Below is a conversation I had with artist, Eva Avenue, about a freak accident that nearly ended her life. The details of this event are horrifying to even imagine, yet her recollection of the experience is filled with a simple kind of beauty, humor, and introspection that builds a portrait of her rare and wonderful personality.
This is her:
The story behind this photograph: One day when I came home from work Eva was waiting outside my apartment door with bags of scrap fruit and veggies she had found outside a farmer’s market after it had closed down for the day. She was like, “oh my god, Will, oh my god, we have to recreate this old painting!!” referring of course to Caravaggio’s “Still Life with a Violinist.” (below). So we did just that.
Now back to the story:
Will: Ok, so, you have one of the most frightening stories I’ve ever heard.
Will: Tell me what happened.
Eva: It was August 2, 2009, I go walking up Montserrat, a well-known mountain among explorers I guess, there’s a temple at the top. It’s about an hour north of Barcelona …. At the top of the mountain, after scaling a very steep wall of rocks and then scurrying back down, I ascended the trail downward and at a few steps in was met with a piercing blow of death heat to the outside of my right foot….I didn’t see it before it struck, but looking down I saw a viper with a big triangle head.
Will: Back up a bit.. I remember you saying that you were on mushrooms as this happened. Is this true?
Eva: It’s true, though the idea of that being publicized makes me nervous. Or should I embrace my personal brand of transparency cause it’s 2016?
Will: Why would it make you nervous?
Eva: I don’t know, cause it’s illegal. Whatever. Yes, I was on mushrooms. But when I got bit, the sky was still pulsating and I had super-human strength, scaling that steep, tall wall of thin rocks really fast, and some people surmise it’s why I’m still alive today. Anyway, after the bite, I really thought I was going to die. I didn’t know if I had ten minutes to last up there. I grabbed my friend’s shoulders and looked at him with a great panic in my eyes, and probably still tears hovered over the bottoms of my lids, but you know what? I accepted that fact that I was going to die in 2 minutes. I couldn’t believe it.
Will: You consciously accepted death?
Eva: Yes, consciously.
“… I remember hoping that, if I survived the bite, I would remember how chill things could get in the face of death. I was just like, well, that’s how it ends for me. And I thought it was a pretty romantic way to go.”
Will: You made it down the mountain though. What then?
Eva: It took almost 2 hours to get down. I caught a tram halfway down the mountain for the second half, and an ambulance and some doctors were waiting at the bottom.
Will: How were you feeling at this point?
Eva: I was feeling bad at this point, but nothing could’ve prepared me for the pain of them pressing on my foot, pushing poison or liquid build up out of it. I was screaming, and then they put me in an ambulance and I began projectile vomiting into a bag. I was taken to a little town called Manresa, where they took care of me for nine hours in a clinic. At night, they said I could go home, but it would also be a good idea for me to stay for testing…..Since they offered the option of staying or going, I didn’t get a sense that I was in terminal danger, and I opted to leave. They gave me prescriptions for anti-inflammatories and some other things to get from the pharmacy. So I got those things and took them, but over the next two and a half days, the leg got worse. It got darker and yellower and it swelled up to 3 or 4 times its size. It was A MASSIVE FOREIGN APPENDAGE and my foot was no longer the shape of a foot.
Will: Why did you sit on it so long? Were you in contact with your family?
Eva: Because the hospital had said I could go home, and I was giving it time to heal. I didn’t know what to expect. It took awhile to get this bad. I was not in contact with my family yet, I didn’t want to scare them. Then a (friend’s) father called the house. He’s a doctor. He’d heard about the leg and wanted to know what was going on. When he heard the description of the leg, he said I needed to go to the ER immediately or I was going to die.
It is really weird I waited so long, but maybe that is also in my nature… to wait out terrible things to see what happens
I was taken to the main hospital in Barcelona, and that is a blur for awhile. I was put under and given a series of surgical procedures that included opening my leg up from the top of the foot to the top of the thigh. (We were told) I had a 30% chance to live, and that family needed to come out because decisions had to be made about arrangements… like my funeral and stuff I guess.
Will: I couldn’t imagine getting that phone call.
Eva: You know, I never felt like I was really dying because my body itself didn’t feel sick and effected. My body didn’t feel drained and sucked of vitality by the leg. So I personally never believed I was going to go.
Will: Do you think your body didn’t want to accept it?
Eva: No, my body is smarter than me in a crisis. My body handled everything just right. It was my head that wasn’t catching up I guess.
Will: Have you blocked out the experience at all?
Eva: I haven’t blocked it out… it wasn’t traumatizing in that way.
Will: When you recovered, were you a different person? After I had melanoma, I don’t know if I was a different person, but my life was definitely different.
Eva: You became more focused and became great at succeeding at what you wanted.
Will: More or less; the focus is true. Did that happen to you? It wasn’t like “I’m going to live a fuller life now”, but things just started happening differently.
Eva: Yeah, cause my life was already full. I guess I gained a certain kind of strength, though. I’m not sure how to word it yet. But I’ll tell you what happened on the road to recovery, and then we’ll see how I was effected.
Family from both sides of the Atlantic came out to see me, so in a way, it brought my family together because some of them hadn’t even met.. My father’s side is all in Portugal, and my mother’s side is in the States… And one family member, my grandma’s sister, she was a missionary for God in Ecuador for 30 years, so she knows the whole born-again Spanish-speaking community worldwide, practically. So she contacted the International Evangelist Church of Barcelona (I’ll check the proper name later) and told the minister what had happened to me. He came to visit with his wife. They brought me books, Like Lewis Carroll’s book on Christianity, and a great book about the power and necessity of pain, and I learned a lot of the meaning of pain, so that was cool. I told them I was Born Again, which I’m not.
