the turning poing By Haim Kadman Returning from an early morning bath at Gordon beach, Froike Hazon a successful

and well known artist, parked his car between the pillars of the modern apartment building, where he lived and created. Having switched off the car’s engine he got off, as if he was stepping out on a stage. Just a handful of passers-by were present there at that early hour; some of them passed there on purpose, to have a furtive glimpse at their local celebrity. Ignoring their glances he walked on to the entrance, pulled the morning paper from his mail box; checking the headlines with a quick look, he inserted his key in the lobby’s front door – pushed it open and entered. Once inside he went over to the staircase and climbed the stairs to his penthouse apartment two at a time. He hardly used the elevator except in “emergency cases”, whenever he had to escort his friends or some guests to his studio. There were many exhibitions behind him already, and if someone would have asked him how many of them he had, he would not be able to answer without consulting his diary. He never failed nor stumbled since his first one, when his star soared for the first time at the beginning of his career. Most of the critics were his close friends, and kept backing him up all along his way up. Whenever a rumor was spread about some new work of his, or some experiment that he was conducting; art curators, gallery owners and his close friends would put his studio under a siege. He never turned down any of his guests, even if they did disturb him in mid-work; on the contrary, he treated them with much patience, asked them to join his table; he would listen to their advice, remarks and their criticism, and have long discussions with them till dawn almost. Thirty years had elapsed, since he had taken a painting brush in his hand. He never deviated, never thought of changing his style, of inventing a “new and revolutionary” trend; while all around him waves of new ideals and styles were rushing furiously a shore. Minimalists, Abstract adherents, Naïve and sophisticated opportunists, “Avantgarde” impostors and the rest of those apparently progress seekers, popped up like mushrooms after the first rain; storming the public through white nights absorbed with booze. Hazon kept straight on, for even if he wished to change a bit he simply was not able to. He was enslaved to the old fashioned figurative style of his. The summit airs that he breathed twice a year, in the art auctions, the prices his works were worth in every art gallery in town, compelled him to stick to his unique style. In spite of it, he was humble and modest in comparison with most his colleagues; but when arguments about his sacred domain broke out, in some social event, a party or some other gatherings, he would join in to defend his belief, with heated pride and a heaving bosom. Those who envied him and those who could not grasp how a simpleton like him became such a successful artist; and the strange fact that he does not trample them all, took him for an unexplained strange phenomenon, who managed to reach the top in some bizarre way. He was a well-known bachelor, though love affairs intervened in his secluded life from time to time. It usually happened during the short periods of time between his creative feverish assaults, which dominated his life and befell him in a regular cycle. Some witty wench with glowing eyes, who would seek his company badly enough, would conquer him for a short while. He was not what one would call a ‘good

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looker’, but his renown, his social position; his charming personality made him an attractive person. Having a sensitive artist soul he never dared to exploit them, but when one of these love affairs was reaching its unavoidable end, he would spend more and more hours in front of his easel; while his current lover that was an integral part of their extinguished affair, would hover around him like a ghost till she would tire out of it, spread her wings and fly away – without futile scenes and hard feelings. Back in his luxurious abode he put the morning paper on the kitchen’s table, and turned to his studio; to have a second look at what he achieved during the previous night. He had a first glimpse at it before joining his friends at Gordon beach, the first thing he was always doing right after waking up. Leaving the bathroom he stood once more in front of his easel, drying his body slowly, scrutinizing his unfinished painting. He adapted that ritual or useful habit of his, long ago, at the beginning of his career; when he was dreaming of fame, of his would be masterpiece – his would be passport to eternity. But he had grown out of it and off a few more naive illusions. Anyhow, it served him as a tool of evaluation and self-criticism. But deep inside he still preserved that spark that inspired him, encouraged him and made him reach out for higher peaks of creation. In spite of his elated position and fame, a sense of depression would haunt him, whenever he turned to his studio lately. His art did not attract him as it usually did, some strange doubts kept him away from his easel. A fact that made him seek his friends’ company more than ever. He needed a change badly, whether his creative imagination was dwindling, or was it the too much praise, flattery and the lack of challenge as a direct outcome of it, which blunted his brain. He did not know what exactly was its cause, but he knew well enough what he was feeling. A word he heard just recently in some discussion between some of his colleagues enlightened his mind – elusiveness. He must have eluded his main problem and pushed it deep into his subconscious that must have been it, he thought; instead of confronting it and solving thus his old problem that bothered him since his youth; when the quest for fame motivated him and pushed him forward – but now he had to determine and reach the right decision; to sum up all his years of creation and reach a conclusion, did he deserve the fame and the elated position he was endowed with? Or was he just another mediocre, a blind tool in the hands of those few, who were the elite and the exclusive part of their society? While he and just a handful of some more lucky artists, kept without being aware to it, the financial interests of that exclusive part of their society. Thus the outcome of not having the courage to sum up and reach the right conclusion concerning that issue, caused him no doubt that bothering feeling of depression. A feeling that was accentuated whenever he had to finish a painting or begin a new one. From the moment he realized what his problem was, and raked his brain over it, an idea formed up in his mind – to take a long leave and fly away to one of Europe’s Capitals. Half his lifetime was behind him already. Was it the right time for such a move? In any case it was his last chance to dare and reach a break through that would lead him to renewal, to an artistic reincarnation while he is still alive – and turn him into the artist he yearned to be all his life – a grand master. Ever since he migrated to Israel when it was just reborn as an independent state, he never crossed its borders yet. Eilat in the south and Naharia in the north were the resort towns where he preferred to have his vacations. There he would tour their

