments of a near and distant past. After the meal they headed back to the flat in preparation for departure.
The following morning, Selene bid her friends farewell. “Thank you all for making your way out here. It’s been replenishing to reconnect and see you all again. I apologize for not being able to spend as much time as I wanted to spend with you all. If you feel the need to head to a more tropical destination and join me in Sri Lanka, please do not hesitate.” They all laughed. They hugged. They kissed. Then, they were gone. The silence their absence left in the apartment was slightly haunting. Though Selene had spent the days prior in silence, knowing that the days’ end promised their return was comforting. Today was different. She knew that not only was their lack of return guaranteed, but she didn’t know when their next reunion would occur – well, with the exception of the few days she was going to spend with Nico in Paris. Their communication would become a series of impersonal exchanges via phone applications, web teleconferencing, phone calls, and the occasional exchange of gifts for birthdays and major holidays.
Without much hesitation, Selene grabbed the apartment keys and made her way to Promenade du Paillon. As she walked through the 12 hectares and 1.2 km space, she admired the palm trees, the assorted greenery, the fountains, and the reflecting pool. Along the way, she stopped by a sculpture that resembled an opened horseshoe. There were two friends sitting in the middle basking in the warmth of the sun. She made her way to a nearby cluster of trees and sat under a palm tree in the shade. After a few breaths of reprieve, she got up and continued to walk. Finally, she made it to the ocean side and stared out into the breeze. Shortly after, she felt a tap on her shoulder – Giuseppe.
In excitement, Selene jumped off her feet and hugged him. “Giuseppe! What a pleasant surprise. How is your brother?” With a sad expression in his eyes he responded, “I don’t think he’ll be with us for much longer, but he appears to be holding on. He has pancreatic cancer and the prognosis looks rather bleak. How are you, dear? I heard you weren’t feeling stellar.” Selene nodded. “I’m sorry to hear it. Eh – you know, healing.” Selene responded as she felt a chill up her spine. “Thank you, dear. So goes the cycle of life doesn’t it? One day you’re young and doe-eyed ready to take on the world. Crafting and scripting dreams on parchments only to realize that the ink runs out in the end and there’s not way to replenish it.” Giuseppe and Selene walked and continued to talk about the cycle of life and death that’s intricately woven into the human narrative. “Most of the time, these cycles occur in their metaphoric form. I’m sure you’ve experienced multiple – when you left graduate school, with the loss of a lover, illness, when you no longer click with friends, the change of jobs – metaphoric death riddles our existence. And I have an inkling that you know how necessary it is order for life to continue flourishing. What do you say we pay some proper gardens a visit? Selene nodded.
They boarded a bus route headed to the airport and got off on Boulevard René Cassin. Upon entering Parc Phoenix, they were greeted by a fork in the road – to the right hand, they had the museum of Asian arts and to the other a walkway around the lake. Giusepee headed towards the walkway and Selene followed. They didn’t walk very far when they stopped at the Fontaine musicale. As music played and Giuseppe told Selene about the history of the park, her attention shifted to what appeared to be the statue of a woman. The statue stood tall amongst the beauty of the garden. The statue’s skin had a blue hue with beautifully lavished decorations, which blended with the orange sun- blue clouded sky in the background. Her garments were brightly colored, textured, and intense. Fuchsia and magenta silks were interwoven with pieces of light red tulle. Towards the front of the dress, a scene painted of the gardens with a night sky called to the attention of all those whom walked by. Throughout the skirt of the dress, there were flowers accentuating the beauty of the surrounding garden. There were red roses, white bell flowers, and pink carnations. She wore Sienna-brown shoes. At the top she was covered with an assortment of flowers and wing patters. On her right shoulder, there lay a flamingo who sat on a bright pink ball. In her hands, she held a mirror in the shape of a shell. Upon her head, there was a large headdress made of Japanese kimono silk and a large orange english tea rose. Suspended in the right air next to her, flew a monarch butterfly. Coming from the flowers in the her shoes, an olive green snake walked with pride – head lifted. “Selene? Are you still here, Selene?”
