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Love Predestination

Xavier Perez-Pons

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(1st letter of “Love Letters from a Widower: the Mystery of Soul Mates in Light of Ancient Wisdom")


Xavier Perez-Pons 


         On a spring afternoon in the year two thousand, I happened to wander into a bookshop in the old Barri Gòtic in Barcelona.
The owner was busy taking books from two large wooden boxes. I was curious, so I asked him if I could have a look. The books were in Catalan, Spanish, French, and English, some of them illustrated, most of them filled with underlinings and pencil notes on the margin; there were also a couple in Portuguese and some other in Italian. They were of all sorts of literary genres, although I could spot a common subject. I asked the owner where he had gotten these boxes. They had belonged to a man that had recently died; that is all he knew. He had bought them at an auction, along with other private libraries and lots from all over the place. I asked him to give me a price, and I took the whole lot home. 
Actually, that is not true. There was more to the lot than those two boxes. There was a third one. A third box, which the owner let me have for free since it came from the same place as the other two. These books, though, did not seem to have any connection with the other ones. These were immaculate, bound in blue shades of Moroccan leather, without a single note written on the margins, and they were mostly novels of different genres. So, I declined the offer, which later I regretted, for reasons that soon I will make clear. When I tried to go back for them, however, it was too late: the blue books were in the hands of an interior decorator. It pains me to picture them turned into an atrezzo, into furniture accessories.
       For several weeks, I left the books in their boxes, forgotten in a room, as my job prevented me from going through them. When I finally found the time to exhume them, I found, scattered among several volumes, a manuscript in the form of correspondence: ten long letters, written in tight, minuscule handwriting on double-sided paper (the same handwriting responsible for the notes in the book margins). The last of these letters dated from just three months before my casual visit to the old man's bookshop, so the author must have written it right before he passed away. (He'd still have time, however, for a mysterious trip abroad. But we'll talk more about that later on.) Regarding his identity, my inquiries proved fruitless (the signature at the end of each letter was unreadable). The only biographical information we have, then, is what the author tells us throughout the manuscript: not much beyond his marital status as a widower, and his wife's, who is the recipient and leitmotif of the letters, first name: Blanca. The letters’ private nature, how personal they were, had kept me from publishing them. Then I noticed a detail in the manuscript to which I had not given much thought: the crossed-out notes on the margins, which were evidently made at some later time, as they didn't come from the same fountain pen but from a thick marker. These cross-outs, which first appear on the second letter, were made in a hurry, as if its terminally ill author, guessing the future of his manuscript, had felt the need to cross out the notes he had made while writing the letters. In any case, the rushed approach to the blackouts allowed me to glean fragments of paragraphs and loose words from every note, which I thought appropriate to include in here, inserting them at approximately the same point they appear in the manuscript.
          I have to say in advance that, from the tenor of three enigmatic allusions in the letters, it seems that all the notes have some connection with the aforementioned blue books. It also suggests something shocking, which I do not even dare to judge; I will let the reader do that. It implies that, through the blue books, the author believes he is receiving messages from his late wife. Not posthumous messages, but actual communications, as if she were still alive. In those books, that he frequently read, he finds – or believes he finds – luminous signs, faint phosphorescences that stand out to him and highlight a paragraph or a sentence, to which he confers a personal meaning and attributes to his dead wife. We can assume these messages usually come to him during a break in his writing (which appears to have been a nocturnal activity), and that he jots them down on the margins, maybe with the intention of coming back to them later.
            Anyway, I have gone on for too long about this minor subject of the crossed-out notes. The thing is, instead of doing what he did, instead of taking the time to censure the annotations haphazardly, he could have thrown the whole manuscript away. He did not, though, and that convinces me he would not oppose its posthumous publication. Perhaps, and this is my primary motivation for publishing them, he thought these letters would offer a glimmer of hope to people in a similar situation as his. Maybe even spare some reader the same tortuous search for answers he undertook. Be it as it may, it is my duty to warn you that the content of these letters is as controversial as its circumstances. The author does not stop at scouring through ancient wisdom for the concept of twin souls: he uses it as a basis to draft – with a more or less steady hand, depending on which part – a metaphysical structure. Such structure, naturally (or other people would have already figured it out), though it finds support in the opinions of ancient sages (though not all of them), was not framed by them as such. Therefore, it is inappropriate to credit them as the author does.
       That said, I have to add that nothing is invented. Moreover, while the author does generalise, he makes it work, connecting everything in his way and putting forward his own conclusions. With this, he draws a personal synthesis of ancient wisdom. It would be understandable for us to label this synthesis – along with the supernatural phenomenology I just mentioned – as something belonging to the fantasy genre. We should not, then, place too much faith on the results of his painstaking investigation work being the elusive Truth so eagerly sought by wise men across time and space. We could imagine the author – in one of those metaphorical exercises he seemed to enjoy – diving into the sea of ancient knowledge, resurfacing with a fist full of pearls, and then proceeding to thread them on the silk string of ancient belief in twin souls. The ancient sages are responsible for the beads, but the necklace is the author's work.
       The pearls are, nonetheless, genuine. If we take for example what, from the modern perspective, appears to be the most unacceptable item in his structure: the devaluation of sensual love, which is, to a large extent, one of the pearls he salvages from ancient wisdom; all he does is thread it into the necklace, next to the other pearls. Beyond his excessive tendency to generalise, though, he also tends to oversimplify, perhaps with the intention of making more accessible, both to himself and to his wife, those “pearls”, those old notions that, given the opportunity, he will not hesitate in clarifying as it suits him. All this leads to a subjective interpretation of the old wisdom: an analysis by a man in love.
          In his defence, however, we can quote one of the books he handled (The Burnt Book, by Marc-Alain Ouaknin; an essay on the Talmud, the central text of Judaism). It goes like this: “Is it really necessary to go into a debate on interpretation? Did the authors referred to really have the intentions we ascribe to them? Who can tell? The only criterion for judging an interpretation is its richness, its fruitfulness. Anything that gives matter of thought honours the person who proffers it.” This quote conveys what appears to be one of the main ideas in the Talmud, a book with origins in oral tradition; the idea that the old wisdom is not something settled, static; it is not a snapshot of the past, like a still life, but something alive and ever evolving. Old wisdom grows and blooms with each new interpretation, including –why not?- the one proposed by the author of these letters.
         Besides, we never know, the world is so beautiful and mysterious that it could very well have hidden its structure from the wisest of sages, only to reveal it to a dilatant. In any case, if you are solely interested in ancient accounts of twin souls, the first two letters will be enough to satisfy your curiosity. However, if you are tempted to dive deep into the metaphysics of love, then do not be intimidated by the length of the text and do not give up reading until the very end – where a surprise awaits you. 
        Finally, I numbered the letters, gave them titles and divided them into sections for their publication. I also attached bibliographic references corresponding to the abounding quotes, all of them taken from the books now in my possession, from which I also took ten illustrations, and ten epigraphs to head them. I felt I should split the collection into two large sections, so that is what I did. Lastly, I titled it.

                        Xavier Pérez i Pons
                    Puigcerdá, July 1st, 2011 




Very well, this world, with the whole
Of its symbols, is the outskirts of the
Otherworld and what it contains. That
Otherworld is the Spirit and the Life.
Who in this world acts only for this
World, without knowing the Otherworld,
Acts in ignorance.

(Book of the wise man and his disciple
Ja'far bin Mansur al-Yaman, Ismailist poet and theologian of the tenth century)


Barcelona, May 22nd, 1999

Dear Blanca,

Today we would celebrate... Correction; today we celebrate fifty years of marriage. Our golden anniversary. To celebrate it, I took my pen (your pen, the one you gave me) and started writing to you. First, I want to apologise for not having done this before. Or, to be fair, for not being able to continue beyond the first line, because the fact is I tried, countless times, without success. It wasn’t because I didn't have anything to say to you. It just so happens that sorrow is a great obstacle for words; it stops them from flowing out of your mouth or pen. Even the more pressing ones. One's life could be in grave danger, and it would still be a superhuman effort just to ask for help. This could easily sound like an excuse, but believe me: it’s not an excuse, it’s a good reason. Anyway, since this time I was able to go beyond the cursed threshold of the first line, you can deduce that I have found some consolation to my sorrow. And it's precisely about that, my love, about the foundations of this consolation, that I want to talk to you. 
          Since it could not have been in any other way (no other argument would have worked), this comfort of mine is based on the hope that you and I will be together again. I know, it sounds bizarre. After all, you are dead. Nevertheless, please allow me to explain myself. The good thing about this is that it’s not an elusive dream, a mere exercise in voluntarism – like when you, in some summer nights in Palamós, would wish upon falling stars. Of course, there is no conclusive proof that we will be together again; at least I have not found it. However, I have found some things...  hints that open the door for hope. I can see you smiling ironically at my detective talk. Laugh all you want, but the truth is that in last few years I have become a sort of modest emulator of Hercules Poirot, just to name your favourite detective. Except the mystery that I’m investigating has nothing in common with the kind of cases to which the famous sleuth applied his cunning. My research, conducted in the realm of ancient knowledge, takes a more intangible and elusive scope. The field of transcendence, of the hidden reality.
          You know, while you were alive, I – unlike you – was never particularly interested in these kinds of mysteries. (See? You had to die so that nothing else would interest me as much.) As with most of my contemporaries, the word mystery would immediately take me back to crime novels and thriller films. That is trivializing the word, though. Etymologically speaking, mystery means “hidden thing”; it applies to Cat Among The Pigeons and to The Woman In White (to name two mystery novels from the blue book collection) because in them things also tend to have a hidden dimension, a secret skein from which the protagonist pulls the thread. The word mystery, however, was coined in Ancient Greece to refer not to the crime novel dimension beyond things, but (like that other word: mystic, to which is related) to a sacred dimension; a subtle, hidden reality lying beneath the harsh visible reality.
          I say reality, Blanca, because this mystery is not like the ones in crime novels or thrillers: it’s not, as many people might think (as I would have thought, a few years ago), fiction. It’s a reality that, though intangible, is present and decisive in our everyday lives.
    Unfortunately, these days most of us have lost this perception. Today, the world is only mysterious in the eyes of children (the awe, the sense of wonder with which children discover the world!). To understand the mystery, I mean the real dimension of things, one has to look beyond its surface. Years ago, I might have claimed that scientists do look beyond the surface, that science examines reality to the core. Now I have changed my opinion. Now I say that even those investigating the DNA molecule and genes, the brain and sub-atomic particles are not looking beyond the epidermis of reality; all they are doing is examining that epidermis to its core. Because an atom or a gene, Blanca, is not any less material than the physical body to which it belongs or which it defines. And Matter – the physical world – is, for the ancient sages, the crust of things, the epidermis of what is real. 
         To look beyond the surface, then, means to look beyond Matter. And how does one look beyond Matter? The secret, the ancient sages tell us, is in silencing the mind. Our mind is seething with noise; it’s filled with ideas, plans, fears, prejudices; it oozes with worries, hopes, and dreams. All that needs to be silenced. Only when all mental activity stops, are we in a position to perceive the “other side”, the spiritual side of reality, its mystery... Look, you are a big art lover. We used to attend exhibitions together. I remember that time we visited a tapestry studio. We could see then that the reverse side of a tapestry is highly complex; not just a replica of the front: it’s where all the loose ends lead you. In a tapestry, we have the mystery of the “reverse side”, which a painting lacks. There are no secrets behind a painting; everything is right there in front of our eyes. That is how, Blanca – like if it’s a painting – that we, in modern days, tend to look at the Universe. The ancient sages saw it more like a tapestry – except that, unlike what happens with tapestries, the “reverse side” of the Universe is infinitely more valuable than the “front”. They knew that underneath the surface of the Universe – that is, beyond the physical world – lie wonders and hidden treasures of incalculable value... 


