Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Thinking of Charles Henri Ford on the anniversary of his departure

Thinking of Charles Henri Ford on the 15th Anniversary of his Departure

Potrait of Charles Henri Ford by Pavel Tchelitchew. 
Every year on this day I remember his last days, leading up to his final one in the hospital in New York City. I’ve told many people about the way that Charles continued to make his art even in those very last, fragile days. Collage was always one of his favorite forms of art to make, as everyone who knows of him will remember. He published countless works of collage, showed them in galleries, and published them in books. Some of the greatest collage artists were his friends, in particular Man Ray, who Charles introduced me to on my very first trip to Paris more than forty years ago. 

Charles taught me that form of art as well, and for a time I too made collages and saved photos and magazine cuttings to use later. The best collage Charles created was the life that Charles lived. He pasted experiences onto the pages of his life in a way most people never do, and he started doing that at a very young age. He observed everything and everybody. Everything he saw was a little cutting that he could use later in some artistic way. He liked cities and he liked nature, he loved the company of other people and he loved being in places with hardly any people, too. He loved music and poetry and film and theater, and he liked people with a daring spirit. He was not afraid of the world, he embraced it whole and wherever he we went, he brought his notebooks, full of his thoughts, drawings, and ideas. 

I think that he would be pleased, all these years after his departure from this world, to see that scholars continue to write about him, and about his art. Galleries still want to show his work, museums are still interested in his films and photographs. People from around the world contact me for permission to reproduce his art as books and articles. I feel privileged and honored to have the stewardship of his work and his archives full of historical treasures. Wherever you are, Charles, you are missed, and forever appreciated.

February 10, 1908 – September 27, 2002

-Indra Tamang

copyright © Indra Tamang 2017, all rights reserved.

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Remembering Ruth’s Passing, in good company

Remembering Ruth’s Passing, in good company

Painting of Ruth Ford.
With only 365 days to choose for birthday and day of dying, there is a good company for everyone sharing these special days, it would seem. Ruth passed away on August 12th 2009, and the most famous person to share the date of demise is Cleopatra, the last active ruler of Ptolemaic Egypt. I’ve mentioned that one before, and there are of course many more, lots of long lists of people who share the same date of demise, such as the Japanese pop singer Kyu Sakamoto, who sang the song called “Sukiyaki” in the United States. He died in a spectacular plane crash in 1985. In 1988, here in New York, Jean-Michel Basquiat died on August 12th, leaving behind all his paintings. Isaac Singer got a patent for his sewing machine on that date in 1851 which has been used by countless people. Is there a significance to sharing these dates? It’s a mystery, all of it. How can anyone know the answer? For me, this date has a meaningful importance in so many ways. I always think of Ruth on this day. On this day on 2009, my life changed, an era came to an end, and I carry a little bit of Ruth Ford’s influence wherever I go.

Ruth Ford. Photo by Francesco Scavullo

Ruth Ford
July 7th, 1911- August 12th, 2009

-Indra Tamang

copyright © Indra Tamang 2017, all rights reserved.

Friday, July 7, 2017

In Memory of Ruth Ford on Her Birthday

In Memory of Ruth Ford on Her Birthday

Ruth Ford in her apartment at the Dakota 1972, NYC. Photo by Barbara Waterson
Ruth Ford, a great actress, a fashion model, a writer, an artistic muse, and a salonnière was born on this day, July 7th, in 1911, in Brookhaven Mississippi. And like her brother Charles Henri, Ruth lived a charmed life in every way. Thanks to Charles, who kept diaries starting at a very young age, I can tell you that on this day in 1924, she and Charles went to the movies on her 13th birthday. They saw a lot of movies and live theatre shows, and on this particular day they saw Scaramouche, starring Ramon Novarro ( at a movie house in San Antonio, Texas. I don’t know what Ruth or Charles thought of the movie, because Charles didn’t say, nor did he mention that it was Ruth’s birthday. All he wrote for July 7th, 1924 was: “Sister and I saw ‘Scaramouche’ at the theatre here today. I don’t know what I’d do if it wasn’t for her. I sure would be lonesome.” A couple of weeks later, on July 25th Charles went to see Anna Christie, starring Blanche Sweet, who he called his favorite. He thought she was wonderful in the movie, but wrote that Ruth didn’t think much of it. You don’t hear many people talk about Blanche Sweet anymore, probably because six years later Greta Garbo played the same role in Anna Christie and after that all other versions might as well never have been made. Garbo later befriended Ruth, and became a favorite guest at Ruth’s legendary salons at the Dakota. All kinds of important connections were made in Ruth’s living room during those famous gatherings, and she could not have been a better hostess.

