Literary breaks


Memories of Ecstasy

By Olivier Liron 27 September 2019


© Charles Duprat / OnP

Pretty Yende (Violetta) et Benjamin Bernheim (Alfredo) dans La Traviata, Palais Garnier, 2019


From a faded flower is born the promise of a lost love. Thus begins the libretto of La Traviata and the tragic story of Violetta and Alfredo. The writer Olivier Liron has imagined a final encounter between the two lovers. Between dream and hallucination, Violetta evokes her memories of Alfredo as he enters the realm of shadows. They will each savour the body of their beloved for the last time.


It is getting worse.

I have not the strength to leave my room. I am weak. I feel too weak. Alone in my room I am obsessed by the memory of the hands of all those men and women on my body. I think of Alfredo’s hands. His hands descending. Gently. As far as my waist. It burns with such violence. I feel like a flower. I have no more brain. I dream that I have become a flower and that I am walking on my head, my slit and my legs in the air. Alfredo is here. He approaches me and his hands push me down on the bed, caress my belly, descend to my slit. He loved to slip very slowly down into me. He descended into me. Yes, he disappeared inside me. He is still descending. How did he see me? What did I feel like to him? I long to see him again. Violent desire for him. His arms. His hands. His skin. The memory of you, Alfredo, the obscene memory.

I have not forgotten the warmth of his body. Longing to kiss his hair, lick his eyelids. The pulp of his fingertips. The beauty of his eyelashes. I wish he were here. My body is full of longing. Longing to be caressed. The heat weighs on me. I think about returning to Paris. No point. I am delirious. It is too late, in any case. I feel Alfredo’s hands on my arms calming me, lingering on my hips. I see his face again, the way he parted my lips with his tongue, while everything convulsed, all that commotion within me. I am going to die and I long to cling to him tenderly. I long to plunge my hair into the almost feminine dimple he had in the small of his back. Desire mingles with fatigue. At present I feel the summons of the flesh and it is worse than hunger, worse than thirst. Worse than pain. I would like to disappear in sensuality combined with sex and love which is true ecstasy.


My love, I call to you in winter.

I call to you from the land of cold and filth where I am, I call to you from the land of the living.

I speak to you in a field buried beneath snow.

I walk towards you at the winter solstice. I am in a field of pain and of cold and it could be anywhere in this world.

A strange coast beneath the snow. Winter is a dazzling shroud of light in which sometimes, for an instant, I revive you.


Hallucinations. In my memory hole-ridden by time things come back to me. All disordered. Years have passed, wildly lived, wildly lost. Scorched. Consumed. Pell-mell. I am nineteen, I emerge from a broken love affair with a young man and I am alone, I encounter solitude. She has huge dark eyes, I fall madly in love with her, she is twenty-two and a half, it’s her, it’s my solitude, Solly, oh Solly. I no longer fully grasp the passage of time. I would like to see Alfredo before I die. I do not have the courage. My resolutions crumble. Contradictory. I suppose I am rendered up to solitude, the most profound solitude, that which reveals no meaning, no truth. Now I must face this solitude and the serenity that I had counted on escapes me. There are streets that I perceive from my window and light that penetrates. I suppose solitude is the fear of dying and in that fear there is still the body of my love.

In the late afternoon I heard a silvery laugh in my room, a voice, hot breath on my neck. “Alfredo!” I cried. It was not he. Nobody was there. I was dreaming. Suffocating heat. Ventilator on full. Room insatiably empty.


My love, I am walking in the evening light.

It is not quite the evening light, that which seeps gently into the hidden velvet of the shadows...

How can I forget that ravenous good-bye, near the Dorée gate, in the Rue des Feuillantines?

For the last time your silhouette, in that steep little road that sloped down towards your death... You left without a word, you descended towards the great shadowy hole, my little defunct twenty-eight-year-old, and sometimes at night I feel your body throbbing against mine... As if I was pressing you to me, with our naked bodies side by side, and side by side estranged... And now, I walk in the evening light that falls endlessly over the world, that falls on the sea, my love.

Is there a way of denuding oneself, of losing everything and forgetting everything so as to live again? At best so that breath weary of snow, mingles with it?


The darkness of memories re-emerges. In bursts. Perhaps the effect of the pain that never relents. I see again the sordid nights of my twenties. A kiss on a street corner with Alfredo in a narrow alley in Paris. My memories pound away. More troubled vision in the late afternoon. It’s hastening. Impossible to sleep. I have a sun in the centre of my retina when I close my eyes. I sleep a little and I have a strange dream. My breasts have turned mauve and radioactive. I remember my first season as an artiste in that cabaret in Berlin. A hotel room on the banks of the Spree in the fading, ashy green light of winter. I see once more that first night with Alfredo in my little flat in the Rue Gît-le-Coeur. Wild nights, with champagne, a fainter thirst. Mud from a brackish river. We were drunk. In the early hours of the morning, I had a bite of black honey on my neck. The river. Night again.