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peripheries and discover their loveliest hidden spots, turn them into sketches in pencil, charcoal, ink or aquarelle; to be developed later on into oil paintings in his home studio. He made a few inquiries among his friends, asking advice from those who travelled abroad frequently in particular; accumulated the information he needed and decided: Madrid should be his first step. A three months stay at least might suffice. Most of his time there, he would dedicate to the Prado Museum, to its modern art wing; he might as a gesture of good will, take a glimpse at the old masters, a matter of a few hours or half a day at the most. Velazquez does not interest him at all, nor does Murillo; he will skip them both, Goya’s last epoch on the other hand is worth studying. His drawings and the series of “Los Caprichosos” particularly, should not be missed. But above all he wishes to study El-Greco’s works, the old master that he Hazon, adores. Yes he will study his works meticulously, visit his home and studio in Toledo, and there are Granada, Cordova and Seville that he should visit too. He bought a flight ticket and booked the date, although he had never flown before in his entire life. Nevertheless he preferred flying on a sea voyage, which he abhorred and did not intend trying it again, since his first and last experience on board a refugee ship, on its way to Palestine under the British mandate. That nightmarish event took place a few months before the state of Israel’s independence was declared – and some thirty five years ago, when he was still in his teens; a young refugee boy running away from a macabre past to an unknown future. The reminiscences of the nights in which he had to sleep on the crowded deck, of that wretched refugee ship, the sudden and frightening rush down below deck, every time an aeroplane’s engine drone was heard; or sitting huddled together with the rest of the passengers during day time, whenever a British warship’s silhouette was discerned on the horizon – were still fresh in his memory. Thus his future flight did not frighten him. After all, almost everyone was flying these days, it was high time he should experience it himself. Up to that last commitment, which he did undertake so resolutely, he felt neither an urge nor a need to leave the city’s peripheries. The once a year vacations, which he did take were in a way forced upon him; as all his friends and most of his acquaintances were out of town, during the hot and humid summer season. Coming out of his studio buried in his thoughts, he went over to his bedroom dressed up and returned to his kitchen; laid his table, prepared his breakfast and sat down to eat – while reading the morning paper. He had a meeting with a rich industrialist, who came down to Gordon beach every morning during the last six weeks, courting him one might say. But in any case he shall have to refuse him, though he does not know yet what the man wants. There are his own preparations to his flight to Spain, and he has to complete a few commitments to some other clients before leaving for his craved adventure. At about noontime he reached the industrialist hotel, where the meeting was to take place. His host was waiting for him in front of the wide entrance, holding an attaché case in his hand, peering at the hotel’s parking lot with much expectancy. Though he must have waited for Hazon quite a while he did not say a word, but greeted his guest with a warm smile. After a short exchange of greetings and a handshake, he led Hazon to the hotel’s restaurant. Sitting next to a transparent glass wall, with the sea extending up to the horizon before their eyes, they had an aperitif, consulted their menus and ordered their choice of food. At the end of the meal while waiting for their coffee, the industrialist opened up

