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Gaither Stewart
The German Woman and the Carpenter

As we once more walked down the narrow cobblestone street toward the German woman's house for her annual fall lunch, Sandra remarked off-handedly that the personal dilemma of our hostess and old friend, Gudrun Schmidt von Feldenstein, was that she was still at heart a woman from North Europe desperately trying to be Latin.

     "That, and her weight problem," I said cynically. Although during the years of our acquaintance, I'd never concealed my antipathy for Gudrun, for the sake of tradition I assented to maintaining the peculiar relationship with this woman with whom we in reality had little in common.

     "You're just anti-feminist!" Even if she in general shared my opinion, my wife Sandra regularly defended Gudrun when I let drop my snide remarks.

     "But Gudrun herself is the anti-feminist!"

     "Just try to be civil at lunch, please. You know she likes you ... not me."

     We'd met Gudrun Schmidt von Feldenstein in Italy years back and it was she who'd convinced us to come to San Miguel de Allende in the first place rather than elsewhere in Mexico. Now she felt an obligation to invite us to lunch on her arrival from Europe each fall, and again, just before she departed in the spring.

     A very wealthy woman from marriages with several rich men, Gudrun, like many foreigners arriving to this popular resort town in the highlands, had bought, remodeled, decorated and furnished a deceptively large house in the colonial district of the historic old town. Houses were in fact her hobby - also in Europe where she had homes on Lake Como and in Provence, in Cortina d'Ampezzo and on the island of Mallorca. She habitually lived half of the year in Europe, dividing her time among her houses according to mood or circumstances.

     Although Gudrun had been wintering in Mexico for five years, she was still a mystery among the foreign colony. Hardly anyone knew her. Not even the Mexican shopkeepers and service people could remember her proper name and often referred to her as "the German woman."

<  2  >

     "Well, here we go again," Sandra said, and rang the bell at the garden gate. "Another fall, another lunch. I don't look forward to it."

     "Don't worry," I said. "Miss Europa never holds us long." For some reason - maybe it was her wealth, her houses, her languages all with the German accent, her cultural conservatism - I'd years ago taken to calling her "Europa."

     These ritual lunches, always tense and unnatural get-togethers, said a lot about Gudrun and our relationship. They normally progressed in an expeditious traditional fashion from aperitifs in the cramped living room to lunch in the patio next to a gurgling fountain served by an elderly Mexican maid, and then back to the dark salon for a quick coffee and liqueur. Always just the three of us. Two hours in forced conversation marked by awkward silences. Two hours of boredom and a certain inexplicable mutual mistrust and resentment.

     The narrow door opened and Sandra and I gaped at a gigantic Gudrun. In a long flowered dress she was as wide as a panzer tank. Buried in her chubby arms, her aging European terrier, he no less obese than she, looked up at us jealously. It was true, both of them were bigger each year.

     "I'm so glad you could come today," she finally said, before twisting comically her head first to the left then to the right to offer her cheek to each of us over the dog's thick body. As we then followed her single file toward the rear garden, she stopped and set the quivering terrier gently to the ground and, as was her manner, babbled on about herself, almost to herself, all the while looking straight ahead so that we heard only snatches of her monologue.

     "You know how frenetic my schedule is on my return ... invitations from friends ... parties ... the house to put in order ... and this year another trip to Guatemala ... I don't know how...."

     Sandra turned and winked at me knowingly as if to say, 'I know my chickens.' I nodded happily in the knowledge that I was right to detest these meetings and swore to my self that I would never come again.

<  3  >

     The reality was that in our years in San Miguel we had met only two persons who even knew her name: one, the socialite proprietress of an elegant hotel on the Chorro hill with whom Gudrun had once traveled on an organized visit to China; and the other, a local artist from whom she had bought the mysterious painting that hung over her fireplace - a beautiful Eastern princess riding a mythological white bull across dark seas.

     Other people, if you asked about her, might look vague and say, "oh yes, I think I know who you mean."

     "Well, Gudrun, anything to be accommodating," Sandra said. "Today is quite convenient for us too." She turned and nudged me lightly - the two women would never see eye to eye on anything.

     Still engaged in herself, Gudrun displayed no reaction to the irony. I don't believe she even grasped it. Her lunch was on her mind. She was not to be deviated from her own well-laid plans. Besides, she was never interested in what other people said - especially other women.

     Gudrun then looked at me and forced a faint smile to her pale lips that confirmed that she didn't like me any more than I did her. "Before lunch I want to show you my studio since it's been re-done with a skylight."

