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CHAPTER 52

CASA MILÀ IS built in the shape of an infinity sign—an endless curve that doubles back over itself and forms two undulating chasms that penetrate the building. Each of these open-air light wells is nearly a hundred feet deep, crumpled like a partially collapsed tube, and from the air they resembled two massive sinkholes in the roof of the building.

From where Langdon stood at the base of the narrower light well, the effect looking skyward was decidedly unsettling—like being lodged in the throat of a giant beast.

Beneath Langdon’s feet, the stone floor was sloped and uneven. A helix staircase spiraled up the interior of the shaft, its railing forged of wrought iron latticework that mimicked the uneven chambers of a sea sponge. A small jungle of twisting vines and swooping palms spilled over the banisters as if about to overgrow the entire space.

Living architecture, Langdon mused, marveling at Gaudí’s ability to imbue his work with an almost biological quality.

Langdon’s eyes climbed higher again, up the sides of the “gorge,” scaling the curved walls, where a quilt of brown and green tiles intermingled with muted frescoes depicting plants and flowers that seemed to be growing up toward the oblong patch of night sky at the top of the open shaft.

“Elevators are this way,” Ambra whispered, leading him around the edge of the courtyard. “Edmond’s apartment is all the way up.”

As they boarded the uncomfortably small elevator, Langdon pictured the building’s top-floor garret, which he had visited once to see the small Gaudí exhibit housed there. As he recalled, the Casa Milà attic was a dark, sinuous series of rooms with very few windows.

“Edmond could live anywhere,” Langdon said as the elevator began to climb. “I still can’t believe he leased an attic.”

“It’s a strange apartment,” Ambra agreed. “But as you know, Edmond was eccentric.”

When the elevator reached the top floor, they disembarked into an elegant hallway and climbed an additional set of winding stairs to a private landing at the very top of the building.

“This is it,” Ambra said, motioning to a sleek metal door that had no knob or keyhole. The futuristic portal looked entirely out of place in this building and clearly had been added by Edmond.

“You said you know where he hides his key?” Langdon asked.

Ambra held up Edmond’s phone. “The same place where he seems to hide everything.”

She pressed the phone against the metal door, which beeped three times, and Langdon heard a series of dead bolts sliding open. Ambra pocketed the phone and pushed the door open.

“After you,” she said with a flourish.

Langdon stepped over the threshold into a dimly lit foyer whose walls and ceiling were pale brick. The floor was stone, and the air tasted thin.

As he moved through the entryway into the open space beyond, he found himself face-to-face with a massive painting, which hung on the rear wall, impeccably illuminated by museum-quality pin lights.

When Langdon saw the work, he stopped dead in his tracks. “My God, is that … the original?”

Ambra smiled. “Yes, I was going to mention it on the plane, but I thought I’d surprise you.”

Speechless, Langdon moved toward the masterpiece. It was about twelve feet long and more than four feet tall—far larger than he recalled from seeing it previously in the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. I heard this was sold to an anonymous collector, but I had no idea it was Edmond!

“When I first saw it in the apartment,” Ambra said, “I could not believe that Edmond had a taste for this style of art. But now that I know what he was working on this year, the painting seems eerily appropriate.”

Langdon nodded, incredulous.

This celebrated masterpiece was one of the signature works by French Postimpressionist Paul Gauguin—a groundbreaking painter who epitomized the Symbolist movement of the late 1800s and helped pave the way for modern art.

As Langdon moved toward the painting, he was immediately struck by how similar Gauguin’s palette was to that of the Casa Milà entryway—a blend of organic greens, browns, and blues—also depicting a very naturalistic scene.

Despite the intriguing collection of people and animals that appeared in Gauguin’s painting, Langdon’s gaze moved immediately to the upper-left-hand corner—to a bright yellow patch, on which was inscribed the title of this work.

Langdon read the words in disbelief: D’où Venons Nous / Que Sommes Nous / Où Allons Nous.

Where do we come from? What are we? Where are we going?

Langdon wondered if being confronted by these questions every day as he returned to his home had somehow helped inspire Edmond.

Ambra joined Langdon in front of the painting. “Edmond said he wanted to be motivated by these questions whenever he entered his home.”

Hard to miss, Langdon thought.

