Table of Contents
Chapter 22, part 2 appeared
in issue 143.
Chapter 22: Paris, France
Toni passed most of the next hour absorbed in the paintings of Pierre Auguste Renoir.
He spent at least half of that time in front of the magnificent Dance at the Moulin de la Galette. He kept shifting position, to take in the lighting effects of Renoir’s paint from countless different angles, and to marvel at the artist’s subtle perspectives on the joyful crowd of dancers and revellers. Carla found it quite exhausting just watching him ... she could see, however, that he was totally captivated, and for a long while she did nothing to distract him. But after a decent interval, she appeared from the shadows of the staircase and strolled up to him.
‘You’re certainly enjoying this one, Toni!’
‘Carla, don’t you think it’s just glorious? It’s set up on the hill of Montmartre, where I went last night. Look at the colours and the light effects! Wouldn’t you have loved to be there? Over a hundred years ago, of course ... it’s nothing like that now! All the men around the table or on the dance floor were really good friends of Renoir ... and most of them were artists themselves! And the two women in the foreground, who look so much like each other, with wonderful inviting smiles like yours ... well, they were sisters, neighbourhood girls making some extra money as the artist’s models. And notice how there’s only one couple who are actually absorbed in one another ... all the other people are dreamily gazing at someone or something else ...’
‘It is very beautiful, Toni. Yes, we are all observers, it seems ...’
‘It’s one of my two favourite paintings. The other one’s also by Renoir, and it’s got a very similar feel ... but it’s not in Paris, I’m afraid ... it’s in a private collection in Washington D.C! But there are lots more Renoirs here ... and so many other wonderful artists.’
Toni stayed with his beloved impressionists for another hour. He paused for some time when he reached Manet’s Picnic on the Grass. ‘You know, Carla, this painting scandalised Paris when it was first exhibited ...’
He then had to speed up, as he tried to cover as much of the rest of the huge gallery as possible, with his legs rapidly wilting beneath him. By a quarter to five he was cultured out.
‘I think we should call it a day, Carla. I’m tired and thirsty, and I don’t want to spoil things by overdoing it!’
‘Good thinking, Toni.’
But as they passed through the gallery’s shop, on their way to the exit, he spotted the section on the works of Renoir.
‘Oh look, Carla ... here’s a whole book devoted to the other painting I mentioned ... The Luncheon of the Boating Party. I can never decide which of those two I love the most! This one is magnificent ... fourteen more of Renoir’s friends, can you see? ... dotted around the tables after their lunch, overlooking the Seine ... but once again, only two of them are looking at each other! Everybody else is either fascinated by a different person in the party, who doesn’t even seem to know they’re there, or by something in the distance. All observers again, as you said! And the beautiful girl in the flowery hat, who’s only interested in her lovely little dog ... she was one of Renoir’s favourite models ... her name was Aline Charigot ... they were married a few years later! What a brilliant composition! Just brilliant ...’
‘Toni, you really are an artist at heart, you know!’
‘Oh no, Carla. I told Quo on the day I met you ... I can’t draw to save my life!’
‘I think you’re wrong, Toni. We can all draw beautifully if we try. Look ... we have some time to spare before we need to meet up with Nallier. Quo did suggest to you, right at the start, that we might be able to share some of our skills. Would you like me to show you what I mean?’
‘Would you really, Carla?’
‘Of course, carísimo. But we must do a bit of shopping first. We need to find a little compilation of simple pencil sketches and studies.’ She set off on her search. ‘Here, this one looks good ...’
Toni picked it up and turned the pages for her. It was full of drawings by Picasso, Durer, Degas and many other great artists. But the text was in French. Then he spotted a Spanish language version, and chose that instead.
‘That’s perfect, Toni. Now, get yourself a pad of drawing paper, some soft lead pencils and a large pack of coloured ones ... and an eraser too. We’ll buy a newspaper from the pavement kiosk outside — and don’t forget to collect the CD player ...’
* * *
They strolled back across the river to another quiet bench in the Tuileries Garden, and Carla began her lesson.
