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Tuesday, 18 May 2010

"Жизнь - Любовь" ("Life - Love")

It’s been a long Monday… All of a sudden minutes stretched into hours, hours crawled soundlessly and unhurriedly like summer days on the beach. Not that I haven’t done anything today, on the contrary, it was a productive day, but the more I did, more time I seemed to be offered by someone invisible… A very unusual experience. Yes, probably some of the substances of John Giorno had their effect on me… And perhaps on any other occasion I would happily embrace this transformation of reality, but not today… Maybe because I was waiting?.. Or because time was making up for space and it simply wasn’t enough?..

Anyway, at some point I decided to arrange all my photographs in “My photos” folder. Normally I just dump them there hoping that one day they will somehow self-archive, and shrink, and give themselves nice names…but it never happens. So, rummaging through the years of frozen memories I found this photo made in Rome nearly 50 years ago (NOT by me, obviously)…
I made a picture of this old photograph several months ago while visiting an extraordinary person. A tiny frail woman opened the door to her apartment, and the next moment it wasn’t an apartment at all, but a Pandora’s box, or rather a magician trickbox, full of white rabbits, and paper flowers, and endless scarves, and lucky cards, and sadness, always (for some or the other reason) sadness...

I have to start from the beginning to make sense to you, don’t I? Her name is Valeria Dauwalder. She is equally articulated in Russian and French, and at her age of 92 she is sharper than anyone I know. A sculptor, a theologian, an illustrator, a writer, a philosopher…she is simply too much to be one person… but she is absolutely unintimidating in her greatness. Born in Russia in 1918 into a family of Russian aristocrats and Swiss entrepreneurs, Valeria moved back to Switzerland in the 30s to study art, to explore life, to find love...
Illustration by Valeria Dauwalder  

I am holding her book "Жизнь - Любовь" ("Life - Love") and looking through old archive photos. She brought part of her archives to the tea table where she made her tea “Russian style” (it’s when you have a little teapot with a very strongly brewed tea and next to it there is a “samovar” with hot water, so one makes his own mixture of various strength. For me, who grew up in Asia, it’s a funny way to drink tea, but Valeria dismissed all my attempts of a joke. Yes, I wanted that piece of cake, so I shut up :-)…

The book with dedications and autographs… Here is one of Fernandel…


Her archives are the most precious thing that have left in her life. She lost her children to diabetes and neurosis, her beloved husband is long gone. I look around with a mixture of feelings. 400-hundred year old furniture in this modest apartment in Oerlikon on the outskirts of Zurich looks almost metaphorical and out of place. Paintings and Russian icons on the walls and the smell of mold… cold tea, a big bruise on the side of her face (she lost balance and fell a few days before), her veined hands and feet, all this makes me want to run, and all this makes me want to stay… Where did the rabbits go? Whatever happened to multicolored scarves?...

All of a sudden Mme. Dauwalder's voice brings me back from my hypnotic state: “He had a great vision, but no talent!” She spoke of Marc Chagall, my beloved Marc Chagall!, how could I resist? – so the battle resumed. And there was more tea, and more Sprüngli cakes, and many more memories…
Vesna. Illustration by Valeria Dauwalder
PS I never went back. I promised to and I never did. I am even afraid to call. I think I am afraid of aging (even the aging of others). And loneliness... It's something new. Not a great ending for a post (I am no good at ending things, beginning is so much more fun), but I haven't got another one. I even added a second fish to my virtual fish tank this evening; no one should be lonely without one's consent, even the virtual fish deserves to be happy... It was a long day after all, maybe tomorrow I will be squeezed between short uncatchable minutes and be missing the endlessness of today?...or maybe I won't.

Swimming in a blue light of my computer screen in the middle of the night I came across this song... Yes, why can't we just rewind?... Would you if you had an opportunity?

4 comments:

  1. Beautiful thoughts.

    How did you come to meet Valeria Dauwalder? Her illustrations are wonderful! They remind me of Arthur Rackham. In what book(s) do these wonderful illustrations appear?

    If you can, someday look at the book "The Ship that Sailed to Mars." It's one of the greatest (English) illustrated books of the 20th century. Her art is very reminiscent.

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  2. I met her throuht Russian Church in Zurich, kind of funny, since I am not a big church goer. But one of my Russian friends here is, so she met Mme.Dauwalder and visited her. Next time we went together, she is very happy to have visitors. In Russian sources her work often compared with style of Vasnetsov and Vrubel (you should see his Seated deamon!). I haven't heard of her before this day either, she wrote fairytales (based of Russian folk tales)and illustrated them. She still works with precious stones, polishes them and makes heavenly things: lamps, mosaics...

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  3. Hello, Ann!
    My name is Ann and I'm from Moscow.
    Do you know, if Valeria Dauwalder is alive? First time I met her in Yaroslavl in 1991, wonderfull woman, I had her book and read later her biography...but in our country there is no information about her present life...

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  4. Dear Anna, I am sorry for answering so late (I am writing here, since I havnt got any of your coordinates) and i didnt get a notification about the comment... Last time I saw Valeria Dauwalder was in spring 2010. Unfortunately here also not many people know about her, what a shame, she is half-swiss and a great talent.

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