HANKA AND THE RED MAGIC UMBRELLA 

 

Red Red Red

Magic RED

La couleur idéale

THE IDEAL COLOR!

 

Hanka’s immaculate manicured red nails,

Her Yves St Laurent red raincoat,

Her Charles Jourdan red shoes

Her Hermès red bag

Her leather kid red gloves

And…

Her…

RED UMBRELLA!

But never all at the same time

Ah non!

Too much is the enemy of good!

She was so elegant my grand-mother Hanka

 

 

RED was her favorite color

The color of blood,

The blood of Life

The blood of death

The color of energy, violence and danger too

The color that re awakens synapses in the brain

The color of antioxidants

The color of passion and sexuality

The color of success and victory

There are so many powers in the color RED!!!

 

SO…

Here she is, my ADORABLE IMPOSSIBLE HANKA

Platinum hair à la Zaza Gabor.

Always dressed to the tens

(why nines, I always wondered)

Quite a character…

Extra-ordinary

Eccentric

Exotic

Energetic

Nothing to envy from the likes of

Shirley McLain or Bette Midler

If you follow my drift!

 

But rain or shine

Hanka always took her red umbrella with her.

 

She would lance it forward to cross the street

And stop the cars.

Yes…you know…like a stop sign on two legs!

You remember Albert Finney in “The Dresser”

“STOP THE TRAIN”

Well…

with Hanka it was

“STOP THE CARS!”

 

She would fend her way through a crowd too

Or avoid queues in museums,

Flapping it like a bird of paradise.

Her red umbrella in one hand thrust forward,

And an out of date Press Card in the other,

With her thumb hiding the date!

OY what a woman!

Twisting destiny, in small and big things

 

AFRAID OF NOTHING AND NOBODY!

 

YOU SEE…

For a holocaust survivor

There are not too many choices…

Afterwards…

 

You either become disillusioned, bitter,

neurotic, paranoid, psychotic, suicidal

 

Or

 

Like my grand-mother,

You bite into life again

No more fear

AND… MOST IMPORTANTLY

Totally energized to fight injustice

That’s it!

To fight injustice…

And here begins my story…

 

One day Hanka took me to the atelier of the painter

Pincus Krémègne, a friend of hers.

We are in 1973.

She is a feisty 61 years old,

I am a thirsty 17,

and Pincus a towering 83,

Eyes like a falcon

Hands, gnarled like an olive tree.

 

A Jewish artist from Litvak

He was part of what is known as

THE SCHOOL OF PARIS

Alongside Soutine, Chagall, Kikoine, Kisling, Zadkine.

But he did not get the success of his fellow artists

And he was sad… embittered,

overshadowed mostly by Soutine,

whose style he had embraced,

Not copied, embraced,

because both artists were exorcizing their physical and emotional pain through paint.

 

Krémègne’s studio was Place Monge,

Near rue Mouffetard

(which by the way was called like that

because until the 19th century

LA MOUFFE, which means “swamp,”

LA MOUFFE was the depository of all the shit of PARIS

HUMAN SHIT, HORSE’S SHIT, DOG SHIT

NAME IT!

ALL THE EXCREMENTS OF PARIS ENDED UP THERE,

WHEEL BARROWED,

AND SOMEBODY TURNED MILLIONAIRE

BY RECYCLING ALL THIS SHIT INTO FERTILIZER

THUS THE EXPRESSION:

“MONEY HAS NO ODOR!”

AH!”

 

SO BACK TO KREMEGNE’S STUDIO:

IT WAS A DERELICT SPACE

POOR POOR POOR

CRACKED WINDOWS

NO HEATING

Pincus had a bad cough too,

one of these that comes from the depth of your entrails

PIGEON FLYING IN AND OUT

SHITTING ON HIS CANVASES

CIGARET BUTTS ON THE FLOOR

A SOFA BED WHICH HAD SEEN BETTER DAYS

AND THAT IS A EUPHEMISM!

NO KITCHEN

JUST A HOT PLATE,

WITH A SINK AND LEAKING TAP

Cans of tuna fish and sardines all over, like Soutine,

Cockroaches, old stale bread scattered

 

 

 

LA BOHÊME WITHOUT THE CHARM,

IT WAS TRUE POVERTY and

UNRECOGNIZED TALENT.

 

Pincus Kremegne’s life was indeed an injustice.

 

Hanka and Pincus spoke in Yiddish.

I could not understand everything, but could see

Grandma was incensed.

She got the name of the landlord, his address,

and promised Pincus she would do something about this.

 

So….Nuh….

The next morning, early, around 8.30am,

without an appointment,

My grandmother and I arrived in front of a posh hotel particulier,

Avenue Foch, parallel to the Avenue des Champs Elysées

There was a mezuzah at the door post.

“Good omen,” Grandma and I thought at the same time.

 

We rung at the bell of Monsieur George Skalka

 

(What a prophetic name for a business man!

In Russian “Skolko” means “how much.”

