Love is a Trabant


by Anamaria Beligan




"Have you see the movie Black Cat, White Cat ?" asks Victor.

"I'm afraid I haven't",  responds Dr. Prince.

What am I supposed to do now? If I tell him about the movie, it will be another fifteen minutes at least, and I'm the one who is supposed to pay for all this, thinks Victor. He has strong apprehensions about psychiatrists. Making money out of people's confusion and out of their spiritual misery! How indecent!   He feels a wave of desperation in his chest.

"Why? Is it important?" asks the doctor candidly.  What d'you think, mister? "You seem very quiet, all of a sudden", he pursues.

Victor remains silent for a while, and Dr Prince respects what he asseses to be Victor's need to collect his thoughts. I'm paying even for  the silence, damn it! I'll never get anything out of this,  except for an outrageous bill to add to my disturbance.

"Sorry", says Victor, "I don't think this is going to work... I mean, I'm really getting nervous about that clock ticking away... It's not my fault that you haven't seen Kusturica’s Black Cat, White Cat.  Why should I spend these very expensive minutes filling you in on a  masterpiece of contemporary cinema which any cultured person in this city ought to be familiar with?"

"You are right, Victor. And I do feel guilty for not having seen Black Cat, White Cat,  especially as it was on, here at Cinema Nova,  for six weeks. Why don't you tell me about it, and I won't charge you for the time. I'll consider it a personal favour."

"Alright", says Victor, an incredulous smile blossoming on his face.


Dr. Prince gets up from his armchair and walks to the far end of the room, where Victor notices a space, somewhat like an improvised stage, with four spotlights hanging from the ceiling and a pair of  drums in the middle. Prince's idea of relaxation: sleek, expensive and slightly infantile, like everything else in this practice... He imagines the doctor playing his drums in the middle of the night, to chase away the demons of his unfortunate patients...  Behind the drums, on his high tech sound system, Dr. Prince puts on a compact disc of Goran Bregovic.

"There's this guy, Angelo, that I met at uni, six months ago," says Victor. "He's very nice, very well-read, and incredibly well-travelled. We became instant friends. He would often shout me lunch at the Black Cat Café, his favourite joint on Brunswick Street. He is a bit of a loner, but with me, he would always open up. Sometimes he would ramble on for hours about a movie, or a book, or a city, or a lost civilisation... He's about seven years older than me, and I think he's been at Melbourne uni, on and off, for at least eleven years. It seemed to me that he didn't need to work for a living, but I was not sure  - I'd never thought it my business to ask..."

"He sounds quite charming indeed!", comments Dr Prince. "Does he like music?"

"What do you think? Of course he does. He plays the drums, too... and the violin... and the Cuban laoud  - he brought one over, after his first trip to Havana.  (The bit about the drums is not accurate, but how could Victor resist the temptation to excite the doctor's interest?)

"Now let me make myself clear: Angelo is no musical genius. He is no genius of any kind. He knows a lot about lots of things, but he does not excell  in anything - he's a dilettante par excellence..."

"There are so few of them left, in these sad times of postmodern overspecialisation!" muses Dr. Prince. "We must treasure their presence and nurture their friendship" he adds, with a sad glimmer in his eyes. He pauses, immersed in Bregovic's powerful Deathcar,  which cuts through the silence with its weird rhythms and unsettling wisdom.

     "Shall I continue?" asks Victor.

"By all means!"

"One evening, about three months ago, Angelo and I went to see Black Cat, White Cat.  There's a scene in this film where a pig is eating a Trabi..."

"A Trabi?!" marvels the doctor.

"A Trabant. You know, the East German car, the 'cardboard Mercedes', the motor vehicle for the masses..."

"In other words, the undisputable cousin of Hitler's Volkswagen!"
"Yes, ideologically speaking. But in practical terms, how could anyone compare the sturdy, resilient Volkswagen with the vulnerable Trabi -  that pathetic, farting cross between a tractor and a motorcycle?" exclaims Victor.

"I see your point..."

"I mean, Hitler is dead and, possibly, buried - but people still drive Volkswagens -  even in Melbourne! To say nothing about the new model, which is categorised as a luxury car, thus betraying the very ideology which generated it in the first place!"

"Whereas nobody seems to be driving a Trabant - not in Melbourne, anyway!" comments Dr Prince.

"Not even in Germany! And that's because it is the top polluting motor-vehicle ever known to mankind. So, after Reunification, Rich Brother told Poor Brother that he was prepared to tolerate the Trabi for a year or two, but then, Poor Brother had to clean up his act and send his Trabis to the Third World, where they rightfully belonged."

"So... all that is left of the Trabi is a memory..." muses the doctor.

"Yes - a memory of something cheap, smoky and perfectly pathetic."

"No wonder Kusturica used it as fodder for a pig, in his latest film! A powerful metaphor, indeed!"

"That's what I thought too... until..."

"Until what?"

"You see, Dr Prince, metaphors are tricky things... Not everyone reads them in the same way..."

"I agree, but, practically speaking, how could anyone not be thoroughly amused watching a pig eating a Trabant?"

"Well, Dr Prince, it's easy for you to feel titillated... But remember that, for nearly forty years, the Trabi was the equivalent of the East European dream. It was all that a family could aspire to, in terms of major assets, not just in East Germany, but in the other Eastern satellites, as well..."

