Monday, June 6, 2016

A. V. Koshy writes

An Epic on Childhood - 17

the richness of the tastes of home-made love
i could say
you do not know
the taste of jambakka
though you are as beautiful as the red and white ones
or: you do not know the taste of
stolen pulinjikka
though your bust is like costly gauguin papayas.
but you, you make me want you as badly as i did salted karakkas
and you, you still add taste to my life like muringakkas and 

and chakka vazhattiyathu and chakka upperi and chakka halwa 

but why i really know i love you
is because
when we were children
though we were differently made
spoke different tongues
under the shade of the huge spreading tamarind tree
we threw stones at the raw and ripe puli
and i took off the rind or shell for you
you made a face at the green one - too sharp
and ate the black one happily
and i kissed the rest of its residue off your lips
we both licked ours, then, you smiling, i grinning
and spat out the stone hard black little seeds
in our small-leafed-green-beneath-the-tree-bower
if that wasn't love on your lips that i tasted
i do not know what love is and no man ever did

 Woman Holding a Fruit; Where Are You Going ?
 Ea Haere La Oe Aka (Where Are You Going?) -- Paul Gauguin


  1. “You paint too fast!" Paul Gauguin (Anthony Quinn) scolded Vincent van Gogh (Kirk Douglas) in the 1956 film, “Lust for Life.”
    ("You look too fast," van Gogh replied.)
    Gauguin has been the subject of several biographies, two operas, and various fictionalized accounts of his life. But he has always been controversial.(Art seldom deals in fact. “Lust for Life” began not as a biography but as a 1934 novel by Irving Stone, whose real name was Irving Tennenbaum; the book was rejected 17 times before it was published, and then became a best seller. The book was creatively adapted for film by Norman Corwin, who was nominated for a “Best Writing (Screenplay – Adapted)” Academay Award. The movie was produced by John Houseman (Jacques Haussmann) and directed by Vincente Minnelli (Lester Anthony Minnelli). Kirk Douglas (Issur Danielovitch) was nominated for “Best Actor” and lost. Anthony Quinn (Antonio Rodolfo Quinn Oaxaca) was nominated for “Actor in a Supporting Role” and won.)
    The magic in his hands that made him so talented at painting, printing, sculpture, and pottery also made him unusually good at boxing, fencing, and playing the organ and the mandolin. In 1887 he won the unofficial "world billiards championship" in the Hotel Central in Panama City. Even his ability to hold his liquor was legendary. Gaughin‘s life personified the idea that the artist is as much an invention as the art itself. Notoriously self-aggrandizing, he painted himself as Jesus the Christ and as the protagonist of Victor Hugo's novel, “Les Misérables,” and sculpted himself as the decapitated John the Baptist. Here is one popular version of his biography: A one-time seminarist, sailor, stockbroker, art collector, traveling salesman, bill-poster, ceramicist, laborer, journalist, and editor, he abandoned his wife and five children to paint in various places, including Panama (where he briefly worked on the construction of the famous canal in 1887), Martinique in the Caribbean, where he contracted both dysentery and malaria, Arles (where he roomed with van Gogh for nine notorious weeks in 1888), Brittany in 1894 (in a brawl there, he broke an ankle, giving him pain and a limp for the rest of his life), in Paris the next year (where he contracted syphilis from a prostitute). By early 1898, he was suffering from influenza, spitting up blood, and medicating himself for ulcers in his leg. Eventually he moved to French Polynesia (Tahiti in 1891 and the Marquesas in 1901), where he took three native brides (aged 13, 14, and 14), and infected them and countless others in the islands with syphilis, christening his island hut, La Maison du Jouir (The House of Orgasm). He planned a triumphal return to Europe from his first trip to Tahiti, but walked off the boat with just four francs in his pocket. Returning to the South Pacific, he supported the islanders against the French colonial authorities. Weakened by excessive drinking, improper nourishment, and an overdose of morphine to treat the syphilis, he died of a heart attack at 54 years old on 8 May 8 1901.

