The name Roman Polanski conjures up different responses. To many film buffs he is the Polish wunderkind who rocketed out of the Lodz film school in Poland to direct the dark and mysterious Knife in the Water (1962), a tale of fear and betrayal on the high seas heralded for its thematic complexity and perfect camera placement.
Are these Christian tattooists in the paper any stranger—Simon Stylites spent a life standing on a stone pillar, sixty feet up— did not come down for cramps or winter rain.
Could I survive the Sacred Heart with “Hail, Mary, Full of Grace” across my arm, or the crucifixion in three colors against my sternum between my breasts. Needles to skin over soft tissue is less painful, but flesh is grass and sags— art lasts best close to bone.
No stranger than hair shirts, hundreds of needles for hours, for days, even years, to get the complete St. Michael on my shoulder to the writhing, twisting dragon down my leg. Or my whole life to get the Last Supper with Stations of the Cross, and the proper text— Jesus’ words in red— covering every inch of skin, eyelids, lips, nose, between fingers and toes, while invisible capillaries under the skin carry the images molecule by molecule into the living catacombs of bone.
A friend of theirs had been festering like an old sandwich, rotting a little before disposal. They had to come, but it got to where they held their breath before they stepped inside the room. The wife remembered how anything with mayonnaise had to be refrigerated.
Even a sack lunch in an office was suspect if stored under the desk for a morning: egg salad was the worst. The husband recalled a tiny door in the stone wall of an English church, stage right from the modest altar—a place for lepers to take communion. Only part
of a soul could pass, and precious little of the smell. The wife and husband talked with their old friend like this, backing off from his suppurations, unwilling to think, This is our body, unwilling to think, Dust to dust, slipping their elements of decay into the outer cold and darkness.
Before the dust had settled from the tramping boots, he’d appeared. Eyes beheld him to their confusion but when he breathed upon them they remembered the spring green hills of Galilee, the cool evening air scented of olive, laurel, clematis, myrtle. A peace they could not reckon. A dove called.
Left to the silence, they could hardly recognize themselves. How strangely their voices sounded and what unlikely things they must have said.
During Hitler’s siege of Leningrad in the winter of 1941–42, the Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich and the entire Leningrad Philharmonic were evacuated from the city. A performance of Shostakovich’s seventh symphony, dedicated to the city of Leningrad, was planned for August 9, 1942. There were barely enough musicians left in the city to perform it. The score had to be flown in over German lines, and musicians were pulled from the front lines to bolster the meager ranks of musicians left behind. This performance was a show of resistance in a city which had just lost 1.2 million people (NPR, November 2).