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There's no running away from Picasso. I know. I never succeeded. But when everything caved in, it still hadn't hit me.
It's one o'clock in the afternoon. I'm in Geneva, driving down the quai Gustave-Ador in a steady flow of traffic, taking my children, Gaël and Flore, to school. On my right is Lake Geneva and its famous geyser, the Jet d'Eau. The lake, the car, the Jet d'Eau-and suddenly I'm in the grip of a violent panic attack. My fingers contract in an unbearable cramp. I feel a burning spasm in my chest. My heart is pounding. I'm suffocating. I'm going to die. I have just enough time to tell the children to stay calm before I collapse with my head on the steering wheel. I'm paralyzed. Am I going crazy?
I stop in the middle of the road. Cars speed by, almost grazing mine, and honk at me to move on. No one stops.
After half an hour of anguish and fear, I manage to restart the car, park it on the shoulder of the road and drag myself over to the gasoline station a few yards away. I must call for help. I don't want to be put away. What would happen to my children?
"You need to undergo analysis," my physician says to me. At this point I have nothing to lose. And so I began my analysis-an analysis that will last fourteen years.
Fourteen years of uncontrollable tears, blackouts and screams. I writhe in pain as I inch my way back in time, reliving the things that had destroyed me; silent, then stammering, then finally expressing all the things that had been buried deep within the little girl and adolescent and had eaten her alive. It takes fourteen years of misery to rectify so many years of misfortune. All because of Picasso.
Picasso's quest for the absolute entailed an implacable will to power. His brilliant oeuvre demanded human sacrifices. He drove everyone who got near him to despair and engulfed them. No one in my family ever managed to escape from the stranglehold of this genius. He needed blood to sign each of his paintings: my father's blood, my brother's, my mother's, my grandmother's, and mine. He needed the blood of all those who loved him-people who thought they loved a human being, whereas they really loved Picasso.
My father was born under the yoke of Picasso's tyranny, and he died from it-betrayed, disappointed, demeaned, destroyed, inexorably.
My brother Pablito, the plaything of my grandfather's sadism and indifference, committed suicide at age twenty-four by drinking a lethal dose of bleach. I found him lying in his own blood, his esophagus and larynx burned, his stomach wrecked, his heart adrift. I held his hand at La Fontonne Hospital in Antibes as he lay slowly dying. With this horrendous act he wanted to put an end to suffering and neutralize the dangers awaiting him-dangers that awaited me too, for we were the stillborn descendants of Picasso, trapped in a spiral of mocked hopes.
My grandmother Olga, humiliated, sullied, degraded by so many betrayals, ended her life paralyzed. Not once did my grandfather come to see her when she was bedridden and in distress. Yet she had given up everything for him-her country, her career, her dreams and her pride.
As for my mother, she wore the name Picasso like a badge, a badge that lifted her to the highest rungs of paranoia. In marrying my father she had married Picasso. In her delirious moments, she couldn't accept the fact that he didn't want to welcome her or give her the "grand" life she deserved. Fragile, lost and unbalanced, she had to make do with part of a meager weekly allowance, which my grandfather paid to keep his son and grandchildren under his domination and on the verge of poverty.
I wish that one day I could live without this past.
November 1956. It's a Thursday, and my father is leading me by the hand. He walks silently to the gate looming before us, which protects La Californie, my grandfather's house in Cannes. My brother Pablito is trailing us, hands clasped behind his back. I've just turned six, and Pablito is seven.
My father rings the bell on the metal gate. I'm afraid, as I am each time we come. We hear the sound of footsteps, then a key turning in the lock. La Californie's caretaker, an elderly Italian worn by age and servitude, appears behind the half-open gate. He looks us over and asks my father: "Monsieur Paul, do you have an appointment?"
"Yes," my father stammers. He has let go of my hand so I won't feel how moist his palm is.
"Good," the elderly caretaker replies, "I'll go see if the master can see you." The portal closes behind him. It's raining. The scent of eucalyptus hangs in the air, from the trees with peeling bark that line the path where we are left to wait for the master's orders. Just like last Saturday, or the previous Thursday.
