Cloud Castles

Synopsis

from Cloud Castles

In Cloud Castles, the Magical Mystery Tour begun in Cardboard Castles continues taking our Brazilian-American anti-hero, Duncan Katz, around the world…from Haifa to Nuremberg to Bellagio to Rio to Paris and back to the United States where he will begin the final chapter of his wanderings in the third novel, Capital Castles. It is the long-awaited sequel to Cardboard Castles and, like its predecessor, mixes imagistic doses of black comedy with the palliative of social consciousness. The characters are as diverse as the prose: Hadara, Duncan’s partner and ex-Israeil spy; Giovanni Romanziere, the juggling deaf gardener; Monsieur Meursault, the maitre’d of Nuremberg’s oldest restaurant, the Nassauerhaus; Werther and his sorrows; Dr Italo Lascivo, the randy cosmomusicologico-physician; Guia Kataimatoqve, the Amazonian shaman; and last, but clearly not least, Thanatos. As in all of his work, Axelrod pushes the proverbial envelope beyond the limits of the tongue and while leaving no stone unturned, also leaves no culture unscathed. 

 

Excerpt

from Cloud Castles

Chapter Zayin

A Brief History on the Institution of Marriage According to Katz

Sometime later, when the period was no longer a comma, Hadara and I had another one of our martial discussions. Make that marital. We were in our living room, reading, when Hadara popped the question, "Why won’t you marry me?" Only momentarily stunned, since after two years I had become fairly well-adjusted to Hadara’s precipitous transitions, I said, with hardly a quiver to my voice, "We are." She asked for validation, so I explained to her that marriage has always implied sexual intercourse, and since we were already engaging in sexual intercourse one could say that we were already married.

She didn’t like my feeble attempt at syllogizing and countered with the statement that my reasoning was incorrect since the man was generally the protector and supporter in a marriage and since I was neither, we couldn’t have been married.

Not to be out-reasoned by the doctor, I countered with the statement that, if nothing else, marriage was based on instinct, maternal instinct, and that society, aware of that primordial feeling, had institutionalized it into what was called marriage. 

"After all," I said, "God said be fruitful and multiply, He didn’t give it any name. I mean, He didn’t say ‘go seeth your local rabbi for binding. Besides," I added, "your constant preoccupation with wanting to be pregnant bears out my theory."

Hadara wasn’t convinced.

"In Talmudic law," she began, "no contract can be formed by verbal consent. There must be a formal act to render the contract legal. If there’s no formal act, my dear, there can be no marriage."

"But the ritual itself is so insignificant, isn’t it? Really?"

"Without it, I’m a mere concubine."

"Not at all. You’re perfect just the way you are."

"The Shekinah can rest only upon amarried man, because an unmarried manis but half a man and the Shekinah does not rest upon that which is imperfect."

Leave it to her to start quoting the Zohar. I was having a hard enough time rambling around what little I knew of the tradition. Stumped for a response, I gesticulated my way back to something about which I had some limited knowledge. 

"Well then," I said, putting the paper on the floor and folding my arms, "what about the ritual itself.

I’ll bet you don’t even know the meaning of the rites within the ritual. As a matter of fact, I’ll make a bet you don’t." 

"What’s the bet?" 

"Marriage." 

"You’re on." 

"Okay then, for one marriage, you must answer the following three questions correctly. 

"Go on." 

I figured I was safe, since I was positive she wouldn’t know all three, especially since I was prepared to debate the truth or alter the truth or adjust the truth any way I could to my advantage. 

"Question number one, what is the symbolic significance of the chuppah?" 

She smiled a condescending smile. 

"Are they all going to be this easy?" I thought you wanted to make me work for it? 

"Come on, just answer, will see how easy they are."

"The bridal canopy is symbolic of the mystical chamber in which the bride surrenders herself to her groom." 

"Uh, yeah, right. Good. Now what are the three things a wife is granted through a marriage?"

"Maintenance, ransom, and burial," she answered as if the she knew the questions beforehand. 

"Correct, very good." I was bluffing and she knew it, but what was the difference. I really had no idea what she meant by "ransom," but it sounded genuine enough. "Okay, the last question is, what is the significance of the groom crushing the glass after the wedding ceremony?" 

It wasn’t a very difficult question, but I really couldn’t think of anything else. Hadara looked at me with an expression which bordered on sympathy. 

"Are you serious?" 

"Sure, come on, I’ll bet you don’t even know. C’mon don’t stall, this is for it…our marriage." 

"Oh, Duncan, don’t be so cynical." 

"Well, what is it?" 

"To insure the consummation of the marriage. How could you think I wouldn’t know that?" 

Actually, I really didn’t know that and I wasn’t sure she wasn’t bluffing. As a matter of fact, I didn’t know if she were bluffing on any of the questions I had asked. But Hadara wasn’t the type to bluff. Especially when it came to marriage. To be honest, the only reason I had asked them was because I never knew the answers in the first place. But I did realize that, in fact, she knew them, which meant that unless I could find a way out of the truth, I was a married man. 

"Well, then, if that’s true, I mean about the bridal canopy and the crushed glass, what’s the purpose of having a wedding ceremony and crushing a glass if the vessel’s already been broken, so to speak?" 

I leaned back and folded my arms, confident that the discussion was concluded. Hadara got up and silently left the room. I assumed she was just pissed off because she won the bet, but lost the marriage. She had been gone for about fifteen minutes and I thought she had gone to bed. But she hadn’t. While I was reading the Jerusalem Post she quietly sneaked up behind me and broke a salt-covered plate over my head. As I was reeling from the sodium of it all, she dusted off her hands and said: 

"Yes, and in England that means the same thing." 

For some reason, she refused to make love to me that evening.