Ruth and Charles both lived a life surrounded by fascinating and often famous people, but I think that without each other they both would have indeed been very lonesome, as Charles mentioned in his diary on this day in 1924. Throughout most of their lives they wrote to each other almost daily, even when they were on the opposite sides of the earth. They saved every letter they received from each other. A lifetime of letters full of details of their days, and diaries that Charles wrote his whole life. would be enough to fill rooms. Every important event and achievement in each of their lives Ruth and Charles ran by each other, as well as a lot of mundane things.  Even during the periods when they both lived in the Dakota, they often wrote to each other. There are little notes that I’m still finding in boxes of papers, telling each other about leftovers to find in the refrigerator “that must be eaten today” or book reviews clipped out of the Times with notes attached asking, “Have you seen this?” 

Mart Crowley & Ruth Ford with Harold Stevenson. Feb 21, 1973 at dinner party Ruth Ford gave for Mart Crowley at  La  Goulue Restaurant, NYC. 
I know that Ruth must have missed all of those letters and notes from Charles in her later years after Charles passed away. It seemed to me like a long time without him, all those days when I went to the Dakota to take care her. The salons were long gone, but Ruth’s rooms still held a rich feeling of all the famous people who spent so much time with; William Faulkner, Greta Garbo, Tennessee Williams, Truman Capote, too many to count. I don’t recall Ruth ever talking about whether she believed in any kind of afterlife, but if there is a way to meet our loved ones in that next place, I’m sure that Ruth and Charles will find a way to do it, and I’m sure that they’re seeing all those other people too. It’s not hard to imagine Salvador Dali, dialing Ruth’s number on his lobster phone, to invite her to some magical happening.

I want to wish Ruth the best 106th birthday, wherever she’s celebrating it. You’ll never be forgotten, Ruth. Happy birthday to you.
Ruth Ford in Dakota Apartment, NYC. 7/1/1965. Photo by The New York Times.
-Indra Tamang

copyright © Indra Tamang 2017, all rights reserved.

Friday, June 23, 2017



Trashless Barcelona City.

Recently, I made a trip with my wife Radhika and my daughter Zina to Barcelona. We left on April 10th and returned on April 18th. Zina had found good deals on airfare and hotel both. It was her idea and wish to go to that city, as she has been studying Spanish in school and had an interest, so we went. However, we found people speaking Catalan in Barcelona, not Spanish, but we managed to do okay nevertheless. 

The day we arrived, we were early to get into our hotel room, so we left our luggage at hotel’s front desk and went for a walk. Our hotel was just outside the main city of Barcelona, about the distance between Manhattan and Queens. It was a nice place, an actual apartment with a living room and a kitchenette, and fairly priced. That first morning we went into a local breakfast shop for coffee and croissants. Zina asked for the croissant to be heated, in Spanish, but they misunderstood and thought she merely wanted a different one.  She finally managed to make the waiter understand and they brought it to her nice and warm.

