Speaking of Linda...With Frederic Tuten
Frederic Tuten and Linda didn’t anticipate that their impromptu conversation at neighboring tables in a downtown restaurant almost 45 years ago would develop into a decades-long relationship. Linda counts Frederic, the author of: The Adventures of Mao on the Long March; Tallien: A Brief Romance; Tintin in the New World; Van Gogh’s Bad Café; The Green Hour; and a collection of stories, Self Portraits: Fictions, as her educator and mentor in the arts and politics. Here, they discuss their long and fruitful relationship.
F: So, should I tell the real story or the fake story about how we met?
L: Let’s hear both!
F: I have no fake story. This is in my memoir. Anyway, I was with some friends in a French restaurant. It was the most charming place.
L: It doesn’t exist anymore of course!
I was with two friends of mine – one was an art curator and I don’t remember who the other was…
F: Maurice was the art curator. It was two guys and we were talking and talking and I heard people speaking Italian from a table nearby.
L: Good Italian at that time!
F: I was going to say that! Since I was Italian I was very interested to see who it was. So I looked back, and my friends turned to me and said, “What’s wrong with you?” I said “Why?” and they said, “Well you’ve gone pale, completely pale! Are you sick?” I said, “Yeah, I’m love sick” and they said, “Where is she?” I said “Over there,” and I said, I’ll never forget, I said “and I’m heartbroken because I’ll never be able to meet her.” Maurice said, “I know the friend she is with, I’ll ask them to come over for coffee later.” Then the three of us sat down: Linda, her friend, and some Italian guy.
F: Anyway, so this guy, he didn’t speak English so I started speaking to Linda in Italian and she said, “Why are you speaking to me in Italian? I’m American!” I said, “Oh, but you speak Italian so perfectly.” Linda said, “I just got back from Florence, I lived there for 2 years.” We started talking and I was beside myself. I didn’t know what to do. I thought this guy must be her boyfriend, but I kept talking to her. I said, “And what do you do?” she replied, “Well I’m looking for a job.” I said, “Well I’m looking for an assistant.” I swear that was true!
I was working on my book thesis so I needed someone to do research for me and to help me translate some Italian. Linda said, “Well, ok we can talk about it. Let’s talk in the morning, here’s my number.” So I gave her a call in the morning.
L: I was staying at my friend Carroll’s. I was actually living at her house.
F: I called her and she laughed and said, “Yeah your other friend already called me.” It’s amazing isn’t it?
L: Well when you are 22, the world is your oyster. I met you when I was 22 and you were 33.
F: I was the older, mature gentleman.
L: The sophisticated Italian!
F: It must’ve been a few months into our work together that I couldn’t stand it anymore and told her I was completely crazy for her. She took it in stride.
L: That was a hard job! I worked really hard. Microfilm, libraries, taking volumes of notes...by hand – no computers in those days.
F: Yeah, microfilm! You couldn’t even use a Xerox back then. That was the beginning of our relationship. It kept in the same mode. I adored her, and she tolerated me. It was a perfectly good working relationship.
Linda, as anyone with eyes can see, is totally beautiful. Totally, extraordinarily beautiful. This is a true story. One day we were at the Russian Tea Room. We were at the bar waiting for a table. There was a guy sitting by this big mirror at the bar. He picked up his drink, looked in the mirror, saw Linda, and spilled his drink. That is how beautiful she is. It’s hard to imagine how someone can be so beautiful. Not just turn heads, but make them fall. But the thing about it is (even though she is tough as a nail in some ways) there is so much sweetness, kindness, and compassion to her. That’s everything.
L: Am I blushing?
F: And all my friends were crazy for her. Even Susan Sontag. Linda and I stayed together as friends. We traveled together, we lived together, we went to Europe together. We did this and that together. We took the train to Brussels to visit the author of Tintin, Hergé, who was my good friend. Hergé loved Linda. He loved her!
L: He signed my book! I still have it. I have all of your books too, Frederic. Did Roy (Lichtenstein) sign my book? I should gather up all of my books.
You knew the most fascinating people! Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg.... When I first met Frederic, I had never met a married man. I was 22 and I had just lived in Italy.
F: Are you serious? In Italy all you meet are married men!
L: Well an American married guy. I thought you were married and had kids. Frederic lived on East 10th Street, and I had never been to East 10th Street. When my parents found out that I was going to there…they were like “WHAT!” Nobody went to East 10th in 1972 – it was way too dangerous and raw.
F: It was 1970! Because I got my doctorate in 1971 and I published my first novel the same year.
L: And you wouldn’t have gotten the doctorate if I hadn’t helped.
F: No, I wouldn’t have FINISHED the doctorate if you hadn’t helped me.
