Very much just another blog

When Leonardo had doubts in the Tate Members’ café

with 12 comments

He looked exactly as his voice sounded: with a flat cap and a hook nose – fat with a silk scarf and corduroy jacket. His hair and moustache, both longer than they should have been, were painted with grey lines.

I don’t know how he and the girl came to be eating soup together in the Members Room at the Tate. I don’t know what began their conversation or liaison. It looked unlikely to be sex but I admit it was the first thing that crossed my mind. Instead I imagined it to be a combination of enchantments – the elder with the possibility and energy of youth, and the younger attracted to knowledge and to experience. She was tall with slow blue eyes, her hair matted and bleached with peroxide, her mouth never quite closing.

My thoughts rolled away from them, to the document I was writing, or trying to write. Sometimes I just put one word in front of the other when the topic is dry. Their conversation washed towards and away from me as the words I placed down were more or less difficult to order.

He had been contemplating suicide. Or contemplating its impact. For this reason he couldn’t do it but he spoke about it nonetheless. The girl was silent, looked at him and nodded.

I washed away again. This was not for me. Private but open; he didn’t know this girl. He needed to tell someone that there was a part of him that didn’t want to be here anymore, did not have the energy, did not have the will. And that he stayed for the people to whom his walk on the planet mattered.

I went back to my work but, even buried between the dry layers and the dry layers, the room grew louder and I was listening when he spoke again:

Do you ever shut your eyes and just listen? He asked his companion. Go on. She bent her head, covered her mouth with the heel of her hand and shut her eyes. Listen, he said, there is texture in this noise. Can you hear it? I often do this, his voice drifted away from her, I often sit somewhere and just close my eyes and listen to the room around me. He continued to talk. Slowly he rolled out the things he had done, the things he thought about, the gallery he had run, what he thought about this artist or that.

The blonde girl opened her eyes and looked at him – He just wanted to talk. So many words. So many thoughts. So many ideas flowed from him like they would never stop. And it seemed that he had had no one to tell. We don’t want to talk to space, we want to be heard. Because how do we define ourselves without context; without that we really are alone. And sometimes we’re alone anyway, even when someone is right there in front of you, pretending – but not very well – that they understand what you’re talking about.

Leonardo Da Vinci struggled with self doubt, he said and paused, letting the craziness of this statement float down. He was so great but he wrote in one of his notebooks: is anything ever done; what have I achieved? Bizarre – Leonardo Da Vinci. He laughed, somewhere at the back of his throat.

And in between the gulp of breath and sip of tea and throaty laugh I thought: he is saying: What is my place, what is my reason? What have *I* achieved. So painfully self-aware, so unable to do anything with it.

His tone changed: Tell me about the degree, he asked the girl. And she seemed to whir into a slow animation: a beginning of something but not quite awake. In contrast to this man’s slow manner, underneath which was such a trove of knowledge, she was less alert, quieter and more reserved.

He tried to draw out love of something outside of herself – do you enjoy Shakespeare? She scrunched her nose.

And he began to tell her the story of Macbeth and then Twelfth Night.

He tapered off, suddenly weary of the conversation. Shall we go and see some art? He asked. She nodded. As he rose I turned to look at him. He winked at me and smiled.


Written by elikafm

February 3, 2010 at 11:40 pm

12 Responses

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  1. So was that the wink of cunning Lothario? Someone that Nicky Hornby’s Rob Gordon might look up to? Or the wink of a smiley man who likes winking??


    February 4, 2010 at 12:17 am

    • No. Not cunning. He had a good face, with more happiness than I expected.


      February 4, 2010 at 1:02 pm

      • Thas cool then. Nicely observed. I think I’ll try and count up the good faces on my Tube ride home tonight. I straight away like it as a unit of measure!


        February 4, 2010 at 1:33 pm

  2. Well, that’s a beautiful piece of writing Ellie. Slightly disappointed with the lack of swearing, but you know, I can just get blissfully lost in your delicious prose.


    February 4, 2010 at 9:28 am

  3. A wonderful and evocative piece Ellie!


    February 4, 2010 at 12:07 pm

  4. dreamy stuff Ellie. And sorry for providing the task that lead to the dry layers…or maybe not – without their contrast, you may never have been drawn in and shared so beautifully

    giles palmer

    February 4, 2010 at 12:15 pm

    • Actually I may have made that sound dryer than it is because it made the story better… artistic rights? Thank you for saying nice things.


      February 4, 2010 at 12:26 pm

  5. That was really beautiful


    February 4, 2010 at 12:28 pm

  6. I was looking for a piece on vodka espresso. This doesn’t appear to be it. But this is really enchanting. Love “between the dry layers and the dry layers.” And i want to know more about your protagonist..


    February 4, 2010 at 12:54 pm

    • I’ll post the VE thing later today; I’m attempting to be time sensitive. It’s a different kind of tone.


      February 4, 2010 at 1:03 pm

  7. Deliciously observant piece. Do you think he was talking to her, or to you?

    David J Foster

    February 4, 2010 at 1:01 pm

    • Excellent point. Actually, I think he was talking for himself…


      February 4, 2010 at 1:04 pm

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