Redemption in India
They say stop. If I say. This is audio from vacation film of two special people hanging out on a beach in Greece. This is for nine spile. Spile. Let's and this is the famous fashion designer Jean-Paul goatee. Do I stop eaten? Say stop. It's the nineties, Jason Jumpol friends lovers and co workers, and that's actually kind of amazing because they both come from two totally different worlds goatee as well. He's, he's got the appear to me of outrageous, outspoken, Paris, fashion, lease, Phan, Ryan by comparison is from a small conservative fishing village in the Netherlands. And this is his sister VERA, we have a special connection. This was supposed to grow up, get married to a local, girl and become a hairdresser. Instead, he became a fashion model Amsterdam trans icon and a famous fixture in Europe's. Casey, he partied with the Donna had cocktails with Freddie Mercury. You may not know his name, but lease was the face at the body of many massive international ad campaigns. But let's just push the pause button here. This story is not about Reese, or even jump goaty. This story is about Lisa's sister. Vera VERA van Ryan was more than recess sister. She was his confidante and the keeper of his secrets. It's a story that finally takes us all the way to New Delhi, a hectic polluted, but beautiful place, smells colors and sound bound, and it's a place. Vera would go to to get her life back. Hi, I'm Jonathan Baer. And this is the journey. The journey is an original podcast from KLM Royal Dutch Airlines, where we meet extraordinary people whose lives are transformed by travel. Vera van Ryan lives in folate Dom, a small fishing village in the Netherlands, just a thirty minute drive and of world away from the capital Amsterdam. This is the place where she and Reese grew up. Now Veras apartment is exceptionally tidy in that Dutch way, the walls are white, and there's a collection of angels and other Catholic paraphernalia neatly positioned around the windows. There's one small corner with brightly colored bells elephants Andhra traditional, Dr souvenirs of India. Vera, only just got back from their few months ago. She's in her early sixties and has gone abroad before, but the trip to India was different. This was the closing chapter to a personal epic that started in the nineteen seventies. Vera and Reese came from a big family land. Father, mother has nine children VERA, and I spoke in English, but as you can hear she doesn't speak it every day and often falls back into Dutch nine kids, which one were you and not you were the third, the I go, the first girl was which one routes fader Marian flee Yaris, six. He was the six. Yeah. Vera is ten years older than her brother. And she practically raised him everyone agrees. He says blonde, curls and gentle character made him different really different. I both my first Landry, you know a bra and underwear. And my youngest brother do these he made a slingshot? Yeah, we make fun of it. And I come to my bathroom every head my on the rare. So I go to my mother and I said to my mother Ma. I don't know. And my mother says sweetie I gave him to few or moans. Vera says that when Reese was four he would parade around in his sister's dresses and stiletto heels he loved to go. Clothes shopping with VERA, sparking a lifelong interest in fashion, and fabrics. When did he was ten he asked his older sister? If there are men who love other men. Neither VERA know lease even knew the word gay. So how old were you when you realized he was gay s thank twenty you're twenty three and you still didn't have a word for gay? Now as fallen down became less like home people whispered, we pray he will be normal someday. His mother even encouraged him to find a nice girl. Vera in the meantime, became a married mother of two, she cleaned houses in Amsterdam several times a week for some extra cash came with her to Amsterdam one time and had his mind blown. Amsterdam is cosmopolitan liberal and free. Gay men, walk the streets openly holding hands. He didn't see that in phone them. It was just like a sponge. He saw finding people, he saw gay people. Unsurprisingly. He started going to Amsterdam a lot, these eighteen then he go one night to Amsterdam. And then he'd go three days in Amsterdam. And then he said to my mother, I co to live in Amsterdam mother south. Yeah. That's right. He told me that you want to be free you cuts all the gay bars and he left, it the freedom of the sex, did the wrecks transformations dress. Just the. The. The. Reese moved in with a friend from the gay scene and quickly became a fixture of the city's nightlife, some called late nineteen eighties Amsterdam, the gay capital of the world, the great chronicler of Dutch street life. The photographer Ed vendor L skin asked recent his close. Friends to pose for him in one shot Reese, casts sultry, gays into the camera. He seems perfectly perfectly cool. This photo later would symbolize this period. Amsterdam's history, freewheeling confident, totally unaware of what was about to happen. By this time VERA, had become a prim and proper conservative fallen damn housewife, and