Because the terminal of the bus line was not at the bus station in downtown, but farther west at a suburban sprawl under construction, the wanderer followed an unnamed road with a procession of trucks delivering concrete, brick, movable partition, girder, and beam to the construction site.
conspicuous lack of sidewalk pressured him to walk onto the left side of the
road while facing the oncoming traffic. Most truck drivers felt compassionate
with the hiker carrying a heavy backpack. As a token gesture, they displayed a
glad hand and apparently thought the poor fella went astray. If they refused to
consider that possibility, the pedestrian would be senseless.
With this balmy spring’s afternoon, which coincided with the upcoming weekend, truck drivers bore their arm dangling outside the window or their elbow resting on the door. If their relaxed manners were familiar to the wanderer, he would recollect the odd reaction of a young woman belonging to the millennial generation on a social network.
“I am puzzled about this. I have observed several persons that drive with their hand or arm dangling outside of the window or gripping the top of the car. Are they holding the door shut? Are they holding the roof, so it will not fly off? Am I the only one that thinks this is odd driving behavior?”
Besides her candid commentary, she was probably too young to remember when cars did not have air conditioning. Old habits die hard. …
The unnamed road was coated by fresh black asphalt but the lack of marking fostered the wanderer’s imagination. With a bulky load, which bends his back forward, he had nothing else to accomplish but to scrutinize the asphalt. Much to his surprise, he did not die of boredom from the apparent lack of variety. Left by trucks leaving the construction site, fresh mud prints delineated fugitive lines, which hearkened back to his buried past.
A sandy track conveyed him back to an elusive trail through chaparral in Arizona where vultures tirelessly circled above him in a pristine azure sky. The pedestrian was an ideal prey for many reasons. Nobody ventured alone into the Sonoran Desert in May when the sun neared its highest in the sky. He could suffer from a stroke, a snake’s bite, an ankle’s sprain, or simply of exhaustion if he ran out of water.
The temperature topped 114°F in a dry wash where eggs could be fried on stones. To stay alert, he stopped for a drink every half-hour. He took off his backpack and allowed himself twelve mouthfuls of water stored in a five-liter dromedary. Although a pipe allowed him to drink all the while walking, the taste through a lid was pleasanter than sucking scalding water through a plastic pipe clipped onto the shoulder strap of his backpack. If he often dreamed of cold drink, he would be acutely aware of side effects. After a heavenly pleasure that ephemerally boosted his spirit, cold drink invariably caused him blood vessel’s shrinking, lasting spasms inside the bowels, and ultimately diarrhea.
All of sudden, two interlaced white prints left by truck’s tires on the asphalt recalled him the souvenir of an old ski accident. By a frigid morning in February, he followed his parents onto a snowy field, which had turned to ice with persistent thaw and frost. The reverberation of firs on the ski track provided a motley assortment of emerald green, blue glacier, and slate gray, but it represented somewhat a veiled source of danger. The screeching of the metallic edges of wood skis did not allow any musing to the antsy boy who did his best to follow the trajectory of his seasoned parents. They gained momentum, but his parents did not forewarn him of an impending embankment. As a result, he did not anticipate the jump and lost control of his skis, which inadvertently got into a bewildering tangle. The bindings did not break free in the resulting crash. Cable binding was nicknamed bear-trap, for the odd way the leg was trapped in the jaws of the binding. The unfortunate boy experienced intense pain in his left thigh, but there was withal more trouble to follow.
A dispatched ski patrol member peremptorily told his concerned parents, “Nobody breaks his thigh!” The galling comment implied the boy was a mere whiner. To prove his claim, he lifted up the boy on his legs, but the left thigh showed an ominous angle that prevented him from standing on. The screaming boy hated as much his parents for their non-intervention as the vain ski patrol member who inflected him an atrocious pain to prove his point. After a hazardous evacuation on a ski-trip stretcher led by two other ski patrol members through the icy slope to the aid station — the leader fell and shortly lost control of the stretcher — the wretched boy was admitted to a local hospital.
