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The chimes of san salvatore broke into Josef Breuer's reverie. He tugged his heavy gold watch from his waistcoat pocket. Nine o'clock. Once again, he read the small silver-bordered card he had received the day before.
21 October 1882
I must see you on a matter of great urgency. The future of German philosophy hangs in the balance. Meet me at nine tomorrow morning at the Café Sorrento.
An impertinent note! No one had addressed him so brashly in years. He knew of no Lou Salomé. No address on the envelope. No way to tell this person that nine o'clock was not convenient, that Frau Breuer would not be pleased to breakfast alone, that Dr. Breuer was on vacation, and that "matters of urgency" had no interest for him -- indeed, that Dr. Breuer had come to Venice precisely to get away from matters of urgency.
Yet here he was, at the Café Sorrento, at nine o'clock, scanning the faces around him, wondering which one might be the impertinent Lou Salomé.
"More coffee, sir?"
Breuer nodded to the waiter, a lad of thirteen or fourteen with wet black hair brushed sleekly back. How long had he been daydreaming? He looked again at his watch. Another ten minutes of life squandered. And squandered on what? As usual he had been daydreaming about Bertha, beautiful Bertha, his patient for the past two years. He had been recalling her teasing voice: "Doctor Breuer, why are you so afraid of me?" He had been remembering her words when he told her that he would no longer be her doctor: "I will wait. You will always be the only man in my life."
He berated himse1f. "For God's sake, stop! Stop thinking! Open your eyes! Look! Let the world in!"
Breuer lifted his cup, inhaling the aroma of rich coffee along with deep breaths of cold Venetian October air. He turned his head and looked about. The other tables of the Café Sorrento were filled with breakfasting men and women -- mostly tourists and mostly elderly. Several held newspapers in one hand and coffee cups in the other. Beyond the tables, steel-blue clouds of pigeons hovered and swooped. The still waters of the Grand Canal, shimmering with the reflections of the great palaces lining its banks, were disturbed only by the undulating wake of a coasting gondola. Other gondolas still slept, moored to twisted poles which lay askew in the canal, like spears flung down haphazardly by some giant hand.
"Yes, that's right -- look about you, you fool!" Breuer said to himself. "People come from all over the world to see Venice -- people who refuse to die before they are blessed by this beauty."
How much of life have I missed, he wondered, simply by failing to look? Or by looking and not seeing? Yesterday he had taken a solitary walk around the island of Murano and, at an hour's end, had seen nothing", registered nothing. No images had transferred from his retina to his cortex. All his attention had been consumed with thoughts of Bertha: her beguiling smile, her adoring eyes, the feel of her warm, trusting body and her rapid breathing as he examined or massaged her. Such scenes had power -- a life of their own; whenever he was off guard, they invaded his mind and usurped his imagination. Is this to be my lot forever? he wondered. Am I destined to be merely a stage on which memories of Bertha eternally play out their drama?
Someone rose at the adjoining table. The shrill scrape of the metal chair against the brick roused him, and once again he searched for Lou Salomé.
There she was! The woman walking down the Riva del Carbon, entering the café. Only she could have written that note -- that handsome woman, tall and slim, wrapped in fur, striding imperiously toward him now through the maze of tight-packed tables. And as she neared, Breuer saw that she was young, perhaps even younger than Bertha, possibly a schoolgirl. But that commanding presence -- extraordinary! It would carry her far!
Lou Salomé continued toward him with no trace of hesitation. How could she be so sure it was he? His left hand quickly stroked the reddish bristles of his beard lest bits of breakfast roll still clung there. His right hand pulled down the side of his black jacket so that it didn't hunch up around his neck. When she was only a few feet away, she stopped for an instant and gazed boldly into his eyes.
Suddenly Breuer's mind ceased its chattering. Now looking required no concentration. Now retina and cortex cooperated perfectly, allowing the image of Lou Salomé to pour freely into his mind. She was a woman of uncommon beauty: powerful forehead, strong, sculpted chin, bright blue eyes, full and sensuous lips, and carelessly brushed silver-blond hair gathered lackadaisically in a high bun, exposing her ears and her long, graceful neck. He noticed with particular pleasure the wisps of hair that had escaped the gathering bun and stretched out recklessly in every direction.
In three more strides, she was at his table. "Doctor Breuer, I am Lou Salomé. May I?" -- gesturing toward the chair. She sat down so quickly that Breuer had no time to offer her a proper greeting -- to rise, to bow, to kiss her hand, to pull out her chair.
"Waiter! Waiter!" Breuer snapped his fingers crisply. "A coffee for the lady. Café latte?" He glanced toward Fräulein Salomé. She nodded and, despite the morning chill, removed her fur wrap.
"Yes, a Café latte."
Breuer and his guest sat silent for a moment. Then Lou Salomé looked directly into his eyes and began: "I have a friend in despair. I'm afraid he'll kill himself in the very near future. It would be a great loss for me, and a great personal tragedy because I would bear some responsibility ... "When Nietzsche Wept
Excerpted from When Nietzsche Wept: A Novel of Obsession by Irvin D. Yalom
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