Elisabeth Szegho

Transcript of Elisabeth Szegho
Interviewee: Elisabeth Szegho
Interviewer: Mark Lecker
Date: March 20, 2014
Place: Chicago, Illinois
Transcriber: Mark Lecker
Total Time: 51:35 minutes

Copyright © 2014 Edgewater Historical Society

[Italicized words are in another language, typically French]

ML: This is Mark Lecker. I am interviewing Elisabeth Szegho here at her home in Chicago. The time is 11:25 a.m. on March 20th, and you’re from France, correct?

ES: Yes.

ML: What city, or village, or town from France are you from?

ES: Well, because of the war situation, my parents actually met in the south of France, and I was born in actually a very old and very large city in southern of France called Montpelier. Which is spelled just like Montpelier, Vermont. But it’s a very old, and very large…and it’s not very far from the gulf of Lyon, from the Mediterranean.

ML: Ok. And what was it like growing up there?

ES: Well, I didn’t do much growing up there, since I left right after the war was over, but I spent almost the entire war years, that’s from age like six months to five, in a convent.

ML: Oh, really?

ES: Because, you know, war in France was truly dreadful, especially for Jewish people. It was deadly, in more ways than one. And my parents…my father couldn’t get a job, and they had no money. They couldn’t feed me, and through connections with my great-uncle, who was a doctor, they had known these nuns, the same order of nuns in Paris. They got me into this convent in Montpelier. Which was wonderful, because it was a huge, old convent, very beautiful, out in the farmland, essentially, on the edge of town. So it was one of the few places you could be where you had enough food, where you were safe, where people took care of you. You weren’t on the run all the time. You didn’t have to…. Of course being so small, I wasn’t aware of any of this, except that I was too young to go to school. So I had all day to play with the animals, and I had a boyfriend in the farm next door when I was like three, and it was just… If you had to spend the war in France, it was just the most ideal situation possible.

The downside of that was that I didn’t get to know my mother at all, until I was five. And then we never really caught up in that intimacy that you have as a baby, with your mother. I didn’t know who she was. And it just broke her heart, because she had lost her father, and her husband, and she came to get me and I didn’t want to be in the same place with her. It was terrible. But she didn’t want to stay in France anymore She had it with the war, and the privations, and the dangers and everything. She was very brave during the war. She did all sorts of amazing things. But my grandparents…her mother, and her husband, the one who’s [unintelligible] had left just before the southern border was sealed off. So there was this traditional route of leaving France through Marseilles, and then to Casablanca, and then to the Azores, and then to New York.

So they had been sponsored by Belgians here in…in Ohio, who had been here quite a while, who were well-to-do. So it helped if you had somebody. You didn’t have to go do the quota; you know which was a very messy and long, drawn-out. So they were lucky. They left just at the very last minute when it was still possible to do that. And so we went…I went to Paris. She got me out of the convent, and we went to Paris, and I lived in a one-room, cold-water flat. And then we had to wait until it was possible to get a ship, because all the ships had been used as army transport, so they were just beginning to be retrofitted back to being alright for normal passengers. But the main port that shipping from northern France came out, Le Havre, had been bombed to smithereens. Not by the Germans but by the English and the Americans, so that the Germans couldn’t use it for re-supplying their troops in northern France. So we had to go through Cherbourg, which was a strictly industrial harbor, and it was not at all meant to be [laughs], you know for passengers. It didn’t have any ramps…it was just a horror. But the ship was one of the great last art-deco ships, the Ill De France. One of the great luxury liners of the ‘20s and ‘30s. And so my mother was in seventh heaven. It was the first decent food she had had in something like five years. And she was just so glad to get away from all this horror, this never-ending privation and horror.

So then we stayed in New York for a while with my grandmother. My mother stayed in New York. My mother was very, very beautiful woman. And she immediately got a job at Macy’s, modeling hats. Because she was so chic. Even though she couldn’t speak a word of English. And it was obvious she would not be able to take care of me there. So my grandfather, in the meantime, he was a chemical engineer, and a physicist. And he got a job in Geneva, Illinois, which is just like forty miles west of here. And so I went with my grandmother, and lived there. So most of my growing up years were with my grandparents. And my mother remarried much later. And they still weren’t in a position…they haven’t anybody with…they couldn’t have their own kids… So they got professions in the antiquities there, the old master. Experts, and furniture people…Louis VI, Louis V, Phoenician. You name it. They knew all about it. But they didn’t have much money, and they lived in very tiny apartments, and it was just easier for me to stay with my grandparents.