An x-ray image reported a spiral fracture of the femur bone because of the severe twisting force applied to it. The radiologist informed the guilty-ridden parents it would be preferable their son was transported to a clinic near their home, which was one hundred and fifty miles away.
The boy sustained an acute pressure in his dislocated thigh at every bend on the mountain road. Because of the cruel and useless lesson of centrifugal force, he begged for a slowdown to no avail. When the upset parents who were placed behind the ambulance driver transmitted their son’s plea, he yielded and slowed down ahead of a curve.
After an agonizing five-hour long transportation, his admission to the clinic represented the last straw. General anesthesia with ether was inflicted upon the helpless boy who struggled with all his strength when an anesthesiologist placed a mask onto his face.
The induction was extremely slow and unpleasant because of the pungent smell of ether. He suffocated and coughed whilst the anesthesiologist renewed him to breathe deeply while a merciless nurse relentlessly pressed the mask onto his face.
Ether was a cheap anesthetic with a modest potency, which lamely explained the tardiness before the frightened boy fell unconscious. Aside from developing countries, ether was rarely used but, for an unknown reason, it was requested to the cursed boy.
Because of the lingering trauma, he associated torture with maniac ski-patrol member, uncontrolled ski-stretcher, indifferent ambulance driver, fierce nurse, mask, ether, and glaring neon light in a surgical unit.
The boy woke up with the larynx on fire the next morning. He experienced ether aftertaste in his bruised mouth and inevitably found it hard to drink or eat for several days. A terse nurse threatened to place him on drip if he did not eat his meal. After he wiped away a tear, he swallowed soup and stewed fruit in front of the watchful nurse.
His dull misery did not end up with a forced meal. He was on an inclined bed with a weight of thirteen pounds that was hung through a cable and a pulley to the heel of his shattered leg that was thoroughly covered with a thick band-aid. A steel bed arch avoided carrying the weight of sheets and blankets on his dislocated leg.
The purpose of the mechanical device was to realign the shattered bone without resorting to delicate surgery. The commanding stillness that was required presented a daunting challenge for a boy of tireless energy. Nevertheless, the medical staff thought it was the most reliable option after a maniac ski-patrol member lifted up the boy on his shattered femur that nearly missed cutting his femoral artery.
In the confined position on his back, he had plenty of time to examine the courtyard where critically ill or injured victims were admitted on stretchers and blood transfusion tubing to the emergency room. At the very least, the grim experience developed his skill for observing the slightest details of his morbid environment.
Unsurprisingly, Rear Window from Alfred Hitchcock became his favorite film in adulthood. He clearly identified with lead character L.B. ‘Jef” Jefferies (James Stewart) who severed his leg while taking a photograph of a racing accident. Coincidentally, James Stewart acknowledged that of the four movies he worked with Sir Alfred Hitchcock, this one stayed his favorite.
Stranded on a wheelchair in his apartment on the second floor, Jeff made do with the ordinary life of his neighbors. A talented photographer has an innate visual perceptiveness and an ability to condense a story in a unique picture. Jeff would rather stare out his window than to cuddle his beautiful and perfectly dressed girlfriend (Grace Kelly) who brought him a very expansive take-out dinner with lobster Thermidor and champagne. Voyeurism and fascination with a crime scene were at the center of the claustrophobic atmosphere of the film.
In many of Hitchcock’s movies, golden-haired actresses were goddesses that should be admired rather than touched. At the request of Hitchcock, costume designer Edith Head devoted a great deal of time with Grace Kelly who played Lisa Caron Fremont, a high-society fashion consultant girlfriend of Jeff. Hitchcock fretted over the negligee Kelly wore to spend the night at Jeff’s apartment. Pulling aside Head, he suggested Kelly wore a bustier to accentuate her small breast. Head did not comply with his confidential order. With the tacit agreement of Kelly, she merely made a few changes in costume and posture. However, Kelly’s altered appearance was enough to please Hitchcock who was fooled into thinking she had been padded.