mother. But she traveled to Amsterdam, every day, a friend of Reese, gave her a job as a seamstress in bespoke clothing store, that had a very specific clientele. So was shopping. I'm down guava in that time, very famous show. They making close letter for girls but also for fifty to race prostitutes. Not, not lingerie for not people sexy, brass and sexy pains from leather also made crunch those panties. Yeah. Also leather trousers with nuts, the backside. So I make atlas chaps. Vera loves her days away from her husband and kids in volume. She loves the gossip the tales of nightlife, the wild parties. It's glimpse into recess world, a place. That's extravagant and decadent as for vs. He got a job at a hair salon. He spent his days, cutting hair, and he spent his nights. Indulging in Amsterdam's, clubbed. There are transvestites nudity leather, wigs sex and drugs. Nothing is off limits lease and his friends Homebase was the Torius club. Roxy. Ios from Bill and DJ at the Roxie and remembers vividly. This was there a lot a remember him stunning there with full console big names, fashion from London and Paris. The rookie was a place where lots of stars who came to Amsterdam where designers or famous, people would go stars had to be the same like everybody else. And everybody else was a star at Roxy. There were lots of very famous people hanging out there. All of a sudden, you would be standing next to Willie Nelson or football, players soccer player Maradona or remember Bono. Sitting decides the digits, I remember bowe-jorge going to leave ball read the club item. Also these lease would pop by Veras work to regale with tales of his previous nights exploits, and then together, they would indulge in their mutual love of clothes and fabrics. Vera. Often worked with cashmere and silk from India and would talk about his desire to go to this magical land. If you talk about any of you talk about closing the silk, and the callers and over the people, then Virin Reese with dream about how they would explore India together someday. Cut to a Sheik street in the center of Amsterdam reece's biking along when a door opens. A bleached blond Frenchman Russia's L. This was the French fashion designer and gay icon, jump goatee. And he was instantly smitten goatee had recently designed all the outfits for Madonna's. Blond ambition tour, you may remember the infamous cone bus Jay this pretty much made him the most celebrated fashion designer in the world reso- worked at the time and he had a modeling for elegance. It's a magazine and he was wearing a suit of Shumpert shea in. This is Johan vica. He used to hang out with visa and his friends and remembers exactly how goatee and Reese met, and he was bicycling through the license street in Amsterdam as potato was coincidentally in Amsterdam, and he talked to recede. Just said, hey Hello. Who are you? Vera says goatee I took out for dinner and they started dating and. Mm fell enough versed, proud? Only. What did he say to you? Oh, then, then verse two most beautiful hotels in Paris, and then he was in New York. And then he was to be. And everything you told me. Yeah, he wasn't a dream world in a dream world. World regularly traveled to Paris to be with gutty. It was love. Reese also started getting regular workers of fashion, model for photo shoots and catwalk shows he traveled the world as good as model muse and lover. And of course we tried to talk with Kati. Well, you can't you can come back tomorrow. You. Okay itching right now, maybe. But he never got back to us. Lease is beauty and charm attracted attention everywhere they went Reese, even told his housemate that Madonna said she was attracted to him, although, Xi certainly must have known he was gay piece would call VERA and tell her about his adventures a couple of times a week, even when he was abroad. She recalls. The time V sat in a club next to the fashion model and mother of many of Mick Jagger's children, Jerry Hall. He told me even once in New York, any buzzing bar, and just like nothing Jerry hall's come sit with him on the table. And he said to me, I could do nothing. Same Chevy home. The most beautiful woman in the woods, Johan Vicary was still a student. Then he and a group of friends often took the train to visit Reese in Paris. Got to north and we were picked up by a chauffeur and the car Rolls, Royce Capulet, and we went through Perez. Shopper for. And then later on we met them, and we went to bar and evening and self your daughter was there, and all kinds of French people. I don't know. But they will from seen amount, or artists, or well, a lot of models, of course. Johann says he's moved effortlessly through this world of international stars after Paris. He's arranged for them to go to the Spanish island pizza where they ended up at a rather exclusive party on a yacht. We wouldn't have had that on the dick so that were the rich and famous, people that are fairly macrey was sitting there Caroline of Monaco. And how did we behave during this like efficient water? Yeah. Yeah. He liked that life. In nineteen Ninety-three Reese and a group of friends filmed