Friday, December 12, 2014

Chapter 3 Going Higher and Higher

Friendly readers for review you can find:
 Chapter 1:
Chapter 2:

Chapter 3 
Sitting in the back of the black Mercedes, Marjorie pressed her forehead against the cool glass window and closed her eyes to keep down the carsickness rising in her stomach from the meandering road.

Conversation about children, travel logistics, the colors of the sky, and the warm weather were quickly being used up. "My parents," she reported to Fred, "called long distance, left a message at the desk. V is as happy as a clam. She always is, doesn’t need more than her soap operas and a book. But, Hal is having trouble sleeping at night. My mother has to lie on the floor until he falls asleep. Eight years old- more like two."

 "Give him a break Marge, he misses us," Fred said.

"He misses you. If you were around more, he wouldn't be so, well..." She didn’t want to fight, so she swallowed the rest of her sentence.

Fred changed the subject quickly. As a teen, he had mastered the slight of hand trick. “Hey look over here, so you won’t see what’s right in front of you.” The kiss with Irv, in his mind, required a rabbit out of the hat, especially since it had come on the heels of Marjorie finding Polaroids in his shoebox. Irv and Fred, standing arm in arm wearing matching bikini bathing suits was explained away with the details of a bet with drunk dental buddies at a conference. She and Evelyn seemed to buy that their kiss was a joke too. How many magic tricks could he do? It was draining.

"I have another surprise for you Marjorie. You won't believe where we are going for dinner. I promise it will blow your mind." Dinner was the last thing she was thinking about. Fred had researched this trip two years ago, keeping the itinerary as the perfect thing to distract Marjorie if he ever needed a major magic trick.

Sunlight was pirouetting on the water’s surface. Their driver was taking them from their Hotel, The Negresco, along the azure coastline, lined with palm trees that reached for the floating clouds.  

Women from the neighborhood would call it a dream come true to be whisked away on TWA by your husband, who looked more Rock Hudson than someone who stuck his fingers in people’s mouths every day. Site seeing in Nice, Monaco and Cannes should have left Marjorie feeling like Grace Kelley, from the Main Line to the Rivera. But, being pampered by a man, and managing the schedules of two children were never part of Marjorie's dream.

A gallery opening was her real wish. A review in the New York Times "ground breaking evocative paintings by Marjorie Borden" was her dream. Even as a young girl, when her mother was telling her she had to get a degree from a good school in order to meet someone studying to be a doctor or lawyer, she had imagined herself living alone in the Village. Her paintbrush would force the canvas into submission, revealing what was waiting for her alone to discover.  In her dream, she was chatting with the likes of Susan Weil and Lee Kasner, women who had moved out of the shadows of their husbands, Rauschenberg and Pollack, to become artists in their own right. Marjorie could ask these women,  “What’s it like to hold on to your dream, no matter what any one else thinks?”

     It was this kind of conversation she desperately wanted to have, but couldn’t have with the women who played tennis every morning and got their hair and shopping done in the afternoon. The next sale at Bonwit Teller would interest Evelyn. How could she say to Evelyn “I feel like a freak dressed up like Pat Nixon with pearls and a zombie smile?” 

Marjorie opened her eyes to see that the rolling coastline had given way to ugly factory towns with graffiti walls. Fred was holding on to the handle inside the car to counter the motion of shifting gears. She grabbed her handle too, wishing the drive would end very soon. 

The landscape changed again as the car climbed higher and higher moving upwards to country roads and tiled-roofed chalets with cascading magenta flowers. She cracked her window. Fred offered her a Virginia Slim. “You’ve come a long way, baby,” was the tagline of the commercial that drew her to this brand. His silver cigarette case was stocked half with camels and half with her thin filtered choice.

The higher they climbed the more the landscape beckoned a bottle of wine, and a baguette. What did Fred have planned, a wicker basket picnic in the hills?

The mountainous road looked just like the scene in the movie To Catch a Thief where Grace Kelly removed the scarf from her hair, pulled out a chicken leg from a basket and sprinkled it with salt to entice Cary Grant into a love affair. Every actor in that movie played an elegant liar, or a thief. Maybe she was both.

Philippe, their driver, had taken them as far as cars were permitted.

 “Allez, allez.” He pointed beyond the stonewalls. Adroit, adroit, gauche, Fondation.”

Between the two of them, Fred and Marjorie’s French was limited to knowing how to count from one to twenty, order white or red wine, ask for the bill, say hello, good-bye and then say thank you, waiter.

“You look a little green Marge.”

“I need to take a breath.” She tried, but couldn't get a full inhale. She threw her cigarette on the ground and stamped it out with her shoe.

“We’re up in the Alps. The air is thin. Take a minute. Let’s sit before we climb up all the way.” Fred rubbed her back until she waved him off, “I’m good.”

 Not sure exactly where the driver had directed them Fred took the lead. “Come on we’ll just follow the path that is the most flat. I’m no boy scout, but if the leaves have been flattened it means other people have walked this trail recently.” Fred guided her up the winding dirt and pebbled path, not sure which was the right way, but taking hold that logic would get them to where they were going. When they finally reached the clearing Marjorie saw a small sign: Fondation Maeght.

“This is for you Marjorie. I’ve been eyeing it for you since you showed me that article. I knew this would make you happy.” Standing more than a half a foot taller than Marjorie, he bent over to kiss her cheek, she bent her head down and his lips touched the top of her head.   

