It is early afternoon in Geneva, and Franz is on his way to see his mistress, Sabina. He is going to Sabina’s art studio, but he doesn’t intend to have sex with her there. He never has sex with Sabina in Geneva, the city where he lives with his wife, Marie-Claude. To do so would insult both Sabina and Marie-Claude, Franz believes, so he only has sex with Sabina in foreign cities. That way, he is away from his marriage and his relationship with Sabina has its own space.
Franz’s refusal to have sex with Sabina in Geneva is about the only form of power he has in his relationship with her. Unlike Sabina’s relationship with Tomas, Sabina has all the power over Franz, and despite his muscular build, she considers him weak. Franz considers love the complete surrender of one’s power—the complete opposite of Tomas’s definition of love.
Alone with Sabina in her art studio, Franz asks her to go to Palermo, but she says she would rather stay in Geneva. Franz worries that Sabina’s refusal to go with him to Palermo means that she no longer desires him. Franz is incredibly unsure of himself, and he worries constantly that Sabina will leave him. Franz, the narrator interrupts, believes that love is the “antithesis” of public life, and he also believes that love means always being on guard.
Franz thinks love is the “antithesis,” or opposite, of public life, which suggests that Franz considers love to be a private affair, but it also establishes another dichotomy. Franz’s insecurity is more evidence of his weakness. He is intimidated by Sabina and is always waiting for her to hurt him.
Sabina looks at Franz and empties a glass of wine into her mouth. Just because she doesn’t want to go to Palermo doesn’t mean she doesn’t want Franz. Franz feels silly for doubting her, but he is worried that Sabina obviously wants to violate his rule of only having sex in foreign cities. Standing in only her bra and skirt, Sabina stares at Franz. She seems to be asking him something, but Franz is “bewildered.”
Franz’s “bewilderment” is evidence of the miscommunication and misunderstandings that pass between him and Sabina. This confusion also illustrates the ambiguity of language, as the same words and symbols mean different things to both Sabina and Franz.
Sabina steps out of her skirt and puts a black bowler hat on her head. Franz thinks Sabina looks odd in the masculine hat, and it makes him slightly uncomfortable. She stands staring into a mirror for several seconds, and Franz removes the hat from her head before again asking her to go to Palermo. She agrees, and Franz leaves.
Sabina’s hat has special meaning to her, but since Franz is not privy to this meaning, he is completely confused. Franz thinks the hat looks odd because it blurs the line between masculine and feminine, obliterating their meaning, and the loss of this dichotomy makes Franz uncomfortable. Only by removing the hat from Sabina’s head can Franz regain some measure of control in their relationship—in this case, by finally convincing Sabina to go to Palermo.