Leaving home in this manner was a very
strange and deeply unsettling experience for both Phillip and I. I remember that we both slept a lot for the
first few days. We took a train ride to
Aix-en-Provence and from there we went to Paradou near Arles, Van Gogh country,
where Maria's family lived. Only
Maria's old grandfather was there when we arrived and he was incredibly
welcoming. He was in his seventies, a
beautiful gnarled old man who had fled from Catalunia in Northern Spain during
the Spanish Civil War and had never returned.
Paradou is an incredibly picturesque and quiet little village with Les
Baux, a famous, medieval walled town nearby.
Between sleeping and sleeping, we all took long walks up and down the
country back roads together. I have a
wonderful photo of the Three Exiles, Phillip, Grandfather and I, posed on the
ancient walls of Les Baux during one of these walks, that I shall treasure for
the rest of my life.
Phillip was going to wait for the
pregnant Maria to arrive but I decided that it was time to move on. It was sad and hard to leave Phillip and Les
Baux. But I decided to take Willi up
on a kind offer to go and stay with him in Cologne and took a long lonely train
ride through France to Lyon, then through Dijon up to Basle. From there, my train ride took me into
Germany along the Rhine through Mannheim, Koblenz and Bonn before finally
dropping me off in Koln. It was both a
strangely alienating and exciting trip as I watched the barges going up and
down the river and the old chateaux dotted up and down the banks of this mighty
waterway. I easily found my way to
Willi's house where I was met by his housekeeper who took good care of me until
Willi arrived a few days later.
His family house was pretty
impressive. Both his parents were dead
but they had left him an enormous house and all the family heirlooms. In the living room there was a large
painting of the head of John the Baptist attributed to Rubens and on the
upstairs landing I found a small but perfect painting of Venice by
Canaletto. In the basement downstairs,
Willi had installed a sauna and bath and I spent my first few days in Koln down
there undergoing some kind of ritual detox. and purification. Besides, there wasn't all that much else to
do at Willi's.
Koln has a belt of parkland which
runs all around the city and the Orth mansion was right on the edge of this
wide-open space so that we were able to take long walks every day. And most days, that's all we did do. Willi was a pleasant under-achiever who
owned six dogs. We used to get the
whole pack together in the afternoons and take long walks around the park. I found myself looking for a sign that
would tell me what to do next.
My contact at the Galerie Smend
proved invaluable and the owner, Rudolf, was incredibly kind to me. He arranged for me to give a course of
batik classes there within a month and to show some of my recent batiks too,
for I was traveling with a small collection of my work. It was cold mid-winter and I remember
walking round and round the freezing streets of Koln at night trying to figure
out my next move. Life with Willi was
wearing a bit thin by this time for it seemed to me that his life was pretty shallow
and empty. I soon grew tired of
driving him home in his massive Mercedes Benz car when he got too drunk at some
club and couldn't take care of himself.
It was strange at the house too.
Both Willi and I started to miss money and it transpired that his
housekeeper's teenage daughter was a kleptomaniac. On some days, Willi couldn't get out of bed at all. I clearly remember an evening when he had
neglected to buy food for his hungry pack of wolfhounds and finally went out to
Macdonald’s at midnight to get their supper.
He came back with two dozen hamburgers with French fries and ketchup
which he literally threw down on the floor in the hall. We watched the starving dogs tear them
apart and gobble them down off the silk Persian carpet that lay there.
I had just decided that it was time
to make a move, perhaps back to Ibiza, when out of the blue, neighbour Michael
called me from New York one night. I
had given him some slides of my batik to show there on one of his trips back to
the States. The manager of a large
interior decoration store had loved the work and wanted to order fifty pieces
immediately. I had only to go to New
York to discuss details and prices. I
thanked Rudolf and Willi for all their help and support and took a train to
London where I called up my brother and asked him to find me a place to
stay. I had only been in England twice
briefly since 1970 and felt like a foreigner in a foreign land. The 70's had passed me by during my
timeless existence in Spain, Punk had struck in the meantime and I had returned
to what seemed like a different planet.
I spent a rather uncomfortable week with my mother down in Kent and came
back to London to apply for an American entry visa. At my first interview, I was refused one, probably because my
background looked a little suspect and because it just wasn't as easy to get
into the States as I expected. I was
angry at the suggestion that I would just stay in the States once I got in (!)
and also at the little mark the Embassy official had put in the back of my
passport. But I persisted and got
another interview at the Consulate.
This time it miraculously transpired that the official who processed my
application had a wife who was studying batik. I showed him my portfolio, he loved the work and on an impulse,
stamped my passport with that elusive multiple entry visa. Once more, I felt that I was blessed and
that my life was getting back on track again.
Marie Luz showed up in London at
the last moment but the thrill was gone.
I was only interested in getting to New York as fast as possible where I
was presumably to become rich and famous overnight. My last night in England was spent in Victoria at the house of
some Irish revolutionary friends of my brother Philip’s. His friends were very kind to me and happy
to help me on my journey but like a lot of people at the time, they were
squatting in a great decaying ruin of a building. My room was on the top floor.
It was in an appalling mess with a dirty bed in one corner and a
previous guest's filthy, moldering possessions strewn all over the floor. In the very center of the ceiling, there
was a large gaping hole. I sat gingerly
on my bed and, looking up through the remains of the ceiling, I could see right
through the shattered roof to the cold night sky of London overhead. As I shivered in my damp bed and tried to
sleep before going to catch my plane early the next morning, the dust and
debris of the Old World was scattered all over the floor around me. But I hardly noticed, for my adventures in
the New World lay just ahead.