Selene looked away from the statue and up to Giuseppe. Giuseppe smiled and continued to talk about the hundred birds that lived near the lake, the Green Diamond greenhouse, the caimans, the iguanas, the exotic birds. They continued walking and made their way towards the Pyramides. In front of them, exposed, was the Grand Pré, serving as a stage to the Gran de Serre Diamant Vert, one of the largest greenhouses in Europe. Upon Selene’s eyes encountering the sight, she intensely asked Giuseppe, “Giuseppe, how come you never told me of Freya?”
“Resolution can only be achieved through determination. A need for action or taking responsibility. Immobility from feelings or powerlessness and victimization.” Steve Luca via Japaridze Tarot
The scent of peppermint and anise overtook the apartment. A couple of days had passed and Selene had to stay behind from an overall feeling of malaise. She lay on a long sofa and watched a television program where a woman was imprisoned. In this Spanish show, a young girl and her family had been wrongly accused of a crime by a very powerful individual in their community. The particular scene before her portrayed the young woman in a solitary cell. The young woman whose name was Catalina, had long, loose hair and wore a white gown. She sat on a bench, bonded by rope in the back. The cell had a small window opening with bars from top to bottom. In the upper left-hand corner of the room, there stood a bat – flying in place. The young woman cried has she wondered about the whereabouts of her family, the status of the love of her life, and the injustices of the world around her. It appeared as if with enough money and power, anything was possible in the world the show depicted.
Selene shut off the immobilizing scene and pulled the covers over her. Often times scenes of that nature were literal representations of how she’d felt during different moments in her life: a strict religious upbringing, in the realms of the destructive world of modern day academia. Selene identified with the Catalina character in the show. It was the reason why she had packed her bags and walked away from it all. She still clearly remembered the reactions of those around her: Selene had clearly gone insane. She was a year away from completion of her program and she simply walked away. What was she trying to prove? What were her exact goals? Did she really think that the skills she had learned in the clinical psychology curriculum could actually help others heal in the way she wanted? The constant anxiety and plagues of doubt had crippled her quality of life. The night prior to her making the decision to walk away, she had spent vomiting her fears into oblivion. The following day she awakened with the determination to let the program go. She had a realization: time was going to continue to pass whether she was in this program or not. Life was happening, although she didn’t feel as if she was engaging with it.
“Are you sure that this is what you want?” On that auspicious day, two years prior, she had been asked this same question by her advisor, cohort classmates (including Sofia), her friends, her parents, and even the staff that worked in the department that had never interacted with her. With a deep inner knowing and certainty, she remembers telling each and every single one of those beings a deep and true: Yes. That afternoon, she took a long solitary stroll down fifth avenue and thought of state of humanity – whom in their right mind would buy into the idea that we were meant to follow some true and tried rules, establish a career, find someone to share that with, and then reproduce? Why did so many buy into something that merely resembled true living? Couldn’t they feel the suffocation? Couldn’t they see its stark limitations? If there is something that Selene had learned in her explorations in psychology, it has been that humans were capable of brilliant and magnificent things in as long as they followed their own voice – their passions, their obsessions, their rules.
Selene got up from the sofa, wrapped the soft caramel-colored blanket around her, and made her way to the bedroom where she had been sleeping for two weeks. The bedroom where she stayed, opened up to small balcony that overlooked the street below. On the way, she grabbed a pack of cigarettes and a lighter that belonged to Caer. She slid the glass door open, lit up the cigarette, and sat on a chair – observing everyone who passed through the street. There was a dog walker with his golden retriever. There was an elderly woman racing after a young toddler whom she presumed to be her grandchild. There was a couple visibly upset on the intersection. There was an middle-aged man – walking rather swiftly. The scenes that were uncovered before her eyes made her question her commitment to travel. All she had witnessed suddenly seemed so ordinary. Where was the magic? Where was the bewitching energy she had found when she first arrived and had met Giuseppe?
