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Out of time

By Philippe JAENADA Sofitel Luxembourg Europe

I had only just turned 18 years old, but in two months I was going to be 50. This fact had left me feeling at once puzzled and disconcerted. Not to mention depressed. Because if I had indeed turned 18 only two or three blinks of an eye ago, I nonetheless had to admit the obvious (surrender to it, in a sense, with hands up and head down): I was no longer as handsome as a youth, that was clear, and I had my doubts as to whether I still had the strength of a man – I felt soft and pale inside, like mashed turnips, and I was already dipping into my energy reserves.

I had married the woman I loved, I still loved her, and we had a 13-year-old son who was gently pulling away from us (with, it seemed to me, the requisite weapons, cards and shields to set off on his own path), while I was floating along in the passing time (it’s interesting to note that we generally think “time passes,” although we are the ones who are supposed to be advancing – it’s as if while riding on a train we’d say that it was the landscape that was passing (this apparent linguistic twist reflects the fact that we most often do next to nothing, remaining immobile as we watch and listen to our surroundings)), letting myself be carried, bobbing up and down like a Champagne cork – a cork
from a forgotten bottle – waiting somewhere between birth and death for nothing in particular. Defeated and miserable and heading toward death, I decided that I had to do something.

 

So I went to spend a week holed up in a five-star hotel in the city of Luxembourg, in the country of Luxembourg. I could have gone there as well as anywhere… It was elsewhere, and unknown. But it was also near, and probably familiar. I had a bit of money from a prize awarded to my latest novel, and I thought that this city, which I had imagined to be away from “everything” (a uniform and protected enclave in a country that bore the same name), another planet, would be an ideal setting for my trip, a place at once strange and peaceful and thus perfectly suited for putting myself temporarily on hold, for stepping out of my life. The grand hotel, comfortable, elegant and undoubtedly quiet, would serve as a fortified setting for my reflections, which might or might not involve my confrontation with the question of life and death, a question that in fact was not even a question (the simple fact of asking it is presumptuous).

I couldn’t have dreamed of a better place. The hotel resembled an ocean liner, moored above the city on the Kirchberg plateau, in a sprawling district of businesses and European institutions entirely devoted to work, a zone almost extraterrestrial, calm and geometric, nothing but office towers in which thousands of employees, invisible behind tinted windows, worked to keep the world functioning. Two stunning structures stood among them as reminders of the beauty of life on earth: the Philharmonie, by Christian de Portzamparc, and the Museum of Modern Art, by I.M. Pei.

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