Growing up, my heroes were all madmen of a sort. Madness, my mother said, defined great men, just as fear defined weak ones. It seemed wise to adopt her opinion. My ancestors range from the visionary to the criminal and I am named for a good many of them. (Tristan Leandre Jourdain Mourault III.) My surname is a dignified one in my native land, translating roughly to ‘little dark.’ I’ve always thought of this as dusk, just before night and beyond the normalcy of day. It is where we have always existed.
My obsession with beauty began in infancy. I was mesmerized by pictures, by flowers and faces, by that lovely symmetry which even the undiscriminating eye terms beautiful. Though Papa was heir to a fortune in Impressionist art, Maman was the true aesthete. I often think of the Mourault Collection as hers alone. She took the paintings like lovers and knew all their stories: the gentle arthritic Renoir, the tempers of Degas, the humiliations of Lautrec and infidelities of Monet. She wove wondrous tales around them, audacious and certainly fictive. Maman knew that the power of a painting, of any beautiful thing, is not in itself but in its afterlife. Not the thing of a moment, but a perpetual quest.
My own quests began with the lovely Yvette Desmarais at the age of five. At my birthday party, I cornered her in the garden. Never was there a more satisfying game of cache-cache, or as you say, Hide and Seek. Those wide eyes, the color of ice on a gray day, and the lines of her bow-tie mouth. She began to scream, yet in later years took to writing me love letters. The paradox was instructive.
Later, I exercised more discretion but took great delight in spying upon one of our maids, Martine, at her bath. I did so guiltlessly; it was not so very different from gazing upon the creamy flesh of Renoir’s nudes. Only I preferred my art living.
I hesitate to say I was sex-obsessed. I had not so much an unquenchable appetite as an exacting one and as such, my cosseted world soon grew confining. I elected to spend summers with relatives in Brussels, Edinburgh and Munich. My seasons had new names: Jennifer, Adela, Genevieve, Anna. With conscious deliberation I collected women, yet they were not conquests; they were studies. I soaked in their scent, memorized their outlines, colored them in. Nothing approached the ideal of my vision. And so I sought visions everywhere, following them to their end. And then one came that did not end.
I called her Gisèle.