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Eryk Hanut

Feminine & Divine:
A Salute to the Women of My Life

by Eryk Hanut

The time has come again... Acquisition is here for the next twenty-five days, the strongest religion; Commercials keep kicking us in the wisdom teeth, and I am trying, despite the avalanche of "buy one, get one free," "act while it’s still time," "limited offer," and the most Circe-like, "buy now, pay later," to give a thought to the little thirteen-years old girl Mary--Mariam, more likely--who bore an extraordinary and terrible secret for many months and--tradition has it--was refused the smallest straw bed in Jerusalem and was forced to give birth in a manger, two millennia ago, and probably not even in December.

Blessings of Guadalupe by Eryk Hanut

In fact, I do not like Christmas. Never did. It depresses me. The saying "you cannot miss what you’ve never had" doesn’t work for me, here. My childhood was deprived of gold ornaments, the smell of baking pastries, cinnamon-scented pine cones, and Mel Torme’s carols. I still do miss what might have been.

Another dislike of mine is men. The male species that is. I know I am gay (that’s what you just thought, didn’t you) but my great passions, friendships and coups de foudre are for and with women. Always. I do not trust men. Being one myself, I know how the male mechanism works.

The only man I trust is my husband Andrew Harvey; it’s his face I‘d want to see when I die. Whether he is already waiting for me across the mirror--or if he ‘s accompanying me during the delicate process, it’s his face I hope to see; I pray I’ll be granted that. I also trust my two boys, Princey and Puli. They are cat boys. Being cats softens their maleness.

Eryk Hanut    Eryk Hanut    Eryk Hanut

My first love affair with a woman lasted 3 months and happened when I was five years old. I fell madly in love with a married woman who was known, in our house on Schillerstrasse, Berlin, as the ‘nail lady’. Twice a month, she would come and paint my mother’s hands and toes. And twice a month, she would bring some strange love into my life; and also a collection of small vials filled with all the shades of ruby, poppy and amethyst you can think of. And with them, the pungent, magnifique smell of Acetone, just like brand new magic markers. From that early time, comes a hunger that strikes me every time I am in a drugstore and makes me want to eat--eat, not use--all the lipsticks and nail polishes. The nail lady was probably in her fifties (but then, when you are five years old, everybody above 12 is geriatric) and was a devout Catholic, judging by the number of badges with saints faces and holy cards directly pinned on the cement trench coat she always wore. Her hair was white and her face was the shade of pink meat that has been boiled a very long time. In the sharp German daylight, her eyes became so blue that she looked almost blind.

She once brought me a small statue of St Anthony of Padua. His marzipan-like resin was too tempting and I bit his head right off that afternoon. We watched soccer matches on TV, screaming our joy when Munich’s Bayern was winning. She asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up and I replied that I wanted to be surrounded by white mice--lots of white mice; to be a white mice farmer in other words, but that I would need an extra income, because I would never sell or kill any of my mice. She told me I looked smart and should become a scientist; From then on, I started rehearsing the speech I would make when I got the Nobel prize. Several times, she took me to the Hautbahnoff, the train station. There, sitting on benches, surrounded by walls the color of snuff-spit, we would watch trains going in and out of Berlin Grand Central. My love for trains started there, with my love for her. We would walk back slowly ("one more train, pleeeze, only one more train") and, back home, when mercifully my parents were out, she would take me on her shoulders--she was short and strong-legged like a Shetland pony--and give me a ride all over the bottom floor. Or sometimes we would dance. Always to Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of Flowers. She would hold me till I fell asleep. As I write, I can still see my little body as if carved onto her ample silhouette and reflected infinitely in the 3-mirror cabinets that housed my mother’s Art Deco vases, and were placed all over the room, in such a way that, no matter where you looked, you risked an intoxication of Daum, Galle and Lalique. Death by pate-de-verre.

One day, she didn’t arrive, my deranged sunbeam. She never came back. I never asked why. For years, busy demonizing an already grim childhood, I’ve delighted at the thought of Pyrrhic wars between my mother and her, aroused by the idea of these two sacred monsters fighting over me. But people are generally less complicated than we want to think them. The "nail lady" probably asked for one too many raises. Her name was Maria.

Eryk Hanut    Eryk Hanut    Eryk Hanut

When I met Marlene Dietrich, I was nineteen years old and she was eighty-six . The relationship lasted till she died. I think she liked more for who I really was than the idealized version of myself I was trying to play. I still adore her. I always will. She had an immense heart and was a complicated bitch; she had a very clever brain and was still a romantic young girl. In fact, she brought youth into my nineteenth year--Was it Matisse or Picasso who said that ‘it takes many years to become young"?

I was then living in Neuilly sur Seine, with my great aunt, in an apartment of the ‘beaux quartiers’ that was less of a home than a tomb for my aunt’s legend. I think that Dietrich’s arrival replaced the burned out light bulbs in my life. At times, she seemed frozen in her own mystique, like a mosquito trapped in amber and yet, nurturing and attending to life was, to the end, her mission.

The Road to Guadalupe by Eryk Hanut

Dietrich loved food, loved men; She hated mediocrity and mediocrity returned the hatred with interest; Her ego could be sharp like a stiletto heel, but the vastness of her being healed whatever wounds she inflicted. She was capable of talking about Stravinsky, the gowns of Travis Benton, or evoking Jean Cocteau and Richter in a single breath--and of mailing me menacing salamis that looked like Mandragora roots. Any catastrophe, or war, or rainstorm or subway strike--always turned Dietrich into a squirrel. The beginning of the Gulf War broke all records of sausage and Spam-sending in all of Neuilly mail’s history.

