Paris : Simon Cutts & Erica Van Horn
We met Muriel P. Englehart ten years ago, in Florence.
We were eating lunch in a small restaurant on a bitterly cold day. A tiny elderly woman was sitting alone at the next table. By the time we got to dessert, we had entered into conversation together. She had heard our English and felt comfortable enough to speak with us. She had heard us discussing the inexcusable behaviour of the United States in Iraq. She had listened to us for long enough to know that we shared a great deal of anger and disappointment about this shocking event. Politically, we were already friends.
On finishing dessert, we decided to have a grappa with our coffees. It was too cold to leave the restaurant. That was our excuse. Because the conversation together was so pleasant, we offered Muriel P. Englehart a grappa. She accepted when I told her that it was my birthday. We talked on and on about many things. Perhaps we even had a second grappa.
After leaving the subject of politics, she told us that she was an artist and that she lived in Paris. She was an American but she had been in Europe for so long that she did not feel she could live anywhere else. In Paris, she had a studio in the top of a church. On this trip to Italy, she was staying in a convent where she could live simply and inexpensively while spending her days drawing angels in various churches and museums. Muriel P. Englehart drew angels and she carved angels out of wood.
We stayed in touch with Muriel P. Englehart for many years. We exchanged cards each New Year. Once she sent us a beautiful candle with which to see in the New Year. She liked sending things to Ireland and she liked receiving things from Ireland. Her letters with her beautiful handwriting were a pleasure to receive. She loved my letters in return because she said they gave her the feeling that when she read them she had been traveling herself. Our letters were our visits.
Whenever we went to Paris, we arranged to meet her. We always met in her local café. Everyone knew her there. Everyone seemed to have the same sort of feeling about her that we had. She was a bit frail and she was more frail each time we visited. I think she was well into her eighties, but I never asked her age. The people in her café wanted her to be treated with respect. Even though she must have been strong to carve and heft her large wooden angels, she seemed like someone to be protected.
The café where we met, was just across from Saint-Sulpice, which was the church in which she had her studio. She had her own key to enter the church, but she was going to her studio less and less often. The studio was at the very top of the church. Each time we visited, she promised to take us up to the studio but somehow we never made it. The stairs were becoming too much. She told us how many steps there were to the top but I do not remember the number.
We somehow lost touch in the last few years. I don’t know if Muriel P. Englehart has died or if she is in residential care somewhere. The P. in her name was her surname. She was of the famous family of Pulitzer, and the prize, but she herself had no money nor prestige as a result of the name. Any money in her side of the family had been lost along the way. She lived very frugally making her angels. Early on she took her mother’s maiden name of Englehart to separate herself from the more well known Pulitzer name. She chose to be an artist in her own right.
I wish I had thought to ask if the carving of angels was anything to do with her mother’s name. And was she offered the studio in the church because she carved angels or did she carve angels because she had a studio in a church?
We walked past Saint-Sulpice today. Of course we thought of her.