a vacation on the Greek island of Mykonos, go was there in the film there on a beach a shirtless. Goatee embraces Reese from behind. They have the same short blond cut, they're laughing and joking. It's intimate. He's was often abroad, these days, but he always saw his sister when he came home, fierce says she gobbled up his stories vicariously, enjoying his amazing glamorous life. He told me about the people in Paris. He learned me a lot on everything. What's going on? Vera is the only member of the family who got to hear all the details about rhesus jet-set life. They couldn't tell my mother, you know, my mother calls, Sean, Paul coach young, pow Volterra. Bras also sometimes beautiful scar from John. Yeah. But she don't care. And so as time, passed Reese, became a semi celebrity and was regularly seen in the gossip sections of magazines with all kinds of famous people. He traveled the world, he saw a lot of countries except the one he and his sister, always dreamt of nevertheless, it seemed like a time of endless happiness until rather. Suddenly everything changed. I D S eight the most frightening initials in America. Today over the last three or four years, we have seen every one of our worst predictions confirmed. It's mysterious. It's deadly and it's baffling medical signs acquired immune deficiencies. The ravages of HIV aids were reaching its peak in the mid nineties, Amsterdam's glycine was hit, hard Johan Vikings remembers how the years of carefree partying transformed into a dark age another friend of mine was living in Miami. And he said, that is a strange illness in America. Well, it's called aids. And all the k people getting. Some people cut also ill in the Netherlands, some of our friends or people, you knew got ill. And most of the time the time they were ashamed, and you didn't see them anymore because they went back to the parents DJ Joost from Belen has similar memories, little more and more people missing at the dance floor. Sometimes think during those, those losing all those people, and was like the war situation. It was very scary. I'm duly. But on the other hand, when going out at nod, it was all about escapism dancing on the on the edge of the Folkes. We dutch. Vera still working in the boutique also saw how the virus, slowly gripped Amsterdam's gay scene people were infected or dying. And she worried about her brother. I said, often duties, please take care, you worried. Yeah, I knew he has a free life sex. Life was also free, then Reese was struck by a bout of Burke, usas, a routine blood test revealed the obvious. Yeah, he must take blood test. And we get to results. And then I saw hy-vee egos mad of me and because he was mad. I knew it. I was a freight the way he's going today. That's where I was freight. When Reese finally confided in VERA, that he was HIV positive. He made her promise not to tell anyone, especially the family, every time I go way, then he said to me, promise me, don't say anything at home and at proms, and that could understand it to what do you think he didn't want anybody to know? What was he shape of? He's lived his life and freely. Yeah. In net. Nobody says I've h Reese was afraid that his family friends and acquaintances and fallen Dom would avoid him that he wouldn't be allowed to hold his nephews and nieces. Vera, watched Reese, grow increasingly desperate, he tried homeopathy herbal mixtures, whatever he could get to slow down the advancing virus. And when her family would ask about Reese, she did what her brother told her to do. She would say, oh, he's fine jetting around the world living the high life, aligned alerts my sister in law, the ask often out goes threes, then I said, oh, yeah. Now in New York. Meanwhile, Greece's health declined at first, he could still work, but he quickly lost weight and was constantly coughing. He stopped working and quit. Traveling the relationship with Giampa go DA ended and he still hadn't told anyone, but VERA that he was sick. He even tried to rekindle his old life from the Amsterdam nightclubs, but he grew weaker. His liver was damaged by the end of nineteen ninety four there was no hiding it anymore. His roommate brought Reese to the Princeton craft hospital. Reece's condition shocked the staff as for VERA her first visit with Reese in the hospital was very confrontational. What she saw was fear. He was frayed for everything everything we still didn't want his family to know he was in the hospital. Vera says that even when it was clear, the end was coming. He told VERA not to tell his mother, do you think he's new? He was approaching the end at any point. Yeah. He knew himself. And he never asked to see his mother. No. Reese was dying veering visited him almost every day, they talk. And when they would part Reese would always say bye love. They were the last words VERA, ever heard her brother say. one morning hospital. Call her. died the night he had been in the hospital for only three weeks. Prince arrests you guys. Call me brother is dead. This was the start of the worst period. Veras life. Not only had she just lost her brother, her dearest friend, but it felt