the last canvas - chapter 5
Published Aug 14, 2013

Written By



Page 1 / 71

"Bye bye love
Bye bye happiness
Hello loneliness
I think I'm gonna cry"

(the "All That Jazz" version for this song, always!)

"Bye bye love
Bye bye happiness
Hello loneliness
I think I'm gonna cry"

(the "All That Jazz" version for this song, always!)
After having slept only a few hours, I still woke up much later than the other days. Armand was sound asleep, and I let him sleep.

It had been a long night, full of acute revelations and intense emotions. A lot for both of us to take in, but for my friend, who had been living in a state of tension and expectation for so long, it must have been exhausting.
The sun was high up and it was too hot to sit to meditate under the shade of a palm.

Instead, I decided to go for a walking meditation around the island.

But I could not concentrate on my breath nor my steps.

My mind was running wild, and for once I decided to let it run free.
It came as an insight to me that Armand and I had never been very personal in our conversations.
Last night had been the first time we had really opened our hearts for one another.

We used to spend a lot of time together in the École des Beaux-Arts, even if we studied different disciplines -- Architecure for him, and Fine Arts for me --, that actually helped, since we had more to exchange. And all the time we talked to one another, a lot.
We arrived in Paris at the spring of 69. Everybody kept saying we were one year late. Everything had changed, everything was new. And to me, a peasant from the high mountains, it was all indeed new. And to Armand, a prince brought up in a castle, nothing was new.

Or so I believed.
We had first met at the Museum, starting a conversation over two paintings in a corner, that of the Russian writer Dmitriy Furmanov in an aristocratic pose, and the other of an anonymous young man sketching -- we couldn't have been each better represented. I was visiting the Museum for the first time, Armand was there for his best loved paintings -- and from that pair he knew plenty of details he was eager to share with me. He mentioned he had already seen me at the École. Naively, unaware of the wealthy person I had before me, I asked him if he knew someone who wanted to share a room, because I'd have to leave the Auberge de la Jeunesse soon -- and after a day well spent together, sharing impressions and opinions, he invited me to visit the apartment he had rented, to see if I would like to share it with him.

For me, it was luxurious -- and for the next 5 years, he did not allow me to pay more than the amount I had payed for a bed at the Auberge, since I insisted in paying him something.
For me, his small apartment was luxurious -- and for the next 5 years, he did not allow me to pay more than the amount I had payed for a bed at the Auberge, since I insisted in paying him something. We came from completely different backgrounds, and those differencies fascinated us both. Armand thought it was funny that I could guess the weather from looking at the clouds, and point him that a rose was not an azalea, and that strawberries and pumpkins did not grow on trees. And if I had never been to a museum nor a theater before I joined the École, Armand had already visited them all in most European countries, and was a most accomplished guide to the cultural life. To me it was a budding period, and Armand rejoiced introducing me to so many wonderful things. We would stroll through the city for many hours, and he would point me all sites of interest, and tell their history. Whenever he had two tickets or the entrance was free, we would go to museums, theaters and the movies together. And from his frequent dates he would always bring me the booklets of the operas and plays in town. What else could a peasant like me have wanted? I was already richer than I had ever pictured.
For many days we would debate about a play or movie we had watched. We also shared his books, and many times we agred on the authors, more than not. I had never read poetry before he gave me Baudelaire's "Les Fleurs duMal", followed by Rimbaud's "Le Bateau ivre". I flipped. In five years he cultivated a wonderful library in our apartment, that I profited so much from... We used to call it "The Church". "Let's go to the church? Let's meet at the church after class?" It was our private joke. It's funny to recall how much time we spent just talking, debating, discussing. Many times we would miss a meal or a class because we engaged in a conversation and forgot about everything -- and everyone -- else.

We rarely discussed politics, but religion was an almost daily topic. It was more on spirituality, since none of us was religious. We both agreed that religion actually parted us from experiencing the sacredness of all things. We debated about God -- the concept, the idea, his existence or non existence -- and on faith. That strengthened our bonds, since not many students had interest on those topics.
The meaning of life? Were we born with a mission or purpose?

