Yesterday I read Clayton Patterson’s article in The Villager, in which he wrote about how Vali Myers used to come to New York every so often from her valley in Positano with a portfolio full of drawings to sell to ensure her livelihood for another year. Vali loved New York, and New York loved her, and whenever she came she always stayed at the Chelsea Hotel.
One of my very dear friends is Carole Ramer, whom Vali befriended back in the ‘60s while staying at the Chelsea. Carole was Abbie Hoffman’s right hand, Vali said, and she told me that when they first met, Carole looked like a gorgeous young black fox with her beautiful cascading black hair. Vali loved her as much for her charm as for her great loyalty to Abbie, and she never tired of listening to Carole’s accent, one of those old-fashioned New York badges of honor we don’t hear enough of anymore.
Vali introduced us and after I got to know her, Carole described meeting Vali for the first time in a little room at the Chelsea with Abbie. Vali was a beautiful, half-animal, half-woman creature who lifted her skirts and peed in the sink with complete grace, and Carole was dazzled.
Both Carole and I visited Vali in Positano in the 1990s, and after reading Clayton’s article I went looking in the notebooks I kept during some of those visits. These particular jottings are from December 1994, when Vali let me cram into her bed up the ladder in her tiny house, and just outside was Gianni Menichetti in his little tin-roofed palazzo full of cats, Gianni who first came to live in the valley in 1971 and still lives there today. I thought I’d post these for Carole in particular, but also for anyone else who might like them.
Vali climbing up the ladder to the bed saying, “Shit Piss and Corruption” and “Fuck a duck!”
She told me that at the beginning of this century there were bandits all over this coast. They probably slept right here in this valley, and the road down below was just a donkey path.
In the morning she said she had a dream in which she got sucked out of an airplane and was kind of zooming along in front of it hoping the pilot would see her.
Vali is annoyed because there is nowhere to put anything where the cats can’t get it. The butter and cheese must be hung from a hook or the black one especially will get it. She’s making coffee and saying, “I wish those bloody birds were laying, no such luck and I was dreaming of fresh eggs.” One of her bright ruffled skirts is drying on the line.
She told me about an Aboriginal girl in Australia called Donna who paints things, all kinds of things, like old chairs, and there’s someone who takes them to a gallery up in Sydney and people go nuts for them and buy them and then Donna buys all kinds of things for her mother.
Vali up on the bed saying that Sheba’s making stink all over the place and that Melville can really write when he gets going. She says James Joyce’s letters to Nora could put you off screwing forever.
She showed me the little courtesan drawing she’s working on; she put in the little house and the path out to Murat’s cave, and she showed me the place where she’ll draw in Fanny the donkey. And up above the path and the cliffs she drew in the Bay of Naples and sketched-out some doggies up near the volcano, and told me, “Some are sleeping and some are looking kind of like, ‘Look out, Mate, it’s going to blow!’”
Here she comes, through the gate with an armload of ferns for the pig like a gigantic salad. The late sunlight makes her hair blaze like a fire. This place is so beautiful, she’s saying, “You practically drop dead looking at it.”
It is almost black out. The radio is coming in clearly from Tunisia, and Gianni is cutting up potatoes. Here come Vali’s bare feet down the ladder as a muezzin calls out of the radio. Vali says she likes the long pauses. The radio from North Africa comes in so mysteriously, only at night. Arabic cat food ads. A sort of disco song is playing now and Gianni said it sounds like some kind of mechanical horse galloping. Vali’s telling Gianni not to cut the onions too fine or they come out tasting like petrol. She looked at a packet of sponges sitting there and read aloud, “SPUGNA ABRASIVA,” which she found hilariously funny.
The three of us sitting around the bowl of potatoes on a newspaper and afterwards I said, “Does anyone want a tangerine?” And Gianni sitting under the gas lamp, said, “But is it right to have fruit before the coffee?” To which Vali replied, “What do you think this is, Victorian England?”
She says koala bears sleep nineteen hours a day and that when they sleep they are probably thinking of gum leaves.
Outside Vali built a bower out of sticks and broom branches for Queenie the chicken and her little peeper. The roosters and chickens all crowded into the Elder branches. Today must be very close to the shortest day. The little dog Sardo has come creeping in to the house, as if we might chase him out, to sit next to the fireplace.
“Do you remember when you used to rub my bottom with butter?” Vali’s asking Gianni, and he’s saying,” Of course, and you would go off to sleep like an angel.”
The fire is down to embers, and Myers is climbing up the ladder to write in her book.
I hope reading these might inspire some memories for Carole too. And I wonder if like me, she found the little house in the valley not unlike Vali’s wonderful room in the Chelsea.
27 January 2012Photos of Vali and Sheba up the ladder on the bed from that chilly December.