RELATED DOCUMENTS: Birch Ave. 1967-72
Letters written after Christiane's Death
Esther Pflug Stories
Michael Pflug's Response to Helen McLean's book review
Michael Pflug's Biographical Statement
Letters Written After Christiane's Death
Luise Pflug to Michael Pflug, Bayrischer Wald, 7.IV. 1972
...The three months with you I had such a hardly ever disturbed contact with Christiane, she was so attentive and loving to me, we have had such frequent and long exchanges with each other, she had a marvelous ability to listen, I saw that the daily care for the family was not always easy for her, that sometimes she longed for a bit more attention. I tried to make her understand that the girls needed this time to develop their identity. Rarely she mentioned the longing for more quiet and peace - it always gave me a shock and I admonished her that she should not pursue such thoughts. You will know much more about that than I: When I recall the various periods of her life when she was close to me, there were always moments when one was terrified, and today I think that she always walked on thin ice. Without question you have given her more of a will to live. - How much light it brought into her life, that she found the way into painting. On seeing her again after five years I was deeply moved by the perfection of her paintings, and also by the gloominess for instance in the trees on her last painting.
xxxShe tried to explain it to me. Unforgettable the happy second day with her in Sarnia, in the exhibition rooms, where the paintings hung in good light and their incredible color. Now, there is no end of experiences worth remembering.
xxxIn the end nothing could hold her. I cant see it, does she now have the peace, for which she longed so much?
xxx...On the first sunny days I saw butterflies.
Then I remembered how I walked with Christiane by the lake shore.
We suddenly saw many large butterflies [monarchs] which were swaying
while flying back and forth and slowly lost height. Christiane talked
about the fate of these insects which repeats itself every fall.
It moved me deeply and I wanted to write her in the first letter
from here, that she should once write it down for others. It will
be a long time, that I feel as if she was walking next to me and
as if I could talk to her to give her some courage. ...
Albert Mayer to Michael Pflug, Lingen, 2. V. 1972
...And so remains only memory, which I have always felt for this most unique and most singular and beautiful companion. ...Has this dream-like beautiful and strong inner world been broken by our uncompromising and unfeeling life?
xxxIn a chambre de bonne in Paris young people
were sitting and dreaming. A dark haired girl talked about seemingly
unimportant things from her childhood, a childhood which had not
been properly worked up. A childhood during which perhaps the necessary
warmth was missing. As a child looks for warmth, she was sensitive
to the most discrete rays and unimportant things became essential.
Later form and color developed out of all of this. I found it in
all her paintings and recognized it. That was transformation. That
was the reticent and melancholic powerful emanation corrected by
Ursula Pflug, Toronto , 1972
She never did anything she really wanted and now she has and we should respect that!
Maxa Horovitz to Luise Pflug and Brigitte Pflug, Munich, 3. IV. 1973
These days that which even for me was so deeply moving in Canada is a year ago; as always one could say .. already and equally justifiably .. only; and thus one only realizes just how much it means, enduringly. To work up the seemingly intolerable, .. the transcendent in every daily act - that after all is life - strength and the ability to be moved. And one wonders whether that will not remain true, in unimaginable form in those areas, to which Christiane preceded us. Until one day the view of being is complete. Loyally thinking of you.
Esther Pflug to Michael Pflug, Friday, Berlin, June 22, 1973
"Dont get too bummed out about the scene at home, summer tends to do that to us "rats". [drawing - note of transcriber] Looks more like a blue meany than a rat. Oh well. Tell me the scene about Karin. Has she moved in or what?
xxxAnd Im sorry I didnt write last week actually, I wrote but I didnt mail it. My address will be in Munich now.
xxxI just remembered a watercolor of yours, a very beautiful one with a cucumber man in an orange cucumber hat sitting in front of a mirror. Everyone in France said I should make you go. You really should. I really love it here and I am having a very good time. My lobster says goodbye and so do I.
Esther Pflug to Michael Pflug, Munich, Monday, June 25, 1973
... Today I drew a drawing for you, for your birthday, though it will be a little late. All I have left to do are the trees. I had been wanting to before but today was the first day that I saw a view which I liked and could sit down and draw, it is out of the dining room window.
xxxI quite enjoy drawing actually, but drawing is something I never get around to. No real interest I guess. I dont have much patience. It was difficult to remain seated for two hours today though I knew I would never have finished otherwise. It reminds me of that beautiful summer on the island where we always went with Mami and drew too. ...
Esther Pflug to Michael Pflug, Munich, Tuesday, June 26, 1973
Hello again. Its an incredibly beautiful day and Brigitte is taking a day off work so that we can go to the country by train for the day, Tinas coming too but Grossmutter is staying home. Its really very nice of her to do that. Tina is leaving tonight. She has to go home, so it will be a good thing for her to do.
xxxSo I think this letter is better mailed than sitting around unfinished. Dont get bummed out. And Im really happy with my trip. Well, catch you later. Say hello to anyone for me.
Ursula Pflug to Michael Pflug, Winnipeg , June 29, 1974
... I walked into the gallery an hour before opening time, it was totally empty. I didnt know till I was accosted by security guards. The exhibition was beautiful! Half the paintings Id never seen before or else I had totally forgotten. It really made me feel great to see them all there together. Michael. I do agree with you now.
Esther Pflug to Helen McDermott, Berchtesgarden, October 1974
... We came by train. It was as if everything was alright. We walked up the mountain to where I was staying. It was a different landscape. She told me that she was dead and that she was only bringing me there. I did not take it seriously. So then we got there and said "hello" and she left again. I looked out the door and cried and cried for her to come back. She looked at me blankly and kept walking down the mountain. She could not stay because she was dead, yet I could not understand it, because she was there, living, in her red denim shirt and her Levi's. On the way down the mountain there was a landslide and she was buried in it. Cassies father told me that she was too deep down to dig her out and in my dream I could see her there, lying in the ground with the other people who were caught in the landslide. It seemed as if it was meant to happen. I could understand why she could not come back. I accepted it. It was as it is now. ...
Esther Pflug to Michael Pflug, Hawaii, 1974
"Right now I am sitting on the coast, the waves crash on the rocks below, behind me. As always many grey clouds hover over the mountains and slowly thin out and let blue sky and air through as they get closer to the sea. The earth is red in its volcanic base, a sharp contrast against the green. Cows are browsing. Its peaceful and beautiful.
Esther Pflug to Michael Pflug, Vancouver, March 26, 1975
A guy ordered an ice cream cone and some french fries. I made him the one first, that "soft ice cream" stuff and he began to eat it and I gave him his fries - and he said "Oh god what am I doing?" and walked out laughing with his friends and it reminded me of going to the Island on summer days when we were kids, with Christiane, who would draw and wed always get ice cream. It felt pretty sad all of a sudden, like "Where has it all gone?" or "What was the point if I am here where I am now?" Thank you for your letters too. Take care.
Esther Pflug to Michael Pflug, Vancouver, March, 1975
I saw a rainbow one day and could see it ended behind some houses by the sea. So I went to the beach and there it was rising out of the water to frame the whole city in its colors. (Perspective, of course, it was closer). It made my day. Vancouver from Kitsilano Beach. ...
Ursula Pflug to Michael Pflug, Hawaii, April 2, 1975
... Had a lovely dream about you the other night. I hadnt seen you for ages and ages and then I went to see you in this big white building, like a Greek temple on the front hall of Jarvis C.I. You were sort of crashing there, had a mat on the floor and youd hung Tunisian blankets on the wall. You were sitting at a little table eating salad, Bratkartoffeln and wine and I went in and gave you a huge hug and you asked me if I was hungry. Then lots of friends came in and everyone started to dance up and down the stairways. Really a nice dream. Good to see you too. ... peace, love, aloha.
Esther Pflug to Michael Pflug, Hawaii, July 7, 1975
I feel good towards you. I dont know how I got "grumpy" in Vancouver. It is something I am going to have to learn to transcend.
xxxTake care. Dont take things to hard and have faith above all.
xxxPlease respond to my questions and from yourself too. Love to you.