a her to tell the family about visas death. And in MS to go to my mother. Issue it quickly became clear to the family that had died from aids. And that VERA had been lying to them about it. How exactly did she react? Joke. Man, who is she met of me? What a terrible position to be in VERA. Yeah. To keep your promise to him and to in a sense, betray her. Yeah, it was for them a terrible shock. Rhesus funeral was a clash of two worlds town laborers, mingled with big city transvestites in short skirts and pink corsets Dutch society figures, attended it was an open, casket wake and Reese, had yellow roses in his hands. Beer, took the roses and save them. vary. In the meantime, had been ostracized, by the family for keeping recess secret. Divers thing. I was so alone. Nobody nobody. Nobody helps me. I've a so alone. To deal with the loneliness and grief. Vera started drinking when's reece's debts began to drink. I drink a lot five times of you. We drunk and then feel sorry, and I lost three months sober. And then something happens, then I go to. Why were you drinking to forget the pain? And also the me sing of these. Years pass VERA, and her husband, divorced. She had little contact with her family Veras children grew up and moved out making her eyes elation, complete VERA says she self Medicated with alcohol to manage her alienating. And then veer reached her absolute low point in twenty sixteen Amsterdam state museum held a retrospective of photographs by Ed vendor AL skin. They plastered, the city with posters of that remarkable photo. He took of recent his friend on that day in the late nineteen eighties on a visit to Amsterdam. Vera found herself confronted by her brother staring at her from every corner. I am often in Amsterdam and everywhere. I came as Aw pictures of Reese and his friends, she wandered through the city and found herself in front of the former building of the Princeton rock toss battle the place. Where Reese died. I was so ensure that I saw the picture of this and everything came back. Complete made. When I go to sleep, I got mad of the nightmares. Vero went on a bender. Then I'd being voting days, the wrong. Vera son was alarmed got professional help the psychiatrist made a quick diagnosis. You have. P T S, the post traumatic stress disorder. Yes. I want to go to shackle cheese and yells me. Oh, he listened. He said to me, there's nothing wrong with you. You must move only your life gave Reese plates. The therapy helped veer realized she needed to do something to exercise two decades of unrelenting loss and grief to do this. She needed to take a trip. Not just any trip v trip. The one she entities always dreamed about. She needed to go to India. Forget you go, and what I have to do moss to co to India because we want to see together. I saw to myself, I am now, fate I do an close, but why the trip to India prove myself that I couldn't I will make a new start. You actually were sort of imagining who you were going to be when you came back. And if I can go to India Email, then I can go further with. I must go. Vera, realized she needed to do this alone and to do it right now in her early sixties while she was still fit enough. She booked a trip to New Delhi and got on the plane. And was something in the, you know, the plane goes while will. And I saw to myself when I do dis in my own to in you and I can do anything when I go back. At last the moment arrived, the moment, she entities had dreamed of she was in India. I go to bed at nine o'clock. I wake up every minute of the day, I've seen everything it was great. What was the highlights people? People. They all laughing date Vevey day friendly, the beauty of the day. Shops in Delhi. All the lace with all the beautiful fabrics. Everything is beautiful. Vera was physically alone in India, but Reese was with her in spirit, not as a haunted painful memory. But as a companion, I sell to myself, I did it after all those troubles. It was a relief. I was proud that can do. I was proud of myself, and then that salt, what have Reese fought of this? He loves. It was that the moment you let go here. Do you have your life before India and you have your life Andrew? Yeah. After India changed my life. Vera has been completely sober since the trip. She's taken a painting, mostly religious icons. She looks after her granddaughter and is taking Spanish lessons, Veras, even planning a new trip to Nazi in India. Devout Hindus cremate their loved ones along the guts, that line, the holy river Ganges and remember the roses VERA took from recess funeral. She's bringing them with her to finally put Reese to rest in the land of his dreams. And then I bring the roses in fairness, you're going to put the three roses and the goat cheese. I still have three. Vera and ride. You've been listening to the journey and original podcast brought to you by KLM Royal Dutch Airlines. For more background on this story and to see that wonderful photo of Reese by Ed front, Elkin Goto podcast dot KLM dot com. If you like the story, subscribe review us on apple podcasts. It helps other listeners find this podcast. I'm Jonathan Gruber.