     Like many foreigners in San Miguel de Allende, Gudrun Schmidt von Feldenstein painted. In her first year here she herself had planned and supervised the construction of a big airy studio in a second floor addition the front windows of which gave onto the picturesque cobblestone street. The room was filled with canvases, easels, paints, palettes, and other artist tools. The new skylight was long, well-proportioned and truly beautifully executed, so that the early afternoon sun highlighted and enhanced her paintings hanging here and there or leaning against the limed walls.

     "The studio is magnificent," I said, peering out the side windows onto a tiny park and neighboring gardens.

<  4  >

     "I can understand why you like to come to San Miguel," Sandra said, as much to herself as to Gudrun. That was a gross distortion of reality, for we'd never understood why she insisted on coming to Mexico, so alone, so apparently lost.

     "Yes," Gudrun said softly, staring at me, with it seemed a vague interrogative look in her eyes.

     I'd long been puzzled by Gudrun's low profile, if not invisibility, in San Miguel. Each time I could I pried a bit more into her life. Why did she come here, I wondered, to live a hermit-like existence? And what did she do all those months in her big house, alone and secluded?

     "Each day I come up here to the studio like I come to San Miguel each year. Here amidst my art I can feel everything so strongly, so powerfully." Without looking at Sandra, she answered her unspoken query in the way she believed artists might speak with non-artists. "It's a kind of ecstasy. Each year is a spiritual experience. All my deepest sentiments emerge here and inspire my work. As you know the artist must feel, feel ... above all, feel. When I record those sentiments, I am creating."

     Gudrun habitually spoke of her feelings as if she had some sort of an exclusive on sentiments. She seemed to believe that she could put her feelings in their proper order in a painting like a Rome ceramics restorer in a dark bottega along Via di Ripetta patiently fits together the jigsaw pieces of a shattered Etruscan vase. Yet her voice was faint and unconvincing. She seemed eternally confounded as to what she was really doing in her life.

     Sandra looked skeptical. She often said that Gudrun was a master in the art of feeling one way and behaving in another. Her eyes, one moment shining brightly when speaking of her art, the next were fixed on a blank wall as if looking for herself in the blur of a non-reflected life.

     "Yes," Sandra said ambiguously, "the results are nice."

<  5  >

     Her 'nice' expressed also my reaction to Gudrun's art - neither of us liked that word. If Sandra had wanted to demolish her art, she might've said it was 'cute.' But generous as always, she said it was 'nice.' Gudrun didn't get that irony either.

     I observed Gudrun watch Sandra while she examined individually the paintings in the studio as on other occasions she had those here and there in nooks and corners of the house, in the bedrooms, in the bathrooms. She'd already concluded that Gudrun herself knew it was all tasteless junk and would really prefer to conceal them. The woman of 'feelings and sentiments' simply had no feeling for design or colors or composition.

     I would have liked to say that feelings have no taste and have little to do with creation. Just for effect I was tempted to mention Mozart's remark that artistic creation is five-percent talent and the rest hard work, but at the imploring look in Gudrun's eyes I just nodded in assent.

     "I bathe in the eternal spring here," Gudrun was saying, "the sun, the flowers in bloom in January, the gentle people. When I then leave in the spring I feel somehow purified, unblemished. My spirit feels immaculate."

     "Well, I don't know," Sandra murmured. "Don't you ever consider the melancholy and sadness of your home country in the North as an inspiration. I'm not an artist but my husband says spring is the worst time of the year for creative work. He says it lets in too much mushy sentimentality ... and that the results are banality."

     She laughed, this woman from the South, and looked at me as if she were ribbing me. But I knew it was another jibe at Gudrun Schmidt von Feldenstein. "He wants winter and rain and fog and desperation," Sandra said. "No smiling people. A perfect day makes him nervous."

     Gudrun shrugged off the mere suggestion as absurd. "No, I ran southwards to escape the Baltic winters, the rain and the fog and the melancholy and the desperation."

<  6  >

     She had run southwards but had found no warmth. We knew her story well. When her northern body was still slim and lithe and bent gracefully with the powerful sea winds, when her now faded eyes were still blue and her now colorless hair was still blond, she'd married a well-known film director in south Germany, who, during their brief courtship and marriage, cast her in a second-rate film set on the Italian Riviera. In those years she came to consider herself an actress, almost Italian. And she got a few minor roles even after her first divorce.

