Amber is the night
December 21st is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. We all know that the days will lengthen and the light will win over the darkness, until the following year. To illustrate this symbolic passage, the photographers Buonomo & Cometti have staged a few candles. They asked me to use their names as inspiration to write a story. Which names ? Nuit d’Ambre, Ecorce Rousse, Altar, Roses, Bois des Indes, Gloria. Below, the promised story… Production and photos: Buonomo & Cometti. Text: Isabelle Cerboneschi
This text is a narrative. Any resemblance to real persons is purely coincidental
The color of the night is amber tonight : I shall call it Nuit d’Ambre. What a strange way to celebrate Christmas without the usual multitude that meets every December 24th, in the family house above Clarens. An immutable ritual that had to be changed though in this Covidesque year. We had to draw lots to see who would be allowed to share the turkey with GrandPa and GrandMa. I am part of the chosen ones. I suspect my grandmother cheated. I am her favourite. She calls me her “red bark”, Écorce Rousse in French. Because of my red hair, and probably because I’ve always been a tough girl.
One day I decided to throw out the beautiful destiny that my parents had mapped out for me: law school, where I was to meet the man who would become my husband, whose career would rise in inverse proportion to mine. We would have had children, he would have had mistresses, I would have closed my eyes, taken pills that make you sleep, and smile, and even some that make you laugh, bought from the dealers in front of the BFM. Never explain, never complain. I would have sacrificed my artistic talents, my desires to create, to paint, to draw, on the matrimonial Altar.
But one day, I took my destiny into my own hands and never again entrusted anyone with the power to decide what was good for me. I know what’s good for me. I flew to Pondicherry, with a huge backpack and my dreams clinging to my heart, and landed in Auroville. I stayed there for three months. Long enough to lose some habits and gain others.
When I returned, I was smelling patchouli and Indian wood, Bois des Indes. I had a piercing in my nose and the minute he saw me, my father closed the curtains for good on all his expectations. He has left me in royal peace ever since. He also threw me out, by the way. I was 20 years old, the age of all possibilities, according to him. He wasn’t completely wrong.
In India, I had learned the art of miniature and I started learning about paper-cuts, with an artist from Rougemont who took me in for a few months. I quickly freed myself from tradition by creating small worlds made out of white paper. They were funny, disturbing, dreamlike, a little crazy. The ones I had had in my head since I was a child.
Back in Geneva, I presented my work at the Krisal gallery in Carouge. Christine Ventouras, the gallery owner, loved my work and decided to organise an exhibition. On the day of the opening, neither her, nor I were expecting a visit from the general manager of a luxury house who asked me to decorate the windows of their shops in Geneva, Lausanne and Zurich for Christmas.
My artwork became popular and went viral on social networks. And one day, the Parisian head office of the brand called me and ordered paper-cuts for their boutiques in Paris. Other brands followed. I made the buzz for a while. A publisher even dedicated a book to my work. A pop-up book. My father never told me about it, but according to my mother, he keeps the book and all the articles about me in a locked drawer in his desk… A way to lock me in?
Tonight, I am lounging in the tower’s room, my favourite. It has a four-poster princess bed in which I let myself be swallowed. The wallpaper is a mix of stripes and garlands of flowers. I have the feeling that nothing bad can happen in this room. GrandMa has picked for me a bouquet of late english roses, which she raises in her rose garden. They smell like Turkish delight and have a princess name, I’ve forgotten which one.
I’m listening to Gloria, not Bach’s “Gloria in excelsis Deo”, which will be played at midnight, but Patti Smith’s “Gloria”, GLORIA, G.L.O.R.I.A., GLORIA, my mother’s favourite song. This Christmas Eve, for once, there will be no Festen-style settling of accounts. All the bad accountants have been magically excluded by the fake lottery.
I light the candle that my grandmother had put in my room. It is called Roses of course. If she had been able to, GrandMa too would have thrown out the beautiful destiny that her parents had drawn for her. But she didn’t dare. She was born just after the end of the Second World War, and in her social circle, this was not a thing she could do.
I stare in fascination at the flames dancing in the night and make this promise to myself: I will always dance my life, for me and for all the women of our lineage who have not been granted the most precious gift of all: freedom.