To the ancient sages, Blanca, the Universe is mysterious. Existence, in general, is mysterious, and so is its every aspect. Including that fundamental aspect of human existence, the “reverse side” of which we are going to investigate in this letter and the ones following it – the subject is too complex, and one letter will not be enough. I am talking, of course, about erotic love. The love between man and woman (though, of course, this kind of love can also happen between two people of the same gender). With a detective-like spirit, we will delve into erotic love. Although we will not do so like biologists and neurologists, who like watchmakers trying to understand the inner workings of a watch, would disassemble it and study its parts. Don't worry; I will not talk to you about hormones, cerebral areas and processes, or about dopamine releases or other such things that are the latest fashion in scientific discoveries. The point of view we will adopt is that of the old sage, who, to better understand the watch, undertakes a reflection on Time.
       Existence is mysterious, I was saying, and so is every aspect of existence. Each particular life, Blanca, is mysterious. Everything holds a mystery for the ancient sages. Hence them not being satisfied with disassembling the watch, with scrutinising the surface of things. They were curious about what was on the other side, on the hidden side of the tapestry, and consequently, they strove to look behind it. This action – which you can take even with your eyes closed - of looking beyond appearances, has a name, my dear: it’s called “to intuit”. Intuitions sprout from the unconscious, and recent studies have shown that on that level you can find cognitive processes on a much larger scale than on the conscious level. Our ancestors knew this, Blanca, and that is why intuition, mystical intuition, is the quintessential ancient organ of perception. The ancient sages depended on it to unravel the world; that is to say, to analyse the other world. Let me clarify that when I talk about ancient sages, I am thinking in particular about those old wise people that today we would categorise under labels such as esoterica, or occultism, which is actually the field of knowledge, and this includes the area behind the religions of the Book – Judaism, Christianity, and Islamism -, on which we'll focus here. It will be mainly the authority of these ancient sages (always outlawed by the pontifical representatives of orthodoxy), to which we will take heed of in these letters. And, by the way, I should tell you that almost every ancient sage passing through these pages (except for some contemplative mystics) will be male. But don't complain: is it my fault that the history of philosophy and religion – on both their sides, the front and the reverse, the exoteric and the esoteric – feature so few women? This fact, though, is misleading; there is no doubt that women contributed decisively to ancient wisdom, even if men received all the credit. There is a reason why women are considered to have much more developed intuitive capabilities.
          Anyway, Blanca, these days neither men nor women use this tool, this mystic intuition. We prefer reason and empiric experimentation. Essential tools, no doubt, but why must we cast aside like an old trinket a tool -  the one ancient sages symbolised with the so-called “third eye”, “inner eye”, or “eye of fire” - which allows us to see the essence, the spiritual dimension of things? Why limit ourselves to the tip of the iceberg when reality is unfathomably deeper? The problem, as I was telling you, Blanca, is that, in general, the modern man no longer believes in the occult dimension. We are much more inclined to see the world as a painting instead of as a tapestry. Which does not mean – since almost every rule has its exception – that no modern sages has approached existence with their “back eyes”. With their second sight, to use the term coined by one of them, one of the most remarkable modern sages: Carl Gustav Young . And, if you allow me, I will quote the French philosopher Henri Bergson, who brought back to modern philosophy this ancient idea of reality as something too dense to be perceived by intelligence. Intelligence, said Bergson, shows us the exterior of things; intuition shows us the interior; how things really are on the inside. Modern sages with an “an ancient perspective” will count among our sages. 
             There is no doubt, my dear, that mystic intuition is an organ of perception of extreme efficiency. This inner vision, however, captures the other world – the “reverse side” of the world – in fragments. That being the case, there are occasions on which two mystic intuitions say contradictory things. We tend to assume, then, that one of them is wrong. That is not necessarily the case, though. Take, as one of the most striking examples of that disparity, the religious beliefs in the West and the East. It’s true that there are considerable differences between them. However, that does not mean that they are mutually exclusive; what happens is that each of them focuses on a different aspect of transcendence. I remind you of that famous Indian parable about the blind men and the elephant: A group of blind people approaches an elephant from different sides. They had never heard of such an animal, so they try to conceptualise it by touching it. Since they are all touching different sides of the elephant, their versions differ. The one examining the trunk (“it’s long and flexible, like a snake”) has nothing in common with the one studying one of the legs (“it’s like a pillar”), or with the one touching the belly or the tail of the animal. None of them is wrong, though. They all hold a part of a truth that has many sides. 
    Intuition, then, captures the “reverse side” of the world in fragments. But it does so, Blanca, in broad outlines; meaning it lacks detail. It perceives everything as if it were all shrouded in a grey mist, like the one obscuring the scenery on your hometown. I don’t know if there is an etymological reason, or if it’s just a happy coincidence, but in the English word mist is the Greek root of the words mystery and mystic: mys, which means “hidden”. Within the mist, things appear blurred; they are, for all purposes, “hidden things”, things enveloped in uncertainty. They are, therefore, open to interpretations, allowing for different readings. Since we were talking in zoological metaphors, Blanca, suppose you see an animal in the mist. You can distinguish its proportions; almost two meters wide, one and a half meters tall; it has four long and bony legs, and at the top of a strong, large neck, a thin snout-shaped head. With this basic information, would it not still be difficult to tell me what animal you are seeing? We can have at least three different interpretations. Anyway, it’s something along those lines that happens with the descriptions of the Afterlife offered by the ancient sages. There are several pretty much unanimous perceptions, but the details vary from sage to sage. Almost all of them see, say, a four-legged animal, tall, large, with a snout. Except some of them believe they are looking at a horse, while others a zebra, and others yet a donkey...
          One practically unanimous perception of the ancient sages concerns what lies behind the human being. If everything in this world, my dear, is much more than meets the eye, then the same must apply to us humans. If we are to believe the ancient sages, then you were right and I was wrong; we are not rational animals, we have a reverse side; and it's immaterial, spiritual, and, therefore, immortal and eternal. Ancient sages called this reverse side of the human being its soul. To say, though, that we have a “reverse side”, “we have a soul”, is not accurate: we are a soul. This is because the “reverse side”, Blanca, is the essence of things, what things really are. We have a body, age, a name, intelligence, a temper, some skills or talents, even a personality. We have all that; the soul, in contrast, is what we are. Mystic intuition is specifically an ability of the soul: the “third eye” is the eye of the spirit (the “eye of the heart” like some ancient sages called it, because the heart – remember this every time I mention it – was seen as the headquarters of the soul and, therefore, its embodiment).
          Being the existence of the soul the foundation of the theory we will be unfolding in these letters, it would be important to give some consistency to that premise. I will not bring up the rational demonstrations by the philosophers, but an empiric fact documented by the medical community, which, if I am not wrong Blanca, you were well aware of in life: I am talking about what they call Near Death Experiences. Modern CPR techniques have made it possible to bring someone who was clinically dead “back to life”. And many of these people return with something to tell us about their experience. Since the 70's, when Dr Raymond Moody dedicated himself to collecting some of these accounts, all around the world there have been more doctors and scientists interested in listening to them. These stories deserve the attention, Blanca, because they all seem to follow the same pattern. A pattern that tears down the main objection science imposes on the idea of the soul. This common template (of which there are plenty ancient accounts, like the famous painting by Hieronymous Bosch, Ascent of The Blessed), talks about a journey through a tunnel with a white light at the end, where a glorious, shining figure awaits the traveller, radiating an absolute love. The thing is, my dear, this traveller travels without the equipment science considers indispensable for travelling: without a physical support, without being biologically alive. This astral traveller defies the scientific dogma that says consciousness, the self, does not survive death. And is in itself, I think, a very consistent evidence supporting the existence of the soul. 
               I mentioned the figure in white light on the other side of the tunnel of death. The astral traveller identifies this warm, loving character who welcomes him from the Afterlife as God. This indirectly grants a certain credibility to another idea – the idea of God. An idea strictly associated with the concept of the soul, and which will be equally fundamental in our letters, my love... There are many arguments in favour of the existence of God, I am sure you know them better than I do -, but I think one of the most convincing ones is also one of the simplest. It's the argument put forward by theologians according to which Man has felt, since the beginning, bound to a being that transcends him, and that this feeling, by itself, is proof of the existence of God. If in the dark, we call for a light that we know should be there, is that not a sign that one day we saw it with our own eyes? If we are thirsty, it’s because water exists; you cannot crave something that does not exist... Thus, the existence of God is another unanimous perception of the ancient sages. Another one is that the soul – the soul that, in essence, each human being is – is, so to speak, “lame”; it’s imperfect, it’s incomplete. It’s actually half a soul, instead of a whole one. And it’s here, my dear, where the mist starts blurring the edges, and where the unanimity among the ancient sages gives way to controversy. It arises when they try to figure out what happened to this “missing” half, and how, then, we can restore it back to the original shape of the human soul. We can classify the different opinions into two main groups. On one side, we have the sages who claim the missing half of the soul is not external to itself, meaning it’s not missing but inhibited: the case would be, then, about making it blossom, awakening it. We will call this interpretation “psychological hypothesis”. Then we have those who believe the missing half really is absent from the soul, and that we have to search for it outside. This second group also splits into two separate opinions: one says the missing half is God (or can be found in God and therefore is an angelic, transcendent doppelgänger of each human being: the “angelic hypothesis”, we'll call it); and the other who believes the lost half of the soul is nothing but a similar human soul, or rather, a soul mate. 
       Of these three possible interpretations, four if we are counting the angelic hypothesis, all of them equally indemonstrable, I choose the last one, Blanca. And I do it for a personal reason, though that is as valid as any other (maybe even more if we think, like the philosopher Kierkegaard, that “the conclusions of passion are the only trustworthy ones”). I need to believe in it, because it’s what offers me the strongest grip on hope: the hope that you and I will one day be together again... Maybe the ancient sages who favoured this hypothesis did so for the same reason I do: maybe they were widowers or aware that one day either they or their wives would become widowers and be forced to part ways. Whichever the case, it was them -the ancient sages who supported this interpretation– the ones who preferred to look behind this fundamental aspect of human existence: erotic love. It’s what they saw there, Blanca, what we, without further ado, will look into next.


Think about how we met. It was by chance that on that day you had a job interview and that, because it was raining, I had to take the tram instead of walking as I usually did; had it happened any other way, and we would not have met. Without thinking, I used the word “chance”. But have you ever asked yourself if chance really had anything to do with it? If it was just a coincidence? Yes, one cannot deny that, in appearance, our meeting was purely incidental. Yet the ancient sages did not trust appearances; they found them deceptive. They believed the avatars of chance did not explain every encounter. Or, in other words, that in many cases chance “didn't know what it was doing”. Chance was only apparent: what they called Fate, which would be some kind of supernatural force, or invisible hand pulling the strings of luck. (It’s impossible to think of the notion of “necessary chance” or “chance as Fate” without imagining an infinite Intelligence behind it, capable of pulling those countless strings.)
    If we had told the story of our first encounter to an ancient sage, he would have absolved chance of any responsibility. “Chance had nothing to do it with it – he would have said – it was Fate. You were predestined to meet.” A poet would say something like that but in verse. I forgot to tell you that intuition is also essential to the poets (and that is why we will count them among the ancient sages): it’s through intuition that they capture the poetry of life; its mystery...The nineteenth century English poet Coventry Patmore must have been inspired by an encounter like ours to write these verses: 
                      He meets, by heavenly chance express,
                       The destined maid; some hidden hand
                       Unveils to him that loveliness
                       Which others cannot understand. 

