Memoir From Antproof Case

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Authors: Mark Helprin
intention was to replicate the era of John Singer Sargent, and they made a very beautiful show.
    Thinking to upstage everyone, as indeed she did, Maria-Bethunia flew to Vallauris to persuade Pablo Picasso to do a life-size portrait of Jack. She was a crazy Brazilian, Picasso liked her, he agreed, and he painted from a photograph. The curator of the show was electrified, and, naturally, gave the Picasso the place of honor. I suppose he was astounded that Picasso had reverted to a realistic style, but for Maria-Bethunia anything was possible. The problem was that it was a life-sized nude, and that Picasso, who was always a little funny, painted everything to the proper proportions except the genitals, which were enlarged to five or six times their normal size and totally erect.
    When the exhibition opened, Jack was in Boston. He flew home after the gallery had closed, and went directly to a reception for the finance minister of the Belgian Congo. Everyone was there, with all the women stealing long glances at Jack. "Jack, was that really you?" one of them asked. Unaware of the nature of Maria-Bethunia's surprise, and assuming that he had been portrayed as in the photograph submitted to Picasso—fully dressed, smiling, with an expression of distinguished amazement and exaggerated respect—he answered, "I must have been thinking of you." He had to leave Stillman and Chase even before I did.
    Like Maria-Bethunia, Marlise is so entrancing as to make the wreckage of a career or a vast change in plans seem like nothing. I promised her. Again, we embraced. The sea and the wind were all around us. And I was happy, for nothing is as beautiful as a promise right after it is made.
    But many a way exists in which to go around a rhinoceros, which leads me to the far more practical subject of why I have written this, for whom, and where it is to be kept.
    The most important reason will come clear to you as you read, but I have also written in protest of the sudden shock I received when I was born, a shock that would be repeated many times during my life—as I was hurled thrice from my physical position in heaven, made to discover that my first wife drank coffee, and far worse. All that I have seen broke my heart so long ago that I think of myself as a kind of museum that no one ever visits. Who would visit? The Brazilians would not quite understand my brand of broken heart. Nor would I expect them to.
    For my part, I do not quite understand their disgusting public dancing and their thoughtless copulation, though I receive an occasional flash or two of the pleasure and the logic, as if I were a gunner in a pillbox who sees through his narrow firing slits the sun glinting on the sea below.
    This country is not for old men, this place of green gems standing in a sapphire necklace of the sea, where flesh crowds upon flesh exactly like mackerel compressed within a net. If only Scotland had not had an extradition treaty, my life would not be perpetually assaulted by bared breasts and rum-injected coconuts (unless, of course, Scotland has changed). I was not constructed to celebrate the senses. I have never been able to celebrate anything. Nor have I wanted to, as celebration has always seemed to me to be the merely mechanical replication of a vital moment that has fled. When the war ended, for example, people danced in the streets and drank coffee. I didn't. I wept for those who had died and the families they left behind, and then I went to sleep. Only the next day did I allow myself to be enlivened by hope.
    You can imagine what it is like for me, then, in a country where, if a fly alights successfully upon a mango, ten thousand dancers take to the streets in delirium and euphoria, a country where a man who wins the lottery spends twice what he has won on a party to celebrate his winnings. They're not Scotsmen, these Brazilians. They know quiet observation only when they're sick, and they cannot ever leave anything unmolested. They

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