HANKA AND THE RED MAGIC UMBRELLA
Red Red 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
But never all at the same time
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!!!
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…
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”
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And an out of date Press Card in the other,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!
For a holocaust survivor
There are not too many choices…
You either become disillusioned, bitter,
neurotic, paranoid, psychotic, suicidal
Like my grand-mother,
You bite into life again
No more fear
AND… MOST IMPORTANTLY
Totally energized to fight injustice
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
ALL THE EXCREMENTS OF PARIS ENDED UP THERE,
AND SOMEBODY TURNED MILLIONAIRE
BY RECYCLING ALL THIS SHIT INTO FERTILIZER
THUS THE EXPRESSION:
“MONEY HAS NO ODOR!”
SO BACK TO KREMEGNE’S STUDIO:
IT WAS A DERELICT SPACE
POOR POOR POOR
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!
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
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.
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.”
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
“My Little cat”
and pinching his cheek as if he were a little boy!
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,
My grand-mother became Hanka.
She took her red umbrella,
and in her empowering Slavic accent,
uttered the fatidic
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”
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 .
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…
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
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 !