As I pointed the cursor at the blank page to write this third and final blog in my Camp Vincent trilogy, I had a little giggle when a few lines of a poem popped into my head from my all-time favorite trilogy — Lord of the Rings. But of course, they came (sincerest apologies to JRR Tolkien) in a playfully revised version to reflect our glorious Camp Vincent experience:
One Thing to rule them all, One Thing to find them, One Thing to bring them all and in this legacy to bind them. . .
That Thing, of course, is YES.
This final episode of Camp Vincent introduces the final members from the amazing cast of characters in our Love Story of the Legacy of Yes!
My father would have LOVED Nancy Cintron!! Nancy reached out to me across the Internet and told me about an amazing piece of art she was creating for Day of the Dead in her hometown of Cleveland. Then one day, out of the blue, I received a large package from her containing some of the wonderful Vincent Price art pieces she creates for me to take on the road.
I immediately thought of the story my father told me about receiving a beautiful Chagall-like watercolor in the mail in the early 1940s, which proved to be by the acclaimed author Henry Miller. In the accompanying letter, Miller told my dad that he didn’t want money for his art, but rather that, if my dad liked the piece, he could send a few tubes of paint, some black socks, and a crate of oranges. And thus began a glorious art barter between my father and Miller — an experience that would change both of their lives.
I have always been fascinated by Miller’s story, and wrote this article for Tin House about him fifteen years ago. It was republished online in 2009. If you want to read it, just click the little button below:
Miller wrote a number of books about his second life as an artist, my favorite of which is Paint as You Like and Die Happy. If you want a pure joy infusion, it’s a wonderful read!
I have always tried to live by Miller’s exhortation: “Whoever uses the spirit that is in him creatively is an artist. To make living itself an art, that is the goal.”
Last fall, I invited Nancy to hang out with me at Monster Bash in Pittsburgh. We spent three days chatting with one another about life, art, travel, relationships. I know now that Nancy was on her best behavior, only giving me tiny little glimpses into her utterly idiosyncratic and completely original way of living. Since then, I have gotten to know Nancy much better. She has a HUGE heart, an amazing capacity to bring people together, immense artistic talent, a wicked sense of humor, and a spirit of adventure that makes me look like an armchair traveler.
Last summer, she put on a show at her gallery in which artists from all over the world paid tribute to my father. Six Degrees of Vincent not only was a gorgeous show, but it raised money for the new Vincent Price Art Museum Scholarship Fund! While I was there, Nancy INSISTED that I spend an extra day in Cleveland. She knew me well enough to know that I would agree out of politeness, but she did it to force me into taking a joy day with her. And we certainly had a great one — traipsing around the amazing Lakeview Cemetery looking and visiting the Cleveland Art Museum, finding out more and more all the things we enjoy in common. It was one of my favorite days of the summer! So, when Nancy decided to come to the UK, I knew she would be a great addition to our group.
That same weekend last fall in Pittsburgh, we met the awesome Lucy Stewart — who Nancy and I noticed right away because Lucy was wearing the coolest plaid pants. The three of us had a great conversation about art and the Carnegie Museum, where my dad served on the Biennial in the late 1950s. This past summer, Lucy invited me in to speak at the Carnegie, where she is the Assistant Curator of Education. There I had the opportunity to see all of the amazing work she does. Lucy is a woman after my own heart --all about connecting young people to art by making sure that they continue to have access to art, learn about collecting and supporting the arts, and feel welcomed to learn more about the Carnegie's incredible collection.
When Lucy signed up to come on the UK tour, I knew she and Nancy would be fast friends -- that their joyful and utterly unique views of life would dovetail, as would their senses of humor. Nancy, the instigator, with her forays into ghost-hunting, brothel bars, mudlarking . . . and Lucy, the observer, her wry humor taking it all in and reflecting it back brilliantly. Our bonding moment as a threesome occurred on the first night in the swank bathroom at the Ivy, when we all decided a selfie was in order to capture the grandeur of a mere loo. . .and by our last evening together, stuck in a traffic jam on a coach coming back into London after a glorious outing, I looked at the two of them across the aisle from me and knew that I had found friends for life. Two women who live their Yes! in the most inspiring and FUN ways!
The final member of our core Camp Vincent group came from Argentina to be with us. Her name is Beatriz, a lawyer from Buenos Aires. She was the only person of our core group whom I had never met, but at the first dinner she gave me a gift that made me feel like we had been friends forever — a gorgeous vintage book about an obscure South American man with whom I have been obsessed ever since my father mentioned his name when I was a little girl. She had no idea I would know even who he was, or that he has been a lifelong fascination. To me it was fate!
At first, Beatriz was rather quiet, which I took to be both shyness and the language barrier. So on the night of my talk at the Bart’s Pathology lab, imagine my surprise when, while I was signing books, I suddenly heard the most angelic operatic voice soaring up the three story structure and silencing everyone in the room with its pure beauty — and realized it was Beatriz.