"So you mean to say that an East European might be hurt by seeing  a former dream icon being desecrated by a porker?" wonders the doctor, his mind already investigating the Jungian implications of the situation.

"I don't know. It's not my problem, anyway," replies Victor. "My problem is Angelo..."

"What happened to him?"

"Well, in Black Cat, White Cat, the desecration of the Trabi, as you call it, is shown in three stages. First, we see this typically Serbian landscape, and in it,  a pig tentatively nibbling at its future victim, the Trabant... Later on, towards the middle of the film, we are brought back to the scene: this time, the pig  is thoroughly engrossed, avidly gulping the body of the Trabi.  Before the end of the film, we return to this progression, which has now reached its climax: most of the Trabant has disappeared into the satiated entrails of the pig, from where a cosmic  burp emerges, filling the landscape with its symbolic echo..."

"What mastery of dramatic effects!" marvels the doctor.

" By the third stage, most of the audience - including myself - was roaring with laughter. Not so Angelo... "

"What did he do?"

"He... got up from his seat... stood for a few seconds on wobbly legs, until the patrons behind told him to move. Then... he ran outside... I went after him, of course, missing the end of the film, which, I might add, I never had the courage to view again, so troubled was I by what followed..."

"We'll go see it together, I'm sure it will pop up again at the Astor or the Westgarth," intervenes Dr. Prince.

"I don't think so, doctor. And here is why..."

"I'm all ears!"

"May I remind you that I have finished telling you about the movie. You can start billing me now. And you'd better stop that Bregovic soundtrack, or we won't be able to hear the clock ticking..."

"Don't worry, I'll keep an eye on the clock, you just go on." (Bastard!  You're all the same!  thinks Victor, who for a second suspected that the doctor might belong to a rare species, who is not totally governed by mercantile propensities.)

"Where was I, before you interrupted me?"

"Angelo ran out of the theatre."

"That's right... I followed him into the lobby. I noticed he was shaking. His face was livid. He went to the loo, and I waited outside. When he returned, it was obvious that he had been vomiting... Never had I seen him like this. He was very disturbed, physically and mentally, and I felt overwhelmed by the situation..."

"What did you do?"

"We left the movie theatre and walked for a while, in absolute silence. It was a mild April night - no clouds, and the full moon looked like a stagelight: unpleasant and intrusive... Finally I said we should have an espresso but he didn't reply - he kept on walking, as if in a trance...  I respected his need to be silent, immersed in some deep, impenetrable, thoroughly private  speculations... So I offered to go home, but he grabbed my arm with a sort of desperate resolution, and I concluded that he wanted me to hang around. Which I did..."

"What happened?"

"By then we had reached Johnston Street. He took me into a Spanish joint, and ordered a jug of sangria and some tapas. There was a dance floor in the middle, where an Argentinian guy was teaching some awkward pairs to dance the tango. Angelo had told me once that watching people dancing the tango was a form of mental relaxation for him. So we watched, and watched, until the last pair had left the dance floor. The Argentinian man  began dancing alone to the tune of La Cumparsita,  with an invisible partner, who seemed to follow to perfection his intricate steps.  I felt weird and uncomfortable,  trapped in a riddle that I had no inclination or curiosity to be a part of. The sangria had gone to my head and I badly wanted to go home."

"Ah, things get very complicated when it comes to the tango! Especially when one of the partners is invisible", comments Dr Prince.

"I'm sure you're an expert on the subject, that you've read Borges, and that you have all the CDs of Carlos Gardel and Sexteto Mayor that money can buy. But spare me your speculations, will you, because I'm not interested in the least. The clock is ticking fast and I'm paying for it, remember? You can always write a paper about this and publish it in some journal for psychiatrists with dilettante yearnings."

"Sorry, Victor, go on."

"Where was I?"

"The sangria had gone to your head and you badly wanted to go home."

"Right...  I made an effort and watched the Argentinian to the end, and then, since the restaurant was closing, I hinted that maybe it was time to go...  We left and, as a taxi was passing by, Angelo grabbed it.  ‘Come’, he said, and I didn't have the power to disobey him. We got out in front of a house in Greville Street, Prahran. Angelo produced some keys, and I inferred that we were at his place. Although he was uncommonly generous, and had often shouted me lunch or dinner, he had never invited me to his house until then, a fact which I had never questioned, since he was an intensely private person. By now my apprehensions had disappeared and I was genuinely eager to hear - or see - whatever Angelo had in store for me..."

"I bet you were!"

"And I bet you are, too!  Only there's a little problem, Dr Prince. My time is up, and I'm not inclined to pay for another session. I was told you charged 150 an hour. I could buy five records of Carlos Gardel for that money."

"So what do you propose?"

"I propose that we stop right here."

"How can I treat you if I don't know the facts?"

"Well, Dr Prince, the more I think about the facts, the more I doubt that you will ever be able to grasp them. As for the treatment - do you seriously believe that I expected you to cure my soul?"

"Then why on earth did you come to see me?"

"Because my local doctor said he wouldn't renew my Aripax prescription unless I saw a psychiatrist."

"So what will you do now?"

"I don't know. I'll probably go herbal."

"Good luck, then", says Dr Prince, visibly annoyed.

"Thank you, doctor. Don't forget to send me the bill."

