Wednesday, July 21, 2021

INTO ART 5: AN EAR IN PROVENCE

 





Van Gogh, his face flushed with anger, picked up his absinthe and drained it in one gulp.  “Au revoir, monsieur,” he said to Ginoux.  He nodded a farewell at me and aimed for the door.

I got up and followed him.

Outside Café de la Gare, Van Gogh looked up and down and around, trying to figure out, I guess, in which direction Gauguin had gone.  He shook his head, muttering curses.


“It wasn’t your fault,” I said.


Van Gogh turned to me.  “That... that wild boar has insulted me one too many times.”  Something in the distance caught his eye.  “Ah, he baits me.”


“But he’s not worth it,” I said.  “Just tell him to leave your yellow house.”


Van Gogh studied me, squinting his blue eyes.  “How do you know about my yellow house?  Did Theo send you?  A spy?”


“Art history,” I replied.


“I give you something for art history.”  Van Gogh plucked an object from his pocket, a weapon of some sort.


Somehow, I had no fear this was meant for me, despite the madness in the artist’s eyes.


“What day is it?” I asked.


“Two days before Christmas,” he replied.  “And I have a little present for Monsieur Gauguin in return for tormenting me.”


I felt it was not my place to talk Van Gogh into or out of anything; that if I were truly back in time, not just inside a painting, I ought to avoid messing with historical events.


“And what do they say of me in art history?” spat Van Gogh.  “They call me fou-rou?


“What does that mean?” I asked.


“Crazy redhead.”


I shook my head.  “I didn’t know that until now.”


The artist harrumphed, and set off to a rustling in the bushes.  “The bastard—he is hiding!”


Van Gogh crossed the road and ventured into a square.


Gauguin popped out from behind an oleander bush.  “Looking for me, fou-rou?” he taunted.


“You must leave my home!” hollered Van Gogh, stomping toward Gauguin.  “You must leave Arles!”


Gauguin stood his ground with an amused expression.  “Or what—you weak runt?”


“Or I kill you!”  Van Gogh raised his hand to display an open straight razor.



“You silly man!”  Gauguin uttered a forced laugh.  He pulled the sword from its scabbard, fastened at his thigh.   “Mine is bigger than yours.  Rachel can testify to that!”  Gauguin laughed uproariously.  “She says yours is so small she can’t even feel it!”

Van Gogh stood stunned, in shock for a few seconds.  “You will feel this!”





He lunged at Gauguin with his razor.

As if by reflex, Gauguin struck out with his sword, clipping Van Gogh on the side of his face.


Startled, Van Gogh dropped his razor.  When he stooped to retrieve it, he found a piece of bloody flesh—his own earlobe—cut clean off by Gauguin’s sword. 


Van Gogh picked it up and held it out to Gauguin.  “It is not enough you steal my pride—you want my flesh and blood, too?”


Gauguin looked on in horror.


Van Gogh must have seen mayhem in Gauguin’s fearful eyes.  Or perhaps he now felt pain, or a warm substance streaming down his neck.  He put his hand to his right ear, caressed it then held his hand in front of him.  It was covered in blood.


“Are you all right?” Gauguin demanded.  “I didn’t mean… I was defending myself… you must see a doctor immediately… but do not tell the police… if you do, I will kill you… do you understand?”


I stood in the shadows watching.


Van Gogh had turned ashen white, in shock.  He said nothing, but closed his razor and pocketed it, then turned away and headed down the street, the severed earlobe in hand.


“You hear me?” Gauguin called after him, heading north, toward the River Rhone  “No police!”


“My ear,” said Van Gogh, in a daze.  “He cut off my ear.”


“You should see a doctor,” I said.  “Is there a hospital near here?”


“My ear,” Van Gogh repeated. 


“If it’s any consolation,” I said, “where I come from you have the most famous ear in the world.  But everybody thinks you cut it off yourself.”


Van Gogh looked at me, puzzled.  “But why would I cut off my own ear?”


I shrugged.  


So much for art history.