"to write a straight biography of Vali Myers wld be not only impossible, but something I would find almost profane, as following the events of her life is like following the footsteps of a fox or getting lost in a labyrinth".

                                                                                   — Gianni Manichetti


The Golda Foundation Fresno, California, 2006


               "It was like being friends w. some angel who had
                           gotton kicked out for lewd behavior"

                                                                               —Chris Stein

Vali is a 20th century icon, w. influences on major artists & writers, animal lovers & ecologists. Vali is a proto feminist, long before it is in vogue to be so. Her origins are pre script, pre city, pre ecological disaster. Vali is a gift, recognized in her own life by certain maverick individuals & also by those who set the music of the era, particularly the late 50s & 60s, in motion.

George Plimpton's quote ''She is the symbol and plaything of the restless, confused, vice enthralled demi-monde that was the personalization of something torn & loose & deep down primitive in all of us' is as timely today as it was in the early 60's when, in the PARIS REVIEW, he first introduced her work to the Western field of vision. Her visionary display, since, in print, in film, in galleries & in the hearts & literal signs or tattoos of those she touched. 'Hello love' she says to me when we met at Simon Vinkenoog's, a remeeting of German actress Petra Vogt & American poet & photographer Ira Cohen &, of course, Simon & me. Louise is somewhat overwhelmed by Vali who in the1950's lives the streets of Paris (connoisseur of the inner city, friend of Cocteau) then marries Austrian architect Rudi, years of dance, darkness & opium, later emerging as spirit guardian of the valley above Positano.

Principle dancer of Melbourne ballet, she departs, at 19, for the City of Lights. I hear about her when she is already living in ll Porto w. young Italian Gainni, fr. a village to the North. I hear tales of Foxy — 'Vali's only daughter' — of the cage in which Vali paints her miniatures. Vali is on the lips of both Ira Cohen & Flame (AKA Diane Rochlin who w. Sheldon Rochlin makes the first fllm of Vali, in 1968 & who through strange telepathy stays in my flat, some years later, in Amsterdam before embarking for America).

"Vali's dogs, Vali's trees, Vali's donkeys, the birds, the flowers, the caves, the spiders of Vali — we have seen for the first time the old skeleton of nature"

                                                        Bernardo Bertolucci-on Vali.
                                                        The Witch of Positano

Vali (ca.1976) speaks in specialized poetic dialect, derived fr. Shelley, Keats, Omar Kayim & others, those known & unknown, but known to her, intimately. She is a master of poetic gesture & intonation. Open House in London has published a large selection of her miniatures. There is a book presentation, her first, in the gallery, just outside Amsterdam, where the work is being shown. Vali is humping several of her visitors. I see Vali, but I do not meet Vali. >p>Years later, in NYC, I'm performing in the Limelight, 20th Street & 6th Avenue. My costume is inconplete. It needs lace. Vali's at the Chelsea, around the corner. I run over hoping she will have (fr. her mythic collection of skirts, blouses, scarves) what I need. Carol Beckwith (whose color photographs, Vali W. Foxy & Vali W. Hen illustrate the inner flap & back cover of the book ) is visiting. Two 'English blokes' are in residence. one is John Powers, who will become or already is both Vali's lover & nemesis in the last decade of her life. Carol thinks I look better than when she saw me playing sarangi on a bridge in Amsterdam. I disagree. There's a full house. I leave without the lace. Once again I miss meeting Vali.

I do not 'meet' Vali until I read Gianni's Memoir, narrated (for the most part) to Romy Ashby & published by Bobby Yarra's Golda Foundation in 2006. To my amazement, an early chapter reveals, that Gianni & Vali have met through the intervention of a 'young Lama'. I immediately recognize this young lama as the Tibetan master to whom I have dedicated years of my life. Something alters in my perception of Vali & Gianni & of the narrative. The Memoir is magnetized.

Giani goes to Naples. He intends to study at the Institute of Oriental Studies where the 'young lama' he has mentioned, without elaboration, is a professor. Gianni sleeps on the benches of the city in order to audit classes in Tibetan & oriental philiosophy. Instead of going on to formal studies, Gianni is introduced, by the lama-professor, to a jeweler who will introduce him to the women who will be his muse & mentor.

The red dye is cast in favor of social experiment & devotion. Love triumphs, at least for Gianni. The young scholar takes on the role, in tantric terms, of servant, lover & companion, he is devoted. The two give form to an equation, rare in the 20th century but timeless in essence. Gianni remains w. Vali for the duration of her life, at first, lover & 'willing slave', then intimate friend., he is a self described 'sailor's wife'.