As the sun began to set and the rain continued to pour, Selene closed her eyes and thought about the moment where she had made the decision that the pursuit of adventure, the path of the explorer was hers to follow. After working in a coffee shop to save money post-graduate school dropout, she headed to Hawaii. The island of Oahu to be exact. She made an agreement with the owner of a hostel that in exchange for her working the front desk and managing general processes in the hostel, she would receive free housing. Selene lived there for two months. While her time on the island was the epitome of mystical, her most fond memory was the one she created as soon as she landed. In an attempt to culminate her healing, to truly face grief, as soon as she landed, she made her way to Le’ahi (commonly known as Diamond Head). With little sleep, not having eaten for hours, she made her way to the top of the crater. On the way up, memories resurfaced – memories of loss, of joy – memories of her human experience. Upon reaching the top, she looked out into the surrounding spaces that stood below her. There was the city of Honolulu. Waikiki, the shore adorned with bright sand, hotels, resorts, that eventually opened into the downtown of the capital. In the other direction, she could see a residential area – homes lined up in the valley with other mountains in the background. Then on the other viewpoint, there was the open ocean. The deep blue of the Pacific calling her name. At a distance, she could see something lay beyond. Selene stayed at its top and took in the enchanting energy of the land – in the moment she remembers that everything made sense.
Everything made sense. She didn’t ponder the difficult questions of purpose and meaning. There were little thoughts about her former lover, her family’s expectations, or what she was supposed to be doing with her ‘potential’. Selene opened her eyes and returned indoors once her cigarette had been put out. She had already decided that she was to spend her last two days of France in Paris, then she was to head over to Sri Lanka.
The sun peered through the blinds of the Nicean flat in the early morning gently nudging Selene to awaken. She rolled onto her right side and found Caer soundly asleep. Being on the road for two years had made her forget what it was like to awaken in the presence of those familiar to her. In her journey, she had become accustomed to strangeness; familiarity was an enigmatic sensation that belonged in another world. Yet on this particular morning, it’s the potion that she needed. Slowly, she sat on the bed to witness an all consuming headache. Throughout her body there were chills, aches, and an overall sense of malaise. When was the last time she had been sick? She wondered. While being constantly on the go can often weaken your immune system, it was an arena where Selene thought she had been gifted with luck. Though this morning, reality presented itself differently. Shivering, Selene pulled the bed covers over her head and lay in bed until she heard someone clumsily trip in the living area adjacent to the room she was in.
“Sorry about that, mate. I didn’t realize you had fallen asleep on the floor beside me.” Said the voice. Some moments later, Caer was up and as lively as ever. Selene lay in bed until the sound of chatter and intense aromas took over the room. She made her way into the kitchen and greeted her friends, “I’m not feeling too well.” “What’s gotten into you?” Nico asked. “Headache. Fever. Extreme fatigue. I think I’ll have to stay behind today.” Slightly disappointed the bunch looked at each other until Sofia broke the silence, “If that’s what you must do to feel better, absolutely do that. I’m sure we can survive a day without you!” They all laughed. “I think we can, too.” Added Dmitri. In an hour’s time, the group had left the apartment and Selene found herself alone. Overcome with chills, she returned to bed.
Under the rays of the midmorning sun, Selene fell into a deep slumber where she was transported to a different world. Before her eyes lay a scene riddled with chaos resembling a war-torn state. From her point of view, she saw two mountains at a distance. On the mountain furthest to the left, there stood a lighthouse. On the mountain slightly to the right, closer in approximation to Selene, there was a citadel. The sight before her was consumed by flames of great height. Though the flames were increasing in height, there was a stream wrapped around the citadel mountain that violently gushed its water in an attempt to pacify the flames. In between the two mountains, Selene noted an intense ray of light mimicking what she could only label as the birth of the sun. Simultaneously, lightening and thunder stroke near the lighthouse, which rattled the ground she stood on. She looked up to the lighthouse and saw it surrounded by the moon, pieces of galactic rocks, and planets. She shifted her vision from the distance into that which was before her. There were floating masks, glass rounded ornaments, sculptures, a telescope, some lipstick. Above that, Selene saw a version of herself falling from the citadel tower. She had somehow stumbled into a world where gravity was both an absent and present force. A world without order; the scene of a lawless pandemonium. To the sound of a chirping bird, Selene awaked in a state of panic covered in sweat.
