Tuesday, August 7, 2012

In the Haus of Madam V

Have you ever met a woman who was so extraordinairy, so unique, so perplexing, zany and inspiring, that they've left their mark on you forever? Madam V was one of those very, very extraordinairy ladies.

A bit of an enigma.
Endearilngly eccentric.
One of a kind.

When I was a child, Madam V lived across the road from us for many, many years.
She was a zany Jewish lady aged in her 50's or 60's.
Artistic and Bohemian.
Slightly frightening.
She had a frenetic bob of riotous auburn curls that jiggled as she walked. Her eyes were a searing hazel green that she often lined with kohl liner. She drove a deep scarlet vintage Jaguar with cream leather seats. She always looked out of sorts behind the wheel, as if she should have had a personal chauffeur driving her. She would often wear a big black velvet swing coat in Winter which engulfed her tiny frame. She was so short and petite she looked like a child wearing her Mother's dress ups.

My favourite image of Madam V is seeing her walk to the local milk bar, dressed in leggings, Grecian sandals and a big white man-sized t-shirt emblazoned with the words 'Leave Me Alone'. She walked like she was a woman on a mission, charging down the street. She was never without a cigarette (tobacco or other). A thousand lines etched little paths around her red stained lips.

Madam V lived alone. Her husband had died years earlier.
But her house was always a haven for artists, writers and intellectuals.
When I was 17, my next door neighbour Miss M, who was only a few years older than I, approached me and asked me if I'd like to earn some extra pocket money.

'Sure', I said, 'what do you have in mind?'
'Would you like to help me clean Madam V's house for a few hours every fortnight? She's just fired her cleaning lady and wants someone she can trust' 
'Why not?' I replied. A girl had to earn money to sustain her shoe habit.

And so I journeyed into the Haus of Madam V.

It was a beautiful house. Tinkling chimes and statues of Buddha graced the front door. Sunshine beamed through the giant bay windows illuminating the tiny dust particles that danced about like little fairies doing a jig. Every room was  painted white. The furniture was white, the doors were white. The floors were covered with white flokati rugs, which at first glance for my naive eyes looked like dead polar bears. The house smelled like gardenias and jasmine with a dash of patchouli for that extra touch of exoticism. Vases of white lilies adorned every room. Big bold paintings adorned the walls majestically.

Her house was always spotless. All Miss M and I would do was vacuum, clean the bathroom, dust and mop. Classical music always greeted us when we walked in. My time cleaning the Haus of Madam V educated me in the soulful melodies of Bach, Mahler and Saint Saens.

My favourite room in the house was Madam V's bedroom with its white walls, white linen drapes, a soft woollen throw strewn over the white sheets of the bed. A vintage dressing table gleamed with little crystal bottles of perfume that I would so lovingly and delicately dust. French doors opened up to a private little courtyard bursting with roses. The most striking feature of the room however was a beautiful mural painted on the wall at the head of the bed. It was by one of my favourite artists, Mirka Mora, who Madam V happened to be very good friends with. It was at the Haus of Madam V that I was exposed to such beautiful, vibrant art that touches my soul to this very day.

Artist extraordinaire, Ms Mirka Mora in her studio
Image source here
The mural featured whimsical angels (like the ones below). The angels warmed my heart and kept me company as I beat the dust out of the flokati rugs with a rattan racquet.

''Two Angels' 1970 by Mirka Mora.
Image source here
 Madam V would never be home when we cleaned. She would leave money for us on the table with a note of thanks. Though there were two occasions I remember when she arrived home early.

On the first occasion she had been to an event that commemorated the Jewish Holocaust during World War 2. She opened up to me about the time when she was a little girl in her homeland. Her family were hiding in secrecy, trying to avoid Nazi capture. What stayed with me was what had happened to her father. She told me that there was not enough food to feed everyone so her father sacrificed his portions. When the food was close to running out he decided to go in search for more to feed his precious family. He never returned. Was he captured? Killed? No one knew.

On the second occasion Madam V burst into the house dancing. She had drunk in the joys of champagne and was feeling festive. I was packing up the mop when she called me in her thick, Jewish accent.

