Van Gogh had 38 different addresses in his lifetime, but only a few stick out to us now. One is the Paris apartment he shared with his brother Theo at #54 rue Lepic. For an art fan, a tour of Montmartre isn’t complete without a pause in front of the building’s front door.
Another notable abode was his room in Arles, where he turned self-mutilation into an unintentionally ingenious stroke of brand messaging that ensured no one would ever forget his story. Most believe it was a sad cocktail of epilepsy and bipolar disorder that led to the “ear incident”; others claim he was ingesting too much of the cadmium in those luscious yellows used to portray his bedroom at the time:
But for me the most intriguing of Vincent’s homes is his last, found an hour outside Paris and unused since his death:
You’re looking at the cheapest room available in Auvers-sur-Oise when Van Gogh moved there to seek psychiatric treatment in 1890. Three and a half francs got him 75 square feet and three meals a day in the bistro downstairs:
Life wasn’t very good however. Each day for Van Gogh was a desperate act of self-defense, painting 80 pictures in just 70 days as he struggled to drown his demons in swirling strokes of the most hopeful pigments he could muster. A visit to Auvers-sur-Oise today offers poignant moments of inclusion into the frantic and contemplative world of his final days, allowing you to stand where he once did and marvel at his unique way of seeing the world:
On July 27th of that year, for whatever reason, Vincent’s usual outdoor kit of paint tubes and brushes included an incongruous addition: a handgun. Alone in broad daylight, among the wisps of a sun-dappled field he was meant to be capturing on canvas, he pointed the pistol to his chest and pulled the trigger.
Having missed his own heart, he managed to stagger back inside the 75 square feet of his rented room where he suffered for two days before passing away with his brother Theo at his side. The two siblings would later be buried in the very same town, tucked away in a quiet nondescript cemetery.
Van Gogh was 37 years old.
Which is why I’m writing this post. I recently turned 38, which had seemed like a perfectly insignificant milestone…until I visited this town. The fact that I’ve now outlived Van Gogh got me thinking about what a life is, what makes it meaningful. I stacked up my own 37 years against his. And although judging yourself against another’s accomplishments is always a mistake (especially against a genius in their field), I saw it as a general wake-up call to start creating again.
Hence the return to A French Frye in Paris, after a much-too-long hiatus. I’d always promised myself I wouldn’t take Paris for granted, or my blog readers for that matter, but I’m afraid I may have done just that. It’s in that spirit, and the spirit of Vincent’s fight, that I’m firing up the blog again for any of you who’ve stuck around. Allons-y! :-)