Will: You lied?
Eva: But I didn’t tell them I was Born Again out of disrespect to them but because I knew if they thought I was not, then they’d use all their energy trying to convert me harder. I was doing something good for the both of us, really…
But technically, it wasn’t a lie, because I remembered a time in Florida, when a jesus guy on the street corner did a little ceremony with me to be born again and accept jesus into my heart… so in a way, I was born again, but my mind is too big for that sort of belief system.
Will: You did that?
Eva: Sure, I do all sorts of things. I’m irreverent and I love life.
Will: But they did help you?
Eva: Yeah, so then different people from the congregation began visiting. I had a man from Nigeria, he was so lovely and tall. He told me about the time his mother was bit by a cobra in his village. She survived cause of the town healer and the praying. He did a prayer on my leg and his voice was very deep and thundery while he prayed slowly and moved his hands in the air over my wounded leg. This other man from Peru would come twice a week and do a bible study with me, and he brought me cookies. Oreos usually. Chocolate covered Oreos.
Will: How did you keep your mind going?
Eva: I read Murakami books, the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series, I watched the entire series of Arrested Development, which i’d never seen before. I read lots of books on Christianity. I made paintings on napkins from my noseblood….
And while I was in the hospital I dreamed up the seeds of what would become the Nightly Noodle Monthly.
Will: Why did the NNM come to you? Was it the idea of community?
Eva: Yes. I wanted a unifying publication… I wanted to be able to publish local writers, thinkers and artists and do interviews and have this sick-looking layout that made you wanna pick it up. The motto for The Noodle is to not bore the reader….The Noodle also celebrates human error: by pointing out its editing mistakes instead of feeling bad for making them… Cause at the Daily Lobo (University of New Mexico’s student newspaper), we had a writing coach come in weekly to review the work. He was from the Albuquerque Tribune and everyone would get bummed how mistakes always got through. No matter how many smart editors we had in the line of fire, we just always missed SOMETHING. And so I was like WHO CARES! There were all these rules at the daily lobo I didn’t care for. Like over-accrediting shit in each sentence. It was so dumb. So the noodle was my sweet release from that.
I wanted to be REAL, not perfect.
Will: I want to switch things up and ask you some other questions. What was the last movie/doc/podcast or book that inspired you?
Eva: One is a book by Leonard Shlain who is a FUCKING GENIUS and died on 2009 unfortunately. He’d be a perfect interview for this publication… He wrote a book called Art & Physics, and it is exactly what I have been thinking about but even so much more.
Will: What have you been thinking about?
Eva: Physics, imagining the fabric of reality and how it all works, and the way it relates to art.
Will: How does it relate to art?
Eva: Every time I pick this book up I have a heart attack, I can’t believe it even exists. It is a highly sensitive visionary practice dealing with light and space. In this book you find out how so many artists manifested the foundations of scientific advancements to come without them even realizing it.
Oh, I also saw this movie, a documentary from 2012 on YouTube called The Superior Human, about the human supremacy bias…. it knocks down all the reasons we give as to why humans are the best. And it brings these animals to light in a way I’ve never seen before. How sentient and awesome they are, and how we measure them by our own people standards and just don’t understand how completely unoriginal and unamazing we are compared to them. I like it because the more connected I am, the greater my work can be.
Will: Who was the person who made the greatest impact on your life?
Eva: Many people have made an impact on my life in regards to how I see things, hold myself, perceive experiences, etc….but I also had the notion to be receptive — to be affected by everyone and use the lessons of what I witnessed and experienced,
“…and so for that I would like to THANK MYSELF for harnessing everyone to impact myself.”
Will: What would you imagine your life being like in 2050?
Eva: I think I know what I’d like to be doing in 2050 but it sounds so crazy i almost don’t wanna say it.
Will: Tell me.
Eva: This is all in disregard to bioethics and general laws, but I want to be the mayor of a town that, or not the mayor, but overseer of a town, an experimental town that employs mainly bioengineers and artists who work together to create new life. A lot of it could be color. I was inspired by a field of blue strawberries, where the red gene was replaced by the blue gene.
“The possibilities are endless when you think about cutting and pasting DNA.”
Will: That’s pretty wonderful. Do you disregard bioethics?
Eva: The reckless child part of me does, in the spirit of experimentation and just wanting to know what’s possible and what you can sustain. But I also understand bioethics are necessary because we don’t want foreign invaders interfering our delicate system, and putting all of life in danger. So realistically, I get that I shouldn’t do that. But the scientist and the artist within me wants to let loose!
Will: If you had one piece of advice for the next generation, what would it be?
Eva: I think it’s going to evolve beyond me, I don’t know what values will be important to survive the future, so I don’t know what to tell them. Ok, my advice to the next generation is always study the value system of things big and small.
Will: Do you ever think you should focus on just one thing? Like just painting or just music?
Eva: Yes, and I do when I want to, but they are sometimes supplemental to things I am going through so I will focus on one more than the other.
Will: The different mediums are associated with different feelings?
Eva: Yes, or different forms of anxiety.
Will: Is art particularly helpful with anxiety?
Eva: Oh yes! Both making it and viewing it, taking it in. My friend Sarah Capps, who got Sexiest Horn Player from National Somewhere, said crocheting keeps her from murdering people.. haha… anyway, that’s extreme.. but, it’s like the oyster and the pearl.
It’s a rewarding experience. It’s both an engaging form of exploration, and it’s also delightful.
Will: What are you exploring? Yourself? Or something outside in the world?
Eva: The membrane between those two places…