They had a nice big house in Elmhurst so I had a very nice childhood in Elmhurst. Very typical American, as far as schooling. York High School, big, co-ed, no blacks, I don’t remember ever seeing a black person until I moved to New York. But nobody ever made a big deal about it one way or another. Very good scholastically, a lot of opportunities. Everybody went to summer school, not because they had to but because they wanted to. It was kind of a whole coterie of people who were very interested in really learning stuff. And my grandparents were very, very intellectual. My…the chemist, the engineer, he had a PhD in philosophy, and although my grandmother never gone to college, she was an artist, and a writer.

And we had this house was a little bit like theirs. This is where I got my style, my whole…a feeling about what a home should look like. It should have books, it should have art, it should have a literate life. A social life, a literate life, a life of politics. Not music so much, that’s one thing there weren’t terribly interested in. And so I came to that sort of on my own. And my great-uncle lived with us, the one who got me into the convent, but he came… He was too old to get his residency in the U.S., so he didn’t practice as a physician, but he was a cancer research specialist. And at that time Cook County had an institute called the Hektoen Institute, where they did cancer research. And he’s one of the doctors who established the five year remission limit, that if you are clear of it for five years you are considered more or less cured. Well, his research led to that. And I have some pamphlets that he wrote when he was still in Paris with his mentor, that were seminal in that sort of research. So he’s a pretty interesting guy. He liked music, but nobody else in the family was in on it. Literature: yes; art: of course; philosophy, history, you name it. That was all fine, but the only music I got was from taking ballet classes, because she always had a classical pianist play for us, so…but now I’m a very…I can’t play anything. I can sing a little, a little, ok? But I can’t play even a wazoo, or anything. It’s completely hopeless. The fact that I have a piano should not impress you. But anyways…


ML: [Laughing] I can’t play a lick, either.

ES: I can’t play anything. But I do love music. As you can see I have many CDs, and wonderful LPs, which thankfully are coming back. And I have some really tremendous ones. But I absolutely adore music. And so that’s been a part of my growing up life, very…my mother also was not at all musical, neither was Arthur, her second husband. Just wasn’t part of their, their vibe. So that was sort of my thing in the family.


ML: It seems like family, and being close to your family is really, really important to you. Did you learn that from your family, is that something you grew up around?

ES: So, it was never really emphasized or talked about. I was not close to my mother. Actually my mother and my grandparents didn’t get along terribly well. And I had no brothers or sisters. So family was not as big a thing as it is in some…some enclaves. Like we didn’t stick with the French, or the Polish, or the Russian, which are our three ethnicities. We were Jewish, but not Jewish. Nobody ever went to temple. We didn’t have any sort of cultural clubbing, in our… We were all in individual contexts, with people who shared our interests in art, in literature, and occasionally theater. So there was no grouping, or like-minded or people who had similar backgrounds at all. Not one little bit. Which was…actually it was a little unusual. But we’re not a big…we’re never a big family. That’s more my daughter’s thing. I never felt that way either. I mean it’s not that I didn’t love my family and don’t love my family, but it’s just not the same intense closeness and clannish-ness. It was…


ML: So it was more of a…it was more of a like-minded people?

ES: Yeah it’s more like a…

ML: Bonding over the same things?

ES: Yeah. And they gave me very nice upbringing, but I was never close to my mother, even when I lived with her later, when I went to school in New York, she and I just did not get along. Yeah, we sort of loved each other, but we did better just seeing each other than living together. But she was a remarkable woman, aside from being very beautiful, very intelligent, and incredibly courageous during the war. Just very courageous.


ML: So going back to when you were a child, obviously you grew up speaking French…

ES: That’s all I spoke.

ML: I was going to ask, when did you learn English?