  2. Here’s a different version, but no less fantastic: His father was a radical journalist whose criticism of Louis Napoleon’s government forced him to flee France in 1849 to join his in-laws in South America, but he died of a heart attack en route and was buried in an unmarked grave in Tierra del Fuego. Paul was one year old at the time and lived in Lima, Peru, until he was seven, for much of the time in the home of Jose Rufino Echenique, presidente of Peru from 1851-55. Gauguin’s mother, the daughter of the proto-socialist-feminist Flora Tristan, was descended from one of the most colorful families in European history, the Borgias (Borjas). [Callixtus III made his nephew Rodrigo a cardinal, who then became pope himself as Alexander VI, in 1492. Soon after, he established a demarcation line that divided between Spain and Portugal the new lands being “discovered” and conquered. During his papacy he was accused of adultery, incest, simony, theft, bribery, and murder (especially by arsenic poisoning). As a cardinal he had four children (whom, as pope, he legitimized), including Cesare and Lucrezia, by Vanozza dei Cattanei, and at least one by another mistress, Giulia Farnese, through whom most of the royal houses of Europe were descended; five other children were of uncertain maternal parentage (one of them was the great-great-grandmother of Innocent X). He made his 18-year-old son Cesare a cardinal, and gave his other son Giovanni command over his army, but Giovanni was assassinated in 1497. Many suggested at the time that Cesare had him killed, since both brothers shared the sexual favors of the wife of their younger brother, and Cesare’s ambitions were not ecclesiastical. He was the first person to resign a cardinalate and sought to create a kingdom for himself in northern Italy, removing his brother-in-law Giovanni Sforza from power in Pesaro and arranging to have the ruler of Faenza drowned in the Tiber, but his father died before his plans were completed. Alexander was followed by one of his many enemies, Julius II, who personally led the papal conquest of Cesare’s territories. Betrayed by an ally, Cesare was imprisoned in Naples and then transferred to Spain before escaping. He then commanded the forces of John III of Navarre but was slain in an ambush while besieging Vianna and stripped of his valuables, clothing, and a leather mask covering half his face to hide the effects of syphilis. His diplomatic, political, and military efforts to seize and maintain power were a major inspiration for Niccolò Machiavelli’s “Il Principe” (“The Prince). When Alexander became pope, he also arranged for his 12-year-old daughter Lucrezia to marry Sforza but annulled the marriage four years later in order to further Cesare’s career. Ceasare then had her lover murdered to prevent any scandal from interfering with her marriage to the son of the king of Naples. But then Cesare decided to break with Naples and ally with France instead; the prince survived one assassination attempt but was soon after strangled in his own quarters; it was suspected that he had been poisoned by his wife.] Gauguin’s maternal great-uncle, Don Pio de Tristan y Moscoso, was the last Spanish viceroy of Peru, whose son-in-law was Rufino Echenique. When Gauguin turned to France at seven, he spoke no French, and his preferred language remained Peruvian Spanish the rest of his life. (Later, in 1886 when he was trying to be a painter in Brittany, he boasted of his “Inca” ancestry and declared, “I am a savage from Peru.”)

