Carmen and Elliot

Proud to be black, gracious Carmen Aul Salis came into my life in 1978 via her good friend the Brazilian dancer Yvonne Meyers. Knowing that I was dealing between Paris and London in antique collectibles, prints, ephemera and books, Yvonne thought Carmen should learn the trade from me and so engineered an introduction as Carmen went daily to the leading auction house, Hotel Drouot.

Carmen had retired from show girl and nightclub dancing when she divorced her American bisexual husband Ronnie Aul who had left Paris to found his own ballet school in his adopted Martinique. She was at a loose end going to Hotel Drouot every day but did not have the confidence to bid and resell as she had no connections in the trade in either Paris or New York, her birth place.

In the early days Carmen was gentle and sweet with a winning smile. A handsome proud looking woman who, in 1978, had wild black Afro hair, walked and sat elegantly like the lady she was.  She was in her 40s and having an affair with my American artist friend Arlene Hiquily's ex-husband, the French sculptor Philippe Hiquily and through his influence grew to appreciate sculptural figurative art. 

In her sophisticated top floor flat with an enchanting roof garden in the Buttes Chaumont, 19em, I became a constant visitor clambering up the narrow steps, taking the shortcut to her flat in a Villa, which had subsided with a large crack down the inside wall. Carmen carefully measured and photographed the crack each year and one day would sue the council. In her duplex top floor flat, she had paintings, posters and prints on her walls amassed from Drouot in addition to a small Hiquily sculpture of ladies breasts on her glass coffee table. For all to see there was a black and white photo of Madame with Salvador Dali. I never asked for that story. However 25 years later, I would have!

Carmen, who had lived in her property as a co-propritaire with three other French owners, was convinced that they were all racist as she was constantly battling with them over their refusal to pay their share of the upkeep of the Villa. Always a drama with complications added to which a TV personality next door had built an extension marring her panoramic roof top view. Carmen grew bitter and aggressive over the years always fighting and suing people who crossed her path.  Over the 25 years that we were involved in each other's lives, she went from being a sweet silent woman into a strong aggressive black panther standing up for women's rights and not being pushed around by bureaucratic white men.

 My, how she went from strength to strength, with me being the chief witness. I didn't like what I saw. It was a one way friendship. She confiding in me but never, despite speaking daily on the phone, ask about my successful chaotic business or my personal life. I would often complain to Arlene, who being bold and always put her cards on the table, like moi-meme, would tell me to speak my mind to Carmen who I considered mean spirited but I never did! I never spoke out how I really felt which is the main reason after 25 years I had had enough of her constant boring complaining about 'the enemy' and her health problems. Enough is enough, already, already!

Half Jamaican and half Cuban, Carmen had come from tough Harlem, New York with her then husband Ronnie Aul who appears to have exploited her mentally and physically commanding her to sleep with other men who could further their dancing career as they worked as a team. They were often 'on the road' working in nightclubs abroad and Carmen confessed she neglected their only daughter Wendy and was not a 'good' mother. This would create a snowball effect that would hit her decades later when Wendy would have her revenge and verbally bully abuse her mother eventually turning Carmen's granddaughter Jennifer away from her grandmother.

She had an evil rich sister in California, who passed for white and was married to a Jewish LA lawyer. When Carmen's Jamaican mother, who lived in Albuquerque, developed dementia, the sisters, who hated each other, agreed to look after her for 6 months each at a time as Carmen did not want to put her in a home. Carmen lost over 6 months of her life afraid to leave her mother alone in the flat while she went to Drouot, and although Elliot, her lover and partner, offered to pay for a home help, Carmen would not hear of it. Carmen nearly had a breakdown herself caring for her mother and her lovely spaniel who eventually passed away. The moment her wizen frail mother was put on the plane back to California, the bitch of a sister put her in a home and never visited her because she did not want people to know she had a Jamaican mother. The poor woman died soon after and Carmen had to fly to California for the funeral and was not even invited to stay in her sister's house for 'racial' reasons.  She had to find a hotel and was not even invited to the house for dinner!  Later she would have problems from her estranged daughter Wendy who had moved to New York as a single parent, over Elliot, her daughter's Godfather. Ooh la la what a family! Who needs a family like that!! Through Drouot, Carmen and I started a friendship that would last 25 years until the day in 2013 I silently broke the umbilical cord.

