Alfi is dead


Dear Artist,

I know this is a bit sentimental, but I’m sorry to inform you that Alfi is dead. Alfi was a 1978 Alfa Romeo Alfetta that I bought in 1982. For twenty years Alfi has been our transportation when traveling and painting in Europe. She had last been left at a commercial storage facility in the otherwise civilized Paris suburb of Pontault-Combault, where I am now. I’ve just come from talking to the guy. Through a misunderstanding the vehicle was recently declared abandoned and was hauled away and scrapped. In the trunk were paints and canvasses, hiking boots, camping gear, as well as dozens of sentimental items. C’est la vie, and au revoir, Alfi.

I know it’s only a car, but our Alfi was a way of life. All our kids used her at one time or another. Most recently my daughter Sara and Richard Thompson traveled with her for a full year. I’m afraid that a brand new set of disk brakes that they paid for went into the crusher as well. Alfi had been to every European country from Ireland to Turkey. She had climbed the Alps, followed the River Duero in Spain and Portugal from source to mouth, waited patiently while I painted Van Gogh’s bridge near Arles. Even “Alfalfa” the Alfa-pillow, comfort for Le dejeuner sur l’herbe went with her. Alfi was part of the family.

I know it’s only a car, but Alfi was a vehicle for art. She was a studio away from home. You could paint comfortably standing at the open hatchback. Even the back seat with your feet out the door made a suitable laptopper or pochade station on a rainy day. The top of her ice-chest was a table for pastels. With Alfi, all the stuff was right there and ready to go. You could park Alfi right where you wanted to be. Alfi was our Chitty-chitty-bang-bang; a magic carpet that took us to the corners of quiet fields, beside cheerfully babbling brooks, below the ramparts of medieval castles.

I know it’s only a car, but I would accept a dream. Perhaps the rotten storage guy slyly sold her to a collector who, as we speak, is lovingly restoring Alfi. I hope so. Come to think of it, I’ll settle for a memorial. How’s about that crumpled meter-square block of Italian iron mounted on a pedestal and on display at the Pompidou or the Tate Modern. Title? La Dolce Vita.

Best regards,


PS: “It was all so far away… there was quiet and an untouched feel to the country and I could work as I pleased.” (Georgia O’Keeffe)

Esoterica: The private automobile is the ultimate artist’s tool. She will take you to places of the heart that become your personal mythology and your significant images. And because she herself is an independent being, she honors your uniqueness, and pulls up for you where you must.

The following are selected correspondence related to the above letter. Thanks for writing.


Good times
by Arla J Swift, Harrison Lake, Canada

Words cannot express my sorrow at the untimely, not to mention, horrific, demise of Alfi. Whether certain, so-called, inanimate objects are worthy of the meaning we invest in them is not to be debated. The fact is, these objects are invested with meaning by the very function they perform — which is to say, they become repositories of memory, not just hiking boots, pillows, canvas and paints. In other words, they become custodians of our good times, and when they disappear, part of us disappears as well. But do our good times disappear as well — I think not… Where, after all, do our good times reside?


Buried her old boots
by Marianne Hunt, Shanghai, China

Marianne Hunt 1

painting by Marianne Hunt

I am now living in Shanghai, China. I read your car story and felt compelled to write. I am car less here and Marianne Hunt 1.jpg (55350 bytes)rely on Kamikaze taxies and public transport. I can relate to the importance of having your own wheels and the freedom it brings. I am now joining the hordes with a genuine Chinese bike called “Grace”. I am the only one wearing a big purple helmet. I got lost the other day and must have looked a sight circling. I have already become very attached to Grace. Somehow they become more than objects. Last year I buried my old hiking boots outside the Dutch queen’s palace in Holland. (I was born in Holland.) With the mad cow disease, I had to leave them there and I decided it was a fit burial. I had to sneak around in the bushes to do it. They had served me well all over the world, from volcanoes to trails in exotic locations. They were well worn out. I still miss those old boots.


Memories of Volkswagen Beetle
by Dianna Belitski, Canada

Your letter brought back fond memories of my little blue Volkswagen Beetle named Bucky. She took me everywhere — to work, and to Montreal on a Friday night after work. She lasted the first year after I got married, but it finally became too expensive to keep her on the road. Her brakes had seized and she was overtired. We arranged for her to be towed for scrap and that broke my heart. All the good memories she conjured up. I couldn’t bring myself to watch so we decided to go away for the weekend. I felt apprehensive when we were coming home, but was overjoyed when we arrived to see Bucky still in our driveway. During this brief reprieve, I took lots of pictures and enjoyed her one last time. As she was towed away, she left rubber tire marks on the concrete drive, to remind us that she didn’t want to go. Those rubber marks stayed on that drive and may still be there even after we moved on.