Ursula Pflug to Michael Pflug, Hawaii, Tuesday, 8th, 1975
Your letters get spacier every day, theyre somewhat hard to follow at times, seems like youre just writing down your thoughts, which is far out too. Another rainy day here. Also got the paper & pencil and such. Thank you. I shall wait for inspiration or something. That postcard with the vases was beautiful. Im glad youre doing watercolors again, I always loved yours.
xxx... The other thing is I am sort of thinking of traveling in May, when the rain stops. We could do that together too, because the Big Island is apparently weird for hitchhiking. We could rent a car and trip out. Many possibilities. So tell me what you think. ... Spring Fever, Id love to do a watercolor (a friend gave me some!) of the cane fields, with the mountains and the rain and papaya trees in front, but like you said its so complex. Well see. Maybe Ill phone you. What number do you have as Esthers? Id like to talk to her also. Love Aloha.
Ursula Pflug, New York, A Dream, 1976
I saw her sinking into a flower bed.
xxxI called "what are you doing Mammi, come back, come back!"
xxx"But the colors are so beautiful!" she said without opening her eyes.
Ursula Pflug, CBC documentary 'Somewhere Waiting', August 1992
...She really was like a light for people because she had this sense of life - life being important and meaningful. People liked to be near her because then they felt this way themselves.
Helen McDermott to Michael Pflug, Vancouver, 1975
... I guess it would be hard for you to see Ursula and Esther as individual people at times because youve been in that life situation for so long and it is real. But Im saying so many children have become great people and thats what we all are, people living together, I feel this way. I have to. How else can I see and understand Mary or anyone for that matter? ... I myself dig it, want to live in a way that can be done through the intensity of a couple. But I dont feel mature enough yet to be committed to children. The thought makes me dizzy! God bless you for the two beautiful children you guided and whom I love. I love you too. (Catch you later man.)
Michael Pflug to his family in Freiburg, Germany, January 27, 1979
... Last night we walked through a village and I saw the old bent over peasant women walk through the village and thought that one should not try to be so different from them. Through the years in France and the first ones in Canada as all Germans here we became used to not wanting to be taken for Germans, in Germany that becomes even more obvious. A defense against what one really is. One thought only to have escaped it for a while.
one medium in another medium
Esther Pflug Stories
... I was riding on my bike along, not really thinking of anything nor concentrating on riding. Suddenly I was vaguely conscious of having ridden through a red light, and a car was coming straight at me. I tried to brake but there was a thought in the back of my mind as I was falling and feeling a painless crunch that it never really mattered, it was supposed to be this way, even though I sort of wished that it had had a better end....
xxxIt was very strange. There was a dim, green light everywhere and I could not see anything, but I could feel the grass I was lying on and the freshness of the air on my face. Then I realized that my eyes were closed so I opened them.
xxxI was lying in the meadow and the leaves were falling. There were so many bright colors that I almost had to shut my eyes again. The trees were brilliant orange, red and yellow and the sky was deep limitless blue. I just lay there taking it all in. Then I remembered that something had happened. I had been moving along ... it wasnt walking but I couldnt remember what ... and something had come along ...
xxxThen I saw my mother. She was gazing at me in a strange sort of way, as if trying to remember something - I jumped up, ran over to her and burst out with "Mother, it's all different now, I do the cooking now and we all do the cleaning, take turns and there's this guy writing a book about your paintings and we all miss you and we did love you, and we all want you to come back, it could be so great now, but we can't do it without you!" Before I realized what I was saying she looked at me and said simply "But I don't want to come back. I can't even remember, except for the feeling of wanting to die so much, and now I don't feel like that anymore!"
xxx"Well, what is this place anyway?" I asked, somehow feeling that I shouldnt ask.
xxxWhy, its just the way it is, the way it should be and the way it always will be, I would never even have thought of questioning it" she replied, puzzled. "It is anything you want and everything you want".
xxx"But, are you happy?" I said not feeling satisfied with this answer.
xxx"No, what is happy? I am, that is all, but what else could there be?"
xxx"You are different, youve changed" I said, bewildered.
xxx"Changed from what? What is different? This is how it always has been!" she said dreamily, reminding me of someone who had a lobotomy. I felt very remorseful for having thought this of my mother. But no, wait a minute, I thought, that wasnt what she was like. I know now.
xxx"There is no reality here", I said to the stranger standing beside me "I want to return now!"
xxx"You shouldnt say such things, what is reality?" she said as she faded away with a face that had neither pain, nor sorrow nor happiness or regret in it, gazing at me with blank eyes...
xxxI woke up in a hospital bed with a concussion and a broken leg. "You have been in a coma for two weeks" a nurse said to me, "we were afraid you wouldnt wake up".
xxx"So was I", I answered, shuddering at the thought of being stranded in that place where everything was as it should be and nothing mattered, neither you nor the shells of people you had known. It had been too early, there was time...
Story: Fall 1973
I dont like to write introductions to stories I want to tell, one of the reasons being that the introduction often becomes too lengthy and the original story gets waylaid somewhere along the line, so that the result is that I have something completely different from what I had planned. I just realized that the above was quite unnecessary except to show how inconsistent and muddled I am. But its written now and before I say anything else I had better start.
xxxMy Mother once had a best friend who was also a very close friend of the family, we had know her for years and she shared many experiences. During the time that this friend was beginning to grow away from us an unexpected thing occurred through her, which came to effect all our lives rather drastically.
xxxWe never knew much about our friends relatives other than her immediate family. So it was a surprise to us, when one day, four Summers ago her Aunt and Uncle and five cousins came up to Toronto from the States for a visit. There was more to it than just a family gathering, for the two oldest, both boys were of draftable age, one of them had already been in the Army for two years and the other had been receiving his summons to report. Because of their feeling towards the Army these boys were planning to stay.
xxxI cant say much of my first impression, the whole family which consisted of a younger brother and sister, who were still both older than me and a little boy, was quite aloof and withdrawn.
xxxThe older boys both could have been termed as "hippies" with their long hair and blue jeans.
xxxI only saw them once more, just the boys this time as the family had returned home, before my Mother, my sister and I departed on a trip to Europe for the month of August.
xxxWhen we came back, there was no one home, and the house looked like a disaster area. It was in the process of being painted and there were newspapers covering the floor, the furniture was all jumbled in one room and there was a profusion of empty beer cans.
xxxThe fridge was empty too, but the little old lady next door had made us a chocolate cake, which was much appreciated. My Mother was upset, she started running around the house saying "he cant do this, oh its impossible, oh its impossible".
xxxI simply sat back and watched her run. It was an impossible situation, meaning nothing could be done so why worry, and I felt too disoriented to do anything anyway, understandably, after the plane ride and then this.
xxx Then a couple of boys appeared at the door. It took me a moment to recognize who they were, as their long hair had been shorn to a rather conservative length.
xxxNow the story began to unfold, they were the people painting the house. My Father had helped them to get immigrated, by giving them the painting job, and writing them letters of recommendation.
xxx Two weeks later they moved in, they had been staying at their aunt but she became paranoid when she discovered them drying marijuana plants in the stove.
xxxI dont know why my Father thought of that but I guess he couldnt have minded because he took them in.
xxxI cant really recall very vividly what it was like when they lived here that time.
xxxThey continued painting and we kept having to move from room to room around the house.
xxxThey were quite shy and so were my sister and I so we must have kept our distance.
xxxAfter approximately a month they had finished the painting and went out and got jobs at a commercial dairy farm in Richmond Hill. They had lived in the country, or small towns most of their lives, and had owned their own heifers, so they had farming experience, and were planning to buy land in Canada, but it took a while for us to find this out.
xxx Sometimes on the weekends we would drive up to visit them where they worked. It was a huge commercial complex with approximately 500 head of cows, shiny milking machines, many barns and fields.
xxxThere was a field in which the heifers were kept and our dog would chase them, but they, drawing courage from their numbers, would get into formation and chase him back. It looked like a stampede, the heifers running down the field. Of course they never caught up with him, but at the end of the day he would always be completely covered in cow dung and we would have to give him a bath. During this time a friend of theirs who had grown up with them, also came to Canada dodging the draft and getting a job as a farm hand.