Victor exits the room, without closing the door. There is no one left in the reception area, not even the receptionist. He leaves the building, and starts walking  down Cardigan Street. It's already dark, although it's only 5:45 p.m. A faint percussive lament reaches him through the damp winter air. The bastard's drums.




     It's been six weeks since Victor went to see Dr Prince.  His local doctor refused to give him another prescription of Aripax.  So Victor did  go herbal. He now takes two tablets of St John's wort extract a day, and, when things get too emotional, he pops a few drops of floral Rescue Remedy under his tongue. In many ways, he feels like a new man.

One night, as he returns from a  lecture on "Schumann's Resonance and the Epidemiology of Happiness" delivered by a visiting American professor, he notices a man sitting on the stairs leading to his flat.

"Dr Prince! What are you doing here?"

"I need to talk to you", replies the doctor in a sombre voice.

"Yes, yes.... Sure. Come in."

"You're probably wondering how I know your address: I looked up your medical record", says the doctor, taking a seat on Victor's sofa.

"I imagined that much", replies Victor.

"It's unethical, of course... But you know, Victor, it isn't often that I come across a patient who reads Borges, listens to Gardel and knows by heart Emir Kusturica's movies... Besides, I was deeply moved by your honesty. I have serious doubts regarding my profession, and I can often read these doubts in the eyes of my patients. But no one, until you, had the guts to voice them. Anyway, this is not the main reason why I'm here..."

"What is it, then?"

"You started telling me about your friend Angelo, who was deeply disturbed by the sight of a pig eating a Trabant. I have given it a lot of thought, and I cannot imagine what lies behind it. I have a number of hypotheses and... I am consumed by this urge to find out if any of them is close to the truth."

"So... you want to test your abilities, diagnostically speaking."
"Humanly speaking! I lost my faith in my diagnostic abilities a long time ago."

"The full story - and no clocks ticking away, right?"

"I knew you were going to say that! That's why I brought you this little token of  my anticipated gratitude", replies Dr Prince, producing a small packet from his briefcase. Inside, there are five solo albums, featuring the music of  Gardel, Varela, Canaro, Basso and Mores.

"They arrived today,  from Buenos Aires",  he adds.

"In that case, I think I'd better put the kettle on", laughs Victor. He cannot believe what is happening to him. He feels exhilarated, as if he’d swallowed a full bottle of floral Rescue Remedy. "What would you like? Espresso, cappuccino, cafe con leche, or tea?"

"Cup of tea would be excellent."

"Mango blossom is all I've got."

"Mango blossom's fine."

While Victor is making the tea, Dr Prince's eyes are scanning the living room walls. Reproductions from Goya, Simone Martini, and Degas;  photographs of Orson Welles, Almodovar, and the Dalai Lama;  a map of  Barcelona, one of Kathmandu and one of Havana - fairly predictable stuff, for an unpredictable guy like Victor.

"So, is this the famous Trabant?" asks the doctor, standing in front of a big, unframed, charcoal sketch, glued directly to the wall.

"Yes," replies Victor, bringing in the tea. "I've got this friend, who used to be a forensic artist before the introduction of digital imaging. He sketched it for me, based on my description."
                 "I can see it fitting inside a large porker. The metaphor is not stretched, which makes it all the more remarkable... This brings us back to Angelo."

"Of course! Where were we?"

"Greville Street, Prahran. Angelo produced the keys to what you thought to be his home..."

"Indeed," continues Victor. "By then, my apprehensions had vanished and my curiosity was stirred. We penetrated into a vast, dim-lit room, a cross between a study and a living-room. I was speechless at the large quantity of expensive books, albums, paintings and artefacts, scattered all around. Where did Angelo have the money for all this? I'd expected him to be financially at ease, but I'd never imagined so much wealth, so much sophistication.

"'You wonder where I got the money for all these?' he said, reading my thoughts. 'I write'.

“'But writers are notoriously poor! At least in this country!', I replied.

“'Who said I wrote books ?'

“'What do you write, then?'

“' I write theses'.

“'You write - what?'

“'Undergraduate theses. What did you think I was doing at uni, all these years? I get paid by students to write their assignments. Anthropology, Critical Theory, Cultural Studies, Media Studies, Communications - that kind of stuff. You have no idea what a student from Brunei pays for a Credit.'

"As a matter of fact, I had no problem believing him - the more I thought about it, the more plausible it all sounded. We sat down, he made tea - mango blossom, would you believe it! - and went on:

"’ Because of the nature of my work, I tend to keep a low profile, and my social life is practically non-existent. I like it this way. I can grab an early morning plane, have an oyster brunch at Doyle's, in Sydney, and come back by 4 p.m., and nobody knows it! I can indulge in whatever grabs my fancy. You have to, with a profession like mine. Writing theses is so... depressing, so repetitive, so hopelessly predictable, that one has to find forms of compensation. So… I like to surprise myself. I adore doing things without planing - allowing my moods, or my inspiration,  to dictate my behaviour.  I delude myself that what the French call le sel de la vie, can only be found - and tasted - in this way...'

“'So far, so good', I said, secretly wondering what this had to do with the pig, the Trabant, and my friend's recent distress.

