Chapter 9

the crystal tight rope



  How could ONE know that trust and love in such a contract of honor implies suspicion and hate? 

One’s trust means that you can give and take all measures

 and one can do just that. 

Yet who can be more savage to pride than one's dearest friend? 

If friendship is a fragile bridge that can be swept away in the flood of human pathos,

then marriage,

 must surely be

a crystal tight rope,

as dangerous to walk on …………………………………as it is to fall off.

  Santiago and Leila had started a pattern in their mutual course, taking each other for granted.  It was the classic problem. 

By the very nature of such confident conspiracy they lost the gentle sensitivity of lovers and the eyes of dreamers.

They no longer saw the potential that in being together they were a complete circle, a whole against the fractions of mediocrity. 

On their path together, small careless words had grown into cruel tangles of mockery. 

Their spirits silently separated. 

For long months, then years, they did not recognize each other because they had not bothered to look.

They lost the trust of their oneness, accepting the condition of their division as prisoners know the bars of the cell block.

They contained each other with toleration.

How difficult it is to laugh at one's own predicament, but some would say, marriage is about having an agreeable tormentor. Having a phantom in your soul is a tormentor no one can agree with…  

music Martina loud

In the back of his mind…she was still there…Martina…damn…damn…Martina…



***Chapter 9

Santiago agreed with Leila.  “Yeah, I guess it's kind of crazy to come all the way to Corsica and find this frig’n hole in the mountain. Here we are in the beautiful Mediterranean living in an old truck surrounded by stinking goats.  Ah, but on the good side of things there doesn't seem to be any overcrowding - lots of privacy unless you don't like goats.”  He no longer felt like arguing.  Maybe Leila was right, but his failure silently steamed.

  The decision was made to leave Santiago's accumulation of junk and return to Ajaccio.  Leila said they could take Charlotte's offer who WAS RFAPIDILY REPLAING MARTINA  … stay with her until they found a house.  Perhaps Tara could start school.  It would help to have a base and then they could begin to look for work. 

  Leila repeated, “You have to think of someone other than yourself Santiago.  You have to think of your daughter for once.”

  The easiest thing to do at this point was to agree. Santiago wanted peace.  He was giving up the idea of living in the Land Ship but felt it was also his last chance of living a Gypsy dream and leaving all of his nightmares behind.  He thought to himself, God damn it -- always the fucking crossroads. He clamped his hands on the steering wheel and pointed the truck back up to goat track.  As the Land Ship climbed out of the hole …THE sound of crashing glass was an accompanying miserable melody. 

“Jesus Christ. My dishes!” screamed Leila. 

Something else would replace the pain she suffered this moment.  She didn't have to wait long.  Within 4 hours Leila fell to Les Gripe.

  In Ajaccio they went directly to Charlotte's where Leila came down with the bug.  Santiago was the donor.  She was bound to bed with fever as desperately ill as Santiago had been.  For three days she drifted in and out of cold sweats in a darkened room on the second floor at the corner of Ajaccio's busiest intersection.  The noise of the traffic vibrated through the closed shutters and banged mercilessly at her mind. 

  Occasionally Santiago would look in and ask, “Have you died yet Sweetheart?”

  While Leila was in bed, Santiago and Charlotte were drawn together with only the space of circumstance between them. Lust was pulsing. Tara being there made it too awkward to take the sensations any further than conscious recognition.  They used the time to penetrate each other intellectually… in the best manner of Freudian sublimation. They talked about art and what an artist has to be; the struggle to make a living selling something that has no practical use except for the imagination.


 Charlotte said, “There is money to make in Ajaccio doing large murals!”

 Santiago raised his eyebrows.  He had been looking at a wall across the street from where they were sitting in the Cafe Ajaccio. 

The waiters looked at SantiagoWasn't he the Queer they had seen stalking the men’s toilets? And what now?  Here he was talking to the woman, who of course everybody knew was a notorious man eater.  Very interesting...

 Santiago looked at their wayward glances but his thoughts were filled with the wall he could see across the street.

It was a long wooden wall, a construction barrier made of eight foot upright planks running the full length of the town plaza.  It surrounded an excavation site which in the future would be in underground parking lot.

Santiago pointed towards the plaza and said, “There is a wall.”

“C'est bon,” Charlotte said smiling.  “I think we can do it. C'est magnific, but of course we need a plan.”

The idea was a good device to keep them together until the early hours of the next morning, long after the rest of the small Corsican world had gone to sleep.  Two People's words could be passed quietly through curious lips.