Happy trails with ‘Adventure Wagon’
by Shelley McGuinness

Sorry to hear about your car and companion! My former car was known affectionately as the ‘Adventure Wagon’. She took us meandering across Canada one summer and she lived for a year in Toronto and Hamilton without saying a word about all that vicious salt thrown at her during the longest winter of her life. She carried all our stuff uncomplaining, before she eventually died; her daughter has a somewhat easier life now, but I still like my old blue wagon, she’s got good genes.


Heck of a life
by Donny, Texas, USA

Sorry to hear about the demise of Alfi. It does sound, however, like she had a heck of a life, and became a constant and dependable part of yours. She took you and your family all over the place, and saw to it that you made it to the places that you found inspiring. And if she couldn’t make it, for whatever reason, somehow the place you were stuck in became a bit inspiring as well. Sounds like she made it to the end of her journey. There is never any shame in that. R.I.P. Alfi. Hope her successor is as cool.


Fellow traveller in car
by Jane Shoenfeld, Santa Fe, New Mexico, USA


painting by Jane Shoenfeld

Notes from my travel-painting journal: “Discovered a mouse in my car in black plastic bag — have to live with it, no place to empty car. It ate cork on wine bottle, Styrofoam plate, huge multivitamin, it nibbled on, loved cotton, look for humane mouse trap in Santa Cruz on way to painting retreat in Monastery, can’t find one. Leave hostel for Monastery — beautiful, comfortable, and plenty of room to empty out car, mouse won’t leave, still there three days later, am regretfully planning to get inhumane mouse trap, finally mouse is accidentally removed from car because it is hiding in my art bag, then it crawls inside paper towel roll, I shriek, toss in air, finally it leaves. It has chewed on cotton on pile of rocks, etc. at edge of incline on steep mountain side. Art piece on side of the same hill, large pompous grass, tree tops, waving in wind, jump to mountain below and smallness of winding road, and sea seen below that indistinguishably merging with sky, low light, misty.”


Car a companion on life’s highway
by Eva Macie, Atlanta, Georgia, USA


painting by Eva Macie

Reading of “Alfi’s” demise, as well as the loss of your gear touched me at the deepest level. I’ve lost two vehicles that went through passages in my life as surrogate companions. It does seem strange that we can assign such human emotions to an inanimate object. However there has never been a human that has worked so hard to serve me and asked only to be fed and maintained now and then. The loss in both cases triggered feelings of intense sadness, anger, guilt and violation. To this day, I still think of them and miss them.



No substitute for Alfa
by Barbara Woollcombe, Pender Island, Canada

Once you’ve tamed an Alfa, there’s no going back. In 1967, my husband and I spent three months’ salary on a 1963 Alfa Giulietta Spyder — red, two seats, newly installed roll bar, our dream come true. Julie was a temperamental flirt. Get in and try to start up and she’d stall. Get in and pat her steering wheel, tell her she was a wonderful little car, stroke her ego, and she’d purr along happily. She spent a lot of time with Alfred, the Magic Mechanic. We loved her. Then kids came along, and Julie had no space to carry highchairs and playpens to Grandma’s. So Julie was replaced with a pickup. Yecch. Julie’s buyer simply didn’t understand her, so she hurled herself into a bridge post, doing no damage to her stoned driver, but destroying herself. That happened three weeks after we sold her. She showed us! Her breed is now among the most collectible cars in the world. Moral: Always listen to your Alfa. They know.


Everything happens for a reason
by Barbara McMillan

I believe all things carry and store energy and information to some degree or another. Alfi is a significant loss in your life, and I’m sorry she had to go so unexpectedly. I also believe that everything happens in the universe ultimately for our higher good. So, Alfi’s departure was not really a mistake. It’s up to you to figure out what the blessing in disguise is for you and your family, if you really want to know.


