Caramoor: A Made-up Story about the Decontextualized Life

Lucie met me late that night. I was sitting on a shadow in front of the soda fountain. She ran out the door that night I guess, like a fighter coughing blood but swinging with too much spite in his stomach to have pain anymore, whose cells and brain and everything that develops with time stops controlling his swinging arms but that boiling spite in his stomach keeps them swinging. She was quivering, of course, the way girls do when their worlds collapse in a little bit. She sat on the shadow with me and she did not cry, and I loved her for that, because I knew she wanted to cry, but that she wanted silence even more. So we both sat there, daring God Almighty to make the first discordant sound, in the perfect, odorless darkness that was cleaning us from everything.

An hour passed, maybe less, before I mustered a "hello." She said "hello" back and we began to speak. She told me what she was doing sitting on a shadow with me late at night and I told her that I wake up in the morning and pray that no one notices that it is all smoke and mirrors imported from a distant land. She began to cry and so did I.

We slept on the grass next to the soda fountain and the following morning we waked to the sun overhead. We were laying together and she smiled when she saw that my eyes were on hers. The sun was beating down on my face, so I decided to lay for a while longer. I did not love her, at least not the way I loved other pretty girls that I met. Her breath smelled sweet like perfume, and after a while, I was no longer aware that my own breathing was gently coaxing her placid head, which laid on my upper chest, up and down, like a buoy that floated past the breaking coast. In fact, after a while, I was no longer aware of anything, but the beating Now of the sun. The hands of my watch stopped moving, so thoughtlessly I lay there, because the earth stopped rotating, and there is not much to think about during the wakeful sleep when Time takes a break from the crashing waves of the beach to watch the buoy head of girl, whom I did not love, but lived a very long while with her head on my chest.

♦ ♦ ♦

The estate was a series of boxes that materialized in layers like a magnificent work of paper-maché. The whole edifice wrapped itself around a great courtyard at the center of the estate. Flowers filled the courtyard, and chirping birds swooped down on the branches like tears.

Within the grand room of the mansion, a potpourri odor of chamomile, lavender and rose petal drifted around erotically. It was traditional of European royalty to have a great doorway in their grand rooms that did not open. The functional door was down a humble corridor, meant to deceive vagabonds and thieves, and to keep out the poor. The imported glass next to the door that did not open had ripples in it and iron bars on the outside, and through it, the outer world seemed blurred from focus. From her seat at the center of the room, Lucie Rosen fogged up the windows with pallid eyes. The eyes were translucent and empty, but, you wondered if crouching beneath the white vacuum of the eyes there was some raging compulsion banging to escape.

Lucie used to think herself quite lucky that the great door did not open, and that she was inside of it looking out at the workers in the garden, blurred by imported glass, with snow drifting down on their shoulders and steam rising from their necks, not the other way around. She was not sure she thought herself to be so lucky anymore. The potpourri scents that wafted from floor to ceiling, lingering each like purring felines, seemed to Lucie to carry the muted reminder of tragedy. Maybe it was that the herbs were uprooted and destroyed for the sake of their smell and that from the moment the aromas were released, they were quietly cascading towards their own deaths. Perhaps it was that all things beautiful are tragic, especially on dark February days, such as today, at the mansion.

It was the type of house that seemed to be owned by a man with a white coat that he takes off and drapes over a wicker chair, that he then reclines on with his feet up and a cigar in his hands, staring at windows barred with iron but detailed with the same egg-white as his evening coat. It was the type of house that seemed to be owned by a very wealthy man who was trying to fool himself and everyone else into believing that he lived at a Mediterranean villa, though he knew that he did not breath Mediterranean saltwater, but the ascensent fumes of poverty that were just about now making smoky emanations from New York City, an hour north to Caramoor, during the heart of the Great Depression in 1931. It was the type of house though, that, if the sun was perched high enough in the sky to reflect mirages off its barred, clinquant windows, a passerby might just think old Walter Rosen was not a businessman, who was a slaved to utility and to the invisible, capitalist hand of consumer misfortune, but an aristocrat well groomed at uselessness. The slouching passerby might just believe that the man with the European white evening coat had silence in his brain, which was warm like the chamomile and lavender and rose petals that filled the grand room, and that Caramoor itself, built on the soggy soil of depression, was a 15th-century villa in Tuscany.

A murmur in the room caught Lucie Rosen's attention. Two well-dressed caterers brought out on their shoulders a pink-frosted cake. The two caterers were beaming at Lucie and she knew that they wanted her to get up from her chair and walk to the table, which, by now, was lined with smiling guests who looked quite foolish to her as they grinned and clapped and started that song people sing on this occasion. The guests motion for Lucie to get up from her chair. Lucie, though, was content to remain at her seat. The room itself, and thousands of cakes all over the world, exhorted her to get up and walk to the table, but she just looked with those pallid eyes at the window next to the door that would not open.