ES: When I came here, I learned it in school. I didn’t know…my mother certainly didn’t know any English. My grandmother learned un peu (“a bit”) [laughs], but I went to school. First I went to school in the west side, at that time the west side of Manhattan was not gentrified. It was a little rough. And they weren’t too happy. There were Hispanics…and not that they minded that but they wanted me to learn English, not Spanish. Or Puerto Rican, or whatever that flavor of Spanish is. So they sent me, they got all the money together from everybody in the family, including the people that sponsored us, and sent me to this incredibly hoity-toity school in Greenwich, Connecticut. Yeah ooo, yeah wow is right. It was incredibly expensive. And I only lasted a year there; I think the money ran out. And then they wanted me to ski, among other things. I mean they did everything in this school, it was a very avant-garde…it was like a mini Vassar. So the first time I tried to ski I ran into a tree. And I hugged the tree, I was very tiny, and thank G-d the tree was very tiny, and I said, “That’s it, I’m never skiing again.” And the funny thing is that I used to hang out in their pottery studio. And they said ‘ah-ha!’ it came very early that you were going to be a sculptor, and maybe so, I felt very happy being in the pottery studio. So that was a shades of things to come. But everybody thought that was quite funny. But I did learn to speak rather good English there, and I never had any trouble after that. So I was bilingual, after that, I spoke both English and French. However when I was in high school I almost forgot French, because I didn’t speak it very much. And I almost flunked high school French, can you believe this? I know, it’s shocking isn’t it?

ML: A little bit.

ES: Yeah. I wouldn’t go to class. I knew all this stuff, why would I need to…I wouldn’t study, I wouldn’t write the papers. My French teacher said, “You realize you’re going to flunk French.” I just thought it was hilarious, but my grandparents didn’t think it was so funny.


ML: So after New York you moved here, correct?

ES: Yes. I was in New York for not very long. We had a beautiful apartment, and how they afforded this I have never know. Right on Central Park West.

ML: Wow.

ES: 444 Central Park West. I loved that apartment, it was just beautiful. And then I went west with my grandma, we left my mom there. And she did very well at Macy’s and other places. And then I went to live with my grandparents in a tiny rented house in Geneva. And then after a couple of years, my great-uncle and my great-grandmother joined us. But my great-grandmother died from pneumonia in ’49, and that’s when we moved to Elmhurst. But he lived until I was about…a sophomore in high school, then he died too.


ML: So when did you move specifically to Edgewater?

ES: Oh, that was a long ways after that. I lived…I got married. When I came back from New York, I went to school at Barnard. I came back here, and met my first husband, at the First National Bank, I was doing trust returns, can you believe that? I never trusted that bank after that. I never put any of my money…said if they can hire somebody like me to do their trust returns, they are not to be trusted. These people are crazy! But anyway I met him when I was playing bridge, because I learned to play bridge from my grandfather. He was an excellent bridge player and so we got married. We had two kids, and we lived in Riverside, in Oak Park, and then in New Lenox, and then we got divorced. And then I went back to live in Riverside because I really loved it. And then when my grandfather died from an airplane crash in ’72, that’s when I hooked up to my second husband. Who actually, it’s good you’re sitting down; he was my grandfather’s boss.


ML: Whoops [laughs].

ES: But they had known each other for a very long time, and he was Hungarian, they both had PhDs. They both loved philosophy and history and music and theater. They had a tremendous lot in common. They spoke German as well as English and French, so they were big buddies. So when I was a little girl, he would come to my house, my grandmother’s house, because my grandmother loved to entertain, and he was with wife number two at the time. So I got to know him, and even would come to my ballet recitals, can you believe this, and bring me flowers. Wife number two was history by then, by the time my grandfather died. So I was terribly distressed by this whole thing, it was absolutely appalling. It happened at Christmas. It was just terrible. So Steven, his name was Constantine, helped me get my act together. He helped me get through the papers, and helped me with the funeral and all that, and I found out he had been divorced for seven years by that time. So I was [unintelligible], he always lived in the city, he lived on the lake, because he loved…down on Diversey and Lake Shore Drive. So we started talking a lot, and seeing each other as much as possible, and we thought, “This is stupid. Why don’t we just move in together?” I couldn’t move in right away because he was living with his son, and they had to get a lease. It’s not important. Anyway we found him an apartment and he and I started looking for condos. We didn’t especially like this one, it has a lot of faults, trust me. But he went right out on that balcony, and he said, “Where do I sign?” He immediately fell in love with it. And it was in the summer. It was just absolutely beautiful.