Two years ago she had showed Fred an article in Apollo, The Magazine of the Arts, about the Foundation, in Saint-Paul de Vence, a medieval village high in the hills of the South of France. The article described how the Maeght couple had come to their neighborhood, in the town adjacent to theirs, Merion, to figure out how to turn their massive collection of art into a public space. They had come to learn how Dr. Barnes had done that with his own collection in his creating the Barnes Foundation. Just minutes from their house, the Barnes Foundation, had the largest private collection of impressionist art in the world. Aimé and Marguerite Maeght went on to build their foundation in St Paul de Vence to be just like the Barnes to foster learning and community. They had been adamant, this was not just about exhibitions. It would be much more, the article had said, than just a museum. Aimee and Marguerite were acting a bit like Grace Kelly, from the Main Line to the French Rivera.

Fred bought tickets with his American Express Card, “deux, s’il vous plait.” The woman in the ticket booth handed Fred two maps and explained in beautiful English where to take the path, and walk through the iron gate.

They entered the gardens that sprouted Miros and Calders as abundantly as a field of daisies. The sun warmed and the garden path turned into an alcove with a dozen jutting Giacomettis. Each sculpture stretched the human form to more than twelve feet high and shrank it's width to 2 inches. They were stretched and compressed beyond what might be imaginable. Yet, each of the twelve sculptures stood straight in the rain and the wind and whatever nature doled out; they didn’t topple over.

“How is it possible?”




“Trees, without leaves.”

“People? Objects?”

"So cold."

 Marjorie reached up to touch the hand of one of the sculptures. She had seen one that was very similar in the Philadelphia Art Museum, but it was just a foot high. And if she had tried to touch it there, a man in a uniform would have prevented it. Here in the garden, the sculpture said, "Come touch me. Explore me. Here it is not forbidden."

They spent hours strolling through the exhibitions. It had been a few years since the two of them had taken a Saturday at the Barnes discussing in detail Dr. Barnes’ collection of Renoir, Degas and Chagall. Chagall, was here too, hanging on the walls, and actually living in the town of St Paul de Vence.  They saw many new artists, like Hans Hartung, whose abstract paintings Fred favored because they were “free and wild.” The Nazis had put Hartung in a cell painted from top to bottom in red because they had learned he was an artist. The intense color, they thought would distort his vision. Maybe they had done him a favor, he saw the world uniquely, boldly making red, and blue and black dance off the canvas. His work lived in this light filled space, daily being witnessed by people from around the world who opened their eyes just a little wider because he didn’t let the Nazis or any of his life misery, like losing a leg, deter him.

Stopping at the gift shop before leaving, Fred bought Marjorie a silk scarf made from Chagall’s La Vie. She wrapped the colors and the images around her head as the afternoon light receded into the hills.

“I said I had a dinner surprise for you, Marjorie.”

“This was grand, really grand Fred. I don’t think I need any more surprises.”
Marjorie was satisfied. This very rare and wonderful day didn’t require another thing.

“Phillipe,” he said to their driver, La Colombe D’or s’il vous plait.”

In less than five minutes, Philipe was opening the door in front of a cottage that was the restaurant of choice for the artists of St. Paul de Vence. Chagall, Picasso, Braque, Matisse. “Oui,” the waiter wearing a long white apron said, “They all dine here.”

“If you like, I’ll choose for you,” said the waiter after seeing that they couldn't understand what was written on the very large menu. "You trust me?" "Oui," they chimed in unison.

Hanging on the wall behind Marjorie’s head was a Picasso. The waiter had explained Picasso paid for his meal with the drawing like many of the artists do.

“Do you think I could do that one day, Fred? You know be well known and have my work hanging in such a beautiful place? Or just hang some place where people would care to look?”

“You don’t let me see your work Marjorie. I’d like to say, but I haven’t seen it in ages. You've always had talent, really, it's in you. You have a special eye for color. I remember when we met, your fields of flowers, so vibrant.”

Painting flowers now seemed trite to Marjorie. She abandoned those studies a long time ago.

Truffle salad. Champagne.

“I destroy more than I keep. I’m not sure, maybe I’m in the attic studio hiding. I don't want to find out I only thought I was good. Not sure I can manage knowing there is nothing there. I haven't been able to talk to anyone about it, Fred. I just don't know."

Fred wanted to say what he was really thinking, and then stopped.

"Sometimes I think I'll go mad. Ideas and colors come bubbling up in me and then they gush out. I can't stop them. When the rush is over, I stand back, then the canvas says nothing that hasn't been said. I don't have my own light." She laughed, "Sitting on the floor in the attic crying I know isn't going to help me find it either."

 He listened to every word of Marjorie unburden what she had been mulling in her quiet, brooding times. This is  what she was thinking when she disappeared for hours. With the help of champagne, maybe the thin air on the mountain, the liberating paintings of Hartung or the true compassion he was feeling for Marjorie, he thought, just maybe he could say out in the open his bottled-up-tapped-down truth. He and Marjorie, were so alike in a way he had never realized before this trip.

"I know what you mean Marjorie, I know what you mean. The hiding part, the yearning to..."

The waiter interrupted, returning with great fanfare to present their main course under a silver dome. He placed the tray on their candlelit table and announced the speciality of the house “filet de boeuf en croute,” La Colombe d’Or’s version of Beef Wellington, looking an exact replica of the one that Marjorie had made, fleur de lis and all.

Marjorie and Fred let out loud raucous laughter. It was laughter starting from the belly and then rolling through the body. Fred actually banged the table with his fist, and Marjorie snorted, once and then again. 

 Every head in the restaurant turned to look at the vulgar Americans who had broken the etiquette of French dining to never disturb people at adjoining tables. To raise your voice above a whisper in such a place was a true offense. Their Michelin guidebook had even warned, “speak softly in restaurants while dining in France.” The waiter leaned over, "Please, please, the guests, Monsieur."

Marjorie reached her hand over to Fred’s. He thought she was going to quiet him. Instead, she gave him a double tap of her finger, inviting him to bang the table, a bit more loudly, this time, along with her.