     In a rare indiscretion she'd once told us candidly about a "B" film she made in Naples in which she the girl from the North was the love object of a Latin Lover who only wanted to feast on her youthful body - "and you know what their specialty is," she'd said in her then guileless manner.

 

"Today I feel that my real vocation is painting," she said in her charming accented English. We were now seated in the salon, with digestives on nearby tables. Europa smiled down on us. Gudrun's empty gaze was fixed on a wall space somewhere between us. "It's my calling. That's what brought me to San Miguel in the first place ... the art schools, the artists, the galleries. Here I feel I'm part of a kind of art movement. It makes me feel good, secure."

     "Indeed," said Sandra, rather reductively but to the point. For a moment I hoped she would also quote me that such vocations are in reality a prison, not a joy. Instead she simply observed Gudrun in her most laconic Latin manner, waiting like an ocelot for the other to commit herself again.

     "Also," Gudrun said in one of her infrequent attempts at humor and again oblivious to Italian irony, "I find I can lose weight more easily here. At times I don't even need food."

     "The best diet ever concocted," I said, patting my own waistline.

<  7  >

     "Well, Gudrun, your diet here seems to work," Sandra said. "You always depart so thin."

     "Don't I though!" Gudrun said, and smiled her enigmatic, half-embarrassed smile, more to herself than to us.

     When after a drawn-out silence I looked at Sandra and said that it was about time to leave, Gudrun leapt agilely to her feet. She smiled broadly. Her duty was done for another season, her obligations met.

     At the gate, the fat terrier again in her arms, Gudrun again suggested to Sandra that "we have to get together ... maybe for swimming at Taboada." She had made similar suggestions in past years, which however never came off. Actually, we'd admitted to each other long ago that we did not even like Gudrun and that her friendship was less important than just another fallen leaf in November. Yet tradition is a powerful link - our mutual friends in Italy, our long acquaintance, our common vacation spots, our Europe. So all these years we'd maintained the absurd relationship, admittedly also out of curiosity about her fate and because we felt sorry for her - Gudrun Schmidt von Feldenstein seemed so profoundly lonely and now so lost in the tropics.

     Gudrun talked about friends but seemed to be always alone. She herself claimed that she really preferred solitude - painting, reading, thinking. Yet it was as if she were waiting in silence for something to happen, for the arrival of something that would change her life. For a time we feared that we, blinded by our antipathy toward her, were missing some significant quality in the German woman.

     I never ran into her in the small town. For me she simply vanished each fall after our lunch - until in April she telephoned to invite us to the farewell lunch. Once in a while during the fall months Sandra met her by chance at the swimming pool at a nearby hotel - mysteriously Gudrun never frequented the pool after Christmas although the most wonderful days arrive in January and February when the northern world is cold and freezing.

<  8  >

     Their meetings were awkward, marked by reserve and reticence on Gudrun's part, as if Sandra's presence was an intrusion on her privacy. Her duty was done at the fall lunch, she seemed to say. Why did this Italian woman keep following her? What did she want from her? It was irritating, as if she were under scrutiny. Women anyway were so inquisitive, she seemed to think. So prying. No wonder she felt better in the presence of men. It had always been that way.

     One day Sandra returned home with the news that she'd met Gudrun at the pool. "She sat there pretending to read ... but I caught her never turning a page. She was hiding. She hates it when I'm there. But when I pretend I'm glad to see her I can see she's pleased. Maybe she's just shy."

     Another time Sandra reported that she'd seen Gudrun standing uncertainly at the entrance to the pool: "But when she saw I was there she turned away and left."

     When on some late mornings I walked past the hotel pool, I took to checking if Miss Europa was there. A couple times, through the slats of the wooden fence on the rise above, I spied her down below on a deck chair, alone, applying oils to her obese ivory white body, her heavy breasts bulging out of her swim suit. She turned her head from left to right as if to ascertain that no one was watching before she wobbled to the pool steps and lowered herself slowly, insecurely into the water, splashing like a water buffalo.

     Although Gudrun was already fat when we first met her in Europe, her unchained obesity in Mexico became a curiosity. In a colony abroad you notice physical characteristics more than at home. On her arrival in Mexico she was always enormous. At the fall lunch she wore only long dresses and loose jackets and pulled her hair behind her head, and by necessity her walk was a laid back waddle like that of heavy pregnant women - her feet spread, her arms hanging at awkward angles from her body.