ML: I can’t blame him.

ES: So that’s how I ended up here, in Edgewater. And the more I’ve lived here, the more I realize what a very special place it is. Not talking about the people or the attractions…the fact is that people who live south of here, unless you go all the way down the South Shore, don’t live on the lake. They live on the Drive, and there’s a harbor, or there’s a park, and then there’s the lake. We’re…until you come up to here, you’re not on the lake.


ML: Hmm.

ES: We’re on the beach. The people on the North Shore, you know in Lakeview, in Lincoln Park, where it’s much more expensive to live, they’re not on the lake. We’re on the lake. We have our own beach for heaven’s sake. I remember sending my mother a picture when we first moved in, and I said, “This is where we’re living.” She said, “What did you do, move to Miami Beach?” I said, “No. This is Chicago!” She wouldn’t believe it, until she came to see for herself. So we thought, and at that time Edgewater was not the place it is now, it had a lot of social problems. I mean it still does but not…it was actually dangerous to live in parts. There were swaths of it that had serious gang problems, and there wasn’t much going on as far as community organization, there were no restaurants to speak of, just a couple of kind of run down… So the only attraction it had for us was the fact that we were on the beach. We had a balcony. They allowed cats. We had a pool. Parking was free which is incredibly rare. As I say we have a lot. I still have a lot of issues with the apartment, because I studied interior design Iit leaves a lot to be desired, trust me. But the fact that the balcony, the location, location, location as they say, and it had all these other amenities, and then it was fairly reasonable, and fairly well maintained, and it had the wonderful buses to go straight downtown, because my husband, even though he was much older than I was, he was very mobile. He went to [unintelligible]. He went to Loyola library. He traveled a lot by himself because I was busy. I got very involved in community organizations very early in my stay here. And I would work now and then. And he would complain, “How is it that none of my wives want to work for a living?” Well, because he liked us to be volunteering and doing other things, and then he complained when I worked and he never got any decent dinners.


ML: So it’s like he couldn’t win.

ES: No, so I would work for a little while. Actually I worked for a long time at the Merchandise Mart, because I got a job with a friend. Hhe became a friend, who owned a very large chain of teenage haberdashers, you know jewelry, really cheap stuff but cute for teenagers. I traveled with him and became one of his managers and got to know the business very well. And we were thinking of getting married, but it wasn’t going to work out. And he already had five children, I said, “No, I don’t think so.” But he did marry another manager who was a lovely woman. So we were all very good friends. So he put me in the Merchandise Mart, which was cool because you got to meet all the designers and everything, and I got to run that store by myself, I didn’t have to go through his buyers, because the crap that he bought was completely inappropriate for the Merchandise Mart. So that was fun and we were very good friends, and we went to school together, so since I hadn’t finished at Barnard I took two years of schooling at Northwestern in Art, in Chinese History, and in Theater. And then I did quite a lot of theater in Chicago. Box theaters and things like that, so that was fun, I really enjoyed it.


ML: So you said that when you moved to Edgewater, it isn’t the way…or it wasn’t the way it is now.

ES: No.

ML: Has it evolved?

ES: It has evolved tremendously. First of all it’s kind of skipped the ups and downs to great extent of craziness that was going on the market. There was not an overdevelopment of things…yeah things. Some old houses have been torn down to our regret, and then there’s those awful four plus ones that are the scum of the earth. They’re the ones that should be torn down. But Loyola, there’s a lot of controversy about this, but I’m glad that Loyola is taking over some of that, because they are tearing down and building up some attractive facilities. From a tax point of view it’s a bit dicey, but it doesn’t add to the value of the neighborhood as far as I’m concerned. There really wasn’t much here. There were a couple of theaters, but you had to go mostly to the St. Nicholas Theater. Steppenwolf didn’t even exist then. There was one up on Howard Street, but it just was not the rich, incredibly diverse place it is now. Ethnically it was not as diverse. There were a lot of…still some old Jewish people who had moved up from South Side. They were old when I moved here, and some of them are still here amazingly. But it wasn’t as diverse. There weren’t as many young people. The housing was nice, I mean there was still a nice…selection of housing, with everything from high rises to old homes, or the old six flats and things, but they were not being kept up, or…there was no place to eat, to speak of, except for Moody’s hamburgers, which isn’t bad, but it’s limited.

