About the Book
About the Author
The Lawyer and the War Hero. Otto Dix, 1920
My reading of the Jeanrenaud book had been interrupted by sudden sleep
to unsettled dreams of little Hitlers here and bigger Hitlers there. A busy
followed; then halfway through the afternoon I had an appointment with
the aforementioned Dr. LeCluyse. I was kept waiting for half an hour before being
ushered into the presence. A spidery corolla of hairs played around the doctor’s bald
head in the faint light from the half-shuttered window. Hunched forward, not looking
at me, he fidgeted with a glass paperweight containing edelweiss, “Souvenir of
.” A mingled pong of mothballs and deodorants roared out of his oversized suit
when he raised an arm and bade me take a seat.
“You have seen an angel, you say, Mr. Termi?”
The psychiatrist was unctuous, yet patronizing, in the way of his kind.
“Yes. Actually, it’s doctor, doctor. Doctor Termi.”
“Of course. A doctor of...letters?”
“Yes.” I almost apologized.
“And you were recommended by Mr. Gax, the ah journalist?”
I was tiring of this interrogation. I had begun to regret my decision to consult a
psychiatrist, even (or especially) one recommended by Guy Gax, the moment I walked
through the door of Dr. LeCluyse’s richly appointed surgery and realized that at that
instant, even if I promptly turned on my heel and left, I would be seven hundred and
fifty francs the poorer.
He deposited the paperweight on the table and spoke, smilingly.
“Ah yes. Well. What a coincidence, sir. Angels. Tsk-tsk. Tell me: Do you suffer
from the migraine?”
“Ah. Sometimes what we call migraine aura can cause hallucinations, you
see…well, then. Oh, such visions—angels, devils,
entities, and so on—are not
unknown, in fact they’re quite popular these days. Angels are definitely in the wind. You
know, one of my patients maintains that she came upon a naked angel hunkering on his
hams in her bathtub.”
“Ah yes? What bullshit.”
“Precisely. Wishful thinking, eh? But note I use the masculine pronoun, whereas
angels are traditionally presumed to be neuter. Not in this case, oh no. The naked male
figure, the fetal position, the bathtub...need one pursue it any further? I think not.
Besides which, the lady has always claimed to have visions of nude males. Once, as I
recall, while she was watching the skiing silver-medal contests on the television she had
a vision of
, the singer, dressed in a very louche tutu, making
suggestive gestures astride her sofa. No, no, I think we know only too well what lies
down that road. By the way, she is now an outpatient at the Plein-Air clinic, and sings
in a choir in one of the suburban churches.”
“Doctor, the lady in question can be a deep-sea diver or a rugby champion for all
I care. I hardly see the relevance. My vision was in no way sexual, I assure you.”
“Ah, you assure me, do you? And yet, sir. And yet you say—I have my notes right
here—the vision presented itself as a kind of ‘Aryan poster boy;’ a ‘blond youth;’ a
‘young man with long blond hair;’...now I wonder, Mr. Termi, if such
be described as not containing a sexual element.”
The wretch leaned
forward, clearing his throat: ah-HUUUU ammmhem.
“I understand you are unmarried?”
“Yes. However, it may interest you to know that I was on my way to visit a lady
friend when I had the vision,” I said, cravenly. “A lady friend I visit on a weekly basis.”
“How instructive. A forlorn journey of abandoned heterosexuality interrupted by
a sudden vision of the poignantly homosexual truth. The old story, ah I’ve heard it told
a hundred times in a hundred different ways. Although, admittedly, the angel adds a,
shall I say distinctive touch. Incidentally, Mr. Termo, when you were younger, did you
have any especially close friendships with other boys?”
“Not many. One of the few was with Guy Gax, who recommended you, and
whom I’m going to kick from here to Lausanne, as soon as I leave your office.”
I rose and departed stonily, preserving I hoped some small shred of dignity;
after all, it was my money. As I passed through the waiting room on my way out I
overheard the secretary, a porcelain
of a certain age, call out the name of
LeCluyse’s next victim over the speakerphone:
“Mademoiselle Jeanrenaud is here, Doctor. If you’re through with Mr. um.”
I stopped, turned. A lady, laterally lighted by the desk lamp, was sitting on a
sofa on the far side of the waiting room. A couple seconds’ scrutiny confirmed a
resemblance to my memory of the photograph on the back flap of
photograph from which I had been, in an idle moment, trying to tease an identity:
sociable? sapphic? atheistic? good-time gal? bluestocking?
, at least.
I stepped forward, impressive (I hoped) in my
, holding elegant leather
gloves limply in my left hand, like a Belle-Epoque
“Mademoiselle Martine Jeanrenaud?”
“Ah!” I exclaimed. “Aha! It is you, then!”