'Tzesika! Come here! I have somethink to give to you!'
She held out a lovely handkitted purple scarf.
"Zis is for you, darlink girl. I vant you to vear it vith Suffragette Pride!" she exclaimed as she wrapped it around my neck. She'd been to a luncheon celebrating the anniversay of women getting the vote and was high on the glories of Sisterhood.

I cleaned Madam V's house for almost a year and then stopped when I got into University.
She moved house not long after, taking her magnificent Jaguar and Bohemian-ess with her.

I think of her often and adore her for living her life so openly with her free-spirit and 'Who Gives A &*^%' attitude.
And come Winter, I dig out my purple scarf and wear it with great big, glorious Suffragette pride.


Linking up with the lovely Jess from Diary of a SAHM for 'IBOT'!


Kim-Marie said...

What a fabulous tale! What an amazing woman.

Redcliffe Style said...

She sounds amazing! I wish I had my own Madam V. Rachel x

Yvette Bowyer said...

What a fabulous tale!! Such a great memory and one you can pass on to your children!! :) LOVE It!!

Bachelor Mum said...

I want Madam V's decor! Beautifully written amble down memory lane. I really enjoyed reading it x

Jess@Diary of a SAHM said...

I love this post! Was an incredible, wonderful woman.
I'd love to hear all her stories.

Misha - TheBlingBuoy said...

Oh I love eccentric people like that. They always intrigue me and I found your account of her very captivating.

Nat @ Drivelology said...

Such an incredible story and so beautifully written.

Grace said...

That's a gorgeous story, Jess! I love how there are people that pop into our lives like that and leave behind such an impact. So sad to hear about her father.

Julia Kuku Couture said...

What a fabulous memory! she sounds like an awesome woman it is amazing how people can touch our lives so deeply and they probably not even realise isn't it :)

The Kids Are All Right said...

That is such a fantastic story - how lucky you were to meet such a stylish, individual, influential woman at that age. You don't get too many of them in a lifetime.

Zanni, Heart Mama said...

How gorgeous! What an amazing woman! It's amazing how these eccentric characters can leave such a mark on our lives. You bring her to life with such clarity.
I often think about the Madame V's of my past, and draw inspiration from them as well.
And friends with Mirka Mora? That's is all you need have said - that woman is such a card.
Great piece Jess

Kelly HTandT said...

This is exactly why I want to live in the same street for the duration of my children's childhood, I want them to have memories just like this one, to tell tales of interesting and trusted old neighbours, to KNOW their community...

BossyMummy said...

What an awesome story.I have a few of these characters in my life.Those extras on my journey that have a big impact in the path I travel.Thank you for sharing :)

workingwomenaus said...

Oh I just love this. I too had a "Madam V" in my life and she passed away in November last year. She was a little eccentric but so loving and full of life. I feel blessed that my children got to know her too.

Gemma @ My Big Nutshell said...

Jess! You are an absolutely stunning writer. This post was pure magic. I was right there with you in the house. What a f'n fabulous woman Madam V was! The blessing to have met her and be exposed to such culture is life changing. JEALOUS!

Lisa said...

This is a marvellous story! I am jealous that I never got to meet anyone so amazing and interesting in my life! You are very lucky!

Tat @ Mum in search said...

Beautiful memories! We have a French lady living in our apartment block who is really quite different, but for some reason when I read your story I thought of her. Maybe because she is one of those characters you remember...

tinseltine.com said...

What an original! I'm glad you profiled the memory of the eccentric Madame V.

Happy Saturday Sharefest!

Drama Queens Mum (Kimberly) said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog. She did sound like a great lady.

Editing Services said...

That is such a fantastic story

Five Fairies said...

I LOVE this. I just discovered your blog tonight, and I will follow it, as I love the way you bring things to life, in the few posts I have read. I once knew my own version of Madam V, and she enriched my life enormously. I also loved seeing the photo of Mirka Mora, whose work I am familiar with after being a regular at Tolarno in St Kilda for many years during my pre-child days...where Mirka's murals adorned the walls.

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