So in the years I’ve lived here, especially the last twenty years, it seemed to be on even keel for a long time. We saved…. I was involved in community council, Edgewater Community council. I was Uptown Society, Chamber of Commerce, and we saved, for instance, Berger Park. They wanted to tear that down It belonged to the [Vitorian] Brothers. They wanted to sell it for something like six million dollars, because it was one of the last lakefront, literally lakefront property, but we saved it for the community. And that was something that we all worked on, and I got to meet a lot of very nice people through that. And I got hooked up with Sandee working for the Edgewater Community Council. We put on benefits. I can’t remember how many benefits I did for them. And also for the chamber music, I…between her and me we must have put on at least twenty benefits.


ML: Wow.

ES: And some of them we catered ourselves. Pretty intense work. And we did some publicity work. We did a lot of political work. I was…the politics were very good here. That was one thing that we enjoyed…there was a very good work organization. And then with Marion Volini coming along, she was excellent. And Mary Ann Smith, now [Harry] Osterman, we had very good political representation. And they were very community oriented; they really were gung-ho. And there was a whole group of people that the people redevelop part of Winthrop. They fixed up these places that were beautiful, originally, but it had been let go terribly. And they were treasures too, I mean [unintelligible]. But there were a growing cadre of people who were really interested in making this a really beautiful place to live. And then Andersonville came back to life, and that’s a huge destination. It’s got one restaurant after another, really cool stores, and it is…they try to pretend, but it is part of Edgewater. And we all benefit from it. Bryn Mawr used to be the pits. It was horrible. And now it’s beautiful! Its art deco designated. It also has very nice restaurants…I mean it was dangerous to walk on Bryn Mawr. It’s still not nice to walk on [unintelligible] at night. It’s ok, but not…and the schools were, eh comme ci comme ça (“neither good nor bad”). But we got a great influx of people who were priced out of the market, in Lakeview going south. So they didn’t want to be up as far as Roger’s Park, so they landed here.


ML: One of the things that you mentioned earlier was the diversity of people, and some of the research that we did shows that Edgewater has a fairly large representation of people from around the world.

ES: Oh, absolutely.

ML: Do you feel that that helps build the community into a closer knit community?

ES: No, I don’t. But I think it will, eventually. I think it takes many years for it to percolate. And the reason for this as far as I’m concerned has nothing to do with the community, as such. You have to remember that most these people are here because they were…facing very serious problems at home. And one of the consequences of that is that you learn to not trust anybody. You can’t trust your neighbor, you can’t trust the people across the street, you can’t…. Someone comes up and says hello, you don’t know what they want, because they’ll shoot you or arrest you. So it takes a long time, I think, for people to get away from just being with their own small groups. Where they still speak the mother tongue, and they share these memories…very often horrible memories together. And it takes them a long time, I think, to feel safe and at home. So I think that’s a work in progress.

And especially as we keep getting new ones, because the world is up in flames, I mean there’s not one place you see that, there’s not some terrible ethnic slaughter going on. Everywhere you look. But in our building we have more Bosnians, now. We have a whole camp from that horrible war. Especially the slaughter - Herzegovina. So we have a lot of Bosnians. We have some older Russian people. We have a couple that I was telling Dorothy about, who’ve lived here a very long time, I think they were one of the first people when this building was built in 1966, he’s ninety nine years old. They emigrated from Egypt, when King Farouk was deposed in 1956. And Nasser did not like the upper-class Egyptians. So here’s a man who speaks French, because all the upper-class Egyptians speak French, and of course Arabic. So they fled to Italy. And they’re Jews, they’re not Muslims. And they spoke, learned Italian, and he’s what they call a chartered public accountant. And then they came to the United States, and got a job at the Spertus Jewish Museum, where I worked for a while. I actually worked for him for a while, which was really weird. But quite interesting people. So I had told Dorothy about them and she gave me the form, I’m going to give it to them, because they trust me. They know me. They’re not going to respond to somebody that they don’t know. Some of these people do keep to themselves…Greeks, we have Poles, we have, oh my G-d, we have people from all over. We have South Americans, not…currently only one or two black people. We used to have black people but they were not…they were from Chicago, they were not…we had a Haitian at one time, but they died. Very nice people. So it’s not the United Nations, but it’s still a fairly…. Out of 226 units, a fair number of them are…. We have Chinese, mainland Chinese, that moved down the hall, bought a condo there. So we have a fairly good representation of the more recent exoduses, except for the angels who have been here since ’66, but most of them are more recent than that.