Armand was very cultivated and would bring Plato, Kieerkegard and other names I'd hear for the first time in our conversations. I'd talk about the crops and the seasons, about magnificent lightning storms and the fierce winds in the mountains, about observing a baby deer daily evolving, and all the corresponding insights I had gained through those experiences.
But to me it actually didn't matter whether we agred on a subject or not -- I didn't have to like Heidegger nor the Bauhaus school; to me it was important how these new things Armand kept bringing up would help me to avert my peasant past and build a brand new future. I easily gave in to his opinions, and let him conduct me in the world of high culture, just as he let me guide him through the gardens naming plants and animals for him, bringing his awareness towards the birds singing, the smell of the flowers or of the coming rain in the wind.

He too had started diverting from his past. But who could have guessed the ashrams in India were coming?
I heard Armand wake up, but he didn't come down to the beach to greet me. Instead, he went about his things -- he must have had things to organize and do his packing, for the boat should come to take him the day after tomorrow. Sensing he wanted to be left alone -- risking to be completely wrong and delivering the message of rejection --, I decided to go back to my paintings, and give him time to sort his feelings out.

But after a couple of hours, I understood I'd have to take upon myself again the initiative, going to my friend to start the decisive conversation.
-- Buongiorno, fratello mio. -- I met Armand in his room and greeted him, trying to sound as casual as ever we had been -- Did you sleep well? Can we talk?

-- Bonjour, mon cher Carlo. And thank you for again coming to me -- he seemed to have been preparing himself for that -- I thought I'd give you all the time and space you needed after my... coming out last night.
-- Haha! -- I had to laugh, amused -- And I thought I was giving you the time and the space!

-- I'm sorry... -- Armand said, with a sad smile -- I have to apologize for the embarassing situation I've created between us. You are my guest, and as your host I have behaved monstrously...
-- Armand! -- my friend seemed to have retreated back into his princely politeness, that only now seemed like an imposture -- Do you really feel like that? You have been my host and I've been your guest for 5 years! You always made me feel at home, I never saw our relation in such formal terms... We were best friends, we were like brothers... And we still are, from my part.

Perhaps my first reaction to his coming out hadn't been so reassuring, and now I wanted Armand to feel totally at ease and accepted.
-- You know, Laurent... During my walking meditation that morning on the island, a memory had come into my mind... I recalled how I'd watched an albine baby chamois starve to death beacuse he had been rejected by his mother. How old was I? Nine or ten... and as an orphan these matters struck me hard. Grandfather agred I tried to feed the baby, but the poor thing was so afraid of me that it had injured itself trying to escape. Maybe I even hastened its death by trying to help. But Armand... My mate! I knew I had to help him. Even if I didn't really know how, one thing I knew... I didn't want my friend to be even close to feeling any rejection from my part...
Tears came to my eyes, and my heart skiped a beat.

-- Carlo... -- it's a pity I could not bring myself to call him "dad", just as I had stopped calling Catherine "mom" -- That is the most beautiful thing you could have done for him... -- I was touched by my father's sensitivity. And why haven't you been there, I thought, when I came out?... Memories of my own process mingled with the story my father was telling me, and I already deeply empathized with Armand, knowing how much harder it must have been for my father's friend to come out some 30 or 40 years ago.
I wasn't sure what I was going to say anymore -- Carlo continued with his story, going back to that point in the past where my birth was not even to be guessed --, since he had just apologized for his coming out... But anything I could say or do to help my friend suffer less...

-- Mon cher Armand... I want you to know how important last night was for me. I had never heard someone express love for me before in words -- and by Armand's look I thought the same was true for him -- Certainly not my grandfather, who has always been stern... -- and probably on my Armand's side, not from his parents, I guessed -- So that your declaration touched my heart deeply... It wasn't an embarassing occasion and you don't have to apologize for it. I don't think you forced it upon me. It happened, like a night flower blooms as touched by the moonlight... And it gave me the chance to express love for the first time, too! I think I won't ever forget last night.
-- And when I told you that I loved you... -- I continued -- It was true, it was serious... I mean, it is true! But I tell you this as a brother... To the brother I'd never had before I met you... I love you, Armand. But I'm not attracted to you. You are a beautiful man, generous, kind, so polite, cultured and travelled, and a thousand other qualities... It is an unbelievable privilege and honor for me to have your friendship, brotherhood, and now... your love. I was aware that for the first time we were missing the sunset and the moonrise, but Armand didn't seem to care about that either.