“'You're probably wondering what all this has to do with my behaviour at the cinema...', he commented, and I nodded awkwardly. 'You probably know, by now, that I adore alternative music, and that I play half-a-dozen nearly extinct instruments. One day,  in April 1994,  I was having my usual vegetarian focaccia at the Black Cat Café, and then I went for a stroll down Brunswick Street.  I went for a browse inside Sister Ray, where I regularly shop for alternative music, and I came across a new release of some Gypsy group from southern Romania. I listened to a piece or two and I immediately fell in love with that exuberant music. It was truly inspiring, fresh, and vivid - original to the extreme!  I bought the compact disc, and a few days later, after listening to it for at least a hundred times, I went to a language agency to have the lyrics translated. The words turned out to be deliciously intelligent, humorous, subversive, confirming the fact that I had stumbled upon a real gem. So inspired was I by my discovery, that I decided to fly to Romania and visit the Gypsies in their ‘real’ habitat,  away from Western entrepreneurs, yuppie audiences and sleek recording  studios. On the spur of the moment, I booked a flight, and in less than forty hours I was at Otopeni Airport, in Bucharest...'

“'What about visas?' I asked.

“'Visas? I never worry about them! Anyway, I got one at the airport, if I remember correctly... Then... I grabbed a taxi and asked the driver to take me to the village in question. Plopeni,  it was called, roughly meaning “poplars' place” which made a lot of sense, since all you could see around were desolate fields, crows, and neverending rows of poplars. It took us three hours and a small fortune to get there although the village was actually only an hour away from the airport. I guess the driver had seen in me a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It was late afternoon when we reached our destination. The taxi dropped me on an empty road, bordered by sleepy houses - and poplars, of course! -   with no one in sight, except for a half-inebriated policeman who  asked me for my papers. I handed him a fifty dollar note and asked him where the Gypsies lived. I spoke to him in Italian, a language so similar to Romanian, that everybody understands it'...

“It's getting dark, Dr Prince. Would you like me to turn on the light?", enquires Victor.

"Actually, a candle would be nicer..."

"No worries, plenty of candles in this flat! My last girlfriend collected them. Strawberry scented? Or wild musk?"

"I wonder what the scent of poplars might be!"

"You wouldn't want to know, Dr Prince, believe me!"

"OK, make it strawberry!", replies the doctor, seating himself cross-legged on the floor.


Victor lights the candle, places it on the floor, beside his guest, then goes on:  "So... the policeman told Angelo that the Gypsies were on tour, in Switzerland, for at least a month. They went to the local pub, had a beer or two, and then Angelo said, 'Since I'm here anyway, how about meeting their families? I can't imagine they all went to Switzerland! I might still get to meet a brother or an uncle, or a grandson.'

“'In that case, you need protection, sir,' said the policeman,  'for it's real dangerous and dirty down there, where them Gypsies live,  especially for a gentleman like you.'  Angelo gave him another fifty dollar note, and the policeman agreed to be his 'protector'.

“They went down to the Gypsy slum, which was squalid indeed. A swarm of noisy  boys and girls formed around them. Soon, a fierce looking, grey-haired beast of a man emerged in front of them. 'And where d'you think you're going?' he asked, in a threatening tone.

“'I'm from Melbourne, Australia', said Angelo in Italian, 'and I'm a fan of the Gypsies of Plopeni, whose music I had the pleasure to discover recently.  I'm told they're on tour in Switzerland, so I figured I might get to meet their families instead -  given that I've travelled all this mileage. I'd very much like to meet the family of Old Uncle Ciocoteala, cause I like him best.'

" It turned out that the man-beast was the son of Old Uncle Ciocoteala. He looked quite pleased by what he'd heard. So he invited Angelo to his house, where he produced a bottle of tzuica,  a local brandy of the most undiluted kind. 'I guess you don't need protection any more,' said the policeman, after emptying three glasses in a row, and left.

"Angelo spent the rest of the afternoon drinking with Ciocoteala Junior, and with other sons and nephews of the touring musicians, who had slowly gathered to check out this Italian-speaking weirdo from Kangarooland. He was invited to spend the night in Ciocoteala's house, which was considered the best in the slum. It was the only one which had a bathroom - a brand new one, all pink -  which occupied a third of a cottage with minute rooms, low ceilings, dirt floors, and no windows. They placed the nicest sofa they could find in the bathroom, for Angelo to sleep in. He protested, but Ciocoteala Junior explained that nobody used the bathroom in summer, for they had a water pump outside.

"The next morning, as he opened his eyes, he saw this Gypsy girl pouring hot water into the pink bathtub. She had the features of Old Uncle Ciocoteala, whose face was on the cover of Angelo's CD:  high brow, huge dark eyes,  full lips. And the same expression, which escaped categorisation: somewhere in the no man's land between jocularity and melancholia. She was tall and extremely slender, with long, black hair and spectacular earrings. Around sixteen or seventeen, Angelo thought. You could circle her waist with the palms of your hands. 

“'Good morning', she said. 'Guess you might want to have a bath, after all that travel.'

“'Why did you bring in the hot water?' marvelled Angelo.

“'Cause that's how we make hot water around here. That tap is for decoration purposes only. When you're finished with the bath, come outside to the shed. I'll make you breakfast.'

“'Thank you. By the way, Angelo's my name'.

“'I knew that much!', laughed the girl. 'I'm Aurelia. You can use the shampoo. It's strawberry scented. From Switzerland'.

