woensdag 13 april 2011
vrijdag 1 april 2011
I met Alice Nola on three occasions.
The first time, I bumped into her in Amsterdam Central Station. She was standing inside a shop, holding a postcard between her thumb and forefinger, and she asked the shopkeeper how many stamps she needed to send a card to Gent.
The shopkeeper wanted to know in which country Gent was located, and Alice Nola turned around as if she was searching for an audience to the reply she was about to give.
‘I am unable to cope with this case of force majeure,’ was her reply and I was the audience.
She slid the card – an image of a grey Persian cat, playing with something that looked like a little flask, used for perfume in the old days – back into the rack. She offered to ‘consume’ something in the station restaurant. My option – one of the terraces facing the station – hardly stood a chance. ‘I simply adore stations,’ she said, ‘I hang around them all the time.’
The second railway station where our paths crossed again was Deventer Central Station.
This time, there was no geographically illiterate postcard assistant to bring us together. She had called me the day before. She was looking for someone who ‘did’ biographies.
‘I do not ‘do’ biographies,’ was my reply. She had insisted.
She felt that there was a ‘thin but unmistakable thread’, running through the phenomemon of ‘force majeure’ and our blossoming friendship.
In Deventer, Alice Nola told me about herself. ‘If you want me to write about you – for this had been her purpose all along – you will have to give me something was my advice to her. She was dressed in a white coat adorned with oddly shaped feathers (‘Fake swan,’ she mentioned), and only once did she remove the sunglasses balancing on her nose: when she leaned over to whisper in my ear that one of her admirers had sent her a new perfume. She talked about her friendship with Mary. ‘The mornings I spent with Mary were the most interesting mornings of my life. I still have three vacant periods to fill. At the moment I concentrate on the most interesting afternoon of my life.’ While entrusting me with all kinds of details about Mary, she carefully watched the tables around ours, like a private investigator searching for set-ups and conspiracies.
‘Whence this suspicion, Alice Nola?’ I asked.
She gave me one of her serious looks. ‘I feel that I will meet Mary one more time in this life. It might just be today.’
It was nice to think that someone had asked me to write the story of her life. And yet, it was not nice to think that this person was going to interfere in the end.
Authorized Biographies are not only the least interesting biographies left to read, they are also the least interesting biographies to write.
My fears proved ungrounded.
‘Write anything you like,’ answered Alice Nola when I shared my doubts with her. ‘We will meet one more time. Then I want to find the book by accident. In a supermarket or a station, in a bookshop. Somewhere.’
She asked me to choose a title she would immediately recognize. ‘Something that suits me. You know. Something sensational.’
We spent all afternoon in Deventer, had several coffees, gin tonics, soda water out of little red bottles, and ordered sandwiches with seaweed in a tearoom. In front of a tobacco shop I asked her if she would allow me to read The Gospel According to Brenas – her beloved diary,
named after her cat.
‘Out of the question!’ she screamed, while she opened the pack of Chesterfield cigarettes she had just purchased. ‘My diary only has one author and one reader. I happen to be both of them.’
I did manage to get several pages from her – photocopies, with initials in six different colours, to be returned to an adress in Gent – thanks to the little sentence that had triggered our first encounter, the one I borrowed from her: ‘I am unable to cope with this kind of force majeure!’
Half a packet of Chesterfields and three gin tonics later, Alice Nola was still laughing. ‘I knew it, right from the beginning.’
I asked her what exactly she ‘knew, right from the beginning’.
‘The first time I saw you, I knew you were made for my life.’
Two weeks later, in the station restaurant of Antwerp, she handed to me 24 pages.
‘If you make improper use of them,’ she said maliciously, ‘we know where to find you.’
Once again I could have borrowed her little introductory sentence, but I prefered to agree in silence.
She hailed a taxi in front of the station and hastily jumped into it. I asked if we would meet again. ‘I don’t think so,’ Alice Nola said, while she shut the car door. The automobile hit the main road and at the end of a long row of hotels, Alice Nola began to move eastwards. She waved until the car vanished behind some gloomy Hilton-wall – or was it Ibis? One of Alice Nola’s requests I have not granted. She wanted me to use her real name.