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his attaché case and pulled out several big sized photos of his plant in the north. On an improvised sort of a map, which he must have prepared himself, he explained to Hazon what he wished him to do. He wanted him to paint seven large oil paintings, large landscapes of the surroundings of his plant. Several possible observation posts were marked on that map, from which Hazon was to draw his first sketches, or paint straight away in the impressionist style if he wishes to. Anyway a car plus a chauffer would be ready for his disposal; would he be so kind and have a look at it? Asked him humbly the industrialist. Hazon smiled with embarrassment explaining to his host that his time was critically short. There was his flight to begin with, and there were still several commitments, which he undertook and had to finish before leaving for his vacation. But he agreed to keep in touch with the industrialist, and have a second meeting with him, as soon as he will return from his adventure in Spain. As he did not know how he would behave on that certain date, and was rather bothered by it, he did not inform any of his friends the exact date and hour of his flight. If worse would come to worse as he did fear, and he would stagger pale faced without knowing what to do next; he would rather be helped by strangers who were paid for it, than by any of his friends or acquaintances. Thus when the day came he hired a cab to fetch him to the airport. But as he entered the air terminal carrying his two heavy suitcases, he was surprised by a handful of his loyal friends, who greeted him with a bottle of Champagne and shouts of joy; they grabbed his suitcases, made way pushing everyone aside and led him to the air company’s counter, drinking and joking all the way; embarrassing the ground hostesses and the rest of the air terminal personnel with witticism and jokes, and astounding the rest of the travellers who followed the unexpected show with amazement. Hazon’s consternation was replaced thus with joy and delight as he boarded after a short time the plane. Except a short spell of fright during take-off, he felt rather compoesed. Having at last released his safety belt and having passed the few moments of sheer wonder, of being air borne in that flying monster; he was quite elated and enjoyed immensely what seemed to him at first a frightful experience. At about noon he landed at Madrid’s airport, took a cab to his booked in advance lodgings; a modest inn next to Plaza Mayor, where their one and only suite was reserved in advance for him alone – for the next three months. His heaviest suitcase that contained his easel, brushes, an assortment of paints, palette, pads, canvasses and the rest of his auxiliary materials for that same end, he left in his living room; passed to his bedroom, opened up the second suitcase and arranged his belongings in the cupboards, hanging and putting everything in its proper place. On that same afternoon he strolled in the inn’s neighbourhood with the city’s map in his hands, to get to know and get the feel of this majestic and beautiful city. Right after dinner he had a few words with his hosts, the inn’s owners; a middle aged polite and patient couple, and explained to them the reasons that brought him to their humble abode, plus the use he intended to make of his suite’s living room. At the first signs of worry that appeared on both their faces, he hastened to suggest an extension of his stay with them, for three additional months; six months all in all on the same conditions. That settled the matter of course, there was no objection what so ever to his future plans; the owners welcomed his prolonged stay with goodwill and warmth,

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declaring their joy for having an artist under their roof – reassuring Hazon in their willingness to support and advice him in whatever need he might have. Before calling it a day and turning in, he consulted the written notes he gathered from his friends back home, and learned it by heart. Tomorrow he will make an introductory visit to the Prado Museum, a quick survey of each wing in that palace: and have his first impressions before reaching a decision how and where to divide his attention, and on what issues he should concentrate his efforts. There was plenty of time in any case, he should not rush things; but he hoped to erect his easel in the living room, in a few more days. Life in the inn as it seemed to him on that first day, was quite comfortable. It was the end of the season and the inn was almost deserted. There was just another elderly couple of guests except himself, thus everything there seemed to meet his basic requirements. On the next morning after a light breakfast, he strolled in the old square so close to his lodgings, that used to be ages ago the heart of the city. From there he went on foot to the famous Puerta-Del-Sol, mingling with the passers-by, enjoying the feeling of privacy of being just one of the crowd. At about ten o’clock he took the underground train, and was on his way to achieve his first day’s objective. On the sidewalk opposite to that famous museum, he stopped for a few seconds, to watch the façade of that ancient and impressive edifice; with a decisive stride he crossed the street and went straight towards the huge entrance. Once inside he bought a season’s subscription ticket at the long reception counter, which was loaded with brochures, magazines, postcards and many other souvenirs depicting that famous museum and its treasures. Without wasting his time he turned right away to watch the huge and incredibly magnificent paintings that were crowding the walls of that huge entrance hall. The tall wall just opposite the entrance was covered with religious paintings, crucifixes mainly. Although they were superb paintings from any artistic aspect, he hardly paid any attention to it; but he did recognize at a first glimpse two of Murillo’s paintings, and was shocked by the horrifying sight of the huge, macabre black and white painting by Goya – ‘The Witches’ Saturday’ that hanged right in the middle of that wall. It took him a few moments to collect his wits; it was a hypnotizing and a horrible sight at the same time. Shocked still he turned away and went on along the broad corridor, stopping from time to time near one of Goya’s oil painting depicting the royal family hanging on the corridor’s walls, when Goya was still the royal court’s painter. These painting were incredibly marvellous and huge, with the queen’s dominant figure in most of them. To watch these paintings in their authentic size, their glorious vivid colours; the vitality and power that was treasured in each one of those magnificent paintings, was an excruciating experience particularly to a man like Hazon being a well known painter himself. Each one of these paintings was a masterpiece, whatever he himself created or had seen up to that moment, was incomparable to the grandeur of these magnificent works of art. Here was the answer to his life long quest, he was standing before real masterpieces for the first time in his life. Grinding his teeth he went on, to the next hall. Here he met with Goya’s high society paintings, his series depicting the Spanish nobility at its leisure time; just one painting out of the two dozens or more that hanged there he knew before, ‘The Umbrella’; the rest were a stunning revelation of talent, harmony and beauty. ‘How powerful they are!’ He muttered to himself amazed. Awe stricken almost he stood in front each one of these glorious paintings, concentrated in each painting without noticing the other visitors, without noticing the time that has elapased.