The bed Leila was in squeaked with the noise of her restlessly tossing in her solitary suffering.  Fevered thoughts kept asking, Where was that man?  The bed was wet from sweat.  There was nothing to do but wait and groan. Minutes were hours.

Santiago came in just before dawn light.  He tried to make her comfortable but there was little he could do. He had lived through it and so would she but telling her that brought no comfort.  She groaned and put her head under the pillow to block out further medical analysis.



During the daytime, Santiago would take Tara on walks through the town. 

 Santiago told Tara they could play being tourists by looking in shop windows. 

They stared at incredibly expensive trinkets and rags displayed like eye hooks for gulping consumption. Santiago refused to think about the purchase of any of these objects, but the little girl couldn't understand.  She wanted them. Her little life had been deprived of any such gaudy luxuries.  

“Daddy look at the coat, it's so beautiful.”

Santiago could see the desire in her eyes.

It hurt him to know there was no way possible to have any of the things she was looking at even if he did consider it all as capitalist consumer junk plot.

He deterred his own thoughts and her demands by inventing games of make believe, tricking her from window to window until in the process they came across a toy store. Tara begged to go inside just to look at them. Santiago gave in to her pleading. Once inside Tara instantly fell in love with a horrible plastic doll and insisted on having it. 

Santiago grabbed the toy from her hands.  “I said no and no means no.”

With tears in her eyes, he took her by the hand and pulled her down the street to a sweet shop.  He put two francs in her hand and told her she could buy something special.  Tara's eyes opened wide and her beautiful child smile swept away the sadness.  The doll was forgotten.


Charlotte was sitting at the Cafe Ajaccio when Santiago and Tara returned.  Sitting next or her was a mustachioed man with a pipe hanging from his face.

Charlotte introduced him.  “Santiago this is Felix Rodin, the Arts Officer for Corsica. He is part of the Ministry of Culture of France.”

Santiago saw a sly wink from Charlotte.  The man gave Santiago a broad strong hand and with a pipe still clinched in his yellowed teeth, smiled.

Charlotte began telling Felix the story of the two talented artists she had recently met. “You can help them get something together.  Your department has money.  Corsica needs this kind of stimulus.  There is no one here that does their kind of work.  There are places all over the city that need art.”

Felix rocked back in the metal chair and locked his fingers together around a raised knee as he launched his defense. “Bon alors,” he said beginning a bureaucratic monologue in French. 

 “It is difficult to put ideas forward. Problems, problems… the nationalists… the socialist… of course the communists. The city government is worse... naturally there are always the fanatics of the F.L.N.C. and they are trouble you can believe me.  Let me tell you, they can be dangerous too.  I do not think it is a safe notion to put foreign artists under such risk.  Yes always problems…  Charlotte you know Corsica is a very special place...”

Santiago did not have the slightest idea of what they were talking about other than to assume it was to do with him and art. The sound of the man even in a language he did not understand had the droning a tone of electrical tubing in the house of babble.

Charlotte pleaded, “But Felix you know very well that the F. L. N. C. only direct activities towards the French or capitalist pigs who want to drain the island of its blood. Certainly, sometimes they execute drug dealers or child molesters, but they have no interest in artists --especially artists like these people who want to give something to Corsica.”

Felix slapped his flat hand on the table making the coffee cups dance on their saucers. “Yes, yes, but there is very little I can personally do!  You must realize it is my duty to support Corsican artists first.  It would be a tremendous scandal and there is even more to it than that of course. Yes, let me tell you!  Just last week I had a bomb go off in my stairwell and where do you think but in front of my own door!  Naturally they are trying to scare me. It even happens at work.  Two of my own co-workers are nationalists and for sure you know they are F. L. N. C., and I tell you, they block everything I try to do.  Seventeen years I have been on this island and I am still French to them. I cannot move with any certainty in my job…c’est tous merde!”

Santiago understood the last exclamation and began to get interested in an argument which promised soon to be a fight.

Charlotte tapped both of her hands on to the table drumming in unison with bullet words. Her voice became agitated.  “But Felix you had 300,000 Francs last year, and you did nothing with it.  “Yes it is all MERDE for certain!”

“Whoa,” said Santiago.

“My hands were tied,” pleaded Felix. 

“Stick them up your ass,” shouted Charlotte grabbing the edge of the table.  “you did nothing with the money.  You gave it back to the government! ”

Santiago looked at Charlotte thinking any moment the table would be thrown over like a cowboy bar fight.  He began to smile thinking; this is the way to deal with bureaucrats. 