xxxAround Christmas that year they came back to stay at our house again. During the time while they were gone, things had changed with us. It was my first year in High School and my friends and I had begun to get exposed to "dope", grass mainly. One night I furtively smoked in the School washroom at a High School dance. Whether it affected me or not then I cant be sure. I was trying so hard.
xxxWe were still children then and honest and open to our parents. My Mother and Father had asked me to tell them if I wanted to smoke it, just so they would know and they wouldnt reproach me for it, so that by the time that the two brothers, Fred and Larry, came back we talked about it quite a lot and they openly talked about it, which they hadnt before.
xxxMy Mother had a sister fourteen years younger than herself, six years older than me, who had left home when she was 17 to live with a "hippie", consequently coming to be one herself in our eyes.
xxxHer boyfriend distrusted our whole family, my parents had once thrown my aunt and him out of the house when they were staying in it, and had smoked some grass.
xxxBecause of this Mickey seldom came to visit, which made my Mother a little sad. Her boyfriend was stranded in Istambul this Christmas, due to some characteristic bungling and Mickey came to see us often. She got along very well with Larry and Fred and their friend Bush and then she also began to bring hash on her visits, realizing that my parents had changed their attitude.
xxxWe didnt realize what was happening, we still smoked along with our friends and didnt talk about it more than necessary in front of our parents because it made them uneasy and worried in the beginning and they asked us not to do it too often. I think that they would have preferred if we hadnt, and liked to forbid us, because of marijuanas reputation and the lack of knowledge about it, but they knew that had they forbidden us, we would have anyway, so they preferred knowing.
xxxTherefore it was a strange sensation for us, when we saw Larry, Fred and Bush, Mickey and my Mother and Father passing around a smoking pipe one night during the Christmas holidays. We had been too shy ourselves or self-conscious to smoke with the boys when they asked us.
xxxThinking back, I remember acting with mixed emotion. Partly I was glad that they were trying it, opening their minds to it and not just listening to all the articles on drugs and their dangers. Then it seemed a little bit an infringement on our private world, part of the enjoyment was doing something illegal and anti-establishment and when our
parents joined us in it, they who had formed many of our ideas of right and wrong, it was a little disorienting. On the whole I think that the second thought was more underlying, and less conscious. On the surface it was nice to think that we had "cool" parents who smoked marijuana with us, and supported draft dodgers, rather than having gone through the hassle that many of our friends had when their parents discovered or suspected that they were using drugs.
xxxWe all began to smoke quite heavily, every day several times, the house always seemed to be filled with clouds of smoke.
xxxThe rest of the boys family also came up for a visit during this time, driving up in their camper. Larry and Frans younger brother Jerry was going to stay this time when the family returned to Pittsburgh where they were living. Our house was full of people, and we were frequently stoned, so my memories arent too clear, but I think it must have been confusing.
xxxThe younger sister Helen was also there, but I, my sister and our friends who were also frequently there never spoke to her, nor she to us.
xxxThey only stayed a couple of days, leaving before the New Year to celebrate at home.
xxxNow we had four young men living in our house. We were two beds short so they had a fine system of taking turns sleeping in beds or on the living room rug. Coming down in the morning to leave for school there would always be two "sausages" rolled in blankets with a curly-haired head sticking out at the end.
xxxAfter the holidays when we returned to school, they really began to buy hash in earnest. They were consuming about $30 worth per week, blowing all the money they had saved from their work at the Dairy Farm. First thing that we would do when we came home was get stoned. Then we would before dinner and also after dinner. Needless to say our school work suffered and their motivation to go out and buy land did as well.
xxxThey began to run low on money, so they got one of those shitty jobs delivering handbills and samples for $8 a day. These earnings also were used to buy dope. I think that my sister, my best friend who was always there, and I enjoyed this period more than either the boys or my parents did. For my parents it was a time of uncertainty. It began to seem as though the boys would never leave, but just continue sitting around smoking hash. My Father also began to worry about the effects of the hash, which tends to reduce motivation if used often in a length of time.
xxxCertainly it was all a game for us, we never did our homework, and often did not go to school either. This probably worried our parents but they didnt really know what to say. The boys werent happy with their position of living off my Father, and not doing anything constructive but it was also quite easy not to do anything about it. For one month they moved away to a house in Cabbagetown, but we did not see them much less as they frequently came for dinner.
There was one very beautiful part of that winter which I have often thought back to and I wished I could go back in time too. After dinner we would always converge on the living room, listening to records for awhile and smoking more, and then we would go for a walk in the ravine which was close by. Whether it was raining or snowing or very cold, it became a regular ritual. The park would always be deserted, looking very mysterious with the dark trees against the gleaming snow.
xxxOur dog would run around and play with us, playfully biting our boots or stealing our mittens. There was one particular steep hill which we would slide down on either pieces of cardboard or one of the circular metal "flying saucers" made for the purpose.
xxxIt was very exhilarating, one whipped down the hill with the wind whistling through ones ears, always seemingly barely missing some trees and arrive at the bottom to sprawl in the wet snow. And then one would have to climb up the hill again which was very trying because the snow had drifted very deeply and was often up to ones thighs.
xxxAfter we came home, we would often have an enormous tea, with rolls and jam, and then go to bed as it was usually rather late.
xxxOne day they discovered an ad in the paper, for mining jobs in Sudbury with the International Nickel Company. The pay was quite high and they wanted to get money as fast as possible to get a farm - so they began to consider it seriously. Fred and Larry and their friend Bush all applied, but the youngest of the brothers, Jerry, who had come up at Christmas didnt because he wasnt a landed immigrant yet.
xxxLarry, the oldest one went up for just a week in March to check out the scene. He returned, quite depressed by it, but they were all determined to go through with it anyway. By this time, they had moved back into our own house, had paid one months rent at the other place, and their funds had run low after that month was over. They all got their hair cut and by April they were all gone, even Jerry. He had gone up with them to check it out.
xxxMy Father was actually quite pleased, he had begun to get tired over the constant mess that naturally came from having so many people in the house, and he wanted more privacy with his family. I, however, was terribly depressed, it was suddenly a great void in my life when they left. Our house seemed a shell of emptiness to me.
xxxOf course this did not last "forever" as I expected it to, because I soon found other friends which relieved my sense of loss. The youngest brother Jerry also moved back to Toronto for awhile to try and get his immigration through. He found one of those farmhand jobs too the same way his brothers had started out.
xxxWe received letters from them occasionally. They were living in rooms in Sudbury and were quite low in spirits. Sudbury was apparently an awful town. Then they wrote that they discovered a farm for rent, 14 miles east of Sudbury, just south of the Trans-Canada Highway on which Sudbury lies. They gave us directions and told us to come up whenever we wanted to. We did one week in Summer, just after school had ended. It was a beautiful place, half a mile down a dirt road flanked by either abandoned or run-down farms. The house had a roof the shape of a Dutch barn and covered with cedar shingles. There was a path past the house leading to the well, the toolshed, the barn and the hayfields. The hay had not been cut yet, it was very tender, I was constantly drawing on a stalk of hay. There was also multitudes of wild flowers in the fields which rippled in the breeze. They were glad to see us and we spent a lovely week.
