Not so long ago, a beautiful book traveled the seven seas (from Manhattan USA to Goa) to land at my doorstep. It was a `care-package’ sent to me by a love interest. Wrapped in scented paper, cocooned in a cloud of perfume and tiny ribbons, a pair of high-end Italian leather shoes (this was a wooing technique, I suspected), with happy little notes tucked in here and there. My romantic soul had melted into mush. But, of course, quickly turning to grit when I saw the huge customs bill that accompanied this declaration of `love.’ But then, we’ve heard somewhere that it’s the thought that counts?! Mix tapes of curated music, a scarf, Nine West kitten sling-back heels, I should have fallen hard, right? Right! But I did. For a book, that was part of my `care-package.’ That’s how I met Griffin and Sabine: An Extraordinary Correspondence, an epistolary novel by Nick Bantock (published in 1991 by Chronicle Books in the United States and Raincoast Books in Canada).
The book was a story told through a series of removable letters and postcards between the two main characters, Griffin Moss, an artist who lives in London, and Sabine Strohem, also an artist, a woman he has never met, who lives in the South Pacific islands, known as the Sicmon Islands.
Two star-crossed lovers who discover each other by accident, forever changing my idea of what it means to read a book. With painting and prose richly intertwined, symbolic of their fervent writings to each other, each postcard a tribute to a legacy of artistry and passion between two people who had never met, who had never touched each other, who didn’t even know how the other looked, and yet their strange and intriguing correspondence to each other transcending the ordinary love story. Prophets of great spiritual love tell you that if you love somebody very passionately, you can glimpse into their soul, and they, yours. Because love requires complete surrender and unconditional acceptance of the warts. In today’s world, far too many.
As Sabine drew me deeper and deeper into her world, I imagined I could smell the salt in the tropical island she lived on. The gust of strong wind blowing through the wind chimes she had probably hung onto the palm fronds. I could breathe in the sand in her flying hair and see through her eyes as she feverishly scribbled postcards to her lover across the Pacific Islands. His dark, brooding moodiness of London to her sunny warmth, laughter and intelligence. Inspiring and supporting him, urging him to believe in his artistic pursuit. Settling his confusion of their discovery of each other (no sexting bro, where romance in these days requires a lubricator!! Ugh!). So much passion in their words, that Sabine was beginning to see through her lover’s mind and influence his art, despite the miles between them…
I remember clearly before long a teardrop had fallen upon a postcard I was holding in my hand, and then another. They were mine, and I needed a break… But love stories have a strange hold on me. I had succumbed to their intense discovery of life. I read it to work, at work, keeping me awake at night. For Griffin and Sabine had opened the doors of their heart to me and had traveled from New York to find me. Even if in doing so I had felt like a voyeur to their tribulations.
As if hanging on to a life-jacket in mid-ocean, I remember devouring their love letters, picking postcards out of hidden envelopes from the book so beautifully designed, boldly painted with the colours of Sabine’s tribal motifs, tiny hurried messages scrawled on the envelopes. Soon enough, they were beginning to relive their story in my head… I so wanted them to be together. When I go back to the book even these days, I still wish the same. In Sabine I had discovered pieces of me lost in a world of consumerist slavery to make a living. Lucky Sabine had no office to bind her, or hurried deadlines, tantrums, bills to pay to, or rules to adhere to. She was free. She was real. She was not afraid to love. She was not afraid to risk. She was not afraid to be, all of her wild spirited abandon just to love and give…Dear, dear Sabine.
Okay, so it’s yet another Valentine’s Day and I’m now the cat lady of my kingdom where the only purrs of passion I hear are my cats cuddled blissful in my blanket counting their lucky stars. But Sabine lives on urging me to look within and have you believe that great love IS possible – if you have survived the great walk through fire that is (in pure Guru Dutt style of forbidden love, lust and suicide).
This Valentine, as I do every year, I wish for a love that turns my knees to jelly, a pair of six inch wedge-heel boots to keep my feet grounded on solid earth, passion that shakes the foundation of my soul (do I see another book coming?) madness to enable total surrender (that won’t seriously mean I should go broke!). Companionship that wraps you and comforts you on cold nights discussing Movies, Scotch and Aliens. Explains why I’m single? Happy Valentine’s Day, my lovelies.
I enjoyed the way you described the way the book made you feel.And especially the part about “unconditional acceptance of the warts.”I myself have sunk into the book like a heavy stone in soft sand and felt voyeurist pleasure opening those letters and devouring each one.