I am now a participant in the narrative & begin to meet Vali in the vast mandala of events, friendships & pilgrimages which Gianni narrates w. great intimacy & clarity Vali comes to life, through sign, symbol & the narration of her vivdly lived experience.

I read the Memoir at Bread Alone in Woodstock N.Y. Barbara Stein passes by. Raymond Foye suggests I write the review in Positano. A few months later I'm in Italy, The 'young Lama;, now an elder, is returning to Naples. I take a train to Naples, greet the Lama, then leave for Positano, by boat. I arrive exactly one hour before hermit Gianni is due to arrive for his weekly appointment w. the local butcher. He is picking up scraps for his large family of dogs.

I feel great bliss waiting for him. A white bird, a dove perhaps, accompanies the boat on its voyage to Positano. I know this bird is Vali. The Memoir is manifesting as a 'teaching'.

Accompanying me, am American student of the lama. I had wished to make the trip alone. I am a poet, on the road, w. an intention, indeed a mission. Still I can not refuse the student who wants to get to the lama & who also wants, when he discovers my further destination, to see the Amalfi Coast. I am unable to refuse the young student but feel I have not chosen for my essence & personal energetic path. I ignore the warning signal my nervous system generates & pay a heavy price for this. Vali informs me, in no uncertain terms, that such compromise is death, at least to desire & to artistic precision & reward.

In 1991 Vali suffers, in her room at the Chelsea (& on my birthday, strangely), a series of epileptic seizures. She recovers but is altered in priorities or so one gathers fr. the text. She leaves the Chelsea & ll Porto. She leaves Gianni to care for the animals. Returning to homeland, Australia, she establishes in hometown Melbourne a studio, 'Oasis'. She is now a National Treasure & returns only intermittently to Positano for the annual festival at Madonna dell'Arco or to pick up her journals.

Gianni tells me that although Vali outwardly recovers fr. the seizures, she inwardly will be subject to a loud buzzing sound for the duration of her life. She is more wrathful, one gathers fr. the text, tho not always so.

'My first seven years here were paradise but paradise can't last forever. She became tougher and tougher with me, and, in the way, I cld. .do no wrong before, everything I said was wrong before I said it and every step wrong before I took it.'

Vali lives very closely to the animal realm. She is mother-protector to all creatures & w. her consorts, takes care of dozens, if not, hundreds of animals. Although the legendary Foxy, Fanny (the Donkey who kicked the magistrate, audacious enough to look for 'illegal' substances or objects in the Il Porto of the 60's, neglecting to search, out of piety, beneath the skirts of the Madonna, where of course, the Baretta pistol has taken refuge) the errant pigs & monkeys are no longer part of the entourage, indeed Gianni cares for the next generation of dogs, cats, doves, chickens, hens, lambs, goats & other, sometimes wounded, or rare creatures. Il Porto is now an official Wild Life Sanctuary.

Tales, even legends surrounding such a uniquely awakened being easily obscure a perceptual process which fused w. innate artistry & equilibrium produced an unparalleled body of work, miniatures of great finesse. Salvador Dali said to her 'I rank you way above Leanora FIni'.

Ganni's narrative is replete w. details of how Vali looked, how she cared for, how she pissed, how she loved & how she betrayed. Vali governs her personal & passionate domain w. pure instinct. She is not a 'loyal' consort, she is not limited to the partialities of gender. She does not 'fall in love' but loves all beings, indeed her casual greeting is 'hello love'. There are details of how she worked, first inside her cage, then outside, first through the night, then through the day on a body of work which was her secret, guarded treasury. This work gradually, after G. Plimpton's article & her first shows in the late 60's, assumes its place in the history of 20th century aesthetics. Her Memoir, gratefully contains 9 pages of colored miniatures: Golden Flower, 1979, Desert Fox, 1980, Gypsies of Naples, 1986-88, The Madonna And The Devil, 1987-1988, The Egyptian, 1988, Stella Mars, 1998, Holy Ghost, unfinished, 2000-2002. For these prints alone, the book is a treasure.

The text is further illustrated by a series of intimate photos. In black & white: The Family Album — Vali's parents & sisters, each of whom remain devoted to her for the duration of their & her life, Ed van der Elsken's Vali In Paris, in the 1950's including the remarkable, Kiss In The Mirror, Flame Schone's ( AKA Diane Rochlin) Vali and Rudi, Caroline Thompson and Vali at Murat's Cave, Vali and Foxy, & Vali, A portrait in the 1970's & Ira Cohen's Vali and Ching Ho Cheng (beautifully tattooed by Vali, who literally signs herself, her friends & her lovers w. appropriate tattoos, discovering in Australia that 'on Grandmas's side there was Maori blood') in the 1970s & Gregory Corso and Vali, in the 1990s, as well as photos of Vali w. the Wodaabe Tribesman (in Niger where she has traveled to make a film w. Mati Klarwein) & Ganni, himself, daisy in hair.