ML: But you feel the potential for building a strong community…is there?

ES: I think yes, I think it’s going to take time. Because the ones that hadn’t built a community, even the older ones who had emigrated after World War II, they never really blended into…. I mean the Russians. You see them walking together. You can always see them. You can spot them a mile away…I know this sounds very racist, but it isn’t It’s just the way they dress. They’re bundled up. They walk with their hands behind their back, and they’re always in pairs, and they’re always speaking Russian. That’s a clue. But not very many of them reach out. We have another Egyptian lady who lives here too. But she came here directly from…and the same time that the other Egyptians came. And she also speaks perfect French. I mean it’s nice, but I think it’s not something that just happens overnight. And as I see it, I think it’s mainly a matter of trust. They’ve been through so much they just can’t…don’t feel comfortable. It could take a decade. Or it might be their kids that…. Their kids will do it. The second generation will feel comfortable. But the first generation maybe never. And I don’t think that’s just now. I think it’s like that for…. Look at the Greeks, used to stick all together in Greekland. Now they’re all over. We have Greeks here, too. Now they’re completely integrated. But I think it’s often the second…and especially if they come as mature adults. I think it’s almost impossible for them to really feel integrated.


ML: To feel like home.

ES: Yeah, I don’t think that ever really happens.

ML: Where would you call home?

ES: Home? Here.

ML: Right here?

ES: Oh yes, this is definitely my home.

ML: Do you still identify with where you grew up in France? Or spent some time in…

ES: No, I don’t identify necessarily with Montpellier. But I do identify with France. And I identify with Europe, as a whole. I feel very comfortable in Europe.

ML: As the unification of Europe is becoming more and more common?

ES: Yeah, but I’ve yet to be in a country in Europe, I mean I still have a few to go, but I felt very home in England, and Scotland. And I think it’s because of my education, which was influenced by Europeans. And that I treasure certain kinds of knowledge that aren’t necessarily valued very highly here. So I integrate very easily into those societies. But I think I integrate very well into the society here. But I must say I tend towards people who have some of those interests as well. I have traveled, I don’t identify with people who are know-nothings, to not too fine a point on it. I just don’t like them. So I do tend to people who have similar appreciation of art, of culture, of knowledge, period. Knowledge, to me, is incredibly important. And my grandchildren say, “Yeah but we can find everything on our computer!” I say, “Kiddo, what if you’re on a desert island with no electricity? It all has to be in your head, not on your iPad.” It’s got to be portable.


ML: And that’s one of the disadvantages of technology, because information’s so easy to get to, you don’t have to know it…

ES: But it’s information, as opposed to knowledge.

ML: Right.

ES: And it’s not the same thing. And if I want to know something, I can find it. I have a fine enough library, not just due to my efforts, but my grandparents, my mother and father’s, and my husband especially. I could outfit a small town’s library very easily. As far as reference books, history, art, novels, dictionaries, just about any field, even physics, mathematics, thanks to my husband. In French, in German, Hungarian, a little Spanish, Italian. So I feel like my brain isn’t in here [points to head], it’s all around me. Which is why I have a very hard time getting rid of books. Because I feel even though it may have been a while since I’ve read a book, if I can see it, it’s like I know what’s in there. And then I know it’s in there somewhere. It’s like when you see a picture someplace you’ve been, the whole thing comes back to you, the whole experience is there. But if you lose that picture, it gradually fades away because there’s nothing to keep it fresh. So it isn’t that I look at every book everyday obviously, because that’s completely impossible, but it gives me great deal of satisfaction to know that that experience, that knowledge that music, or that poetry is accessible.


ML: And you mentioned several different languages. How many languages do you speak?

