I’m not a writer. There was a time in my life when I wanted to become one, but I guess I gave up because I wasn’t talented enough. End of story.
The book I’m reading at the moment is called “The Fiction Class” by Susan Breen. It’s about this middle aged woman who is not very successful as a writer and teaches a course (“Fiction Course”) to adults. The story mixes bits about the fiction course, the protagonist’s personal life and some stories that her mum has written. At the end of each chapter there are “Writing Assessments”, and here is where my story begins.
The Writing Assessment I went for is the following:
“Think of a person from history who intrigues you. Napoleon? Cleopatra? Martin Luther King? Write a two-to-three page description of that person eating a meal. What would s/he eat? How would s/he eat? What would s/he be thinking about as s/he ate? Would someone be sharing the meal with him or her? What would they talk about? Remember: BRING YOUR CHARACTER TO LIFE!”
Well, my first obstacle was finding someone to talk about. I wanted someone original, different, with a strong personality. Someone easy to define. Somehow, Dali came to mind, but then I realised that I don’t know that much about his personality. Yes, I know he was a very successful artist, very eccentric, and egocentric.
I didn’t plan what I was going to write. I didn’t make a sketch of my main characters or wrote a list of adjectives that I would be using. I just grabbed pen and paper and started writing. This is what came out… :/
Salvador got early to the restaurant. His booking was for two o’clock but he arrived at one. Of course his usual table was not ready but that didn’t bother him: Right now he just wanted a drink. Walking through the narrow parisian streets had tired him out. Montmartre was still his favourite part of the city. Even after all those years, the bohemian atmosphere could still be felt around. At the end of the day he was an artist and this was the artists’ corner.
He got served at the bar whilst his table was being prepared.
- “Just a red wine glass please. Actually, leave the bottle”
Elena should arrive any moment and he wanted to make her see that he had been waiting for her. He wouldn’t reproach her, but he would definitely make her feel guilty for it. She should know by now how much he appreciates punctuality.
They had been seeing each other for just a few months now. He didn’t take her seriously. Who takes journalists seriously? She seemed more interested in discussing his art than any other aspect of their relationship, so he felt like this could be their last lunch together.
The waiter finally showed Salvador to his table now ready for him, and offered the menu du jour. He had eaten so many times in this local diner that he already knw what he’d have: mushroom omelette and a green salad. No dressing on the salad, sil vou plait.
He looked over the used and worn out piece of paper that the menu had become just to see Elena coming through the door. It was quarter to two. She was early, but not early enough.
Salvador stood up and kissed her on the lips. It was a cold kiss, a premonition of what was going to happen, a summary of their relationship for the last few months.
- “Have you been waiting long?”
- “Half and hour”
- “I’m terribly sorry, I thought we were to meet at two” – She was genuinely sorry.
- “Nevermind, we’re here now” said he bitterly.
The waiter approached the table to take the orders. He was a young boy, only seventeen, helping the family business. He still know nothing about life. He saw the couple, a very strange couple, looking in different directions.
Salvador was in his 60s. Elena had just turned 35. Salvador could still be considered a bohemian, like one of those parisians at the beginning of the 19th century. Elena however looked like she had escaped from a Sophie Kinsella novel. Spotless makeup, chic hairdo, wearing the latest Jimmy Choo’s.
- “I’ll have the mushroom omelette and a green salad. No dressing on the salad, please”.
- “Oui monseur. Madam?”
- “Mademoiselle, actually. Erm… I’ll have the same. Thanks”.
For an instant, whilst the waiter was wiritting the order down, Salvador felt something. Somehting stirred inside him. He had looked at Elena in the eye and he had wanted to say something. Yes, this was the moment to break the news. However, Elena -who could feel something was going on in his head- interrupted his train of though and started talking first.
- “How’s that new painting coming along?”
- “Erm… Not bad… It’s almost finished” he managed to say. He hated losing his concentration.
- “When can I see it?”
- “I don’t think you can, Elena”
- “Why not?” She was intrigued now.