Seeing how prominently Edmond had displayed the masterpiece, Langdon wondered if perhaps the painting itself might hold some clue as to what Edmond had discovered. At first glance, the painting’s subject seemed far too primitive to hint at an advanced scientific discovery. Its broad uneven brushstrokes depicted a Tahitian jungle inhabited by an assortment of native Tahitians and animals.

Langdon knew the painting well, and as he recalled, Gauguin intended this work to be “read” from right to left—in the reverse direction from that of standard French text. And so Langdon’s eye quickly traced the familiar figures in reverse direction.

On the far right, a newborn baby slept on a boulder, representing life’s beginning. Where do we come from?

In the middle, an assortment of people of different ages carried out the daily activities of life. What are we?

And on the left, a decrepit old woman sat alone, deep in thought, seeming to ponder her own mortality. Where are we going?

Langdon was surprised that he hadn’t thought of this painting immediately when Edmond first described the focus of his discovery. What is our origin? What is our destiny?

Langdon eyed the other elements of the painting—dogs, cats, and birds, which seemed to be doing nothing in particular; a primitive goddess statue in the background; a mountain, twisting roots, and trees. And, of course, Gauguin’s famous “strange white bird,” which sat beside the elderly woman and, according to the artist, represented “the futility of words.”

Futile or not, Langdon thought, words are what we came here for. Preferably forty-seven characters’ worth.

For an instant, he wondered if the painting’s unusual title might relate directly to the forty-seven-letter password they were seeking, but a quick count in both French and English did not add up.

“Okay, we’re looking for a line of poetry,” Langdon said hopefully. “Edmond’s library is this way,” Ambra told him. She pointed to her left, down a wide corridor, which Langdon could see was appointed with elegant home furnishings that were interspersed with assorted Gaudí artifacts and displays.

Edmond lives in a museum? Langdon still couldn’t quite wrap his mind around it. The Casa Milà loft was not exactly the homiest place he had ever seen. Constructed entirely of stone and brick, it was essentially a continuous ribbed tunnel—a loop of 270 parabolic arches of varying heights, each about a yard apart. There were very few windows, and the atmosphere tasted dry and sterile, clearly heavily processed to protect the Gaudí artifacts.

“I’ll join you in a moment,” Langdon said. “First, I’m going to find Edmond’s restroom.”

Ambra glanced awkwardly back toward the entrance. “Edmond always asked me to use the lobby downstairs … he was mysteriously protective of this apartment’s private bathroom.”

“It’s a bachelor pad—his bathroom is probably a mess, and he was embarrassed.”

Ambra smiled. “Well, I think it’s that way.” She pointed in the opposite direction from the library, down a very dark tunnel.

“Thanks. I’ll be right back.”

Ambra headed off toward Edmond’s office, and Langdon went in the opposite direction, making his way down the narrow corridor—a dramatic tunnel of brick archways that reminded him of an underground grotto or medieval catacomb. Eerily, as he moved along the stone tunnel, banks of soft motion-sensitive lights illuminated at the base of each parabolic arch, lighting his way.

Langdon passed an elegant reading area, a small exercise area, and even a pantry, all interspersed with various display tables of Gaudí drawings, architectural sketches, and 3-D models of his projects.

When he passed an illuminated display table of biological artifacts, however, Langdon stopped short, surprised by the contents—a fossil of a prehistoric fish, an elegant nautilus shell, and a sinuous skeleton of a snake. For a passing moment, Langdon imagined Edmond must have mounted this scientific display himself—perhaps relating to his studies of the origins of life. Then Langdon saw the annotation on the case and realized that these artificts had belonged to Gaudí and echoed various architectural features of this home: the fish scales were the tiled patterns on the walls, the nautilus was the curling ramp into the garage, and the snake skeleton with its hundreds of closely spaced ribs was this very hallway.

Accompanying the display were the architect’s humble words:

Nothing is invented, for it’s written in nature first.

Originality consists of returning to the origin.

—ANTONI GAUDÍ

Langdon turned his eyes down the winding, vault-ribbed corridor and once again felt like he was standing inside a living creature.

A perfect home for Edmond, he decided. Art inspired by science.

As Langdon followed the first bend in the serpentine tunnel, the space widened, and the motion-activated lights illuminated. His gaze was drawn immediately to a huge glass display case in the center of the hall.

A catenary model, he thought, having always marveled at these ingenious Gaudí prototypes. “Catenary” was an architectural term that referred to the curve that was formed by a cord hanging loosely between two fixed points—like a hammock or the velvet rope suspended between two stanchions in a theater.

