A Spy in Exile: Chapter 27


LEEDS, DECEMBER 1947

 

Raphael took a deep breath and tightened the scarf around his neck. Night had already fallen and he could feel the cold in his bones. His head was spinning. He took another deep breath in an effort to calm himself. His exhilaration was spiritual in nature, but accompanied by physical signs, too. A real difficulty in breathing and a rapid pulse that throbbed in his temple. He had almost forgotten his meeting the previous night with the Irish arms dealer at that dingy pub nearby the Liverpool port. Coursing through him at that moment were his impressions from his lengthy meeting with the great sculptor Henry Moore. Raphael had initiated the meeting by means of a brief letter sent from London, and Moore’s reply, a single sentence on a thick greeting card of fine quality, was reservedly polite:

 

I’d be happy to meet with you when you come to Leeds, young sculptor.

 

Raphael was offended at first by the arrogant tone—young sculptor. But he later came to his senses and said to himself: He’s right, after all, I really am a young sculptor. I come from the periphery, from an arid strip of land at the far end of the Mediterranean Sea. Groveling before one of the greatest sculptors of the time, perhaps the greatest of them all. So yes, young sculptor. Make your pilgrimage. Sit at the feet of the master. You may learn something.

Moore himself opened the door, dressed in a buttoned-up cardigan, a pleasant smile lighting up his face. He led Raphael into a small living room, warning him on their way there that he didn’t have much time, three-quarters of an hour at the most, as he needed to return to his work in the studio. The forty-five minutes turned into ninety, and then Moore suggested they continue their conversation in the studio, which was located in a separate structure at the back of the house. Moore didn’t only speak, but listened, too, the young man’s sharp intelligence, original ideas, and powerful personality capturing his heart. Moore showed him the large white piece of stone on which he was working and asked for Raphael’s thoughts on how to proceed with its shaping. Raphael studied the stone from all sides and spoke his mind. Moore’s response surprised him. He handed Raphael a hammer and chisel and said, “Your suggestion is interesting, very interesting. Come on, get working. But carefully,” he added with a smile.

Even in the dark streets of Leeds he could still feel the dust of the stone in his nose, on his teeth, and in the cavity of his mouth—and he was savoring every grain of it. The dust was proof that it hadn’t been a dream. He really had worked with Henry Moore, even if not for very long. He, Yosef Raphael, who was born in Salonika and emigrated to the Land of Israel, had shaped the same piece of stone on which the great English sculptor was working, had carefully carved out his ideas pertaining to its inherent potential. At one point, Moore said to him: Come, allow me. And he took the hammer and chisel from his hands and picked up where the young Raphael had left off, along the same lines. Raphael observed the older sculptor’s hands in amazement, steady and strong, yet gentle at the same time, as if he were sculpting lines in a poem. At one point, while Moore was working doggedly and patiently on the stone, Raphael made tea for them.

When they parted a few hours later, the celebrated artist shook his hand and said they would keep in touch. I’m curious to see your works, he said to him. At the earliest opportunity, when I’m in London. Raphael was beside himself. Moore’s hand was strong and warm, rough and hard, a sculptor’s hand, with the marble and stone dust now a part of its skin. The following day, too, on the morning train that carried him southward, Raphael could still feel its touch on the tips of his fingers.


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