  3. Back in France, his father’s family in Orléans sent him to a prestigious Catholic boarding school for three years to study for the priesthood, but at 14 he entered a naval preparatory school and then signed on as a pilot's assistant in the merchant marine for three years, then joined the French navy for another two. When he was 23, he got a job as a stockbroker and began to paint as a hobby; he formed a friendship with the painter Camille Pissarro, who introduced him to other Impressionists. He began buying paintings by Edgar Degas (and learning from them); this was to be Gauguin's healthiest, longest lasting friendship, spanning his entire artistic career until his death. In 1873, he married a Danish woman, and over the next decade fathered five children; two predeceased him, and two, Jean René and "Pola" (Paul Rollon) became well-known artists in their own right. His sculpture of his son was the only sculpture entered in the 1879 Impressionist exhibition, and he had paintings in the 1881 and 1882 shows, though they were poorly received. By 1879 he was earning 30,000 francs a year (about $125,000) as a stockbroker and about the same figure in the art market. But in 1882 the French economy collapsed, taking the Gauguin prosperity with it. He spent the next two summers painting with Pissarro and occasionally Paul Cézanne and in 1883 he moved to Rouen to pursue a new career as a painter, but could not earn a living. His wife abandoned him, and he followed her to Copenhagen and took a job as a tarpaulin salesman. But the family income mainly depended on his wife’s job, giving French lessons to diplomatic trainees, and she ordered him to leave. But for the next two decades he hoped to make enough money to reunite with his family and continued to correspond with his wife; these letters are among the best written and most touching in epistolary history. His last physical contact with his family was in 1891, and his wife decisively broke with him in 1894 after he refused to share a 13,000-franc legacy from an uncle, though he eventually gave her 1,500 francs.

  4. When he returned to Paris in 1885, he took a series of menial jobs but exhibited nineteen paintings and a wood relief at the final Impressionist exhibition in 1886, mainly earlier work from Rouen and Copenhagen; but he also began stylistically liberating himself from the Impressionists and severed his ties to Pissarro, who became antagonistic towards him. To earn money, he got a job in Panama, then went to Martinique for six months to paint, where he produced about a dozen pieces but recycled some of the figures and sketches in his later paintings. Some were exhibited at the gallery owned by his color merchant Arsène Poitier, who had dealings with Goupil & Cie, Theo van Gogh’s art dealership. Theo bought three of them for 900 francs and began introducing Gauguin's work to his clients. His brother Vincent also developed a close friendship with Gauguin, and their correspondence was instrumental in Gauguin formulating his philosophy of art, and van Gogh also briefly experimented with Gauguin's theory of painting from the imagination but soon returned to painting from nature. In 1888, they began painting together in Arles, but their relationship soon deteriorated. On 23 December 1888, van Gogh cut off the bottom of his left eat lobe, wrapped it in newspaper, and gave it to a prostitute with instructions to "keep this object carefully." Gauguin promptly left Arles, but the two painters continued to correspond, and in 1890 Gauguin even suggested forming an artist studio in Antwerp, but they never saw each other again.

  5. In 1891, Gaughin had a daughter by a Paris seamstress; she eventually achieved fame as the painter/sculptor Germaine Chardon. After visiting his wife and children in Copenhagen for the last time, Gauguin set sail for Tahiti on 1 April 1891, promising to return a rich man and make a fresh start. He spent the first three months in Papeete, the capital of the colony, but then moved to a native-style bamboo hut 45 km away, in Mataiea, Papeari, and executed some 20 paintings and a dozen woodcarvings depicting Tahitian life and his imaginary recreations of the old Arioi society and their god 'Oro and his terrestrial wife Vairaumati. He sent nine of the paintings to Paris, which were jointly exhibited in Copenhagen with work by the recently deceased van Gogh; Gauguin’s work was unfavorably compared to those of his old friend, and only two were sold. In the course of a single afternoon, Gaughan contracted to take 13-year-old Teha'amana as his vahine (Tahitian for "woman"), who was the model of some of his best paintings. Broke and plagued by health problems, he returned to France in 1893 and continued to work on Tahitian subjects. Degas organized an exhibition for him (and bought one of his paintings), but Pissarro, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, and others mercilessly mocked his work; however, he sold 11 of the 40 pieces at elevated prices. In appreciation for his support, Gauguin gave Degas “The Moon and the Earth,” one of the paintings that had generated the most hostility. He affected an exotic persona, dressing in Polynesian costume and conducting a well publicized affair with a teenaged woman known as Annah the Javanese.