During the first winter of our five-year long conversation, it snowed extravagantly--for Paris that is--and the park of Bagatelle was closed to the public. One night, Dietrich told me "Hang up and go across the road, walk onto the polo field and fall on your back; Make angel prints in the snow; you’ve never done that; go and make angel prints."

I crossed the street and made angel prints for a long time. I always obeyed her--whether it was to take a "wonderful stomach remedy" that looked and tasted like tar, or to keep and freeze the body of a kitten I had found in a flowerbed "until we find its owners," or make angel prints in the snow on command.

I hope she knew something of what she left me when she went. She left me a much greater knowledge of everything--and a deeper sense of loss; The sort of loss that years never sweeten and that keeps on aching--the way it should be with great loves.

Eryk Hanut    Eryk Hanut    Eryk Hanut

Purrball, our, cat is another of my ‘dames de coeur’; we found her in an animal shelter, but I know that she picked us, the same way that some Buddhists believe that the soon-to-be-born soul chooses its parents. Purrball did everything with extreme refinement. Eating, licking her ash and olive paws, and playing with her friend the cricket--a cricket that came to visit her for a whole summer. She never hurt him. She would watch him and jump all over the room, totally in harmony with him. We nicknamed him ‘the pet cricket’ and tried to console her when, that September, he did not come back. She looked for him for a long time; other crickets came, but you know, after the first cricket, it’s never the same…

She loved me, but treated me like another Tabby; I was the one she woke up if we dared--again--to feed her diet cat food. I loved to bury my nose in her warm belly, always fragrant like a fresh dinner roll.

She adored Andrew. Absolutely. She looked at him as if he was some Rudolph Valentino of cats. Light came into her eyes and sadness left the world, when he entered a room. She loved him so much that, when the time came, she decided to die in my arms and not in his. She knew it would be too sad for the two of them.

Eryk Hanut    Eryk Hanut    Eryk Hanut

When I met Leila Hadley, I loved her instantly.

She came down the spiral staircase of her coral-walled duplex in New York. Talk about Dea ex Machina. She was wearing a gold brocade dress that could have flown a Ravenna’s mosaics. And she was holding a matching cane; She made an exercise in elegance out of a badly injured knee. She didn’t look as she was moving at all; the staircase seemed to be revolving around her.

Thank God, she quit using the cane soon after, but the halogen smile and the wisdom remained; Her smoky-quartz voice has been guiding our lives for many years now.. Words are scarce when it comes to talk about her..  Mother Courage, Mother Wisdom, Mother Discovery, Mother Astonishment…When I miss her, when I remain too long without seeing her, I go to Macy’s and breath in a bottle of her perfume, St Laurent "Paris."

You walk into Leila Hadley’s office to borrow an envelope, and you leave richer by an extraordinary word or two, by the evocation of a plant that blooms only every two years and only in Fiji, by a postcard of the magical work of Joseph Cornell, or by the exact name of Easter’ Island ‘s giant heads.

The Card and Rumi Book Pack by Eryk Hanut

In December 1993, while in Germany, Andrew's then-guru, Meera, told him to leave me. Regardless of the time difference or etiquette, I called Leila in New York. It must have been 2 in the morning for her. She did not offer empty words of consolation like very good friends do when they are awakened by teary phone calls in the middle of the night. She didn’t present me with any insight on what the future might hold; She did what Pietas do; She listened to me and cried with me holding me over the miles.` When we returned to Paris a week later, two cashmeres sweaters were waiting, like two warm embraces; It was the perfect gesture.

Leila always knows the perfect gesture. And she always does it. She is the closest to a mother I will ever have. I always learn from her. A conversation with her is like flying over Hawaii's active volcano, in a helicopter, on a day of lucky activity; Sparkles, big ones, small ones, but endless sparkles, and light, light, light everywhere. This amazing timing and her genius of raconteuse is recorded in one of her books "A Journey with Elsa Cloud." This is probably one of the best travel books in the world--and no doubt, the most impressionistic book of the English language. In "A Journey with Elsa Cloud," Leila Hadley does to English what Colette did to French. She turns words into tubes of paint, incense burners and Proustian Madeleines that, when read out loud, make you think, "I’ve had that thought all my life, but never expected anyone could put it into words."

Recently, a friend described Leila as a "lioness." I loved the image. I associate it with her golden-ness--In my mind, Leila is golden. She is obsessed with the truth, and the well being of her loved ones. And she is obsessed with beauty and savage with those who dare to try ruining it. Sometimes she has opinions that could peel paint off the walls, but she is untouched by cruelty or meanness. She makes this valley a much better place to be. And a much more civilized one.

Like all golden beings, she won’t die. In a long time, she will probably go like a kite, whose string broke; she will become smaller in the blue, but will always fly ahead of fear and sadness.

Eryk Hanut    Eryk Hanut    Eryk Hanut

Women, women, of all ages, color, social status, species, weight or height…Talking, writing about you always brings me wonderful nurturing feelings, feelings of being at peace with myself. Feelings of daffodils in March, in Belgian woods, and of lazy Saturday mornings, of good books on rainy days, of daytime that never shortens, of rolling on the carpet with kittens, of growing hyacinths in jelly jars, of fresh cakes of soap, of fighting for one’s truth, of starting charity work, of taking the Orient Express from Paris to Venice…

Well, don’t get me started, I am almost beginning to like Christmas…

© Copyright  2002 Eryk Hanut.  All Rights Reserved. 

Eryk Hanut
Eryk Hanut is a writer and photographer. His latest books are "The Road to Guadalupe" (Tarcher-Putnam 2001) and the very recently published "The Blessings of Guadalupe" ( Council Oak books- 2002). He is currently working on a memoir. He lives in Nevada with his husband Andrew Harvey and his two cats Puli and Princey. You can visit him at www.erykhanut.com and contact him through visibleinkstudio@aol.com.


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