Felix suddenly leaned over the table, his forehead tipped aggressively. “There you are!  You think I did nothing.  I tell you I couldn't move.  The Corsicans are the ones to be blamed.  I was waiting for a favorable proposal and what do I get?  Nothing!  I get nothing.  No one presented me any idea that was worth presenting to the Ministry.  Not one!  Not one Corsican artist came up with one idea...”

“AbsoluteMONT MERDE!”  Charlotte's knuckles were turning white beating her hands on the table and Santiago grabbed the cups as they bounced towards the edge.  She continued, “But there were several proposals that we sent you from the Association.  And you big fat arts officer didn't even look at them!  We had many ideas!” 

 Charlotte's voice was drowned by the heavier base tone of Felix as he protested, “No, no, no!  I could not put forth any of those.  None were from a Corsican artists...everyone in your Association is from the mainland. You know very well the situation and I am in.  My hands are tied. I am blocked left and right.”

Santiago had never been in the middle of a Mediterranean confrontation. The hair on the back of his neck tingled.  He continued smiling even though it was becoming slightly embarrassing.  He looked around the cafe and saw that no one was paying the slightest attention to the spectacle.


Felix wrinkled his face, “Maybe the Communists mayor of Sartene can help.  They like to support, yes, what you call public art...”

“What!”  Charlotte screamed and then banged the coffee cups into the air again.  “You mean if very talented artists arrive in Ajaccio by the hand of fate we should send them to another town? That is incredible.”

Felix began to smile, “Okay, really what can I do?  You tell me just what.  Believe me; I know they are worth having, and I personally support the idea of having, what do you call it… these kinds of catalysts from the professional fields. Yes, for example just last year I brought the Italian sculptor Giovanni.”

“Ah yes, to the top of the mountain so he could crack one big rock that no one will ever see and no one has even heard about. You make art experiments so completely public and so completely safe!”

Felix arched his back while taking the pipe out of his mouth, “But you know he is a very important minimal sculptor and he is internationally known.  He has sculptures in New York City.”

“Yes and the pigeons CRAP on it. Fantastic Felix, you have such extraordinary vision and courage.”

  Felix looked foolishly towards Santiago. “Really, I am blocked. What can I do?  I would like to help some way if only you could tell me...”

Charlotte grabbed the sleeve of Felix's Chinese worker’s jacket and said smiling, “We can help them in another way you know. “

Felix tilted his head.  “How is that?”  He put his pipe back in its orifice and walked his fingers around his crossed right knee again. 

Santiago noticed he was going into a fetal position. Charlotte flashed the slightest smile to Santiago but he still did not have a clue what was happening. 

She continued, “Santiago and his wife need a place to work and a place to live -- probably only for a couple of months.  They can work in my studio -- as for a house, you have a house you don't use.”

Felix let his hands fall to his side like heavy plucked chickens. “But naturally, it is no problem.  They can have my house, it is theirs today.”

Charlotte smiled the sweetest of smiles. “Fantastic.”


The next day Santiago was in a mood.  He didn't like the idea of the free house.  Leila pulled herself out of the sick bed. He told her of the episode in the cafe.

Santiago said, “I don't know. I don't want to get into that kind of compromise.”

Leila was in a bad mood.  Santiago's words irritated her more.  She countered, “At least it would be worth time to look at.  It sounds nice in the country.  Ajaccio is so noisy.”  She actually didn't care where the house was or what it was like.  She did not want to live in a rolling tin can.  The Land Ship could sink to hell.

Santiago protested, “It would be different if we could pay rent.  Then we could at least imagine it was ours from month-to-month.”

“Oh do what you want,” said Leila. She went back to bed more depressed than sick with the flu.

In the process of several house changes, Santiago and Leila had made arrangements with people sharing expenses or working for rent such as care taking or other progressions of communal living.  The deals had never worked out.  The last house they shared with a friend had concluded in a fistfight. Leila said it was Santiago's fault because of his bullheaded attitude and noisy machinery.  In another large mansion they rented a room from an eccentric English scientist. After only a week, a note was pushed under their door. It read: Vacate immediately. You are not compatible. Leila was very angry because it was a lovely house.  She held a grudge towards Santiago, not the scientist.

The grudge was carried from one eviction to another. Santiago had no need to go through the process again.  Their life was too crazy and something was bound to happen.  It always did.  This kind of free house was a premeditated disaster.  On the other hand Leila was hell to live with and especially in the eight by sixteen foot box on the back of the truck.  Santiago didn't know what to do.


 “Santiago,” Leila yelled from Charlotte’s temporary bedroom.  “Come here I want to talk.” 

