Can hunger of the soul be satisfied only by appearance in "meat and bones" of the person who might have answers to one's questions? Isn't it enough to make acquaintance with the summary of his life experiences and thoughts expressed through his art works?
Obviously it was not, otherwise how I would have dared to phone the famous artist who represented esoteric distant era of experimentation? How would I, a shy University student who came to Europe for a short visit, dare so much?


Inventor of the pin screen, he knew how to handle darkness like nobody else. He drew lines made with bright light dots; conceptually he was the father of computer graphics, only computers have not been invented yet.


Why did I need to see him in "meat and bones": I was 18, he was about 90?
I was starving. I had to meet him so as to calm the hunger of my soul. So I took a deep breath and dialed the number:” I am studying Art and would like to meet you.”
“Where did you get my phone number?” answered a suspicious voice.
“From the phone book, where else?” I bubbled, expecting the conversation to end there.
“You must be smart. Well, come at 5 for a cup of tea.” he answered sarcastically.


His house, where time stopped a century ago, looked like home of Captain Nemo. Its silence resembled that of a picturesque pond contemplating its own stillness. Every where one could see ancient books, rarities that are usually exposed in Museums; here I could browse through them at will.
He lived alone. His wife died a year ago; I only knew that they had worked together all their life.

Then I did not know that half a century ago like me, she entered his studio, merely a shy Art student coming from America for a brief visit to Europe.


I always felt doubtful about the truthfulness of images presented to us by reality; I felt like an outcast everywhere, in every situation. But in his studio full of shadows I immediately felt a profound sense of belonging. There was no need to get acquainted in a usual “nice to meet you” way.
Without wasting time on mundane conversations, I got comfy on the couch so as to explore his books, esoteric rarities published in limited editions at the beginning of the 20th century. He took it as if that was the most normal way to behave under the circumstances.


We almost did not talk. Once in a while he would drop a comment:
"Ah yes, the Revolution ... we were waiting for it the way children wait to decorate their Christmas tree. But when it came, everything has degenerated into most brutal bestiality. I remember as a last image of Russia a woman who was dying from a terrible wound to the stomach, and no one would pay attention to her suffering. "


The tea was cooling on the table next to an enormous box of chocolates which I had brought him as a gift. He would unwrap one after another with pleasure; one could see that artist loved sweets. Gentle tickling of the clock underlined deep silence.
Unexpectedly he commented:
"Interesting to observe how you watch pictures; you do not say anything but I can feel that you understand. Here come a lot of people, they say, “compliments", but they don't understand anything..."

 The light was extinguished slowly, but the artist did not turn on the ancient massive lamp. 

We remained in the duck turning into two barely perceptible shadows as well. Now I could no longer leaf through his books, so we savored silence for hours, watching advancement of darkness. Is that how the water was taking over the abandoned luxurious halls of Titanic?
 Suddenly I remembered that metro was about to close. Alas, now it was time to say goodbye, establish when and if it was the case to return.
Luckily, the artist did not expect me to play social games. He asked as if we knew each other for years:
-Can you come back tomorrow?
-I'll wait for you at 5 for a cup of tea.

At home, the friend who was offering me hospitality in Paris was agitated:
-I was about to call the Police!
-Since when does one take a cup of tea from 5 until midnight? Where were you? What were you doing?
She had the point, but how could I explain something that I could not rationalize at the time?

 ...In front of his window grew a tree which threw shadows on the wall of the room, they flickered with each tremor of wind creating intricate, constantly changing designs.  His physical world was all about shadows and their extensions: long silences, fragments of poetic thoughts, memories... He always sat in a big chair; window was behind, making his dark silhouette appear almost as an intangible presence.

Strangely, our non speaking was not a dividing silence. To the contrary, we felt great sense of kinship when the room slowly immersed into darkness. I did not look for explanations; I simply entered into experience which has presented itself without asking any questions. It felt so natural and reassuring.
The same was repeated the next day and the day after... Feeling as if we have known each other always, I asked him what I would not have dared even to think to myself,

-Would you become my teacher?
-Gladly, only you see...
And again-silence for hours, disturbed only by the tickling of the clock.

