by Kleitia Vaso

Although the hope that greater things await us is ever-present, despite constant evidence to the contrary, I am grateful that, on certain moments, I have felt such intense fulfillment that I wouldn’t have minded dying right then and there. Of course, afterward, I was glad I didn’t but only because life holds the promise of such moments reoccurring. I don’t know whether the thought of death passes through everyone’s mind while experiencing profound happiness but I can attest that it can happen. These fulfilling and heavy moments, paraphrasing Kundera in imagery and language, materialize only when alone and extremely close with the person one is in love with and vice versa.

The image or memory of the isolated world created by such closeness awakens countless images and phrases in me because love, even more than death, represents the most contemplated, explored, described, evoked state in art.  These images and phrases, firmly imprinted in my mind, reveal as much about me as their creators. Each one represents a fragment which reverberates with something familiar within and serves as yet another piece gradually illuminating the greater subjective mystery. Reaching a solution for this particular puzzle is impossible. Yet, the process of experiencing and, hence understanding more, may lead to the timely appreciation of a moment, person, or relationship, as well as assign its proper importance to all of the meaningful episodes composing our lives.

Fortunately, rare occurrences exist in which the intensity of emotion leaves no room for doubt and which do not require the clarity of the backward glance. Such is the case with moments of happiness so extreme that it risks running into its oppositional mirror image: sorrow, loss, even death. This state, which Pamuk deems absolute happiness, seems inextricably linked with the time-less and place-less world of people in love. This is the world of Kemal and Füsün in The Museum of Innocence, so beautifully evoked by Pamuk, indivisible from the constant sunlight and noises accompanying it but profoundly detached from everything and everyone else. Removed only temporarily, of course, as everything unconsciously or purposefully excluded always finds its way of infiltrating this world. The same world of Alice in Wonderland but for adults, the one that may be born in the middle of thousands of glares and whispers as it does in one of its most exquisite, wordless representations, that of Anna Karenina and Vronsky first dance in the latest cinematic version of the work. The director, Joe Wright, very skillfully employs this choreographed sequence – a veritable film within the film –  to visually render the entire story: Anna’s reluctant agreement to dance, the growing and binding attraction between the two protagonists surrounded by other dancing couples, the couple’s involuntary but total neglect of their surroundings visually demonstrated through the gradual fading out of the others, their attention entirely absorbed by the space in between them followed by the inevitable reappearance and active interference of the real world. An interference which disrupts the suspended world borne of love, the same one of Adam and Eve before their expulsion, echoed and reinterpreted in all these following versions.

All these fictional couples know well this isolated and temporary world, its detachment from the external world, the vortex engulfing and drawing the two lovers closer to each other, its movements both exhilarating and exhausting, maximal pleasure intertwined with sadness, great happiness always containing a fear of its impending loss. Yet, despite this excess of emotions, perhaps because it represents such an elusive and temporary condition, it is the only world capable of granting moments of simultaneous weight and innocence.

Innocence as in absence of falsity, not naiveté or lack of sin. The only sin here, so grave that it would immediately annihilate this world, would be pretense. That, perhaps, explains the rarity of these moments in which the desire to be with the other, to know and be known by the other, overrides thinking, calculations, contrived behavior. For a brief respite in our tiresomely enacted lives, this short-lived but overwhelming power drowns out the artificial reflexes of always giving the correct answer, downplaying our curiosity and thirst for the other person, for love and, ultimately, for life. Of course, only temporarily.

Perhaps because of this glimpse of what it really means to be alive, I am always moved by songs that explicitly link human love with the divine or rather which treat love as the one true religion. In the latest one, Take me to Church, Hozier tells his lover that only when physically together, “only then I am human / only then I am clean.” Hearing his plea, I also want to forget every flaw, lack of harmony, suffering that might have existed after these heavenly moments are over and, suddenly expansive, feel the urge to relive them again. Easily moved, I am tempted to attempt to recapture the lost paradise once more but then I remember that Adam and Eve did not – could not return. They could not pretend like us perhaps because, unlike us, they did not have only one another to deceive. Ultimately, every religion requires faith. Once faith in the innocence and purity of this world is lost, the protagonists should just resign themselves to joining the crowds of the onlookers, watching the dance by the sidelines.

by Kleitia Vaso