Santiago came in immediately, guilty, feeling caught by the tone of her voice.  Had she heard the whispering of the night before?

“I'm not going to live in the truck!  You can if you want, but I want a house.  I want a normal house with a kitchen and bedrooms. I do not want to live in the shoe box. Do you understand?”

Santiago almost felt relieved.  He sat for a moment saying nothing wondering if the house was all there was to it.

 “Well?”  Demanded Leila.

She was impossible, he thought. “Okay, we might as well look at it...I guess it won't hurt.”

“Fine,” Leila said sinking back into the sweaty pillow.


Charlotte made arrangements to visit the house a few days later.  They piled into the Land Ship and drove over the foothills of Ajaccio and into the next valley.  Charlotte directed the way to The Gulf of Lava.  They soon had to leave the main road, going down a trenched rut, nearly as bad as the goat trail they had found earlier in the mountains.  Santiago was morose. The view he saw was a deserted and burned land from fires that had raged the year before.  Leila was rapidly losing confidence.

“I think it's up this road,” Charlotte said pointing at the two tire tracks wandering off into the maquis.

Santiago aimed the Land Ship up the hill, following the vague impressions in the earth.  “Oh CRAP,” he cursed as they went over crest and down a deep embankment surrounded by blackened chestnut trees.  As they bumped over a ridge he uttered the hippie ultimate, “Wow!  Far out.”

There under the shade of an ancient chestnut tree was a beautiful stone house with large glass windows.  It was a dream house.

“Far Frig’n out,” Santiago said.  He was impressed.

“Lovely,” Leila said smiling. 

“It is more fantastic inside,” purred Charlotte. “We have had some incredible celebrations here.”

“Frig’n great!  Let's party!"  Santiago yelled.

 “Oh no!  What next?” said Leila.

 In an instant both Santiago and Leila accepted the idea of the house, ingested it and saw the ultimate fate.


Santiago couldn't believe it was possible.  There had to be a catch.  That evening he went with Charlotte to have supper at Felix's town apartment.  Leila was feeling rough again and she preferred to stay in bed.  She would keep Tara with her.  Santiago was happy to be out for the night, a chance to be alone for awhile with Charlotte.  There was only the meeting to get through.

 Charlotte was hyper as she drove her beat-up Renault on a crash course through Ajaccio, zipping up into the hills overlooking the city.  “Don't worry about the house,” she said to Santiago.  “Felix is really a nice guy, and you know there is no problem anyway, because he never uses his country house -- you'll probably never see him.”

“How come he doesn't use the house?”  Santiago asked.

“I think it is some...what you call some kind of psychological thing.  He worked on the house for 15 years, for him and his family to move into and what you think happened?”  Charlotte laughed.

“What?”  Santiago asked as paranoia surfaced

 “So completely mad. The day he put the last work on the house his wife ran off with a Corsican fishermen. Complete French madness.”  Charlotte laughed again as she gunned the car up and through the tree-lined curves. “Don't worry! I think you'll never see Felix there because he hates the place.”

 “I bet,” said Santiago looking at Charlotte's face and wishing they could go somewhere else.  He kept looking at lonely side roads as Charlotte laughed and teased him with a smile. The fifteen minute journey was side-tracked for an hour.


Felix welcomed them at the door of his apartment and in a half an hour and Santiago was already on his fourth glass of hard Corsican peasant wine.

  Charlotte and Felix did all the talking while Santiago set like a dried insect caught in the hot tubes of an ancient radio.  Felix had a teenage son and daughter and occasionally one of them would try out their school English on Santiago, then blush with the attempt. Santiago smiled and chatted back to them feeling slightly more comfortable.

Felix's voice was in a bureaucratic tone while Charlotte flicked glances at Santiago, her eyes telling him, don't worry.  After several hours of talk, plates of pasta and chicken and several bottles of wine, Santiago wasn't worried. He was feeling like a laughing Buddha.

Suddenly the sound of Felix came to stop.  Santiago thought he could hear buzzing in the room.  Felix put his hands on his knees and with his after dinner pipe clinched in his teeth, he jutted his chin towards Santiago and said, “Quesque tu ponce?”

“Huh? Ah, what did you say?”  Santiago looked helplessly towards Charlotte.

“He said he wants you to take the house and what do you think?”  Charlotte translated shaking her head positively.

“Oh,” Santiago said, drunk enough to have forgotten why they were there. “Oh yeah, but as well, tell him that me and Leila need some time to think it over... we always like to have lots of our friends come and stay with us... and what's more... that big old truck of mine will tear the hell out of his little road... and anyway I got all this noisy machinery and stuff which usually drives people fucking crazy.”  Santiago smiled.