Those translucent eyes seemed locked on the window, as guests began to laugh and get up from their seats to get Lucie to celebrate with them. A great force pushed her through life, she fancied. In her head she saw her life one stumbled, inebriated step after another, over the differences without distinction, victories and defeats that did not mean a damn thing, that were scattered about the hall of her days, like mirrors reflecting against each other, coming together in a grand illusion of any choice at all, but the greatness still forcing her to walk in the direction of the cake which she did not even bake, and did nothing at all to deserve, except exist for another year.

It was Lucie’s birthday and it was for this reason that the guests were at Caramoor this particular February day. Exactly seventeen years ago, Lucie's mother was sweating on Pope Urban XIII's bed frame, which was imported from Rome. She was groaning on sheets once owned by the Medici family of Florence. This family was known to kill its enemies with rose petals, laced with poison. The chemicals blinded and deafened the enemies, and made them completely without capacity to do anything but whimper as their hearts slowed and their lungs filled with the noxious scents of Valentines Day – which, as it so happened, was Lucie Rosen's birthday, seventeen years ago, exactly today. Lucie got up from the chair and flashed a false grin. The partygoers began to whoop and shout, and cut into the cake.

Maybe it was the audacity of the dreary weather, or just that birthdays have a way of making the cheerful melancholy, but when Lucie walked to the table she hung her head. She thought back to the day she realized what death meant. She cried when she was eight years old at eleven o'clock, stumbling downstairs, because she began for the first time understand that impossible abyss of the future, or, so to speak, that impossible ecstasy of nothingness that was creeping forth irrevocably. She wept with her mother, hoping deep down that from her mother's arms would sprout a sturdy tree, nourished from the salty tears of sadness, that would hoist her from the unknowing. They call the tree that Lucie hoped to grasp onto the Tree of Knowledge. They tell us to hate Eve for touching it. If Eve's sin was knowing, then Lucie's was lifelessness and she learned to hope for that tree.

You see, there is no Eden outside of Caramoor. There is no direction to travel in the search for salvation, in the grand room of the mansion. It is as though the compass dial was finally placed on top of the point it had always reached towards. Without the gyrating struggle, what becomes of the compass? The answer, we can suspect, is the same as to the question about Lucie Rosen, the girl born in the architectural metaphor for heaven. Perhaps, to the privileged few, utopia is not on a map -- it is getting up in the morning without the pangs of emptiness.

So Lucie sat at the table and ate the food with the guests, and remained quiet. It was very lonely, though, the walk from her chair to the table, towards a cake that she did not deserve, to celebrate the passage of time.

“The marvelous thing," Lucie's father boasted, "is that there is not a plank of wood in this house that was not painted and carved by another person, a master from another place, and imported by me personally"

"Father, they know the house -- they read the papers"

"Tremendous, just fabulous, Walter. You've really outdone yourself," said a guest, with a cigar in his mouth.

Oh Walter, if only we could all be so lucky" said another.

To take from others?”

Of course. To not have to be ourselves. To think the thoughts of others."

Our music room is imported from Toledo. We have a 19th-century green-jade screen from China. You've heard of Donatello and Della Robbia, I am quite sure."

I think I'd like to be a poet, or a king from Europe. Yes, I simply adore art."

In our bedroom, we sleep on the frame once owned by Pope Urban VIII" said Walter Rosen, as he sipped his cocktail and cooed in the ears of his guests. He had spent his life searching out all the artistic styles and architectural predilections of every civilized age, and gathered them together in Caramoor, the name he gave to the house that had successfully claimed every idea from every age except its own.

"Oh, and what is that?" said a rich woman with sexual lips, who attended parties like this one at Caramoor, this particularly dreary February day. She pointed above one of the gated doors. Her legs were smooth and severe like rivers stones.

"That is a model of the ship used by Francisco Pizarro when he traveled to the New World. Pizarro conquered Peru, you know. Do you see that sword above the ship?


That sword is the very one used by Pizarro's brother to defeat the Incans. One-hundred-and-sixty-seven soldiers ragtag soldiers defeated eighty thousand Incan worriers. 1542 was the year, if I remember correctly. It was the clash of civilizations. The Incans were using heathen weapons, piteous, that's the word. The emperor, the fellow Allahalop, you say, thought Pizarro was a god, a demon, I don't know. Pizarro destroyed that army that day; his nation destroyed all their armies other days. Isn't that something. Splendid, but terrible – like everything these days. The roses are beautiful, but they die for their scents," he said, motioning to the herb sachet in the corner, with chamomile, lavender and rose petal.

