Smear Campaign

Decades after the death of a great doctor, a pair of jet setters claims his legacy

The commune also happened to be Matt's birthplace, a fact Matt tosses out with practiced indifference. Apropos of his origins, Matt was given Tibet as his first name but now goes by his middle name. Rocky, Matt, and Matt's mother, Wendy, lived on the commune until Matt was three or four years old, "just long enough," he says, "for me to get my complexes down." In 1988, when Matt was 11 years old, his parents divorced. Torn between the two, Matt eventually cut off contact with his dad. "I was trying to get my home shit figured out," he says. "I was living in a dual world. I didn't know where I was fitting in."

The ensuing estrangement would last through his high-school years and his first year at the Maine College of Art. When Matt decided to end their silence, he had no problem getting his father's phone number from a friend. "I made one phone call, and that was it."

On Christmas Day 1996, he dialed Sarasota, Florida. An unfamiliar female voice answered the phone, choked with tears. It was Olga. "He had told her about me," Matt says. "It was very emotional." But then his dad came on the line, and Matt was characteristically nonchalant: "I just said, "Dad, what's up?'"

Near their RV at Kozy Kampers Kampground, Olga (with Rocky) paints to the strains of Strauss or Leonard Cohen. "I work a lot," she says.
Joshua Prezant
Near their RV at Kozy Kampers Kampground, Olga (with Rocky) paints to the strains of Strauss or Leonard Cohen. "I work a lot," she says.

At the time Rocky and Olga were making plans to marry and go to Greece, where Olga's father was ailing. He died just after they had arranged to ship their truck across the Atlantic, but they went anyway. Olga had inherited her father's apartment in the Athens suburb of Aegina.

Several months after that fateful call, father and son were reunited in the dingy, smoke-yellowed terminal of the old Athens airport. They spent two weeks together. The next year Matt returned for six weeks, gradually learning the language and customs. He also became reacquainted with his father. "It just felt time," Matt remembers. "He was at the point where they were starting something new, and I felt I was ready."

After graduation Matt returned to Greece and spent a year there, working on PAP projects and traveling through Europe. During the day Olga would paint while Rocky and Matt worked on the computer. Sometimes Matt would work with Olga, helping her with perspective, a skill she readily admits has troubled her through 20 years of painting. At night they'd eat outside, under the Aegean sky, with lots of wine and conversation about music, art, and ideas.

But like a CD with a skip in it, Matt's relationship with his father has gaps. One is chronological, the other, generational.

Matt plays new music for Rocky and Olga, and though they say they like it, Matt isn't sure they understand. While he respects Olga's work, the still-lifes, portraits, and realistic renderings of pigeons on rooftops are too literal -- not really his kind of thing.

Still, he speaks with admiration about his father's old-fashioned people skills. He describes Rocky as an "über-networker," always planning. "He's a workaholic."

Even as Matt speaks, the synthesized sounds of French DJ Alex Gopher waft from unseen speakers, a disembodied voice of Generation Y. Along with an art-school buddy, Jona Rice, he is putting the finishing touches on a biographical video of Dr. Pap. The Cornell Museum show is less than a week away, but Jona and Matt have yet to put up posters for it. They'll have time, Matt laughs, when it's over.

Since it is housed at a museum and not a private gallery, the PAP exhibit is, in Rocky's words, "a very soft sell." Olga has dressed up for the occasion anyway. She wears an iridescent lilac taffeta bustier, the same bruised shade as the twilight sky outside. Her skirt is long and black with a slit that reveals a silky white lining inside. A soft white scarf is draped around her pale shoulders like the flourish atop an Ionic column.

Tonight Matt Zappia's first impression of Olga seems especially fitting: "Right off the bat, I felt that Olga was just this little girl," he says. "She's so sweet and nice. She can't stand stresses, but she does through [Rocky]. He takes the brunt. There is a dependency," he adds soberly. "Once you meet them, you realize they can't be apart."

Tonight as ever, their joint efforts are ultimately entrepreneurial. "Be your own boss," Matt says, "that's the American dream." It's a dream that, paradoxically, may be lived abroad: "If we can get money here, we can travel back [to Greece]. There's no money there for things like this."

On this night the money is here, piled high in heels that clack on the museum's hardwood floor, traipse silently outside over the soft green carpet of grass, champagne in hand, to a parking lot that purrs with cash wrapped in the chassis of Jags and Benzes. Palm Beach County's stealth wealth is here, soft-spoken and big-haired, but what, if anything, will they spend?

Voices rise and faces redden in the heady swirl of red wine. Olga cannot tell if the event is going well. Track lighting casts a golden glow on her paintings. Standing next to them, with their vibrant tones and larger-than-life still-life subjects, she seems especially small and pale, Trilbyesque. She smiles uncertainly.

« Previous Page
Next Page »
My Voice Nation Help
Sort: Newest | Oldest