Charlotte spoke rapidly for a moment. She then smiled at Santiago and fired her 20th cigarette.

 Felix made expansive gestures with his fat hands and kept repeating the first French phrase Santiago came to understand in its full irony, “Pas de probleme.” Finally he stopped, stood up and held out of his hand smiling.

“Superb,” said Charlotte as she went and got their jackets.

In a minute they were hugging on their way back to the Renault. Charlotte was laughing while Santiago was kissing her fondly on the neck and face.  They stumbled across the street to the car where Santiago's suddenly spun Charlotte around into his arms and kissed her wetly on the mouth.

Charlotte pushed Santiago away, but smiled coquettishly. “Santiago you are going to be in big trouble.” 

They got into the car and started back to Charlotte's apartment.

Santiago's head was fuzzy from all of the wine.  The kiss to Charlotte made him want to continue in another direction, but soberness began to come over him.  He wondered what the evening had been about other than the small detour.

“What was it,” he said, “I mean what's going on... does he really want us to move into the house?”  Santiago wondered if the idea of Corsica made any sense.  Now that they had a house, he wasn't really sure he wanted it.

“It is your house to do what you want to do until March,” said Charlotte

“Really?”  Santiago distrusted charity more than ever. 

“Pas de probleme!”  Charlotte said as the car shot into space.

The problem for Santiago was how they could spend the rest of the evening together.



In a week the family was set up in the country home and Leila was actually smiling.  Day by day their life was taking focus, due to the manipulations of Charlotte.  She had been busy. 

On an arranged day they were altogether sitting in the office of Madame Franccioni, the Chairwoman of the City Council and the Ajaccio's cultural coordinator.  She was a charming Corsican version of Zza Zza Gabor, complete with clinking jewelry and the waft of expensive perfume. Hidden lines of distinguished wrinkles were under layers of pink powder.  Her cheeks only hinted old-age-droop. Madame Franccioni in her youth had been a natural beauty but now she was fortified in cosmetic maintenance. The rumor was she was at least seventy years old.  She was famous for her affairs with distinguished men.  Santiago noticed her bedroom eyes above hands dotted with liver spots.  For an old broad she wasn't bad, he thought. Hmmmm…Maybe martina looks like her now…

Tara set on her father's knee being innocently beauty. Santiago disappeared inside his own head thinking how sex would be with an older woman.  He remembered Charlotte had told him to smile as often as possible for Madame Franccioni.  Male adulation was part of her bribery.  He flashed a smile.

Madame Franccioni although appearing to be listening to Charlotte gently turned and batted her long attached eyelashes for Santiago.  He grinned Cheshire cats and fumbled with the photo journal of their art work which was lying on her desk.  An embarrassment rapidly covered his face half due to his ignorance of French -- not knowing what to say while the other half was the awkward revelation of the ridiculous comedy in front of him. Santiago was not accustomed to a glamorous elderly official and the subtlety of French public sexuality.

Within 30 minutes the quartet of beggars had found the bone at the great ladies door. As they walked to the Cafe Ajaccio to celebrate Charlotte said, “I think it is for certain you have work now! The Madame was very charmed with your smile.”

“At least he kept his tongue quiet for a while,” Leila said.

“Mais oui, the strong silent stranger,” laughed Charlotte.  “But you know all the good luck comes from Tara's lovely red hair and freckles. C'est vrai, the Madame was very charmed.”


Madame Franccioni had political punch in her diamond-ringed fingers. The next afternoon permission was obtained from the mayor's office to paint the boards and surrounding the Central Square, Place de Gaulle.  That was the good news.  The bad news was the city would give only enough money to buy the paint.  No wages and no fee.

  "Merde! Maybe something else will come."  Charlotte equivocated.

"Yeah, like they'll let us paint all the lines on the highways for free too, but they will supply the paint."  Santiago said.

"Oo la la. You are so... how do you say...skeptical?"

"Yeah, it means a sucker is born everyday." 

Santiago and Leila looked at each other and both of them thinking, what else was there to do?

18 days until Christmas…

The next day the three artists began planning the mural. The work came together in the oddest three-way balance -- two up-tight liberated feminists  and one old-fashioned macho chauvinist  trying to hang on to his balls.  It was an artistic combination one could not ignore.  The women were attractive and intelligent and the man was a crazy dreamer.  All three had the magic ingredient - a mysterious thing some people call talent.