ES: I only speak two well: English and French. I speak some Italian. I understand an infinitely tiny piece of Polish. Vanishingly small, my Polish. I’m learning Dutch, because I’m going to Holland in the fall. And I refuse to go to a place where I can’t even read the signs, or say hello, or how much does this cost, or how do I get there. It’s not that I want to be fluent in Dutch, because that is not going to happen, trust me. If I can’t become fluent in Italian, Dutch is not even on the horizon. But I took a beginning Dutch, a CD so I can have it in the car, and kind of let it…. So I’m going. Why am I going to Amsterdam? Because I studied Dutch and Flemish painting with one of the world’s great experts. He’s in the encyclopedia, as a matter of fact. Patrick Julius [unintelligible]. You can Google him and see. But I’ve always loved seventeenth century Dutch and Flemish art. Probably the greatest painters that have ever lived. Even more so than the Italians. Although there are some Italians who are pretty darn good, yeah. But as a whole there were more great Dutch painters. And actually the Italians learned oil painting from the Dutch.


ML: I didn’t.

ES: Yeah. They did. But be that as it may, the Rijksmuseum, which is the big museum in Amsterdam, has been closed for ten years. They completely redid it. So they only had this one little part of the front of it, where you could go in and they had some of their more important Rembrandts and whatever, but now it’s open after ten years, and I wanted to go to the Mauritshuis Museum in The Hague, I want to go to [unintelligible] was born…and to the Maastricht, and then I’m going to go Bruges, and Gent. Those are best preserved medieval towns in Europe. And that’s saying something because Germany has some pretty amazing ones too. And to Brussels, and then to Luxembourg, and then back to Amsterdam. So I don’t have to worry about Belgium because thank G-d they speak French, and in Luxemburg they also speak French aside from three other languages. They speak Luxembourgeois, which I don’t understand. They speak their own language. So I am disappointed that neither one of my kid’s shares my enthusiasm for some of these things, but you know what? They do other things that they’re very good at. But I do try to impart some of that to my grandchildren when I’m there.


MS: Did you notice… I know you were fairly young when you left France…

ES: I was five.

MS: So, did you notice a major difference in the culture at that time between France and here?

ES: No, I was much too young to pay any attention to that. I really was. I think when you’re young you sort of go through life in your own little…like Linus with your own little fog following you around. And as long as your parents are around, and you have enough to eat, when you’re hungry or drink when you’re thirsty, you’re in a comfortable place and you go to school, that’s pretty much it, you know? I think it takes…

When I was older, I started realizing that the culture I had at home with my grandparents was completely different from the way my friends’ homes were. That became very noticeable. It didn’t bother me, but it became very noticeable, I would say from the time I was eight of so, it became more and more noticeable. And at times, kids like to be like everybody else, and the differences would embarrass me sometimes. My grandparents didn’t understand. But that’s…I think that’s just part of growing up, and you later realize what happens is completely stupid. But it’s normal for kids to want to fit in with other kids. And I did have friends. Not very many, but in high school, I had kind of an elite group of friends, like what else, you know? And we all belonged to this Latin class. Mrs. Larson, who’s hardly a Latin name. She’s Swedish, but she was the most amazing Latin teacher. So she had her whole little group of students who were her pets, and we were with her all four years. And believe me; we learned a lot of Latin. And we all got state first…you know, all medals, for Latin. And we all became enamored with not only Latin language but the whole culture of Rome and Greek. History and mythology. So that was a great gift to us. But we were all in this sort of together.

So I didn’t have…not too much in common with the other kids. I don’t think it was the really upfront snobbery. It was just a lack of things in common. They weren’t doing anything that even remotely interested me. And everybody that did things that I could participate in were from this group. It was kind of a self-selecting sort of thing. And I even took Latin in college. And then my boyfriend, quote-unquote, in high school went on to be a Classics professor at Amherst. And now for many years he’s been an archaeologist. And he’s out of the University of Texas at Austin. But we had quite a number who were pretty…. I was not one of the brightest stars. But it was a wonderful group of people to hang out with.


MS: So fast forwarding to now, do you see yourself ever leaving Edgewater?

ES: No. Not unless I become very ill and I can’t take care of myself. But I’ve told both of my children that I don’t want to ever leave this place. And if they have to hire round-the-clock nurses, so be it. I mean I’m not moving out of here. Even if they have to turn it into a hospital ward, I don’t care.