Then I saw nothing except his silhouette against the window.

Years later I read his biography and understood that we were repeating the same scene that had already happened with a student who then has just arrived from America and who later became his wife. But in the first case before him prostrated the vast field called "life", now the pointer indicated the opposite direction.

 This time my unexpected arrival put in question an obvious ending of the game between Life and Death for his existence; I was an unexpected strong card against the Eternal Winner. But enchanted by the picturesque atmosphere of the artist’s world, at the time I was not conscious of an incredible power bestowed upon me by Life itself. I felt it, but I did not understand it rationally.

 Nor did I understand the inner world of the artist; I simply liked to wander in the darkness of the past where were hidden roots of our culture, searching for nourishment.

 He wished me well. Our daily exercise of turning into shadow was not the fate he wanted for me. In his dark den the brightest place was reserved for me.

Once he had also prepared a "stew" made of pink flesh. That day we were not alone in the darkness, the “stew” was a young French composer. His presence brought most disagreeable dissonance to our silence. Men talked about modern music, discussed latest news from the Art world, it seemed that we are meeting in a Parisian cafe where everyone is so smart, so special and so ordinary in his feigned extravagance.
The artist told me, in Russian, winking:
-Cute, isn’t he?
-Not at all.
-You're jealous like a kid, that's all.
-He speaks without saying anything interesting.
-Stop it, this is our guest.

 Fortunately, when came the time to turn on the light, French composer had to go away and we remained for the umpteenth evening in the darkness. It seemed that I had passed some exam, the artist spoke more than usual, telling how he came from Bolshevik Russia to Paris without money, how he met his teacher-famous set designer who worked for Diahgilev. Suddenly he astonished me with a proposal:
- I will give you the money, my teacher maintained me for years as well.
-I do not need it.
-Don’t lie, artists never have money.
-My father earns well and he supports me.
-Ah, bravo. Too bad, though, I'd like to ... You must promise me that if you have any money problems in future, you will accept them from me without hesitation, I am your teacher now.
-Of course I will.

Even in this detail the past was repeating itself-his wife was a wealthy student, but of course I didn't know that either.
I was touched by his kindness. Long time ago this type of behavior was normal in relations between Russian intelligentsia, but one thing is to read about it in books, another- to meet it in real life. I had only one need: to satiate spiritual hunger.

The artist not only acted in a “once upon a time” way, he also knew ancient Russian words that have been out of use for years. I knew them too, but I have never heard them pronounced in real life, it was stuff from books. After almost a week of branding our meetings as invitation for a tea, finally he invited me for a lunch. We were spending more and more time together, but even that time was not enough, after all we were trying to dissolve in silence and shadows totally and we were very close to it.

 Like all the Russians of his generation he had a maid. His lunch was a plate of prefabricated mashed potatoes, which was quickly cooling down as he went into a detailed analysis of Pushkin’s poetry in relation to Lermontov's. This habit used to drive crazy his pragmatic daughter, as I read later in his biography. In spite of mashed potatoes, it was one of the best meals I ever had in my life. It was like dining on board of the sank Titanic, where things that you have heard and read about are a reality at hand.

So eventually I came to “dunque”:
-May I see the pin screen?
-I do not enter into my office since my wife died.
-Sooner or later you will have to do it. Why not now?
Without speaking, he took a massive key, made me a sign to follow him, and opened the door next to his house.

 There was his famous invention, a unique, bizarre object made of thousands of pins held together by a heavy metal frame.

For me its value was not that of an esoteric instrument to produce art ; I saw it as a deep reflection on the topics which became central later in my life: the advantages offered by instability, traces of light as if they were brush strokes, blurred borders ... On one side was a huge box full of instruments that resembled small hammers, their forms were whimsical. It worked like this: from behind the screen one made ​​a sign with the "hammer"- brush, while in front would appear a form that could be photographed in a thousand ways, depending on how it was lit. It was filmed with a huge film camera, the kind that was used at the beginning of the 20th century.