"Walter, that is tragedy." she said from her throat, the tone as affected as the sentiment and she touched his knee.

"I weep and laugh, darling. The Incans were believed to be the fiercest fighters, of all the Indians. Not one of Pizarro's men died."

Five of the sixty-or-so guests that circled the Grand Room sat on a plush couch with Walter Rosen, far away from Lucie, his daughter, who was sitting on a chair at the center of the room. He seemed to need pleasure more and more as he aged. He whetted his voracious appetite with artwork and women, hungry always for more, because the need became greater, not lesser, the more beautiful things he brought to Caramoor . He looked over to Lucie, grinning, like he was watching a horror picture, and he knew the happy ending and that the whole thing was scripted anyways. Sex and death always seemed to go together. The massacre of the Incans seemed to get her, he mused. Sex is for creating life, surely, but it is also for destroying life. The good destruction, though, with pleasure. You are with the person and it does not matter anymore who she is. She is just now and again and again but never what came before, only what is coming now, now and more, at that moment now always, never back where the person has lived life and formulated thoughts and expectations and sowed seeds. The past dies and pleasure lives. Sex and death tasted like the alcoholic mix in his cocktail, which, at eleven o'clock, was coursing thickly through his body, making him a bit dizzy. He might as well have sex before death, he thought, as he touched the rich woman's shoulder, and called for more liquor. It does not work the other way around.

She was like one of the paintings he bought in Italy, this empty, this rich bitch. He knew too much about his wife to love her the way he loved the art he collected. You would cry for the Incans if you knew too much about them. Yes, he thought, if you knew the Incans, then Pizarro's beauty would be muddled. Splendid and terrible were the same; they were both beautiful because you can put them in a case with velvet and glass. Yes, there were always new women hungry for money, death and beauty that he could import, like the relief by Donatello behind him.

Walter whispered something in the woman's ear, and got he up from his seat. She remained on the couch, and turned her crimsoned cheek and curled her finger muscles.

The guests told Walter that they felt as if they had traveled to another country when they visited his home. Perhaps what they really felt, is that they had traveled with Pizarro himself to Cajamarca, and that they had witnessed a massacre. Only in Caramoor, it was not the Incans who were slaughtered; it was time and distance and culture and everything that could die did die. So nothing that survived in the halls of the mansion could ever die anymore, for pretty things like paintings and old swords and reliefs could live for a very long time, without context or soul. One man's suffering and another's genius were owned by Walter Rosen and hung up among the ruins in the rooms and corridors, like a fantastic museum of cauterized splendor.

That night, Lucie she could not sleep. She could rarely sleep at night. Instead, she would toss and turn, frustrated that she could not sleep. The door out of Caramoor or the book with knowledge or the road, the branches on that Tree of Knowing that we hate Eve for grabbing, seemed to whisper with their design and existence a sultry promise in her ears that there is something better, out of the grand room soaked with chamomile, lavender and rose petals. And that if she could get there, she would not have to look anymore into the mirrors that have faded with time, or the reliefs or paintings or anything else for a sense of who she was. And it is nice, late at night, to believe that this is true.

So Lucie and I traveled around in her father's black Cadillac without anywhere in particular to go. From the road a rainbow effluvium rose into the air, from the dead, towards the sky and heaven. The road made sultry promises in our ear, so we drove around for days, but only at night, because it is so dark on the road late at night, and the winding of the pavement and the tall trees that obscure the vista, that we could not see anything but the divider lines that seem to flick on forever. I learned that if I stared at the divider lines, their forever flickering rocked me to sleep like a lullaby. I liked to watch the line because I realized that if I am hypnotized it does not matter that I was afraid that we were never going to stop searching in the black Cadillac on the road late at night for that somewhere to finally sleep. I wished to be off the road, in the standstill of time. But instead the headlights beat against the darkness, pointing forward. They pointed in the direction of expectation, and that hope for the Tree that Lucie and I wanted so much, that we assumed was waiting just a little farther down the line, I am told, is the American dream.

Six days after we cried on the shadow, Lucie returned to Caramoor. Her mother and father kissed and hugged her, and her maids prepared the bath. I came to Caramoor with her, but Walter could not see me because his senses had atrophied and fattened. The adipose tissue softened his soul like it softened his thighs. Lucie took the bath, and ate her supper, and said goodbye to me. She kissed me on the cheek and whispered in earnest that she was an Emperor of a Paper-Maché kingdom built a long time ago by some dead guy and that her palace was crumbling. I nodded, knowing that she was wrong, for it was not crumbling, but that it never was anything more than glue and paper and lies in the first place. So I left the mansion and disappeared on the elegiac road and she woke up from the dream.



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