“Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred. / Then, another thousand, and a second hundred. / Then, yet another thousand, and a hundred” wrote Catullus in one of his most famous odes to convey his insatiable – and very earthly – love for the beautiful Lesbia. And yet, every time I try and think of an image of a stronger and more lasting love, a love that lasts longer than the chains made of a thousand kisses, then a hundred, I cant’ help connecting that love to death. Eros and Thanatos often cling to each other, and when they do, we all know: worldly experience doesn’t suffice at all to satiate love.
Da mihi basia mille, deinde centum. 11th October 1963, Paris. The first frame that comes to my mind, however, is not that of a love, but of a deep friendship, an artistic companionship: she was a nightingale, he was a poet, an essayist, a playwright, a librettist etc. etc. She, Edith, was the first to pass away, killed by pneumonia and massive doses of drugs that had deeply debilitated her. Edith Piaf was immense and she had to be adequately commemorated. It was her friend Jean Cocteau who delivered her eulogy, describing her with beautiful sentences and memorable words, talking of a “sky-high wave of black velvet,” “a star that burns in the nocturnal solitude of the French sky.” The pressure is high. The cracks in the heart are deep. Jean passed away a few hours after Edith, killed by a heart attack.
Dein mille altera, dein secunda centum. 25th January 1920, Paris. It wasn’t exactly coincidental the death of the beautiful Jeanne Hébuterne, who had been Amedeo Modigliani’s partner from the spring of 1917 – and the main subject of his artistic work. Jeanne was partner to a ghost as well: consumption, which had been causing a worsening of the artist’s health from the summer of 1918. When, on the 24th January 1920, Amedeo died, a desperate Jeanne was brought to her father’s house by some relatives, but the grief was unbearable, and the day after the young woman flied away. Only after ten years she was transferred to Père Lachaise, in order to be buried next to her love. Her epitaph reads: “Devoted companion to the extreme sacrifice.”
Deinde usque altera mille, deinde centum. 18th May 1980, Macclesfield. Love is not just devotion, not just sacrifice – it is also a kind of disease that brings to the extreme consequences our frailties and weaknesses. Love will tear us apart, sang Ian Curtis, torn between two women, Deborah and Annik. And it was love, for sure, that tore him apart, hung off a drying rail at the age of 23, when maybe he still hadn’t received a thousand or a hundred kisses. And even if neither Deborah nor Annik has followed him straight away, there is a gravestone that expresses how strong and desperate and insatiable love can be. Love Will Tear Us Apart.
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