Chasing Matisse: The Book
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January 19, 2003
The Sun King
The sun is shining in Paris, the city glistening with pink light that somehow floats in the sky. This is our first day that truly has been sunny and clear.
No wonder whole cultures have worshipped the giver of radiance, when illumination returns after the darkness of night, and the world is given back to them. That's how it is for Jim on this day when the orb finally makes an appearance. The sun drenches him with its rays, and his dark night lifts as well. His moroseness is gone. He is thoughtful and loving and says it's the light in the sky. I know part of his relief is the rental of our house that hasn't sold. Part of his relief is about money. The sky feels brighter today. (I suspect Jim's family is imprinted genetically with a need for sunshine to take their gloomy moods away.) We're both uplifted when good news arrives via sun or any other messenger.
We were waiting for our friend, Alice, at the Place d'Italie. Jim had walked across the street to get some cash at a bank, and I was eyeing a Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant right in front of me. We haven't eaten any American food since we've been in France, and I'd been craving KFC ever since we saw one in Les Halles. We were hungry. Alice was taking us to Anne Pierre-Humbert's apartment to see her late husband, Pierre's, studio and we wanted to bring Anne a gift. I was thinking a bucket of chicken would be nice, and by the way, I'd like to have some. Instead, we stopped into a chocolaterie and bought a golden box of bonbons and a bag of pate de fuits. So much for my pie-eyes for KFC.
Anne's apartment was small, simply and tastefully done with one wall of windows. Art was everywhere we looked-Pierre's paintings, sculptures, drawings, fine and beautiful cups Anne served our coffee in. It turns out she's an artist, too, and the cups are her graceful work. It was a pleasure for us to be using them. Pierre once had an exhibition in South Carolilna, and they made the trip there. Even though he probably spoke better English than she did, she was the one who talked for both of them. We discussed the fact that women are the ones who stick their necks out. We're the braver of the sexes. While Pierre and Anne were in the U.S., they also visited New York. When they returned to Paris, it seemed like a village to her. I thought that a perfect description. Anne is a beautiful woman with clear eyes and heart. She is thoughtful and articulate, and her dynamic spark of life comes bursting through.
After our coffee and cookies, she took us up a ladder-like flight of stairs to Pierre's studio. Stacks of paintings, folders of drawings, and photographs of his work held the room in his energy. The chaise where Pierre set his nudes was left undistrubed, and a bookshelf was filled with volumes devoted to Matisse who was also Pierre's great inspiration. In fact, he and Anne made a pilgrimage to the Matisse Museum in Nice once a year. Pierre's atelier was a living vision of his work and his and Anne's life together. The afternoon was an honor and a treat for us.
I have been interested in creative couples for years, who each write or paint or compose music, whatever they do separately and/or together. Several years ago I read a book called Significant Others, which described such couples' lives and work. Among those included are Auguste Rodin and Camille Claudel, Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, Jackson Pollock and Lee Krasner (I think-I don't have the book in front of me.) They all had one characteristic in common. When both were creative, one usually surrendered his or her energy for the other. Creative people need such support. They are emotionally oriented to create their art, and I believe when both are artists of any sort, they understand the compulsion, need, and desire of their mates and want to help them. In these chapters of different couples, it was almost always the woman who gave herself to her man. No doubt, it has to do with social mores, hormones, anthropology, archetypal memories, and on and on. It's disorienting for an artist not to express him or herself as he might otherwise, but this usually happens to one of the pair. I don't know whether Pierre and Anne had this struggle, but Jim and I have. It's difficult when both members of a couple are driven to create sentences, paragraphs, or paintings.
It was wonderful to be with Anne and Alice again. We rode the bus to the Galerie Besseiche with we three women sitting in a back corner giggling like girlhood friends. I felt lucky to be with them. Jim wasn't included in this female club and sat across from us. Alice was again very kind to spend the afternoon with us, translating and adding good cheer and conversation to our company. Again, she is helping us with details she doesn't need or have to. We are profoundly grateful.
Another day down, and two more to go before we left Paris. Jim and I made phone calls and ran from one side of the city to the other trying to get everything done before we left. I was trudging through my duties when I spotted a salon. I stopped and considered my personal state of mess. In eight weeks, I hadn't done one thing for myself, and my nails were a visible sign of my disarray. I hadn't had a manicure in months, so I took the plunge and had one. It was half-hour of luxury, and then I ran more errands before I went home. Jim's afternoon had been almost totally unsuccessful, and we had one more day to bust our proverbial butts to try again. We were tired, and nothing ever seemed to get done. After six weeks, we're still trying to get our lives and work set up here with a staff of ourselves.
I was cranky when we went to dinner, but again generosity and luck rained down on us. We stepped into Le Gai Moulin , and everything suddenly became ideal. We squeezed into one of the close banquettes and began talking to our neighbors and laughing with the waiter who was hilarious. I told him I loved him. He was fabulous. The guy sitting beside me said, "Me too." The table on the other side of us held two Frenchmen celebrating a birthday, and they offered us some of their Pineau from Charente. At the table past them, two men from Australia were dining. We all started talking politics and movies, Paris versus country, and a long list of ideas. We left with new hope and new friends.
The dinner and evening was one of our best in Paris, and tres festive. It was a beautifully wrapped gift dropped from the Sun King who had vanished from sight.
posted by Beth on January 19, 2003 | View All Diary Entries
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