    “By heavenly chance express”, Blanca. Meaning that encounter, while coincidental in appearance, was actually arranged. Heaven scheduled an appointment, so to say, and put them both in that place at that exact time so they could meet. You know, the last two verses also make me think about your beauty. Because before and after that afternoon – the one we met -, I had seen women who were more beautiful than you. Yet, it’s strange; none of them looked so to me. Those two verses - “Unveils to him that loveliness / Which others cannot understand” - suggest an idea that I posit as the starting point to these letters: the idea that beyond objective beauty exists a subjective hidden beauty; a mysterious beauty that reveals itself only to its predestined eyes. (One must not confuse this subjective beauty with the set of spiritual qualities a person might possess, qualities we call “inner beauty”: while inner beauty, my dear, is certainly superior to outer beauty, it’s just as objective.) Moreover, unlike what happens with objective beauty, everyone possesses this other “encrypted” beauty, which is – regarding the twin souls theory – true beauty.
    In other words, Blanca, we are all beautiful to the right set of eyes. Your beauty, your secret beauty, was for my eyes only because only I – my second sight, my intuitive eyes – had the key to untangle it. The key is the predestination of love. 
    The belief in the predestination of love had many supporters in ancient times. It explained a phenomenon that is otherwise quite difficult to explain. A phenomenon we could articulate in the following manner: “There are secret links of affection, that no reason can be rendered of.”  This quote comes from an essay on matrimony written by a representative of seventeenth century Protestant Puritanism, the Englishman Thomas Gataker. Six hundred years before, a distinguished Andalusian poet and philosopher called Ibn Hazm of Cordoba, had expressed the same thing with these words: “If the cause of Love were physical beauty, the consequence would be that nobody defective in any shape or form would attract admiration; yet we know of many a man actually preferring the inferior article, though well aware that another is superior, and quite unable to turn his heart away from it. Again, if Love were due to a harmony of characters, no man would love a person who was not of like purpose and in concord with him. We, therefore, conclude that Love is something within the soul itself.”  You might find that last sentence enigmatic now, but later you will understand what Ibn Hazm meant by it... We will wrap up the testimonies with a passage from an ancient sage I am sure you know. The sixteenth century Swiss doctor and alchemist, Paracelsus, who wrote: “when two beings search for each other and, without apparent explanation, unite in burning love, one must think their affection is neither born in, or a resident of the body, but that it comes from the spirit of both bodies, united by mutual links and superior affinities... To these, we call twin souls.” 
    These three passages, my dear, express a common realisation among the ancient sages: the fact that love, when real, does not obey objectively measurable criteria. You and I can think of some examples – I believe anyone could – that illustrate this postulate. I have this memory of a family reunion at aunt Magda's place, where there was a heated discussion about cousin Inés' engagement with Marcel, her current husband. No one understood why she was with him. They did not understand how she could favour him instead of another suitor who was, in their opinion, far more handsome and charming, not to mention more successful. Only you defended Marcel. I cannot remember your argument. Gataker's, Ibn Hazm's and Paracelsus' argument, though, would have been this:
    Love, true love, often looks incomprehensible to its witnesses. I am confident aunt Magda and the others would understand what Inés saw in Marcel if they could have seen it with their own eyes. Except their eyes were the eyes of a witness, and those are objective eyes, Blanca, eyes that know nothing about secret beauty. The protagonist of love, in contrast -the true lover-, sees their beloved with the “subjective” second sight. The witness to love judges the loved one based on measurable criteria; by the standards of objective beauty. The true lover does so by these other mysterious standards – those of subjective beauty. A beauty that -invisible to the impersonal eyes of objectivity- only they are capable of deciphering... The standards of objective beauty are revealed then to be ineffectual when it comes to account for love; to explain why the true lover loves. The more perceptive witnesses will, therefore, conclude that love operates under its own beauty standards, its own eminently subjective criteria; while everyone else will assume there are no rules whatsoever in love, and so will reach the conclusion that love is blind. Only when they fall on its web, will they be ready to see the truth; to understand that, from the moment they were incapable of seeing the personal, nontransferable beauty beyond objective beauty, the blind ones were them.   


    This subjective beauty, the one that really matters, Blanca, is encrypted, waiting for someone to decipher it. But who? The only holder of the key: the twin soul, the predestined partner... What does the notion of predestination of love we are addressing here says?  It says that each individual is, at an ontological level, essentially connected to another by bonds of love. In other words, that every person is tailor-made to fit one other person, which they are destined to love. This idea is ingrained in countless romantic clichés. Like that old commonplace: “we're made for each other.” Or those mundane lines – too tacky for my taste – from romance novels or romantic comedies: “I didn't know I was looking for you until I found you,” “It's like we knew each other our whole lives”... Those banalities only assume their full significance when the ancient sages say it. Couples repeat it barely thinking about their meaning. But they have one, Blanca; it reflects an idea so widespread that it could not have been a mere invention, but a personal experience – obscure, but no less intense – common to everyone. 
    I remember once, a long time after we met, asking you what it was you saw in me that afternoon to accept my bold invitation to meet up the next day. “I saw the perfect excuse”, you said laughing. Our first date coincided with your aunt Magda's monthly visit, so you thought if you went out with me, you could skip it. Not only you ended up not skipping it, though, but you also dragged me along to her place too. But besides an excuse, you saw something else in me, because you immediately added that you found me kind and trustworthy. “Like a feeling of familiarity”, you said. And to tell you the truth, I was surprised to hear that, because I felt the same thing. The thing is, Blanca, we were both circling another big romance novel tacky cliché: the one where certain amorous encounters have the sweet aftertaste of a “homecoming”. Of course, this idea of home not as a place but as another person that somehow completes us comes from antiquity. Did you know that aphorisms such as “A man's home is his wife” , are plentiful in the Talmud, a central text of Judaism? The theme of “homecoming” attempts to reflect that ineffable feeling of deja vu we experience before our predestined partner: a feeling linked to the revelation of their subjective beauty. The mysterious synchronicity, the “chemistry”, as we would say now, or -more in line with the tone of these letters- the “alchemy” that sometimes forms between a man and a woman hitherto unknown to each other, is, according to the ancient sages, due to mutual recognition. It’s a very distinct phenomenon from the one raised by those olfactory and gustatory perceptions to which you were so susceptible, Blanca: those feelings connected to smell or taste -like Proust's madeleine- that suddenly emerge from childhood, awakening faded memories.
       Recognition may be immediate; love at first sight... Speaking of which, not long ago I witnessed quite a spectacular example; a textbook case of love at first sight, we could say. Writing it here will provide me with the opportunity I was seeking to tell you about an extraordinary trip, of which my legs have not yet recovered: the pilgrimage on the Road to Santiago. When we were young, you and I often planned to go on this trip together, but there was always a setback or another preventing us from going. Well, a few months ago I decided to go by myself. In spirit, though, it was as if you had been there with me, you know? Because when you spend a whole morning alone, walking through wheat fields and sunflowers under the enormous dome of the sky, or struggling to climb a hill carrying a heavy rucksack on your back, it’s normal to find yourself talking to yourself; which in my case, is the same as talking to you. It was that continuous exercise in introspection, I suspect, that paved the way to these letters... As I was saying, I witnessed a case of love at first sight. Yes, because in the month and a few days it took me to go to Santiago de Compostela and back, I was not always by myself. Occasionally, for a stretch of the way, one or more pilgrims would accompany me. At one point, I had to slow down to hike along a young man who walked with a limp. His name was Alfons. He was a brooding man of few words, yet, when I asked him, he told me he came from Valencia, from where his pilgrimage started, and had set off on the Road because he had “heard the call”. I assumed he meant the call of Christ. I thought he was considering becoming a monk or a priest and, though he did not confirm or deny it, I don’t think I was very far off, judging by his displays of piety each time we entered one of the many churches on the way (ah, Blanca, the Romanic architecture along the Road, wonderful!). However, his call ended up being another. We were crossing Astorga, and we had just gotten supplies for the next stage. It was early in the morning, and the first rays of light echoed in the crystal clean air. To tell you the truth, I had not even noticed her: just a girl, like so many others with whom we had crossed paths in towns all over the Road. But Alfons adjusted his pace, and so did she. They greeted each other and talked for a few minutes. I kept my distance, waiting for him to introduce me, as I thought they knew each other from way back: that is the impression they gave. But then, to my surprise, I heard them exchanging names... Well, that was the end of the trip for Alfons; we agreed to meet on my return from Santiago. That is when he introduced her to me: “I'd like you to meet my girlfriend...”, he said.
    You see, my dear, next to that one, our love at first sight moment pales. And paler it will seem next to the cases I want to remind you of now, as those are the flagship instances of love at first sight in Western literature, consigned by two of its greatest poets. I am talking, of course, about Dante, smitten by the sight of Beatrice, and Romeo by that of Juliet. The former one is a true story. Dante Alighieri was only nine years old – same age as her – when he saw Beatrice. It was the year 1274. Dante tells it in his New Life: At that moment I say truly that the vital spirit, that which lives in the most secret chamber of the heart began to tremble so violently that I felt it fiercely in the least pulsation, and, trembling, it uttered these words:  Behold a god more powerful than I (meaning Love), who, coming, will rule over me.’ At that moment the animal spirit, that which lives in the high chamber (the brain) to which all the spirits of the senses carry their perceptions, began to wonder deeply at it, and, speaking especially to the spirit of sight, spoke these words: Now your blessedness appears.” 
    It’s almost, my love, as if Dante had been struck by a revelation: the revelation of Beatrice's blessedness. Given that her blessedness was mainly recognised by the spirit of sight, I assume that one could easily replace that word by the word beauty. It would then read “Now your beauty appears”. The apparition of Beatrice's beauty overwhelms Dante, and nothing stops us from thinking, Blanca, that this beauty is the subjective beauty; that the eyes to which the poet alludes are the spirit's eyes of fire. And that, further along in the same book (and again in the Divine Comedy, where Beatrice turns into the poet's guide on his journeys through celestial regions) when Dante exalts Beatrice's beauty, he is maybe referencing, besides her objective beauty, that other beauty visible only to his eyes, to the eyes of Dante's soul.
    Then we have the famous example out of Romeo and Juliet, a book that, along with other bilingual Shakespeare editions, takes a proud place in your library. Now that I mention your library (“the blue library”, we used to call it, because you bound all your books in shades of blue), allow me to make a small confession within the larger confession that forms these letters: you know, one of the things I miss the most about us living together (there are many things I miss, but this one especially) is reading with you. Those evenings when, after dinner, we would sit down, facing each other at the same table from where I am writing to you. The balcony doors wide open in the summer, as they are now, and closed in the winter, though always with open shutters and pulled curtains, so that the filtered glare of the street lamps created the dreamlike atmosphere so conducive to our reading sessions... I close my eyes, and it’s as if I can see you again. Yes, there you are, adjusting your reading glasses in your poised allure, unlocking the old glass-paned cabinet doors, taking, from the one hundred and fifty-seven blue volumes, the one we had put on hold the night before, and sitting across from me, opening it by the bookmark, asking: “Are you ready?”. I say yes, and you begin reading aloud, while I listen to you or, sometimes, just watch you, or I focus on the sound of your voice, the graceful shifts in inflection you breathed into the dialogue as the characters changed...
    That is how I like to remember you, Blanca, sitting at this table reading aloud for both of us. Also at your little studio down the corridor, using scraps of cloth and watercolours, seashells, newspaper clippings, and old music scores to compose small collages on starry backgrounds, which your friend Irene would then sell. I also like to remember you sleeping by my side, with an angelic expression on your face, while I tried to guess what you were dreaming, and how I could surreptitiously insert myself into it... I will stop now because, without realising it, I am beginning to slide down the path of sentimentality and (no matter how much you reproached me for it, and saw it as a manifestation of self-loathing) you know I cannot stand that. Besides, we have had enough rambling. Let me just add that I was very happy with you, happy twice over: because you made me happy, but also because I could tell I made you happy, which for me was the greatest joy. And we're done: period. Let’s proceed with the example above.
    Young Romeo is recovering from a broken heart; his friends drag him to a party – he does not want to go, he is swamped in grief. There, he meets a girl, and, like Dante, he is struck by a revelation: Juliet's beauty.

Oh, she doth teach the torches to burn bright!
It seems she hangs upon the cheek of night
Like a rich jewel in an Ethiope’s ear,
Beauty too rich for use, for earth too dear.
So shows a snowy dove trooping with crows
As yonder lady o'er her fellows shows.
The measure done, I’ll watch her place of stand,
And, touching hers, make blessèd my rude hand.
Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!
For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night. 

    Indeed, Blanca, Romeo had met, before that night, other beauties like the one for which he yearned. However, those were objective beauties. Standing before Juliet, he faces for the first time that other mysterious beauty that is for his eyes only. All others were, in a way, false; Juliet's is the true beauty: “For I ne'er saw true beauty till this night.” Consequently, the love he felt for those other women was somehow false as well: “Did my heart love till now? Forswear it, sight!”. We could say those other loves were similar to mirages. Like how, generations later, the romantic poets would say, “you only love once” , “love is an infinite repetition” (“you are an eternity to me: love is an infinite repetition” , Novalis would write). The beauty Romeo's eyes – not his physical eyes: his second sight – perceive in Juliet, signals his recognition of his predestined partner, his twin soul. In the case of Romeo, Blanca, as in Dante's, this recognition is immediate. There is room for another possibility, though: that this recognition may emerge little by little, throughout the course of an entire life. Whatever the case, being immediate or gradual, one who experiences this feeling, rarely identifies it. When it happens, recognition is usually intangible, as if in the dark (“the person doesn't see it, but his star does”, I read it embellished in the Talmud). It happens under the threshold of consciousness. One is only touched by the powerful attraction exercised by the other person and, maybe, by a vague feeling of familiarity too, as in our case. The ancient sages teach us to see, beyond that attraction and familiarity -thus explaining them-, recognition.
    They would say that on that afternoon on the tram, you and I recognised each other... Yes, I know: recognition implies a previous acquaintance, and we had never seen each other before. However, we had never seen each other in this life. And what is a life, my love? A life, for the ancient sages, is no more than an instant, a link on a long chain... And with this, we arrive at the idea of reincarnation, a belief that is widespread in the East, as it used to be in the West, and as it has always been among the ancient sages. According to them, a person's “before” goes back very far in Time. It spills over the narrow boundaries of a lifetime and extends back through a multitude of reincarnated shapes until it reaches a point beyond Time. This point beyond Time, Blanca, is the true home of the soul. Following the ancient sages' footsteps, we will call it The Origin. But we will leave this mysterious starting point (which doubles -and this is what's most important to us- as a finishing line, a destination) for later. Now I want to cite other examples of instant recognition, of which we can find so many in Literature.