  6. He returned to Tahiti in 1895 and spent most of the next six years in or near Papeete. His new vahine was Pau'ura a Tai, who was 14 when he took her in; they had a daughter, but she died a few days after her birth. For a time he worked in an office, but mostly he supported himself with a steady stream of sales of his art, though for the first year he did no painting at all (though he worked on wood carvings). He built a spacious reed-and-thatch house in an affluent area in Punaauia 10 miles east of the capital. He was a frequent contributor to the anti-government journal, “Les Guêpes” (The Wasps), of which he became editor in 1900, and he also published his own monthly “Le Sourire: Journal sérieux” (The Smile: A Serious Newspaper), later renamed “Journal méchant” (A Wicked Newspaper). But his health continued to deteriorate. In April 1897 he learned that he had to vacate his home because its land had been sold, but he borrowed money to build an even more extravagant one and soon found he had overextended himself and was threatened with foreclosure; the same month he also learned that his favorite daughter, named after his mother, had died of pneumonia at only 20.(In 1900, his favorite son Clovis, named after his father, the only family member he had taken back with him to Paris from Copenhagen, died of a blood infection following a hip operation.) At the end of 1897 he completed “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?,” which he regarded as his masterpiece, and tried to kill himself with arsenic after finishing it. Ambroise Vollard agreed to provide him with art supplies and pay him 300 francs a month as an advance against a guaranteed purchase of at least 25 unseen paintings a year at 200 francs each, but Gauguin, distressed by troubles, was beginning to tire of his life in Tahiti. He wrote, “I think in the Marquesas, where it is easy to find models (a thing that is growing more and more difficult in Tahiti), and with new country to explore – with new and more savage subject matter in brief – that I shall do beautiful things. Here my imagination has begun to cool, and then, too, the public has grown so used to Tahiti. The world is so stupid that if one shows it canvases containing new and terrible elements, Tahiti will become comprehensible and charming. My Brittany pictures are now rose-water because of Tahiti; Tahiti will become eau de Cologne because of the Marquesas.”

  7. In 1901 he moved to Atuona on the island of Hiva-Oa and resumed work, though mainly on the landscapes, still lifes, and figure studies that would most likely attract Vollard's clientele, for the most part avoiding the primitive themes of his Tahiti paintings. He bought a plot of land in the center of town from the Catholic mission and built a sturdy two-story house, Maison du Jouir, which he decorated with his own carvings and his prized collection of 45 pornographic photographs he had bought in Port Said. Then he erected two sculptures at the foot of its steps, “Père Paillard,” lampooning the island’s bishop, and” Thérèse,” the bishop’s servant who was reputed to be his mistress (which was auctioned for $30,965,000 in 2015, the record for one of his sculptures). He also got a new vahine, the 14-year-old Vaeoho; she returned to her home to give birth to their son, Emile Marae a Tai, who became a native artist, but after his birth she never returned to Gauguin. In March 1902, the governor of French Polynesia, made an inspection tour of the Marquesas but refused to see Gauguin, who tried to deliver settler’s protests against most of their taxes going to Papeete instead of being spent locally. Gauguin responded by refusing to pay his taxes and encouraging settlers, traders, and planters to do likewise. A new gendarme arrived later in the year, who had fined Gauguin in his earliest Mataiea days for public indecency after catching him bathing naked in a local stream following complaints from the missionaries there. Within a few months, Gauguin accused one of the gendarme’s subordinates of corruption, only to be fined 500 francs and sentenced to three months in prison for libeling a gendarme. He died suddenly in 1903. At an auction of his effects, his sewing machine sold for 80 francs and his pictures for two francs. In 2014, forensic examination of four teeth found in a glass jar in a well near Maison du Jouir, along with a brush made from an island fruit and a coconut shell stained with pigments, compared the dental remains with the teeth of Gauguin’s grandson, showing a 90–99% probability of their being Gauguin’s, but no trace was found of the mercury that was used to treat syphilis at the time, suggesting either that Gauguin did not suffer from syphilis or that he was not being treated for it.


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