Architecture of Barcelona
Our week in Barcelona was packed with so many activities and thing-to-do! First, we went to the Picasso Museum which opened to the public on 9 March 1963. There are more than 4,300 Picasso’s works to see in this museum, but alas no photos allowed. That was not easy for me, being so attached to my camera, but it was a wonderful museum with all of his arts categorized in different sections for different periods of his life; the early years, the blue period, the later period. I find it amazing that one person could create so much, and this was not even all of what he made. The museum district of Barcelona is a labyrinth of little narrow streets and everywhere you look are beautiful buildings. It was very crowed and there were tourists everywhere even though it was considered low season when we visited. It seemed to me that there were more tourists than residents. But many beautiful cities run on the income from tourism. 
Picasso Museum

Our second day was Easter Friday  and there was a procession through the streets carrying the figure of Christ. We visited a gorgeous old church full of candle light. One night we went to a gorgeously decorated old theatre, Teatre Poliorama - La Rambla, to watch a very nice flamenco performance, Barcelona y Flamenco, and it was wonderful. It lasted more than an hour but it went by so fast. We visited a grand old fortress on a hill, from the top of which we could look over the whole city of Barcelona. They still have a huge cannon up there, from past when they watched the sea for attackers with their cannon at the ready. I did not see too many cats in Barcelona, but I did see one in the fortress and took his portrait. 
Street procession on Easter Friday
Old Fortess

We visited the Basilica of the Sagrada Familia, designed by architect Antoni Gaudi. Zina told us that 133 years ago they started building the Sagrada church and it’s still not finished. It’s enormous and stunning on the inside, with huge columns and vast, high ceilings. I marveled at the idea of how one person’s design can be so enormous and elaborate, all of his imagination coming out of his little brain! All those calculations, in one man’s head! His remains are there, in that church. We also visited his famous park, which is huge, with both underground marvels and wonderful greenery and hikes.
Basilica of the Sagrada Familia

Some of the restaurants we tried were very nice, some less so, but it was all good, and I can’t complain.  I drank quite a bit of sangria. Each place had its own sangria with its own flavor, none tasting like the other, and I enjoyed trying all of them.

One of Zina’s reasons for wanting to visit Barcelona was the famous soccer player Lionel Messi who is on the Barcelona team. She is a fan and wanted to see him play in live. So one night she and I went together to see the match leaving Radhika in the hotel room as she was not interested in sports. We took the subway to the stadium and changed trains at a station where we had to take eight escalators down, much deeper underground than anything in New York. We had good seats for the game and Zina was happy to see Messi play. The mach was between FC Barcelona and Real Sociedad. Everything is highly commercialized for the tourist/souvenir industry. Zina wanted to buy a shirt for a friend from the soccer game, and you can have it personalized with a name while you wait. The Picasso museum also was full of endless souvenirs. In this way, Picasso created jobs to last forever thanks to this museum, with endless income lasting into the future. We were unable to visit Dali’s museum for lack of time, but one day we were eating in the dining room of a very nice hotel in the city, and I saw Dali’s portrait hanging on the wall, so I took a selfie with his portrait, with his iconic mustache, and I posted it on Facebook. It’s funny to think that while I was sitting there, surrounded by many people, I may have been the only one present who actually met Dali himself in person, which I did with Charles way back in 1974. 

Zina in FC Barcelona's match
Being a New Yorker, where trash is a part of life on the streets and in the subways, I was amazed by the cleanliness of Barcelona. There was no trash littered in the subway. It was absolutely spotless. The streets of the city as well are unbelievably clean. People in Barcelona still smoke, men and women both, so along the streets, every ten feet or so, are little repositories for cigarette butts, which the people do use. I saw almost no cigarette butts on the ground, one or two at most, and zero trash. I saw no rats. I tried to get some good photos of people who were smoking, but I don’t think I got one close up. Trash bins were everywhere, and so were city employee sweeping trash, constantly, at all hours. The trash bins are constantly being emptied, mostly by white Spanish people. It was all amazing to me. 

Time really flew by in our trip to Barcelona, and we really enjoyed every minute of it. For a short stay, Barcelona is not bad price wise, but I think it could get expensive for long stay. Sometimes our lunch or dinner would cost forty to fifty euros for the three of us, sometimes it went over a hundred. But all in all, we got a good deal, and we’ve recommended all of our friends in New York that if they want to go for a vacation and spend not so much, they should all visit Barcelona, with its glorious history of art and architecture, and trashless city streets.