For the artist it was hard to remain in the studio-that was his and his wife’s private paradise for decades, so we went back to the library.
Everything was quiet and still, he sat in his chair waiting silently for the arrival of darkness.
Suddenly I realized that we were in two different dimensions simultaneously: the room was full of silences and shadows and ghosts, but it was also true that he was at the train station, his ticket has been prepaid. One does not travel with luggage on the train he was about to board, because it is called "Death ".
"Ah, that's whom he was waiting for! But why is he so calm, what’s the reason for his total resignation?" I thought with horror. At 18, death is difficult to accept:
"At the station, many trains pass, one might decide to take another train, the one called" Life", I objected.
He was not surprised at my prank; he answered as if continuing an internal dialogue:
"And then?"
Strange, though I always had a vivid imagination, that time I could not answer what would come "then". I had no image, no premonition, and no fantasy about it. What could have been his "then"?
-When one travels by train you can look out of the window and watch changing landscapes through the eyes washed by wind.
-But this applies to both directions; give me a better reason why ask the cashier to change my ticket.
-You could get off at some unknown station and start life all over again.
-It's good for you, but I'll die if I move from here.

 The famous artist was right: his world was so rich, so beautiful that it would be a folly to abandon it even though now it was populated by shadows, memories and ghosts.
I was the only exception, but I was an exception up to a point: I could not myself respond in a convincing manner to the question "The reason of flesh?” I searched for that answer all my life, and I do not understand it yet well. It was not a coincidence that among all the possible artists I searched the one who explicitly dealt with shadows.

He added, eager to be convinced in the contrary, “And in any case the doctors are saying that if I move from here, I will die.”
I exploded:”Do not tell lies! You are waiting for Death while eating chocolates. You will die if you remain here. The trip will have to be done anyway, but changing the direction you will cheat Death: She will come and find only shadows! Wouldn’t it be funny?”

Now I had to ran away, the Metro was about to close. We have not reached any conclusion, except the usual appointment:
-Tomorrow at one o'clock, then.
-Tomorrow at one.

 That day my mother arrived from America, it was her birthday, when I told her that part of the day I was going to be busy and that we could celebrate only in the evening, she grew sad. It was irrational, but I felt that there was something terribly wrong about delaying my meeting with the artist. To warn him that I would not come took a tremendous effort, in fact I called him at 1. 15.

He was very angry:
-Where are you?
-I have a problem, I can not come today.
He exploded:
-Farewell then!
It was ridiculous; of course in a couple of days I would return to supply him with chocolates. But my mother wanted us to go to Nice for a week, for some reason it was important that I accompany her. I thought: "We’ll meet after Nice and so he will learn to control himself, he can not explode in this ridiculous way ... and even better to have some time to myself so as to find answer to his question “And then?" It was not easy: “For what reason would captain Nemo leave Nautilus and live in the world dominated by MacDonald’s?"

As for me, forced to return to pseudo reality, I have entered a nightmare of postcards: we have visited every tourist trap and it felt horrible.
After daily wandering in the darkness, all that felt like an unwanted visit to Disney land. Not only-came back the painful sense of erosive "reality".
I had no doubt that we will make ​​peace. In my mind our daily encounter was a bit postponed, that's all. It would have been impossible to explain the meaning of our meetings to others, so I had a hard time to justify my desire to return to Paris as soon as possible. I did not quite understand it myself. The beauty of the world of darkness is that it has no boundaries and no certainties only dim outlines, easily trespassible outlines and insights; it is a world that satisfies hunger of the soul, without having to answer “why of the flesh”.
Once we went to visit a festival of experimental films, I wanted to reconnect with the world of shadows at least through his films. Before the lights went out, the organizer of the festival made an announcement: a couple of days ago the famous artist has died in his sleep.
Years after I have learned that he has committed a suicide by swallowing the entire box of sleeping pills.
Why could not he wait? Was his loneliness so painful, so profound?
Why instead of searching for a logical answer to his “and then?” I hadn’t presented him with a train ticket marked with any destination other than the one already fixed before my arrival? All the answers would have come later unexpectedly, on their own, if the journey in the opposite direction which in fact already began, had not been interrupted.
Now I know-if you can make a miracle-don’t delay it; if you are the miracle-don’t miss an appointment with the one who is waiting even for a day.