“A Rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” – Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Every now and then I am struck by how much my life resembles a Woody Allen movie; not one of his new ones.
I’m talking Bananas, Take the Money and Run, Hannah and Her Sisters. Yes, it is those truly odd moments that could only take place in this City that speak to me the most — each invariably made up of those quintessential New York characters that Woody always captured so brilliantly.
This City, at its best, creates some of the most fascinating, multi-faceted, and unique individuals I have ever had the honor to encounter.
If Rose Feliu Pettet did not exist, Woody would have invented her — as beautiful and ethereal as she was hard-nosed and realistic; radically free-spirited and yet deeply anchored to what and who she loved — a seemingly endless array of juxtapositions, all housed in one petite body. Sadly that body was lost to all of us this past June.
“Rosebud” was born Rosemarie Feliu in Queens to a Dominican U.S. veteran and a Shenandoah Valley-born Russian beauty named Beatrice. By her late teens, she was raising herself far from the City as a free-spirited traveller: San Francisco “Summer of Love,” Denmark, Morocco, London, and finally, in the late ‘70s, returning to New York and her beloved, life-long friend, Allen Ginsburg.
She lived with Ginsburg for several years and then became his neighbor with her young son Harley Flanagan (of Cro-Mags fame) and her sister Denise Mercedes (who founded The Stimulators) on East 12th Street.
They lived in the Lower East Side of legend: the beatnik mecca in the ‘50s, the free-loving bohemian ‘60s, the rise of Punk Rock in the ‘70s, and the violence, drugs, and gang infestation that took over in the late ‘70s and ‘80s. In all its iterations, there were pockets of countercultural creativity, which flourished amidst the debris and cheap rents, until gentrification pushed almost everyone out by the late ‘90s and 2000s.
I had the odd privilege of completing Rose’s Death Certificate with the funeral director just a couple of days before she died. The director asked me, “What was her life’s occupation?” Without thinking I said, “Muse.” Then I realized, during her silence, that “Muse” may not be a recognized occupation in 2015.
However, as I’ve learned about the vast life of this quintessential New York woman, no adjective better describes exactly what she was. While a gifted writer herself, there is little doubt she inspired more than she would have had the time create on her own.
From Allen, to her “spiritual husband,” avant-garde filmmaker Harry Smith, to her creative endeavors with Andy Warhol at The Factory, her three far-flung marriages to a Texas-born man who drifted to California with her in the ‘60s, her Danish prince, her British poet, and finally to the artist who loved and cared for her until the end of her days, Rose was indeed a twentieth century Muse.
Beloved and admired — and deeply longing for both until the day she died — it is what she knew.
I am so sad to let this fascinating woman go, though I entered her life at the very end — what she had been told years ago, by a famous English spiritualist, would be the “Golden Time” of her life.
I am honored that I will soon be her daughter-in-law and that she was happy to know it. I will keep with me always the essential piece of time and life and energy that she was, and I will hold all of her close to my heart for the rest of my life.