Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Suzanne: mythical muse or human being?

Suzanne takes you down to her place near the river...

Leonard Cohen was so inspired by her as a young woman in Montreal that he wrote the poem which was to become the hit song "Suzanne" covered by no less than 20 artists since the late '60's. It's a haunting melody that immortalized Suzanne as a mythical muse in the hearts and minds of millions.

The lyrics painted a portrait of a beautiful and free young woman in a time, a woman wearing "rags and feathers from Salvation Army counters" who found "heroes in the seaweed" and showed you "where to look among the garbage and the flowers."

Fast forward forty years, and you'll find Suzanne eerily encapsulated in "Suzanne" - a woman now in her late fifties, still in Goodwill rags, whose story is as bittersweet as the tea and oranges she fed to Cohen on summer afternoons while boats drifted by and they melded their minds.

Her flat overlooking the St. Lawrence River is now a room in a boutique hotel, her old friend the poet has become a world famous musician, and the beauty of her youth has faded; but for Suzanne Verdal, much has stayed the same.

She has lived most of her life as a gypsy, traveling on the fringes of society, creating art and poetry for the love of it and living for the beauty she could find in a moment.

Suzanne was a well-known and respected dancer and choreographer in Canada, and came to Los Angeles with big dreams. Just as her Hollywood career was about to take off, she had a tragic fall from a ladder onto concrete, breaking her back and both wrists. Her dreams of dance were over.

Now subsisting on a small monthly disability check, she was forced to move into her truck when her landlord evicted her to do a renovation and she could no longer afford rent in L.A.

She presently shares her truck, which has been transformed into a funky wooden art house on wheels, with four beloved adopted cats.

At first glance, it looks like a romantic way of life - when I first met her in a parking lot in Santa Monica by the ocean, I admired her house on wheels with one of the best views going. "How adventurous and free!" I thought to myself.

I began to stop by on my way back from the Wednesday market on my bicycle and we became friends. She read me her poetry and chapters from her life story. It was eloquent and articulate and wistful and melancholy. She'd feed the birds around her truck and call them her angels. She'd watch her kitties climb the gnarly tree, claiming they'd saved her life as much as she'd saved theirs. She recalled being able to turn nothing into magic in happier days.

When she showered at my place, only when I insisted, she emerged bright and radiant, and said "There are angels in water!" I shared with her organic greens from the market - "fairy food" - and at our Venice Easter garden party, she brought chocolate cake and camembert and wore purple orchids in her hair.

Fiercely independent and proud like her Scottish ancestors, Suzanne has a difficult time asking for help. In the six months I've known her, I've seen her give more than receive.

Suzanne has recently taken steps toward getting herself off the street. She's made a big move to Santa Cruz, and is at the moment trading some gardening work, along with her cooking skills and massage for the use of a new friend's kitchen, bathroom and electricity.

I often look at Suzanne, in all her complexities of beauty and pain, sensitivity and strength, freedom and struggle, magic and futility; and I wonder if, given a different set of circumstances, it could be me. If it were, I would have to rely heavily on Angels for help.

This blog is for Suzanne's Angels.

"You know that she's half crazy but that's why you want to be there."

1 comment:

Terry said...

I guess what I do not understand is why any of the "artists" who have made millions from Cohen's beautiful song haven't come forward to help Suzanne. I would think that Cohen, (who I thought was a spiritual man) would assist. It just isn't right and is disappointing.