Vivia, Deena and Lucy
From the window of her fourth-level, three-room suite, Lucy sees the Amstel River and two canals. On leave from her university to promote an anthology of short stories, the task over, freshly showered, as she applies mascara, she anticipates a much-needed quiet evening. Drake Publishing, of New York, paid for the classy Daalen Hotel on behalf of their fledgling East-European editor. Knowing Hungarian, Russian, and Romanian, made the young editor's task a natural.
In the hotel's lobby, the artist, Vivia Lindberg, is waiting for her Swedish lover, Deena. The artist had seen Lucy's arrival a week earlier. Lucy's dark eyes, full eyebrows, thick, black hair and caramel-brown skin, had Vivia speculate that Lucy might be Gypsy? Deena, thought the same. Neither expected anyone of that culture in Amsterdam. The evening was still young when both women learn Lucy was born in Romania. They decided, yes, Gypsy.
Dark and taller than most Gypsies, Lucy was – as a teen – in summers, a solo, prize-winning tennis player; in winter, a water polo team member. Always attending her sporting events, her mother, Syna, knew her athletic, good-looking daughter will attract the attention of men. Mother, when naming her 'Lovena' – little loved one – didn't anticipate women.
Her fair-haired and pale-skinned girlfriends called her 'Lucy.' 'Lovena' sounded too foreign in corporate-insurance, All-American Hartford.
Observed by neighbors, mother and daughter, both immigrants, now naturalized citizens, were closely bonded; an only child, Lovena fulfilling needs of a long-suffering mother, a dim-recalling of her Romanian husband – a citizen journalist, he disappeared two months before the birth of Lovena – never proven, but believed abducted by the Russian KGB.
Bidding goodbye at the Hartford airport, mother warned Lucy, saying, “You careful now. I want you meet nice American man. Have babies in America.”
Since her birth, her first return to Europe, the twenty-eight year old daughter of Syna, prepared for radio and TV interviews; she prepared for meeting with book clubs; and she prepared for speaking at book fairs. As mother would know, because she still lives at home, she was not well prepared for men and not at all for Vivia and Deena.
* * *
Danish Artist. Away from her studio in Copenhagen, Vivia, a thirty-something, briefly married, abstract artist travels with her exhibits. At the art gallery, left of the reception desk, twenty-four, large-scale paintings, oils, line the vanilla-shaded walls of two rooms at the four-star hotel. During gallery showings in Amsterdam, the artist stays with university student, Deena.
Swedish Deena. Deena, not looking Swedish, instead, olive-skinned and slim, moved from Stockholm when she married a Dutchman. She stayed after the divorce. On her web-page Deena Halstrom describes herself as a part-time student and aspiring photo-artist.
Deena's sparsely-furnished, one-bedroom, apartment, fills the fifth-level attic of a tall, narrow building from the 17th Century. With painted floors, each room has slanted-ceilings and hand-hewn beams. Except in the middle of rooms, it is difficult for her to stand upright. The ceilings and beams are painted off-white, almost yellow. Between beams and ceiling, every space is filled with a variety of books, boxes, newspapers, and the odd electrical appliance that might otherwise be in a closet. Two sooty skylights allow east then west light. As small restaurants do, mirrors reflect and create an ambiance of a larger space.
Outside, off the living-dining area, Deena's roof-terrace is edged with miniature fruit trees, flowers, and a variety of herbs. Other narrow buildings with hovering, diving nighthawks complete the view.
No different than artists' lofts worldwide, three to five painting or etchings or photographs hang on every wall. Along floors, some framed, some half-framed, some not, another five or six await space or a larger apartment.
There is a complete, every bone (if plastic) human skeleton standing left of the door to the WC. Androgynous, it wears a mauve wool night-cap, red mittens, non-matching, brightly-colored knee-socks and fuzzy slippers.
An odd assortment of thrift-store castoffs complete the furnishings. Along the windowless north wall, a worn, flowered-couch, capable of seating four adults, with eight multicolored cushions, faces toward Euro-style, kitchen-cupboards. One of Vivia's abstract painting hangs over the couch.
Swedish Deena, Danish Vivia and Romanian-American Lucy will sit on the couch. Lucy in the middle. A protective mother's never-imagined nightmare.
