It’s July 1988, Paris is hot, very hot and tourists have taken over the town. The Parisians have left for the coast or their country house and the wooden panels are fastened in front of the shop windows. I’m glad I have found a cheap room in the Hôtel d’Alsace Lorraine, 14 rue des Canettes that my friend Peter, the African Art dealer from Amsterdam has mentioned to me. It is situated in a very old building in one of the streets of the rive gauche that leads up to the monumental Place Saint Sulpice, where I like to sit in the shadow of the trees. Going up the stairs of the old hotel I noticed the framed newspaper clipping, telling that the concierge of this hotel used to be Madame Céleste Albaret, the gouvernante of Marcel Proust. The whole place breathes history; I already bumped my head very hard on one of its mediaeval oak beams which runs right through the middle of my small room, which is entresol, halfway two floors, the toilet is nondescript with a door made of planks with holes. In the sunny morning I wake up to the unfamiliar noises of a Paris street. I make a good start of the day and take a few pictures of my bed: the pushed-back blankets are the rolling waves of a restless sea and the old faded wallpaper has a repeating pattern of a sky with hovering seagulls…
Back in Holland I visit my friend Ed van der Elsken, who likes to hear about my trip to Paris. He inquires about my photography and asks where I stayed. He reacts very surprised when I tell him about the Hôtel d’Alsace Lorraine. He urges me to describe the room. “But that’s Vali’s room!” he exclaims, and his light blue eyes stare at me, “Tom, that’s incredible, that’s the room where she lived 30 years ago! She always had the curtains drawn and lived in a dream world, addicted to opium, only came out at night during that period… What a coincidence… and you never knew?…” When I tell him about the photograph I took in that room with the imaginary dreamtime seascape he seems almost moved, says he wants to see it soon, “bring it next time”. In his book “Elsken:PARIS 1950-1954” (Libroport Co. Ldt., Tokyo, 1985) Ed, the Dutch photographer, quotes Vali telling how madame Céleste watched over her like a mother during that vulnerable time. She proudly said to a visitor “You are going up to see the strange one, my favorite jewel.”
I titled the picture “Sea of dreams (for Vali Myers)” You can have a look at some of my Paris photographs from that period at http://www.tomstappers.com . The photograph “Sea of dreams (for Vali Myers)” can be seen at http://www.photogalaxy.com/photo/tomstappers/2/?m=0.0.0.tomstappers.az
Ed promised to introduce me to Vali, but I only saw her at his funeral in the old church of Edam and standing at his grave afterwards, in thoughts. She was smaller than I had imagined her, fiery hair, tattoos, quiet, unapproachable, almost shy. It was such a sad day, I did not talk to her. One look – all. There’s a photograph of her on my wall that I often look at in passing.