We grew up eating breakfast, lunch, supper and snacks under a number of old paintings. If conversations tended to be limited during meals, due to Father’s insistence on quiet, one could be distracted and occupied by looking up at the paintings. So, often, my gaze would linger on a smallish picture of a naked, zaftig woman embracing and being embraced by a cloud, as she sat, looking languid, her head thrown back in pleasure.
“Who is she?” I asked during one miserable, tense dinner. “Io,” replied Father.
“What is she doing?” I persisted. “Being embraced by Jupiter.” said Father, after swallowing some nokkedli, sauced livid with paprika.
“And is Jupiter a cloud?” I pressed further.
“Eat now,” he cautioned, ” you can look in your book on Greek and Roman myths after supper and find out for yourself.”
So, after dinner, while Mother and Ildiko cleared the table and Father went off into the waiting room to practice his violin, I took the thick book from the bookshelf and searched out Jupiter, then Io, in the index at the end pages. I learned that Jupiter tended to like many different beautiful women, and took different forms to visit and seduce them. But the Io on our dining room wall was not particularly beautiful to my mind. She had a dead fish complexion, ripply naked body and ridiculously small feet which didn’t appear to be able to support her bulk if she stood up. Oh well….I thought….she looked a lot like Mrs. Toth, a fattish lady who lounged about naked on the lawn at the naturist camp we visited every summer, and Mrs. Toth, although a blonde, didn’t seem to get much attention from men, unlike Mother who was slimmer and more athletic in build.
Despite not being to my taste as a picture, the little painting was a beautiful object. It had an eerie greenish glow. The surface was covered in many fine hairlike cracks. Finally, one day when I was alone in the dining room, reading, I took it off the wall to get a good close look at it. The paint surface looked like enamel, very smooth. Overall the colour reminded me of the springtime “nyarfa” tree foliage that could be seen outside our apartment window, tender, soft green. I did not dare run my finger over the front surface, so turned the picture over and gently tapped the back with my finger-nails. A complete surprise, the painting had been made on metal, copper to be precise, that had turned a mottled greenish orange with time. I was delighted with this discovery, but fearing admonishment if found handling the painting, quickly hung it back up on the wall.
In November 1956, I carried “Jupiter and Io” carefully wrapped in newspapers and string, and a violin, while traversing the stubble field separating the Hungarian and Austrian border. These two objects had been entrusted to me to carry, and I took care not to stumble and fall during our long walk. They were my baggage, to carry to the fugitive laager in Vienna, onto the train that transported us to Genoa for our embarkment on the Ocean-going vessel that was to take us to Canada. I carried them when we disembarked in Halifax, then on the train to Toronto. Father and Mother knew I loved these two objects and would care for them well.
After some time, our family settled in British Columbia, and “Jupiter and Io” was always hung in our dining room in the various places we moved to. This wonderful painting was the thread of continuity binding my past to the present and I treasured its reassuring presence.
Many years later, I found out that it was a copy of Correggio’s “Jupiter and Io” on copper. Its provenance was murky, obscured by the chaos of World War II. I never cared, that it was obscure and an orphan – it held a pervasive grip on my imagination, and still does, even though it and the violin I carried were gifted by Father to a budding young violinist, years later.
I own it in memory, and this gives me great pleasure!