Though feeling intense muscular fatigue, she grabbed a sweater, pulled up her hair, picked up her clutch, and found her way to a nearby market in search of peppermint tea. She stepped into a public car and asked the driver to take her to Palais de Thés, a tea shop. The shop was located in a beautiful building in the intersection of Rue de la Liberté and Passage Emile Négrin next to a shoe store by the name of Geox. Selene walked in and after a few minutes set her her heart on a blend by the name of ANISE, PEPPERMINT, MELISSA – THE HERBALIST N ° 52 – the combination of anise and peppermint intrigued Selene’s increasing body temperature. She grabbed a box with twenty bags and went to check out. Briskly, she exited the store hoping her ride would arrive soon. She craved nothing more than rest.
While waiting for her car, Selene heard a faint call of her name from the direction of Passage Emile Négrin. “Selene!” She turned her head and to her surprise, it was Ms. Laguerre. Selene’s phone application informed her that her driver had cancelled the ride and a new driver was set to arrive in the near future. In frustration, Selene cancelled the transaction all together and awaited for Ms. Laguerre whom hurriedly approached the intersection where she stood. “Good day, my dear. How do you do?” Selene swallowed and felt the ache of her throat. “Not so well, Ms. Laguerre. How are you?” With a look of concern, Ms. Laguerre approached Selene closer, “You don’t look so good dearest, let’s take you home.”
Moments later, they found themselves in Selene’s flat. While Selene planted her body on the sofa in the living area, Ms. Laguerre ran the kettle to prepare them both tea. A few minutes later, Ms. Laguerre walked into the living area with a tray which held a kettle and two small ceramic cups. In the interim, Selene had escaped to the bathroom to grab some acetaminophen for her headache. Though she avoided pharmacological products as much as possible, she could no longer sustain. As she walked back to the sofa, Ms. Laguerre gave her a cup of warm tea. After the first sip, she began to tell a story. “I find the cycles of life to be so fascinating. Don’t you? When I first met Giuseppe, he had just settled into Nice and came to me under the conditions of a cold. He told me that he took his health for granted during his travels. The resiliency that his body exhibited allowed him to buy into the illusion that he was somehow invincible. I still remember the first time I met him. He was accompanied by the lovely Freya, his love. That afternoon I was working in the market stand, where you met me, and this captivating couple approached.” Feeling a little more calm, Selene listened intently, as although she had spent hours upon hours with Giuseppe, he had never mentioned a lover. “I saw him coughing and sang a little tune my grandmother use to repeat – ‘some part ginger, add some cloves, add the cinnamon, sweeten with honey, and let lemon settle it all.’ I come from a line of green witches – women who made magic in the kitchen. Freya found it intriguing and that is how we began to converse. That night they invited me to dinner in their home. It was there were Giuseppe told me of his travels, of meeting Freya, and his choice to settle in Nice. The next morning, I brought him some of my brew and to this day he swears is it what ended a bout of month-long illness!” She said as she giggled.
“Well my dear, I hope you continue to get rest and become well soon. Life calls.” As Ms. Laguerre made her way to the door, Selene stopped her. “Wait, who is this Freya you speak of? How come Giuseppe has never mentioned her?” Ms. Laguerre stopped in her tracks and responded, “Ah. You see, that story is not mine to tell. Freya was a woman whose presence radically transformed Giuseppe’s life. She pushed him off the brink of the tower.” Ms. Laguerre winked and closed the door behind her. Startled, Selene closed her eyes and placed her head on a pillow in hopes of a long, restful sleep.
The following morning they awakened to a table spread of socca, croissants, freshly baked bread, jams, soft cheeses, eggs, fruit, and an assortment of drinks. The Flaubert’s invited them to enjoy the delectable treats before them. After plenty of conversation, food, and drink, Monsieur Flaubert invited them all to his studio. At the end of the hallway, they stood in front of a large belle époque styled door. The wooden door was framed by rose colored marble casting. Beyond the casting, covering a good portion of the surrounding wall extended into elaborately carved wood with gold accent finishes. On either side of the door, stood two brass statues – one of a warrior woman, the other of a king. Above the eye level detailing of the door, lay what appeared to be an epitaph, in stone in the shape of a crown. The epitaph extended onto a marble finish, which was decorated with two angels and a coat of arms carved out of brass. The surrounding wood wall, extended into a hollow rectangular cuboid decorated with golden butterflies. As Monsieur Flaubert opened the door, it let out a heavy creaking sound. Caer, Dmitri, Nico, Sofia, and Selene all followed Monsieur Flaurbert into his studio.