In the catenary model before Langdon, dozens of chains had been suspended loosely from the top of the case—resulting in long lengths that swooped down and then back up to form limply hanging U-shapes. Because gravitational tension was the inverse of gravitational compression, Gaudí could study the precise shape assumed by a chain when naturally hanging under its own weight, and he could mimic that shape to solve the architectural challenges of gravitational compression.

But it requires a magic mirror, Langdon mused, moving toward the case. As anticipated, the floor of the case was a mirror, and as he peered down into the reflection, he saw a magical effect. The entire model flipped upside down—and the hanging loops became soaring spires.

In this case, Langdon realized, he was seeing an inverted aerial view of Gaudí’s towering Basílica de la Sagrada Família, whose gently sloping spires quite possibly had been designed using this very model.

Pressing on down the hall, Langdon found himself in an elegant sleeping space with an antique four-poster bed, a cherrywood armoire, and an inlaid chest of drawers. The walls were decorated with Gaudí design sketches, which Langdon realized were simply more of the museum’s exhibit.

The only piece of art in the room that seemed to have been added was a large calligraphied quote hanging over Edmond’s bed. Langdon read the first three words and immediately recognized the source.

God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers?

—NIETZSCHE

“God is dead” were the three most famous words written by Friedrich Nietzsche, the renowned nineteenth-century German philosopher and atheist. Nietzsche was notorious for his scathing critiques of religion, but also for his reflections on science—especially Darwinian evolution—which he believed had transported humankind to the brink of nihilism, an awareness that life had no meaning, no higher purpose, and offered no direct evidence of the existence of God.

Seeing the quote over the bed, Langdon wondered if perhaps Edmond, for all his antireligious bluster, might have been struggling with his own role in attempting to rid the world of God.

The Nietzsche quote, as Langdon recalled, concluded with the words: “Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?

This bold idea—that man must become God in order to kill God—was at the core of Nietzsche’s thinking, and perhaps, Langdon realized, partially explained the God complexes suffered by so many pioneering technology geniuses like Edmond. Those who erase God … must be gods.

As Langdon pondered the notion, he was struck by a second realization.

Nietzsche was not just a philosopher—he was also a poet!

Langdon himself owned Nietzsche’s The Peacock and the Buffalo, a compilation of 275 poems and aphorisms that offered thoughts on God, death, and the human mind.

Langdon quickly counted the characters in the framed quote. They were not a match, and yet a surge of hope swelled within him. Could Nietzsche be the poet of the line we’re seeking? If so, will we find a book of Nietzsche’s poetry in Edmond’s office? Either way, Langdon would ask Winston to access an online compilation of Nietzsche’s poems and search them all for a line containing forty-seven characters.

Eager to get back to Ambra and share his thoughts, Langdon hurried through the bedroom into the restroom that was visible beyond.

As he entered, the lights inside came on to reveal an elegantly decorated bathroom containing a pedestal sink, a freestanding shower unit, and a toilet.

Langdon’s eyes were drawn immediately to a low antique table cluttered with toiletries and personal items. When he saw the items on the table, he inhaled sharply, taking a step back.

Oh God. Edmond … no.

The table before him looked like a back-alley drug lab—used syringes, pill bottles, loose capsules, and even a rag spotted with blood.

Langdon’s heart sank.

Edmond was taking drugs?

Langdon knew that chemical addiction had become painfully commonplace these days, even among the rich and famous. Heroin was cheaper than beer now, and people were popping opioid painkillers like they were ibuprofen.

Addiction would certainly explain his recent weight loss, Langdon thought, wondering if maybe Edmond had been pretending to have “gone vegan” only in an attempt to cover for his thinness and sunken eyes.

Langdon walked to the table and picked up one of the bottles, reading the prescription label, fully expecting to find one of the common opioids like OxyContin or Percocet.

Instead he saw: Docetaxel.

Puzzled, he checked another bottle: Gemcitabine.

What are these? he wondered, checking a third bottle: Fluorouracil. Langdon froze. He had heard of Fluorouracil through a colleague at Harvard, and he felt a sudden wave of dread. An instant later, he spied a pamphlet lying among the bottles. The title was “Does Veganism Slow Pancreatic Cancer?”

Langdon’s jaw dropped as the truth hit him.

Edmond wasn’t a drug addict.

He was secretly fighting a deadly cancer.

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