“It is I, monsieur. And I see it is you, also, whoever you are.”
Not totally unused to being accosted by strange men, then, attractive as she
was, holding her own well: I’d give her, I thought, 40 or so, maybe just this side
thereof. She was cool and appraising, with a half-smile of anticipation on her face, face
cocked slightly to one side like a curious dog; and of course her face in life had the odd
wrinkle that was charitably absent from the photographed, airbrushed version. She was
subtlely clad in maroon tweed that went well with her (as I had surmised) russet hair,
hair a bit fuller than in the photograph. Only in translating to celluloid her round, owlish
glasses had the camera been entirely faithful to the original.
Termi,” I amended, with the pomposity of the forlorn. “I’m
reading your book
We shook hands.
“Oh? You’re in a very small minority, then. Do you like it?”
“Very much. I’m intrigued. Very intrigued. Not only for reasons of history—I’m a
professor of history, by the way, at the College Farel...”
Dr. LeCluyse appeared at the door of his office. He looked back and forth,
disapproval chasing obsequiousness across his face like a pair of battling lizards.
“Never mind him,” I said. “The best he could do was tell me I was homosexual,
which I most emphatically am not. Utter waste of time, Mademoiselle. You’d be better
off having a coffee with me.”
“I think not, Monsieur...Termi? This is a long-standing appointment.”
“Later, then? There are serious points of history I would like to discuss.”
“Oh, dear. What did I get wrong?”
“No, no, it’s not that. It’s more the mystical angle. May I call you, then?”
Flustered, under Dr. LeCluyse’s gimlet eye, she confessed to being “in the
“Thank you, mademoiselle.”
I bowed slightly, tipped an imaginary hat. And called her that evening, after
“Giulia, I’m terribly sorry.”
“Is all right,
“But this is two weeks in a row, my dear Giulietta. I feel I must make it up to
you in some way.”
. You want me, you gimme a call. AO-Kye?”
Fair enough. It was all too characteristic of me—so professorial, some would
say— to sentimentalize a purely economic (and sexual) relationship; yet I did, for Giulia
was an honest, spirited girl of my blood,
, a kissing cousin in all but name.
Then I called Martine. Oddly, in an age of infernal answering machines, she answered in
“Mademoiselle Jeanrenaud?” It’s, etc.
“Ah, my sole reader! I thought I recognized your voice, monsieur.”
Oh, but you underestimate the significance of your work...blablabla. Standard
banalities after that (weather, cost of living, cost of psychoanalysts)—with the brief
exception of, from my end, a barrage of animus directed at Dr. LeCluyse, on whose
behalf she said, “Now, now, he’s helped me through a couple of rough patches”—and in
closing the expected invitation to a drink, or at the very least a cup of coffee
or tea, say mid-afternoon the next day (a Monday)? Mid-afternoon was less
compromising and more businesslike, and there was scant likelihood of awkward
advances amid financial magazines and thunderous cigarette-coughing of the
-sipping elderly and the brisk comings and goings of office workers.
Almost as soon as I hung up, the phone rang again and Guy Gax’s aggressive
baritone barged down the wire.
“Meet me for dinner,” he said, peremptorily. “Lyrique at eight.”
“Now, you’re not going to…”
“Not at all,” he said, with an attempt to inject geniality into his tone of voice.
“No mockery of celestial visions, I promise you. Although I might ask a couple of
questions, purely out of scientific interest. No, I have just a good old-fashioned litany of
complaints, mostly about my ex-wife.”
I had an Italo-Balkan History class at one o’clock and planned to be seated
immediately afterward, or as fast as my bulbous legs could carry me, at a marble table
in the corner next to the newspaper rack at the Caf
de Rive, with in front of me hot tea
in a glass, Russian style. The Rive district is, or was, Geneva’s Little Russia, with such
accents of the Motherland as said tea in a glass, and
’s bookstore, and the
on the Rue Beauvais, just up the way in a quiet
neighborhood of handsome two-story town houses that has something about it even to
this day of
’s Saratov-on-the-Volga, or Tolstoy’s dusty
this was Geneva’s legacy from that doughty bunch of Russian expats (one named Lenin,
, and a third,
, who saluted Geneva as “the Holy City of
Russian thought”) when the world’s worst horror seemed to be inequality, and serfdom,
and starvation, and the Tsar’s Cossacks on horseback. Then those who’d fled returned
in ‘17 and got to work on horrors beyond all imagining, yielding the stage only, and not
much, to Stefanie von Rothenberg’s boyfriend, once he got going….
I arrived early at
the cafe and filled the time waiting for Martine with another visit to the Europe of her
and Stefanie's gods and devils.
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The Expectant Lover. Otto Dix, 1922.
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