What Lucy didn't tell mother: My responsibilities in Amsterdam are over. I am craving a low-key, placid, even-boring weekend; no more publishers' parties; no more late nights of too much coffee, vodka or beer and sweet wine as I listen to hopeful authors pitching stories and poems, some of the presenters, both men and women pitching, in any direction, perhaps, more than poetry.
After taping two radio interview that Friday afternoon, I don't want to return to my suite with its muted-brown and bland, over-size, look-alike paintings of silent windmills. The faux-wood paneling, the king-size bed, the many-feathery pillows, the over-sized, goose-down duvet, everything, the desk, the upholstered chairs and over-size TV, and a bathroom the size of an ordinary hotel room, call for the intimacy of lovers. Taking mother's advice, I am avoiding men, almost.
Not that I know about men and their ways. After six months of dating – despite mother's pleading not to – I did keep-house weekends with Jason. He was an aspiring writer; during a temporary teaching assignment in Alaska, he met an older, widowed, millionaire woman and didn't return to Connecticut. My first broken heart.
Before Jason, during a literary conference in Dallas, an over-sexed, older, married journalist invited me to his suite; he had camel breath.
A year earlier, before six months dating Jason – a visiting graduate student from Rome – I learned later – was mostly gathering material for a sex novel – something about students and teachers. Published in Naples, it became a best-seller. I became the unflattering, newly-minted teacher, the difficult-to-arouse Lynda in his story.
Most recent, the courteous, square shouldered, handsome flight attendant on my Air France flight to Paris offered to show me around the Left Bank, including his body in exchange for mine. I accepted. Counting different men, not including that first teen-age tryst, I have a finger to spare on one hand.
My evening with Vivia and Deena started after a Moraccan lamb dinner, with, of course – where invented – Hollandaise sauce over asparagus. The wine a German Mosel. I finished with a sticky-smooth brandy Advocaat. I ate alone in a quiet, fern-obscured, corner-table for two.
Before leaving the open-air restaurant, I was already tipsy and enjoying a less-in-control moment. Feeling the need for a touch of romance (without complications), I planned to taxi to the De Balie Cinema to see 'The Romance of Astrea and Celadon.' I missed this sensual, bucolic comedy in Paris. The desk attendant arranged a ticket. With the usual turned-on smile, saying, “It will be available at the box office. Show-time is nine,” then, gesturing toward the entrance, adding, “Taxis are always available at the door.”
Since I had an hour or so to spare, I wandered into the hotel’s ground-floor art gallery where my attention I was immediately seized by large, splashy oils – some measuring two meters by two – each with striking colors. In wide brush strokes, they cover the walls of the gallery's two rooms. Red dots are everywhere. So striking was the effect, I lingered over each abstract attempting to discover if there might be poignancy in hidden meanings.
A woman I had seen the lobby the evening before, seemed to follow in my steps. I turned – to make conversation – I said, “It appears the artist has done very well, except (pointing to an unsold oil) with this.”
Vivia had seen her before. Despite an underlying gypsy appearance, the young woman had a prime, proper-looking, academic bearing. She was intrigued with the contrast.
The academic had passed through the busy lobby several times over preceding days. Now she lingered over the oils, just now looking at a smaller unsold work. Even before she turned and spoke, Vivia thought she might ask for the woman's impressions. Only an American, even if she looked like a gypsy, would wear gray slacks and a lime, linen, fitted jacket. She was not surprised by her question in English.
Lucy thinks the blond woman replying might be one of the hotel guests. While not fashionably groomed in dress, jewelry or style of hair – as nearly all the women she saw with their well-shewed husbands – the woman is attractive in a subdued way.
She appears about ten years older, perhaps even forty. It's so hard to know. There is jewelry, but no ring on her left hand. She wears a sleeveless, molded-charcoal wool dress embroidered with random black-sequined flowers. Her heels are stacked and there is a flash of fringe at the ankles.
The woman answered with a question, in a Germanic accent, “I vaz asking myself vhy this painting did not sell?”
Hearing no answer, looking up, she continues, “Do you see something dat makes this painting less interesting?” Then adding, before Lucy answers, “Do you like it?”
More forthcoming... March 22, 2011