rainer maria rilke

  My dear friend B....,

Many years ago I knew an English writer in Cairo, a Mr. Blackwood, who in one of his novels advances a rather attractive hypothesis: he claims that at midnight there always appears a tiny slit between the day ending and the day beginning, and that a very agile person who managed to insert himself into that slit would escape from time and find himself in a realm independent of all the changes we must endure; in such a place are gathered all the things we have lost (Mitsou, for instance)...children's broken dolls, etc. etc....

That's the place, my dear B...., into which you must insert yourself on the night of February 28, in order to take possession of your birthday, which is hidden there, coming to light only every four years! (Just think how worn out, in an exhibition of birthdays, other people's would be compared with this one of yours which is so carefully tended and which is removed only at long intervals, quite resplendent, from its hideaway.)

Mr. Blackwood, if I am not mistaken, calls this secret and nocturnal slit the "Crac": now I advise you, if you want to please your dear mother and Pierre, not to vanish into the Crac, but only to look around there when you are asleep. Your birthday, I am certain, will be very close by and you'll see it right away, and perhaps you'll have a chance to catch sight of other splendors as well. When you wake up on March 1, you'll be filled with these admirable and mysterious memories, and instead of your own celebration, you will generously provide one for everyone else, by sharing your moving impressions and describing the magnificent state of your rare birthday, missing but intact, and of the finest quality.

This discreet birthday which most of the time inhabits an extraterrestrial space certainly entitles you to many things unknown here on earth (it seems to me more important and more exotic than the Brazilian uncle). What I wish for you, my dear B...., is that you'll be capable of acclimatizing some of these things on our planet so that they can grow here, despite the difficulties of our uncertain seasons.

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Excerpted from Balthus by Nicholas Fox Weber. Copyright © 1999 by Nicholas Fox Weber. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.