‘Your brain is not too different from mine in certain key respects, Toni. One half of it, the left side, is preoccupied with reason and precision, order and logic, mathematics and languages, timekeeping and efficiency, and so on. The right side is much more interested in music and art, in spatial concepts, in dreams and possibilities, in perception and invention. The left brain demands the dictionary and the musical score; the right brain prefers to hear the poetry and the symphony ...
‘But the left side is stronger, more dominant. It needs to be, to allow you to do all your daily living safely and successfully! Most of the time, the right brain is crouching shyly in the background. Sometimes it takes over for very short periods, such as when you were waxing lyrical about the Cathedral, and Joan of Arc, and the Palace, and the Renoirs. But it is soon put back in its place again by the “let’s get busy” left side!’
‘This is all a bit abstruse, Carla ...’
‘It doesn’t matter if you don’t accept the theory, Toni. You’re going to prove it to yourself now, in practice ...’
She stood up and walked behind the bench, then asked Toni to open the book he had bought, and to slowly turn the pages again as she watched over his shoulder.
‘Stop there! Now take an ordinary pencil and copy that simple Picasso caricature of a seated man, straight onto your pad of paper. Do it within ten minutes.’
‘This won’t take that long,’ thought Toni, as he began to copy, watching precisely the poor results he was expecting materialise before his eyes. In less than six minutes he declared it finished.
‘There,’ he said. ‘It’s awful — I told you so!’
‘I agree — it is not a good effort, Toni. Your left brain was in charge, and it was keen to beat the challenge of the clock, and anyway it felt the whole thing was a waste of time ... it would have preferred you to be getting on with something much more productive. And the results have proved it correct. So it is sitting there very smugly at the moment — the decision it made for you, many years ago, that you simply cannot draw, has been reinforced once again ...’
‘So, Carla ...?’
‘So, Toni ... you have just drawn what you thought you could see. What your clever left brain thought a simple human figure should look like. As far as it is concerned, drawing’s only good for scribbled street maps or formal engineering blueprints, and little else! Now your right brain is going to help you draw what you actually see ...
‘Find a clean sheet of paper. Now turn the Picasso upside down.’ ... ‘Yes, upside down! Now put the paper alongside the Picasso, and take as long as you wish to reproduce exactly what you see. Try to make every single line the perfect length and shape and angle. Don’t rush it ... and if your left brain tries to tell you it’s a waste of time, or it can’t make sense of what it sees you producing, just tell it to shut up for a while ...’
Toni rather reluctantly agreed, and abandoned himself to his muse. This time it took several minutes for him to relax sufficiently to make even the first mark. Fifteen long minutes then passed before he was satisfied. He had paused at length on several occasions. He had used the eraser a lot. Finally he spoke.
‘All right, Carla. I’ve done what you asked. It’s just a bunch of linked lines ... but I’ve tried hard to reproduce the original.’
‘Turn the book the right way up again, Toni. Now turn your new drawing round as well ...’
Toni was stunned at the result. It did not have the passion or the fluidity of the original, but his own little “picasso” was a very fair, well-proportioned copy of it, and the subject was easily recognisable this time.
‘It’s your left brain that’s impressed, Toni. It’s the one that makes all those sorts of judgements for you. It cannot argue with the facts. It is very pleasantly surprised to see how well you did, and to acknowledge reluctantly that you did it without its own help, and to admit that it enjoyed that good long rest from its usual mundane responsibilities. And to agree that it might even be comfortable with the idea of letting you do it again, if you can produce results like that for it to be so proud of ...’
‘I want to do another one straight away, Carla!!’
‘Sure, Toni ... but calm down! Turn the book upside down again. Start turning the pages slowly for me ... OK, stop there. We’ll use the drawing on the left. There are lots of curves in that one, as well as straight lines. Get a new sheet of paper, and position it close by, on the right, so that your observation can be as easy and accurate as possible. Try to make the copy the same size, and alongside the original.
‘Now close your eyes and relax. Then tell your left brain that you are going to have another go. When it tries to argue, just remind it how much it will appreciate another restful break, and will enjoy the results at the end! Once it fully agrees, and gives in and goes off to sleep, open your eyes and begin. Take all the time you need. It’s going to be beautiful, Toni ...’
