Excerpted from ArtemisSmithís upcoming autobiography :
PteroDARKtyl : Memoirs of an Intimate Interface
©1999, 2006 by Artemis Smith. All rights reserved.
I was born in Rome, Italy in 1934, descended from a long line of philosopher-kings. On my motherís side, from Saint Olaf, and on my fatherís side, legendarily from Jonah. My birth certificate reads, una bambina di razza ebrea, and lists my parents as having been married only two days before I was born -- and that marriage might never have taken place were it not for Papal intervention that cut through Fascist bureaucracy.
But that clerical favor did not come without consequence. Though one side was Lutheran and the other Masonic, to obtain that legitimacy I had to be pledged to Catholicism so that we could all be protected as "the Pope's Jews." By the time my parents finally snatched me from the lap of the local priest, my mind had already been thoroughly corrupted.
My mother, known as Vilna Jorgen Morpurgo, was an artist-journalist earning her living as a stringer for Bonniers, the Scandinavian press bureau, while pursuing a career as painter and sculptor. She had studied sculpture with Karl Eldt in Sweden, where she fulfilled many portrait commissions for children of royal families; in Paris, she studied painting at Maison Watteau and was a member of the Paris La Horde. Having studied ballet with Fokine and rehearsed with Nijinski at the Royal Ballet of Sweden, she also worked as a ballroom exhibition Flamenco dancer while married to her first husband, a Norwegian journalist, Erling Jorgensen, who died of TB while they starved together in the proverbial Parisian Left Bank garret. He was the great love of her youth and she never got over the loss. Grief stricken, she had left Paris without stopping to get a death certificate and later could not prove to Italian authorities she was now a widow.
She joined a troupe of Spanish Flamenco dancers on their way to Barcelona, and both as artist and journalist, was also assigned to participate and cover an International Exposition which was called off by the Spanish Civil War. She covered the thermidor instead, then got on one of the first airmail cargo planes and almost crash-landed in Rome.
There Vilna roomed with a fellow artist and teacher, Baroness Clarissa von Bloomenthal, who had a studio in Via Margutta.# Together they joined and frequently exhibited in a group show of foreign woman artists that included De Kooning. At one of their ateliers, both my uncle Aldo, and my father Attilio, a prominent physician, met my mother. And both fell in love with her. But Aldo was already engaged to be married. Attilio won the toss.
My uncle, Aldo Morpurgo, was a prominent architect put in charge of the restoration of the Roman Forum. He commissioned Vilna to do a monument to the Roman Geese which was placed there. He also collaborated with her in drawing up the plans for a magnificent academy of the arts which Mussolini was inclined to establish. That was before 1937. Then Hitler came, and all Italian Jews were purged from their government posts. Both Aldo and Attilio lost their jobs. Had it not been for my rich auntís dowry, we would all have been destitute. And by 1940, we were all refugees.
My early childhood was an ideal breeding ground for any philosopher-king. It was filled with precisely the world-historical conflicts, personal tragedies, and cross-cultural tensions that nurture the independent mind without at the same time destroying it.
I was both everyoneís infant, and no oneís child . . . .
Click here for a slightly different perspective or seek out more on the Morpurgo Family at www.Morpurgo.com or go to:the 1950's Activist Novels to download the Preface to "Odd Girl Revisited" or go to:The Very Early Works or go to:On Atheism and The Sacred. This entire website is a maze to be revisited from different beginnings.