From New York to Pont a Ven (A Conversation)

This is the transcript of a 12-minute conversation with Patrick, recorded on 8 Oct 2014. Man, I love hearing his voice. The recording is way too long to post here, unfortunately, so you’ll just have to imagine the sounds of our laughter over the clinking of frequently refilled scotch glasses, the zoom-zoom noises he used to describe the car, and the lilt of delightful counterpoint as we exchanged thoughts and observations, wit and questions. [Later: I was able to add the recording indirectly, via the file system.]

The conversation begins with memories of his days teaching in New York, then moves on to John, and painting, and 1880 changes in technology, and visiting 13th century thatched roof houses in France. He even mentioned Norman.

PM: This is way beyond your bedtime, yeah?

JP: Not really, I tend to be a night owl. The worst part about racing is getting up early in the morning. Or going to work for that matter!

PM: Yeah, right!

JP: With work I have a little bit of flexibility.

PM: Jesus Christ, all those years I can remember getting up. In New York City getting up at 6 o’clock in the morning, very quickly taking a shower. Of course you have to lift the table off the tub in order to take a shower. Getting in the car, and [imitating zooming noise] you go across Manhattan. Then you stop for a seeded bun with a fried egg, and [imitating driving noise] you go through the tunnel [imitating oscillating engine noise] and going all the way out to Long Island. Oh!

Hopefully you’re there before your classes start. Otherwise they have a substitute they have always on call for the people who arrive late. Boy oh boy, I hated that. You arrived late because it’s snowing and your car slides off the road and actually the fan belt breaks. They’re gonna believe that? There’s no mobile phone, right? You arrived late and out of your salary comes the payment for the guy who took over, the substitute while you were getting to school! Christ!

Meanwhile you sit in the classroom and all of the students are looking at you and wishing they were not there.

You’re looking over their heads out the window wishing you were not here. Year after year, 12 years of that.

JP: I remember John recording a poem from the… I think they were recorded in the late 1940s, but it was about sitting in radar school and the instructor is talking about target acquisition and this and that and meanwhile, outside the window a bird is singing, and John says something about its song being a sweet musical prelude to death.

I was thinking, “Whoa, where did that come from?” [It was probably from personal experience.]

Do you want to hear any of his recordings? Some of them are just a couple of minutes long. [Pause] Maybe another time.

PM: Another time. Next time.

JP: I have them on the web. I’ll send you the links.

PM: The last thing, the last conversation I had with him was not very pleasant. He opened the door and asked, “Are you going to take care of your family?”

“Yes, until the day I die.” Then he slammed the door. Boom.

He was right: slam the door.

JP: You told me the story before, but without the slam.

PM: It was the beach, the ocean side of Indiatlantic. Not in the house that I liked very much, where they were living before, where I did a couple of paintings. Across the street there was a guy in a pink villa who introduced me to a book “Eleanor and the Four Kings.” Wow! What an introduction to Eleanor Aquitane! It changed my whole life, that book.

JP: Was he [John] painting at that time?

PM: Yeah, yeah, and he let me use his paints. I did a thing of the palm tree in the garden there, very primitive. So I did the green leaves, the fronds. “I’m really very proud of you, palm trees,” and then there was light, of course, flashing off of those, so I put a little flash of white on. “Yeah, it’s very nice.”

That was the night that I was barefoot in the living room and I looked at my feet–did I tell you this?–and I saw between my big toe and my little toe what I thought was a tick, because there are lots of ticks in Florida you know. Donna came over and she knelt down at my feet and started laughing. It was a grape seed! [Hearty laughter] So much!

JP: I have thought about painting, painting at some point maybe…

PM: Yeah, why not? You can take classes….

JP: Of course, right down the street.

PM: Watercolor, this is the best. Start with watercolor if you can do it. The main difficulty with watercolor is to only paint the part that you want to paint and …

JP: and leave the paper to be the rest.

PM: The paper, it’s like the silence in the music.

Your mother was very good. She was fantastic. Not with watercolors but with drawing. She had a great gift, a really great gift. But, with watercolors it’s either mud or it’s beautiful. With oils… you really have to …

Better than oils nowadays are–what do they call that stuff?

JP: There are the acrylics. But that is a real challenge. I remember when John started experimenting with acrylics. They dry so fast that you better put it on you where you want it because a pallet knife is not going to fix it.

PM: But you can do over it, whereas if you’ve got oils, it takes so long to get to to the point where you can do over it. So acrylics are the best.

On the other hand, you have to be careful because that’s what killed Norman, the guy who did the painting of the woman playing the weird horn that you’re going to take. He lived there in that place and he had a great vat of acrylic paint and the–what do you call it?–it smells …

JP: Acetone?

PM: Acetone.

JP: Which is what you use to dissolve the paint. The acetone’s fumes will …

PM: That’s what killed him, finally. He had lung cancer. He never smoked in his life.

So you just have to be careful, that’s all. All of his paintings then…. He would paint a painting, he wouldn’t like it, so he’d ink over it. So underneath all of his paintings are more paintings! But that would be a good thing.

1880 is when they started having paints in tubes. Otherwise you had to be in the city, in Paris, for instance, having a guy who is grinding your paints, mixing it. About 1880 they made tube paints…

JP: Was it Grumbacher that first came up with it?

PM: I don’t know.

JP: That’s the brand that I remember John used most.

PM: So Stephanie and I happened to go to this place where the first group of painters left Paris and settled to paint in the summer. It’s that town… what’s that part of France that juts out?

JP: Normandy

PM: Normandy. No, that’s in the north. If you come south… England is over here, you come to a place, it’s another peninsula goes out, and on the south shore is Pont a Ven, a beautiful little town. There’s this hotel there where all of these guys that we know painted and stayed.

And why? Because they were tubes they could bring with them.

We stayed there for a month and a half in that town and wow! What a beautiful place! From there Gaugin went to Tahiti and an American guy named Sargent …

JP: Later he did Whistler’s Mother.

PM: Practically everybody you ever heard of was there in that little town. If you ever go to France–if WE ever go to France–we have to go to Pont a Ven. We stayed in a 13th century house with a thatched roof, this thick with thatch. Wow! What a place. A whole town of thatched… We could go there.

JP: Sounds good.

PM: Sounds good, smells good, it must be good. Sounds like a duck, walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, it must be a duck!

JP: Okay.

PM: Time to go to bed. Wait…. That was all recorded?

JP: Yes.

PM: Oh, shit!

JP: It’s good stuff, mon!

PM: It’s good stuff, mon!

JP: You’re putting that [computer] away. You’re not using the computer any more tonight!

PM: I’m just checking to make sure it’s off. I want to save the battery.