Although he was a child when he was hospitalized, the wanderer was not indifferent when a voluptuous nurse aided him to accomplish his toilet. When she leaned toward him, her ample breast fondled him through the fabric of her white uniform. It was a different experience whoever set a chamber pot under his buttocks that inevitably triggered a harrowing pain in his shattered femur.
On his tenth birthday anniversary, which occurred twenty days after his admission to the clinic, he partook of a white grape that his great uncle Joseph and his wife Rose had presented him. He made the best of ill fortune when Joseph excitingly said with his guttural Provençal accent, “They come from Beaurecueil!” The couple possessed a second house with a small vineyard on the foothill of Mont Sainte Victoire. “When will I get out of the clinic?” begged the boy to his benevolent great-uncle who rolled his eyes.
The boy was drifting apart from his family, school, and friends. After a secluded week in intensive care, he was placed in a bedroom with three boys. Because their hospitalization was for a trite appendectomy or tonsillectomy, the turnover inside the bedroom did not allow him time to befriend his neighbors. After their return from the operating room, they mostly slept and moaned for a couple of days. At that moment, they were allowed to stand up and walk a little in the bedroom. They chatted and played a little with the secluded boy on an inclined bed with a steel arch and a weight, which unremittingly pulled him to the bottom of his bed. When a doctor invariably released the three lads, they bade farewell to their brief friend who was left alone during the weekend. One man’s joy is another man’s sorrow.
Fifty-two days after his accident, the boy returned to the operating room where a surgeon removed the band-aid that spread over his leg. Chunks of putrid skin were peeled off without resorting to local anesthesia. After a summary cleanup of the skin, the leg was spread with a plaster cast that cinched around his pelvis to prevent any movement. Ultimately, the medical staff discharged him.
After six weeks of convalescence in the company of a talkative parrot that a compassionate neighbor had delivered him, he returned to the clinic. An x-ray film confirmed the mending of the spiral fracture; and soon after, a doctor cut the plaster cast with a jigsaw, but he mauled the underlying leg. Three stitches were necessary to staunch the bleeding.
When the wanderer ultimately gained the terminal line, he narrowly missed the departure of a bus. He elevated his hand when the bus driver pulled away after checking the side mirror. As if nothing happened, he went on his own sweet way.
How could he kill the time in the middle of nowhere? It was an embarrassing question. On his way to the terminal, he noticed a signpost toward the Vasarely Foundation, but it was beyond the expressway. He was enough flustered to not adding optical illusions. “Forget op art!” he said to himself while assessing the situation. He lay down onto a bench near the bus terminal where he brooded over his frustration of missing the bus for a mere handful of seconds.
Dear reader, it would be senseless to accuse the bus driver who maintained a rigorous schedule. We let the wanderer basking in the sun to keep up with the tale.
The antecedents of op art, short for optical art, could be traced back to a work achieved by a Hungarian-born painter. Like many artists of his generation, Victor Vasarely moved to Paris, which stayed a cultural hub in the interwar period. He found a job as a graphic artist in an advertising agency. He struggled in experimenting without developing a style that would distinguish him from his contemporaries. His perseverance paid off with a canvass representing a stylistic but powerful mating of two zebras. He innovated with curvilinear black and white stripes that were uncontained by contour lines. His canvass was considered as something creative in art, but everyone pondered what it genuinely was.
Op Art was coined by critic Donald Judd in Time Magazine in response to Julian Stanczak’s exhibition named Optical Paintings, at the Martha Jackson Gallery in New York City.
Stanczak was a ten-year-old Jewish boy from Borownica, Poland, when he was deported with his family to a Soviet labor camp after the eastern part of his country was invaded by the Red Army in September 1939.
The Stanczak family belonged to the first mass deportation of Poles. Their job was to cut timber in the Ural Mountains. Like any deportee, the teenager worked in harsh conditions. Not merely did he survive pneumonia, but also encephalitis caused by starvation and weakened immune system. More, the overwork of cutting trees permanently incapacitated his right arm.
