Kiki de Montparnasse

It had been a while since we’d walked together in the moonlight. So, hand in hand, Hugh and I took a stroll around Montparnasse.  We wound up at Le Jockey Bar where Kiki de Montparnasse was singing “La Haut Sur La Butte”. We enjoyed it so much that we offered her a drink. Kiki was wild and exciting in a debauched way. She was living with the Surrealist photographer, Man Ray, who often used her as a model. To accommodate his surrealistic fantasies, he completely redesigned Kiki’s face. He’d removed her eyebrows just so he could redraw himself and gave her stenciled lipstick lips.

Too bad for him that it was easier to manipulate her face than it was to manipulate her personality. He should have taken that into consideration when he dumped her for Lee Miller. I was there in the café when Man Ray told Kiki that it was over. Kiki went into a rage and started throwing plates at him with such violence that he was forced to hide under a table.

Afterwards I lost contact with her but later heard that, not only had she opened her own cabaret, Chez Kiki, she’d also started painting.  Self-taught, Kiki’s Naïf paintings sold out at her first exhibition. In 1929, she wrote her memoirs with an introduction by Hemingway.

But living in a whirlpool caught up with her. Without an anchor, she drifted away from her talents and mimicked herself when she sang for tourists in the Montparnasse cafes. Although always in need of money, Kiki said that she could survive with an onion, a piece of bread, and a bottle of red wine and she could always find someone to offer her that.

Kiki’s addiction to cocaine and alcohol eventually killed her. She was only 52.

(from Cool Breeze, aka The Age of Reconfiguration ©)


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