    Out of all the examples I know, the loveliest one, in my opinion, was imagined by the English writer D.H. Lawrence in the dawn of this century of ours. Lawrence created the character of Tom Brangwen to head the three generations that are the focal point of his novel-saga The Rainbow. He then had to find a wife for him. He chose Lydia, a Polish immigrant before whom Tom Brangwen experienced a feeling of familiarity so overwhelming that it produced -so tells us Lawrence- the irruption of a transcendent flash in his grey life. Tom Brangwen was returning from Nottingham, one day, to his home in Cossethay with the cart packed with sacks of seed. He was walking alongside the horse when he saw a woman on the road, coming his way... 

She had heard the cart, and looked up. Her face was pale and clear, she had thick dark eyebrows and a wide mouth, curiously held. He saw her face clearly, as if by a light in the air. He saw her face so distinctly, that he ceased to coil on himself, and was suspended.
"That's her," he said involuntarily. As the cart passed by, splashing through the thin mud, she stood back against the bank. Then, as he walked still beside his britching horse, his eyes met hers. He looked quickly away, pressing back his head, a pain of joy running through him. He could not bear to think of anything.
He turned round at the last moment. He saw her bonnet, her shape in the black cloak, the movement as she walked. Then she was gone round the bend.
She had passed by. He felt as if he were walking again in a far world, not Cossethay, a far world, the fragile reality. He went on, quiet, suspended, rarefied. He could not bear to think or to speak, nor make any sound or sign, nor change his fixed motion. He could scarcely bear to think of her face. He moved within the knowledge of her, in the world that was beyond reality.
The feeling that they had exchanged recognition possessed him like a madness, like a torment. How could he be sure, what confirmation had he? The doubt was like a sense of infinite space, a nothingness, annihilating. He kept within his breast the will to surety. They had exchanged recognition.
He walked about in this state for the next few days. And then again like a mist it began to break to let through the common, barren world. 
After this first encounter, Tom Brangwen went around town gathering information about this stranger. He felt “a curious certainty about her, as if she were destined to him... It was coming, he knew, his fate. The world was submitting to its transformation. He made no move: it would come, what would come.”  Lydia was not exactly a beautiful woman, you noticed: “Her face was pale and clear, she had thick dark eyebrows and a wide mouth, curiously held.” How to explain that sudden infatuation, then? An infatuation that, maybe for the first time in his life, made Tom Brangwen aware of the existence of a secret order, of a hidden reality concealed behind the visible reality. How to explain it, Blanca, if not referring to the concept of subjective beauty?
    The next example is taken from a short story by to one of the great masters of the genre, and a great master of the theatre too: I only need to mention The Cherry Orchard for you to know whom I'm talking about. That's it: Anton Chekhov... Two hunters are staying overnight at a country house. There, they hold a conversation that quickly drifts towards the subject of love (On Love is the name of the story). Then the host, to illustrate the theme, proceeds to tell them his own story, which is a story about adulterous love, Blanca. Not one of those tragic adultery stories to which Literature has accustomed us: it’s not Anna Karenina, to cite another illustrious Russian text from the blue library. It’s a much more modest story, a minimal story where nothing happens. It’s about a man and a woman who fall deeply in love for each other, but out of loyalty to their friend and husband, they repress that love. That is it. Ah, but while the story is slim, it’s stuffed with inner things. What kind of things? Well, look: the feeling that comes over the protagonist when he sees, for the first time, the woman who will be the love of his life: “I felt her at once some one close and already familiar, as though that face, those cordial, intelligent eyes, I had seen somewhere in my childhood, in the album which lay on my mother’s chest of drawers.”... A few months go by after that first encounter, since that revelation of familiarity on the face of a stranger. But Aliohin does not forget: “I did not think of her, but it was as though her light shadow were lying on my heart.” One night, at the theatre, he sees her again, “and again the same irresistible, thrilling impression of beauty and sweet, caressing eyes, and again the same feeling of nearness.”
    If we had time to read the Chekhov's short story anthology you bought a few months before your death (and I am certain you would have loved it), this scene that I just told you would have reminded you of another famous story by the brilliant Russian writer: “The Lady with the Dog”. The protagonist has also fallen in love with a married woman, whom, after some time, he sees again in the middle of the audience at the theatre: “Anna Sergeyevna, too, came in. She sat down in the third row, and when Gurov looked at her his heart contracted, and he understood clearly that for him there was in the whole world no creature so near, so precious, and so important to him; she, this little woman, in no way remarkable, lost in a provincial crowd, with a vulgar lorgnette in her hand, filled his whole life now, was his sorrow and his joy, the one happiness that he now desired for himself, and to the sounds of the inferior orchestra, of the wretched provincial violins, he thought how lovely she was. He thought and dreamed.” Gurov is a Don Juan, or so he was up until that point. He is a lover of feminine beauty. And this is where he all of a sudden feels subjugated by this rather plain woman, from whom he'll never again want to be apart. “Anna Sergeyevna and he loved each other like people very close and akin, like husband and wife, like tender friends; it seemed to them that fate itself had meant them for one another, and they could not understand why he had a wife and she a husband; and it was as though they were a pair of birds of passage, caught and forced to live in different cages.”
    For you to see that similar experiences are not just literary inventions, but are instead based in the immediate reality, we will momentarily leave literary fiction and will look at several personal testimonies. The first corresponds to that nineteenth century Danish philosopher I quoted at the beginning. There are not many philosophers whose work was so clearly influenced by a woman as is the case of Soren Kierkegaard. It’s not that this woman consciously helped to shape his thinking. It’s that their love at first sight was so intense and disturbing for both sides, that their lives could never escape its influence. And with Kierkegaard, life and work were inextricably linked. In the diaries he kept all his life, this is how he described the impression produced in him by his first encounter with Regina Olsen:
    You, sovereign queen of my heart, “Regina”, hidden in the deepest secrecy of my breast, in the fullness of my life-idea. There where it is just as far to heaven as to hell – unknown divinity! O, can I really believe the poets when they say that the first time one sees the beloved object he thinks he has seen her long before... Everywhere, in the face of every girl, I see features of your beauty, but I think I would have to possess the beauty of all the girls in the world to extract your beauty, that I would have to sail around the world to find the portion of the world I want and toward which the deepest secret of my self polarically points - and in the next moment you are so close to me, so present, so overwhelmingly filling my spirit that I am transfigured to myself and feel that here it is good to be. 
    Later she would also speak about the powerful attraction she felt towards him the first time they saw each other. When Kierkegaard got his posthumous fame, many were the curious people who wanted to know and research the woman who moved about through most of his books like filigree. Kierkegaard had made a commitment with her in his youth, but he was a man of unhealthy melancholy, and he feared his character would make her unhappy. With great pain in his heart, he decided to break their engagement and, in light of her dismay, pretended not to love her so she could forget him and rebuild her life. However, he sunk into despair when she took him for his word and married another man. But although they lived apart, Kierkegaard and Regina were forever in each other's hearts, and their love was unconditional until the end of their lives.
    The second personal testimony I want to show you comes from a modern day sage, Ken Wilber, and his wife, Treya. Wilber is an authority in transpersonal psychology and in the investigation of consciousness. Apart from numerous essays on those subjects, he published a book a few years ago where he recounted a painful experience he lived through. As it happens, Blanca, this experience is the same one I went through: the illness and death of his wife. The book alternates between the story and the author's reflections, and the diary entries her wife had written. In the first pages, they both describe their first meeting, and how do you think they do it? Well, how else? In terms of recognition: “When Treya and I first met, we had the strangest feeling that we had been looking for each other for lifetimes, but I don't know if that is literally true... / …But when I put my arm around her, I felt all separation and distance dissolve; there was some sort of merging, it seemed. It was as if Treya and I had been together for lifetimes.”  Treya, in turn, reminiscing in her diary about that first hug, says she felt “...something indescribable then. A warmth, a kind of merging, a sense of fitting together, of blending, of being completely one... What had just happened? Some kind of recognition, a recognition beyond this present world. It had nothing to do with how many words we'd shared.”  
     The last personal testimony we will visit before returning to the bountiful fields of literary fiction is by a modern poet of “ancient perspective”. It’s not by chance, my love, that this poet born at the turn of century, the French André Bréton, was a key figure of Surrealism, a movement that called for the primordial role of intuition in art in general, and in poetry in particular. Having studied esoteric tradition in depth, Bréton was a profound connoisseur of ancient knowledge. Well, then, it’s in the autobiographical Arcane 17, where he writes to his beloved Elisa, with whom he married almost immediately after meeting: “Before I met you, but what am I saying, these words make no sense. You know that the first time I saw you, there is no doubt I recognised you.”  This, Blanca, is love at first sight, what in French is known as coup de foudre, “thunderbolt”. That is to say, a sudden love that sweeps you off your feet, which Bréton himself baptised as amour fou, “mad love”. “Naturally -he points out- I'm talking about a love that holds absolute power, that is connected for an entire lifetime, that refuses to see as its object anyone other than that one being. In this respect, this experience, as distressing as it has been (it’s relevant to point out here that Breton and Elisa ended up getting a divorce), has taught me nothing: so powerful is this aspiration for me, that I am aware I could not renounce it without sacrificing everything I live for. I am still bound to one of the most powerful myths, to which no apparent setback in the context of my adventure would prevail.”  The myth he is referring to, my dear, is none other than love predestination, the myth of twin souls. A myth he subsequently articulates: “Every human being has been thrown into this life in search of that one other being of a different sex which, from every perspective, is its counterpart, to the point that one without the other appears as the result of a dissociation, of a dislocation of a single block of light.”  
    There is an Arabic legend (though many defend it as historical fact) that portrays an extreme example of mad love. It originated in Arabia during the second half of the seventh century and, in the following centuries, spread to the entire Islamic East, spawning innumerable different versions. (This, Blanca, is the East appropriated by the fables: the multitudinous East of the one thousand and one nights, embodied in Arabia, in Andalusia, and in Egypt, in Turkey, in Iraq and in Persia, and even in India.) The hero of this legend is known by his nickname, Majnun, meaning “Madman”. His story is very simple. It’s the story of a man who loses his mind due to the impossibility of being with the young woman he loves. She loves him back, but her father forces her to marry another man. Since then, Majnun lives obsessed with the love of Layla. His love makes him a target of people's scorn. It leads him to wander semi-naked through deserts and mountains, living in the company of wild animals. In an attempt to dissuade him from this “mad love”, his father takes him on a pilgrimage to Mecca. But it's pointless, for Majnun's Mecca is Layla. The legend concludes with the death of the “mad lover” near the tomb of his beloved and, in one of its most famous versions – by the twelfth century Persian poet Nizami Ganjavi – with the corollary of the lovers' reunion in Paradise. Majnun and Layla met each other in childhood; they shepherded the same herd together, according to some versions. Their first encounter had the character of a revelation to Majnun, who was immediately struck by Layla's beauty. But look at this, Blanca: the legend requires Layla to not be particularly beautiful, to be ugly, even. In one of the episodes, the caliph tries to bring the foolish man to reason, showing him countless far more beautiful women. But Majnun doesn't listen to reason: he is under the spell of his twin soul’s subjective beauty. Layla is to Majnun (as Dulcinea is to that other egregious fool, Don Quixote, willing to die rather than denying it) the most beautiful woman in the world. And so he shouts it from the rooftops in poems of passionate lyricism he composes. As time passed, those poems proliferated across Arabic literature because there were many poets who, moved by this drama, attributed their love poems to “Layla's madman”.
    In this other book I'm holding now (no, it's not bound in blue, it's not one of the books from your library), the protagonist does not need anyone to point out there are more attractive men than her beloved: “About six years ago I saw you for the first time; You were young, handsome, amiable; Other young men appeared to me more beautiful and dashing than you; None gave me the slightest emotion, and my heart was yours at first sight. I thought I could see on your face the features of the soul that were missing from mine... It hasn't been two months since I thought I had not been mistaken; Blind love, I said to myself, was right; We were made for each other; I would have been his if the human order had not disturbed the ways of Nature; And if anyone were allowed to be happy, we would have been happy together.” ... See? Just like Majnun and Layla, this young couple is also not allowed to be happy together. That means -writes the protagonist to her beloved- there has been a change in Nature's plans. Nature, however, does not give up, Blanca, and throughout the book, it conspires to fulfil that destiny. The book is The New Heloise, by the French philosopher of Enlightenment Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and it’s a love affair told through letters. If you want my opinion, it’s one of the most beautiful romance novels in Western literature. It’s a pity it was not part of your library so we could have had the pleasure of reading it together. No, I will not summarise it here, I prefer you read it if you have the chance (I am sure you have access to the best libraries). In this novel, furthermore, what is essential is not the plot, but the characters' feelings. Hence, the epistolary format, because letters, Blanca -and here you have the one I am writing-, are the ideal vehicle for the expression of feelings. Like the ones expressed by Julie in the previous passage. Or like those articulated by her lover when trying to convince her to run away with him in spite of her strict sense of duty: “No, know this once and for all, my Julie, an eternal judgement of Heaven has destined us one for the other; This is the first law to be listened to, it is the main task in life; to unite with who makes it sweet... / … Come, O my soul! Reunite in your friend's arms the two halves of our being.”  
    Rousseau found inspiration in a seventeenth century pastoral novel, which I'll only mention due to your fondness for fairy tales and the colour blue. Along with the recounting of these kinds of stories, and intellectual and charming conversations, the live reading of this novel – L'Astrée, by Honoré d'Urfé – was among the Chambre Bleue's select members' favourite amusements... You have never heard about the “blue chamber” at the Hôtel de Rambouillet? That palace no longer exists, but in its day, it was neighbours with the Louvre. Since it’s Paris we are talking about... And here, my love, a vivid memory emerges from my mind: the two trips we took together to Ville Lumière, especially the second one, our tenth-anniversary celebration. Although you were already feeling the first symptoms of your long illness -or precisely because of that-, it was the most intense of the two, the one we lived life to the fullest, eclipsing even the memory of the first trip.
    Well then, place yourself in Paris during the Grand Siécle, the Paris of the Three Musketeers and Cyrano de Bergerac, and imagine a palatial bedroom completely lined with blue velvet, in a social environment where, in matters of interior decoration, the only acceptable colours were red and light brown. At the back of the candle lit alcove, a magnificent canopy bed from where the marquise of Rambouillet, reclined on her mattress, presiding over the most famous of Parisian salons. A salon frequented by the flower and cream of the contemporary intellectual circle, including the first literary women, the notorious précieuses, also known as bas-bleues, or “bluestockings”, this garment being the club hallmark worn by the women who were regulars at the Chambre Bleue's gatherings. Among them, Blanca, we could certainly find an “old acquaintance” of yours: Madame d'Aulnoy, who with the title of one of her books -Contes de fées- would name for posterity those popular stories which, conveniently adapted to aristocratic tastes, caused a sensation in the salons of the day. Like L'Astrée, a forgotten novel today, but probably one of the most widely read in its century. A book that shares with The New Eloise the same inspiration: both could be defined as a glorifying ode to spiritual and platonic love; both have the theory of twin souls ingrained in them like a watermark; and in both, Fate's actions are evident, conspiring to reunite the two halves.
    Yet, we can find another even more ruthless conspiracy by Fate to impose its design in an old legend, Blanca. One that is possibly (if Romeo and Juliet, and Abelardo and Eloise don't mind), the most famous love story in the West: the legend of Tristan and Isolde. Although we know its origin dates much further back, the oldest surviving written versions of The Romance of Tristan – the French versions by Béroul and Thomas – come from the twelfth century. In the story, the fulminant flash of love caused by mutual recognition is illustrated through the ingestion of a love potion. Before this episode, though, you already have a glimpse of the hand of Fate -disguised as chance- pulling the strings. Let’s take a look.
    Tristan is the nephew of King Mark of Cornwall, where an Irish warrior arrives one day, demanding young maidens as a tribute. Tristan challenges and kills Morholt the Giant in single combat. When his dead body is returned to Ireland, the giant’s sister, the queen, extracts from his fatal wound a broken piece of the sword that killed him; a shard princess Isolde stores in a chest, swearing to use it to identify and seek revenge on the man who killed her uncle. Meanwhile, Tristan finds himself forced to leave the kingdom because, during the fight, he was stabbed with a poisoned spear, and the wound was getting infected. Its smell was so rotten no one wanted him nearby. One day he decides to set sail aboard a rickety boat. He arrives in Ireland having been adrift, without sails, rudder or oars (which shows Fate was guiding him). At the Irish court, he disguises himself as a troubadour who was wounded in a clash with pirates. The queen, who is also a sorcerer skilled in magic potions, cures his fetid wound, and princess Isolde dresses it and takes care of Tristan while he convalesces.
    Once recovered, Tristan, fearing being recognised by Morholt's henchmen, returns to Cornwall. There, he receives a warm welcome from everyone but his uncle's barons, who believe him to be the heir to the crown. They believe it because King Mark has no wife and no descendants. The barons, then, compel the King to get married. He eventually gives in and announces he will be marrying the owner of a golden hair, dropped in his window by a swallow. The barons feel mocked, but Tristan remembers Isolde the Fair and offers to go find her. (Obviously, at this point, he had not been struck by the recognition of Isolde yet, otherwise he would have never thought of her as a wife for his uncle.) There goes Tristan, then, sailing back to Ireland; this time with a specific mission: to find a wife for his uncle. According to some variants, it will once again be chance, in the form of a storm, what, for a second time, leads Tristan to Ireland (and therefore to Isolde; meaning that once again the hand of Fate is revealed to be pulling the strings).
    Always in disguise, Tristan kills a dragon who was terrorising the capital, but he is not able to stop it from injecting him with his venom. Taken to the court, the queen cures him once more, and Isolde looks after him. But the young lady (whose hand in marriage is the reward promised for slaying the dragon: Fate is looking to unite this couple anyway it can!) finds a nick in Tristan's blade. She compares it to the broken blade piece she kept in a chest and confirms they fit together, so she prepares to have her sworn revenge. But then she does not follow through with her plan. According to some versions, as she is about to kill him, she finds herself strangely moved by the young man's beauty, and this changes her mind. Thomas' version has this moment, not when they drink the love potion, be the instant in which they fall in love. That is to say, the instant of mutual recognition. (Predictably, Blanca, it’s not Tristan's apparent beauty what moves Isolde. It’s his secret beauty, the one destined for the eyes of his twin soul only, the beauty that reveals itself to her – to both, according to Thomas – in that magic moment.)
    However, Tristan is now an ambassador on a mission. When he announces this to the kings of Ireland, they consent in marrying their daughter Isolde to King Mark, but she adamantly refuses. The queen, then, before Isolde boards, prepares a love potion and tasks her handmaiden with serving it to her and King Mark as soon as they reach Cornwall. Ah, but did you expect Fate to sit back and do nothing? Again, it interferes. And so, during the journey, Tristan and Isolde drink the magic liquid thinking it’s wine and instantly fall desperately in love with each other... We will stop here. The story continues, Blanca, but I will tell you the rest in another letter. What I wanted to show you is how Fate seems determined to unite Tristan and Isolde. It tries it by all means possible and fails. Until it finally, as a last resort, makes use of the love potion. 
    The potion symbolises, at the same time, the intuitive recognition provoked by love predestination. This recognition is, Blanca, to a much larger extent than in the West, a recurring theme in Eastern literature. We will analyse in some detail now, three examples taken from Eastern literature, one from China, another from Japan, and one from India. Each of them is the classic work most representative of its respective country's literary history. It’s no coincidence, then, that the subject of love predestination features substantially in all three of them: it shows us how deeply rooted this topic is in Eastern thought... But before I tackle these three eminent examples, I can't resist quoting a modest one. First, because it classifies a type of love stories – ubiquitous in the East – that finds a fundamental element in the concept of reincarnation. And second, my dear, because I know it will please you since it's an example of that traditional genre you enjoy so much. 
    Once upon a time, a young princess lived tormented by a terrible sorrow, the cause of which no one knew, that prevented her from speaking. (See how sorrow really is a formidable obstacle for words? How the reason I gave you for having postponed writing to you was not just an excuse?) The king promulgates an edict offering her hand in marriage to the man capable of taking her out of her desolation and making her speak. Many suitors of noble lineage parade through the palace. They all fail. Finally, it’s up to a beggar; everyone thinks does not have the slightest possibility. But as it happens, the story had previously shown us a fairy who revealed to the beggar all his previous lives and, in all of them, he had been prematurely separated from his twin soul. Therefore, when we find him among the suitors, we can already imagine the ending: “You are the one I have been waiting for all this time”, says the princess upon seeing him, recovering her speech and her joy. 


