Authors: Paulo Coelho
Tags: #Romance, #Literary, #Fiction, #Visionary & Metaphysical, #General
I have a side that is honest, kind, caring, professional, and capable of keeping my cool at difficult moments, especially during interviews, when some subjects prove aggressive or evade my questions.
But I am discovering a more spontaneous, impatient, wild side, one that is not confined to the hotel room where I meet with Jacob and one that is beginning to affect my daily routine. I am more easily irritated when a salesperson chats with a customer even though there’s a line. Now I go to the supermarket only out of necessity, and I’ve already stopped looking at prices and expiration dates. When someone says something I don’t agree with, I make a point of responding. I discuss politics. I defend movies everyone hates and criticize those everyone loves. I love surprising people with ridiculous and out-of-place opinions. In short, I’ve stopped being the reserved woman I always was.
People have started to notice. “You’re different!” they say. It’s one step away from “You’re hiding something,” which soon turns into “You only need to hide if you’re doing something you shouldn’t.”
I may just be paranoid, of course. But today I feel like two different people.
All David needed to do was order his men to bring him that woman. He didn’t owe anyone an explanation. And when
trouble arose, he sent her husband to the battlefront. It’s different in my case. As discreet as the Swiss are, there are two situations when they become unrecognizable.
The first is in traffic. If someone lingers a fraction of a second to start his car after the light turns green, we immediately start to honk. If someone changes lanes, even with a turn signal flashing, he will always get a dirty look in the rearview mirror.
The second concerns the dangerous event of change, whether it’s our house, job, or behavior. Here, everything is stable, everyone behaves as expected. Please don’t try to be different or suddenly reinvent yourself, because you’ll be threatening our whole society. This country worked hard to reach its “finished” state; we don’t want to go back to being “under renovation.”
family and I are at the place where William, Victor Frankenstein’s brother, was murdered. For centuries, this was a swamp. After Calvin’s ruthless hands turned Geneva into a respectable city, the sick were brought here, usually to die of hunger and exposure, and thus keeping the city from being infected by any epidemics.
Plainpalais is huge, the only spot in the city center with virtually no greenery. In winter, the wind is bone-chilling. In summer, the sun makes us drip with sweat. It’s ridiculous. But since when have things needed a good reason to exist?
It’s Saturday and there are antiques vendors with stalls scattered all around. This market has become a tourist attraction and even appears in travel guides as a “good thing to do.” Sixteenth-century relics intermingle with VCRs. Antique bronze sculptures from the remote corners of Asia are displayed alongside horrible furniture from the eighties. The place is swarming with people. A few connoisseurs patiently examine a piece and talk at length with the vendors. The majority, tourists and onlookers, find things they will never need but end up buying because they’re so cheap. They return home, use them once, and then put them in the garage, thinking: “It’s completely useless, but it was a bargain.”
I have to keep the children under control the entire time; they want to touch everything, from valuable crystal vases to fancy toys from the turn of the nineteenth century. But at least they’re learning that intelligent life exists beyond video games.
One of them asks me if we can buy a metal clown with a movable mouth and limbs. My husband knows their interest in the toy will last only until we get home. He says it’s “old” and
that we can buy something new on the way back. At the same time, their attention is diverted by some boxes of marbles, which children used to play with in the backyard.
My eyes fixate on a small painting; it’s of a nude woman, lying in bed, and an angel in the process of turning away. I ask the vendor how much it costs. Before telling me the price (a pittance), he explains that it’s a reproduction done by a local unknown painter. My husband observes us without saying a word and, before I can thank the man for the information and move on, he’s already paid for it.
Why did you do that?
“It represents an ancient myth. When we get back home I’ll tell you the story.”
I want to fall in love with him again. I never stopped loving him—I’ve always loved him and always will—but our life together is verging on monotony. Love can withstand this, but for lust, it’s fatal.
I am going through an extremely tough time. I know my relationship with Jacob has no future and I’ve turned my back on the man with whom I’ve built a life.
Whoever says “love is enough” is lying. It isn’t and it never has been. The big problem is that people believe what they see in books and movies—the couple that strolls along the beach holding hands, gazes at the sunset, and makes passionate love every day in nice hotels overlooking the Alps. My husband and I have done all that, but the magic lasts only one or two years, at most.
Then comes marriage. Choosing and decorating the house, planning the nursery for the children to come, kisses, dreams, a champagne toast in the empty living room that will soon be exactly as we imagined—everything in its place. Two years after the first child is born, the house has no more room and,
if we add something, we risk looking like we live to impress others and will spend the rest of our lives buying and cleaning antiques (which will later be sold for a song by our heirs and eventually wind up at the Plainpalais market).
After three years of marriage, a person already knows exactly what the other wants and thinks. At dinner parties we are obliged to listen to the same stories we’ve heard time and time again, always feigning surprise and, occasionally, having to confirm them. Sex goes from being a passion to a duty, and that’s why it becomes increasingly sporadic. Before long it happens only once a week—if that. Women hang out and brag of their husbands’ insatiable fire, which is nothing but an outright lie. Everyone knows this, but no one wants to be left behind.
Then comes the time for the extramarital affairs. Women talk—do they ever!—about their lovers and their insatiable fire. There’s an element of truth in this, because more often than not it’s happening in the enchanted world of masturbation—just as real as that of the women who let themselves be wooed by the first man who appeared, regardless of his attributes. They buy expensive clothes and pretend to be modest, even though they’re exhibiting more sensuality than a sixteen-year-old girl—the only difference being that the girl knows the power she holds.