When Toni emerged from his second reverie of creation, and his right brain momentarily admired the result, it was, indeed, quite beautiful. Then his left brain kicked in, and enthusiastically agreed — and now, at long last, it was back under its master’s control ...
‘Have we got time for one more, Carla?’
‘Yes, Mr Left Brain! OK ... pick up your newspaper and turn it upside down. Now look away, and slowly turn its pages while I study the captions of the photographs ... Stop! That one’s perfect. You need to tear out the picture down at the bottom right, Toni, without trying to read the caption or the headlines — and don’t turn it the right way up! Then fold it so that only the photo is showing — no text. That’s it.
‘Turn your drawing pad lengthways and put the upside-down photo on the left hand side. Now you’re ready to copy it across onto the right-hand side of the pad. You’ve got nice soft pencils, so try to capture the different shades of grey rather than tracing any outlines. Copy exactly what you see, not what you expect. OK ... close your eyes, dismiss the left brain, and then begin ...’
Half an hour later, having scarcely paused this time, Toni stopped and studied the image of monochrome contrasts which he had produced. The original photo was clearly a human face ... he had known that from the start. But he had no idea who the mystery person was ...
Carla spoke up. ‘Don’t look at the photo yet ... just turn your drawing up the right way ...’
Toni was speechless as he found himself admiring a superb likeness of the Prime Minister of Spain.
Then he suddenly realised how cold he was feeling. It was nearly half-past seven ... with his right brain largely in control, over two hours had slipped by quite unnoticed, the sun had fully set, and a cool breeze had come up. But Carla had been watching the clock in her own particular way.
‘Time for dinner, Toni!’
‘You’re right! Thank you so much for the lesson, Carla. I really enjoyed it — I’m so excited, and I love the results! But it’s also made me feel quite strange inside ...’
‘Nothing a good Parisian meal won’t cure, I’m certain! Now ... can I ask you to eat fairly close by, so that you can be back at Nallier’s apartment block before eight-thirty? You can help me get in, and then I’d like you to wait outside for me until I’ve finished ...’
* * *
Toni left Carla to her own devices and wandered hungrily back towards Jean-Christophe’s apartment. Only a few metres further along the embankment, on the corner of Rue de Beaune, he discovered Le Voltaire bar-restaurant.
‘Yes,’ he thought, ‘I know just how Candide felt. This can be my revenge!’
He pushed open the door (‘Bonsoir, monsieur!’ came a call from the back), marched confidently up to the bar and, in his best French, asked for a Cunégonde baguette and a small Pangloss on ice. The young barman and waiter shook their uncomprehending heads. He chuckled to himself, and settled for a fillet steak and fries and the best of all possible beers.
* * *
Carla and Toni met up again at twenty past eight, outside Nallier’s apartment block.
‘Toni, please press the button marked “R. Valéry” for me ...’
The entry phone crackled. ‘Carla?’
The entrance door clicked open.
‘Bonsoir, mademoiselle! Ah, you are a little early ... I was in the bathroom, but it is no problem! Please come straight up. Third floor, second apartment on the right after you leave the elevator. I will leave my door unlocked ...’
There were many people walking around nearby, so Carla did not want to un-make just yet. Instead, Toni pushed the front door fully open. There was nobody in the lobby. Carla whispered ‘See you later,’ and walked inside. Toni pulled the door gently back, and it closed and locked itself. He then retreated, to wait across the road by the wall of the river bank.
Once safely inside, Carla un-made, passed up the lift shaft and down the corridor, and poked her head and nothing else through the second door, which was also labelled “R. Valéry”.
She saw a large, dark living room, lit only by the last vestiges of the Parisian sunset, a weak street light, and a tiny lamp in the corner. Her target was clearly still occupied in the small room over to her left. She decided not to intrude further on his privacy, but simply completed her entrance, re-made, and sat down calmly on a small upright chair close to the door.