Let’s now leave that indefinite past, the vague “once upon a time” from the fairy tales, and transport ourselves to a specific time in History: halfway through the eighteenth century. This was when China's most popular classic novel was written, and when it takes place. Two titles contend for the cover: The Story of the Stone, and Dream of the Red Chamber. I can use both to introduce you to the novel. We will begin with the second one's red colour: in ancient China, red was a sign of social class; only members of the upper classes could wear and decorate their houses with that colour. The “red chambers” are, then, the rooms in old Chinese feudal noblemen's residences where the novel unfolds. It produces the effect of a great altarpiece (three thousand words!) about the day-to-day life of a family. But it’s eminently the story of the predestined love between two of the younger members of the family. Their twin kinship is already insinuated through their names (Bao-yu and Dai-yu) because both feature the same word: yu, “jade”. It’s the Stone mentioned in the first title.
    The Stone mostly identifies Bao-yu, because a little prodigy marked his birth. Upon bursting into tears, a little piece of jade came out of his mouth. Bao-yu would forever keep this stone as an amulet. In the figurative language the author, Cao Xueqin, employs to talk about things from the Afterlife, the Stone is Bao-yu's celestial symbol; Dai-yu's is the Flower. Stone and Flower represent the masculine and feminine poles respectively (ying and yang, in the Chinese tradition), upon which, according to the ancient sages, everything is assembled.  Before descending into this world, meaning before reincarnating, Bao-yu and Dai-yu were pure spirits: he was a “Stone-spirit”, she was a “Flower-spirit”. In their higher home world, Flower and Stone were intimately connected, as it’s told at the start of the novel... It begins with a provincial civil servant who falls asleep and enters a strange dream, where he travels to the Afterlife. There, he meets two immortals: two clergymen who tell him they hold the “secret to the mechanism of destinies”. In Taoism, the religious/philosophical background to this novel, the “immortals” are the souls that have been set free from material shackles, souls who have reached enlightenment and, with it, divine status. The two clergymen tell the story of the Stone to the civil servant – and through him, they tell us readers. First, they start by placing the story in their upper home world, the “Paradise of Love”, where Stone works as a gardener. Except his garden is metaphorical, Blanca; it’s a garden consisting solely of one Flower (a detail I am sure will remind you of another dear literary gardener: the Little Prince, also devoted to looking after a lone flower on a distant planet). When Stone is forced to descend upon our world, their close relationship prompts Flower to do the same. However, they don’t come down by themselves: according to the two immortals, along with Stone and the Flower comes an enormous number of souls. These souls are arranged in couples; since it’s mainly the relationship with their respective yuan-ci, their “predestined enemy” (that is how peculiar the notion of twin souls was in ancient China), what the souls come to our world to work on. In his figurative language, Xueqin tells us of a “debt of tears” that each soul has to its counterpart. It’s the payment of that debt what justifies the recurring reincarnation of souls into our “lower world”.
    Stone and Flower reincarnate two years apart. The former in the bosom of a noble family, the Jia; the latter, in a more modest one. It turns out, though, that the families are related, so when Dai-yu becomes an orphan, the Jia take her in. And so it happens, Blanca, the famous recognition scene. The meeting of the two cousins raises in them the distant reminiscence of their old relationship in Heaven: “'How strange', she thought in the depths of her heart. ‘I am almost certain I have seen him somewhere else: so familiar is his face!”  And he, surprised, says: “This little cousin... but I have seen her before!”, and faced with the objection of grandmother Jia -the clan's matriarch who has just introduced them: “Even if I haven't, her face really is familiar, and in the bottom of my heart I feel as if I had found an old friend after a long time apart.”  From the moment of mutual recognition onwards, the two children become inseparable. They sleep on the same bed and eat at the same table: in short, they grow up together. Reaching adolescence, they each move to a pagoda in the garden or, more accurately, in the immense park surrounding Jia's palace. It’s there, in the paradisiacal “Grand View Garden”, where, aided by handmaidens of the same age who act more like playmates and confidants, Bao-yu and Dai-yu live their pure and innocent love, a love contrasting with the lecherous atmosphere that fills the palace. Thus, in between poetry pageants, tender conversations, and innocent childish games, their existence happily passes by. Until they reach marrying age. That is when a vague threat starts looming over them.
    That threat, Blanca, is the threat of separation. You see, the decision about their marriage does not depend on them; it’s Grandmother Jia's responsibility. And even though no one doubts they are predestined to become husband and wife, the official announcement of their engagement is delayed, which opens the way for speculations, and sows anxiety in the cousins' hearts. Hence one night, Dai-yu, after complaining her parents did not have the foresight of arranging her marriage to Bao-yu before they died, has a nightmare in which she finds herself forced to marry a widower. In her dream, she runs away to find her cousin, who denies their marriage was not agreed in advance: “You were originally promised to me”. Accodring to him, it was due to that agreement that Dai-yu ended up at the Jia's mansion as a child. “Suddenly, she thinks she vaguely remembers having, indeed, been promised to Bao-yu in the past; and thus her mourning gives way to joy.”  But then -absurdly, but obeying the secret logic of dreams- Bao-yu cuts his chest open with a knife so Dai-yu can read in his heart the truth of what he told her. As he collapses, bleeding to death, she holds him and weeps. At that point, she wakes up. Through her cousin's handmaiden, she will later discover Bao-yu also had a nightmare that night, and that his nightmare (he moaned and exclaimed his chest was being ripped open with a knife) strangely agrees with hers- which is evidence of a kind of spiritual communion between the cousins. 
    The threat of separation seems to be the origin of a strange illness that, around that time, starts to afflict them both. This illness will accompany them throughout the rest of their short lives, it will keep them bed-ridden for long stretches of time, and it will even take them, on several occasions, to the verge of death or madness. One of these occasions is involuntarily brought about by Dai-yu's handmaiden when, faced with the uncertainty of her lady's future -and therefore her own-, decides to test Bao-yu's love by falsely announcing his cousin intends to abandon him. Dai-yu falls victim to a similar misunderstanding when she hears rumours claiming her cousin is to be married to a high-ranking official. In both cases, only the denial of the unfortunate news proves to be the cure. In short, Blanca, the rumours spread and fuel gossip. So, consequently to this episode, two handmaidens are chatting: “I believe young Bao-iu and Dai-yu's destinies are connected by a tight affinity. Those who repeat the old saying True love's path is never easy are correct. But those who say: Nothing can be done against true affinities, are also speaking the truth. Judging by their mutual feelings, and by how Heaven revealed its will (this referring to Dai-yu's miraculous recovery upon discovering the awful rumour to be false), it’s most certainly due to this very will, that both form a couple destined to come together in matrimony. It’s evident they are one of those couples of which the old proverb says The two have been destined to each other since the Origin” 
    Eventually, the fateful day in which the threat of separation finally becomes real arrives. Grandmother Jia, faithful to the ancestral Chinese disapproval of marriages of love (which do nothing but weaken parental authority) reaches a decision, and it’s not the one everyone expected: as a wife for her grandson she selects not Dai-yu, but another one of his cousins. Aware of the tight bond between them, she gives instructions for Dai-yu not to be informed until the day of the ceremony. She also takes advantage of the nuptial convention forbidding all contact between spouses-to-be, to deceive Bai-yu into thinking he is about to marry his beloved. Alas, no precaution is enough to prevent the truth from finding its way to Dai-yu, who decides to take her own life. She refuses food, burns all her poems, and dies the same instant Bao-yu gets married. When he becomes aware of the ruse, it’s already too late (during the ceremony, his bride's face had been hidden behind her bridal veil), and, upon learning of the death of his love, he once again falls ill, which this time takes him through the doors of the Afterlife.
    An immortal approaches him there. Every human being, he tells him, has a predetermined time of death, and his has not yet come. Bao-yu refuses to return without Dai-yu (there you have it, Blanca, a classic theme of ancient literature: the faithful lover travelling to the Afterlife in search of his deceased beloved). The immortal, though, does not budge. He warns him: “If you truly wish to reunite with her, you should henceforth dedicate yourself, with all your heart, to cultivating knowledge and virtue. Then, the time you can once again stand before each other will arrive in a natural way. If instead, you are not able to accept continuing your peaceful existence, you will be guilty of your premature death; confined to the depths of Hell... and doomed to never again see the departed Dai-yu.”  The warning is effective: Bao-yu recovers, and from this point onwards -nearly up until the end- the course of the novel shifts. The Taoist system, which up until now had been more of a discreet backdrop – jumps to the foreground. Bai-yu adopts an indifferent attitude towards the world and ends up handing over the jade with which he was born to a mysterious clergyman, who is none other than one of the immortals who are telling the story. Then he vanishes. No one knows what happened to him, but the cession of the jade to the immortals is most eloquent: the Stone has returned to its native home. And it’s like the narrator tells us: “Once the immortal Flower, temporarily reincarnated on Earth, has returned to its original shape, what reason would the Stone have to not return as well to its origin?” 
    And that's it, Blanca, the romance of the Stone and the Flower. It’s true that, towards the end, the Taoist backdrop imprints a nihilistic turn on the story: Bao-yu and Dai-yu's love fades away along with them into the absolute void. But that does not deny the novel's fundamental fact, which is also, as I aspire to show you through these letters, one of the fundamental facts of ancient knowledge. The ancient sages valued this fact –the existence of a predestined love between souls– in different ways, according to the religious or philosophical ideology they followed. Among the Taoists, it was deemed irrelevant. However, although open to interpretation, the fact is there, my love, and that is all that matters.


