"Do More of That" - Chapter 2 of European Vacation
I fell in love in Paris. Again.
Though this time, not with the city, nor with any of the many dreamy Parisian lads flying by on their bikes with scarves blowing in the wind, ruddy cheeked from the chill like a prep school footballer on the field in October. No, I am a happily married woman...
And yet- I did not fall in love- again- with my husband! Strong and steady, he is, always at my side- our love has deepened to what I believe on good days is akin to what the Beatles were getting at with "One day when we're dreaming...deep in love, not a lot to say..." sort of thing. On the not so good days, it's just the humdrum love of long-term marriage. Love aging like a fine wine into contentment and deep familiarity. Not a whole lot of room for crazy fiery passion any longer...hm... ("Wait-- oh wait, young Parisian lad! You there! Arrete! Arrete!")
But anyway. That's a blog for another day.
I fell in love in Paris this time around with an artist. A woman. A dead woman to be exact.
And heaven knows I'm not the only one. Apparently this woman-- Suzanne Valadon is her name- was quite the toast of the town in her day. And because I did not take a whole lot of art history back in my youth, I was very spotty on the story behind the lives of all those Belle Epoque Parisian thinkers and painters and writers-- all those Dadaists and Impressionists. I had never heard of Suzanne Valadon.
Which seems crazy after all. Because I had heard of all her compatriots - Degas (her mentor,) Renoir (her lover, fan, and painter of one of her famed portraits,) Toulouse Lautrec (similarly a fan of her work and a friend. Also painted a portrait of Suzanne.) In fact, I stumbled upon her name because I was looking for Erik Satie in Paris. Satie- the self-monikered " phonometrician" (as opposed to composer) who back around the turn of the 19th Century into the 20th, penned the melancholic and delightful Gymnopedies that have stuck in my head since childhood. I played each of the three as a kid too, many times over, because they were A. technically easy and B. vaguely sad. Both of which suited me to a tee in my early teens.
So I've been a Satie admirer for years. Especially since he was so modest and poor- such a great image of a starving artist in his little 10x10 foot room almost on the top of the hill of Montmartre. I trudged the family up this very hill- all these sets of stairs in Montmartre after snapping a disheartened picture of the Moulin Rouge upon the main drag of that part of the city which is so incredibly like the French version of seedy Hollywood Boulevard. All the Le Sex Shoppes left and right, I almost couldn't walk up all those steps to find my Satie and his little room on the hill after all.
But we did -- I assured everyone that what I was searching for on the top of Montmartre was worth more to me than the brick red windmill sandwiched between two other nondescript buildings now. I had to go up there- I don't know what I thought I was looking for, but it definitely had something to do with my starving, self-deprecating Satie whose work and energy I've always resonated to. Of course the world always has other plans for you, and so the irony is, that yes- Satie did live in this little room up there on number 5 Rue Cortot, with a glorious view of Paris spread wide from the top of the hill nestled up close to the Sacre-Coeur.
But what wasn't there was the Satie museum I had read about weeks previously in the Sunday LA Times. (Turns out that's located just outside of Paris in a suburb I believe called Arcuiel where he was forced to relocate after running out of all his dough in Paris itself. Oops.) There was nothing but a small brass plaque positioned above the front door of a small apartment complex marking the place Satie used to live. Modest- easy to miss. I suppose, somehow fitting for the composer of the sweet, shyly meandering Gymnopedie strains.
So- the disgruntled kids and vaguely annoyed husband that comprised my family were soon distracted by some chocolate crepes and espresso in a nearby cafe while I rabidly Googled anything relating to Satie so that I could somehow salvage the moment for them and for me. Don't know if I ever really did that for them- hopefully at some point our children will be happy they've trudged up and down and around the famous steps of Montmartre- which turns out to be very much akin to our little artsy, dingy, lively LA suburb of Venice here in the CA.
But I was successful for myself, for in the moments of desperate electronic research, I of course land on Suzanne Valadon. Because not only was she a quality artist in her own right, and the mother of the famous painter, Maurice Utrillo, but she was the only love of poor Erik Satie, who enjoyed six glorious months in her company, only to be dumped roundly by her when she abruptly moved herself and her son out of his tiny flat. Apparently, Satie never loved again. Supposedly never even tried- no dates for lovelorn Erik who spent the rest of his phonometric days pining away for Suzanne and writing her letter after letter for 30 years following their wild but short lived affair.
So I became enraptured with this woman. This woman whom Google tells me is known as "The Mistress of Montmartre." I read as much as I could find about her (in roughly 24 minutes- the time it takes for my family to consume two chocolate crepes- one with whipped cream and one without- and an espresso.) I found images of her art- I found images of her portraits.
Turns out- she was a spitfire, this Suzanne. And a wonderful artist. Turns out, she was worthy of Satie's obsession. First of all, Suzanne Veladon was quite a looker with her sweet heart shaped French visage- large doe-eyes widespread on her face. Fiery red hair. Lush lips. Tiny waist and hands. Had she been a wee bit taller, and born 100 years later she could have been a Victoria Secret model. But she was also a sassy survivor of a lady having been born to a poor washerwoman - dad up and split. She dropped out of school at 9 to work as a waitress, groom, laundress, eventually running away to join the circus as a trapeze artist! Which she probably would have done until her dying day had she not taken a terrible fall, which did not end her life, but ended it in the circus for certain.
