2006July30 All the marbles

Approximate Reading Time: 6 minutes

I really thought the weather had had its back broken with a monumental thunderstorm as they can only have in Provence—the conditions are ripe for big forest fires and big storms, they seem to go hand in hand, but never in such a way that the latter can absolutely prevent the former. It was beautiful yesterday. And the first third of the daytime and the evening hours are lovely in any event.

But the heat is back, and it means that mid-day is killer.

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We went on a little excursion today. Linda wanted to go someplace we hadn’t been. So we stopped for coffee and croissants (it’s Sunday, so we had pain au chocolat) in Aups, and then stopped on the road to Tourtour to check out a personal “museum” kept by a woman sculptor in the midst of acres and acres and acres of garrigue (an essentially untranslatable word, peculiar to Provence, like maquis, but differentiated because of the combination of flora that characterizes either of these kinds of hilly shrub lands—very rough country—the garrigue has an abundance of aromatic shrubs: lavender, rosemary, and Artemisia), with her little sculpture park at the end of almost a mile of dirt road, which has been paved over with raw concrete in places because, it’s obvious, it would be impassable otherwise, especially in the rain.

Her name is Faykod (last name—the rest of it is Maria-Zsuzsa de… born in Hungary, of a Swedish father and an “Austro-Hungarian” mother; I love this kind of detail, straight from the official biography—let’s see, the last of Austro-Hungary, you remember?, the Empire that whipped the crap out of the French in the 70s, the 1870s, was pretty much last seen not long after their swan-song as a great political entity, and that would be right after the WWI, when the Allies said, “thanks for the memories and auf wiedersehen”) and she has done some very strange stuff, I mean aside from keeping alive in this small way what had been a great empire, in a galaxy far far away.

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Working almost exclusively in white Carrara marble (the finest stuff—the stone that Michelangelo used), she sculpts mostly figurative pieces. A great many are clearly allegorical. Many female nudes. And then, in the middle of things like a draped corpse, life-size, that represents the Resurrection, there’s a "Head of Diana" only it is not merely the goddess, but it’s Princess Di, with a clenched-tooth smile and small round earrings. A life size figure of Mozart, with his fingers melting into a keyboard from his left hand, and a violin from his right.

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Dozens of pieces in a little arid park, filled with trees, very dry lonely kind of trees, and a fountain, with a bronze female nude in the middle of it. If you keep walking along the dirt road that snakes through the property (which has a wrought iron portail guarding the entrance to the fenced in portion of her land), and a little ticket takers booth (it was free today, but ordinarily it’s six euros) you reach her studio, with the manicured lawn festooned with huge blocks of marble, and guarded by a ferocious bichon frise, which is a dog about the size of both your fists and the color of raw Carrara marble.

She emerged herself from the back of a low very modern building and said hello and urged me into the studio proper, which had a lot of small pieces and some beautiful, very pricey furniture (ditto in the living portion, which I could spy through an open door). She resembles her portrait on the Website (http://www.musee-de-faykod.com/), but only sufficiently that you wouldn’t mistake her at a cocktail party. Her portrait shows her in a kind of Byronic pose, wearing an outfit that I could imagine Byron might look upon as pajamas. I think it’s the Mittel-Europa idea of Romantic chic. The Website is a little cagey about her age, though it’s clear she was finished with her earliest education, graduating from the Sorbonne in 1978. Which puts her in the neighborhood of 50. And a still handsome neighborhood it is. She is trim and lithe, and who wouldn’t be muscling huge hunks of expensive rock around?

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Also, her tools are serious, as you can see from the photograph I shot in her atelier. She pointed me to it,  after describing some pieces she was in the midst of and then sort of disappeared.

She had showed me a huge crucified Christ she’s working on, and there were a number of other religious themed pieces strewn about the place, in various stages of emerging from the rock. On the handout it said she has a Christ in black marble that was commissioned by the Vatican Museum.

There’s also a huge swimming pool on the property, very fancy, with a glassed in covering, very much like a nursery hothouse, and clearly meant to allow swimming year round.

Of the little pieces, the few we could come close to actually putting in a living space we could afford to live in were some very small bronze nudes, female, about a foot long in various states of prostration or writhing. These were 8,000 euros. Each. So I would imagine she is, indeed, doing OK and can afford the land, the gate, the fence around the sculpture garden and studio, which must encompass about 20 or 30 acres. This Musée Faykod has been a local feature for ten years, as of this year. That was how I knew about the free admission—it was mentioned in today’s paper. I do recall when I first came here in 1988 there was a gallery right in the town of Aups by the same name—this museum to herself is about three miles out of town. The gallery, it turns out, closed that same year, and I assume she needed eight years to re-group and accumulate the gelt to go really big time.

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In the end, she is quite prolific and eclectic in her subjects, which range from many Christs, in many aspects of his life, but particularly popular are crucifixions (one of which was the one commissioned by and now residing in The Vatican) to, well, there’s no other word for it but, celebrities. For example, there’s a full figure (in every sense of the word) statue of Marilyn Monroe, commissioned for use by the Cannes Film Festival, but now standing, with a hip cocked in her sculpture park, an image more or less crafted of MM in the ’62 era Madison Square Garden "Happy Birthday Mr. President" period of the movie goddess’s tragically short life—you remember, she wore a gauzy gold dress that fit so well she might as well not have bothered with it.

Maybe there’s a minor theme detectable in that both Marilyn and Diana died at the same age. And there’s an irony my mother would have immediately detected in that that age was 36, or, in Yiddish and Hebrew "double chai" or double "life," because 18 in Hebrew characters also spells the word, "life." Maybe if they’d been Jewish. But then, who knows what Ms. Austro-Hungary would have done with them.

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