In the very early days of our new liaison, she excitedly called me to say she had bought a job lot of WW1 posters and wanted me to value them as she was going to Manhatten. It was when she got back that she confessed she had sold them to Jack Banning the major war poster specialist in New York. Carmen had somehow met the doyens of the poster world namely Jack Rennert and Laura Gold. She was on her way and no longer needed me. But Carmen had a lot to learn. Poster Art in America was and is considered Fine Art and Carmen had to work her way up to Lautrec, Steinlin and Mucha the hard way learning through her costly mistakes until she met her next mentor the Italian Jewish Russian Fine Art dealer Elliot Baruch, owner of the prestigious Popoff et Cie, through moi-meme!

Because I was not a poster dealer but knew only a couple of London dealers like Kiki Werth and Liz Farrow, some American poster dealers and collectors who bought the odd poster connected with their themic passion, Carmen would tell me the gossip in the Paris-New York poster world. I was an ephemera, print and Juvenilia dealer which vaguely overlapped into her stressful competitive world. She had no colleagues in that bitchy world and certainly no friends! She was not accepted by 'the ring' at Drouot that the Paris poster dealers belonged to. It was a cut throat business because big money was involved. This was hard core business and not fun like the Mickey Mouse business I was in lower down the financial scale.

One day I invited her to the Sunday puces at Clignancourt. Carmen didn't care for flea markets because she preferred to buy at auction and knew she would look a trifle out of place in the markets. Also she never dressed for the markets. She dressed classically while I had my creative style that went well with 'Les pucks.' Only you never know who you are meeting in the world of collectors and dealers especially at the major flea market of Paris - Porte de Clignancourt!

Every Sunday I would visit the magic lantern and photographic dealer Georges Glasberg and sometimes buy a pre-cinema item from him. He usually had his crazy mistress Marie-Mad with him. This particular Sunday however, I ran into him in the Paul Bert cafe having a beer with his best friend, pint size, posh end of the art market, the  Italian dealer Elliot Baruch.

The next day I received a call from Elliot asking me to come to his Russian art gallery and have some lunch close by. Surprised, as he must have asked Georges for my number, I ventured into the Right Bank of Paris 8em. His sophisticated gallery was small with priceless Russian objects in the show window on the Faubourg Saint Honore or in lit ornate show cabinets displaying Faberge eggs and rare porcelain figurines and plates. There were a few Russian paintings on display but his main stock was upstairs on the first and second floors only to show to real art connoisseurs. He recounted when the adjunct for the King of Morocco arrived to purchase something and dared to haggle to which Jewish aggressive but 'charming' Elliot retorted, 'This is not a souk!'

But why had Elliot summoned me? He was a man who went after what he wanted and acquired beautiful objects. In this case he wanted the taller than him attractive Carmen. He wanted to possess and consume her placing her in a gilded cage. Over a quick 'time is money' cheap lunch, Elliot wanted to know if she was with someone and if she was free for a serious relationship. He put his cards on the melamine table. He had been married or engaged to a beautiful exotic Indian lady when he was a young man who he loved passionately. I forget if she died but he never forgot his first love. Carmen was a reincarnation of this woman and he was smitten. It was lust at first sight. Could I play Cupid and get permission for him to phone her and take her out to dinner? He explained, however, he would never leave his wife, the mother of his children, but they led separate non sexual lives and did not sleep together any more even though they were bound for life financially.  So I set the tryst up and Carmen and Elliot were together as long as Martin and I were together - 25 years. Although they never actually lived together, they saw each other every day at Drouot for the viewings, lunched and dined before he went back late to the large family house in the Marais.

