Why Paris? Grandmere A Betty and Art

I’ve always wanted to go to Paris–to see the museums, the bistros, the jardins, and experience the ambience. As many of you may know, I’m a painter and graphic artist. I’ve drawn and painted (though somewhat sporadically) since I was six years old when I won an award for “A Bride and Her Horse“.

In my teen years I had aspirations of fame and decided I wanted to be like Van Gogh (without the ear problems) and in high school, painted a painting called My Bed, which you can see on my website www.cjohnstone.ca, along with a few other paintings. The only resemblance to Van Gogh is the perspective. It has a more “pop art” hard-edge look.

As I thought about painters and whether or not I could succeed, I couldn’t find any that were women. In fact, there were no famous women composers, sculptors, or painters, except perhaps for Marie Cassat (and at the time I thought with the arrogance of youth, agg, “and she just paints babies and cats”).

Then I heard from my mother that my grandmother, A Betty, lived with Edna St. Vincent Millay in Paris sometime during the 20’s or 30’s. Later I found out that Ms. St. Vincent Millay, who won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923, for The Harp-Weaver, and Other Poems as I found in the Wikipedia entry on her http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edna_St._Vincent_Millay . She was also known for being bisexual, so if they lived together? My mother did not want to hear about that.

Ms. Millay’s best-known poem might be “First Fig” from A Few Figs from Thistles (first published in 1920):

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends–
It gives a lovely light!

This would be a good description I think of my grandmother from the tales I’ve heard, though I never met her (unless I was a baby), nor do I believe I have a photo of her. She was the sort of person who would say “how pedestrian,” if she read my blog. She was a journalist of some kind, wrote poetry, and played the piano.

However, all this traveling to Paris, meant leaving my father at home with different relatives. Another story is that once when he was 11 or 12, he traded himself out of the family rotation and was found by a truant officer living in a a cheap hotel working two jobs, his room filled with empty boxes of chocolate-covered cherries (which might explain some of his character).

My father, later in his life, must also have spent time in Paris, as one of his nine wives was a Parisian. I once saw a photo of her in his “secret room” in Vienna, Maryland, naked and in a hustler kind of pose, next to a painting of a Keane-like waif I had given him. Rather weirded me out to say the least. This room also had a cot (where I slept the one night I visited with my husband Richard), and a beautiful green-glass opium pipe with gold-leaf dragons entwined around it, with a well-used charcoal bowl, and a six-inch gold mouthpiece at the end of a long tube. There was also a kind of cat-of-nine tails mounted over the cot that I didn’t want to think too hard about.

So when I saw an ad on sangha-announce for a room in Paris for only 400 Euro for the month of July, I decided my time had come.