    I will tell you now another love story that is only a moment within a much larger story. But that moment is, in my understanding, the central episode of the main narrative, a book titled The Tale of Genji. This is Japanese literature's classic novel par excellence. Its author, Murasaki Shikibu, was a lady with close ties to the imperial court of the eleventh century. This courtier, the lady-in-waiting to the young empress, created a prince of a sumptuous court; Prince Genji, son of the Emperor and his dearest concubine. Genji, who is in a marriage of convenience, is seeking love outside of wedlock, but he finds nothing beyond fickle sexual adventures, to the point that he convinces himself that is what love is. Besides the occasional lovers, he also keeps a stable relationship with a court lady, Lady Rokujo, who will turn out to be, as we will see, the source of his misfortune. The episode in question is entitled Yugao, which means “evening faces” and is the name of a delicate white flower that only blooms at night. As in Xueqin's novel, here we also have a flower as an allegory for a woman.  
    Prince Genji first notices this flower's beauty when he is incognito, one night, walking through a humble neighbourhood in the capital, on the way to visit his old nursemaid. It’s an unexpected visit, and while they don’t open the front gate, his carriage waits on the street. While waiting, an ivy-like creeper with white flowers next door catches his attention. The delicateness of the flowers overwhelm him, and he asks one of his servants to pick some for him. We can see here, Blanca, subtly disguised -transferred into someone's emotion when faced with a flower's beauty- the mystery of recognition. The prince feels he is being watched from inside the house, and his suspicions are confirmed when a little girl opens the door and offers him, on behalf of her lady, a fan to place the flowers on. Genji has no time to ask her anything: the front gate before which he awaits is opened. But, following the visit, he again focuses on the flowers, gracefully resting over the fan. Examining the fan, he discovers some scrawled verses with the ink still fresh: “The flower that puzzled you was but the Yugao, strange beyond knowing in its dress of shining dew”. Such words awaken his curiosity; they have on him, one could say, the effect of a secret password only he understands.
    His loyal servant, Koremitsu, arranges for him an evening date with the mysterious lady. After this date, others will follow; always at night (Yugao is a nocturnal flower), to elude not only his father's spies but also the jealous Lady Rokujo. Soon, Genji is spending every night in the company of Yugao at her humble home. During the day, though, being apart proves to be unbearable. The lady exerts an unexplainable and irresistible attraction over him. One night, they hear a chant coming from the street: “Glory be to the Saviour that shall come”. They look out the window and see an old man on his knees under the moonlight. Yugao's house is located near a sacred mountain regularly visited by pilgrims. The sight of this old man, who prays while waiting for dawn to break, arises in Genji's memory these verses, which he recites for Yugao: “Do not prove false this omen of the pilgrim's chant: that even in lives to come our love shall last unchanged.” ... I want to stop here for a moment, my dear. Behind these verses breathes a true story, one of the greatest love stories in the East. Its author attributed them to eighth century Chinese Emperor Hsuan-tsung, famous for having thousands of concubines at his disposal, yet unable to see beauty in any but one of them, one who wasn't even among the prettiest. The tragic love story between the Emperor Hsuan-tsung and Lady Yang Kuei-fei has inspired, throughout the years, countless of poems in the East. One of the most celebrated comes from the Chinese poet Po Chu-i, and it concludes with the emperor's sad return to his palace after the rebellion that cost him the life of his beloved. In those verses, we see him wandering the long corridors and enormous deserted halls like a ghost, prey to an unspeakable nostalgia that is as death in life. Finally, he resorts to a necromancer to establish contact with the disembodied soul of Yang Kuei-fei who, through the seer, sends him a message requesting what -as we are about to see, Blanca- is her final wish, the twin souls' desideratum. Taking for granted their future re-encounters in other lives, she asks for them to make a pact; to on Earth “vow to be as two intertwined branches of a tree.”, and in Heaven: “to be as two birds flying wingtip to wingtip” 
    Going back to The Tale of Genji, it now transforms into a ghost story. Urged by the pilgrim's chant, Genji and Yugao decide to run away together that very night. They give out the appropriate orders and set out on their journey through the deserted streets. Sleep, however, gets the better of them and Genji orders the carriage to stop in front of an empty house. His servants set up one of the dilapidated rooms, and the young lovers go to sleep. But in the middle of the night, Genji jumps out of bed in terror. Standing before him is a majestic feminine figure. He does not recognise her, but the reader knows it’s Lady Rokujo, or rather her disembodied spirit, chasing Genji in his dreams. The ghost berates him, moving as if she wants to drag Yugao away from him. Genji unsheathes his sword and strikes at the spectre, but the sword cannot touch it. He believes he is suffering from a hallucination or from a nightmare of which he cannot get out, and when he tries to wake up Yugao he finds, to his horror, that she is cold: the ghost had taken her life. 
    Koremitsu and the other servants, then, have to rush to carry out all the funeral rites in secrecy (they move her body to a monastery in the mountains). Rush to bury what was – in their eyes – just a fleeting and insignificant affair in their master's life. To Genji, though, it was not a fleeting and insignificant affair at all, Blanca. And to prove it, we have the nervous illness (as with the protagonist of Story of the Stone and many other characters from countless novels) that besets him over the death of his beloved, which will take him to the brink of death. The reflections on this episode Genji makes some time later, when he's recovered, are also significant: it was an episode that “affected me strangely and I went to very great trouble to see her. There must have been a bond between us. A love doomed from the start to be fleeting — why should it have taken such complete possession of me and made me find her so precious?”  