When the Wehrmacht invaded the Soviet Union, the cynical Joseph Stalin changed his alliance. He granted amnesty to imprisoned Poles who survived in gulags disseminated throughout Siberia. The Stanczak family partly walked, partly hitchhiked two thousand miles southbound to the Iranian border because the loyal father wanted to enlist the Polish army in exile.
At the military recruitment center in Tehran, the then thirteen-year-old boy declared that he was seventeen to a doctor who turned a blind eye on his age and his disability. Julian wanted to enter the army for two reasons: partly to eat correctly, partly in the hope that the army’s surgeons might heal his arm. When they made it worse, he was dispatched with his sister and his mother to a Polish refugee camp in Uganda. However, they did neither walk nor hitchhike the 4,400-mile distance that separated Tehran from Kampala. They sailed on a British ship toward Mombasa, Kenya, and from there boarded a train toward Kampala, Uganda. Eighteen thousand Poles, mostly women and children, were dispatched in nineteen camps disseminated in the jungle.
In his unfamiliar environment, Stanczak did not cut trees to the point of exhaustion; he learned to write and paint with his left arm. Light, sunset, and nature profoundly affected him. In his artist’s parlance, he considered the latter immense visual energy. Animals enthralled him, especially zebra. His interest for the latter remained a puzzle because he ignored the existence of the canvass of Vasarely. Under other conditions, he was influenced by geometric patterns of textiles from which African women made their clothing.
After six years in the jungle, the Stanczak family was reunited with the help of the discharged father. They returned to civilization in London where Julian studied art. Great Britain was an intermediate sojourn as the family moved to Cleveland, Ohio, where Julian received a bachelor of fine arts degree from the Cleveland Institute of Art.
Besides his interest in the op art movement, Stanczak advanced a personal agenda. His work aimed at forgetting war and gulag. “I do not want to be haunted daily by the past. I am looking for the anonymity of actions through non-referential abstract art,” he said to a reporter. Op Art was like psychotherapy to the internee who survived many hardships. Long before post-traumatic stress disorder was recognized by the American Psychiatric Association, he would discover a therapy for his plight.
As the wanderer was feverishly dreaming of Stanczak who overcame his handicap, he tried to turn over to his left side. His right arm was numb on the metallic bench where he was sound asleep. Because he could not change of position, he thought a malicious doctor had garroted his arm to perform a blood transfusion for the sickly son of the commandant of the Gulag.
Markedly away from the harsh experience of Stanczak, Vasarely led a normal life, and, as such, embraced an alternative approach to his art. What was at stake for him was no longer the soul but the retina. His goal was not to plunge the viewer into a gentle melancholy but to stimulate him. Therefore, the viewer had become a study object for experimental psychology.
When Vasarely used harsh black-and-white contrasts, Stanczak preferred the infinitesimal adjustment of the shades of one or two colors. Vasarely’s hard power and Stanczak’s soft power completed each other; they gave an array of form, volume, color, and intensity that enriched op art.
Forty years after the public discovered him at the Martha Jackson Gallery, to whom he became affiliated; Stanczak had his first solo exhibition in New York. Like Paul Cezanne, the recognition of his talent came lately, by which time op art was superseded by minimalism and more austere geometric abstraction.
Vasarely moved to Gordes where he developed kinematic images that were superimposed on acrylic glass panes, which created a dynamic. Kinetic art flourished with Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, and Man Ray. At that time, the prolific artist started serial art, in which uniform elements or objects were assembled in accordance with particular modular principles. The serial artist did not attempt producing an aesthetic object, but a strictly defined palette of forms and colors, creating in this way a perpetual mobile of optical illusion.
At the same moment, the wanderer dreamed he was a guinea pig for medical staff. A machine had been tinkered to realign his shattered femur. Attached to a heel cushion, crudely made with a piece of wood, a cable through a pulley was connected to a couple of weightlifting, which emitted a dull sound when they hit the floor. Woke up with a start, the boy scooted down to the head of the bed.