- “I don’t want you to”
- “Excuse me?”
- “I don;t want you to see my painting. I don’t want you to come to my house again. I don’t want you to come near me. Full stop. If that’s not clear enough, I could make a sketch for you”
She was dumbstruck. She had not seen this one coming. She thought she had won him over with her charms and good looks, although she new deep down inside her that the relationship had never properly worked. She had felt starstruck the first time they met at a common friend’s party. She had not believed her luck. She was talking to the famous Salvador! No, she hadn’t believed her luck in the same way that now she couldn’t believe what was happening.
Salvador was about to stand up and leave when the waiter arrived with their food.
Suddenly he was quite hungry. All that walking in the narrow streets had taken its toll. So he sat down again. He looked deeply into his plate. “This very second I feel closer to these mushrooms than to you” he said. He lifted his gaze from the plate and saw that Elena was laughing.
He didn’t want to engage on a conversation. Not THAT conversation, the one starting with “What are you laughing about”, because he had a bad feeling about it.
- “You know why I’m laughing? No? Don’t yu want to know? Well, basically, after two days with you my editor asked me to keep a diary about you. <<Only the dirty stuff, you know>> he had said. And I did. I’ve been an insider in your life for months and you didn’t even know!” she laughed. “So now the world is going to learn who you really are. This diary is going to get published and you cherished popularity and fame will die with you, you old fag. Now eat your sad salad without dressing. Goodbye”
Salvador watched her throw her omelette at his plate, stand up and go. He stared into his plate once again and started eating.
Mushroom omelette had never been so delicious.
I still don’t know what’s going on in my head to come up with something like this. Was it so difficult to stick to the actual topic? I’ll probably give some of the other assessments a go as well. Maybe I’ll come up with something more cheerful.
I remember when I “got into reading”. I must have been 15 or so when I read Suskind’s Perfume. That book blew me away. It’s not that I didn’t use to read before that, I did, but never so passionately. Since then, my love for books has become greater and greater, and I never go more than a couple of days without reading some book or other.
In the last couple of months I’ve read all kinds of books, from The Pillars of the Earth and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night time, to Catcher in the Rye and Ines of my Soul.
It is Isabel Allende’s Ines of my soul that I am reading at the moment. And I am reading it in English! After having read Arturo Perez Reverte’s Capitan Alatriste in English last year, I promised myself that I would never ever again read a Spanish author in English. The translation for Alatriste was aweful. I spent more time translating back to the Spanish than actually paying any attention to what I was reading. So I decided that I would wait until I could buy the books in their original language before doing something like that again. But then… I was in the bookshop… I saw that book… I couldn’t resist myself. And yes, I did it again. I bought a Spanish-language book, in English!
BUT. Big but. This one is actually translated properly. You can actually read fluently without stopping at every sentence thinking to yourself “Oh, that actually makes no sense translated like that from Spanish, the translator should have written….”. Of course, as it happens with every book based in real places with real names, you get lots of references to places and people that you can’t translate, and people without either the geographical or historical knowledge wouldn’t know what the book is talking about (but you can always use your imagination in those cases)
The first Isabel Allende’s book I ever read was “The House of the Spirits” and I thought it was a magical book, so well written, with so much life on it. Ines of my Soul uses the same writing technique, that very special style of Allende. This is what the book is about (I’ve copied this from her website, which will explain the plot in better words than mine): It is the beginning of the Spanish conquest of the Americans, and when Inés’s shiftless husband disappears to the New World, she uses the opportunity to search for him as an excuse to flee her stifling homeland and seek adventure. After a treacherous journey to Peru, she learns of his death in battle. She meets and begins a passionate love affair with a man who seeks only honor and glory: Pedro Valdivia, war hero and field marshal to the famed Francisco Pizarro. Together, Inés and Valdivia will build the new city of Santiago and wage a ruthless war against the indigenous Chileans. The horrific struggle will change them forever, pulling each toward their separate destinies.
I can’t wait to keep on reading a bit more! I’m off to bed, to read… Good night!