No comment!)

 

We waited a bit,

It is early, remember…

The door opens, no butler, no maid,

And a rather short chubby ample man in his 60s

Greets us at the door

In his silk navy-blue pajamas,

leather slippers and a beautiful regal dressing gown.

 

 

He had a good face, a face that did not reek of malice.

How could he be the one leaving Pincus in such misery…?

Monsieur Skalka was surprised to see us,

to say the least.

He ushered us in, without a question,

As if it was meant to be.

 

My grand-mother jumped-started in Yiddish

Calling this jovial looking man

“CATZELE”

“My Little cat”

and pinching his cheek as if he were a little boy!

OY!

 

He loved grandma right away

I was just a witness, enjoying every second,

learning how to tackle life situations.

Better than a book or the movies!

 

 

After a short while of juicy Yiddish conversation,

with up and down jolting intonations,

lots of hand movements,

fingers tickling the air,

during which the two embraced, cried and laughed,

Something happened…

Suddenly

My grand-mother became Hanka.

She took her red umbrella,

and in her empowering Slavic accent,

uttered the fatidic

 

“CATZELE,

if you do not remember all of your properties

that is your “onion,”  your TSIBELE,

but you must do something

about Pincus’s studio Place Monge

That is not an advice, nor a recommendation!

 

IF YOU DO NOT REPAIR THE WINDOW PANES

IF YOU DO NOT ORGANIZE A HEATING SYSTEM

CLEAR THE PEST FROM PINCUS’S FLAT

CREATE A REAL KITCHEN AND A BATHROOM TOO

 

AND GIVE HIM A WHOLE YEAR RENT FREE TO COMPENSATE FOR WHAT HE HAD TO ENDURE

IN YOUR HELL OF A HOVEL OF A FLAT

 

YOU SEE THIS RED UMBRELLA?

And she was using it as a sword

poking it into the air menacingly

YOU SEE THIS RED UMBRELLA?

I KICK YOUR BALLS!”

 

Yes she said that

 

“I KICK YOUR BALLS AND I MAKE SHISH KEBAB”

 

MONSIEUR SKALKA

DID NOT LAUGH ANYMORE

 

HE HAD FALLEN IN LOVE WITH HANKA

Totally entirely (and that’s another story!)

What a woman she was!

As he followed her red umbrella with his eyes and hands,

arresting it short in mid air,

 

HE LOOKED AT ME AND SAID:

 

 “YOU SEE YOUNG WOMAN

THAT IS THE WAY TO HANDLE LIFE

SAY WHAT NEEDS TO BE SAID

Say it forcefully, meaningfully

AND ACT UPON IT

YOUR GRAND MOTHER IS YOUR BEST SCHOOL!”

 

As he stopped the red umbrella,

he had also stopped Hanka’s arm.

They looked at one another in awe of each other,

Their gazes wrestling through space.

 

 

TO CUT THE STORY SHORT

NOT ONLY DID “CATZELE” REPAIR EVERYTHING,

HE ALSO BOUGHT A REAL BED WITH SHEETS, PILLOWS AND BLANKETS.

NOT ONLY DID HE GIVE PINCUS A WHOLE YEAR RENT FREE,

HE ALSO PAID FOR A DOCTOR TO GO AND VISIT HIM REGULARLY, AND HAD A MAID COME EVERY WEEK TO CLEAN UP THE STUDIO.

 

Hanka had also “suggested”

(And by now you can see what a Hanka’s suggestion sounds like!!!)

That he should buy a Pincus Krémègne painting every month

As well as sponsor/enable the painter to do a series of lithographs

Which he both did

 

Now… Isn’t that amazing!!!

 

I AM TELLING YOU RIGHT NOW,

I STILL BELIEVE THAT

THE RED UMBRELLA WAS HANKA’S

SOURCE OF POWER .

Why not?

 

Yet, the red umbrella without Hanka’s own power

would have remained nothing else but

a red umbrella.

 

It is the way you inhabit things,

objects, ideas, emotions, places, people…

 

Anyhoo,

A month later we went back to visit Pincus.

 

His face was shining with joy.

No more pigeon shit on his paintings,

no more drafts,

no more coughing,

Blank canvases lined up waiting to be inhabited,

Thick oil landscapes and still-lives drying up on the easels.

 

 

THE TORMENT WAS STILL THERE.

THAT NEVER GOES.

 

But thanks to Hanka and her red umbrella,

the torment was now manageable,

exorcized in his art,

with no more abject poverty.

 

And…. Most of all,

there was one less injustice on this planet.

 

One at a time my dearies,

One at a time,

We can make a better world.

 

And if you ever feel like you need a little help

Well…

Go get A RED UMBRELLA!

 

 

 

BUT ONE THING IS SURE,

 

YOU WILL NEVER BE ABLE TO LOOK AT

A RED UMBRELLA

 

WITOUT THINKING OF...

 

MY GRAND-MOTHER HANKA !