In the distance a dog is barking. It's bound to be Lump, my grandfather's dachshund. He likes Pablito and me. He lets us pet him. We wait endlessly. Pablito is now clinging to me both to comfort me and to feel less lonely himself. My father has finished his cigarette. He puts it out and lights another one. His fingers are stained with nicotine.
"You'd better wait in the car," he whispers as though he were afraid that someone could hear him.
"No," we answer in chorus. "We're staying with you."
Our hair is matted from the rain. We feel guilty.
Once again the key turns in the gate and the wrinkled Italian appears. He lowers his eyes. In a discouraged voice, he recites the lesson he has memorized. "The master can't see you today. Madame Jacqueline asked me to tell you that he's working."
Even the concierge is not fooled. He's ashamed.
How many Thursdays have we heard those words-"The master is working," "The master is sleeping," or "The master is not here"-at the locked gate of La Californie, defended like a fortress. Occasionally, it is Jacqueline Roque, the future, devoted Madame Picasso, who delivers the sentence: "The Sun doesn't want to be disturbed."
When she doesn't refer to him as "the Sun," it is "Monseigneur" or the "Grand Maître." We don't dare show our feelings of disappointment and humiliation in front of her.
On the days when the portal is opened for us, we follow my father across the graveled courtyard up to the entrance of the house. I count each footstep like so many prayers offered on the beads of a rosary. They come to exactly sixty hesitant, guilty steps.
Inside the titan's den-Ali Baba's treasure cave-clutter reigns supreme. There are piles of paintings on paint-spattered easels, sculptures lying everywhere, crates overflowing with African masks, cardboard packing boxes, old newspapers, stretchers for unpainted canvases, tin cans, ceramic tiles, armchair feet bristling with upholsterer's tacks, musical instruments, bicycle handlebars, profiles cut out of sheet metal and, on the wall, posters for bullfights, bundles of drawings, portraits of Jacqueline, heads of bulls.
Amid this shambles, where we are made to wait once again, we feel unwanted. My father helps himself to a glass of whiskey and empties it in one gulp-no doubt to give himself composure and courage. Pablito sits down in a chair and pretends to play with a lead soldier that he's taken out of his pocket.
"Don't make noise and don't touch anything!" yells Jacqueline, who has slipped into the room. "The Sun will be coming downstairs any minute."
Esmeralda, my grandfather's goat, follows her. Esmeralda can do anything she wants-gambol through the house, test her horns against the furniture, leave her droppings on Picasso's drawings and canvases piled up in a jumble on the floor. Esmeralda is at home. We're intruders.
We hear a flurry of laughter and shouts. My grandfather makes his dramatic entrance, thundering and heroic.
I say "grandfather," but we're not allowed to call him that. It's forbidden. We're supposed to call him Pablo, like everyone else. Instead of abolishing frontiers, this "Pablo" confines us to anonymity; it creates a boundary between the inaccessible demigod and us.
"Hello, Pablo," my father says as he approaches him. "Did you sleep well?" He's supposed to call him Pablo as well.
Pablito and I run to him and throw our arms around him. We're children. We need a grandfather.
He pats us on the head, the way one strokes the neck of a horse.
"So, Marina, what's new? Are you a good girl? And you, Pablito, how are you doing at school?"
Empty questions that don't need answers. A way of taming us whenever it suits him.
He takes us to the room where he paints-whatever room he has chosen as his studio for the day, the week or the month, before inaugurating another, as he moves wherever the house takes him, or his inspiration, or whim. Here nothing is forbidden. We're allowed to touch the brushes, draw on his notebooks, and smear paint on our faces. It amuses him.
"I'll make you a surprise," he says, laughing.
He rips a sheet of paper out of his notebook, folds it over several times incredibly fast and, magically, his powerful hands produce a little dog, a flower or a paper chicken.
"Do you like it?" he asks in his husky voice.
Pablito says nothing while I stammer, "It's . . . beautiful!"
We would like to take it home, but we're not allowed. It is the work of Picasso. These figurines made of paper, cardboard or bits of matches, all these illusions he created like a conjurer were part of an ambition that I now find monstrous-to make us understand subconsciously that he was all-powerful and we were nothing. All he had to do was scratch a sheet of paper with his nail, cut up a piece of cardboard with scissors, spread a splotch of paint on a fold. Out came violent, pagan images that crushed us.