<  9  >

     The strange thing was that at the annual spring lunch just before her departure last year, she was gaunt, washed out, and thin. Her clothes hung loosely from her tall frame, her paleness was transformed into pallor, her eyes were empty and sunken, her hair short and stringy.

 

The twice-yearly lunches and occasional meetings had gone on for three years before the clouds of mystery surrounding Gudrun's annual six or more months in San Miguel began dissipating. If San Miguel gossip hadn't caught up with "Frau Gudrun", as her maid, Senora Dolores, and some nearby shopkeepers began calling her, we would've continued to speculate when each September we received her picture postcard from Munich or Lake Como or Provence announcing her imminent return and that, "we must get together." If her faithful servant were not a blabbermouth, no one would've ever known why she even came to Mexico.

     I have recorded here as accurately as possible the bizarre story of Gudrun Schmidt von Feldenstein, relying not only on our first-hand knowledge but chiefly on town gossip - that is the public version, if you please - even if in the final analysis it was nobody's business but her own what kind of sentiments and feelings she had. But life in the little town of San Miguel de Allende is like that. From a nearby table in a cafe on the Zócalo, you might hear bits of conversation like this: "Did you see her husband in the arms of that new woman?" Or also, "Did you see him in the arms of that man?" "I understand he lost all his money and she left him." "You did know that she is dying of cancer and that he can't wait?"

     Comings and goings, big and little tragedies, comic relief, as if provided by the gods for the delight of the Mexican servants and catering class, who with mixed envy and amusement observe the unpredictable antics of their weird and rich employers and clients.

     Perhaps because of the incomprehensible contrasts between Gringos and poor Mexicans who live under the same sun and eat the same dust but inhabit two distinct worlds and since life anyway is a point of view, I have by necessity allowed a bit of fantasy to creep into my reconstruction of the sequence of events that shocked the foreigners and largely amused the Mexicans.

<  10  >

     The truth - perhaps! - of the weird life-changing adventure of Gudrun Schmidt von Feldenstein arrived to my knowledge in small bits and pieces from two external sources: the story as first related by Gudrun's maid to her sister who worked in the house of a well-known gossipy Mexican widow and hence with a leap into San Miguel lore; and secondly the pornographic version of the people - of which one shouldn't be incredulous, embarrassed or offended by potential bad taste, for local people accepted it quite laconically.

     The first details of the touching popular story were depicted to me one sunny morning by my grinning gardener, Vicente, still a little drunk and garrulous after a night-long fiesta in honor of some saint or other which however I don't believe detracts from its veracity. Not only could we ourselves finally understand better Gudrun but I believe that we also came to understand better her San Miguel.

     The old town's reality still leaves me both elated and depressed - the atmosphere of San Miguel Allende remains in my memory as both lullingly pleasant and inadequately unpleasant. It's the same old story of the contrast between artful illusion and hard reality. Illusion and reality!

     Like San Miguel, Gudrun Schmidt von Feldenstein was living, struggling and staggering between one and the other. Beguiled and mislead by one, deceived and decayed by the other. Gudrun - Europa sometimes saw herself as the emblem of beauty and perfection and other times as a repulsive insignificant worm.

     I imagined that it was when she left the shores of the Baltic that she lost herself ... and her original warmth. Therefore her life of one enthusiasm after the other during which she exuded life-giving self-confidence was marked by longer periods of indolence and disillusionment. Since that initial rupture she'd been searching for her real self that had been so long concealed that she'd forgotten who she was: wife, actress, painter, international socialite, adventuress, mistress? Perhaps the real she was buried both within the folds of autumn fat and under her odd spring pallor. Maybe some higher truth was hidden there. Or some great tragedy. She must have once been charming, attractive, beautiful, desired, most certainly talented and creative. Where were those qualities now? She must have had many qualities that could illuminate the lives of her three husbands. She must have known sweetness and radiated joy, there on the Baltic shores. Her once blue eyes must have once projected yearning but also bestowed pleasure. Where did that light go? Was it forever extinguished? Did only yearning for a glorious past and a radiant future remain?

<  11  >

     As the extent of her isolation and her desolation, her helplessness, her desperation and her slippery futile grasp on life began emerging, Sandra and I became aware that the only visible achievement of her six or seven month stay here was her dramatic fall in weight.