Talent.  The word talent means nothing at all.  Having talent does not create or define an artist. It is the same to say if one has a sword; one must be a warrior -- to imply there is no importance of the razor edge of decision, the balance of a thrust, or the movement in dance that guides the sword to its mark.  But the talent that held the strange trio together was there.  Perhaps it was coincidence that had brought them together, and only by accident they collaborated.  One thing is certain -- not one of them could accept a dull reality.  They would rather leap off a precipice and die than to stand at its edge and worry if they might fall. Talent is the magic thing that is the difference between genius and mediocrity.


Over the next few weeks the three of them organized designed and began the actual work on to the wall.  It was an uncomplicated plan, one that Santiago and Leila had done in variations many times before.  To Charlotte it was an adventure, but it would turn into hard work.  Words had to be backed up with physical labor and that was excruciating for her.


The wall was a wooden partition made of Corsican pine.  It surrounded a pit that had been excavated in the heart of the Ajaccio. Originally the city square was called the Place Diamond, but with the victory in the political career of the famous general it had been renamed Place de Gaulle.  In true Corsican obstinacy most Ajaccions continued to call it by the former name.  Now the square was sunk 20 meters into the ground and filled with the activities of ant-like men and concrete mixing machines.  The authorities said it was to be an underground parking space. It was the French thing to do -- retaining the beauty of an open town square.  Santiago believed it was paranoia in the nuclear age and the city masters were constructing themselves a convenient bomb shelter.

 The wooden fence kept innocent onlookers from tumbling into the pit although its presence was served best in the early hours of the morning.  Midnight literary artists found this large wall the most ideal space to spray their poetry and party aspirations.  LIBERTY -- F.L.N.C. -- EQUALITY -- merde les FRANCE.  The slogans were usually painted on top of posters advertising rock concerts or washing machine sales.  The City cleansing department facilitated this exercise in generous corporation by continually pulling off shreds of paper and repainting the surface a natural wood tone and thereby providing a new blank surface. This allowed the next onslaught of words and symbols to be radiantly obvious until a few days later when once again the blank surface would be buried by an avalanche of new posters and obscenities.

The carpenters who had made this civil defense unconsciously benefited public curiosity by their economy of wood.  Large gaps big enough to allow huge rats and small cats to pass through also gave a fair space for the questioning eye.  The wall was a monster picket fence -- not a wall any artist would consider a perfect paint surface.

Santiago looked at the 100 meters of splintered wood and wondered what in the hell he had got himself into.  He hardly felt like Rembrandt with this ragged canvas that was mutilated by public vulgarity and sliced by fingers of space.  But it was a wall and that meant to there was work to do, and he had no better answer than the cliché of the mountain climber -- because it is there.

   "Stop being so pompous," Leila said.


   The three artists talked at length about how the project should be handled.  Charlotte had ideas of getting other artists involved, each having an individual space and painting in their own fashion.  There was no argument against it from Santiago even though the suggestion revolted him. California-hippie-buses came to Santiago’s mind.  But why worry?  What other artists would be crazy enough to volunteer over the split planks?

  "Look all I want to do is transform the whole thing -- that ugly hag of a wall will become a beautiful lady," he said.


Santiago buried himself in the sunny lastdays of November and December in the dusty coffin shaped kitchen of Charlotte’s studio.  He was grinding wood with his screaming-devil-machine again. The two women visited schools and organized parties of little children to help paint the mural.

   The design on the long thin wall would stretch across the entire Plaza.  It would portray Corsican people from the past to the future.  Background landscapes would be painted directly onto the wooden planks while the images of people were painted on separate shaped panels and superimposed across the scenery. The ragged canvass would be sewed together.

 There was one large problem to the solution.  It meant finding huge amount of milled lumber, cutting and painting all of the separate shapes on the budget of nothing.

   "Everything is possible," Charlotte said.  She had the conviction of a child dreaming.  "We have weeks.  It will be finished by the 23rd  December. Pas de problem."


The days were like torture for all three -- awful days of machine dust filling the studio -- Santiago cursing what he put himself into -- Leila cursing having to work with another woman -- Charlotte cursing having to work at all.

   Santiago felt like he was back in combat -- the electric monster held in his hand was a machine gun, and his trigger-finger chewed away the wood. Dust seeped everywhere, under doors, down halls, any into the adjacent apartments of people who could care less about art -- pieces of wood were piled in every corner of the studio – painted sections were scattered over work tables -- stacks of completed boards would soon be attached to the fence. 