Fifteen color photos complete the illustrative design. Animistic power emanates fr. the photographs. Uncorrupted by commercial interests - they mirror the hidden dimensions & the aspirations of an entire era. Shot by friends, several of whom are, by now, legendary photographers, they are as evocative of the spirit of the woman who is the subject of the memoir as are her own miniatures: Rudi and Vali, 1972, Vali and Gianni, 1972 by Rudi, Vali w. Python, 1970, by Ira Cohen & Foxy, by Vali herself, 1975, Vali & Ira Cohen by Carol Beckwith, 1979, Ivory Friends and Vali, late 80's by Robert Yarra, generous publisher of this book, Herbert and Vali, 1996 by Robert Yarra, Vali, Il Porto 1990, by Carol Beckwith, Vali and Gypsies, 1997 by Robert Yarra & Vali Dancing, 2001 by Salvatore di Gennaro

I have finally met Vali. The meeting is preceded by syncretistic events that open the gate to this meeting. I am hitchhiking fr. one village to the next, in the mountains No. of Rome where I study w. the lama, already mentioned. A woman picks me up, I know she lives in Naples & ask 'Did you know Vali?'. Just short of a car crash, her amazement overwhelms both her & me. The lama lives in her house in the 1970's, her then husband is the liaison between Vali & Gianni. The pair, she relates pay a visit to the Lama, Namkhai Norbu Rimpoche, an exiled dharma King. Vali's greeting, upon seeing the royal scholar & yogi, is to seductively roll her tongue & announce her desire to make love w. him. The lama is amused, relates my driver. He accepts a loving embrace but, without further complicity, gets down to the work, a puja or magical rite to protect the animals in the couple's willing care. Gianni receives a Tibetan name, affirming his special capacities to love & care for these animals & also a protection cord fr. the master.

Gianni & Vali are involved, writes Gianni, in an 'animal like attraction'. They do not use the word love to describe their feelings for each other. Together they care for beasts. Gianni continues his protection of them. Tho' one no longer sees donkeys, capable of punishing the magistrates one sees, wild dogs, dozens of them & Gianni heals the wounded of the canyon. 'I found a wounded owl' he tells me when I call to pose to him a few further questions.

Gianni's books are quietly stacked in a studio adjacent to Il Porto. Although I have made no prior contact w. him. I arrive, w. my companion, at the exact time & in the exact place to meet him. Later I climb up the rugged path. An adept at ascent, I am strangely, unexpectedly overwhelmed at the gate of the canyon. I fear to lose consciousness but do not announce this condition. An acute change in dimension overwhelms me. The disorientation is internal but I experience it as external. Do I confront the guardian of the canyon or is this Vali? I lose conventional perspective. I feel faint. I am entering an unknown zone. The climb is arduous. I am entering the teaching zone.

I spent some hours w. Gianni. My companion engages in lively discussion, while I am mostly silent. Vali has become a white butterfly, hovering nearby. Ira Cohen is telephoned, there is a long conversation between he & Gianni. I see the cage & its Madonna, actually a Madonna Adolorata (a large version of which I will later see in Naples, when impulsively, I enter a church in the old part of the city). I forget to look for embalmed foxy. A meal is uncharacteristically prepared but I can not eat its contents, I begin to feel an intense head pain. I know I will become extremely ill if I do not lie down but I am too inhibited (in Vali's house) or shy to ask my host for a few hours or even an an evening's respite. The companion, who I do not really know makes things more complicated. He is either unaware of or indifferent to my state. I do not want to trouble Gianni & know that the companion will feel troubled by a change in (non existent, for me) 'plans'.

The descent is easy compared to the ascent but I am soon violently ill. This is an old sickness. I observe it. I suffer intense almost unbearable pain . I am lying first near the path to the Canyon, then on the street in Positano, unable to move. Vali is wrathful mother, exorcising the weak, the distracted, the unfulfilled in my nature. Her message to me is clear as I lay on the street, wordless.

Recovered, I return to the mountains. Dancing, in a local cafe, I feel Vali's inside of me, a new harmony prevails, a new sensation determines my movements in time.

Gianni's narrative has taken strange life. It has brought me to Vali. Gianni's 'Memoir' is revealed as a living text, part of a. still existent but disappearing 'oral tradition'. Syllable & spirit, subject & object do not separate but unite to form the matrix of an underworld & underground communication which also holds the heavenly ladder to gods & goddess.