The years passed and Carmen, now a hard nosed business woman, began buying more and more French posters at auction taking them to New York to sell. She had to house her stock with Wendy who was not interested in her mother's successful business. Eventually she took a stand at the Chicago poster fair with the help of an old dancing friend Abby but by now had become secretive about her profit margins. She no longer confided in me about her growing finances forever moaning all the way to the French and American banks! She and Elliot did business together when it came to Lautrec and Mucha posters - they bought them together and shared the big profits at the poster fairs in Chicago, New York, LA and Miami.

Over lunch with some book dealer colleagues, one mentioned that he had found a cachet of old damaged Lautrec posters in the basement of a shop that had closed. I informed Carmen who demanded the phone number. After all posters could be repaired and the missing pieces repainted and mounted onto linen. I gave the phone number. After the transaction she never offered me a commission and I stupidly never asked because I did not believe in mixing business with pleasure especially as I was invited many times for dinner at her home and we spoke almost every morning on the phone. On a couple of occasions she would sell me a framed antique conjuring print for my magic collectors she had picked up at auction but the price was the price! No bargaining was allowed because she always said she had bought it specially for me!

Madame would proudly show me her fast growing 'art gallery' which now housed a small office and stock room with many rolled up linen backed posters on the top floor next to her delightful roof terrace, the only spot where she could forget the material world down below. Here she had the moon and the stars and could forget the stress and excitement of each day and the view of the Sacre Coeur in the distance.

Another time I was invited for dinner with a collector to the flat of some American food writers. There on the wall was a famous but damaged framed Lautrec poster. I asked if it could be for sale and they shrugged their shoulders not caring too much. Food was their love, not art. I told Carmen but this time I said I wanted a 5% commission when it was finally sold. She agreed and I forgot all about it until a year later, she rang me in London and hesitantly told me she had finally sold it after spending a fortune on restoration. However she never told me the selling price asking me how much money she should give me. I had seen an expensive red, black and white angora chic sweater in Saint Germain that cost £200 in the late 80s so I said she could buy me that. I heard her sigh with relief! I will say Carmen was always an honest dealer. She had kept her word.

I always felt Elliot was mean to Carmen. He rarely took her out for dinner or away on holiday other than a stolen weekend in Venice, his birthplace. At her home, she paid for the food while he brought expensive bottles of wine. They would go to his dolls house in Trouville at weekends and promised to give her the cottage. She believed him, making pretty curtains and adding feminine touches to make it feel homely.   I knew instinctively it was a lie because the fisherman's cottage was one of 3 and was tied up in his estate bound in with his wealthy wife and their two sons. Maurice who worked with Elliot in the gallery and his other son in Jerusalem who refused to work, had scores of children and studied the Talmud all day. Elliot had to support him and all his family. He certainly did not support proud Feminist Carmen who doubtless anyhow would have refused to be a 'kept' woman! However she was given gifts of antiques, paintings and good quality jewellery over their decades together.

Her overweight unattractive aggressive daughter Wendy split with the white French father of her child but gave his name on the birth certification. It was a difficult birth and Wendy had to have a caesarean and was so butchered by the aggressive surgeon that she had to have stitches and Carmen was up for suing the hospital. After that Wendy wanted nothing to do with sex which made her even more resentful of Carmen who had dragged her around Europe creating insecurity as a child. We thought Wendy was secretly in love with Elliot and was jealous of their partnership and her mother's good looks. Her daughter Jennifer was the apple of Elliot's eye and he became her Godfather. But Wendy left Paris and got a good bi-lingual job, moved to a flat in a rough part of Manhattan and would not get a new cooker when her's broke down so they both ate take away rubbish fast food and Wendy grew fatter and fatter. Carmen and Elliot were heartbroken at her stubbornness and the bad environment Jennifer was growing up in.