‘Mommobile’ a memento of mother
by Pauline Conn, Bedford, TX, USA

Your story brought tears to my eyes. What a horrible thing to have happen. Yes, it was just a car, but they become irreplaceable family members. And a hatchback, to boot! (Yes, pun intended). Three months ago I had to retire my ’89 Honda Accord hatchback. It was rusting, hail dented and falling apart, although it still had more pick up (V6) than most new cars. This had been my mother’s car and was affectionately known to all as the ‘Mommobile,’ everyone in the family had used it, borrowed it, and coveted it at one time or another. After my mother passed away, it seemed her memory lingered in that beloved car. I cried when I had to let it go. My Honda collapsed and died in the car dealer’s lot, and I had to borrow many bags to remove all of my prized supplies and possessions.


Long live Alfa Romeo
by Wayne Ralph, White Rock, Canada

I owned an Alfa Romeo 1750 Berlina four-door sedan, a 1969 model, from 1970 to 1985. I have never driven a better car for steering feel and responsiveness. It also felt safer at 100 miles per hour than any vehicle I have since driven. It did not look pretty like its stable mates, but my Italian Air Force students at CFB Moose Jaw assured me that it was the more prestigious vehicle in Italy, being driven in a souped-up version by the Italian police forces. I had it repainted once, a new two litre engine inserted, and non-Alfa alloy wheels added in the later years. With my departure to Ottawa in ’85, I decided it must go, and a father-son duo bought it. Long live Alfa Romeo, and all things Italian, especially Claudia Cardinale.


Life with a Rover
by Louisa S. Cooper

My traveling companion took me and four children to all the corners of Europe for two years. It was an old Rover touring car. Right hand door, right hand wheel. The first 6 months we camped. One tent just big enough for all five, and five suitcases on the roof. Trunk was for sleeping bags, and cooking stuff, books, paints, etc. Later, while living in Switzerland, I was told that I would have to buy Swiss license plates… price was based on the weight of the car. Heavy car. Otherwise the authorities would demolish it. I traded it to a nice young American who had just arrived so could still use the English plates. At least I got one bottle of VSOP Courvoisier cognac in exchange.


Robbery suspected
by Yaroslaw Rozputnyak, Moscow, Russia

Such beautiful car just might have become object of a robbery. The man indicating on the old machine too has the interest. It is work for the French police and Canadian consulate in France. Here in Moscow, a machine, if left without supervision, is plundered — is taken away for the spare part — at first is breaking the glass, and then remains only the skeleton. For this reason the car owners often walking with their car electronics in their hands — it is always visible who today is arrived by private car at art show. And in Russia as the best machines consider the German automobiles, them in turn constantly purloin in Germany for new Russians of a certain type. And at these new Russian in turn them too constantly purloin — new Russians other type. And recently, known Moscow actor Zhwanetskiy was beaten and thrown out from his car, and other known Moscow actor Liowushkin held to a wood in bracelets, when his car was purloined. Can be they the actors that different roles must play even in life, but statistics of abductions of automobiles in Moscow — more than 100 per day. And the militia finds about 30% of stolen cars.


Charlie, the cat, also mourned

“Ah, les #!!#**Francais” C’est la vie? C’est la mort! Charlie, my cat, my beautiful brown longhaired tabby was eaten by a rotten coyote six years ago. I am still hoping that she was instead stolen, but we do live near a wooded area. She was a thing of beauty and just too beautiful to forget. My sympathies go out to you; but do take comfort that Alfi did have a good, long and useful life.

P.S. Please don’t buy a Citroen!


Alfi (1978-2002)


Sara leans on Alfi


The truth of life is often told,
By those once young and now grown old,
She who bore me passed this day,
From her body, old and gray,

Today she died, and now is gone,
Yet I remember, Life goes on.
I see myself as she once did,
Amid my trials, their pall to rid.

Long ago, when she was young,
She made my body, oh so strong.
Out of her and into me,
Came vitality, wild and free.

Somewhere I’ve not ere been before,
She’s renewed in her youth once more.
On to new places . . . new spaces,
The play goes on with new faces.

Of her soul’s progress I know not,
For, of even mine I’ve full forgot.
But here I sit and know that she,
Has run ahead, some more to see.

Here’s to you, oh Alfi dear,
I must remain to live on here.
So now goodbye, I love you so,
And I’m so sad to see you go.

by Nic East, Home Hill Forge, Jim Thorpe, PA, USA

(RG note) Thanks for that, Nic. And thanks to everybody who wrote to offer condolences. I was truly surprised and honoured that so many shared my feelings of grief.


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