by Kleitia Vaso

Fatefully, the day began with a casual conversation on people endowed with special gifts, something extra of some sort. The discussion did not take off from reality but art, reality’s clearer reflection which, at best, can show only fragments but heightened, intensified and more graspable than chaotic life. The fictional inspiration this time was Remedios the Beauty, one of the simultaneously mysterious and transparent characters of One Hundred Years of Solitude, a novel which anyone that loves literature, both reading and writing, would have loved to have authored. Hypothetically, at least. In reality, I’d rather not, said the fox as she reached for the grapes but, even beyond the moral of the fable, I could not love and admire something as much if I had created it. Although I am certain that Marquez marveled at his own genius reading certain passages, he could never enjoy his masterpiece as much as his lesser audience who, despite the specific time and place, are temporary residents of Macondo for the duration of reading it. At once revelatory and entertaining, it is a more exciting, lush version of a religious text without the subsequent heaviness attached to these behavioral manuals forever after.

Speaking of weight and lightness, Remedios lives only briefly in the magical island. As made clear by her accompanying epithet, the girl is so excessively beautiful that whoever sees her becomes obsessed, touched by something resembling death. Yet, no one truly loves her as her excess deprives the others from finding the common ground necessary for love. On her part, she cannot follow earthly rules as they are senseless to her. As a both privileged and disadvantaged being, she obeys her own whims and internal rules, not to purposefully oppose those outside but  because she simply cannot do otherwise. In today’s world of clarity and categorization, where each nuance of a state has a name, she would have been diagnosed as autistic or suffering from attention deficit disorder, among others, but a talent of Marquez’ magnitude disallows a one-dimensional reading.

The same Remedios brought back a vision I had, not long ago, while walking the streets of the less metropolitan suburbs of Tirana. My imagination takes flight from time to time in what is, I suppose, an involuntary attempt to heighten the experience of daily routine. In this case, a siren, covered by dust, was slowly dragging itself up and down the sidewalks of the narrow and hazardous neighborhood pathways. She seemed only half alive, dying of thirst. I thought that if the others could have detected her presence, they would have gathered around her as people usually do in the case of an accident or fight scene. Doubtlessly, they would have thought her equally irresistible and repulsive. I imagined them walking away but, then, something would stop them, their feet and gaze drawn by the unusual sight. They would come nearer – but not too much – to closely look at the tail, the lustrous, otherworldly silver scales, faintly recalling the jewelry that dangles from our necks and wrists – perhaps an attempt to resemble a siren, a primal echo. Yet, one step closer and the same scales might trigger an equally powerful sense of disgust, their slimy luster soft and hard at once, repugnant underneath that dust. She would not survive for very long, I am afraid. Some brutal being would kick her or, at the very least, tear one of the scales from her curious tail.

Fortunately, Marquez,  a generous and expansive writer, offers Remedios a better fate. She suddenly ascends towards the sky, slightly puzzled but unafraid. A saint-like figure, not weighed down by mortal flaws –otherwise the qualities enabling our survival– that tie us others to the ground. Indeed, expulsion and belonging have represented constant themes these past few months as I had to teach and simultaneously understand characters like Oedipus and Antigone, the extras, in many senses of the word, the ones who must be removed from society. Belonging requires cooperation, a semblance of uniformity, the latching of one link onto the weakest spot, the opening of another.  To welcome you into its dubious fold, society demands the greatest weakness – fear of many things but mostly of oneself – and the greatest endurance as constant bending and deforming are necessary in order to survive.

Thus, imagine my shock that very same morning as I read the news on the death of Chris Cornell, the astonishingly beautiful and talented singer. In cases like this, once the first wave of astonishment grows subdued, one cannot refute the existence of imperceptible hidden connections, what Baudelaire termed correspondences in nature which must be interpreted by us. Although I was never a crazily devoted fan of Cornell, I admired his face and voice whenever I saw the former and heard the latter. His death struck me as unusually unjust and, hence, it affected me in a disproportionate manner. I kept hearing lines of his songs, his voice perfect yet full of pain, like a piercing scream or a cry. I kept seeing his face, predominantly made of striking, unforgettable eyes of an indeterminate ocean-like color and depth. A shocking voice and face that could not be stood for too long. Too much beauty, too much pain, a seemingly unnatural pairing. A person that makes one think of one’s own limitations, insufficiencies, labored everything. In short, someone who with his very existence confronts you with the generosity and miserliness of life. Why give so much to jealously and pettily take it back? Why so much less to others who have more time?

In order to escape the wave of sadness that threatened to drown me, I ran to the beach, the happiest place I know. The day was perfect, sunny but not hot, with only a few white fluffy clouds that broke the monotony of the blue sky. The beach was crowded just enough, with happy-looking people enjoying the first days of the most optimistic, light-hearted season. Latin music playing in the background, enchanting Macondo in my hands, I started to feel a happiness as great as my sadness not too long ago. I was so filled with happiness and gratitude, in fact, that although I kept taking pictures of the sea and sky, I felt a slight yet ominous sense of trepidation at the prospect of sending these photos to my friends. I had the fear of some involuntary curse, a misdirected envy coming my way as most people, at that time, would still be inside an office. But, I ignored my paranoia, reasoning that my happiness was not at the punishable level of intensity and magnitude. Yet, it wasn’t so. After a very short while, a string of demands and unexpected duties started to mar my day, resulting in a minor disaster in a few hours’ time. The day ended as it began.

I dearly paid for experiencing – or flaunting? – a few moments of pure happiness. Like a hunting dog, something in the universe must have sensed my fear.

by Kleitia Vaso