The final days came and they overshot the December deadline they had imposed on themselves -- just a few days until Christmas and the release of schoolchildren – children that had to be organized at the fence – the fence that would become a mural – a masterpiece that Santiago knew was his calling card.

Suddenly one-hundred children were at the site -- all of them wanted to paint at the same time.  In front of the children’s eyes, Santiago ran with a can of black spray paint hurriedly adding outlines to a larger-than-life coloring book. 

Leila rolled up her sleeves and pulled the small hands out of the paint pots.  Charlotte abandoned the chaos, crossed the street to Café Ajaccio, smoked cigarettes and talked about the meaning of art. 

The creative holocaust continued for several hours until finally the school teachers marched the children away like army-ants.  The wall was now a mural.


The three artists came together on the last day, Christmas Eve. They were silent, intent, brooding and ignoring each other while smashing paintbrushes and hammers against a wooden wall as if to inflict pain on images overlapped in naiveté and sophistication. 

There were moments in these last few hours when it would seem that each found in the work something unique and beautiful, but suddenly it would turn and became monstrous -- grotesque images created by nasty little children.  The mural became a Frankenstein.  The three each separately wished to runaway and forget it had ever happened.  Then out of the streets of Ajaccio strangers and friends arrived and told them it was a magnificent work of art. They said it was a wonderful mural and in the spirit of Christmas.  The three artists had mutual skepticism of such praise. It was the twilight of  Christmas Eve when the three put their final touches to the wall.  It was finished. 

Santiago, Leila and Charlotte stood in front of the colorful mural and laughed at a Polaroid photo an admirer had given them.  It showed them in the midst of one of their worst arguments.  Problems, blood and angry words spilled across their mixed up lives and more than once the making of the mural was the creation of fury.  It was all too evident in the photograph, but now they could laugh.  It was done and better, it was adopted in the last days of its birth by the people of Ajaccio.  The people's identity was fixed to it.  250 children had splattered paint on this public work of art.  The newspapers, the television, even the radio had proclaimed positive sentiments.  Who would dare say their children's art was ugly?  The three artists had a very different thoughts about what they had just created, but Santiago’s calling card was presented to Corsica.


Christmas is the time of year when life bubbles over the plot of one's own particular circumstances but it is more subtle on a Catholic island in the Mediterranean.  The small towns of the island are far away from the crushed velvet darkness of British snob stores like Harrods, or the glass and plastic Mall-America of manic consumerism. 20th century shopping speedways had not yet arrived in Corsica

In Corsica the merchants of mass-materialism are as ubiquitous as the flowers in the maquis. Yet in some way the birth of Jesus and the joy of giving are still a human story in Corsica.  On this island people walk around and smile at Christmas time.  They are sharing an ancient ritual. The Catholic Church has something to do with this fact but not in a religious sense.  Simply, people gather as though it is a party for friends.  The church is a family salon. 

Christmas is gentle in Corsica. Maybe it is because the food is good, the wine is drinkable and a warm sun allows people to walk slowly in the street.  There is no reason to hurry from the cold winds that pull people's faces tight in the far northern lands. On a December day one may linger at sidewalk cafes and sip bitter black coffee while feeling that the eye of God beam on their cheek.  It is comfortable.  In the daylight hours the people find many friends on the street.  They talk of pleasant diversions.  It is too difficult to think of the great purchase marathon.  No, it is better to spend your time to talk, to be alive.


Santiago and Leila gathered in the scattered paintbrushes, the half-empty paint tins and took a long last look at the mural stretching 300 hundred feet into the darkness of the evening.  Charlotte had gone off to take a shower and they were to meet her again in a few minutes at Cafe Ajaccio. 

It was Christmas Eve, four days past the schedule Charlotte said they would make.  But now the mural was completed and before them stood long painted picture with dozens of sculpted figures dancing in the light of the street lamps.

"It doesn't look so bad," Santiago said.  He knew he was not entirely responsible for the mural, yet inwardly he knew it was his doing and he was proud of it.  There were a few loose ends and some parts unbalanced.  "But Charlotte and her frig’n blue sky in the middle of the orange landscape."  He knew it was the best they could do in a few weeks with no money.  His eyes swept down the band of color looking for rough or lost rhythms, ticks of broken brushstrokes or other amateurish mistakes.  When he saw them he would wince.  The work was not perfect but they were at the end of time -- they all had agreed to stop on Christmas Eve no matter how it looked.

"I don't know why Charlotte put that blue there," Leila said.

"Yeah, very French -- kind of Van Gogh in cornfields."  Once again he found himself switching positions and defending Charlotte even though he agreed with Leila. 