"While he was having his bath, he tried to recollect where he'd heard that name before. Perhaps in a French avant-garde film?... He couldn't remember the character, but he surely remembered the name. A theatrical, solar name. He was later to find out that aur meant “gold” in Aurelia's language.

"He came out of the bathroom, into a crowd of children who'd been watching his door. A little girl, a miniature version of Aurelia, grabbed his hand and took him to a wooden shed in the backyard. 

"Inside, Aurelia was frying potato chips on a portable gas ring. The shed was one of a kind: a cross between a garage and a summer kitchen. In the background stood a strange car, which a toddler was polishing with a cloth. 

“'Take a seat',   Aurelia ordered merrily, 'the Special Breakfast is nearly ready.'

“'Where would you like me to sit?' asked Angelo, noticing there were no chairs around.

“'On the sofa, of course!'

“'What sofa?'

“'In the car!'

"He sat on the back seat of the strange car, which had been tuned into a sofa of sorts, complete with embroidered cushions. Aurelia sat next to him, a plate of sizzling chips in her lap.

“'I make the best Special Breakfast in Plopeni.', she said. 'We don't have Macdonald's here, but I have been to Macdonald's, you know... Grandpa Ciocoteala took me to Switzerland, when I was fourteen. I never forgot those chips...'

“'Nice car', replied Angelo. 'What is it?'

“'What, you've never seen a Trabant before? What kind of cars do you have in Australia?'

“'We don't need cars, we ride kangaroos.'

“'I must watch some of your westerns, one day. You do  have westerns, don't you?'

"Before Angelo had a chance to reply, Ciocoteala Junior (who turned out to be Aurelia's father) and his mates were back on the scene. They  claimed Angelo for the rest of the day. They sat around the backyard table, engrossed in a debate about Switzerland, Australia, soccer, world economics and what was bound to happen in the year 2000.  Multicoloured, thimble-shaped glasses of tzuica were constantly refilled. Every now and then, some wife, mother or aunt would bring a plate of food, the kind of food one kept for Sundays or special occasions: stuffed eggs, pickles, sausages, sardines.

"’What a glorious day!', said Angelo, between two happy burps, as the sun was beginning to exhale.  'A pity the musicians are all in Switzerland.'

“'Ciocoteala the Third, where are you?' cried Ciocoteala Junior.

“'He's in the shed,  fixing the exhaust!', answered a five-year-old.

“'Go fetch him!' ordered the father.

"A young Gypsy with a black moustache came in. He was Ciocoteala the Third, Junior's son, and the grandson of Old Uncle Ciocoteala. He was one year younger than his sister Aurelia, who was Junior's eldest child.

“'Bring out the amplifier, and play some music for our guest,' said the father.

"In no time, the backyard filled with children of all ages. They brought out accordions, violins, even a couple of Gypsy dulcimers. Ciocoteala the Third tested his dulcimer by playing a short, seven-note theme, and, before he was finished,  his musical brothers and cousins joined in, bursting into a stormy improvisation, while Angelo watched and listened, having trouble to believe what was happening around him. "

"What a treat!” exclaims the doctor. “To have a show like that put on especially for you - those Swiss audiences must have dug deep into their pockets for something so genuine!".

"Just deep enough for a new bathroom  - hot water not included!" replies Victor, unnerved by Dr Prince's unnecessary comment. "Shall I go on?"

"By all means!" answers the doctor, taking a big gulp of mango blossom.

"About seven songs later, Aurelia came out of the house, dressed in a glittery evening dress, probably purchased from a Swiss bargain basement. She took the microphone and started singing, in a dark, velvety voice. She sang a medley of Gypsy love songs, which, to Angelo, seemed like a Macdonaldised version of the old ballads she must have inherited from her elders. An unpleasant disco beat penetrated Angelo's eardrums: it was the contribution of Ciocoteala the Third, who by now was busily working at a synthesiser."

"Fancy that! All that precious music, flowing down,  generation after generation... only to be raped by teenagers with synthesisers!" cries Dr. Prince. "Sorry about the interruption..."

"I guess that's what Angelo was thinking too. But, on the other hand, how could he not marvel at that voice? At those eyes? At that regal poise? For, beyond the cheap dress, the cheap make-up and the even cheaper earrings, there was something so... aristocratic about the way Aurelia held her head, about the restraint of her gestures, about the faint sparkle of pride in her dark eyes...  And how could he not be touched by that jocular melancholia which had enveloped singer and listener alike, in one single aura. Aurelia's aura:  how appropriate!... Angelo could not help thinking that Aurelia was star material. The kind of material you stumble on once in a lifetime...  If only she had met the right person  to what?... Help me, Dr. Prince!"

"Ugh, ugh", says the doctor, trying to collect his thoughts, "to  guide her - to get her into the right dresses, away from the disco beat, in touch with her old tradition, and most importantly, in touch with her true self!"

"Had Aurelia stumbled across such a person", pursues Victor, "she could’ve been made to shine with all her regal splendour. She could’ve moved the sharpest minds and the coldest souls - like... like... like a postmodern Juliette Greco!"

"I bet your Angelo fancied himself a bit like a postmodern Sartre..."