Years later came a scandal when her granddaughter Jennifer, now a beautiful slender teenager who could pass for white, failed the entrance exam to a French ballet school that Elliot was going to pay for in Paris. Jennifer began to have therapy sessions in New York and claimed that when she was a child Elliot had interfered with her.  Elliot was confronted and naturally denied her claim. Carmen was caught in the cross fire but still stayed with Elliot. Wendy and Jennifer refused to be part of her family while she still stayed with the monster they accused him of being.

In 2006 I split from magical Martin who had become a diabolical abusive Svengali. I had exotic bone Cuban jewellery to sell and planned a business trip to Paris. My close friend Arlene was still alive then and although I had other friends I had no comfortable place to stay. Carmen knew my problem and, despite having a beautiful spare bedroom, never offered to put me up for a week like an old sincere friend would. All she did was moan and groan and say negative things about people. Eventually in desperation I asked if I could stay a week and she finally reluctantly agreed. I often wonder if she moaned about me too.

I had to make a jewellery presentation in the chic 6em district on the Rue Bonaparte and so she offered to lend me a carpet bag but said the obvious, not to loose it. I must have gripped it so hard that I later suffered from tendonitis in my left arm so badly that I could not raise my arm to eat. I wanted to move out as the stress was killing me and her coolness. So I moved to my old Romanian friend Vera Lungu's cozy flat who massaged my arm with a special herbal potion giving me her bed while she slept with her beloved dog Cesar in the living room.

Then Carmen told me Elliot had surprisingly dumped her, like a car, for a younger oriental model. She admitted it was a relief. Then miracles of miracles happened, Wendy and Jennifer suddenly came back into her life and announced she had become a great grandmother! She spoke of her ex-lover with bitterness as he had the chutzpah to ask for some of his gifts back saying they were only on loan! That's Jewish show business for you!

The last time I saw her was about 8 years ago. I had an arrangement to go for tea. No dinner on offer I observed. I was staying with Vera in the 14em and having lunch with my artist friend Lise le Coeur in her studio nearby. Indeed it was my error, instead of calling to say I would be half an hour late, I set off to cross Paris to get to her flat without warning her I would be late. I was at the foot of the steps when I received a call from Vera that Carmen had called her, not me, to tell me not to bother coming because she had to go to the hospital. I called her immediately on my mobile saying I was half way up the steps puffing and panting and would be there in 5 minutes. What a welcome after at least four years absence! No bise on the cheek for her old dear friend, no, she was irritable, raising her voice at me for being half an hour late.

That's it I said to myself. The end of a 25 year old friendship. I no longer wish to be friends with a shrew of 82 who had no warmth or anything to offer me. She gave me a juice and forgot the ice cream she said she had in the fridge. She spoke about the New York poster auctions and the Chicago show but it was on deaf ears as I no longer cared. We spoke of Arlene's lingering cancer. The taxes she had to pay for being an American ex-pat resident living in Paris. She didn't once ask me about my life after my 'lost years' and split from Martin and his subsequent death.  She no longer cared and nor did I. We had silently drifted and both knew it. Silence is golden.

The last time I went to Paris after Arlene's tragic death was In July 2015. For the first ever since 1978 I did not call Carmen. I have no idea if she is still in the land of the living and nor do I care. It is sad when a friendship of many years has to end. C'est la vie!

Written at Cortijo Romero, Orgiva in 23/5/17.

References

Google - Popoff art collection bought by the Russian Hermitage at auction. 
Wikipedia - Carmen Aul
Google - Popoff et cie
You Tube - Arlene Colombe Hiquily video by the late Martin Breese.
Google - The artist - arlenecolombehiquily.com - www.Jilliana.com
Google - Philippe Hiquily
Google - Vera Lungu
Lise le Coeur - www.liselecoeur.com
Google - Ronnie Aul
Google - Posters Please New York
Google - Liz Farrow, London
Google - Kiki Werth, London
Google - Rennert's Gallery New York