There is, Blanca, a text that is a classic not just of Eastern, but also of universal Literature. A play that, when it was translated from Sanskrit into English at the end of the eighteenth century, repeated in the West the same success it had enjoyed in the East for fourteen centuries. It’s the masterpiece of one of the most notable Sanskirt language poets, Kalidasa, who lived in India -around the fourth century- a life today haloed by legend. There are several variants of the title, depending on different transcriptions: “The Recognition of Shakuntala”, “The Token-for-Recognition of Shakuntala”, “Of Shakuntala Who Is Recognised”. Some versions omit the word recognition, but allude to the symbol that triggers it: “Shakuntala's Ring”, “Shakuntala or the Lost Ring”. The play is popularly known by the name of its hero. 
    Shakuntala is the young daughter of a hermit and a nymph. She lives with her father in a cabin in the woods. One day, Dushyanta, the king of India, happens to walk through these woods and falls madly in love with her. This love at first sight is mutual. Although in the beginning they are both afraid of not being loved back, soon they confess their love for each other and get married in secret. But Duyshanta is the king and, as such, he has obligations that call for his return to the court. Before leaving, he gives his signet ring to Shakuntala, as a proof of their marriage and his swift return. Shakuntala loses the ring: it falls in a lake during her ablutions. Months go by without her having any news of her husband. Finally, she decides to set off in search of him. She shows up at the palace. The king does not recognise her, denies they are married, and she does not have the ring to prove it. Suddenly, Blanca, one of those miracles typical of Eastern stories happens: a great wind rises and sweeps Shakuntala off into Heaven. Duyshanta stays on Earth, immersed in thoughts, trying in vain to remember. Because it’s not that he rejects the wedding, he just does not remember it: “With a hermit-wife I had no part,/ All memories evade me;/And yet my sad and stricken heart/Would more than half persuade me.” One day, some soldiers find the royal ring on a fisherman. They accuse him of stealing it and take him to the palace. He claims he found the ring in a fish's innards. And this is where the sight of the ring brings the king out of his state of forgetfulness. He immediately remembers having given it to Shakuntala as a sign of their secret marriage and curses himself for not having remembered sooner.
    The king despairs, he neglects his obligations; all he can think of is Shakuntala and their secret wedding. From Heaven, she shares his despair, powerless to do anything about it, unable to understand as well “that such powerful love would need a symbol to be remembered”. What does Duyshanta do, then? I tell you this with emotion, Blanca, he does the same thing you used to do when you were upset: he paints. He paints a portrait of his lost wife, based on his newfound memory. His counsellors think he has gone mad, for he spends all his free time with the painting, talking to it as if it were the real Shakuntala. Thus arrives at the palace a messenger from the gods. As you know, in ancient literature gods are participant characters in human dramas. They ask Duyshanta for a favour: they ask him to fight the demons that are threatening peace in Paradise. Skilled in the use of the bow, Duyshanta provides that service and, as a reward, they make his eagerly awaited re-encounter with his secret wife possible. They also clear up the mystery of his memory loss, the reason why “such powerful love would need a symbol to be remembered”. It was, they tell him, the effect of a curse: only upon seeing the ring would it break. 
    This is, Blanca, in short, the story of Shakuntala. When I learned about it a few years ago, I was already familiar with the literary cycle from the medieval West that revolves around a mysterious sacred object fallen from Heaven, sought by many, found by very few: The Holy Grail. I was surprised to find parallels between the plot of Shakuntala and the matrix story of the Grail cycle. It has for a protagonist a wandering knight named Perceval, who at the beginning of the story lives in a cabin in the middle of the woods, like Shakuntala. Both happen to live away from society, in the company of a parent of the opposite sex: she with her father, he with his widowed mother. Despite all that, their roles are reversed: Perceval's role in the Grail cycle corresponds, in the Indian play, not to Shakuntala's but to king Duyshanta's. Because it’s Perceval who, like the king, forsakes and forgets his twin soul after marrying her (both in Gerbet de Montreuil's and Wolfram von Eschenbach's versions) and spending time in her company. Apart from that, if Duyshanta recovers the memory of his original wife upon seeing the ring, Perceval gets his memory back in more subtle and surprising circumstances: the sight of three drops of blood in a snowy meadow. The mix of red and white invokes in him the rosy complexion of his wife, Blanchefleur. The knight atop his steed, engrossed in the contemplation of a rose-coloured stain in the snow that reminds him of his lover, is, Blanca, one of the most beautiful literary images I can remember. Let’s see if you think the same:

That night, out in a field, they slept alongside a wood. And as they slept snow fell, and the country was cold; Perceval had arisen early, as he always did, wanting to hunt for adventure and the chance to prove how brave he could be. And riding across the fields, beneath the frigid sun, he came to the king's camp but saw, before he reached the tents, a flock of wild geese, dazzled by the heavy snow, fleeing as fast as birds can fly from a diving falcon dropping out of the sky. It struck at a single goose, lagging behind the others, and hit it so hard that it fell to the earth. But the hawk didn't follow it down, not hungry enough to take the trouble, Too lazy to chase it. So the falcon flew off. But Perceval rode to where the goose had fallen. The bird's neck had been wounded, And three drops of blood had come rolling out on the snow, dying it vivid red. The bird had not been badly hurt, just knocked to the earth, and before the knight could reach it it had flown away in the sky. But its body's oval shape was printed in the snow, the blood dyed colour suffused inside it, And Perceval, leaning on his lance, sat staring at the sight. Blood and snow so mixed together created a fresh colour, Just like his beloved's face, and as he stared he forgot what he was doing and where he was. The red stain against the white snow seemed just like her complexion. The more he looked, the happier he grew, seeing once again the exact colour of her beautiful face. The morning slowly passed away, and still he sat there musing, Until at last squires and pages emerged from the tents and saw him, and thought him asleep. 

The subject of forgetfulness of one's twin soul, present in the stories of Shakuntala and Perceval, is a typical subject of those popular tales you loved so much, Blanca: fairy tales. Let’s consider two parallel examples taken from that sky-blue bound book, Grimm's Fairy Tales. Both the heroes from The Drummer and Sweetheart Roland, before getting married, feel the need to say goodbye to their parents. After parting with their fiancées, they forget them. In the first case, he ignores her warnings about kissing her on the right cheek at the risk of forgetting her. Bewildered, he consents to marry the girl his parents chose for him instead. Roland too will fall for the ploy of the “fake bride” (another typical motif in fairy tales, associated to the forgetting of one's twin soul). While in the first tale, the real bride will not stop until she brings her beloved out of his state of amnesia, on the second one she gives up and loses him. But in that vague fairy tale country, tradition demands of every young lady to sing in front of their groom on the day of the wedding. Roland's real bride tries to wriggle out of this, but the other girls drag her to the church. And when he hears her sing, Roland recognises her voice, at which point he recovers his memory and returns to his former self. 
    These examples would be ideal, Blanca, if, before being prisoners of oblivion, the heroes of these stories were married instead of merely engaged. That is why I think the stories of Shakuntala and Perceval are more appropriate to illustrate the subject of recognition of your promised mate. Because in the secret marriage of Shakuntala and Duyshanta, as with Perceval and Blanchefleur, one can perceive the original matrimony of twin souls: a matrimony celebrated in Heaven – in the Origin – which, once on Earth, is forgotten by the spouses, or they keep only the slightest reminiscence of it. This original matrimony is the cornerstone on which our theory rests, my love, the theory of twin souls; the “twin” part coming precisely from the fact that the souls had been, once, married. I mean a marriage that is not a mere adhesion, a simple sum of factors but on the contrary, a perfect union, without cracks, a state of absolute non-separation, of non-Duality. In the rich metaphysical vocabulary, coined by the most ancient languages, there is a specific word for it, since it’s one of the key concepts of Metaphysics. That word is adjava or advaita in Sanskrit, yehud in Hebrew, tawhid in Arabic...
    You can picture the twin souls' journey, Blanca, by imagining them as biological twins (to which our ancient sages often compared them) in their mother's womb. Identical, or monozygotic, twins are, at the beginning of reproduction, one thing only, a single zygote; it’s in the course of gestation when that one thing splits, dividing into two embryos. According to our sages, the single Original soul's split into two separate souls is the root of sexual differentiation, so, in that case, another way of showing the twin souls' journey is as Perceval's teacher does when, initiating him into the code of chivalry, he says: “Man and woman grow from the same seed, never forget that.”  The Zohar explains in a similar way... But before I transcribe that passage, my dear, let me tell you about this enigmatic book to which we will frequently refer in these letters: Sefer Ha-Zohar, the “Book of Splendor”, or “The Kabbalistic Bible”, as some people call it.
    I should start by saying that Kabbalah is Judaism's esoteric knowledge. Kabbalah means “tradition” in Hebrew. An oral tradition born from mystic intuition and which seed dates back to the Babylonian exile (sixth century BC), or even more: to the time of Moses, according to the Kabbalists. But it would not be until the thirteenth century that Kabbalists from Provence and the Iberian Peninsula would begin writing down, in numerous books, all this vast oral tradition... Let me just say, while we are on this subject, Blanca, that the Kabbalists were like you in their near religious respect towards books. The cult of the book is, in fact, one of the constants in Jewish tradition, where books are not destroyed; when they become unusable, they are buried in a cemetery, following the required ritual. A medieval rabbi  recommends his students, when they knock over the inkwell while writing, to first clean the stain from their books and only then from their clothes. After the Torah, or Pentateuch (which for the Kabbalists was a kind of autobiographical book, since they believed it to have been dictated by God), the most sacred Jewish book is the Talmud. But another book would, in time, reach its importance; to the point that the hassidim, the pious, would in their prayers thank God for having been born after it came out, thus being able to benefit from its profound wisdom. That book, Kabbalah's canonical text, is the Zohar.
    A dense halo of mystery has always surrounded the Zohar. Not only for its highly esoteric content, but also for its authorship. The wisdom it contains are the grounds resulting from a long process of sedimentation. But the identity of the person, or people, who converted all that millenary knowledge into a book, has been a regular subject of controversy. The legend, which quickly took over the subject, presents opinions to suit everyone's tastes. Some date the book back to the patriarch Abraham; others claim it comes directly from Heaven, through the prophet Elias; others yet attribute its authorship to Solomon – considered one of the first great Kabbalists. There are even those who conjecture angels brought it to Earth. But the most widespread opinion, Blanca, is the one supported by the book itself, which points to a notable second century Tannaitic sage, Simeon bar Yochai, and his disciple, Rabbi Abba. That theory implies the book had been kept hidden for a long stretch of time, waiting for the right moment for its dissemination. It’s told that a Kabbalist from Safed discovered the first page of the Zohar being used as fish wrapping paper. He rushed to rescue the rest from the hands of the Arab fishermen who sold it to him, who had found it in a cave. But leaving legends aside, my dear, the fact is that the Zohar became known to the public at the end of the thirteenth century. The man responsible for this was a renowned Castilian Kabbalist, who today is considered by most scholars as its true author. However, he – Rabbi Moses ben Shem-Tov from Leon – has eluded the honour, claiming he only copied from an ancient manuscript that had miraculously reached his hands and attributed it to the aforementioned Simeon bar Yochai, who is also the central figure of the book.
    It was Simeon bar Yochai's answer to one of his disciples what I intended to cite to you a moment ago. It goes like this: “Before coming to this Earth, each soul and each spirit is composed of one man and one woman united in one single being. Descending to Earth, these two halves are separated and sent to incarnate two different bodies. When it’s time for marriage, God unites them as before.” 
    This last sentence, Blanca, subscribes to a belief also widely shared among our sages, echoed in the maxim Marriages are made in Heaven. It’s the belief that Fate tends to reunite on Earth those who had been mates in the Origin. Of course, this tendency not always follows through to success. Sometimes it’s interrupted. Such is the case with the main characters from The Story of the Stone, for example. But in that admirable Chinese novel, there is also an example of accomplished matrimonial predestination, Blanca. We can find it towards the end of the book. It’s as if, to finish, the author -Xueqin- had wished to make up for the earlier failure of his main characters' matrimonial predestination. To achieve this, he used Aroma -Bao-yu's maid, but also his friend and confidant- and the amateur actor Bijou. Aroma and Bijou never appear together throughout the book, but they had exchanged a proof of love without even realising it. How is that possible?, you ask. It’s possible, Blanca, because on a certain occasion Bijou had offered a red silk belt to his friend Bao-yu, who in turn borrowed from Aroma a green belt to return the favour, while giving her the red one. The years go by and we arrive at that terrible day (or fortunate day, according to the Taoist perspective) in which Bao-yu vanishes. Consequently, Aroma becomes unemployed, and so her family arranges a marriage for her. In the morning after the wedding, her husband is helping her unpack when, among her dresses, he finds the red silk belt. Surprised, he fetches the green belt and shows it to her. “Upon seeing the belt Bao-yu had received from her, Aroma understood that her new husband was none other than the amateur actor Bijou, and began to believe in the predetermination of conjugal unions.”  “Aroma's married life -ends Xueqin- is the first chapter of another story.”
    So then, Blanca, even though Fate tends to reunite twin souls here on Earth, there are multiple interfering factors capable of ruining it. Let’s go back to that Zohar passage. After saying that, when the time for marriage has arrived, God reunites the Original mates (the souls who had been one in the Origin), it concludes “But this union depends on man's life, on how he has lived it. If he has lived a pure and pious life, he will enjoy such union as the one preceding his birth, which was the perfect union. This way, the man and his mate will belong to each other forever”  Meaning the Zohar makes the union with one's twin soul on Earth conditional on one living a virtuous life. This determining factor, along with others, led its author to annotate his statement saying “the Holy One, blessed be He... brings couples together”  with “It's difficult for the Holy One to bring couples together”.  (Are you shocked by the soubriquet? It’s only one of the many methods employed in Jewish tradition to refer to God without naming Him, as is prescribed.)
    Joseph Gikatilla, another great man of the Jewish Kabbalah, agrees with his contemporary, Moses of Leon, about the meeting of the twin souls depending on whether they are worthy or not. In his opuscule The Secret of the Marriage of David and Bathsheba, Gikatilla supports the idea that King David did not find his twin soul at first due to his “evil inclination”, which in Jewish tradition is also a euphemism for lust. “In that sense, know and understand that David, peace be upon him, had an evil inclination. For that reason he was not worthy of Bathsheba from the beginning, even though she had been destined to him since the six days of Genesis (since Creation, Blanca, which took six days, according to the Genesis), from where emanated the soul of David and that of Bathsheba, the female half of the couple.” 