"No way! I know for a fact that Angelo was a dedicated fan of Boris Vian... To the point that, when he visited the Temple of Literature in Hanoi (another one of his unpredictable escapades!) he had a special prayer written for Vian, in Vietnamese, which he learned by heart and chanted for three mornings in a row. And we all know what Boris Vian thought of Sartre, don't we, Dr. Prince?"

"Of course we do", responds Dr. Prince, half-heartedly.

"Anyway, it wasn't Angelo's business to worry about Aurelia's future - she had

plenty of fathers, grandfathers, brothers and cousins to do that for her! And probably lovers, too! He was only a visitor, a passer-by... and, as such, he was enjoying every moment of his brief encounter with Ciocoteala Junior and his tribe. As he put it, 'It was one of those privileged evenings, one of those rare occasions when you really feel - when you know  - that you are alive.' I guess he felt happy, Dr. Prince, but happiness is a sticky concept, postmodernly speaking, isn't it?"

"I thought happiness was the only concept that meant the same thing, to all people," replies Dr. Prince. “Mind you, I’m not talking about the means to achieve happiness – I’m talking about happiness as a state of mind.”

"I'm afraid you've  got some reading to catch up with, doctor! This very evening, I attended a conference on the epidemiology of happiness, held by one of your American colleagues. He seems convinced that happiness is a psychiatric condition, an M.A.D., as in: ‘Major Affective Disorder’ , and that it  is statistically abnormal. "

" As a member of the profession, I'm highly embarrassed. Please don't take this American guy too seriously..."

"Don't worry, I've never taken you guys seriously, not even when I paid 150 dollars for a single consultation! Anyway, where were we?"

"You were saying that Angelo felt happy."

"Happy and a bit drunk, yes. At some stage he fell asleep. He woke up the next day, at noon. He was wearing someone's pyjamas - judging by the fluorescent Nike logo, they might have belonged to Ciocoteala the Third - and his nostrils were tickled by the familiar aroma of freshly cooked chips. 

"'We've got a busy day ahead, Angelo!', said Aurelia. 

“You can imagine Angelo's surprise. 'I don't think so', he smiled back. 'I'm planning to catch a flight to Frankfurt, at 10 p.m. tonight.'

“'No, you're not', said Aurelia. 'I'm in trouble, and you're the only one who can help me. '

“'How so?'

“'I'm pregnant.'

“'Not by me!'

“'Course not!  Have some chips.'

“He began eating the chips, wondering how to get out of this unsavoury situation, while she started crying, quietly, without wiping her tears or blowing her nose.

“'You see, Angelo,  I'm in love!', she explained.

“'In that case, I don't think you have a problem'.

“'Yes I do.'

“And then she told him about her life and its latest complications. Now that Romania was no longer communist, people from all over the planet could go there as they pleased. Angelo was not the first one who'd bought her grandfather's CD in some fancy shop in the West, and in his enthusiasm had travelled all the way to Plopeni. There had been others. They had come. They had spent their nights in the pink bathroom. They had drunk tzuica  with Ciocoteala Junior. And they had fallen for Aurelia and asked for her hand.

“'One of them was American', she explained, between sighs. 'He drove a rented Mercedes. The other one was French. He drove a rented Peugeot. The last one was German. He drove a Trabant. His own Trabant. He left it here, as up-front payment...'

“'What d'you mean by “up front payment” ?' wondered Angelo.

“'Why, when you want to get yourself a Gypsy bride, you need to make an up-front payment to the father. Us Gypsy girls don't come with dowries! A man needs to work hard and save, if he wants to get himself a Gypsy bride. Now Helmut - that's the guy with the Trabant - he's comin' back  for me, and I... I'm so....'

“'So - what?'

“'So...  pregnant!'

“'By whom?' 

“'How should I know?'”


"My, my!" sighs Doctor Prince. "This is serious stuff indeed! May I have another cup of tea?"

When Victor returns with freshly brewed tea, he asks, "Now, where were we?"

"Inside the pink bathroom."

"Right... So Aurelia asked Angelo to take her to Bucharest and organise an abortion for her. She didn't know the first thing about gynaecologists and where to find them, but surely Angelo, who was a man of the world - a man with American dollars and plastic cards - knew his way around. Angelo refused - not only because he was vaguely Catholic, but also because it was against his principles to get involved. Besides, he had to catch a flight, otherwise he could've been stuck in the pink bathroom for the weekend. But Aurelia insisted. She kept throwing at him that strongest of arguments: that she was in love, madly in love; that her Helmut would be back to marry her, and take her to Berlin; that this was her one and only chance to be the happiest woman in the universe. Now tell me, Dr Prince, how could Angelo keep saying no? How many times in your life do you come across the happiest woman in the universe?"

"Poor devil! So he took her to Bucharest, didn't he? I bet she made him drive the Trabant."

"For once, you're right, doctor...  Only the poor car wouldn't start. It took Ciocoteala the Third three and a half hours to get it going. They tried pushing it up the dirt road, but the engine simply refused to come alive. There were no asphalt roads in the Gypsy slum, so in the end, they had to carry the Trabi all the way to the main road of Plopeni. They all came to lend a hand - more exactly a shoulder: cousins, uncles, brothers, neighbours... As he watched the car being carried by the crowd, Angelo had the feeling that nothing - not even a stuffed engine in a dead Trabant - could stop Aurelia in her determination. The drunk policeman, half-asleep in the middle of the main road, could hardly believe his eyes. Sensing a new opportunity, he came forward and asked for the car’s 'documents', but Angelo put his mind at rest with a green note.

