The Day I met Picasso….
During the summer of 1963 when I was seventeen years old, I was hitch hiking through France with one of my art school friends. We were staying in youth hostels along the way which were often in beautiful old chateaux and castles.
After becoming a member of the International Youth Hostel Association – (very inexpensive), the world was our oyster so to speak. The main rule for staying in youth hostels was ‘no driving to the hostel’ door. Walking, canoeing, cycling and trains were acceptable. Many young people, including ourselves cheated a little by hitch hiking for part of the way and then we would walk for the last few miles to the hostel. Back then we lived in a much safer world and hitch hiking was something many people did….it was a lot of fun…more about that later.
watercolour of village in the south of France.
My friend and I were staying in a beautiful old fairy tale castle in Luxembourg where along with young people from around Europe we met two American boys who asked if we wanted to join them for the next leg of their journey through France. They had picked up an old Volkswagen with Danish plates along the way.
Those were the days when fear was not part of the equation – rather a sense of freedom and camaraderie. After three days in Luxembourg we drove with the two American boys to the south of France. There were no mobile phones – in fact very few phones of any kind…. There were no highways – just beautiful country roads, villages and small towns. Finding our own way through life was part of the great adventure of living…..
This gave us plenty of time to talk and get to know one another. The Americans had met on the road and explained that they came from very different backgrounds in the States. One was a Harvard graduate and the other a Brooklyn boy. At that point in time, I had very little knowledge about the States other than what I saw in films……and certainly had no idea that just a few years later I would be living there! However something that made an impression on me even back then was that both boys agreed they would not have met in the States…it was because they were travelling through Europe that their lives came together. They were free to be themselves.
I had visited France quite a bit and had already come to love the country.
In hindsight I realise that we were experiencing a very special moment in time. WW2 was almost behind us and we were yet to be inundated with highways, cars, inexpensive international travel, fast food and everything else that was just around the corner. – Life was simple and from the perspective that we now live – a very different world.
Most of the villages we drove through had a Boulangerie (baker) and a small Epicerie (grocery shop) where we were able to buy baguettes plus cheese and fruit. What more could anyone wish for? To this day the smells of good coffee, fresh baked bread and gauloises cigarettes….are evocative of so many happy memories.
I remember that it was a glorious day – everything sparkled in the way that it does in the south of France. Somewhat lost we found ourselves following a long drive leading to an imposing chateau. Sitting on a large terrace in front of the chateau were a group of men and women with their dogs – who at first site looked more than surprised to see us. When they realised that we had foreign (Danish) plates one of the party came over to talk with us. It was Pablo Picasso.
To this day when I close my eyes, I can see every detail of that moment. He came up to the car – looked in the window – smiled and asked if we would enjoy a drink. We declined….It was a split decision….I have often wondered what might have happened had we said yes. But there he was – the man himself. His charisma and life force shone through.
One of the many watercolour sketches made in France over the years.
Through these vignettes I will be spanning several decades, and two continents….They are not in any kind of a sequence…rather selected randomly.