is a Trabant
"Have you see the movie Black
Cat, White Cat ?" asks Victor.
"I'm afraid I
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
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
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
"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
"A Trabi?!" marvels
"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
"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
"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
"That's what I thought
"You see, Dr Prince,
metaphors are tricky things... Not everyone reads them in the
"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
"What happened to
"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
"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
"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
"Angelo ran out of the
"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..."
"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
"Sorry, Victor, go
"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
"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
"I propose that we stop
"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
"So what will you do
"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
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
"I need to talk to
you", replies the doctor in a sombre voice.
"Yes, yes.... Sure. Come
"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
"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",
"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
"Mango blossom is all I've
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
"Greville Street, Prahran.
Angelo produced the keys to what you thought to be his
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
"'You wonder where I got
the money for all these?' he said, reading my thoughts. 'I
“'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
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's getting dark, Dr Prince.
Would you like me to turn on the light?", enquires
"Actually, a candle would
"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
“'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
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
“'Where would you like me to
sit?' asked Angelo, noticing there were no chairs around.
“'On the sofa, of course!'
“'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
“'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
“'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,
"’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
"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
“'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
"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...to...
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
"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
“'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?'
“'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
"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
"For once, you're right,
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
"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
"So he spent the night in
the Trabant?!" marvels Dr Prince.
"What's so surprising about
"Do you realise the Jungian
"I don't give a rat's arse
about the Jungian implications! I'm just telling you the
"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
“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
“'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
“'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
“'If you're in Berlin, promise to
look us up, will you', said Helmut, handing Angelo his East
"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..."
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
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
about the noises of the street. His steps become animated by a
sense of direction.
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
"Dr Prince! What a
surprise! It's been... almost nine months!" says Victor,
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
"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
"Oh, one doesn't need to be
a top psychiatrist for that. It's a matter of basic
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.
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.)