by Kleitia Vaso

The elements that interest us in others, whether people or objects, are difficult to define. One of the most memorable lines of the latest film version of Anna Karenina is Vronsky’s response to Anna’s question on the reason for his sudden and inexplicable obsession with her, “You can’t ask why about love.” And, it seems true to me; while in retrospect, with the clarity which characterizes the backward glance, I can dissect and support all the reasons for loving something, the mysterious element of the initial draw remains. And the same concept works for the opposite case as well; sometimes, no rational explanation exists for why I dislike a face, a place, a particular smell.

This essay did not begin as an essay about love. It came with a strange urgency from something very small: on a usual morning, urged by the irrational pull of a mysterious name, I chose to read an interview by Imre Kertész, a Hungarian writer by whom I’ve never read anything. As I mentioned, when one thinks of the reasons for the choice for more than a few moments, there is always a why and some sort of explanation, but the why does not change the instinctive selection of this specific author from tens of interviews on Paris Review.

The actual reasons are a few, in fact. For instance, since I was a child, Hungary has exerted an infrequent but strange appeal for me, which started, I suppose, with my momentary enthrallment as a very young girl, with a friend of my parents, who was blond, beautiful, and half-Hungarian at a time when Albania was filled with similar looking brunettes, without any seeming dramatic difference from each other. Actually, she stood at the other end of the spectrum from my own, just as exotic, and perhaps more beautiful mother, but, who, differently from me, was an almost Asiatic-looking brunette. I guess I needed a mirror which would reflect what I wished would be my more mature incarnation, so to speak.

But, while the effect of this first woman was similar to a lightning strike – powerful but short – another initially unconscious reason for choosing this random name is another much more important and concrete blond woman in my life, the one who first mentioned Kertész and many other names, until then unknown to me; my literature teacher in the university, who had a more delicate and gradual beauty than the previous woman but who, strangely enough, comes to me as a less concrete image than the first one. Perhaps, because much more real than the first blond, she comes to me as an aura of color and a certain smell of perfume, rather than the distinct features of the first one’s hazy memory. And, suddenly, writing this, I also understand why someone close to me once told me that when one really loves another person, one can no longer see the loved one’s distinct features and judge them as beautiful or not, but feels their presence as an aura, an atmosphere, through sensations rather than eyes.

I suppose this turned out to be partly an essay about love, after all. I didn’t get too far in the interview before I started writing. The sentence that set the mechanisms in motion was a memory of the writer, who I liked even more when he expressed that since he was little he had loved journals, and that his first one“ was a beautiful journal—so beautiful that I didn’t want to sully it.” And, here, the recognition, reflection, mirror, call it what you want, the umbrella under which all reasons for loving something gather, worked its magic once again. I was reminded yet another time of my own love of journals and clean pages; when younger and until recently, I was frustrated when I made a mistake and had to scribble on the page to correct it, as I wanted everything to at least look perfect. I usually resorted to the easier but somewhat sneaky method of tearing the page out and beginning anew but this solution carries a set of problems and guilty feelings as well. Now, much later, I am finally trying to learn not to be so frustrated by the scribbling but continue despite it and with it, creating something from the layered scribbles, which like our different loves, define us, rather than erase them, furtively, one by one.

by Kleitia Vaso