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An inadvertent shove from someone’s shoulder pushed him on, and he was moving dumfoundedly in the huge corridor towards a blocked hall with three observation posts; bits of blurred colours were seen through these observation posts, as he was getting near. An incredibly huge painting was hanging on the opposite hall’s wall, to which the entrance was prohibited and blocked with a horizontal cord, hanging at about waist height on each of the observation posts. The painting on the opposite wall was Velasquez’s famous painting of ‘La Infanta’, the king’s young daughter; covering the whole wall from its floor to its ceiling, depicting the young princess and her entourage; while Velasquez himself is shown standing before his easel and canvas – painting, as if he was staring at Hazon or at any other visitor, who were watching him in mid painting. How I envy him, God how I envy him… He thought with despair almost, standing there watching Velasquez with mouth wide agape, just some fifteen yards away. That assured posture of his, the way he holds his head, the brush and the palette in his skilled hands: that penetrating look in his eyes, viewing the subject, concentrating on it; that self confident expression of a virtuoso convinced in his talent: the court’s painter, the magician of masterpieces. What a composition…what a creation…! All the arguments he had against Velasquez and the school, which he represented, the preference of line and contour on colour, the limited palette – were discarded in front of this majestic work of art. No, there’s no doubt, it’s a unique masterpiece. Concluded Hazon against his own will and belief. While Velasquez’s gaze as if he was watching Hazon reaffirmed it: as if he was declaring to him a mute but a rather clear message: “Yes, it’s me Velasquez who painted it. I know very well who I am and what I’m worth – and all you can do is watch and admire”. No, Velasquez was not limited, how narrow-minded was I… He had a sole formula though, which he kept elaborating all his creative life. But he didn’t need a change or a renovation to push him on. Having reached that reasonable conclusion Hazon was assaulted with distress and sudden fatigue. Taking a glimpse at his watch he realized that some nine long hours have already passed. Turning on his heels he walked slowly out, with a bowed head not daring to look up and be reminded again, how poor and insignificant he himself no doubt is. Outside in the open air, he was not aware at all that night is falling, or that he had nothing to eat since breakfast. But he was quite aware to a sensation as if he was being strangled and had a splitting headache on top of it. How he reached his hotel he could not recall, he must have done it on foot. On getting there, he sneaked quickly in, shut himself in his suite and stretched down on his bed fully dressed – falling a sleep right away. A horrible nightmare kept haunting him during the night. Goya’s witches were chasing him, like a huge black wave just their bones and teeth shining, shouting and giggling after him: What a painter? What a miserable impostor… They kept mocking him laughing shrilly aloud. While he was running in front them, trying to escape in vain, their maddening laughter vibrating in his brain. The sun beams of late morning woke him up, his suit, the bed cloth, soaked with his perspiration – while he was still mumbling, hardly moving his lips: ‘I’m a painter, I’m a painter…’

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Aware to his own poor state he managed to sit up with much effort; after a short while he crawled out of bed as if he were a cripple, that could not tend himself – so weak was he. Stark naked, lonely and frightened without knowing the reason, he made his way slowly to the bathroom, leaving his drenched cloths in a heap next to the bedroom’s bed. Having filled the bathtub with hot water, he sprawled in it, lying on his back with closed eyes – biting his lower lip till it was bleeding, fighting the urge to drawn himself in the full tub. After a long spell of misery mixed with much self-pity, he reached a sudden and spontaneous decision; to cut short his visit and leave right away! He packed in frenzy his things and rushed to the first travel agency he happened to get to. On that same night he flew back, after having loafed in the city’s streets till nightfall. He could not face the hotel owners or any human being, and like a thief he sneaked unseen into his suite once again – took his luggage and left, without taking leave from his polite hosts. Although he was on the stand by list, he was lucky enough to get a free seat. When he found himself in his own Tel Aviv apartment a bit before dawn, he could not remember the slightest detail of his short visit – nor his flight back home.

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