(I'm now going to bullet point here because I know this might be a little tiring- reading a poorly constructed bio of someone YOU could just easily google yourself. There' s just a few more points I want to get at about her life because they were salient to me.)
- Then, at 18 gives birth to bastard son Maurice
- Moves to Montmartre district of Paris where she works as a model for artists
- Becomes a fixture in the thriving art scene and in the lives of Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec, Renoir, and of course, my little Satie.
- Has many portraits of her completed by these masters
- Under the tutelage of Degas, learns to paint and begins her life-long journey of becoming a master herself
- Begins to teach her bi-polar son Maurice how to paint to help him deal with his mental illness. He will eventually surpass her in critical acclaim and become much more famous than his mother as a painter.
- Sometime after her affair with Satie (and there were many many lovers in this woman's life, make no mistake) marries a wealthy banker. Stays married for approx 12 years
- Leaves the banker- falls in love with a man 21 years her junior.
- Marries this man - Andre Utter- in her FIFTIES
- Lives well and happily into her late 70's in her chosen bohemian lifestyle
That's called living, I think. Yes- there were clearly many casualties, as I suppose there always are around the fiery ones. Many hearts broken and marriages disrupted and relationships sullied and promises broken in and around the life of Suzanne Valadon. But boy oh boy, did she live that life. She loved and lusted and fucked and loved some more. She worked her craft and her art. In fact, she apparently worked on some of her oil paintings meticulously and forever before deeming them to be "completed" works. One piece in particular took her over 13 YEARS-
So- I come home with this. This is my treat and my reward for blindly moving forward sans guidebook upward into the Montmartre district of Paris (we missed many other fantastic points of interest there as a result, I am certain.) I come home with a renewed European sense of self. As artist, as woman, as spitfire, as one WORTHY of continuing to not so much trudge through this artist's path that life and I have chosen for me, but to dance through it. To shimmy and move and fly and occasionally stumble and fall down on it all covered in horseshit and mud.
Because if you're lucky- life is long. And there's nothing you're supposed to DO, no one or where you absolutely have to SEE, nothing you need to GIVE or TAKE. It all is just part of the crazy beautiful quilt of your existence- moment by moment, stitch by stitch. Wherever it is that you find yourself.
I am unhinging myself perhaps finally from the last vestiges of a need to be commercially recognized and/or "successful." I am tired of the "marketing" hat I've forced myself to wear for years now. Not that I can't wear it, not that I don't actually- turns out- have a little inherent talent for selling and understanding what makes people gravitate toward certain things or ideas vs others- but I don't WANT TO. That's not who I am and not what I do. I am an artist and a grump and a wild silly dancer and at times a comedian and at others a depressive mother fucker who likes to shack myself up in my room with the piano and delve into Rachmaninov. Or Satie. Or Jimi Hendrix. Or Holly Long. So I think I'm going to do more of "that" in the forseeable future.
This woman behind the counter of the Santa Monica Homeopathic Pharmacy gave me a gift last month after I'd been compulsively driving myself there week after week, searching for yet another natural supplement to help stave off the viciously debilitating anxiety--- I think during this visit I had gotten in a protracted conversation with another aproned herbalist behind the counter about my digestive tract. As related to my heart issue. As colored by my hormonal imbalances. As perhaps affecting my insomnia.
And this other older woman pharmacist, having overheard it all, jumps in and asks me what I do for fun and relaxation.
I say, "I'm an artist, and so really doing my art- making my music, performing on stage and writing songs or writing anything really, is what makes me happiest. I feel the most alive. So, I don't know what I do really to 'relax'- I'm not so much for the 'relax.'"
"So you make the music and you are a singer and a writer?" (She was of some form of Eastern European descent.)
And I say "Yes, yes I do, and I am. But I haven't been doing that as much lately. I've been in a slump."
And she says-- "Aha. Yes. Well- there you go. You go write. You go make more of the music. You do more of THAT (she gestures a bit with her hands here, shaking them slightly away from her body as if air drying them after a wash)- you going to be fine."
Perhaps the most essential vitamin and mineral for this starving artist.
So, thank you Suzanne Valadon. You may not be aware, but our affair has only just begun. I've already written a belabored mediocre folk song about your life. Perhaps if I edit it carefully and stick some reverbed electric guitar behind it, it will be worthy of performance at some point. And google keeps calling out to me with updates about you- I think there may be some movies about your life- certainly many many books...
And of course, thank you, Erik Satie, for bringing me to Suzanne. Not like you aren't still important to me in your way, but I'm suddenly very very hot for your ex. (How familiarly that must ring for you...)
And finally - thank you eastern European homeopathic pharmacist lady. You are wise and smart and as it turns out, absolutely right. I don't need another supplement. I don't need to chart my bowel movements or count the hours of sleep or vegetable calorie intake...
Right now, I just need to do my art. I need to do more of THAT.