-- Thank you for having confided in me -- I went on, trying to be tactful -- But I'm afraid I cannot retribute the love you feel... the way you feel it... and want it from me! I have caused you a lot of suffering these past days, and I might bring you more... frustration. Dear Armand, if you want me to, I'll leave this island the day after tomorrow with you in that boat... And I'll leave your life, too. I don't want the be the cause of your suffering anymore.
It was as if I had punched my friend.

He closed his eyes and seemed to gasp.

-- Ha... -- Armand gave a sad, soft, very low laugh, after a long and tense silence -- Mon cher Carlo, how could you stop my suffering by leaving the island... and leaving my life? -- he sounded calm, sad, and resignated, a bit like my grandfather -- No, that has not changed... I've told you before, I don't you to leave the island! And if you would... If my love was to kill our friendship... My deepest fears would have come true! No, please! -- I felt Armand's intense and true sadness and desperation, as if they were mine.
-- "I don't want you to be unhappy, or ashamed, or sorry..." -- Armand murmured, his voice so low -- I'm thinking of Louis Malle's movie "Le souffle au couer", that we watched together; I'm sure you remember it. How Lea Massari, who plays the mother, reassures her son... Laurent was his name, if I'm not mistaken... by giving him the notion of how solemn, perhaps terrible it is what has happened to them, but still she wants to preserve the tenderness of the moment, turn it into a loving memory, and she asks the boy to do the same... It's such a beautiful, unforgetable moment in the movie... -- I had difficulty in following Armand's low tone, as my head had began to feel heavy and I struggled with a sudden exhaustion -- I'm asking you to do the same here, Carlo... -- Because I'd rather suffer with you around than suffer without you, or not suffer at all, Carlo...

I'm not sure if those were Armand's last words, because I don't remember the moment I feel asleep at his feet, surrendering to an emotional fatigue. I have no idea for how long we slept, but I woke up when my head bumped into his knee, or was it the opposite?

-- I want to go for a walk... Do you want to come with me, Armand? -- my friend hadn't left the house that whole day, and even if there were no doors and a gentle breeze continuously danced through all rooms, I felt a heaviness in the air.
There were no ships to be seen anywhere. The horizon was vast and calm, a line that could barely be divisible between sea and sky -- to which did it belong, actually? With the lights of the house turned off, a myriad of stars seemed to have come to birth. Armand and I had been fond of sharing mithological stories about the stars, but that night we remained silent. For everything was incredibly silent, that night. Sometimes I doubted Armand's plans of having more flowers on the island to attract more insects and birds. Wasn't it uniquely perfect the way it was? -- How are you feeling? -- I asked Armand, after the night air had refreshed our senses.

-- Relieved -- he smiled -- What was the name you used on your first day on the island? Renato! That's it, today you can call me Renato, the reborn!
-- Can my Renato be friends to your Renato? -- I joked.

-- Only if it is... Forever!
But it was too cool and humid to remain outside, and again we entered the house, leaving it dark as it was. Armand's room was illuminated only by the moonlight.

-- Can I ask you one last question? -- I had someone continuously popping into my mind, though it was an image without a face, for I had never met him -- What about Raymond?
-- Are you trying to find me a boyfriend already, Carlo? -- Armand laughed softly -- I just came out to you and you want to marry me? Haha -- he took a deep breath, and gulped -- He is in Bangkok, at the embassy there. I wrote him a letter, that I did not send, guessing diplomats must have their personal correspondence scrutinized. I just sent him a note inviting him to come to the Île du Blanchomme. I don't think he ever will. But most important -- you, Carlo, did come! -- I'm not sure I love Raymond, the way I'm sure... about you. I'm sorry to bring this up again... -- and I noticed Armand had tears in his eyes, gleaming in the dark.

Suddenly I thought how unfair it was to feel such a great love and suffer because of it. To have to apologize for loving. To be punished because of love -- but where did that punishment come from? Who was punishing my friend? How strange to cultivate love and desperation in each moment, to have hope and be so helpless at the same time.

He must have been so lonely, I realized, his mother on a death bed, his father with some other family, and me, his best friend... sitting just across the bed, but ages distant from his longing, as if I were sitting on another planet, a dead trunk fallen in front of a rock.
-- Can I give you a hug, Armand?
Armand cried on my shoulder, as I held him tight. I wanted him to know he was no longer unseen, no longer alone, but accepted and loved.
As we finished eating dinner, Gabriel came to us recommending we get back to the lounge for sunset:

-- It is magnificent! -- the handsome barman seemed truly enthusiastic about it -- And I'll bring you new drinks. What can I offer you, gentlemen?

