Viva Pablo, Viva la vida

Pablo Davis still believes in the revolution, as only an artist can. He was a communist when you could get your head cracked open for it (he did, actually) and he’s still a communist now, when it seems harmless and antiquated.

That doesn’t mean he doesn’t appreciate beautiful women (enough of them still seem starry-eyed about him too) or the finer things in life.

Where do you find a Jewish communist kid from Philadelphia these days? Naturally, at the tres chic Ah! Moore (pronounced amoré) International Cafe on the northern edge of Rochester Hills, in deepest yuppie suburbia. If you see a black face anywhere within five miles of here, it probably belongs to Herman Moore, the former Detroit Lions wide receiver.

By the way, he loves Pablo. And the security guys don’t hassle him much, because he owns the joint. When I stopped by, Pablo was sipping an occasional spritzer and showing off the latest exhibition of his art, which is largely for sale.

Much of it is breathtaking; his paintings range in styles from post-impressionism to angry expressionism; some of his work resembles Picassos of various periods; one of his child portraits could almost be a Manet.

There’s a price for every budget indeed; there is a nude for $600, and a portrait of a Mrs. Moore, apparently no relation to Herman, for a cool $2 million. Unfortunately, my weekly allowance hadn’t arrived, and I was reduced to looking.

While I was there, Pablo, all magnificent mane of hair and mustache, flirted engagingly with most of the female patrons, and confided to me in all seriousness that he was attempting to persuade one whom he knew well to have his baby.

She blushed, but didn’t seem to disapprove. Pablo has, in fact, a proven track record; he has at least five children. He is, incidentally, 88 years old.

“It’s all in your attitude,” he told me. Like most artists, and to some extent any of us who have quarried out a life worth living, he is his own best creation. Much of Pablo Davis’s life is a bit mysterious.

He was born Paul Meir Klienbordt in Pennsylvania in 1916. As he tells it, he was working in the coal mines at 14, and was radicalized by a bloody strike that was put down by the police. He became a communist (not all that unusual a step during the Great Depression) and rode the rails to Detroit, where, in 1932, he met his hero, the great artist Diego Rivera, who was working on the famous murals that still grace the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Frida Kahlo swept him by the security guards and he struck up a friendship with Diego, who he said encouraged his art and allowed him to do some minor work on the murals themselves. After that, he says he fought in Spain and lived and worked with Pablo Picasso for a time in France.

Then he came back to the States, where he says he did hard time during the Red Scare, and had a nasty courtroom confrontation with Richard Nixon himself. How much of all of this actually happened is a matter of debate. There are those who think he is a storyteller, and those who believe every word.

For the record, based on my own intuition, his accounts of having known Diego and Frida, and his description of their personalities, have a ring of truth. His artwork, while original, is certainly that of someone who closely studied Picasso.

However, I can find nothing indicating that Pablo Davis ever faced down Nixon, or did hard time in the early 1950s. What really matters is that he is a remarkable man who is as passionate as ever about social justice, about his art, about women and life itself. Even more importantly, he gets things done. What he is all about now is a proposed “Intergenerational Center” in southwest Detroit that would be designed to bring preschool children together with the elderly so that each generation would learn from the other.

“One of the problems we have that we never talk about is age segregation,” Pablo says. “Our young no longer feel part of an embracing community. Our elders are left in their barricaded homes to die alone.”

The center he wants to build will cost about $6 million (detailed architectural plans already exist), would house day-care programs for both adults and children, and provide space for various community activities.

When I first heard about it, I wasn’t impressed. Detroit is used to people popping up and announcing, usually with great fanfare, impressive plans to renovate the Hudson’s building, the Book-Cadillac, old Michigan Central Station, etc., etc. Nothing ever happens because there isn’t any money.

Yet a decade ago Pablo Davis decided that what the once-vibrant Hispanic neighborhood around West Vernor Highway and Springwells Street needed was a clean, classy and state-of-the-art assisted living center for senior citizens.

Somehow, this old commie helped put together a grassroots collaborative called Bridging Communities. They (and he) got business leaders, union leaders, the Michigan Capital Fund for Housing and lots of other people on board.

They raised money, made noise, got it done. When they cut the ribbon in August 1999, there wasn’t a moment’s worth of hesitation about what to name the place.

Today, Pablo Davis has an apartment and studio on the second floor of the Pablo Davis Elder Living Center, which is one of the nicest places of its kind I have ever seen. (No, they did not allow me to apply.) The idea is that the Intergenerational Center will be next to Pablo Davis’s center, and that the elders there will interact with the kids in the neighborhood.

“All we need is money,” he says, chuckling. That’s what the art sale at Ah! Moore is for; the idea is not to feather Pablo’s nest, but to create a new one, for adults of various generations to talk to each other.

But you don’t have to buy anything to go look at it — or to get involved in trying to make the Intergenerational Center a reality. Contact Marian Bloye (313-361-6377 or [email protected]) to find out how to help the center.

But if you have time before Christmas (ha) drive out to Ah! Moore, which is at Silverbell Road and Adams, just past the Palace. The coffee and the art are excellent, and, if you’re lucky, Pablo will be there. Talking to him is even better than looking at his art. He thinks, by the way, that all the predictions that Marxism and revolutionary socialism are dead will turn out to be dead wrong.

He thinks that, someday, when Americans realize what the corporations are really doing to them, the revolution may finally happen, and happen here.

That seems hard to believe. Yet so have so many things that have come to pass in our lifetimes, good and bad. Let’s put it this way: If the revolution does arrive, I fully expect Pablo Davis to be here to paint it.


Here’s an idea: Whatever else anyone thinks, it’s clear that the city of Detroit has immense problems, and no relief is in sight. Wouldn’t it be something if next year’s mayoral elections were as much about ideas as personalities? What do you think should be the most important priority any mayor should have? Share your thoughts with me, and I promise to pass the best ones on.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]
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