"He finally got into the driver's seat, and Aurelia sat next to him, while the brothers and cousins and neighbours started pushing the Trabant. Like an old heart recovering after a life threatening operation, the engine began timidly to stir. The exhaust gave out its first, subdued fart. Yes, against all odds, the dear little thing was rolling, after all! The crowd began cheering, and somewhere a little boy released seven notes from his accordion,  like a joyful lament.

"They travelled for a while at a speed no greater than forty kilometres an hour. Not just because Angelo was new to the business of driving a Trabant, but also because... unscripted things were happening to him, and there was nothing he cherished more than the feeling of being part of a story with no script. After all, hadn't this been the real reason behind his trip to Plopeni? And all those other flights before that?

"As they passed the fourth or the fifth in a row of unmemorable villages, Aurelia gave out a cry, urging Angelo to stop. Four hundred metres away, beside the poplar-bordered road, stood a forlorn young man - fair, tall, skinny, with a big rucksack on his back, waiting patiently for a car to stop. Angelo stepped on the brake, and Aurelia sprang out of the car, yelling: HELMUT!  HELMUT, MEINE LIEBE! MEINE GROSSE, GROSSE LIEBE!!!  Startled, the young man watched her for a second, then began running in her direction, faster and faster, like a big clumsy  bird ready to take off.  AURELIA! MEIN SCHATZ! he roared, landing in her arms. The impact of the huge rucksack catapulted both of them into the ditch, where they continued their hungry embrace. Angelo looked on. It was the first time that he was watching love - I mean love with a capital L - outside a cinema screen.  The kind of love that comes once in a blue moon. The kind of love that only comes in a Trabant."

Dr Prince furtively wipes a tear. Pity I don't have a camera, thinks Victor.

"Back in the car, the lovebirds sat on the back seat, while Angelo drove back to Plopeni. Aurelia explained to Helmut that she and Angelo had been on their way to Bucharest to check out some wedding dresses. They returned to Ciocoteala's house, where Helmut opened his rucksack and produced little presents for every child, woman and man in Aurelia's street. He gave Ciocoteala Junior a Stetson hat which the prospective father-in-law placed on his head with a solemn gesture: he was now the closest thing to JR Ewing in the village of Plopeni.

"Then... it was back to the manly business of drinking tzuica, while Helmut's gift recipients kept coming to express their gratitude and joy, by way of impromptu musical offerings. Late that night, when the children had fallen asleep and the last neighbour had collapsed under the table, Aurelia appeared in her glittery dress. This time, she sang unaccompanied: no cousins, no amplifiers, no disco beat. Just her voice, filling the void, bringing back to life old ballads she had never bothered learning, for they lived there, in the silence of her protoplasm, in the eternity between her heartbeats. Her voice had lost its velvet quality: it was now ageless and awesome, filled with subdued desperation. Angelo watched Helmut:  he looked happy and oblivious,  almost bovine, in his little cloud of tzuica-induced bliss. He should have been the object of any man's envy...  and yet Angelo could not suppress this strange, deep, irrational pity for the guy...

"Then they went to bed. Angelo insisted that Aurelia and Helmut sleep in the pink bathroom, where they rightfully belonged. 'Where will you  sleep?' she asked, after she finished with her protests. 'On the sofa, in the Trabi. It's such a warm night...'”

"So he spent the night in the Trabant?!" marvels Dr Prince.

"What's so surprising about that?"

"Do you realise the Jungian implications?"

"I don't give a rat's arse about the Jungian implications! I'm just telling you the facts."

"But this could go a long way in explaining why Angelo got so upset at the cinema, watching the pig."

"I should probably remind you that the reason we are here tonight is that you want to know what happened. You'll never be able to grasp a story if you keep analysing every detail. This is a major professional hazard for you, Dr Prince. Now, where were we?"

"Inside the Trabant", replies the doctor sheepishly.

"Inside the Trabant. Right. It took Angelo many hours to fall asleep. He just lay there, listening. Beyond that makeshift car in that makeshift shed, stirred the myriad murmurs of the night. He tried to make them out, one by one, to charter their unchartered territory. A distant accordion, a swearing on the main street. A whisper of passion, a stray dog. A rooster heralding a false dawn. The polyphony of silence: splendid, unsettling, unrepeatable. And, for the second time that night, he thought of that other silence: the silence of her protoplasm, the eternity between her heartbeats.

"He woke up as the Special Breakfast sizzled in the pan, above the gas ring.  She wore a new dress - purple and Indian - a present from Helmut. An Indian queen, with a Trabi for a Taj Mahal, he thought.  She said: 'He knows everything. I told him.'

“'About the baby?'

“'Yes. I told him everything... That he only has a twenty-five per cent chance of being the father. Fifteen per cent, actually...  But he was so wonderful! He didn't care a bit! His love is so strong, he wouldn’t mind if I had ten babies by ten different men!  “Of course, you'll have the baby, and we will love it, and I'll work hard for the three of us”, he told me. Am I the luckiest woman or what?'

“'You certainly are.'

“'Have some chips', she said.

"They sat side by side, on the back seat of the Trabi. 'I'm very happy for you, Aurelia,’ he said after reluctantly swallowing  three mouthfuls of chips. 