But Carlo didn't seem to care about the sunset in Vice City as much as he had cared about the sunset on the Île du Blanchomme. He sat with his back turned to the sea and the sun, his eyes toward me, but on the past, truly.
I was disappointed.
I felt Carlo was not being totally frank and honest with me, and rather dubious about his relationship with Armand. I could hardly believe such a strong love would have remained platonic. Two young men on a deserted island with no one to hold them back? Maybe for his generation it must have been harder to act physical? But wasn't it free love in the seventies? Nevertheless, it was a simple question: have you done it with you best friend or not; with the simplest of answers, yes or no. No need for maybes, I thought, but I could understand he was being reserved, and perhaps out of respect for Armand.

At least I thought I had understood...
Anyways, I had learned more about my father in a few hours than I had in 13 years of living together, and another 20 of questioning my mother.

The question why he had left home remained, though. He had been a dutiful father all those years. He had taken to him buying food and cooking upon our moving to France, since Catherine did not want to engage in any homely duties. His atelier had always been open to me, and I knew I was welcome even when he was busy, painting. I had learned to remain silent and just enjoy my father's presence -- but that was no different from my mother, who'd spend most of her day typing her novels and did not allow me to interrupt her.

I then had to think -- if Carlo had been so understanding to his best friend's coming out, why miss his own son's? I was now more confused, and hurt.
But since he had started, Carlo just wanted to go on with his story. He didn't wait for our drinks to arrive, nor for the sun to set over Vice City. He was back on the Île du Blanchomme, about to live his last day with Armand still on the island.

-- The next morning -- he continued, with all his heart in his narratitve --, Armand's last entire day on the island, we woke up together while it was still dark, ready for our private celebration.
As we got down to the beach, we were just in time to see the moon set. I asked Armand, who had been my first and only master so far in meditation, to guide that session. He knew beautiful prayers and chants, made lovelier by his beautiful, smooth voice. I guess he chanted in sanskrit, or might have been pali. And suddenly I heard him start praying...
Lord, be with us this day.
Within us to purify us;
Above us to draw us up;
Beneath us to sustain us;
Before us to lead us;
Behind us to restrain us;
around us to protect us.
Lord, be with us today.

I had to dry my cheeks and neck at the end of that session. Lord... as Armand spoke the word I had shivered... I didn't know my friend had become a believer. The question was... in which religion?
That day was so special. We were finally able to cherish each other's presences, without barriers, without tension, without frustration.

The ocean, so blue and welcoming, seemed to be holy water embracing us.
And we must have been baptized that morning -- Renato and Renato. Which was which, the French and the Italian, the rich and the poor, blonde or dark haired, with green or brown eyes?... How could we still be separated entities after all those years sharing Yeats and Rilke, Malle and Godard, blankets and sausages... His voice was in my ears, my voice in his ears, even when we were silent. I spoke about the wind an the mountains through his mouth, he spoke through mine about... art, music, literature, cinema, architecture and so many other things I'd learned from him. How could we have been, existed, persisted, without one another? The food -- the food in his company turned into a blessing. A proof of love and wisdom -- how, for thousands of years, mankind had learned and transmitted skills and knowledge, generation after generation, enabling our survival as a species. And eating was worshiping Memory, that linked us to all mankind, day after day across the centuries -- recipes, ingredients, pots... There was so much work and knowledge in a single metal plate that it could be seen as a miracle... through his wise eyes. We existed -- insisted, persisted -- because the sun existed. And until the day we'd perish -- who had said "without Love we perish"?... Love being the Sun, the water, the air, the parents, the teachers... --, there could always be a gentle breeze caressing our skins, healing our wounds.
No coming, no going.
The sun, and the moon, taking turns in the sky.
Ships passing by, taking away, returning.
The last sunset.