When Vasarely revealed his foundation in a medieval castle, critics wondered if the marriage was possible between his modern art and an ancestral place. The foundation was inaugurated by Claude Pompidou, the wife of President Georges Pompidou, no less. Like her husband, she was infatuated with modern art. Inaugurated after his death in office, Beaubourg or Pompidou Centre defied the architecture in the capital. “Paris has its own monster, just like the one in Loch Ness,” produced an art critic for Le Figaro.
After Beaubourg, each president wanted to bequeath his legacy in art. Each one imagined a cultural monument to honor La Grande Nation. The figure of speech of the exceptional nation was mocked by hard-working and industrious West Germany, which did not squander taxpayer’s money.
In the former Orsay railway station, President Giscard unveiled a museum dedicated to arts in the nineteenth century, with an emphasis on impressionistpainting. Socialist monarch François Mitterrand was anxious to surpass the tutelary Charles de Gaulle who prevented France from sinking into oblivion after its shameful defeat and occupation by Germany. He unveiled the Louvre Pyramid to strike visitors, the Mitterrand library without false modesty, and l’Arche de la Défense to provide a majestic perspective of the banking area. To satisfy a growing exogenous population, his successor Jacques Chirac unveiled the musée du Quai Branly featuring native art from Africa and Oceania. President Nicolas Sarkozy turned down the inauguration of the immigration museum that was launched by his predecessor. He settled for a minimalist approach with the musée de la Grande Guerre at Meaux, a town along the Marne River where German armies were halted in September 1914. Finally, President François Hollande did nothing because coffers were empty. German Chancellor Angela Merkel forced him to restrain France’s excess because it threatened thrifty Germans who had invested their savings into France government bonds.
Because the wanderer’s afternoon nap was marred by looming France’s bankruptcy, which threatened his future pension, he gained succor in the other miracle, which occurred at the First Battle of the Marne in 1914.
The “official” miracle did not explain the sudden reversal of fortune. The First German army was only thirty miles away from Paris when it was halted along the Ourcq River. Granting to German sources, Colonel Hensch would have ordered the retreat. Because he died in February 1918, he could not confirm it. No less than five German armies were suddenly forced to pull back after a winning streak since the declaration of war.
Wounded at the Battle of the Marne, a German military chaplain was transported into a French ambulance. Treated by Carmelites nuns, he confessed to them what happened at the battle.
“As a soldier, I should keep silent, but as a priest, I must comment on what I have observed. During the Battle of the Marne, we were surprised to be repressed, because we were legion compared to the French, and expected to arrive in Paris. However, we saw the Blessed Virgin, all dressed in white with a blue belt, leaning towards Paris. She turned her back on us, and her right hand seemed to repel us. I witnessed that and so did many of our own soldiers.”
Another nun treated wounded soldiers at Issy-les-Moulineaux. She put on paper words gathered from a German soldier who confided to her what he observed at the battle of the Marne.
“You were astonished at our retreat so sudden when we arrived at the gates of Paris. We could not go any further because a woman stood before us with her arms extended. She thrust us back every time we were ordered to attack. For several days, we did not know if it was one of your national saints; let it be Genevieve or Joan of Arc. Afterward, we understood it was the Blessed Virgin Mary. She nailed us on the spot. On September 8, she repelled us with so much force that all of us, like one man, ran away. What I am divulging you here, you will no doubt overhear it again later, because we are conceivably a hundred thousand men who identified her!”
Accompanied by a nurse to a military hospital, two wounded German officers discovered in the lobby a statue representing the Virgin Mary. One officer shouted, “Die Frau von der Marne!” Because his companion stayed silent after his remark, the nurse could not connect the dots.
A critically wounded German soldier confessed to a French nun in an ambulance dispatched behind the front line what he witnessed at the Marne battle.
“My sister, it is over, soon I will be gone. Despite the fact that I stay your enemy, I would like to thank you for treating me so well. I want to describe to you something that will make you very happy. For the time being, we are achieving much progress in France, but your country will win the war. How do I realize that? At the Battle of the Marne, we saw your Lady that repelled us. She is sheltering you from us. Our officers threatened us with firing squad execution if we talk about this vision. As long as you do not mention me, you can tell the story when I will be gone.”
