The other night I went downtown to have my hair cut by Carole Ramer. Carole has been cutting my hair forever and I never want anyone else to do it. The moment I sat down she accused me of having trimmed my own ends and thrown off the layers. There would’ve been no point in my denying that I had. Because when it comes to hair, Carole is like a surgeon. She can recognize the tiniest alteration and its inevitable bad consequences, and the scolding I got is just the kind of thing that would have delighted Vali Myers if she’d been there.

Carole and I almost always talk about Vali when we see each other. Vali is the person who introduced us, as a gift, and I’m very glad she did. One thing I can say is that whenever she talked about Carole, it was always with more affection than she seemed to have for anyone else I heard her speak of. Vali thought Carole was the most wonderful creature in the world, and she adored everything about her. Just conjuring Carole’s old-school New York accent in her mind would make Vali laugh and say, “Oh, dear Carole!” She’d describe her as having looked like a beautiful black fox when they first knew each in the early ‘70s, when Vali lived at the Chelsea Hotel.

This month will mark the eleventh anniversary of Vali’s death. She died in Melbourne, Australia, on February 12th, 2003, and sometime after she did, Carole dictated to me some recollections she had. She’s given me permission to publish them here along with some photos taken during the trip she made to visit Vali in Italy:

In the ‘Seventies I was Abbie Hoffman’s assistant. He was a brilliant man who saw what was wrong with the system and tried to activate the youth. He was smart and funny and even people who hated him loved him. He would go and speak and rile everyone up. He burnt money at the Stock Exchange. Once he even took a little knife out and stabbed himself in the ass because he got so excited. He was the Iggy Pop of revolution.

Vali, Fanny the Donkey and a few of her dogs, Il Porto Photo: Carole Ramer
Abbie introduced me to Vali in 1970 or ’71. I had never met anyone like her. She looked like a beautiful fox with that flaming red hair, the tattoos on her face, all those millions of gold medallions around her neck, chains with pictures and lockets, and her hands and feet tattooed with stories of her animals and her valley.

She wore different colored skirts and those knee-high woolen things she used to call her gaiters, with stiletto heels. She lived in a little room without a bathroom at the Chelsea Hotel. The day I met her she lifted her skirt and peed in the sink and I just fell in love with her from that moment on.
Carole with Fanny and one of Vali's dogs, 1994 Photo: Vali Myers

We would walk around together and people would stare. She was such a creature but she was so down to earth. Then things happened in our lives, she went back to Italy, I went to prison, and we lost each other for years.

Twenty years later the New York Press had an article on Vali. It said she was back at the Chelsea Hotel. I called her and said, “You probably won’t remember me…” and she said, “Oh, Baby! Lovey!” I ran to the Chelsea and it was like we hadn’t missed a beat. I knew I had to go to the valley in Italy that I had heard about and seen pictures of, so I went in April 1994.

The valley was like Tarzan Land, and I couldn’t keep up with her. I’m not an outdoorsy girl. It was the most exotic time ever for me, going into caves and climbing. I was finally in the valley seeing it; there was the pig and the donkey. She would talk to those animals and they would come to her. She was totally part of those woods. Her beautiful little house had no windows, just openings, and there was no bathroom. She’d say, “You can wash your hair in the stream.” It was freezing, and I did it once.

She’d cook every night, and we’d eat with our fingers from a big, huge bowl and I slept with Vali up on her bed. She gave me a little tattoo. I remember her working with her little needles and her India ink, and then she’d spit on it and wipe it off. She had to go over it five times to get it right. It’s on my foot, and everyone asks, “What does that mean?” Vali told me never to tell anybody.

While I was there she was working on a drawing. I was thrilled to see a real drawing in the flesh. It was more beautiful than I could ever have imagined. She showed me what it looked like under a magnifying glass, almost like a snakeskin, it was so layered and thick. First she’d sketch the drawing out in pencil. She had this little pencil about an inch long. She said, “This is the pencil I’ve always used, and when this pencil goes, that’s the end of me.”

With Sheba, the Lower East Side dog Vali brought to Italy
It gave me a chill when she said that. I was fascinated with that pencil. I thought, that’s the pencil that created all those works of art that she did for all those years! She kept it in a little tin.

After that trip I would call her from time to time, she would write to me, and time went on. And then suddenly I found out that Vali was dying. When I learned that she had died, the first thing that came into my head was that the pencil had finished. She finished the pencil and that was the end of her time. I’ve never met anyone like her and I probably never will again. But somehow I always thought she’d be around forever.

February 1st 2014
Copyright Romy Ashby 2014. Content on this blog may not be used without permission.

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