She met some resistance with Parceval. They listened to it one night and Paul accepted it as a chore, but one night wasn’t enough. One night was just the first act.
“It’s turgid. It just goes on and on,” said Paul.
“I thought you liked the Grail story?”
“I do, sort of. We had to read the version by Chretien de Troyes. Tough going, but at least it’s relatively short. Even as a kid I rather liked Arthurian tales.”
“And you liked Sir Perceval?”
“I don’t know why, but yes, I did. He seems more human than the others.”
“But this is the same story, only you get to finish it.”
“To be honest, I was focussing so much on the old French that much of the story passed me by. I remember most a few ideas and a few quotes.”
“What do you remember?”
“About him being told not to speak and the king, and he’s in a castle somewhere and there’s a procession with a bleeding lance and finally the grail. It keeps passing back and forth during the meal. But Perceval keeps silent.”
“Qui trop parole, il se mesfait,” said Jenny.
“How did you know that?”
“It’s the proverb from ‘Pauline at the Beach’. It means ‘He who speaks too much damages himself.’ That’s about right, isn’t it?”
“Yes. But you lost me there Jenny. Who’s Pauline?”
“It’s a French film from the 80s I rather like. The quote is from Chretien, but they get the moral wrong.”
“It’s because Perceval doesn’t speak that he wakes up and the castle is gone, and the grail, too, and he has no idea where to look because where it was is now a bare hillside.”
“So he should have spoken.”
“He should have asked the fisher king about the lance and about the grail. Instead he has a quest which is endless.”
“You should have been writing my essays, Jenny. So you think the moral is always to speak your mind?”
“No, the moral is to know when to speak and when to stay silent. But how can you know. How can any of us know what question we must ask and when?”
“It’s a pity he didn’t finish the story.”
“For me the greatness is that he didn’t. He leaves us wondering how to reach the grail. We’re sitting on that hillside with no idea how to find it.”
“Does that mean we can stop listening to Parceval?”
“Let’s try something else.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“It’s only seven minutes long. It’s called Libestod.”
“Yes. We need to get past this impasse.”
“You’re obsessed, Jenny,” Paul laughed. “Go on then, I’m willing to try anything for seven minutes.”
They kissed as Isolde sang over the dead body of her Tristan, and Paul felt himself again enjoying the strangeness of their encounter. He couldn’t imagine any other girl kissing him while trying to make him understand the music that she loved. Why was she doing it? What goal did she have in mind? The same issue arose with the films, why were they watching films about ghosts? Going home later he reflected on the strange collection of old black and white films they’d been watching recently. There was “The Uninvited”, which had a really beautiful young actress and a haunted house. Then they’d watched “The Ghost and Mrs Muir” which was just a fantasy about a woman writer loving the ghost of a ship’s captain. Then there was that rather creepy Japanese film, Ugetsu something or other. He was beginning to quite like these films. They took a bit of getting used to. It had all seemed rather dull to begin with. Often nothing much happened. There was lots of talk. He found with the foreign films it wasn’t always easy to keep up. You had to read and watch at the same time. But he was getting better at it. He could sort of take in the whole sentence while still watching.
Over the next days, Jenny persevered with bits of Wagner, and Paul began to enjoy some of it.
“It’s very different from what we’ve had before?” he said.
“It’s a totally different sound, I think.”
“Just waves and waves that wash over you and in the end cover you. It seems like some sort of huge whole, not parts anymore.”
“Almost not tune anymore.”
“So we can move on?”
“Yes, we’re moving on.”
“And what film will we have next?”
“I want us to watch the Song of Bernadette.”
“What’s it about?”
“It’s with the same actress who was in Portrait of Jenny.”
“That’s the one about the little girl who’s a sort of ghost and grows up to love the artist fellow?”
“Well, what’s this one going to be about? More ghosts? They seemed to be obsessed with them in the forties.”
“That’s because there was a war.”
“I don’t understand.”
“Many people in the audience would have lost people, or would have feared losing someone dear. These films were comforting.”
“So what about this Bernadette?”
“It’s about a girl who sees visions.”
“Religious? Are you trying to convert me?”
“No more than you are with your politics and your atheism.”
“I rather liked the Dylan song you played me, Gotta Serve Somebody. I didn’t agree, but the lyrics were fun and I liked the tune.”
“You’re already beyond most Dylan fans who can’t stand his Christian albums.”
Paul laughed. He sometimes felt like a bit of dunce next to Jenny. She kept surprising him with the things she knew even about his own subject. But she wasn’t being arrogant, he could see that. It’s just the things that she knew kept bubbling up and spilling out, wanting to get out into the world, wanting to be heard.
“It’s good that we’ve been able to chat about these things without falling out.”
“It’s marvellous, Paul. I so enjoy it. You see, I’m sort of chatting with my films. They’re things that are important to me, that I want you to share. Same with the music. It’s not that we have to like the same things. I love how you’re open to what I like, how you try to understand and how you listen even when you hate what you’re listening to.”
“We’ll watch your Bernadette then.”
“It’s rather long, so it may take a couple of nights. There’s a rather nice story about the novel on which it is based.”
“Well, it was written by a Jewish man who was fleeing the Germans with his wife. He found refuge in Lourdes and the people there helped him, so he vowed to write the story that they told him about Bernadette.”
Paul thought the film was a fantasy just like the films about ghosts. Bernadette naturally didn’t see anyone. He found himself siding with the sceptical priest and the sceptical authorities in the town. But there was something very beautiful about the actress. He’d never even heard of her before. Anyway, you didn’t need to believe anything to be caught up in the story. He saw how Jenny was entranced, how she loved the film and he wanted to love it, too, if for no other reason than that she did. It didn’t change what he thought one little bit. But it was a rather beautiful fantasy.
As they kissed and held each other each evening Paul began to enjoy the fact that they had time and that there was no hurry. He remembered the previous relationships he’d had at university. There’d been a few flings that sometimes ended up in bed, and there’d been Roisin which had lasted a few months until he’d had to go to France and she’d found someone else. He thought back on how it had been with Roisin. It had been pleasant, of course, but it had all been rather trivial compared to what he was feeling now. It wasn’t easy though, this lying down with a woman he loved, but not really being able to touch her as he wanted and yet they had become closer physically in the past weeks. Even fully clothed and without much in the way of hands exploring they still were able to sense each other and explore each other’s bodies. It’s just they did so with their whole body rather than their hands. Their embrace would find sometimes their legs entwined. Sometimes Jenny would find herself embracing Paul from above and she would move in a way that excited him and he felt her excitement also. There was something very intense about it as they lost themselves in the music, especially now, when the music continued to be such that he felt yourself drowning in it.
“Who is it now, Jenny?” he asked.
“I rather like it.”
“You wouldn’t have liked it if we hadn’t listened to Wagner.”
“It’s a bit like him and yet…”
“It’s hard to find the words, isn’t it?”
“There are no words. Just waves of emotion. Where are we now?”
“We’ve nearly reached the twentieth century.”
“We’ve come a long way.”
“About what? Music?”
“Not only music.”
“We continue together. That’s all I want. You’re my grail and I’m going to ask every question. I don’t want you to disappear. Where would I look to find you if you did?”
This post was originally published by the author on her personal blog: https://www.effiedeans.com/2018/06/an-indyref-romance-harmony-and.html