     Now that reality might seem reductive and too insignificant and demeaning when attempting to understand another human being. I admit it. Yet the fact remains. It was true. We witnessed it personally that last year. The sour behemoth that arrived the fall before departed as a pale haggard skeleton, a faded northern leaf rocking slowly to earth in the evening breeze, a derelict, apart from the others, a being deprived of all volition and desire. That however was to say the least singular in her story.

     According to Senora Dolores, Frau Gudrun in her second year in San Miguel had engaged the services of a young Mexican carpenter to remodel the interior of the studio. Ignacio was tall and extremely thin, with dark smooth skin and fine silky black hair hanging to his shoulders. His long sinewy feet were more liberated than beshod in his brown Mexican sandals. His unusually long nearly hairless arms dangled from thin shoulders and extended from his shirtsleeves like dark sticks and his pants were bunched together around his waist.

     His thinness, his friends in the lower town recounted, was of considerable embarrassment to him. Ignacio dreamed of being heavy and fat, as a man successful in life should be. For, Ignacio above all considered himself a man of the future.

     "Nacho," as everyone called the young carpenter, then about 24 or 25, had never been satisfied with small Mexican women his own age. Yet his natural shyness and social station had always inhibited him from frequenting any women beyond his San Juan de Dios quarter in San Miguel. For him like for most Mexican workers, foreign women were mysterious intangible objects from the Gringo world in the north. Who could understand them? But San Miguel's European women were no less strange than creatures from outer space; perhaps underneath their strange clothes they not even real women who slept with men when the fancy took them.

<  12  >

Globalization for the festive San Miguelians meant American technology and the new gadgets at the huge Wal-Mart store. It meant rich foreign residents. It meant American television, SUVs, supermarkets and credit cards. Among the mestizos and Indios of San Miguel de Allende globalization had created a people receptive to and eternally in search of the modern. Everything new was symbolic of the modernity they sought to assuage their economic backwardness. If workers like Nacho couldn't have cell phones and interactive TV, they jumped with envious enthusiasm at every new concept and idea. They were poor but optimistic. The future belonged to them.

     Vicente, who regularly related choice morsels of town news, told me that it was common knowledge among Nacho's friends that for years the carpenter had been talking about his desire for a big woman he could "get his teeth into." Since that racy new expression, so modern and international, "oral sex," was first bantered around freely in the lower town and after he understood its full implications, Nacho was obsessed.

     "'That's the thing for me,' he told us. It would be a rite, he said - you know he's mostly Indio anyway," Vicente said. "A nourishing rite of his grandfathers. But he never knew where to turn."

     One April afternoon while we stood in our doorway and watched the rain pour and lightening crash over San Miguel, Vicente told me in his half joking, half serious manner that Nacho believed literally an old Otom' sorcerer's advice that the female liquid would fatten him like a calf in spring and prepare him for the radiant future. "He said it would round his arms and legs, fill out his chest and back, and distinguish his belly."

     Now the untouchable German woman, Nacho must have thought when he eyed her as he began liming the studio walls, that's the stuff of womanhood that would make a real man of him. Yet, la Senora was like Europe, she was a goddess, intangible, unreal, the acme of modernity. She was faraway, unreachable Europe. An unreal world however that in his perception was no more than the Alemania soccer team - and a past of wars and destruction and wealthy stupid people.

<  13  >

At about the same time Sandra recalled Gudrun's indiscretions one day at the swimming pool - now three years back, apparently just as her relationship with Nacho was about to be consumed. She'd never had good sexual relationships, she revealed, neither with husbands nor lovers. And somewhat later on that same morning she said with a quiet smile that her carpenter, Nacho, was the sexiest man she'd ever known.

     In sum, the proximity of the handsome youth, timid, superstitious and ambitious man of the future, and, as it turned out, the love and sex -starved European woman set off a chain reaction that soon led them to the upstairs bedroom of Gudrun Schmidt von Feldenstein.

     The turbulence began each year just before Christmas when Nacho returned from Houston where he went illegally each spring with a dozen other San Miguel wetbacks and ended when he returned to Texas five months later.

     In the interim, Gudrun's life was turned upside down. No more sunny San Miguel mornings for her, no more swimming pools, no more lunches in patio restaurants or comidas with her hotel proprietress acquaintance, no more solitary outings to the Ototonilco church or shopping visits in the ceramics factories in Dolores Hidalgo, no more organized trips to Guatemala. The music festivals and art exhibits passed unnoticed. According to Senora Dolores, days passed and the couple hardly left the upstairs. And, she told me, they were not paneling the studio.