I think of Alfredo. Of the others. Love does not exist. There are loves. There is a multiplicity of desires that scatter us to the four winds. My desire was never fixed. Found. I was unbridled. I loved life distractedly. I loved losing myself to distraction.


My love, you must not

You must not give in to sadness.

You know, if we want to resist this, we must not reflect upon it, we would like only to advance very softly during the night, until we are transformed into something else, into clouds or mist.

It is not quite winter, at least not the winter we were expecting, but the city is there, somewhere there, close by, and there is warmth. Lucky that we have been able to kiss on the street corner, an instant with the whole universe in disorder within, before it is too late: it was like the calm before the great storm of absence, before death evades us and unmasks us.

My love, we must make do with night oblivion snow. Be content with it.

We will taste each other no more.

I shall never again enjoy the taste of your body. How can one sing, light-hearted, the sorrow that is looming?

So, rhythmically, one uses the music and the melody. And already, everything is less heavy.

What to do, since it is certain, that what we once were is buried under the raw blankets of the snow.

Since there will come grief and then the vast fortress of forgetfulness.

Since your shadow is less real than the ghost of it that I am drawing.

Since you lived out your desires to the full.

Your joy.

Your urgency to be alive.

Since the snow falls painlessly, noiselessly?

It seems like the end of a season, of a poem... of a love story... Unless it is something else?

A way of beginning again?


My years of servitude to a strange passion. My passion for dancing never left me. Why? A form of madness, that never left me alone. Dancers are not angels. All the men that fell in love with me told me I was an angel. I always thought: That’s not right. I am not an angel or an ethereal creature. I am not a dragonfly that fades away into the clouds. An ephemeral apparition. An immaterial, threadlike creature. That is a man’s point of view. Purity is a masculine invention. Men are primitive animals who fantasise about innocence because it excites them. They think that young women who dance are airy nymphs, of the sort who make love balancing in unlikely positions. I am an earthly body, that’s the truth. They say: “You are an angel, a fairy”. They see an evanescent young woman forever conjoined to the heavens in nuptials of velvet. They imagine the immense firmament, the cold, motionless stars, a romantic, nocturnal ballet in the night. It is the opposite.

And yet, where does it come from, that sensation of grace, the joy of flight that I feel when I spin on the dance floor, intoxicated to the depths of my being? They ask: “What is the secret?” There is no secret. I reflect light. I dissolve into flight, into my desire. I feel it inside and it makes me want to experience it again, evening after evening. They said: “What do you feel?” I said: “It’s music. When I am on the dancefloor I am a violin of flesh and the shivering space makes me vibrate. I take solid shape.” They don’t understand. My entire body suddenly exists and I feel alive. I don’t scatter myself in the air. I resist. I work to become flesh, to gather myself in the entire volume of my skeleton, of my hips, from the tips of my toes to the pulp of my lips. I know my weight. Dancing is a little fantasy for four hands, sometimes sad, sometimes joyful. Each time, it’s like a sensual act. Dancing is like defying heaven. Which ceaselessly, lovingly also consecrates me to earth, and to desire.

It’s fading away. My throat and my skull torment me. I must take more tests. They want to give me a blood transfusion. I no longer have the presumption to express the pain that defeats me. Nor the strength.

Alfredo, my fiery angel, my devil, my maelstrom. These last thoughts are for you. I would like you to forgive me. I burn from you. I burn from your body. Inside me I am still burning from your body, from the memory of our mingled breath. I would like your love to bring me back to life from time to time. I want you to talk to me from beyond your absence. When I am no longer there. To call to me. To let me return from time to time with you, on earth, from the other side of the mirror, into the world of the living. I have not had the time to understand much about love. It is sometimes said that love itself does not exist; they say there is no love, only proofs of love. But if you think about it, it is a great folly to think that, isn’t it? On the contrary, there is never proof. Love is impossible to prove. There are no proofs of love.

There is only love.


My love, you used to say to me with a laugh: our era is not a great era for sentiment.

And we, we wanted to reinvent our er a, so I would like to tell you a story with naïve, winged sentiments to bring you back from among the shadows. Or join you there.

A story like those in fairy tales in which love has the burning, icy colour of desire.

I am going to tell you this story and you will come back to me, from across the oceans and beyond the shadows.

You remember, my love, when you had huge shadows under your eyes after your sleepless nights, and I called to you softly: “Dearest darling”?

So now, my love, my dearest darling, I shall call you that again to bring you back.

And of course, it won’t work. And you will straightaway return to the realm of words, the realm of the dead. It won’t work because time is not reversible. But I shall try. I shall knock at the door to the land of the dead. I shall call you. I shall call you softly: “Dearest darling”.

That will be the signal.

I shall say: Come.

Come. And our love will be icy and burning like the snow.

This article is also available in the folder La Traviata

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