L: I’m just kidding.
F: And then in ‘71 the books came out and then we were traveling around Europe.
But she was, is amazing. The important thing is that there has always been deep creativity in Linda. The question was, what the avenue would be for her? That is what it came down to. She didn’t know what she wanted to do at that time so she did photography and her photos were great. She has an eye.
Once we went to the Met. We were in the Cezanne room and we looked around and I said “Which one do you like best?” I know it’s wrong to say this because it’s as if I know, but she got the right one. She didn’t have to think about it. She knew right away. She has an eye, she knows. And she is visual, I mean anyone can look at the products she created for RODIN olio lusso and see that.
L: Frederic got me a job in the art gallery with Michael Findlay. Naomi Sims was married to him and all these crazy people would come to 157 Spring Street. Always fascinating people coming and going. Soho was just emerging.
F: All my friends were crazy for her – Roy Lichtenstein was crazy for her, Oldenburg was crazy for her. Linda and I had a very interesting life together.
L: You made me go back to college! I worked at a magazine called Auction Magazine. What did I do there? Can't remember.
F: You were an assistant or something. I remember I came into the office one day.
L: That was a depressing office. But, oh man, the world was heaven back then, wasn’t it?
F: It was a very creative moment. It was the early 70s – the leftover of the late 60s. There was experimentation in the arts. There was vitality and the galleries were burgeoning. It was a remarkable period in writing, painting, and performance art. It was an extraordinary moment. And people knew each other! Every artist you can mention now, we would all go dancing together. That was normal. We’d call each other up and say, “Let’s go have a drink.” It’s not like when you get older and say, “Let’s go have dinner in two weeks.” It was very fluid. It was a beautiful time.
L: And you knew my family really well.
F: I loved your parents. They were nicer to me than you were.
L: They really embraced you.
F: Suburban Long Island. Her father and mother liked me. One day I made something delicious for us, your father was just enchanted.
L: What’d you make?
F: I made Zucchini. Eggplants actually. I cut them into chips and fried them.
L: Ha! We had fun. My mother was 50. No, she was younger.
F: She was young!
L: Every kid thinks their parents are old bags, right? But, you and I, we’ve been successful professionally. Well, Frederic is an intellectual artist and I’m a commercial hack.
F: Not true at all. Luck perhaps.
L: I would say luck. You know, you meet people. Someone knows someone. I don’t really know.
F: Well you need something to work with. You can’t just get lucky and not have something to work with.
L: That is always the silver lining about being older. I mean it’s generational. My father would always say, “I feel so sorry for you kids. I used to ride a pony to school and you have to take a bus…or a bicycle.” But I think every generation feels that their generation was the last great one, but I’m sure we are right!!!
F: Poets and painters and writers all knew each other. The very things we loved are now considered Eurocentric, as if it is a crime to love European culture. People had a sense of more than just their own culture, and they appreciated it.
L: I’ve learned so much from Frederic. I know I learned not to believe the bullshit. I don’t know. I feel like I saw a different side. I grew up in a bit of a bubble. We didn’t talk about politics too much. I didn’t even know the Vietnam War was going on until I was a senior in high school. I remember when JFK was shot my mother cried for a month, that’s how I knew it had happened. So when I met Frederic, I just learned a whole world that I didn’t know anything about. I feel the same way now after having been with Frederic. Also, he taught me perseverance and not to give up. He’s been very influential. And reading! Although, I don’t read anymore, which is a tragedy for me. Work has side tracked me lately....
F: I taught her how to read. Big book with the letter A, and the letter B…C…
L: He made me go back to college for American Literature, of course. I still have all my papers. I got A’s on all of them. But I still didn’t graduate. I have 4 credits to go.
F: You should do it now. You can still do it.
Also, all the people I met through Frederic influenced me. I would have never met Susan Sontag or Roy Lichtenstein. And I think at the time, I was almost too young to appreciate it.
F: It was normal. It was normal for you. You just met people.
L: When you think about it. My God. How lucky. Kids take things for granted. When I look back now on my life I amaze even myself at the wonderful encounters I always seemed to have. The people I met. The places I traveled…
F: There are people today who have PHDs in art history. They know a lot, they’ve read a lot, but they have no eye. They simply do not have an eye. They know what they know. They know this period, and that painter, but you put them in a room with a painting and say, “Let’s talk about this painting.” You start talking about something they don’t know. They have a cultivated intelligence. Linda has always had an eye. There was always a way she could apply herself.
It’s an old-fashioned formula, but my advice to young people today would be to make love, not war. It’s still important. Just try to be as happy as you can and try not to hurt anyone on the way. That’s all.
To learn more about Frederic Tuten visit http://frederictuten.com
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