La Gadoue – Jane Birkin

"La Gadoue” is one of my favorites from the album Birkin/Gainsbourg: Le Symphonique, which features orchestral versions of songs from Serge Gainsbourg's early career. Here, they're composed by Nobuyuki Nakajima, performed by the Montreal Symphony Orchestra, and sung by the iconic Jane Birkin, who–if you're unaware–was at one time Serge's collaborator and former partner. 

I looked up the English translation to this song's lyrics and discovered that it's about two lovers splashing about in the mud. The arrangement sounds magical! You can just imagine all the fun they're having in their rubber boots with the rain pouring down on them. Jane's girlish voice captures the delightful feeling of this moment beautifully. It’s one of those songs that makes you smile and feel nostalgic for a bygone time.

The Semi-Cautionary Tale of Dora Maar

I recently came across a feature article in the Summer 2017 issue of Porter magazine about Dora Maar, who was a brilliant artist and photographer in her own right yet was remembered almost exclusively as being one of Picasso's muses and mistresses. This story captivated me because Picasso the Great was able to bend, and eventually break, this strong and intelligent woman. Still, she did not allow herself to be completely destroyed.

I wanted to know more.

On one fateful day in 1936, a young Dora met Picasso at Café des Deux Magots. Besotted, they carried on a seven-year long, obsessive love affair. But he was a cruel man. He pitted Dora against Marie-Therèse Walter, another mistress, to battle for his affections–vile–which downright drove her mad.

(Most women–like most people, in general–naturally have a deep-seated fear of having her significant other leave her for someone else. This toxic fear can be all-consuming and manifests itself in detrimental ways–shattering one's sense of self and creating the illusion of becoming nothing without the other. That is why it is so important to maintain a wholeness and completeness within ourselves. We cannot prevent someone from leaving us; we can only say "Goodbye and good luck.")

Picasso, with his mean, narcissistic ways, couldn't stand that Dora excelled in photography. He urged her to abandon her art form for painting instead, convincing her that inside every photographer was a repressed painter. The second she did, though, he swooped in and took over her equipment, lights, and backdrop. Moreover, he wielded his influence by imposing his signature Cubistic style of painting on her, shutting out the possibility for her own individuality to bloom. 

The final blow fell on Dora in 1943 when Picasso left her for Françoise Gilot. With her heart gouged and discarded, Dora was found sitting on the steps of her house naked and unhinged. Picasso's psychoanalyst then administered three weeks of electroshock therapy for the treatment of her nervous breakdown, which was forbidden at the time. Thereafter, Picasso bought a home for her, in which she lived alone and haunted by painful memories for many years.

But the story doesn't end there:

In the late 1950s, Dora Maar was resurrected. She returned to her art and a vibrant social life. Picasso never ceased his attempts to cause her pain and humiliation. She outlived him by 24 years.

To sum it up, here's a passage from Dora Maar: With and Without Picasso by Mary Ann Caws:

Her poems, kept in a medium-sized notebook, end with a sketch headed ‘Stage set for a tragedy’. The stage was indeed set, and the drama enacted. But Dora Maar’s recuperation through her painting, her photography, and her private poetic record of pain and something beyond it, is not a tragedy, but rather a courageous reclamation of her own life, even in–perhaps especially in–solitude.

On Love Stories

My favorite love story is Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I like messed-up, strong women, and Holly Golightly has both great vulnerability and strength. She’s found a way to change her reality and then, surprisingly, finds someone she truly trusts. A man who’s willing to stand by a woman who is trapped by the persona she’s created–that’s my kind of love story.
— Amy Adams

The Definition of a Huckleberry Friend

One of the many iconic scenes in Breakfast at Tiffany's is when Paul Varjak tears himself away from his typewriter upon hearing the strumming of a guitar from his downstairs neighbor Holly Golightly. Normally dressed to the nines, this quintessential New York party girl is seen perched on a windowsill, pared down in a sweatshirt and jeans with a towel wrapped around her head, stealing a contemplative moment to herself as she croons "Moon River." There was one line from that song that stood out merely because I had no idea what it meant: "My huckleberry friend." For years, it hung in my mind. I searched Paul Varjak's relationship with Holly Golightly for the answer. Theirs was a mutual adoration laced with innocent flirtation; there was a certain playfulness that freed them from being neither friends nor lovers. What was between them was open to interpretation. It was beyond definition.

Everyone should have a huckleberry friend at one point or another. It is an experience that showers your life with magic for as long as it lasts, whether it be for a couple of weeks or a couple of years. The after-effects, however, last for much, much longer. I met my huckleberry friend at the very end of a dinner party uptown in 2008. He introduced himself just as I was leaving. His eyes contained big, blue floating orbs that were at once angelic and impish. Although we'd never met before, I felt a curious kinship with him. He began inviting me over to his apartment, just to talk over tea or cocktails. I always felt deeply insecure that I wasn't interesting enough for him to want me as a friend, but the invitations kept coming anyway. 

His tastefully appointed studio apartment was more like a private parlor in which he could host the people he liked–and he wasn't fond of very many. He served his tea and cocktails on a silver tray with proper china and glassware. The tea was always either loose jasmine tea leaves from Chinatown or a sachet of Lipton tea; the cocktails were made from old, long-lost cocktail recipes that he had scribbled down on a notepad. He had undeniably good taste and was more than happy to impart his opinion at any given time. He convinced me that white jeans were chic all year-round and that I should sometimes wear sunglasses with prescription lenses indoors just for fun.