Finally, the time comes to resign ourselves to the monotony. The husband spends hours away from home, wrapped up in work, and the wife dedicates more time than necessary to taking care of the children. We are at this stage, and I am willing to do anything to change it.
Love alone is not enough. I need to fall in love with my husband.
Love isn’t just a feeling; it’s an art. And like any art, it takes not only inspiration, but also a lot of work.
Why is the angel turning away and leaving the woman alone in the bed?
“It’s not an angel. It’s Eros, the Greek god of love. The girl in the bed with him is Psyche.”
I open a bottle of wine and fill our glasses. He puts the painting above the unlit fireplace—often just a decorative feature in homes with central heating. Then he begins:
“Once upon a time there was a beautiful princess who was admired by all, but no one dared to ask for her hand in marriage. In despair, the king consulted the god Apollo. He told him that Psyche should be dressed in mourning and left alone on top of a mountain. Before daybreak, a serpent would come to meet and marry her. The king obeyed, and all night the princess waited for her husband to appear, deathly afraid and freezing cold. Finally, she slept. When she awoke, she found herself crowned a queen in a beautiful palace. Every night her husband came to her and they made love, but he had imposed one condition: Psyche could have all she desired, but she had to trust him completely and could never see his face.”
How awful, I think, but I don’t dare interrupt him.
“The young woman lived happily for a long time. She had comfort, affection, joy, and she was in love with the man who visited her every night. However, occasionally she was afraid that she was married to a hideous serpent. Early one morning, while her husband slept, she lit a lantern and saw Eros, a man of incredible beauty, lying by her side. The light woke him, and seeing that the woman he loved was unable to fulfill his one request, Eros vanished. Desperate to get her lover back, Psyche submitted to a series of tasks given to her by Aphrodite, Eros’s mother. Needless to say, her mother-in-law was incredibly jealous of Psyche’s beauty and she did everything she could to
thwart the couple’s reconciliation. In one of the tasks, Psyche opened a box that makes her fall into a deep sleep.”
I grow anxious to find out how the story will end.
“Eros was also in love and regretted not having been more lenient toward his wife. He managed to enter the castle and wake her with the tip of his arrow. ‘You nearly died because of your curiosity,’ he told her. ‘You sought security in knowledge and destroyed our relationship.’ But in love, nothing is destroyed forever. Imbued with this conviction, they go to Zeus, the god of gods, and beg that their union never be undone. Zeus passionately pleaded the cause of the lovers with strong arguments and threats until he gained Aphrodite’s support. From that day on, Psyche (our unconscious, but logical, side) and Eros (love) were together forever.”
I pour another glass of wine. I rest my head on his shoulder.
“Those who cannot accept this, and who always try to find an explanation for magical and mysterious human relationships, will miss the best part of life.”
Today I feel like Psyche on the cliff, cold and afraid. But if I can overcome this night and give in to the mystery and faith in life, I will awake in a palace. All I need is time.
day finally arrives when both couples will be together at a reception given by an important local TV presenter. We talked about it yesterday in bed at the hotel while Jacob smoked his customary cigarette before getting dressed and leaving.
I couldn’t turn down the invitation because I’d already sent my RSVP. So had he, and changing his mind now would be terrible for his career.
I arrive with my husband at the TV station, and we are told the party is on the top floor. My phone rings before we get in the elevator, and I am forced to leave the queue and stay in the lobby, talking with my boss, while others arrive, smiling at me and my husband and nodding discreetly. Apparently, I know almost everyone.
My boss says my articles with the Cuban shaman—the second of which was published yesterday despite having been written more than a month ago—are a big hit. I have to write one more to complete the series. I explain that the man doesn’t want to speak with me anymore. He asks me to find someone else “in the industry,” because there is nothing less interesting than conventional opinions (psychologists, sociologists, et cetera). I don’t know anyone “in the industry,” but as I need to hang up, I promise to think about it.
Jacob and Mme König walk by and greet us with a nod. My boss was just about to hang up, but I decide to continue the conversation. God forbid we have to go up in the same elevator! “How about we put a cattle herder and a Protestant minister together?” I suggest. “Wouldn’t it be interesting to record their conversation about how they deal with stress or boredom?” The boss says it’s a great idea, but it would be
even better to find someone “in the industry.” Right, I’ll try. The doors have closed and the elevator is gone. I can hang up without fear.
I explain to my boss that I don’t want to be the last one to arrive at the reception. I’m two minutes late. We live in Switzerland, where the clocks are always right.
Yes, I have behaved strangely over the last few months, but one thing hasn’t changed: I hate going to parties. I can’t understand why people enjoy them.
Yes, people enjoy them. Even when it comes to something professional like tonight’s cocktail hour—that’s right, a cocktail hour, not party—they get dressed up, put on makeup, and tell their friends, not without a certain air of ennui, that unfortunately they’ll be busy Tuesday because of the reception celebrating ten years of
as presented by the handsome, intelligent, and photogenic Darius Rochebin. Everyone who’s “anyone” will be there, and the rest will have to settle for the photos that will be published in the only celebrity magazine for the entire population of French-speaking Switzerland.
Going to parties like this gives status and visibility. Occasionally our newspaper covers this type of event, and the day after we’ll receive phone calls from aides to important people, asking if the photos where they appear might be published and saying they would be extremely grateful. The next best thing to being invited is seeing your presence garner the spotlight it deserved. And there is nothing that better proves this than appearing in the newspaper wearing an outfit specially made for the occasion (although this is never admitted) and the same smile from all the other parties and receptions. Good thing I’m not the editor of the social column; in my current state as Victor Frankenstein’s monster, I would have already been fired.