The next morning, we all gathered for what was my favorite experience of the whole London Legacy Tour — a private tour of Harrods Food Halls with the Director of Foods, Bruce Langlands. To celebrate the exclusive launch of the Fiftieth Anniversary edition of A Treasury of Great Recipes, we had the entire Food Halls to ourselves for an hour and got to learn everything about the what it takes to run such an extraordinary operation, before retiring to the Georgian Room for a sumptuous private breakfast. I will remember that morning as one of the most purely joyful experiences and privileges of my whole life!
After breakfast, Lucy, Nancy and I decided that we wanted to create “bespoke teas” for ourselves — one of Harrods’ new offerings as explained by Bruce. We were joined by Sarah, a wonderful woman from Scotland who had come down for a few of the Legacy events. Talk about joy!! Smelling sumptuous teas and helping one another combine and name them was a fabulous adventure. So, what else could top that except a visit to the chocolate counters?!?
While Sarah, Lucy and Nancy were treating themselves to some sweets, I saw Beatriz come toward me. Together, we leaned against a countertop and waited for our friends to finish. It was then that Beatriz shared the story of her Journey of Yes!
For as long as she can remember, Beatriz told me, her mother has made her afraid to do anything. Slowly but surely, Beatriz has begun to find her way out of that fear. Growing up, she wanted to learn music, but her mother made her afraid. In the last four years, she has not only taken up the cello, but she now sings with a choir that performs all over the world. (This April, her choir will perform at Carnegie Hall — and Lucy, Nancy, and I are planning to be there!)
So, when Beatriz heard about the London Legacy Tour, her mother scared her to death with dire warnings about flying halfway around the world to be alone in a foreign city with a group of total strangers. She was so convincing that Beatriz almost believed her. So, Beatriz decided to take baby steps. She paid the deposit. She booked her hotel room. She bought the plane ticket. She paid for the tour. Still she wondered if she would go. And all the while, she never told her mother her plans, saying instead that she was going somewhere with her choir.
That’s when she read my October blog about saying Yes! And she realized that she just had to say yes to the opportunity to come celebrate the life and legacy of my father, a man whom she has loved and admired her whole life. The kicker, she said, was when she bought my book — and she just had to fly halfway across the world to give it to me!
When she had heard me speak the night before at Barts, she told me that tears came to her eyes because she could feel from what I was saying how important it is for all of us to keep showing up and facing our fears and choosing to say yes to our lives. Half an hour later, I heard her sing!
In the middle of the crowded Harrods chocolaterie, I put my arm around Beatriz and we stood there awash in love and gratitude for the yesses that had brought us both there. Then for some reason, it came to me to speak Spanish to her. I had been speaking French and German all trip to various guests from around Europe. I’m fluent in German and pretty confident in French. But my Spanish is terrible. I just started learning it a few years ago, and I’m terrified to speak it, although I understand it perfectly well. So, as I was stuttering out my Spanish words, I heard myself say, “I don’t speak Spanish because I am afraid. . .” At which point Beatriz said, “To make a mistake? Don’t be afraid!” At which point we both burst out laughing. And there we were, mirroring back to one another exactly why we were there — to overcome our lifelong fears with the pure joy of saying yes! Then Beatriz smiled and said, “See, now I am even speaking.”
A few minutes later, we were joined by the other three, and then five of us from around the world — Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Glasgow, Buenos Aires, and Santa Fe — spent a fabulous girls afternoon exploring Harrods together in so much joy!
If I’ve learned anything from my dad’s legacy of yes, it is this: When we shine our light, we give others permission to shine theirs.
I have apologized for my light, dimmed it, doubted it, tossed water on it for a very very long time. But over the past few years, I have begun drawing people to me who tell me what my light, my yes, my joy means to them — how it inspires them to speak their own truths, live their own authentic lives, discover their own joys. Which emboldens me to reach out more, to face my own fears, to keep practicing joy, to keep saying yes. Together we are creating a circle of light. . .and in this world of danger and darkness, only that light will save our lives.
Sometimes, when I think of Camp Vincent, I imagine all of us sitting around a big bonfire in the most perfectly scenic yet spooky location sussed out by Peter. Nancy has just come back from mudlarking and is sharing her found treasures. Bryan, of course, has already regaled us with the history of Guy Fawkes Day and bonfires in England. Lucy is peppering our evening with wry observations while Greg, Natasha, Gregg and I are all cozied up around the fire enjoying hot toddies and sharing stories. When suddenly Beatriz begins to sing an aria. . .
And in that moment, I imagine my dad -- my opera-loving, people-adoring, art-passionate, adventurous, fun wonderful dad -- looking down on all of us and seeing our faces lit up by the light of his shared Bonfire of Yes. I picture him smiling in pure joy at all the ways his legacy is still lived. . .and sending us the great good Hope that the Light, the Joy, and the Yes! we are spreading will shine the darkness that threatens our planet right back into Love that is our true legacy as human beings. That was his message. That is our Love Story.
May the Bonfires of Love and Yes lit at Camp Vincent blaze around the world. . .until we all meet again!