MS: So you kind of like it here then? [laughs]

ES: Oh you think. Well, I just…as they say, feel like my physical being isn’t just limited to my body. It encompasses all the interior walls of my…even as messy as it is, it’s still me, you know? And I feel such a great deal of satisfaction having these things around me. They inspire me. Sometimes I’m in despair because a lot of them need painting and repairing and refinishing, and certainly cleaning once in a while.

But I love to cook, and I have wonderful friends in the building, wonderful friends in the community, and I’m very lucky I can travel pretty much when I want to. I’m extremely lucky that way. And I have a balcony, with a garden, with sun. I have a cat. I have a swimming pool, beautiful [unintelligible], I’m right on the beach, gorgeous. A car. Round the clock maintenance, doorman. I mean, what more do you want out of life, you know? And soon a Mariano’s, yay! [Claps]. I’m so excited about it. I can’t imagine wanting more than that. I don’t know what I’d do with more than that. You know? I can’t even keep up with what I have. There’s a lot of writing, that everybody in my family…. And I want to get some college kid to come and put it all on a desktop publishing format for me, because it’s here, and it’s there. Some of its longhand, some of it is in French, but I’d like to make this sort of a compendium. It may never see the light of day, but it could be something I could give at least the family, and it would not be just scattered. Because I used to write poetry, especially when I was in high school and college, I wrote a lot of poetry, and I still do, but mostly in English now. But my mother wrote. My grandmother wrote a novel, about leaving Paris when the Germans invaded. She wrote a little novel about it. It should be published, you know? Even if it’s self-published, it needs to be done. And my grandfather wrote short stories, my great-uncle wrote medical treatises, the things on philosophy, I mean it’s just…it’s overwhelming, and I’m not getting any younger.

So I need to really reorganize my life in such a way as I can devote a little bit more time to that. So no, this is it. This is my home. And I can’t think of any other place…I mean my daughter wants me to move down where she lives. She lives in Georgia, an island, perfectly gorgeous, [whispers] too hot. It is way too hot, from May to October, it’s unbearable. So I would have to live right on the ocean, and even I can’t afford that. I mean we’re talking about big bucks. So no, and there’s nothing compared to what is up in Chicago. I mean Chicago has everything New York has, only on a more reasonable and accessible level. I mean how many people can go to all those plays, to the ballets, to the…I subscribe to the opera, occasionally the symphony. There’s such a cornucopia, and everything’s accessible. And it’s…. Obviously there are a lot of people who can’t afford it, but I think more people can afford it here than can in many big cities of the world. So I think it’s just the perfect place to live, that’s my last word on that. How’s that?


MS: That’s good.

ES: Yeah.

MS: If you had to give one piece of advice for first generation immigrants coming into the city, or specifically Edgewater, what would it be?

ES: I don’t think you can give one piece of advice. No, I’ll tell you why. There is a generic advice that can be given, but I think it has to be tailored to the age of the immigrant. So what’s good for the kid isn’t necessarily good for the grandma. For the grandma, depending on what education level she has, because if you are better educated you are less worried about being out in the world. And it depends tremendously on what traumatic experiences they went through to get here. That’s a huge factor. So to say there’s one thing…you know what, I think it’s so banal, but I think it is to try to find a niche, where you feel comfortable enough to eventually reach out to do new things.


MS: Would you recommend they come to Edgewater?

ES: Yes, absolutely. First of all, for economic reasons, I think it’s the best bang for the buck in the city. We have a tremendous diversity of housing. The prices are fairly reasonable compared to other places. It’s pretty safe. The transportation is great. I sound like a chamber of commerce. Shopping is terrific, and becoming better all the time.

MS: So that could be your one piece of advice: come here!

ES: And come here because I think people reach out here. I think there are a lot of groups that are very friendly. We have a beautiful new library. I know they have book clubs, I know they have the Greek Church; I know that there are temples, the Jewish temples, there are other African-American churches. There’s a Burmese church, a Vietnamese church. Some of the [unintelligible] churches also have this dual existence. So I think since there have been immigrants coming for quite a while, I think there is already a whole structure in place that these people can gradually feel comfortable taking advantage of.

MS: Well, thank you very much for sharing your story with me. Iit’s been very, very interesting.

ES: Yeah, I hope I didn’t babble on too much.

MS: Not at all, not at all.

ES: Let me see if I can quickly find a picture for you and if not I will give it to Dorothy.