Once An Acid Trip - Fall, 1973
It was summer, we were at the Farm, my Mother, my sister and I. The boys were working in the mines, disappearing into the distance down the dusty, dirt road in their blue truck as they drove to work every day. We just sat and watched the clouds move across the sky, staying in the empty house rolling cigarettes while they were gone. My Mother would walk into the woods and sketch, sometimes we would go swing in the barn, or run through the fields, swaying hay, dotted with white flowers, brushing against our thighs.
xxxThere was another friend there, but she left for the city. She missed all her drawn-out summer relationships with her drinking boyfriend and buddies. Fran, he was the tall one with the mop of black curls and the sky blue short-sighted eyes that had a way of staring at you interestingly and without his owlish horn-rims, he barely noticed you when with them, gave her $10 and told her to send "some psychedelics up" whatever she could get at the drug infested fort of Rochdale that was "good".
xxxSome time later a letter came, one sheet of paper scrawled with blue ink words and eight minute squares of celluloid film, dipped in acid, "clear light windowpane" it was called.
xxxThere was a lot of it in Toronto that summer. They brought it up from the States, taking "treated" rolls of film across the border and cutting it up when it reached T.O.
xxxWe set the date for Saturday, when they didnt have to work and I looked forward with great anticipation. My attitude to acid was like that of a child to a lollipop or a Sunday picnic.
xxxThe next day was Tuesday. The boys had bought a cow in the previous week, and this was the day the farmer chose to bring her. He came in a red truck, and slowly they led Rose into the barn. Her calf followed timidly behind her. The Farmer was a big German named Otto who had worked for ten years in the mines to finance his now prosperous dairy farm, his dream when he immigrated to Canada. He wisely suggested that he leave the calf to help the cow get settled. We bought it a week later for $25, the farmer would only have butchered it anyway as he had a large enough herd.
xxxSuddenly, they all decided to skip out, it was such a beautiful day and they wanted to watch over the cow. About an hour later someone suggested that we trip that day instead of on Saturday. It seemed the perfect opportunity.
xxx The only problem was my Mother. We had discussed it previously without finding a solution. She was a pot smoker, and had started when the boys moved into our house in Toronto the previous winter for several months. We wondered how she would feel, perhaps she would want to try it, but on the other hand, she might not even want to know about it. Though our Father also smoked dope he had forbidden us the use of LSD, he was a Doctor and had had first hand experiences with "freaked out" patients, though this didnt prevent our dabbling with it. Would our Mother want to keep it from him, or would she feel a responsibility towards him? We really didnt know and in our eagerness we took what seemed the easy way, we didnt tell her.
xxxThere were four boys, three were brothers and the other was a close friend. In their former high school days he was mostly Frans friend. They were all draft dodgers and we had harbored them in our house when they first came. My Father wrote them a recommendation letter to Immigration and gave them jobs. Now they were miners for Inco, and rented a farm 14 miles out of Sudbury, that hell-hole at the beginning of the Canadian North.
xxxThey wanted to save enough "coin" to buy a farm for themselves, but in their depression they were wasting a lot of money on beer along the way.
xxxMy sister and I were too naive to realize this, and for us this Summer was one big celebration, one of the happiest Ive had in my life, you can see what I mean when they speak of it as one of their worst.
xxxBush was the "non-brother, the friend. He was very simple and friendly with no airs or pretensions. He didnt care what people thought, he didnt follow fashions, dressing in whatever cloths there were at the "Sally-Ann" (Salvation Army) when he had "hit" it. He had an ageless quality about himself that reminded you of an old-timer who had seen it all and done it all and yet was contented with the simple life in the country for the rest of his days. It was strange, because he hadnt reached 20 yet.
xxxHe solved the problem of what our Mother would do or think while we were tripping. He had tripped enough, he said and didnt really feel like it anymore, so he would go for a long walk with her in the woods, which would take care of the first part of the trip.
xxxSo we all trooped off to the machine shed, Larry, Fran, Woodsie, Ursula and I. Upstairs there were no machines except for an old broken thresher with faded flowers that had once been painted on the cracked surface. A few abandoned bags of grain were useless, and long ago were piled against the wall. A shaft of sunlight filtered through a crack in the roof, lighting up millions of dust particles which floated in the air.
xxxWe converged around a plank set on two rafters where I placed the large sheet of white paper that I had brought to do the cutting on. We had decided that we wouldnt each do whole ones except for the more experienced people. My sister was 14 and this was to be her first trip. Carefully I put the first little brown square in the center of the paper and began to saw at it with a razor blade. One couldnt press because then it would suddenly snap in two and both halves would fly into the air and land on the dust laden floor, impossible to rediscover.
xxxFirst my sister then Fran took the remaining two thirds left and then another one, half this time for Fran and I. A whole for Larry, and another one split, this time shared between Woodsie and I. I was about to give him his, all he wanted was half, when he gave an anguished cry and ran outside. A bee had stung him on the fingertip, apparently there was a nest in the shed, and he refused to come back in. I went out to him and held out the minute triangle on the tip of my index finger. He licked it off with this tongue and we were all set. We put the remaining four "tabs" into a glass bottle and stored them under the wooden cupboard in the corner of the kitchen. I later secretly delved into it another three times before the summer was over.
xxxWe wondered about doing various things, for the next hour or so waiting for something to happen. We would look at each other furtively, to notice any change, and ask whether anyone felt anything. No one did. I went into the house sucking an orange half, but I threw it away when Fran mentioned that vitamin C lessened the effect on LSD.
xxx Suddenly while walking down the path between the barn and house a rush of the familiar feeling enveloped me, I sat down and leaned against the fence thinking "oh wow, oh wow, might as well accept the fact."
xxxI wish I could explain it, but it is very difficult to convey the physical aspect besides which I havent tripped for so long that I cant remember except that I "felt".
xxxMy sister came walking toward me slowly with a grin on her face "Oh, I never expected anything like THIS". she said, to which all I could respond was "see what I mean". We wandered toward the barn and discovered the rest of the gang behind it.
xxxWe also saw Bush and my Mother in the distance walking through the fields to the green line of trees that marked the beginning of the woods.
xxxThey were all lying there watching the swallows circle and make loops in their flight around the barn.
xxxWith the backdrop of uncommonly swirling clouds and the swallows flight we stood watching entranced for what seems like hours. Suddenly my sister said, during a conversation we managed to be having, "I see what you mean". She was referring to some freak-out or other that I had in our earlier trip and told her about. What did I tell you I said nearly starting to cry, feeling I was in a deep, long hole of desolation and fear. She nearly started to cry too. It was quite frightening, when ones mental balance becomes awry and one needs very little to tip it off and start one screaming.
xxxOne of the brothers demanded to know what was going on and responded "Bullshit" when I told him we were flipping. We all started laughing. It was all right again. There was much more talking than I could ever remember or try to explain. I am relating what I remember that I think has any relevance.
xxxAfter a while, Woodsie, the youngest of them got up and sauntered into the barn. Awhile after we heard a shout "Hey, theres an inchworm on my arm, its really incredible, come and see it". It seemed so ridiculous, we all laughed so hard that we couldnt have walked to where he was even if we had wanted to. Then he decided to "straighten the barn", it was a bit crooked, but not enough to worry about. But he went ahead and began to set up an elaborate system of change, chains and hooks and pullies to "pull it straight". There was one point where he must have been very high up, and he was holding onto one of the vertical beams, his hands came right around so that we could see them from the outside where we lay. It was a strange sensation, a huge barn that looked ready to topple on us because of the swiftly moving clouds, and our usual hallucinations, and then a pair of very brown hands, holding on for dear life. After that he got scared of the height and bored too probably and he went off. We all did then, but I stayed with my sister. We wandered in the fields for hours it seemed.
xxxOnce Woodsie went by and said "Bush and Christiane are coming back", "What?" I said, feeling slightly worried. But it didnt really matter. He just stood behind a tree and watched us, laughing.
xxxWe started to head towards the rock, where Larry was sitting, and on the way we walked through a raspberry patch, I ate many of them, and though they were white they didnt taste at all good, in my stoned state, but that didnt stop me from eating them. My sister felt prompted to question whether they even were raspberries. I scoffed at this, because I knew they were if they didnt seem like it.
xxxWe climbed the rocks to where Larry was sitting when we reached them. He was the oldest, the most "prognatic" as he once put it himself. He was not at all tall, conversely to Fran, but very powerfully built like a boxer. His hair had the usual McDermott darkness inherited from their French-Canadian Mother. His was not so curly as Frans and therefore hung down in locks instead of growing up and out as Frans did. He had beautiful blue-green eyes, very lucid with long lashes. We always agreed that he was the best looking of them, though they were all handsome.
xxxWe sat and talked to him for a long part of the remainder of our trip. Most of the conversation was about life, our ambitions, and the fucked-upness of society in its every aspect. This wasnt unusual, because one almost always talked to Larry about these same subjects.