In the beginning, I had written him off as one of those flighty, fabulous people that say "Let's do something" and never do, but he proved me wrong. He was reliably available which allowed us to develop rituals around each other's company. He'd meet me at Citarella to keep me company while I grocery-shopped. We had dim sum lunches in Chinatown on random weekday afternoons and ordered the same dishes every time. On Sundays, we'd stroll through the neighborhood and top off the afternoon with a strawberry ice cream sundae at Lexington Candy Shop. With him, every moment was crystallized into a charm.

Years ago, after a particularly heated fight with an ex that left me in tears, I called him because he always knew how to cheer me up. He invited me over to his apartment for a little tea and sympathy. I made the walk down Park Avenue that winter’s evening, with a big fox fur hat on my head, clutching the front of an oversized gray wool coat closed with a gloved hand. My nose, pink; my eyes, puffy. Crashing into his sofa, still upset, I recounted the argument with bewilderment and confusion as he poured hot water into a pair of mixed matched teacups. He pulled out a small, clear plastic dessert box from his mini fridge. “I bought you a slice of pumpkin cheesecake because girls like sweets," he said with a shrug. He cut the wedge in half and placed my half on a zebra-patterned plate with a red rim. 

That night, he decided that the ultimate pick-me-up was to go dancing at Beatrice Inn, the louche subterranean West Village hot spot which has since been closed down by authorities. We hurried down the steps and pushed our way through the dark crowded room. With our drinks in hand, he led me up to the black and white checkered dance floor where we danced the night away, brushing shoulders with everyone around us. Then, there was a change in tune. I recognized the opening notes and the beat. It was Roxy Music’s “More Than This." 

I could feel at the time, there was no way of knowing...   

"We have to dance to this song," he said, turning his baseball cap backwards and holding out his hand. “Will you dance with me?"

It was a slow-dance. Our faces were close but facing away from each other. The rest of the room faded away. What year is this? Where are we? What is happening? I thought moments like these only happened in movies. I felt like I was falling in love, but suddenly I didn't know what love was anymore. I thought we would kiss, but we didn't. When the song ended, we hopped into a cab uptown-bound. I dropped him off on Park Avenue and rode the rest of the way back to my apartment. 

When Christmas rolled around weeks later, he asked me to meet him in Union Square for lunch. He had a gift for me. It was wrapped in brown paper with a hunter green ribbon. With it, he gave me a tiny white envelope sealed with a messy little blob of red wax. “Don’t open it now," he insisted, “It’s embarrassing." I stuck it in my bag and we went to lunch as usual. When I returned home, I opened the gift, a CD, The Best of Roxy Music. The second track was “More Than This." The card said:

To J:

This is the only present I bought this year that has any meaning.

x E

 

Before and After Midnight

"Will I understand this movie even though I haven't seen the other two?" asked my friend Gail, munching on popcorn under her Yankees baseball cap.

"Yes," I answered, stealing a handful of popcorn, "This movie is basically one long conversation."

We decided to meet at the Angelika for the 10:10 p.m. showing of Before Midnight, after much deliberation over which time slot worked for us. "It's still before midnight ha ha ha" she had texted. 

"Downstairs. Theater 3," we were told, as our ticket stubs were torn.

10:07 p.m. Phew! Made it!

We found Theater 3 and wandered in. It was pretty filled. In fact, it looked like the movie had already started, but we couldn't possibly have missed that much. We grabbed a couple of seats in the back. Ethan Hawke was in mid-conversation with Julie Delpy and it was a pretty heated one. 

I reached over and grabbed more popcorn.

Can you believe it was Gail's first time watching a film from this Richard Linklater trilogy (if I can call it that)? I couldn't. Jesse and Céline's relationship seems like such a symbol for unrequited, "reality bites", 1990's sort of love, especially for our generation. With each film, you follow their relationship in real time. Before Sunrise, the first film, debuted in 1994 and shows how the two first met in Vienna. The next film Before Sunset takes place nine years later when they reconnect in Paris. In Before Midnight, the dreaminess fades away and you're given a glimpse of the wear-and-tear in their relationship. 

Honestly, I was bummed that I had missed the very beginning. I would've loved to know what the first line was. Thankfully, I didn't dwell on this. Partly because my inner voice was interrupted by Gail munching away in the dark, so I self-consciously munched a little quieter.

Jesse and Céline are sitting at a table at a waterfront cafe. It is nighttime.

"We're going to have one hell of a night," says Céline.

Interesting lead-in to the film. They're letting the audience know that we're about to get into the meat of the story, I think to myself.

The camera pans out; the screen goes black.

Ohhh... It's a flashback format.

DIRECTED BY RICHARD LINKLATER  

The end credits start rolling.

"WHAT?!" Gail and I both gasp aloud in unison. I think popcorn may have fallen out of Gail's mouth. We both turned to each other with gaping mouths and started laughing uncontrollably. 

Ten minutes! We were sitting there for a good ten minutes! Of course! Of course we were directed to the wrong theater!

We scurried over to Theater 2 and made it just in time for the opening scene. By the time we left, it was after midnight.