But I'm also convinced that Picasso felt lonely and wanted to recapture childhood. Not ours, but his own, over there in Málaga, in southern Spain, where with a single pencil stroke, he bewitched his young cousins Maria and Concha by creating imaginary creatures out of the void. That was the audience that amused him as material-like Pablito and me, raw, as-yet-undamaged material that he could manipulate according to his mood. He behaved like this toward his son Paulo from the start with his paintings of Paulo on his donkey, Paulo holding a lamb, Paulo with a slice of bread, Paulo dressed as a torero, Paulo dressed as a harlequin. This was before he turned him into the inadequate father of my earliest childhood.
My father, although always present when we visit La Californie, doesn't dare interrupt the special moments that we're spending with our grandfather. He paces furtively from the studio to the kitchen with a worried, feverish look in his eye. He pours himself another glass of whiskey or returns from the kitchen with a glass of wine. He is drinking too much. In a short while he'll have to confront my grandfather and ask him for money for us and my mother, money that Picasso owes him-the words pain me-for "services rendered." He is Picasso's chauffeur, paid by the week, his factotum with no life of his own, a marionette whose strings Picasso enjoys tangling, his whipping boy.
"Say, Paulo, your children are no fun. They should loosen up."
We'd better not break the spell; we'd better make sure everything goes well. For my father, and my mother who'll be asking me if everything went well, we must play along and please Picasso.
He grabs a hat lying on a chair, snatches a cape off a coat peg and drapes it over his shoulders, and jumps up and down like a disjointed puppet. Extravagant and extreme, he yells and claps his hands.
"Come on," his eyes flash. "Copy me! Play and cheer up."
We clap our hands to punctuate his clowning. My father joins in, goading his father, a cigarette stuck in the corner of his mouth, his eyes watering from the smoke.
"¡Anda, Pablo! ¡Anda, anda!"
An ovation shouted in Spanish, the language of the Picassos, the only link between the omnipotent father and the belittled son.
Galvanized, my grandfather picks up a wooden spoon and a dish towel from the table: his sword and muleta. With a bright, barbarous look in his eye, he performs a series of passes for us: manoletinas, chicuelinas, verónicas and mariposas, to the rhythm of my father's repeated "Olé!" and mine.
Pablito is silent and looks away. His face is deathly pale. Like me, he would like to belong to a normal family with a responsible father, a lenient mother, a loving grandfather. Pablito and I were not destined for such things.
How do you create an identity or acquire serenity when your grandfather takes up all the available space? And your father kowtows? And your mother will bombard you with questions after the "visit of the century" to which, of course, "no one had been kind enough to invite her"?
The east wind has chased away the clouds and a timid sun sheds a holy light into the room. My father has still not dared broach the subject of money with my grandfather. Why annoy him? He's in such a good mood.
—From Picasso, My Grandfather by Marina Picasso, Copyright (c) October 2001, Riverhead books, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc., used by permission.
Posted February 10, 2008
It was an interesting story only insofar as it was about Picasso, but the granddaughter obviously has issues concerning him. Big issues..but..based on the book, these issues seem to stem more from problems concerning her parents that she's attributing to Picasso. She's living in his home and still refers to herself as 'Picasso's granddaughter' as well as inheriting money from his passing.... why not be proud of the legacy? I don't know.... I found it negative.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 16, 2003
Not so much factual..but definitly interesting..I enjoyed the way Marina Picasso uses imagery in her writing. I don't think it's something that those who adore Picasso should read, as it doesn't make you have much respect for the man, though he is brilliant. But it'll defintily give you some perspective. I think that a lot of this book will be wasted on those without the ability to analyze all that is being said, definitly a read for the more mature person..maybe not an 8th grade level book.. : )Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted January 22, 2002
It really gave me a indepth look at how cruel and selfish Picasso can be. The writing is awesome.Also, gives a interesting look at the different societies of Spain. If you love Picasso's art you'll love this book!Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted July 30, 2009
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