xxxEvery once in awhile Woodsie would run by with some crazy comment, laughing I looked after him wistfully as he ran away. I had been entertaining the notion that I was madly in love with him for the past six months. I finally gave up about a year later when nothing ever came of it.
xxxThe day wore on and the sun began to set in the West.
xxxIt was the kind of sunset where the sky fills with brilliantly colored pink and purple clouds. We stood on the walks watching it in the West and the East, for the clouds there were almost as beautiful as the sun itself. All the clouds one wanted were there, the blue of the sky, the white and pink and purple of the clouds, the sun, the pale green of the fields and the darker green of the conifers that dominated the vegetation in the area, but it was always incredibly surrealistic. The trees especially undulating in the wind, did not look real, it all reminded me of a movie set, specifically the strange sets in the old German silent film "The Cabinet of Doctor Caligari".
xxxAs we stood there watching the view, the house and the barn, the fields and the pine trees, I thought that I was totally confident and secure, that I didnt have a care in the world.
xxxIt felt wrong to feel so specially secure, it was unusual as I am an insecure person. Then it occurred to me that I was insane. "This is pure madness", I thought meaning it literally. Thats what acid is, "Canned Madness". I had read articles about the period when LSD was first discovered and it was hailed as a breakthrough in the field of Psychiatry, apparently having the ability to produce a "Model Schizophrenia", for study. This was later disproved, but the idea stuck in my head. I felt that I understood insanity perfectly but also that it was only temporary and that I would be normal tomorrow. Of course it wasnt actually true.
xxxMeanwhile, Larry and Ursula had been watching a large pine tree not far from the rocks that towered over all the others in the area. It was a beautiful tree, very strong and old and solid.
xxxFran had climbed to the very top of it, and his head was above its highest branch. We could see the branch he was on swaying, it looked incredible and dangerous, as if he couldnt possibly remain there, but he had already been there for an hour or so. Later we all climbed the tree ourselves, and realized that it was much easier than it looked.
xxxBy now dusk had fallen and we slowly returned to the house. My Mother and Bush had already been there for awhile. No one felt like eating that evening, and then it was announced that it was time to milk the cow.
xxx They went down to the barn, while my sister and I just sat in the kitchen.
xxxWoodsie had been designated the job of washing the milk pail. There was a bottle of iodine solution that was needed to disinfect the pails and he was walking in circles trying to find it. Luckily I remembered that it had been left in the work shed, just outside the front door. He told us to come and watch so we followed him to the barn. It was a strange impression that I received when I arrived there. Everybody stood around a solitary kerosene lantern that illuminated the cow and the calf. I was reminded of the Nativity Scene of Christmas somehow. It also seemed more as if the calf had been born, rather than a mere milking. This was due in part to being the first time they were milking that cow. They were otherwise experienced and in their stoned condition. After some more dumb actions on the boys part I was surprised to see Larry sitting on a stool, and milking the cow. The calf had had a turn before so there wasnt that much milk.
xxxI looked at my Mother and she looked tired and sad, somehow beaten. "Whats wrong Mami" I asked her. "Oh" she said quietly, "I am tired and I feel as if everyone is avoiding me, for some reason though I dont know why". "Mami dont think that", I could only mumble inadequately. But it was true, we had been avoiding her, because we didnt know how to face her, maybe as children especially, because we didnt think we could act normally.
xxxJust now I remembered, that during that afternoon, after my Mother and Bush had already returned, my Mother was sitting near the house drawing, and I was surprised to see Woodsie talking to her. "How could he with a straight face", I thought. It wasnt that there was anything bad about her, or that I had anything against her, it was just that she wasnt stoned. She wasnt "part of the trip". At any rate I ventured near to try to listen to the conversation which was actually quite usual. I managed to mutter a few amenities.
xxxAt that point my Mother looked at me, saying "whats the matter, you look funny".
xxxI could only gulp "I dont know, nothing", after which I made a swift getaway. Later I told her that we were all extremely stoned, which she accepted but it did not lift her unwanted feeling.
xxxThough this story isnt about her, there are a few things that I want to say about my Mother, I am in part writing about the Summer and she was part of it.
xxxShe is dead now, and that was her last summer. She committed suicide, and one of the reasons was because of her relationship to her daughters, during that summer and the subsequent three quarters of the year. I am not saying this with guilt because in a way, our behavior was necessary, for us, and unavoidable and that was what she couldnt understand.
xxxWe were trying to be free and we couldnt help resenting her, just by the fact that she was our Mother and did represent past authority. She had always had a very open relationship with us as children, we were more attached to her and longer than many of our friends, but when we began to grow into adolescence there was the usual change of role and we became hostile. She couldnt understand, then accepted and became resigned to it, but after that Summer she said to my Father that she would never again expect anything from us. But most children, after the rebellious period, which is necessary in growing up, do become reconciled to their parents, but she thought it was finished forever.
xxxI say the above from a general viewpoint, but there were things started by our initial distrust of her when we tripped that could have been prevented if we had handled it better. We did in fact avoid her that day, and she couldnt help noticing
Michael Pflug's Response to a Globe and Mail book review by Helen McLean
February 8, 2000
Catherine Bradbury, Saturday Editor
Globe & Mail
444 Front St. West
Toronto, Ontario,M5V 3S9
Patiently, as stone is crushed,
Patiently, as one waits for death,
Patiently, as news ripens,
Patiently, as revenge is cherished---
I shall wait for you.
When I am seized by the messenger of the Lord of Death,
What help will my friends and relatives be?
From the review by Helen McLean of Simple Things,
The Story of a Friendship by Karen Lavut
Globe and Mail D4, Saturday, January 29,2000:
"Michael in particular. "Michael admitted, rather proudly, that he had reduced Christiane to a helpless little girl, who always did what she was told. Esther and Ursula (their daughters) had to be impeccably dressed, but Christiane should not waste time sewing.
Housework had to be done with the minimum of fuss. Meals had to be perfect... Michael insisted that it was necessary for them to attend dinner parties given by his colleagues, and they had to return the tedious hospitality.
xxxChristiane wasnt allowed to go out on trivial excursions. She had to stay in her room all day and paint. Every evening Michael would examine the days progress over her shoulder. If he wasnt satisfied, he repainted parts himself sometimes he tore a painting up... He believed that she couldnt paint without him or live without him and so did she." ...
xxxHelen McLean has written a novel based on an incident in the life of painter Pierre Bonnard, a long shot for a Canadian writer. Closer to home it might be instructive for her to look into evidence left by Christiane on the creative process. "
... Those who died do not know they are dead. For an infinite period of time, they project an illusory image of their usual surroundings and friends. At the end of that period, strangers approach. ...
Borges, Emmanuel Swedenborg, Mythical Works.
Karen writes in the hybrid form of creative fiction, dear to Truman Capote and Norman Mailer, with not enough imagination for fiction and too careless for journalism. Not only does she not check her facts - she makes up things as she goes. Her reviewers follow in her tracks, quoting invented dialogue as fact.
Karens book contains numerous novelistic passages. Names are changed to protect the protagonists or the author.
Heinz Kornagel = Jan
Carol Kornagel /McIntyre = Judy
Micki Faust, Christianes half-sister = cousin Anna.
Former husband Roger Dutoit = Tom
Psychiatrist Saul Levine, Karen Dutoits lover = Dr. Watson.
