First Trip to Europe

In late summer the Baskins returned from thier sabatical in Devonshire, England. I had been house-sitting for about six months. Working in Leonard’s studio, plowing through his art collection. They were quite shocked to find that it never occurred to me to mow the lawn and the grass was waist high. We didn’ t have lawns in my neighborhood in Brooklyn and I was much too consumed with my new discoveries to notice what was between the library and the studio in the carrage house. They were also confounded to learn that I’d made absolutely no plans for myself after thier return. Again too preoccupied. They owned a fourteen room 18th century Inn which was a historical monument in Hadley Massachusetts and they moved me there until they could figure out what to do with me.

Where would you like to go? They asked . Well I did always dream of studying the great museums and Cathedrals of Europe. He immediately got on the phone to a well know national foundation for the arts and explained that he knew a talented young artist who was destitute and without a home (neglecting to mention that he’d just put me out of his own home). A few days later a check came. They have an emergency fund for artists and were careful to state that this was not an official grant and I was not to put it on my resume. Fine. Another miracle and another dream come true. It was just enough to buy tickets on Icelandic Airlines to Luxemborg. I was twenty one and when I got off the plane I had’ t the faintest idea of the geography of Europe. But I had a map, a napsack and some names and addresses. One of them was in Florence and after a few stops and a few adventures I found Massimo at his lace tablecloth stand in the market. He had a small apartment to rent and I took it without hesitation. It was a few steps from the Medicci Chapel and there began a daily exploration of Italian Art. At the American Embassy and I obtained permission to study at the print and drawing room in the Uffici Gallery. It was open three mornings a week and I’d go with sketch pad and pencil. They would bring out volumes of renaissance drawings Tiepolo, Pontormo, Bronzino and on and on. I copied and drew. I also discovered that they had an almost complete set of Rembrant etchings and those too became as familiar as old friends. In the afternoons and odd mornings I’d go to the museums and churches. The Bargello was my favorite. Alter four months of looking every day I was still discovering new masterpieces right around the corner from my apartment.

Soon it was time to move on. Our railpasses were dated. Carrying my huge pack I began two months of sleeping on trains or in the cheapest of hotels. Cooking rice and spagetti on a camping stove in my room. Meeting strangers and becoming instant traveling companions sharing food, rooms, stories, adventures. In Rome, Napels, Madrid, Seville, Munich, Vienna, Paris, and London I visited the great museums and monuments. I took in the landscape from the tip of Spain overlooking the Sraights of Gibralta to the lochs of Scotland and the glaciers of Mont Igor in Gruderwald Switzerland. Bedraggled and begiled I finally landed in London. At last a land where they spoke my language. At least sort of. I visited the Royal Acadamy and thought I would love to study there. A help wanted sign in the window of a bookshop caught my attention and somehow I convinced them to give me a job. A job in London! Just off of Trafalgar Square. I’d never really thought about having a job before. It was something other people did. But I loved it. I was taking a red double decker bus to work with all these people in suits and ties carrying umbrela’s. What fun. More important I could stay and was meeting people every day. Going to the pubs where grandmothers and teenagers drink and sing together. All the museums were free and I worked just around the corner from the National Gallery. I would go everyday on my lunch hour and look at one or two paintings, devour them. Slowly I worked through the museum in that way. First the impressionests, then the Rembrants and then Vermeer, etc., etc. One or two at at time. Delicious. The best way to study art.

I was living in »University Village », supposedly housing for students on the Old Kent Road south of Elephant and Castle. They were several rows of prefabricated shacks surrounded by rubble, broken glass and corregated sheet metal. There was about five feet between each row. There were four to five « students » in each two bedroom shack. The neighborhood consisted of bombed out houses that had never been rebuilt after the war and low income highrises. It was the worst slum I had ever lived in and I had a great time. Through our student friends and at work I was meeting more and more people. My bookstore was right next to the opera and I went often to the ballet and met many people from the theater. It was time to move again. I was deeper and deeper entrenched in life in London, painting well and was about to take an apartment in Portabello Road. Upwardly mobile and making a life for myself as an American in London. But life in University Village had taken it’s toll. I had obtained a special deal from the landlord and my wife and I lived in a shack that was so bad it had been abandoned until we arrive. We had it all to ourselves for a very minimal rent. There was a hole in one wall and the other one used to come apart from the house at the bottom so that I would have to go and kick it back in place from the outside. We had no heat ; Just before our move to hip London society my young wife came down with some strange illness. We went to the hospital and they said she had a depression. They gave her some medicin which rendered her comatose. It turned out to be Pluresey and we were soon on our way home. Other adventures awaited us.