     Now, Nacho himself when he did briefly leave her house was not reluctant to confide his sensual joys and pleasures to his friends, so that a strange picture emerged of their four months of pure unadulterated lust and lasciviousness, an amusing modern story that circulated among the Mexicans in the lower town long before it arrived to the hill districts to become San Miguel myth.

     How can I hold out? Gudrun must have asked herself late mornings and middle afternoons, on the long languid evenings and during the endless nights. Yet, as everyone knows the flesh is powerful, exigent, and more enduring than we ordinarily believe. Under the demands of pleasure it can resist, resist, resist. Hers, I concluded, must have been absolute, the purest, the most total physical pleasure she had ever imagined.

<  14  >

     While Nacho feasted on her body, she must have lain back and dreamed and given free rein to her most secret desires and let all her fancies and fantasies run berserk in blissful unrestraint. The paradise that San Miguel was not, the excitement that Europe was not, she found in her bedroom under Nacho's thirsty kisses.

     The meeting with Nacho must have been the encounter of her life, the clash of two complementary tastes, bodies and souls. If she previously had been neglected because of her obesity, Nacho bathed in it and devoured it and grew on it while he joyfully, festively, watched her body deflate, subside, abate and diminish before his eyes. And it was as if she too rejoiced in her own decline.

     If, as Senora Dolores said, their refrigerator was always empty and Frau Gudrun never sent her out shopping or had her cook any meals, for Nacho, nevertheless, it was an endless fiesta. Those ham-like thighs and rolling stomach and heavy breasts were nourishment for his great accumulated hunger. He fed on the European woman, he boasted to his friends. It seemed right, he told Vicente, that he gained his strength from her decline. Enough to go on for another season in Texas. Enough to support his brothers and his sisters and cousins on the highlands of Mexico.

     When the season ended and the Gringos departed in their Ford Expeditions and Land Rovers and the hottest days of the year arrived, flowers were in bloom in San Miguel and water again gurgled in Gudrun Schmidt von Feldenstein's patio fountain.

     That was the time for Nacho, a healthy restored Nacho, now fat around the middle, his arms and legs mysteriously filled out, his cheeks fresh and colored, to begin organizing his annual clandestine crossing of the Rio Grande. Again he felt up to it. The future was his.

 

"When she opened her gate I could hardly believe my eyes," Sandra said as we walked back up the hill after another spring lunch. "She's always thin when she departs, but this time she was ... she was simply devastated. Ravaged. Skin and bones. I'll never forget her eyes. She stared at us as if we were strangers."

<  15  >

     When the day of our spring lunch had rolled around, we were just beginning to understand the exchange. The fatter and stronger Nacho had become, the thinner and gaunter was our Gudrun Schmidt von Feldenstein. After again feeding on her obesity, he'd this time left her quivering on the edge of her own abyss, deprived of all will and volition.

     Exhausted, frail and wan, but strangely ready to face Europe again, she'd already begun languid preparations for her own departure: her bags had to be packed and shipped to Como or Provence or Bavaria - and the spring lunch had to be organized.

     That day a certain finality hung in the air. An atmosphere of departure. That day not even the fat little dog was to be seen. The darkened salon felt cramped and uncomfortable. The ceiling had never been so low. The painting of Europa over the fireplace hung crooked. When after the ritual aperitif she herded us to the patio table, we only had to look at her to glimpse the complexity of human existence.

     "So, another year has passed," Gudrun said dryly. A half-deprecating smile played uncontrolled at the corners of her mouth.

     "It goes so quickly, the winter season," Sandra said.

     "And we're a year older," Gudrun added, staring unseeingly at the bougainvillea climbing up the rear wall of the patio.

     "Are you happy to be returning to Europe?" Sandra asked to break the ensuing silence.

     "Oh," Gudrun said with a sigh, "everything here already seems so remote ... but then it always does."

     Gudrun's vacuous eyes seemed to see the world from far away, as if she were regarding her own and our existences through a foggy blur. She assumed an unusual carelessness of manner. An ever so slight flush under the ashen mask of her face seemed to conceal a burning nervous lucidity in which there was not even necessity for solace.

<  16  >

     "Well, the season is over ... again," she repeated as she escorted us down the long entranceway, like a museum guide wiggling vaguely a forefinger at flowers and plants to the left and the right.

     Her eyes in that moment were feverish, hallucinated, speaking, it seemed, the secret language of the wild and lonely heart of man. "Do you think all this will go on forever?"

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