Novelistic episodes are not identified. Karen misquotes me with the irritation of a teenager who doesnt want to do her homework. There is an upper class sneer at our struggle to better ourselves, our suggestion that Karen complete her education.
xxxKaren Lavut in her own description was jealous and envious of Christianes achievement as an artist, as a woman with children, as a woman with a supportive husband.
xxxChristiane felt sorry for Heinz Kornagel and had written Karen Dutoit and her sister Micky Faust off. "Those fucking bitches!"
xxxHer last letters did not mention Karen anymore.
xxxThe book cringes with anger. The anger of this frustrated, confused woman and her sterile, embittered and jobless boyfriend was vented on us.
xxxThere are lucid passages especially in the earlier version of the manuscript, some of them deleted by the editor, dream like passages of magical insight, diluted by add on efforts to make me, Michael Pflug, look nice.
xxxKaren describes Christianes sweetness and thoughtfulness, and her anger. Karen was too flippant to notice Christianes pain and too selfish to help.
xxxAn imagined scene written in italics in which I put my hand on Christianes shoulder and then her head while approving of her days work, is sentimental high kitsch and an embarrassing intrusion. It distorts our relationship. By that time I knew and Christiane knew that she was ahead of me.
xxxI did not want to suppress the book. A judicial release for the earlier version of the manuscript is not a licence to plagiarize my manuscript, to invent dialogue, to make ludicrous statements such as those quoted by your reviewer. I warned the three major Toronto papers against misquoting me as in the follow-up to the earlier biography "Somewhere Waiting" by Ann Davis. I sent the insert arrived at in an agreement with Oxford University Press, copies of letters and documents to hundreds of publications and colleges. It says something of the curiosity of Canadian academics and journalists that little notice has been taken of this material. Most reviewers and Academics have made a wide circle around Christianes letters, self definitions and her interview with her dealer Avrom Isaacs.
xxxKaren did not see and nobody ever saw me correcting or tearing up Christiane Pflugs canvas. I never did.
xxxKaren knew and fails to mention that Christiane was sexually abused by her step-father, Peter Faust, who also abused her daughters, and by her mother, who encouraged statutory rape of her fifteen year old daughter by inviting a young man into the house while she was traveling, to remove her daughter from her husbands hands. Regine Faust offered Christiane sexually to family friends including Heinz Kornagel . Christiane who had repressed her memories of sexual abuse and of her promiscuity, was deeply disturbed by the ostentatious promiscuity of her half-sister, Micky Faust, whom she had invited to stay at our home.
xxxKaren Lavut who was raped or seduced by a family friend at age fourteen showed the child like seductiveness of women subjected to early sexual abuse. Her husbands best friend Anton Van Dalen called Karen a cock teaser.
xxxIt affected her character, her writing and her relationship to Christiane Pflug and to me. Karen slept with her psychiatrist Saul Levine , who was notorious for sleeping with his patients. Karen referred Christiane to him. The complaint of a seventeen year old patient about sexual misconduct by Saul Levine to the College of Physicians and Surgeons forced him to leave Canada for Berkeley, California where he is still a professor.
xxxSaul Levine told his wife that sleeping with his patients was therapeutic.
xxxWisely he told Christiane that he could not see her.
xxx"Whats wrong with you?" asked Saul Levine when Christiane tried to get an appointment.
xxx"All my friends are turning against me and I dont know why!"
xxx"That is very dangerous! You should see somebody."
xxxHe told Karen Dutoit that he could have saved Christiane.
xxxPeople claimed that I did not allow Christiane to see a psychiatrist. Christiane talked with Dr. Federico Allodi, a psychiatrist and a friend, in the week before she died.
xxxOf uncertain gender identity, Karen left a supportive, successful architect husband, to support an aging, unemployed bisexual. She had a lesbian crush on Christiane. Her next boyfriend was a pedophile. She was rebellious and refused to grow up. She kept photographs of Heinz Kornagels erect penis on the walls of her flat on Marlborough and rhapsodized her psychiatrists penis in love letters while trying to make friends with his wife.
xxxUnder the guise of her cherished privacy, Karen lied to her husband and to her partner, to Christiane and me and lies about us. Twenty years later she invited my fiancé to her house, told her to lie to me about it, told her to leave me and tried to set her up with another man.
xxxKaren met Film maker Martin Lavut through me in a relationship I encouraged. She who in her book twenty-seven years after Christianes death still sneers at our care for each other and for our daughters now has a good marriage and two graceful daughters. Karen describes her envy of Christiane but does not face what Christiane saw as Karens betrayal of their friendship.
xxxBefore the book came out Karen told me that she was not afraid of me anymore and wanted to be friends again. She invited me, my daughters and my friends to her home on my seventieth birthday in 1999, as Lillian does not get along with my younger daughter. Karen writes, teaches and plays the clarinet. She now leads the productive life she once envied us for.
Karen grew up with servants in South Africa and describes admiringly how her father humiliated a waiter. Christiane would have found it less funny if she had known that Esther was to be a waitress for years not last because Christianes suicide interfered with her daughters education. Karen expected an inheritance from South Africa and from her parents.
xxxOrphaned early, Heinz Kornagel had already gone through an inheritance early in his life. He was driving expensive cars in Germany and England and a Porsche in Canada. He owned a sailboat, while spouting socialist slogans of the 30's. To impress the ladies he fantasied about his resistance to the Nazis who arrested him for homosexuality. According to his friend Regine Faust who visited him in prison, he served as a Kapo . He was released to drive trucks for the Wehrmacht as a German soldier, fighting for Hitler rather than against him.
xxxLiaisons between Jews and Germans from the Nazi period are not uncommon.
They provide an alibi.
xxxHeinz Kornagel to whom Christiane had been offered sexually by her mother, "take her she is no virgin!" and who had cared for Christiane in her childhood, was incurably jealous of me and poisoned our life with this bitchy, underhanded hostility. He did not dare to confront me - I would have thrown him out!
xxxThen what was in it for Christiane? From Heinz Kornagel unconditional affection without possessiveness, without duties or obligations. From Karen Lavut girlish friendship, her lightness, her frivolity without guilt.
xxx It made Christiane forget the sadness over her past, but brought out rage over years wasted with guilt and regret.
xxxIt was heartbreaking how these people wanted to help each other. Without incomes both Christiane and Heinz Kornagel had to use me to do so. Like a disoriented bowerbird Heinz brought things into our house which we did not want or need, like an unworkable stove for which he wanted to be paid, for our cabin in Lanark County. Christiane steered jobs to Heinz to help him out, for which he played difficult to get, and which she or he got wrong, adding to Christianes desperation of never getting anything right.
xxxKaren promised things she had no intention to do. I was exhausted from a hundred hours of work a week, nagged by Heinz, who like a mother-in-law, suggested improvements for our household. I was hardly at home. I was furious to be manipulated by these treacherous losers, who had insinuated themselves in our family to make up for the emptiness of their lives.
xxxThere was something rudimentary about their affection for each other: Heinz was one of the few men from Christianes childhood who had not abused or exploited her, abandoned her like her father or neglected her like her mother. In his care for her he was the closest to what a father would have been, and she was the closest to what a daughter could have been to him. Both orphaned or abandoned early they found in each other something they had never known. Heinz was sterile since imprisonment by the Nazis, and childless. From Canada Heinz had for years supported the deaf-mute son of his first wife. Described as without conventional morals by Christianes mother, he could not sustain supporting relationships with women. He had loyalties which went beyond the bickering dependencies of the couple. In our early and difficult years he had often helped with repairs, with our moves and provided refuge for Christiane and our daughters. Now Christiane wanted to help him. She should have had the right to do so.
xxxHeinz Kornagels fussy overprotectiveness, seeing needs that were not there, created havoc in our lives. Nobody has to die over a $40 stove or $75 worth of frames. To Christiane it was another betrayal, that somebody for whom she cared would use her to get things out of me, that somebody so practical would sell us something that did not work, causing more stress in her stressful marriage, and that Karen would scream at her then hang up defending her inadequate companion.
xxxOur daughters left their birthday tables, with book, a pair of socks, small cake and candles untouched and left for the country and us with the eerie emptiness of parents no longer wanted.
xxxChristianes little orphan life trying to please too many people and setting them apart from each other was over. Her father was not allowed by his family to marry Christianes mother, then died young, her mother neglected her whenever Christiane needed her most, but probably saved her by moving her from Berlin to Tyrol, her stepfather molested Christiane and her mother set her up for sexual abuse during her adolescence. I was tired of her complaining. Her daughters were freeing themselves. Heinz Kornagel was too helpless. Christiane did not trust Karen anymore.
xxxWhen I refused to listen to her complaints on the way to the island Christiane jumped out of my car in a panic, but came back in after I drove around the block.
xxxOn the 4th of April 1972 Christiane walked out, as Heinz and Karen had suggested to her. She had no place to go. She played all day with the dog on the island as if she wanted to be found, to prove to herself that she was still wanted.