A few moments later, Jean-Christophe switched off the bathroom light, emerged in a splendid silk dressing gown, then spotted his seated guest. It was hard for her to see him in the poor light, which he was now blocking still further. But she smiled at once her captivating smile.
Nallier did not appear to have noticed it. ‘Carla, welcome! You must have come in so quietly! I did not realise that you were here ...’
He began to walk towards her.
‘J-C ... please do not come too close, so quickly. And anyway, you know, I can hardly see you ...’
‘Ah, the romance of the twilight, ma chérie ...’
Carla tried to turn up the intensity of her own sort of charm, but her smile was still not getting through. Jean-Christophe was holding back for now, thank goodness, but he was taking firm control of events ...
Quo communicated instantly to Carla, like a radio news producer to an interviewer, and told her not to panic, and to play along for a little while to avoid alienating their valuable subject.
‘Carla,’ Nallier persisted, ‘I have gathered the information you and Quo requested. But I feel I deserve a small reward for all my efforts. You are a very beautiful woman, you know. I will be happy to divulge everything I have learned, if we may first ... together ... you know ...’
‘Ah, Carla, you are playing with me. I am sure your little “non” is not what it seems, hein?’
‘Non, J-C. It is out of the question. Believe me!’
But Nallier continued to insist, Carla held her less than solid ground, and there was temporary stalemate.
Quo and Carla were both quite confident that J-C was really only trying his luck, and that he would eventually provide them with their information, whatever happened (hopefully he had been properly and fully engaged earlier in the day!).
They knew too that Carla could at any time choose to insist on more light for her smile and then get on with her first collection, as planned.
But Quo still preferred not to aggravate the man unnecessarily. So the Handler was strongly encouraged by her management to think of something, and keep him very sweet.
Carla thought briefly, as instructed ... and could not ignore the logical conclusion that the offer of a modest little striptease (‘but no touching!’) might provide the necessary key to the deadlock. But she had some rather strange reservations about proceeding. And also, she suddenly thought, she had not formally studied and remembered an appropriate image — so she had no firm idea of what she should look like beneath her smart Italian suit!
Then Quo reminded her that she had observed lots of mannequins modelling underwear in the fashion stores, and plenty of sculptures and paintings of nudes in the gallery that afternoon, and in particular those girls in the Amsterdam windows. She could surely construct something convincing from all that informal input! ‘Yes, that’s true,’ thought Carla; but she was still feeling curiously embarrassed by the prospect of what was to come, and was not at all certain she could generate any accurate images in that unaccustomed state of disquiet ...
She made her compromising offer.
And Nallier quickly decided to accept it as a pleasant step in the right direction. The night was still young ...
Then, in a final attempt to avoid this charade, Carla insisted, to J-C’s mild disappointment, that she would need a screen for her performance — and, ‘quel dommage,’ there were none to be seen. But Nallier, carefully moving across the room to sit down in a particular armchair, at once declared that she should improvise with the already half-open door to the bedroom. So, having exhausted all her objections, she pressed bravely on.
She disappeared behind the bedroom door, un-made, re-made in a fetching crimson camisole and matching French knickers that she had secretly admired in a shop window only a few hours earlier, stepped back into view and, despite her natural inclinations, found herself doing a provocative little twirl.
Jean-Christophe grinned widely and nodded in lusty approval. ‘Bravo! Encore! Continue, continue, ma petite ...’
She moved behind the door once more, and un-made again. This was it! At least he would barely be able to see her in this light. She took the equivalent of a deep breath, re-made, and re-emerged.
Her audience of one was amazed to discover that, despite her slim and delicate frame, his latest intended paramour, silhouetted beautifully in front of the weak light from the north-facing window, was endowed with astonishingly large examples of the primary features of the female, and a strangely undefined lower half, covered by an extremely real-looking fig leaf ...
His reaction was predictable. He leapt out of his chair and moved swiftly towards Carla, his arms opening for an embrace and his lips gushing further compliments.
She had one second in which to react, and in that second she decided to get away at once and handle the consequences later. So as Jean-Christophe reached his object of desire and threw his arms around her, she vanished completely, and all he succeeded in embracing was himself.
To be continued ...