The two-tiered room had tall ceilings and two spiraling staircases on opposite ends. The mustard colored, marble-tile flooring occasionally made space for a brightly colored tile – red, green, or blue tiles, adorned with gold trimming. From every direction, all walls appeared to be covered with books until they arrived through a hallway, a passageway into a different room. They walked into a circular shaped wing, painted all white lined with glass paned windows extending from the ceiling to the floor. In the center of the room there stood 6 white boards nearing the height of the ceiling, though not quite as tall; Three on the left, Three on the right – displaying multiple paintings, seventy-eight paintings to be exact. “These are the paintings I’ve made for myself. The paintings that are not for sale for they are the ones that keep my spirit alive. Each and everyone of these paintings have saved me in moments of agony, desperation, and despair.”
In silence, the group made their way through the panels and marveled at the surrealist paintings that were displayed. One painting in particular, grabbed Selene’s attention. The display titled appeared as Á la transition: La Morte. The background was a bright yellow with soft touches of light green and blue. A grey skin-toned woman sleeping upside down, bent her body into a half-moon shape opening towards the right. Her hair appeared as violent waves of water with rose-colored undertones that extended out of the scene of the canvas. In the half-moon opening, there lay a series of red and orange silk scarves, wind-blown in multiple directions, partly covering part of the woman’s face. Housed in the center of the silk scarf pile, there was a skull carved from grey stone with a slightly open mouth. The slight opening made it appear as if the silks were a product of the skull spewing fire. From the skull’s mouth, slid out a paint-splattered, green colored snake. Selene moved closer to the painting to examine the detail of the strokes. Monsieur Flaubert approached her. “Are you drawn to it or are you disturbed?” He asked. Startled, Selene shook her head and looked towards Monsieur Flaubert, “What inspired it?” Monsieur Flaubert looked away at a distance through the glass windows. He motioned Selene to follow.
“Prior to meeting Loretta, I met a woman who stirred my heart. After selling my first three paintings in Vienna, I decided I needed a scene with more movement, with more edge. I packed my belongings and relocated to Berlin. It was my second week in Berlin that I met Ania. Ania had olive skin, blue-hazel eyes, dark hair – an ethereal beauty. Even more, she was a brilliant mind. We’d often wander the streets of Berlin discussing the meaning of life, the life-saving force of beauty, the sublime, the art of travel, and the importance of human connection. I still remember the first time we met. I was getting off a train and I dropped a small notepad I was carrying on the ground. She was on the platform awaiting for the train, or perhaps it was for me – it’s hard to tell. I’m not sure what possessed me to do so, but when she handed me the notepad, I asked her to meet me at a bakery called Bäckerei Balzer. To my surprise, she showed up. Eventually, I found out that she only showed up after another gentleman stood her up. That night we ate pastries, we chatted, we walked around. I was ecstatic. She was a ballerina. After two months of constantly meeting, we finally decided to give the romance a shot. She was magnificent. One morning nearing Christmas, we had decided to meet for breakfast. She was leaving town to travel and wanted to spend some time together prior to her departure. En route to the café, I was met with multiple obstacles. Streets were blocked off, buses were re-routed, and it appeared that no matter how much I tried, I couldn’t get to the cafe. I had no way of reaching Ania, so helplessly I returned to my small apartment while I crafted elaborate mental scenes on how I was to apologize. I arrived to my apartment, turned on the television, and found that there had been a major accident leading to a multiple vehicle pile-up, including a truck. That afternoon, I passed by Ania’s flat and was unable to find her. After three days, I went to the Ballet academy and asked for Ania. With great sadness, the principal dancer delivered the news: Ania had been one of the casualties in the accident.” As Monsieur Flaubert continued to tell the story, tears streamed down Selene’s cheeks. “This was the first painting I completed after her death. I poured all of my grief onto this canvas.” As the sun arose to its peak, the bunch left the painting studio, the library, and found themselves ready to continue on with their day. The group thanked the Flaurbert’s for their hospitality, bid them farewell, and got on the private car headed back in the direction of Nice.