xxxI thought "So let her go!" Then I went looking for her as so often before. I found her 24 hours later, five hours too late.
xxx Her daughters left soon after, as children from dysfunctional families do.
xxxChristiane was right. We missed her but we did not need her anymore.
xxxLillian Schwab, the mother of my son, with whom I have lived longer if not better than with Christiane, has kept those people who abused Christiane and used me, out of our house.
xxxNow it is quiet.
xxxThe last snow early in April and the seagulls coming up to the West Hill parking lots still remind me of Christiane.
xxxIn a letter to the editor and chief of the Globe
and Mail of December 14/99, I warned the editor against quoting
invented dialogue or dramatized events as fact.
xxxThis type of review is part of Christianes history and will be referred to, with the long delay of her recognition, as an important woman artist. The obsessive put down of the artist by feminist writers and others who cannot accept the achievement of one of their own, has been part of her tragedy as an artist.
xxxIn 1999 Michelle Veitch completed her masters thesis on Christiane Pflug and the Media at Concordia.
xxx Dealers, curators and reviewers respectful of the artist are or were Avrom Isaacs, Barry Hale, Elizabeth Kilborn, Harry Malcomson, Val Elliot, Mary Allody, Ann Davis, Dennis Reid, Mathew Teitelbaum, director of AGO, Liz Wylie, P.J.M. Robertson, Mark Critoph, Christine Conley, Michelle Veitch and Anna Hudson, Denise Leclerc, Charles Hill, Rosemarie Tovell of the National Gallery, Ottawa, Dorothy Far of Agnes Etherington Gallery, Queens University, Kim Ness of McMaster University Art Gallery, Hamilton, Joan Murray, Luc Rombout, Paul Duval, Gail Geltner, Fiona McHugh, Joan Murray, Don Lake, Jose Lopez and others.
xxxMany of Christianes friends, too many to name here, respected her work and our marriage.
xxxWhen Heinz Kornagel and Karen Dutoit were traveling in Switzerland they rebelled against Suisse orderliness and threw their garbage on their camping site. It rains on it. The wind blows on it. The mountain does not change.
...fer cineres, Amarylli, foras riuoque fluenti
transque caput jace, nec respexeris...
...take the ashes outside to the stream, Amaryllis,
throw them over your shoulder and dont look back
Virgil, Ecloga VIII, The Eclogues
Michael Pflug's Biographical Statement 2000
Christiane decided on July 1954 in Vieira da Silvas studio in Paris to become a painter. Shes pursued it with an extraordinary determination, using her family, myself and my family to achieve her goal.
xxxIn 1955, during the first year of her painting I finished two of her paintings, Eglise de Charonne , a church in the northern suburbs of Paris, because her hands had gotten too cold and stiff from painting outside in November. The sky painted by me on her otherwise successful painting looked incongruous. We discarded the painting, putting new ground on the other side and reusing it. Another oil painting also in Paris, Rue de la Glacière, was damaged when a German Shepherd dog ran over her easel tipping the painting on Christiane. I did something to the sky which also looked incongruous. The painting is at Agnes Etherington Gallery in Kingston, Ontario. Painting on each others canvases is not uncommon in a teacher/pupil relationship though rarely helpful. We learned that it didnt work. It did not happen again in nineteen years of her painting career.
xxxChristiane painted on some of my discarded canvases for instance her Pont de Grenelle 1955 on a painting of mine of the cathedral of St. Denis, now in the collection of York University. Another painting of hers in Canada, Chateau de Vincennes at McMasters University Art Gallery is also on one of my discarded canvases. I didnt tear up canvases. We were poor and reused them.
xxxPainting on each others canvases is not unheard of in art history. (Rubens and Jan Breughel), Christiane painted on Anton Van Dalens leaf painting in New York in January 1972. (See Somewhere Waiting, Ann Davis)
xxxIn 1954 after nine months in Paris studying fashion design Christiane moved to Wuppertal against the wishes of her mother in Canada, to complete a Ready to Wear apprenticeship in a clothing factory while staying with her godmother Sybille Erbslöh and near my mother who lived in Wuppertal. Christiane wanted to marry me, who didnt want to marry her. On short trips to Paris she completed some of her strongest Paris paintings, a still life now on loan to Agnes Etherington Gallery at Queens University in Kingston, as well as the powerful self portrait now with the Winnipeg Art Gallery, a powerful if still primitive landscape of Ecluse de la Villette in Paris in storage at the Art Gallery of Ontario, all painted when I was not in Paris, often staying in my room while I was back in Wuppertal studying for my medical examinations in Paris.
xxxAfter having completed her apprenticeship Christiane once more delayed her departure for Canada and tried to finish high school in a private school in Berlin.
xxxStill unmarried she became pregnant in 1957. We finally got married only to separate again by my going to my internship in Tunis while she planned to join her mother in Canada. As things eased up in newly independent Tunis, with the Algerian War of Independence next door and the Israeli war in the Eastern Mediterranean she resisted my request to come to Tunis as her flight to Toronto was already booked.
xxxI telegraphed to Berlin: "Come now or dont ever come!" She did come to Tunis. In her first letter to my family she wrote that she was happy not to have gone to Canada.
xxxWithin two weeks of her arrival she had her own studio in the empty side of the house of the Mistaouis in the Kasbah. We had sleeping quarters at the hospital, our meals from the hospital kitchen in the interns dining room.
xxxFor the first time Christiane was able to devote herself full-time to her painting. She could not have hoped for anything better. She was never going to give it up again, except for a stint running her mothers and her own household in Downsview from early 1959 to May 1960, a period of non-productivity she bitterly resented - and the reason she avoided the suburbs like a plague from then on.
xxxAfter the birth of our daughter Esther she painted some of her strongest Tunis still lifes and the Tunisian Interior while I was working at the Libyan border in Foum Tatahouine. When I came back I realized that she had passed me by.
xxxChristiane painted with astonishing perseverance on the trips to Paris already mentioned, for three months while alone in her studio in the Kasbah in Tunis, she completed a serene sketchbook of drawings on Georgian Bay long before I arrived in Canada. At the latest in her Tunis still lifes and Interiors Christiane through her intense daily work had achieved a maturity and control that needed no further input from me. She also had an extraordinary drive that was quite independent from anything I had to add.
xxxOne of her first paintings on Yonge Street in Toronto, still on Tempera on canvas, was of the Cement factory behind our house, a subject also on a drawing now with Hamilton Art Gallery.
xxxSomething in the sky of this painting didnt work out and we cut it up: two fragments, one of the cement mixer and the other of the shed are now in the collection of the Art Gallery of Hamilton.
xxxThis is the fourth of four paintings that were either painted on by me or discarded in agreement between Christiane and me.
xxxThis compares favorably with the practice of Milne and Douglas Duncan at the Picture Loan Gallery ten years earlier. When Milne came to Toronto from Paris, Ontario or from a painting trip he brought a stack of water colors. With Douglas Duncan they would go over the water colors, put the good ones on the left and the ones to be thrown away on the right side. In nineteen years of Christianes painting only one other work, a small Gouache textile study from the fashion school in Paris, was lost at my mothers, probably on reframing. I know where all of her paintings and drawings are. Not a bad record in the forty-six years since Christiane started painting.
xxxIn 1967/68 in Toronto Christiane completed her most complex drawings on the Toronto Islands during two months in the summer of 1967 and 1968 while I was away with the children as a camp doctor at Camp Timberlane in Haliburton.
xxxShe developed the ideas for her doll paintings from her intense childhood experience, the dolls were presents from her mother, one was left in our house by the family of a former boyfriend of hers. Her mother was designing dolls dresses for Regal Toys. Christiane had studied textile design and had painted textiles for her fashion school in Paris. There was no role for me in her doll paintings.
xxxA dream mentioned in a letter from Tunis, July 12, 1956, describing a room with Winter outside one window and Summer outside the other window becomes subject of a painting on Woodlawn in 1966, Ursula at the kitchen door.
xxxIn 1968/69 in Toronto Christiane completed her large portrait of her dealer Avrom Isaacs then started and completed the most serene of her city paintings, "Cottingham School in Winter I" now at the National Gallery, while I was for nine months on a fellowship at the University of Chicago.
