Elena Malec

Another Perfect Day In Paradise

California, December 1992.

Certain things cannot be erased from memory. My first trip to my new home at sunset. The car was rolling on a velvet-like ribbon under a perfect blue sky. Palm trees on the right, multicolored flowers bursting from bushes of an intense green, like a scream, like a violation of the view. And the buildings – private banks and hotels – glass and steel, sparkling in the dimming daylight. Peace. I had the feeling of tobogganing into a fairyland with vacation homes, bushes and trees properly trimmed like schoolboys hair on their first day of classes. Everything like a vividly colored picture book, like a gift on one’s birthday.
My first unspoken question was: do they die down here? I was actually so confused in asking it. Perhaps I should have asked: people never die here, do they? The more we were advancing on the tiny streets with fairylike houses and gardens, the more I was convinced that death could not reach over here.
Then it started, an unavoidable process of intoxication with perfection. The perfect home, in the perfect street, in the perfect neighborhood with perfect lawns and a perfect park, and a perfect heated pool, in a perfect town, from a perfect state (the Golden State), in the most perfect country in the world as most people believe. Well, I don’t. That’s exactly why I have chosen to live it.
How funny! A reality that is very much like a hallucination. What would doctors say about that? They only know of hallucinations which appear as reality. Well, gentlemen, this time I think I have confused you. To me this elaborated reality, manufactured, transplanted from other continents and seeded onto perfection here for the praise of civilization and the spoiling of the rich, to me this reality does seem a farce. Yes, folks, a farce of the end of the twentieth century.

And things are at the very beginning. Only yesterday, at the time of a perfect sunset on the Pacific we passed in our car by these hills with houses under construction. I had just discovered that the few villas on the hills were private property, perfect mansions in a gated community. Well, I said to myself: let them develop. Let more people enjoy the peacefulness of a perfect life.
Actually my question uttered in loud voice was: who inhabits up there, those houses perched on the hill? Rich people, came the answer. How about a house on the beach with its perfect small garden, and stairs with a gate and a lock, with the private boat moored at the private pier always with a barbecue grill?

On the beach, just in front of the perfect vacation homes, seagulls were flocking together to attack somebody’s food basket.
Hungry sea gulls were fighting like beggars for a bite of a sandwich, shrilling and flying over the ocean. Watching their flight I couldn’t tell the seagull with the blood-red spot on its beak from the private plane in its perfect flight for pleasure, business or school; the seagull with the blood-red spot on its beak from the private boat on a pleasure sail.
Wild waves rolling helter-skelter children and adults made me think that the sand we were treading – people and birds, was for all. The beach, no private property. The borderline between dream and reality was there. Where ? Nowhere and everywhere. Where were we? At the horizon, Santa Catalina Island at sunset. Unreal beauty. Hallucination of the senses.
The sky stained with blood-red spots. There does not exist any painter capable of painting this, I said to myself. The new moon and the evening star competing with the last sunbeams of a late November sunset on the Pacific.
From Aliso Pier we could watch the seagulls rocking the waves like children in a swing. What a gratuitous job painting!
A tall blond Scandinavian-looking homeless came to us stretching a begging hand forward: “Hi, folks, givah buck to a poor…”
Perfect misery, you look very much like life. Perfect life, you look very much like death.

By the end of a perfect day, like a Japanese garden in Kyoto, in autumn – a private garden, twenty years old – the night finally falls. Deep and dark like the sleep of death – macabre dance of old faces and places which do not exist anymore but, very familiar to me, seem real, have volume and color, come from everywhere, aggressing me, taking me back…in time…in space, into the night, into nightmarish sleep – spasmodic dance in the dark.

“Deşteaptă-te, române, din somnul cel de moarte…”

The dream starts at daybreak.

Tuesday, December 1st, 1992

Perfect sunrise in the Santa Ana mountains. The bedroom window, a Hollywood scenery, of course.
We go downstairs to have breakfast. Dining room with patio view. Glass window of color photo mural ?