“'You know',’ she replied, 'I'm really fortunate that I met him before I met you. Had I met you first, I’d’ve fallen for you and I’d’ve missed my one big chance. Not that you’re not special, cute, and generous!'

“He remained silent, trying to memorise her words, thinking that he would ruminate on them later, in the safety of the Boeing. Then he said: 'I've been meaning to ask you: your family name, Ciocoteala - does it mean anything?'

“'It comes from chocolate - ciocolata.  That's because we're slightly darker than the rest. Makes sense, doesn't it?'

"Helmut drove him to the airport that night. 'I know you wonder why she chose me, over everybody else', he said in his softly-spoken Teutonic English. 'To be honest, so do I. You must be thinking that she deserves better, and I can't agree more... I'll probably have to give up my studies for a while, and drive a taxi. I don't know the first thing about earning money'.

“'What's your line of study?', asked Angelo.

“'Literature. Anthropology. Popular Culture. That kind of stuff.'

“'Taxi driving sounds more lucrative, I agree', said Angelo.  'But you're wrong about my opinion. I think she made the best possible choice.'

“'If you're in Berlin, promise to look us up, will you', said Helmut, handing Angelo his East Berlin address.

"Angelo flew to Frankfurt that night. And then, a few  whiskies later, he was back in the familiar Melbourne winter, amid his essays and theses..."

"Did Angelo  ever go to Berlin?", enquires Dr Prince.

"No, he didn't."

"I wonder why..."

"I guess... there was only a small choice of story-lines from then onwards. The romance of Aurelia and Helmut had lost its unscripted quality. He wasn't terribly keen to see Aurelia pushing a pram in Aleksanderplatz, alone in the crowd, waiting for her prince to finish his taxi rounds... Besides, the Trabi, the very icon of their  love, had to stay in Plopeni:  technically speaking,  it belonged to Ciocoteala Junior, remember? Or... maybe Angelo didn't go to Berlin because he didn't want to confront the unavoidable reality:  that Trabis were fast disappearing off the face of the earth. That they had become undesirable…"




On a clear July night, Doctor Prince is walking down Johnston Street. He pauses in front of each Spanish café, listening  carefully to the music that comes from inside. At a quarter to midnight, the unmistakable notes of La Cumparsita  rise about the noises of the street. His steps become animated by a sense of direction.

Inside a  Latino restaurant, he notices a familiar face, sitting alone at a table, beside a half-empty jug of sangria.  On the empty dance floor, an Argentinian-looking man is doing a tango with an invisible partner. Dr Prince waits for the tango to finish, then gently walks up to Victor's table.

"Good evening! May I sit down?"

"Dr Prince! What a surprise! It's been... almost nine months!" says Victor, caught off-guard.

They order a jug of sangria, watching the Argentinian who, aware of his audience's renewed interest, is now performing an encore.

"I've kept wondering," says Dr Prince, "why Angelo assumed that Aurelia would be pushing a pram, alone in the crowd, in Aleksanderplatz..."

"I guess he’s a realist", replies Victor.

"Maybe she did  become a singer after all... Maybe, even now as we speak, she's mesmerising the clients in one of those chic establishments around Oranienburgerstrasse or Prenzlauerberg, which flaunt their Eastern shabbiness and their Western sophistication... where the trendies of the world hang around, deconstructing the universe over vegetarian curries, to the sounds of ethno beats. Maybe she has become a postmodern Juliette Greco."

"Then how come they don't have her CD at Sister Ray's?" replies Victor, with a half-smile. "By the way, Dr Prince, you seem to know an awful lot about Berlin..."

"I think they're closing for the night", says the doctor. "Can I give you a lift home, Angelo?"

"My name is Victor."

"I'm not referring to the name in your passport."

"How did you work that one out, doctor?"

"Oh, one doesn't need to be a top psychiatrist for that. It's a matter of basic training."


They walk to a small lane, where Dr Prince has parked his car.

"A Trabant!" whispers Victor, feeling a pang in his chest. "You're crazy! You've been all the way to Berlin for that!"

"No, no! I found it in the Trading Post. There's this guy who lives on a farm in Gippsland. He’s selling off. He's collected about thirty - maybe more. I took the liberty of putting down a deposit for you - or should I call it an ‘up-front payment’? -  because I had the feeling they'd go fast."

"I'm... speechless, doctor. I've really underestimated you."

"Not to worry, not to worry! It's a professional hazard. Do you mind giving it a push? The engine's a bit rusty."




By December, a mysterious new "retro" trend emerged on the streets of Melbourne. Little, shabby cars, which seemed to be built of cardboard,  began to be seen in the area around Brunswick, Smith and Johnston Streets. A few weeks later, they consistently started to show up in the suburbs of Albert Park, South Melbourne and even South Yarra. The owner's profile was easy to discern: bo-bo (as in ‘bourgeois Bohemian’), fashion-sensitive, left-wing-ish, consumer of organic foods. The kind of person who'd prefer Havana to Tuscany, the cafe con leche  to the cappuccino.  The cars, of course, had been fitted with new exhaust systems, to make them compliant with anti-pollution regulations.

(Urban anthropologists hypothesised about the trend; lecturers in Cultural Studies analysed and debated it; and university students wrote a substantial number of assignments, essays and theses about it, which kept Victor awfully busy that year.)


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