Thus things began between them, and the days ran through the hourglass into March, and after a while it seemed quite natural for him to come up to her place in the rue Descartes up behind the Panthéon, her little place with its little sunny rooms, and the spring coming on so warm that year when things were heating up at the Sorbonne and at the Beaux-Arts where she taught. It was the first time Annie would have a European lover, even though it was a long time since she arrived in Paris from New York, with her illustrations and her so red hair and her bag full of more paint-brushes and sketchbooks than clothes. In the Lower East Side she had become a somewhat famous painter, first an abstract expressionist, then a figurative painter, following the generation of Motherwell, Kooning and Kline. But she had split off from them all and come to Paris because she had been invited by some enthusiasts of her painting who were on the faculty of the École des Beaux-Arts, and then she stayed on because they wanted her to and had even given her a studio of her own at her own at the school, way up under the eaves, a huge space by Paris standards. She stayed on as in a dream whose beginning had been forgotten. She felt now almost as if she could not paint without that special Paris light, that pearl light, translucent over the grey roofops, or rather she felt might never again paint in that harsh wide-open ‘big sky’ light of America. Even in New York, in Manhattan, in the Lower East side, it was a bit hedged in, not quite the big sky of Out West but still like a wide open wide-angle lens, a great unblinking eye that left no place to find one’s private self, in the wide-open landscape of America, where everything had fallen out of the canvases and left only empty abstract expressionist open-fields of subjective desolation, where everything had fallen out into the destroyed streets of the Lower East side and lay in heaps in the gutters, piles of mattresses and bedsprings, broken dolls and brassieres, shattered mirrors and bent bodies in the dirty dawn, east of Tompkins Square like some bombed-out Dresden, laid out in the pulsing light, which was so very masculine, yes, a light so masculine and young, which was just the opposite of that pearl grey Paris light, which was still so feminine, not so aggressive as the American light and its aggressive New York School of painters, compared to Paris with its old light, like some old grande dame dozing off in her Beaux-Arts school. Annie had never been one of those hard-line New Yorkers who could never live anywhwere else. She had always wanted to escape, and she did, Paris for her a liberation, as for so many others, and she had stayed on and on – ten years, fifteen years now, and time winging on, while in her painting she was figuratively digging out those lost human bodies, those torn human remains in the gutter, and putting them back in her canvases, breathing life into them again. She loved the human figure, and had too much to say to be a non-objective painter. But now it was the spring of 1968, and that old dame which was Paris dozing in the late sun was to be thrust into the light of new 1968 realities and the student revolution, the light of percussion grenades with deafening flashes in the night sky over Saint-Michael and Saint-Germain.
She thought back to another spring when she had fallen in love with one of her teachers at the Art Students League, he one of the great teachers, a man in his sixties then, what the students called ‘an old rad’ of the thirties generation, one of the WPA arists who went around with the Partisan Review crowd, but at this time, her time, he was both very far away from retirement and used to like to have some of his favourite students come up to his flat on West End Avenue on Sundays and drink beer and talk about painting and politics. There didn’t seem to be any women in residence at his house, and it was only much later she found out the truth, but then that summer back then after classes were over for the year she used to drop in now and then and usually found him alone in his huge studio and always glad to see her. Looking back now she could see that she was the one who had made the advances, although he certainly did respond with affection. But in the end it came out, it all came out that he was very gay, and there was no way around it. A very solitary man, living by himself and still living for his students, and Annie didn’t stop seeing him, but in the end she had to leave, she had to move on, with her own needs, and he gave her a silver ring set with a scarab which she still had and still wore. In addition to that he gave her much more, he showed her the artist as the total enemy of the state, as gadfly of the state, the artist as the total enemy of all the organized forces that bore down on the free individual everywhere, the artist as the bearer of Eros, as bearer of the life force itself, as bearer of love, in a world seemingly bent on destroying all that, Eros versus civilization, life against death. Yes, in his printmaking classes you learned not only stone lithography and drypoint etching, you also learned you had to use that art to say something important, not just a bunch of minimalist nothingness. You learned the radical tradition tradition of the WPA artists and muralists. ‘Speak up and stop mumbling!’ he would yell at them when he bent over their work and saw that the drawing was saying nothing. And it was strange, she reflected now, how his ideas were like Julian’s, as now Julian had fallen silent, watching the musicians in the square, but suddenly then in the middle of that sunny idyll came a dissident sound from down the rue Mouffetard, the sound of drums beaten by students carrying placards who now came streaming in to the Place Contrescarpe, circling the still-playing musicians and the old couple, who now stopped dancing and hurried off down the street. And the three students with drums led a straggling line around the little square, with more of them pouring in all the time, waving placards and banners upon all that wild new spirit of rebellion. Among them were posters she recognized as having been done by the poster brigade at the Beaux-Arts, some by her students, some of them indeed in the style of WPA artists but with messages hardly dreamed of in the American thirties:
Alcohol kills: Take LSD
THE YOUNG MAKE LOVE, THE OLD MAKE OBSCENE GESTURES
I’M A GROUCHO MARXIST
‘Revolution is the ecstasy of history’
MAKE LOVE AND BEGIN AGAIN
POWER TO THE IMAGINATION!
‘Nous sommes tous les enragés – Ortega y Gasset
TO FORBID IS FORBIDDEN
Open The Windows Of Your Heart
MAKE LOVE NOT WAR
THE SORBONNE IS THE STALINGRAD OF THE REVOLUTION!
Lawrence Ferlinghetti, 1919-1997 Love in the Days of Rage, 1988