9:00 a.m. Breakfast with milk and cereals, orange juice and newspapers. ORANGE COUNTY, Los Angeles Times:
The A to Z’s of Sleep Study: “For so long people have slept with so many problems, they don’t think it is physiological when it is. This is really interesting because the brain is talking to you.”
A hummingbird is buzzing as we enter into the real again. Nothing spoils the scenery of this perfect morning.
California – another perfect day in paradise.

x   x   x

10:00 a.m. Long distance call. Everything is fine back in the old country.
11:00 a.m. A bit late at Melvyl training session.
12:00 noon. Coffee and a chocolate chip at the Cornerstone Café.
Finished reading another chapter from Umberto Eco’s Name of the Rose. First Day, Terce: “Divine Providence has ordered that the universal government, which at the beginning of the world was in the East, should gradually, as the time was nearing fulfillment, move westward to warn us that the end of the world is approaching, because the course of events has already reached the confines of the universe.”

1:00 p.m. Lunch at home. After lunch went to the pool for a change.

4:00 p.m. On campus. Social Sciences Hall, room 101. Contemporary moral problems – discussions.

5:00 p.m. Humanities Hall, room 100. Theory and Literary Criticism. Lecture. The professor seemed sort of a jester. He was jumping all the time in his Nike shoes trying desperately to be popular with his students. Use and abuse of slang: “Aristotle was a smart Greek who was making a lot of dough with his Lyceum.”
I found this goofy if not embarrassing for someone holding a PhD.

6:00 p.m. Buy one, get one free. Satisfaction guaranteed or your money back. News and commercials on TV.
Hot chocolate in the patio.

7:00 p.m. At my desk with a very smart friend, my personal word processor.
Option 1. Create, edit or view document.
CV. Curriculum vitae. I wanted to erase it and my computer asked me: Are you sure? NO.
I tried. I really tried twice but I failed. Certain things just cannot be erased from memory. It’s better to view or add than to erase.
Option 2. ERASE the document in memory to create a new document.
Does not T. S. Eliot tell the same in “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock”? There will be time to murder and create.
How strange it seems to me that life should emerge from death, from sacrifice.

8:30 p.m. Dinner for two. Beef roast and potatoes, lettuce salad and fruit. Beef, red meat.
Suddenly it came back that feeling of fainting, of not accepting life anymore. The burden of eating and sleeping day after day, night after night. The food, daily sacrifice. And the memory of every Easter holiday with Pascal lamb and eggs dyed red like stains on the retina. Every gesture at those holy meals like a Christian initiation into a ritual, like the sacrilege of eating flesh. My hands vacillating in using the knife and the fork. Mamma took the knife off my hand very scared. I just couldn’t chew my food. They had their hands blood-red from the eggs they touched. Those stains last.

Certain things cannot be erased from memory.
I remember my younger sister one Easter week. When she opened the refrigerator and saw the head of the lamb with those reproachful eyes wide open, she screamed. Mamma came in a hurry.
My sister was trembling and mumbling: “He, he was looking at me…”
I saw mamma splitting the head of the lamb with an ax and taking out the brains. She cooked them in a soup and served it very warm. She said to me: “Don’t let your soup get cold”. I was eating my tears with a soup spoon, horrified and obedient, my whole body and soul refusing the idea of that abject meal. The brains of the sacrificial lamb like poison in my mouth.

Thank God there exists salvation.

9:00 p.m. Music therapy. “Luciano Pavarotti. Hits from the Lincoln Center.” Greatness, magnificence, perfection.

10:00 p.m. Bed time.

Another perfect day in paradise.


* Wake up, Romanian, from the sleep of death
 (National Anthem of Romania, author’s translation);
** Eco, Umberto, “The Name of the Rose”, 1983, p.35; Harcourt Brace Jovanovitch Publishers, New York; translated from the Italian by William Weaver;

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