Several times over the last six weeks he had been caught between the little wars of Charlotte and Leila.  Unconsciously he would slip to the side of Charlotte usually feeling what she said made sense.  Leila greeted such wavering allegiance as treason. By consequence Santiago would be given cold Scottish shoulders at bed time and silence in the morning.  Then a day later the balance would swing in their three-way confederacy.  Leila would discover Charlotte backing her up in an argument with Santiago about some detail of color or composition.  Santiago didn't stand a chance under their combined assaults. He had no choice but to raise a flag of truce and agree to their demand of tribute.  He would become sullen which would make the two women tug at his ears and remark how handsome he was while dragging him across the street for a drink at the cafe Ajaccio.

They were like children full of bravado and excited hearts that bled too easily.  They wounded each other by the small darts they shot.  It was a love-hate game and tolerated each other with alternate spasms of jealousy and liberty.  The little girl was at the center of their rolling lives. Tara was the innocent observer who kept the trio in their respectful roles. Santiago and Leila, stayed the parents while Charlotte was like an angelic Auntie.  But if Tara had not been there, the intrigue of coupling and lust would have been predictable. The only question was who would couple with whom. Leila was warmed by Charlotte's heat as much as Santiago.


The clock did its work. It took them through a French Christmas Eve dinner party.  They slurped down delicious slippery oysters while breathing in the succulent aroma of Corsican wild boar.  Empty bottles of hearty Corsican red wine and delicate French champagne stood on the table.  They had young hearts and laughed at the stories of Corsican bandit tales.  Charlotte came in and out of the room directing her current lover how to coordinate the meal while improvising seduction on a man standing in line, waiting to be chosen.  A new game plan was being designed in front of everybody's eyes.  Charlotte had no embarrassment in switching lovers.

"It is better to end a love-affair while it is alive than breathing the foul air of decay," Charlotte said.  She looked across the table at her next conquest standing in the doorway. In front of one lover she was running to the arms of his replacement.  It was very French.  But like all simple stories there are always the underlying complications. 

Nothing is free, especially freedom.  Charlotte was on the downhill slope to forty and the lover she was ditching was nearly twenty years her junior.  She understood his fickle youth and knew it was better to end the romance than suffering his ultimate boredom.  Besides, it was far more dramatic to make the first move, to not lose dignity.  She knew that an older woman holds a young man's roving eye best in the dim candlelight and satin sheets of midnight.  The light of dawn was coming and the spell would soon be over.  Charlotte would not be caught in that moment.  The act of the beheading her lover was as quick as the guillotine. 

By New Year’s Eve, Charlotte had made the transition and her love bed was being made for the stand-in.  He was a quiet man – his friends called him the Silence.  He did nothing to bend the patterns of the trio.  Charlotte was unaware of his presence unless she needed a light for her cigarette.

The trio accompanied with the Silence were invited to a New Year party in the villa of a wealthy art patron. It was on the Bay of Ajaccio, an Italian style mansion on a rich hump of land half circled with palm lined shore shores.  Below the south veranda was the large walled estate of an American rock star that died at the height of his career.  Jim Morrison was dead but they were all alive, drunk, and dancing.  Charlotte was dangerous and distracted.  The young lover she had rejected was sitting in the library having a very cozy chat with a very young and very beautiful creature.  Her young erect nipples were pointed up on her fine silk blouse.  Charlotte fired missile-eyed hostility into the corner where they sat.

Santiago found the whiskey and was losing himself in its warm wash.  The host of the party was content to pour the burning liquid and joined Santiago on the journey down stream. 

Leila had found Jean Simon and they were doing dance acrobatics to a bumping disco beats while other French couples around the room danced stiff slow motion to avoid sweating in their expensive clothes. 

Tara and other small children had been sent off with a professional nanny to the games-room and they were happily watching the antiques of a heavy metal band making obscene movements on a television special.  The children laughed. The painted black and white masks of KISS looked like clowns to them.

The night swirled and suddenly it was New Year.  Everybody kissed.  Leila went to the children's room and found Tara wrapped in the power of sleep.  She bent over her little angel and kissed her gently on the forehead. 

Santiago was in the kitchen holding Charlotte drunkenly in his arms. "What you need is a crazy man -- give me a little chaos with your lips."

Charlotte poured liquid laugh over Santiago but her eye's caught the last glimpse of her rejected love slipping out the back door with the young erect nipples. The Silence looked on with total devotion to the woman who hardly knew he was there. Across the bay fireworks exploded reflections on to black Mediterranean waters.