The Garden of the Soul

The Garden of the Soul

As you can breathe the flavour of lemons along the narrow lanes of the Amalfi Coast, so Cosima Wagner was able to smell Richard’s bad mood even before it emerged.

It started always in the same way, slipping away softly: at first he lost the gift of speech, only saving some monosyllables, at last he completely indulged into the melodic silence that the landscape offered him.

But this time is different, Cosima mused, keeping her diary tight. The expression of her husband lacked firmness, and she had guessed it, just from the way he frowned his eyelashes, which were almost pleading.

It had been so for days, and perhaps now he had reached the apex of his bad mood. But how to blame him... it seemed to him to have become indifferent to any human pleasure. From Naples to Amalfi they had enjoyed the beauties that inspired theother - Richard underlined, distancing himself – European artists so much. They had visited historical places such as St.Andrew’s Cathedral, and also now, the Cappuccini Hotel, the charm of History seemed to be restless, while they were staying in the room which originally had been a cell of friars.

In short there was enough material to inspire the scarcest of poets.And this disheartened Richard.

Sitting with his arms folded on the terrace of the hotel, while he was teasing an ingrown hair in his beard, he tried to strip away all that superficial beautyof the Amalfi Cost, available to anyone, looking for something that he was the only one to be able to see, such as the courtship of a woman gets to enjoy private privileges between the bedsheets.

A place suspended between the sky and the sea. That land made almost in layers, with terracements planted with citrus and the houses that climb one above the other up to shape the top of a mountain, with the green of the Mediterranean maquis immersing its feet into the Thyrrhenian Sea, reminded him Dante’s Purgatory. A redemption place. Which looked heavenly. And yet nothing.

Mind and Soul absolutely did not want to hug each other. If one existed the other one did not. Perhaps he had really got old. Three days before they had celebrated at Villa d'Angri, where they stayed in Posillipo, his sixty-seventh birthday, and he had joked together with his friendJoukowsky: if he had escaped a death sentence, then another white hair would certainly not stop him.

But was it true? Without Cosima he would be dead years ago. Since when in Marienbad he had studied the legend of Graal, the search of the Graal, theParsifal, had not left him anymore, and after Lohengrinhe had continued to study and make researches, so that his health had been affected by so much work.

Cosima was so patient... when late at night Richard wandered around the corridors in the grip of thoughts, she took him back to bed with sweetness and listened to his deliriums, the decomposed smoke of his ideas, also catching their sense.

She cured him and calmed his emotions without cruelty, without making him feel guilty that he was twenty years older than her. Tweny years that he often looked at with pride and then, sometimes, with envy. Envy for a strong Mind in a strong Body.

What had happened to him? Where was that fighter that had not cared about failures, and from the tremendous experience of a storm had found inspiration for the Flying Dutchman? He did not know what fear was, but rather, like a new Siegfried, wished to find it, so that to savor its essence.

But the answer was there all, in the most banal truth. Does a hero not need, perhaps, an enemy to defeat? And problems and dilemmas to overcome? And now that Richard was supported by the Bavarian monarch, now that the theatre in Bayreuth was just like he wanted it to be, now that he was famous and wealthy, after years and years of poverty and humiliations, what did he have still to fight for?

Maybe, for the sake of it?

No, but only a little piece lacked.

It is finished, he continued to repeat to himself, the Parsifalis finished.

The orchestration and the set design of the second act lacked, yes, only they lacked! And this he had also told his wife and King Louis.

Parsifal arriving at the enchanted garden; who is subjugated by the erotic pleasures of the necromancer’s trap; who escapes the insidious Kundry and who manages to make Klingsor castle collapse.

«What do you think, then?»

A voice that he completely ignored. What did it say? That life was going to leave him, here what it said! He had never really reflected upon his death. Or rather, yes, above all after the arrest of ’48, but he had always thought about it with revenge, luxurious intentions, daydreaming about the world that would discover his genius too late, regretting about it.

