After us seeing the entrancing performance at Young and Jacksons Hotel, in around 2000 I asked our friend, the late Dame M, the rich widow on St Kilda Hill, if she had heard of Vali Myers. A sound like ergh emanated from Dame M's wine and nicotine fed innards, as she threw her head back and rolled her eyes. "I know her", she said. My memory is a bit hazy but I think it was either from some artistic endeavour or some some cranky new age religious thing.
A bohemian lifestyle is an anathema to me and my life, yet I do envy the free and easy ways of bohemians, who really just seem so selfish and self indulgent to me. I have read about many of them. So when the State Library of Victoria mounted an exhibition called Bohemian Melbourne, it was high on my list to see, and after delays because life was too busy, we did get a free couple of hours last week to visit.
There are a few non direct personal connections to some of the people.
Let me begin with the woman who strongly features in the exhibition, Vali Myers. She left Australia to live in Paris at the age of 19.(Insert declaimer, that is the last research I will do. The rest is defective memory)
In the 1990's we saw a tv doco about Vali, living in Italy at an animal refuge she had set up with her younger Spanish partner. I believe he even came with her back to Australia when she returned to her home country in about 2000.
R watched the 1990s doco with interest equal to my own, so we knew who she was when we saw her dancing at Young and Jacksons, which is not our oldest hotel, but one of them and the best known, right opposite our major Flinders Street Railway Station. The energy from her, given her age, as she danced was extraordinary, yet not so many years later, she died.
This is Vali, from the State Library exhibition brochure.
Ok, let me find some more from the net. Here she is with her Hungarian Gypsy partner Rudi.
The animal refuge in Ill Porto valley, Positano.
She mixed with some very famous people. Abbie Hoffman, Mick Jagger and Marianne Faithful, Salvadore Dali, Donovan, Tennessee Williams, Jean Paul Sartre, Jean Genet and Jean Cocteau, to name a few. She was an artist in her own right with her fine pen and ink drawings. She frequented the Chelsea Hotel in New York, although I don't recall that she lived there.
She was truly a bohemian in the sense of the word. Unknown to me at the time we saw her, she had rented a studio/flat in the the wonderful Nichoalas building in Swanston Street and kept an open house for anyone who wanted to visit, and many people did, including the creme de la creme of Melbourne's artistic society.
At the exhibition we saw a young bearded hipster with headphones on watching a video of her being interviewed for television, I suppose which would have been not long filmed before she died. I was watching it too over his shoulder as it had subtitles. He broke up when Vali said, "The world is a fucking amazing place". One can't disagree with that.
While I did say Dame M was of Vali's acquaintance, little did I know Brighton Antique Dealer knew her too, as we discovered over a pub meal this Sunday night past when I suggested to BAD that she see the exhibition. BAD's first husband was a mega endowed Arab. That much we knew already. He died last year while living in a fashionable country town not far from Melbourne. What we did not know that while BAD and her prospective first husband were courting in the old fashioned sense of the word, Vali would visit BAD's future betrothed at his parent's place in Balwyn and on the closed off verandah, it was on! BAD concluded with, well, she was like that. I never cared.
BAD hadn't finished with gobsmacking me yet. "Is Val's Coffee Lounge featured?" "Oh yes", I replied. Not so many would know but Val's coffee lounge, a place for those of a different sexuality, was a place to meet and have fun in the mid twentieth century, now Gopals Indian vegetarian restaurant. BAD frequented Val's coffee lounge and she adored Val and said she might have almost turned lesbian for Val, but Val did not like BAD and asked her to leave more than once.
Vali Myers died of cancer in 2003 at the age of 72. She may have been a person many disapproved of, but we can't all be boring.