After nearly an hour, they were driven through Rue Bonaparte, remindingSelene of Chez Pauline and Tristán. Moments later, they found themselves in Cimitière du Château, a cemetery built on the ruins of the ancient town citadel situated on a hill overlooking the city. Nico was an anthropology graduate student at Paris Sciences & Lettres where he studied thanatology, how people died, and how people were commemorated after their passing. Naturally, cemeteries were in his repertoire of interests. The cemetery was lined with over 2,800 tombstones – there were tombstones, sculptures, marble, stone, glass, monoliths, obelisks; the space was covered in artistry in an attempt to immortalize those who lived before us. Selene walked next to Nico and felt the arousal of creative tension that occurs when she enters spaces that attempt to reduce the human experience to a few labels: daughter, devoted wife, mother. She felt as if those labels didn’t do their lives any justice. What were her dreams? What were her sorrows? Who was she, really? Nico increased his walking speed and stopped at a tall structure. “This here is the tomb of Emil Jellinek-Mercedes, the founder of the German Mercedes car brand.” He said as he walked around the arrangement. The structure’s design was reminiscent of one of the towers in the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, though not quite of the same height. In between the four pillars on a bed of marble, was a gravestone in the shape of a house, which read: Emile Jellinek Mercedes | 1853 – 1918 | Pionnier De L’Automobile. “History says that Emil had to escape France during World War I as he was suspected of committing espionage in favor of the Germans. It is believed that he settled in Geneva and upon his death requested his remains were laid to rest in France.”
Nico and Selene continued walking while making intermittent stops at particular stones or sculptures. “Thank you for saying that, Nico. Otherwise, I would have left here with a two-dimensional perspective of whom Emil was. Doesn’t that bother you? Don’t these one word descriptions appear shallow to you?” Nico looked at the the details in a sculpture in front of him as he began to speak. “You know, I revel in it. Rather than having access to someone’s entire life story in an instant, you’re forced to use your imagination along with other sources to paint the picture of an individual, their family, and the historical epoch they lived in. The gravestone, the tombstone, the epitaph is an invitation to explore more. It’s the gift packaging for information of time’s past. With Emil’s tombstone, the passerby gets a summary – automobile pioneer. A combination of the description, the years the person lived, the chosen architecture, and visual expression of a cemetery structure is precisely what excites me about these spaces. They’re treasure mines that contain pieces of unwritten history of those whom time has tried to make us forget. Information on not only how we die, but also how we live. There are days, when I spend hours upon endless hours with symbology books in cemeteries. Taking photographs of the pieces from multiple angles. Trying to decipher whom someone was, or whom their families or society thought they were, with just the visual information provided before me. Often times, these excursions lead me to deeply delve into history…To answer your question, I don’t hate it. It creates tension, fuel for the fire so to speak, increasing my desire to know more. If anything, the silent demeanor of a cemetery is precisely what gives it its depth.” As they continued walking, from afar came a familiar voice, “Nico, come take a look at this!” Dmitri exclaimed.
Nico headed towards Dmitri as Selene continue walking forward. A statue of a woman with a headdress sitting on a gravestone staring down into a book with a single photograph of man caught Selene’s attention. She wondered whom the woman was supposed to represent. She made a few rounds around the sculpture, in an attempt to find a name, years lived, or some inscription that would provide her with context. Selene stared at the expression of soft sorrow on the woman’s face and thought on the words that Nico had just shared. Perhaps, it was precisely the lack of words or the unique structure that attracted her to the figure in the first place. With her mind’s eye, she crafted an elaborate story of whom them man on the photograph had been while he inhabited the realms of the earth. She then looked out into the background to the open ocean, a marina, some mountainous terrain. From afar, she could see Caer, Sofia, Dmitri, and Nico headed towards her. For a moment, she came to realize that though the people walking towards her were familiar in their visual form, they had all changed in the two years she had spent on the road. How had she changed? What parts of her had died? Which aspects had resurrected? What others lay dormant awaiting for the perfect time to emerge? Selene looked out into the sunset in reverence; the death of another day.