And now that hey had recognized him, instead, and that perhaps only one, two, three years of life still remained to him for living?What would happen? Would any guy finish the work for him, caring nothing about his vision? No, that was his will, all that he had worked for and...

«Daddy, have you heard?» the little Siegfried asked, jumping on his lap.

His father, dazed, touched his blond hair, undecided whether to stroke his head or to move it, because it covered the landscape, and whispered: «What?»

«Deaf like Beethoven» Joukowsky provoked him. «With less taste, perhaps.»

«What?» Richard shouted, istinctively, trying to stand up with his son on him.

Paul vonJoukowskywas the only one who could answer to him this way; and the strange thing was that Wagner found it even funny. They both often played to clash in single combat, literally insulting each other by rhymes, like the two young poets, Cecco Angiolieri and Dante Alighieri, with Wagner who always sustained that he wanted to play the part of Alighieri for “art duties and why not, also moral duties”.

«Have you heard at least half a word?»

«Pardon? Yes, sure...»

«Well, would you like or not...»

«Let’s go to Villa Rufolo, dad!» Siegfried cut short.

«To Villa... What?»

«Yes, dad! There are ghosts there!»

A laugh escaped Richard’s lip, surprised by that ridiculous affirmation. «But what are you saying?»

«The ghosts, dad! I want to see them!»

«Who has told you these things?» his mother reproached him, who well knew how his passion for horror stories always meant sleepless nights.

«But it is true! Joukowsky told me that.»

Cosima gave a nasty look at the Russian painter, who soon intervened putting his hands forward: «Ehi, ehi... I have not told this».

«Yes, instead!» Siegfried complained jumping off his father. «You have said that there are the ghosts that protect the treasure!»

Cosima crossed her arms, amused, and tried to look angry. «A treasure, really?»

«No, no...»Joukowsky sputtered. «I have said only one. Aghost.And however it is only a legend.»

«That I hope you have not told Fidi…» she specified, calling her son by the nickname they had given him when he was still in diapers.

«Only one???» Siegfried complained.

«Yes! No!... No, no ghost! It is only a stupid legend.»

«But I want to know it,Jouko, tell me what legend! And the treasure exists, doesn’it?»

«Beh, the treasure...»

«Joukowsky!» Cosima scolded him.

«What’s the matter?! Cannot even treasures exist?»

«I want to see the treasure!» Siegfried shouted. «And the ghost! Daddy...»

But Richard had stood up, and now he was before the balustrade.

«Daddy...» the little child repeated frightened «... can we go to Villa Rufolo tomorrow?»

There was a moment of silence, interrupted by a tough: «No. Tomorrow we will come back to Villa D'Angri».


«Siegfried» Richard said, and his son had already understood, because they called him by his whole name only to reproach him. «We are not here to play.»

«Richard... don’t be naughty» Cosima pleaded him, getting closer to him.

Naughty? Was he naughty? And what were they doing, they who did nothing but joking in spite of his fears? He was going to answer her back, when he saw the diary in which she used to write, in her arms. He had always liked to think that if he had found his art in music, as well asJoukowskyin painting, she had then realized that her art expression would have to find its focus just on him: Wilhelm Richard Wagner. And he was so proud of this! And how anxious he became while she was writing before him. She wondered how she was portraying him, and when she found him peeking, she launched him an amused smile to reassure him.

And now, what would she write? That he was naughty? Or perhaps, even something worse... that he had failed? That the Garden of Klingsor had not been found and then he had...



«Ahi, ahi, ahi» Joukowsky intervened, scratching his head. «If you are so frightened, dear friend, we can also help but go there.»


«Beh,» he cleared his throat: «If to speak about ghosts scares you,

it is better not to pull the line too much,

we can also do without,

so that the yips can pass along».

Richard did not continue. «I don’t wish to play, Joukowsky.»

«Really? According to me, you are afraid of meeting the ghost of Lorenzo Rufolo.»

«Is he called so?» Siegfried shouted excited.

«Oh, sure. Lorenzo Rufolo. Everyone knows him in Ravello.» He bent over the child and put his hand on his shoulder. «Do you want really know what happened to him?»