In Gianni's narrative Vali emerges fr. this higher realm. Like mendicants of old, she dresses like a gypsy but moves among kings (among the cultural heroes of her time). She acts like a raw street girl but paints like a master.

In India it is believed that the gopi, cowherd lovers of Lord Krishna, manifest as the sruti or letters (lit. sounds) of the Bhagavata Purana, the purana in his praise. One could say that Vali manifests in the narrative of her memoir. If she did not, my experience cld. not possibly have been what it was & I cld. treat this book as 'biography'. The Memoir manifests fr. another, older tradition, preceding script & letter. In this tradition, orally transmitted tales of heroes & heroines, of dogs becoming gods & goddesses becoming trees, protect the planet & keep sacred the relations between instinct & intellect & between spirit & matter.

The photos, in black & white & in color, attest to Vali's physical beauty. She seemed to have been carved fr models of goddess Kali. She is sensual but beyond sensuality. She is in intimate contact w. her realm & establishes this communion w. her closest allies, male & female, animal or human. This world was her refuge but she knew how to relate to the authority, excluded fr. it. She knew fr. which position to approach , fr. above. She was on top of things, not subject to her adversaries but dominating them w. her intellect & her compassion.

A 20th century shaman, she was both hermit & show girl, equally loved by master artists & gypsies, equally at home in rough markets & Mati Klarwein's Aleph Sanctuary (where she lives when first in NYC &, where I also stand, however briefly, at the Whitney Museum, before departure for Italy & my encounter w. Gianni & therefore, w. her).


At the end of her life, Vali, who has been separated fr the narrator, for more than a decade commands him, gypsy like, to leave Il Porto. He remains, in peace w his pack. Il Porto becomes a mausoleum, neither of a corpse nor its ashes but of Vali's spirit. I felt this spirit at the entrance of the canyon, a spirit which both revealed, purified & instructed.

Ganni is engrossed in Alexander David Neal's Magic & Mystery in Tibet. I sing the xitro — a practice for the dead — for Vali, a ritual practice I have learned fr. & sung w the Lama who brought the two together, decades ago. The book is more than ordinary recollection or text, it brings to vivid presence its subject, leading in my case to an exorcistic encounter, Gianni is a gifted poet.

Vali carries nothing with her. She is a Pagan Queen. Her courtiers bear her burdens. She is not alone. She is not 'religious, recognizes no master but is in natural union w. the objects of her perception. She uses no drugs after pact w Gianni, in 1973. She makes her own make up, makes up her face daily, as ritual — ''I'm looking for the face I had before the world was born' (Yeats).'

Nicoletta, whose husband introduces Gianni to Vali, visits 'Il Torre' — The Tower where I live when in Italy & mystically exclaims, 'O it's just like Il Porto.' I am of course, intrigued. And I take the road to the mill, then climb to IL Porto, Arriving, I do not see physical similarity between the 2 structures, but it is true that , in both cases, old stone edifices, clearly fr. an era prior to this one, demand protection & call to those who will guard & animate their sacred quality.

I do not feel an external 'similarity' between the structures but internally feel the journey has been pre- 'arranged.'. Vali has taught me, to listen, to listen carefully & that any breech of faith, within oneself, any hair of dishonesty to oneself, is a breach of the higher creativity fr. which we emerge.

About death, Gianni quotes Vali 'The end is never worth the beginning' but when Gianni expresses grief & shock at Vali's imminent passing, he in Positano, she in Melbourne, "Well what did you think I wld, do, live forever?". To a friend she confides 'don't worry baby, dying is beautiful. I wish one cld. do it more often. "

Gianni has applied his prodigious memory to the women he loved as a boy of 17. Now 51, he has for the most part dictated his narrative. That a partner of someone whose final decade of life was spent at great distance, to remember & to relate the details which Gianni shares, is an almost yogic feat.

I went on a journey to meet Vali, Neolithic considerations set aside, readers of all genders can appreciate the passionate play between Vali & her amors & Vali & her adversaries & Gianni & his animal like loyalty to the nest.The book itself is a nest, it is alive. You will make yr. own visit to Vali, shamaness and painter, by opening its fold.

Vali never made love undressed, or so reports Gianni. Vali wld. not even disrobe for John Lennon when he was making his film, Underworld, but in some way, Gianni, in this work, has denuded her. Vali is now in the spirit world & doesn't need her body. The denudation is not desecration but profound celebration, & looking further, as I did, without really meaning to, the Madonna's skirts reveal the most unexpected detail.

Louise Landes Levi

Il Torre, Bagnore, GR & Kundroling, NYC, NY