There had been a last sunset before, on the last day at the École des Beaux-Arts, and this one now was teaching us that, unless one of us failed to be there for another sunset, there would not be such a thing as a last sunset. Not yet.
And the reassuring, Simly spectacle of the daily full moon... In all over the Sims world, it would be full moon for him and for me, everyday, as a mindful symbol of our interexistence. -- You have changed my existence, Armand de Montbelle, do you know that? -- I had been rehearsing a sort of love declaration, and I tried it under the stars -- Entirely! With your generosity, your kindness, your wisdom, you have changed what should have been 5 years of struggle into 5 years of steady growth, a continous wonder! And finally, you have saved my life. And you have given me a new life in this very life, a rebirth, with your invitation for this island, this paradise you've shared with me. And through your courage, you have aroused... given birth... to my heart...
-- My grandfather taught me a song he learned during the war, when he was made a prisoner. I'm not going to sing it because it would be such a disaster, the sky and the stars could tumble and fall at the shriek of my singing, but I want to part with these words of blessing:

May the road rise up to meet you,
may the wind be always at your back,
may the sun shine warm upon your face,
and the rain fall soft upon your fields,
and until we meet again,
May God hold you in the palm of His hand.
But who had said we wanted to part, to put an end to that evening? I had always been a loner. I had envisioned my future alone, painting day and night in an atelier of my own, all on my own. No wife, no family, no pets.

But Armand's invitation to this deserted island, followed by his love declaration, had changed perspectives. For the first time I was considering how lovely and fullfilling it could be to share life with someone, the same someone I had already been sharing the last five years. And I felt immensely sad thinking about my friend's absence, more than content to be left alone. Something had changed within me.
Not willing to close the day, we lingered by the firepit at the beach. I was wide awake and busy with my thoughts, and all those feelings that were completly new to me, but Armand was really tired -- or just tired, for the first time, because the other nights he had been exhausted, and fatigued.
We finally went to bed, when the fire grew into red embers and then died. If there is an extinction to such an eternal fire as love and friendship, so quiet, calm and constant. We closed our eyes close at dawn, to the new day, the final day, and tried to escape into oblivion. I woke up to a whistle I had never heard before, that seemed closer to the island than the cry of the seagulls. Not having found Armand on the bed, nor anywhere in the house, I ran to the beach.

He was standing there, waiting for the boat that could already be seen on the horizon, coming towards us, towards him.

He was crying.
-- Armand, mon cher ami... Would you have left without saying goodbye to me? -- I was disappointed -- Armand, why do you cry?

-- The whistle of the boat would have surely woken you, Carlo... I did not want you to see me cry... I guess I'm just tired... And I have so many battles to fight ahead of me... You know... I've been thinking... I'll have to do this over and over again... come out to as many people as I want and have to... And not everyone will be so ready to embrace it as you were... Merci beaucoup, mon cher Carlo -- he sighed.
-- You can't know the relief I'm feeling after all... No, you don't know how coming out feels like... when so many lies die... one feels so naked, like a newborn baby... And since I'm not planning to tell it to my mother on her death bed... and surely not to my father after I inform him about my professional sheer... seems like you'll be the sole person to share my secret on the planet, Carlo... -- You are no longer alone, mon cher Armand. Please, never forget that -- I said reassuringly, as I embraced him. -- Whenever you feel lonely -- I continued, as I held Armand tight -- please think of this beautiful island. You have your home now. And think of me here, taking care of it for you. Your brother. Waiting for your return. -- Please, don't lose sight of the dried brambles giving way to the flowers... -- I guess that was the second part of my love declaration, now under the sun -- Please never close your eyes to your beautiful watercolors, turning into a real garden... Because when you return, it will be there for you, mon cher Armand... I'll be the faithful gardener, but you know... the sun and the soil will be even more faithful and generous than I could ever be... Supporting you, supporting me.
-- When you face difficulties -- and I could picture Armand back in France, at the Chateau de Montbellle, with his mother on her deathbed and his allmighty father displeased with all of my friend's decisions --, please think of how the breeze runs free on this island, and unreservedly wanders into all rooms of the house...The house that will be illuminated from the inside, painted white as you have envisioned it... -- Can you see it already? -- I asked him, as I started crying myself when I heard the whistle of the boat so close to the island.
-- Thank you, dear Carlo.

-- Thank you, dear Armand.
-- See you... -- Please... ... come back... ...soon. next chapter...

we advance in time to see how Carlo met Dave Drew, the legendary 70s rock star, and the apparition is revealed and made a mythical song...

back on the Birth Island, Catherine takes stage...

thank you all CC creators for the wonderful stuff!!!

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