«Yes, yes, tell me, come on!»

«Beh…» he hesitated glancing at Richard.

«No,Joukowsky, please» Cosima said. «Because he gets scared.»

«I am not afraid! That is daddy!»

«Good boy!» Joukowsky laughed.

«Ah, so? Then we will see if you don’t come to...»

«Cosima» Richard intervened defiantly. «Let him do.»

«Well» the painter smiled. «It happened more or less forty years ago, when a magician» he said, emphasizing the word, «found out that the Rufolos’ treasure was kept just by the ghost of one of their ancestors: Lorenzo.»

«And how did he find it out?» Siegfried asked.

«Beh, he was a magician, wasn’t he?» He scratched his cheek. «He had a magic stick with him or something like that... But let me continue. Then seven members of a noble family decided to ask the magician what to do to find the treasure, and the magician...»

«What did the magician say?»

Joukowskylooked him awry. «Are you doing it on purpose? Give me a while... Yes, and the magician said», and he pointed at the moon «that in order to find the treasure they would have to wait for the first full moon night to come – just like the one we can see today – and...», he passed his finger along his throat«... to shed the innocent blood of a child.»

No one spoke. Cosima rubbed her forehand with her hand, foreseeing troubles.

«A child like me?»

«Oh, beh, almost, but not any child: a blond child and...» he stopped talking, paying attention to Siegfried’s appearance. «... perhaps it is better not to continue.»

«But do not say that» Cosima intervened. She clasped her son in her arms. «You are really stupid,Joukowsky.»

«Oh, come on, it is only a story.»

«Have they killed a child?» Siegfried urged. «Like me?»

«Oh, no, darling» his mother consoled him kissing him on his forehead. «Didn’t you hear that it is only a legend? A little story that is told to keep children at bay.»

Siegfried went away from her. To be called “child” had annoyed him. «But if is a story what is its morals?»

«Its morals?»

«Yes, like in Little Red Riding Hood. At the end does Little Red Riding Hood not learn to listen to her mother’s advices?»

«The morals, eh. Let’s see...»

«That you should not believe the stories of a quack» intervened Richard, looking at his friend. «Obviously the treasure was never found. And the assassins were condemned. End of the story.»

«It is sure that no one creates suspense as you do» Joukowsky concluded.

Richard ruffled his son’s hair. «And that child was younger than you. His name was Onofrio Somma, and he was only 7 years old. Moreover,» he pointed at the sky «there was full moon yesterday. Can you see it? It lacks a part. It is called Gibbous moon. But I do not expect so much from a pseudo-painter who cannot distinguish shapes.»

«Is it better to trust on a deaf composer like Quasimodo?»

«Have you not compared me with Beethoven before?»

«Yes, I confirm it.And with less taste too.»

«But the treasure exists, doesn’it? And the ghost?» Siegfried started again, he had not time to bother about their bickering each other.

«I have told you that they are only stories.»

«It is not true. You have told me that the magician was a quack who could not find the treasure. But it does not mean that the treasure and the ghost do not exist.»

«It is flawless» Joukowskycommented, making as of to clap hands.

«I want to go there, daddy. I want to see if there is the ghost!»

«Oh, Fidi» Cosima said. «Ghosts do not exist.»

«But how do you know it if you have never seen them?»

«Just because I have never seen them I do not...»

«But is it not so as regards God?» she ventured.

Joukowskyput his hands forward in order to remain at a distance; Cosima answered: «Now you are exaggerating, Siegfried».

«Daddy,please! I want to go there.»

Richard remained for a while enchanted by his ecstatic expression. He saw himself; his hunger for knowledge, his eternal curiosity, ready to face any danger. Childish ingenuity, perhaps. Something that man should never lose over time.

Siegfried, she thought.Siegfried is not afraid. He rather wants to find out what can frighten him.

It is not by chance that they had called him so. When he was born Richard was working at the third act of Siegfrid, and that little baby had just become his only male heir. The one who would continue Wagner lineage.