xxxDuring our long association as artists and in our marriage none of our visitors, and there were many, ever saw me correct one of her paintings, from my cousin Ursula Pflug (Meyniel) who went drawing and painting with Christiane in Paris, from painter Klaus Frank and Albert Mayer, close friends of the artist, who visited us in Paris and Tunis. Ursula Pflug (Meyniel) also visited in Toronto. Characteristically Christiane took her, after a ten hour flight from Munich, to the Toronto Island so she would not interrupt her drawing.
xxxLynne Sullivan lived in our house for a year, a friend of Christiane and a subject of her drawings, now a teacher in Oakville. Jamie Hall and the draft resisters, the Metis McDermott brothers lived in our house for months at a time. Some of Christianes women friends and painter Anton Van Dalen were jealous of her achievements, envious of the unmitigated support by her husband and of her success.
xxxKaren and others have described the gregarious life in our house, with people coming and going, and with Christiane coming and going. On my arrival to Toronto in May, 1960 Christiane went drawing for a week in Summerhill in Toronto while I stayed with our daughters at the Fritsches, the family of her first boyfriend, in Richmond Hill. Christiane found our flat on the hydro corridor on Yonge Street, painted it, bought the Crippled Civilian furniture for it and was painting within 2 weeks of my arrival.
xxxShe found our second apartment on Woodlawn Avenue in 1964. She found and steered me to the antique farm furniture with which we furnished our home.
xxxShe refused to budge from the area when I found a job in Scarborough. She refused to drive.
Our house on Birch Avenue was within 1/4 of a mile from her first studio in our flat on Yonge Street. She hated moving. Nearly all her work in Canada is based on or related to this area. If she could not move either in her work or in her personal life from this area, it was not only because of her own preference but also because she needed a workplace in close proximity to her children who were going to the neighborhood schools. She preferred to be home when they came home for lunch and also to be there when they came home from school. Like any mother with small children she was limited in her choices. Her first choice was to be with her children. The second choice was to work full time on her paintings. She realized both of those things because her husband was working. It also created an often hostile dependency, as her income from painting remained small.
xxxWhile she was influenced by me in the lesser decisions in our life, a low cholesterol diet and mode of dressing (first Latin Quarter, then American middle class and later drop-out), the major decisions in our life like her decision to spend a year in Wuppertal completing an apprenticeship to stay close to me, to my mother who lived in Wuppertal and with her godmother in Wuppertal, but also to stay close to Paris where she was returning regularly to paint and her final move to Canada to be close to her mother were made because of her will and her ability to have me do her bidding both in my personal and my professional life.
xxxShe traveled to Montreal with our daughters for Expo in 1967, she traveled alone to Winnipeg, Manitoba for the opening of her retrospective. She went to New York with my mother to visit relatives and later to New York State with one of the draft resisters to visit their hometown Clinton, to Europe visiting old friends in Paris and Burgundy and family in Munich and Berchtesgarden. She went to New York again in January 1972 to stay with friends and did her last drawing there.
xxxShe traveled up North to stay on a rented farm with the draft resisters and our children and completing some of her most intense drawings in Northern Ontario, one of the forest now in the National Galley of Canada.
xxxShe taught as a supply teacher at Central Tech and for a year at Ontario College of Art, visited the Toronto Islands and our artist friends with our children. She completed a successful pre-university course in Canadian History at U of T (with a term paper on Louis Riel) and attended womans lib sessions at U of T and took some silk screening lessons with Gordon Rayner at Three Schools. She stayed in a cottage on Wards Island with our children, with Lorraine Battra, then wife of Don Jean Louis and for two summers at Hugh and Bernice Smythes cottage on Lake Simcoe, always working, mostly on drawings. All these people saw her at work. None of them saw me paint on one of her paintings. She was not confined to her room!
xxxIt is not a good career move to ignore or put down Christiane Pflug. The galleries in Paris that have turned down Christiane have long closed. No important artists have come out of Paris in the last fifty years according to Robert Hughes, Art Critic with Time Magazine. Two of the galleries in Toronto she approached and two other galleries who approached her - unsuccessfully - have also closed as the dealers died.
xxxMany of the people who associated with Christiane including her old lover and probably more than one are dead. One has committed suicide because of her or in relation to her suicide. One of the dealers also committed suicide. Others have ruined their careers.
xxxThis is not a healthy subject to get into if you dont know what you are doing.
Christiane was no wimp. Our friends in Paris were communists. While their ideology may have failed them, their idealism did not. We signed petitions against German rearmament, petitions against the war in Indochina, attended the festival of IHumanité, where the stand for the D.D.R. was manned by old friends from Berlin.
xxxDuring demonstrations in Tunis in 1958, when Europeans stayed hidden in their homes, Christiane with one year old Esther made her way through the agitated masses to get to her studio in the Kasbah. The only French friends in Tunis were people who had left the Communist Party after Czechoslovakia and worked in Tunisia in support of the newly independent nation, either as teachers or for Dr. Martini as a surgeon after having served a prison term in Algeria for nursing F.L.N. in his basement.
xxxOut of that French leftist idealism which we admired, came Les Médecins Sans Frontières, active behind the lines in Afghanistan and elsewhere and today one of the most highly respected non-government agencies. I worked at the clinic for women and children for the Joint Distribution Committee in Tatahouine against the advise of the local governor. From then on, most of the decisions in my career and some of the decisions not to sell paintings to rich people, which interfered with her success, were made on ideological grounds. Christiane hung her laundry in Tunis on the roof terrace of an FLN member, Dr. Ouibi, later health minister of Algeria. Our neighbor Dr. Yagni was shot on return to Abidjan, Ivory Coast. We lived among and were friends with revolutionaries. Franz Fanon worked at our hospital. I treated foreign legion deserters in my hospital in Kasserine and in Tatahouine.
xxxWe associated with the people who fought colonialism in North Africa and Indochina, and with those who ended the War in Vietnam and got rid of Nixon and Johnson, and with those who fought racism in the U. S. A.
xxxWe wanted to be on the right side this time.
xxxChristiane bought hashish from our household money and smoked it, grew marijuana plants on her windowsill and drew the city through them (one drawing Under a new Leaf is now at the Art Gallery of Ontario) and smoked opium with the draft resistors in the barn in St. Charles. Christiane introduced my fourteen year old nephew Tobias Pflug to marijuana and wrote a letter to my sister to explain why she found that beneficial. We had our house full of draft resisters immigrating to Canada.
xxxChristiane had pictures of Charley Manson and the dead Che Guevara on her kitchen cupboard.
xxxBy complaining about one to the other Christiane set people on each other and watched the results like a surprised child, as when I hit her lover Gerd Rueger and broke five of his front teeth (not one as in Karens book) or as when I wrote a letter to her dealer Avrom Isaacs which made him throw her out of the gallery. Christianes lifelong complaining and whining turned people on each other who would have been or would have remained friends without her. The grudges, the vindictiveness, the violence which attracted Christiane, and which she delegated to others and in the end directed against herself, have not gone away. Christiane was not interested in feminism though she read the appropriate books and attended a few meetings. She knew that she needed her husband to do what she wanted to do. Nobody else believed as much in her.
xxxShe wasnt going to leave him for some theoretical reason. The stresses of our early immigrant years have been described in Ann Daviss biography "Somewhere Waiting". Christiane always did all our shopping and banking, walks with the children, trips to the island, visits to our artist friends. Regrettably I interfered with her visits to our very nice neighbors, the Valleaus on Woodlawn. This is what my comment at the end of the book refers to.
xxxIn the nineteen years of our life together Christiane had long periods of independent and very successful work which belied both her and my occasional impression that "she couldnt paint without me." Christiane threatened or tried suicide in Paris in 1954, in Wuppertal in 1955, Tunis in 1959, in Toronto in 1964, 1970 and succeeded in 1972. Christiane hoarded her barbiturate suicide pills since 1958 in Tunis from samples her mother had asked Christiane to get from me and to send to Toronto! It is difficult to prevent a suicide when eighteen years of planning goes into it!