Finally, a testimony of a German prisoner in Liege, Belgium, was established after the armistice on November 11, 1918.
“From the beginning of the war, I knew that in the end we would be defeated. At the first battle of the Marne, we had before us, in the sky, a white Lady who turned her back on us and thrust us away with her two hands. Panicked, we could not move on. At the minimum, three of our divisions have regarded this appearance. It was most likely the Blessed Virgin! At one point, she frightened us so much that we all ran away, officers like others. However, the next day they hindered us to speak about it; the death penalty was the sentence. If the vast army had recognized it, it would have been demoralized. For us, we no longer possessed the heart to fight because God was against us. It was certain we were going to die for nothing, but we had to walk anyway. We could not do otherwise. War is merciless!”
In every way, testimonies were consistent with the apparition of the Virgin Mary to several German divisions during the battle of the Marne. A witness said the Virgin Mary was the most intrusive on September 8.
“On September 8 the Blessed Virgin Mary repelled us with so much force that all of us, like one man, ran away.”
Coincidentally, September 8 represented the anniversary of her birthday recorded in the Protoevangelium of James.
The banishment of the apparition of the Blessed Virgin by the German military staff was understandable but not the silence of the French government.
The Soviet Union called upon the patriotism of late Russia and church bells rang the tocsin when the Wehrmacht approached Moscow.
The French government did nothing to exploit the apparition of the Blessed Virgin to galvanize its armies. It emphasized the marginal role of Parisian taxi drivers who carried an infantry division to the front line to prevent the encirclement of the sixth French Army.
From its infancy in 1875, the Third Republic wanted to eradicate the church. Its obsession headed to separate it from the state in a controversial law in 1905. Laïcité (secularity) represented a concept that had no counterpart in other democracies. Freemasons secretly assembled a huge card index on public officials, detailing who was Catholic, and who attended Mass, with an unimpeded target of preventing their promotions. If the miracle of the Marne had been revealed, monarchists might have been galvanized, and perhaps the Masonic third republic replaced by a parliamentary monarchy on the model of Great Britain.
After a witch cast a spell on the wanderer who could not turn over onto his other side on the metallic bench, he overheard two voices. Whilst he maintained his eyes shut, he tried to grasp their native language. Did they talk in Polish like Stanczak or in Hungarian like Vasarely? Because he was clueless as to distinguish between the two languages, he deferred his attention to the woman who embellished his dream. Was she the seductive double of Catherine Tramell he saw at Les Deux Garçons brasserie or was she the voluptuous nurse who aided him for his toilet at the clinic? However, the lingering numbness in his right arm got the upper hand over his erotic fantasy. Had a difficult zebra posing as a model for Vasarely struck his arm or did he try to impersonate the young Stanczak in the gulag?
“Come back!” yelled a woman to her daughter who ventured near the bench. The order woke up for good the wanderer. He tried sitting upon the rugged bench to make room for other passengers, but he could not lean onto his numb arm. He turned over onto his other side and tried once more with his valid arm. He felt ashamed as he faced the disparaging glaze of a prim mother who kept her daughter at distance. Her penetrating eyes looked at him like a cockroach, which must be squashed quickly. In contrast, her young daughter dressed in an immaculate white dress, and a blue ribbon tied around her ponytail, offered him a fond smile as if he were a desirable pet. Ashamed, he maintained his head down whilst massaging his numb arm with his valid hand. Because the hard-nosed and straight-laced woman assumed he was a flea-ridden and crippled bum, nobody wanted to share with him the bench that he had monopolized.
Standing aside, two young men with short-cut hair kept talking in their native language as if nothing happened. Their demeanor and green duffel bag suggested they belonged to the French Foreign Legion based in Puyloubier; this represented the terminal of the bus line.
PS: this is a chapter of a work in progress
Reproduction autorisée avec la mention suivante : © Bernard Martoia pour Dreuz.info.
Reprint or redistribution of this copyrighted material is permitted with the following attribution and link: © Bernard Martoia for Dreuz.info.