-Indra Tamang

copyright © Indra Tamang 2017, all rights reserved.

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Missing Charles Henri Ford On His 109th Birthday, February 10th, 2017

Missing Charles Henri Ford On His 109th Birthday 

Portrait of Charles Henri Ford by Pavel Tchelitchew.

Almost exactly 85 years ago, on January 5th, 1932, Charles Henri Ford wrote a letter to his mother and mailed it from Paris, where he was living “very deep in adoration” with Djuna Barnes. In his letter, he thanked his mother for the Christmas money she had sent, and told her about the one other present he received: a small gold bracelet from Djuna. “She has one like it that she wears on her ankle (left, under the stocking),” Charles wrote. 

Then he filled the rest of his letter with all that he wanted to tell his mother: That Djuna loved to paint her nails red, which she did all the time, that he’d bought a new record: “Basin Street Blues” played by Louis Armstrong, whose orchestra had edged out Duke Ellington’s as his favorite, and that he’d been to Gertrude Stein’s place for dinner, after which she gave him an autographed copy (“To Charles Henri with much liking”) of her new book, How To Write. He told his mother that he and Djuna had sworn off booze after all the drinking they’d done during the holidays. And near the end of his letter he added, “(Djuna) got a cable from the editor of Cosmopolitan to try and get an interview with Hitler of Germany and it would mean big money (secret) and she has been telling me to send you her love but I’ve been forgetting to.”

It’s a striking letter to look at today, if only to illustrate the close-up view Charles had of so much that was newsworthy. He witnessed most of the twentieth century from a front-row seat. People who knew Charles might be wondering what he would say about the current state of affairs, especially reflected against the long history behind him. I can’t guess at the words he’d choose, but it’s obvious to me that he would be just as dismayed as the rest of us by who ended up in the White House.

I don’t recall him ever having an opinion about Donald Trump back when he was just a guy always on the cover of the Post and the Daily News, filling up the gossip columns (which Charles did like to read) during his big flamboyant divorce from Ivana in the 1980s. I don’t remember Charles ever commenting on him, but I’m sure he never imagined that Donal Trump would end up being the president. 

Charles was always apolitical, which is to say that while his way of living suggested someone who would qualify as a liberal, he did not vote. As far as I know Charles never registered to vote. All that he did that affected change in the world, through art and culture, was done outside the standard boundaries of politics. Two of his very good friends for many years were Judith Malina and Julian Beck of the Living Theatre. I have a very pleasant memory of the two of them coming to have tea with us in Charles’s little apartment on the Ile Saint Louis in Paris, sometime in the 1980s, and spending the afternoon talking. I have some nice photos from that day, and of course it would be interesting to hear what Judith would have to say now, too. Judith didn’t vote either—but in her case the refusal of voting was more of a political position than Charles’s, although I could be wrong about Charles. What I do know is that Charles was not political but Judith Malina was. She practiced her brand of non-violent resistance to the system with her theatre and her poetry. She famously said that she believed that pacifist anarchism was the only real kind of anarchism, and she could explain herself well. She put all of her beliefs into her work with the Living Theatre, and Charles made his equally large contributions to the world through his writing and his art, and through his magazines, Blues and View, and through introducing people to one another who contributed still more to the culture and the world.
Judith Melina

I am sure that I’m not alone in wishing that we could host a big tea party now around Charles’s table at the Dakota with Charles,  Judith and Julian, and all the many great minds who have gone on before us, if only to listen to their wise opinions. I wonder what Charles would say if he was asked, “What should we do?” I can’t imagine the answer, and I never imagined having to ask the question. But I’m sure whatever he would say would ring true in a meaningful way.

Julian Beck
So, Charles, this birthday of yours comes at a strange time in our history. Wherever you are, if you have any sort of magical influence that can help, please use it. Enjoy your party, and say hello to all the luminaries who I’m sure are everywhere around you.

Charles Henri Ford

February 10th, 1908 – September 27th, 2002

-Indra Tamang

copyright © Indra Tamang 2017, all rights reserved.