Surely we’ve met before! I am Alexander Wainwright, landscape painter in London.
I must tell you about a very strange event occurring at a cafe in San Marco Piazza in Venice. In fact, my story may give you chills as it did me. Some of you may read my story and think it nonsensical. Others will immediately be seized with that sense of spirituality which drives us to create.
I happened to pass Café Florian, reputed to be the oldest café in Europe. It would be very pleasant, I thought, to sit down with an espresso and sketch a few drawings for my next project. As an artist, I’m always in pursuit of the muse. I thought I just might find her here. After all, inspiration and a sense of spirituality often accompany each other.
Several years ago, my eyes were causing me difficulty. I had one or two bouts of fading vision. Frightening as they were, they only lasted a few minutes and have not since returned. What devastation that would have been for any painter!
You can appreciate my alarm when suddenly my vision changed today as I was walking. I didn’t go blind but my perception of the café changed dramatically. First all colour drained away.
and it was as if I had stepped back a century or two in time. Had fear overtaken me, I might have sunk to a table and wept. But I did not. I suspected something else might be happening. As you may know, I have time travelled on several occasions in the past and I wondered if that might not be happening now, given the very dated scene which lay before me.
I stepped inside. At first, the beautiful café seemed vacant.
But then a human form, like a darkening cloud, gathered at the table with the tea pots. A sullen, angry face scowled up at me.
In the next moment, another figure coalesced beside him. Fortunately she was as graceful as he appeared brutish.
Who on earth were they? I was shocked when the man, with a wave of his hand, summoned me to their table. I complied and took a seat.
“Do you know who we are?” he demanded.
I shook my head.
Then with a surprisingly warm smile, he said, “I am pleased to introduce my good friend…this most charming lady, Miss Helen Keller.”
Her eyes focused on me with great warmth and friendliness. My mouth hung agape. Was she not blind throughout her life?
“And I am Ludwig Von Beethoven.” He held out his hand.
I shook his hand but could find no words. My mind raced on. How could this be? Beethoven died in 1827 and Helen Keller was not born until 1880 more than half a century separated their presence on this earth—and, of course, the year is now 2015.
Beethoven waved his hand dismissively. “Mr. Wainwright, I thought by now you would be used to meeting personages from the past.”
“But neither of you lived around the same time…”
Helen Keller spoke gently. “Why would that matter Alexander? In this world we now inhabit, time and place are irrelevant as you will someday see.”
Although I was at first completely flabbergasted, now I decided simply to accept the reality of the situation and learn whatever I could.
The exact date of Beethoven’s birth came to mind—December 17, 1770. I was struck by the two number seventeens appearing in that date. I know little about numerology, but I suddenly realized that the number represented the conjunction of earth and heaven or body and spirit. Such an appropriate description of Beethoven’s music.
Miss Keller smiled and said, “Alexander! It’s quite wonderful here with Ludwig.” She patted his arm. “Now I can see and both of us can hear. But we have come to realize those senses are not essential to the artistic, creative process and our spirituality.”
Beethoven nodded enthusiastically and even bestowed a smile. “Mr. Wainwright, I now can hear my last symphony #9. It expresses the depth of spirit and passion which has swept through me throughout my entire life.” Tears welled up in his eyes. “Such gorgeous simplicity! Every time I hear that music, I am thrilled by each fulsome note!”
Miss Keller said, “Such passion and joy expressed with so few but rousing notes! I think he said everything that can be said about the very best of the human spirit in “Ode to Joy.”
Suddenly, I was distracted. The various rooms of the cafe had, until now, been entirely empty. But I looked up to see a waiter rushing by the table.
I asked, “Please tell me—Ludwig, you are a very great composer and musician. Your music is played constantly today. How could you compose as deafness closed in? And Miss Keller, how could you write your great works and speak if you could neither see nor hear?”
Beethoven cut me off. “Surely you know Alexander, that art—whatever form it takes—comes from within the artist. Naturally, I heard the music in my heart, my head, my very being and I wrote it down. It was like the sweetest voices from heaven sung by God’s finest angels!”
Miss Keller said, “It was the same for me. Everything comes from within—from the spirit. I would have had to be completely deaf and stupid not to hear those lovely voices sent to me and filled with love, calm and reason. Our bodies are only rough containers for the soul.”
Beethoven leaned forward confidentially and continued, “You see, deafness to this world…” He waved his hand outside to San Marco. “That is not an impediment provided you are not deaf to these voices.” Carefully he placed his hand upon his heart. “It is the spirit which creates the art—all art.”
Abruptly, the waiter set a tray of delicacies down on a nearby table.
“And by the way,” Miss Keller said as she reached for my hand, “Ludwig and I are in a different world than you. But remember death is no more than passing from one room into another. But there’s a difference for me. In that other room, I can do what I never did in life—I can see and hear.”
I felt a rough hand on my shoulder. A surly waiter held out the bill. I felt as if I had to shake myself awake as I rummaged in my pocket for money. I examined the bill and was at first surprised. Only my tea was listed—but of course, Ludwig and Helen had not placed any orders. They were no longer part of this waiter’s world or mine. When I looked up, I smiled. The two of them were gone and it seemed as if they had never been there.
I strolled out into San Marco and continued to the water’s edge. The brilliant sun illuminated the scene with intense clarity. The hawk-like prows of the gondolas heaved slowly up and down at the dock. The gondoliers’ cries drifted out over the open water. White birds dipped above and then winged landward to a clock tower of red brick. The bell tolled twelve times, making the circling flock rush upward in a burst of white.
Time. Where does it come from and where does it go? Does it even exist? At first I was greatly troubled by these strange trips into CyberSpace. But now, I welcome the chance to explore.
I set off across San Marco, which Napoleon once called the drawing room of Europe. I stopped up. Two figures in shadowy corners caught my eye. Could they be Miss Keller and Beethoven taking in the sights?
Suddenly music filled the air at least in my head. I recognized it immediately. Please, I beg you! Join me on this stroll by taking a moment to play this video. Why? That is where you will hear this heavenly music–Beethoven’s Adagio Molto E Cantabile and see some paintings of San Marco by Canaletto.
PS: Meet Alexander Wainwright, Britain’s finest landscape painter and star of the Trilogy of Remembrance. These blog-sized short stories are developed from the characters and events in the three novels of The Trilogy of Remembrance [The Drawing Lesson, The Fate of Pryde and Night Crossing.] That trilogy is set in “our” daily world and these stories are straight out of CyberSpace.
A Facebook friend suggested that Alexander Wainwright might like to meet Beethoven and Helen Keller. I asked Alex and he was delighted. Please, if you’d like, make a suggestion for Alex’s next CyberSpace adventure in the comment box below. As always, we’d love to hear from you.
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice; and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the newly released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing.
Please take time to click on the carousels below and look around the bookstore where you’ll find the two trilogies.