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And then I met Edwin

Rudy Burckhardt in conversation with Simon Pettet


 

I think that Edwin was really my guru, my root teacher;
I learned a great deal from him without knowing it.


[1]

And then I met Edwin

And then I met Edwin and that was
just at the right time.

I had studied pre-med for a year in Geneva,
I had been in London and Paris.
I was back home, dropping out of medical school,
I didn’t know what I was going to do, I was just moping around.

And Edwin was like a vision of the big world, cosmopolitan and...


 

Photo of Edwin Denby by Rudy Burckhardt


Photo of Edwin Denby by Rudy Burckhardt

[2]

Simon:



You met Edwin where? In Paris?

Rudy:

No, in Switzerland. He was visiting with some dancer friends. He came to my place to have a passport picture taken, there was a thunderstorm outside... oh, it was all very... historic. (I’m kidding!)

Simon:

No kidding. When I went to visit Poe’s grave in Baltimore, there was a thunderstorm. Seriously, was it sunny? Was it dark?

Rudy:

I think it was in the afternoon and the weather was mild as usual in Basel where it takes a long time to change. Not like in New York where it’s often sudden changes. The climate of Basel is placid and soporific. I had to get away to wake up...

 

Photo by Rudy Burckhardt

[3]

Simon:



So how did Edwin get you away from Basel?

Rudy:

Well, it took a while.
He was there most of the winter and we spent a lot of it together.
We went to the wrong side of the Rhine.

Simon:

The wrong side of the Rhine?

Rudy:

Yeah, the poor part, called “Kleinbasel” (Little Basel); the other is Big Basel.
I showed him a few things but he had already found some things I didn’t know, like one or two gay bars.
We watched the six-day bicycle race, and that wasn’t exactly comme il faut.

Simon:

No?

Rudy:

Rudy: No, it was lowbrow. Horseback riding would have been the right thing to do, but I refused to take lessons.

Simon:

Why?

Rudy:

Because in those days, in order to be an officer in the Swiss army, you had to be able to ride a horse.

Simon:

And you didn’t want to be an officer?

Rudy:

No.

 

Photo of Edwin Denby by Rudy Burckhardt

Photo of Edwin Denby by Rudy Burckhardt


 

Photo of Edwin Denby by Rudy Birckhardt

Rudy Burckhardt, self-portrait


[4]

Simon:



So in those early days of the relationship how did he present himself?

Rudy:

Well, he looked very dashing and cosmopolitan to me. He really knew about everything, which I didn’t, outside of Basel.
I remember once he was demonstrating some ballet steps on the street.

Simon:

In the middle of the street?

Rudy:

Yeah, in Basel, I was quite embarrassed, but I didn’t say anything.
And I remember we were at a carnival together, Edwin and I. Basel has a big carnival, and for three days anything goes, and I dressed up as a girl.

Simon:

You have any pictures of that?

Rudy:

No, but since it was carnival it was alright.

Simon:

Did you have ribbons in your hair?

Rudy:

I think I wore a bonnet and a skirt.

 

Photo by Rudy Burckhardt

[5]

Simon:



Wasn’t Edwin ever seen as a bad influence?

Rudy:

Well, he was gracious and he had very good manners, when he came to see my mother. I don’t know what she thought of him.

Last time I visited her in an old age home — she was ninety-seven, two years before she died — we talked, and I said,

“Greetings from Edwin Denby.”

“What?”

“GREETINGS FROM EDWIN DENBY!”

A smile lit up her face. “Oh, he’s the one who abducted you.”
That was probably the opinion of all the relatives though they never said it to my face.


 

Photo by Rudy Burckhardt




C O L O P H O N


 

Photo by Rudy Burckhardt

from: Talking Pictures, by Rudy Burckhardt and Simon Pettet. Zoland Books: Cambridge, Mass., 1994. All photographs copyright © Rudy Burckhardt












Photo, left:
Simon Pettet, New York City, November 2003,
photo by John Tranter


You can read a poem by Simon Pettet
in this issue of Jacket



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