If we believe the ancient sages, my dear, it’s not enough to perform good deeds in this life, or in previous ones, to reunite with your twin soul on Earth. There are other reasons explaining why said reunion does not happen in every link along the chain of reincarnated shapes that is human life. That it does not always happen, at least, in propitious circumstances to delve into erotic love, the specific love between twin souls. Our twin soul may have elected to embody not our Earthly spouse, but someone else close to ourselves, maybe a brother, or a friend. In those cases, the affinity will still shine through, except it will do so through its corresponding bond – fraternal, friendship... Our twin soul may have even chosen not to coincide with us in this life at all, Blanca. We could compare it to what happens in those long romance novels, of which you have so many in your library: The protagonist's beloved is not always present in every chapter there either, or not always with the same prominence. The love story may sometimes be put aside for a moment in favour of other episodic storylines. The novel begins and ends with its protagonist couple and its main storyline; but in-between, side plots and other characters intertwine. In addition, that seems to be what also happens with the vital cycle of a soul, with the cycle formed by all its reincarnations. The main storyline is a love story: the relationship of the soul with its twin. Those are the protagonists. But sometimes, in certain chapters, certain existences, a side plot or secondary character develops a momentary relevance. Maybe in past lives the soul had contracted with that character what Xueqin metaphorically called a “debt of tears” - a karmic debt, in Eastern metaphysical jargon – and now the time has come to settle that debt. (What is peculiar about a “debt of tears” connecting a soul to its twin, is that the debt was contracted in previous lives, and not in the Origin.) Alternatively, perhaps that character or side story can provide the soul with something, teach it an important lesson. Or maybe such lesson must be learned in solitude, without the help of the twin soul. In any case, once the debt is settled, once the lesson is learned, the main storyline comes to the fore again, and the twin soul recovers its corresponding importance.
    And if finding our twin soul on Earth isn't guaranteed, Blanca, neither is recognising it in case we find it. Recognition may require a certain degree of maturity, a certain refinement or evolution of the soul (we will clarify this concept in future letters) that allows us to keep our “eye of the heart” open; the heart being the metaphorical organ of recognition since, as an Arabic adage says, the heart sees what the eye can't. It may happen that only one of the twin souls has reached that evolutionary stage; then, recognition will not be mutual, but unilateral. It’s a rare case, no doubt. But so thorough was the study performed by that Andalusian sage I mentioned at the beginning, that such possibility did not evade him.

    It may be objected, that if Love were as I have described, it would be exactly equal in both the parties concerned, since the two parts would be partners in the act of union and the share of each would be the same. To this I reply, that the objection is indeed well-founded; but the soul of the man who loves not one who loves him is beset on all sides by various accidents which occlude, and veils that encompass it about, those earthy temperaments which now overlay it, so that his soul does not sense that part which was united with it before it came to occupy its present lodging-place. Had his soul been liberated from these restrictions, the two would have been equal in their experience of union and love. As for the lover, his soul is indeed free and aware of where that other is that shared with it in ancient proximity; his soul is ever seeking for the other, striving after it, searching it out, yearning to encounter it again, drawing it to itself if might be as a magnet draws the iron.   

    I should insist, however, Blanca, on emphasising how exceptional cases such as the one Ibn Hazm contemplates above are. From what I could gather from my readings (among them Hazm's book, The Ring of the Dove), twin souls usually evolve in unison. When recognition is unilateral, without reciprocation, or with passing reciprocation, then the odds are we are dealing with a mistake. Unrequited loves tend to be misguided loves, errors of perception, since recognition, as we will see, is fallible. In any event, if one is the exception (though there is no human way of telling), if there is, indeed, a certain obfuscation preventing recognition on the part our twin soul, then the best thing to do is to leave it alone, to give it time. If it does not recognises us in this life, it will in the next; forcing recognition will only result in further obfuscation. That rainy afternoon on the tram, Blanca, if you had changed seats instead of laughing at my jokes, would you have liked it if I, not taking the hint, sat again next to you? You would not have liked that, would you? Have no doubt, the best advice for a spurned lover is to accept it, turn the page, and search for love in other arms. (On my part, I am sure that I would have found it, you know? Remember that girl from my neighbourhood, the one I had my eye on when I met you? I am positive that I could had been happy by her side too. It’s just that, had she been in your place, it’s quite possible that now I would not be here playing detective, nor writing this letter.)
    Speaking of meeting your twin soul on Earth, and its difficulty, it reminds me now of a film I watched some years ago. (It’s so strange, how difficult it is to go to the cinema without you!) I hesitate writing the title here because, in this context, it sounds quite inappropriate. It’s titled Don't Die Without Telling Me Where You're Going  and it’s by one of the last remaining cinematographic poets. I know you would have loved this film. In spite of its fair share of humour, the plot is serious, sometimes even moving. It tells us about a man who is visited by the ghost of a woman. This woman had been his partner in numerous past lives, and she would have been so too in this one except, somewhere between lives, they lost track of each other. He reincarnated as a new person, but she did not want to start a new mortal life without him. So, from Heaven, she pulls some strings to find him and appear to him as a ghost. 
    A noted fourteenth century Italian poetry book brings us another ghost of a woman – another ghost in love: Il Canzoniere written by Petrarch. In those melodic, wonderful verses, Petrarch, filled with emotion, tells us how his dear Laura (for whom he fell in a powerful case of love at first sight, like his compatriot and contemporary Dante, when he saw her coming out of mass at the Saint-Claire d'Avignon convent, one Good Friday) appears to him, from beyond the grave, to console him. Sometimes he can only hear her voice inside his head. However, most frequently she would appear to him fully visible. She appears at night, sitting at the foot of his bed, and starts a conversation with him, in a most “sweet, soft and quiet” tone. What do they talk about? Well, you can imagine; they talk about their love and of whatever is happening in his life. In these nocturnal dates between life and death, both reach a stage of spiritual intimacy such as they had never experienced in her lifetime. They never experienced it, Blanca, because their lives took different paths; Laura was married to another man. Despite that, when referring to their lives, Laura's ghost employs the singular “our life”, as if between her life and Petrarch's existed a secret bond. As if their lives, separated only in appearance, had been, deep down, lived together. 


    Petrarch's Il Canzioniere is not a blue book, my love, it cannot be found in your library. Many other excellent books can, though, among them several novels by the English sisters Brontë, of which one portraits a similar situation to that of Petrarch's in Il Canzioniere. In it, a couple is also deeply in love, but the circumstances of live separate them. Then, she dies and he is left sad and alone. But what appeared to be a permanent separation turned into a renewed proximity, for she comes back from the dead. Returns to the world -or to her lover's imagination- as a ghost. And to see her again, to talk to her again, brings him great comfort... As you may have guessed, I'm talking about Wuthering Heights, the great romance novel written in mid-nineteenth century by Emily Brontë (that sky-blue book we read together one summer, not in the intimate domestic soirées I reminisced about earlier, but outside, sitting in the shade of a pine tree or walking through the vineyards in the afternoon).
    The main characters were children when Catherine's father took Heathcliff off the streets and adopted him. The two kids soon grow close because, regardless of the social chasm between them, they recognise a secret affinity between them. Later, Catherine will reflect aloud about that affinity, saying: “...so he shall never know how I love him: and that, not because he's handsome, but because he's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same” Do you see, Blanca? Catherine recognises in Heathcliff her twin soul. Wuthering Height's approach is similar to that of The Story of the Stone, only in a different frame: while in the Chinese novel we had an idyllic garden, in here we have lonely moors and pastures. Apart from that, the similarities are considerable. There are also children in love. Two children -one adopted- raised as brother and sister, who are traumatically separated upon reaching adulthood. We have the theme of love sickness: for several weeks, Catherine falls in a grave “state of delirium” after Heathcliff's sudden departure. We have the theme of the “false bride” -groom, in this case. And the theme of dying out of love, and love after death.
    In fact, both stories fit the mould of a very old story template. This template, Blanca, is reproduced in many love stories not only in the West but also in the East, as it’s a universal template. I am sure you will find the main couple of this type of stories to your liking since they are not only a couple in love but, usually (and I know one of your great sorrows in life was having children), a couple of children in love. The reason behind my choice lies in the nature of children's love, that of early adolescence, which is also, besides a pure and innocent love, an extremely intense love -as intense as it is pure, the two seem to be correlated. An intensity that is, furthermore, constant: a love that is forever riding high on the crest of a wave that will never break on the seashore. Adult love, on the other hand, will eventually cool down, settle over time and become a habit. Though I have to add something that you and I know from experience, Blanca: this cooling down of love is not inevitable. It’s not true that love, after its initial voluptuousness, can do no other thing besides declining. There's one other way, and that way is up: it’s transformation. 
    But I'm getting ahead of myself: such is my eagerness to share my findings with you! So, there is a template that repeats itself in romantic literature across time. A boy and a girl raised together in intimate harmony. These two children are often described as twin brothers, though such condition is often circumvented (as Brontë and Xueqin do) by using adoption as a subterfuge. Nevertheless, it’s still apparent in the fact that the kids are inseparable, that they do everything together, and that there exists between them a great physical similarity, as well as a kind of affinity, a secret bond, as is the case with twin brothers. Their childhood together is often described in paradisiacal terms. But tragedy is near, with the coming of adulthood. And what does that tragedy consist of? Of mutual separation, which banishes the children from the private Paradise that is their life together. The two young lovers are cast off into the world, like Adam and Eve in the biblical Genesis, and spend the rest of their lives searching for each other as they yearn for that lost Paradise of infancy. Here it’s, Blanca, the pattern in which a great number of classic, and modern, love stories are cut. We will have occasion to see more examples, but that will be in later letters, now I should wrap up this one. Rereading it, I noticed the inappropriate recurrence of the subject of post-mortem appearances, and I hasten to clarify that there is no hidden intention behind it. Don’t get me wrong, I am not deliberately insisting on that subject to incite you to follow suit. But I am sorry, it’s no laughing matter. In fact, I confess that because of my inquiries, I have been more alert, more receptive. Maybe that is why I am noticing details now that before would have passed me by. Or they would have looked incidental to me, like when one night a navy blue book came off the shelf when I opened the glass-paned door, and from it fell a little flower you had left between the pages to dry. I cannot be sure, of course, but it might have been a flower from the first bouquet I bought you over fifty years ago. Then there is -like now, while I am writing to you- that indomitable feeling of you being here with me. It’s so strong that sometimes I cannot avoid turning around suddenly, hoping to catch you there in fraganti (Don't tell anyone, but I feel like you are receiving this letter as I am writing it, as if you were reading it over my shoulder.) Lately, I seem to smell your perfume...
    Ah, and speak of the devil: your perfume. What was it called? I have been trying to remember it for a long time. It’s a shame there is no opened bottle on your dresser. I wish I had kept one, to open it once in a while, you know, like you used to do with the collection of smells from your childhood, to be transported back through the tunnel of time to those happy days. Your friends could not tell me, and at the perfume shops, they tell me there is no linden blossom perfume. However, yours always reminded me (yes, I know you thought it was absurd) of the sweet aroma of linden. Now look... the opposite happens: it’s linden that stirs in me memories of your perfume. That is why I have become so fond of infusions and -in Spring afternoons- of strolling up and down the fragrant Linden Tree Avenue at the Parc de la Ciutadella, which, on top of that, brings up so many memories of when we were young and used to go there... But let me tell you, all that has become superfluous: because now your perfume follows me. It surrounds me as I write to you, like a ghostly scent. I cannot help but speculate you are really present, even if not physically. Or maybe it’s your absence what I perceive, as they say of the amputees, who are awaken in the middle of the night by a stinging sensation in their absent limb... It’s a pertinent comparison, for I feel like they have amputated the better half of me. And it’s curious, my love, because, in some way, this feeling supports the theory of twin souls, the one I wanted to introduce you to in these letters.

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