January 23, 2009

Paradise by the Art Institute's Lights

It was a case of severe vacationi interruptus; I'd misunderestimated ecstasy's trajectory. Best not peak too late, but I'd peaked on Tuesday, of all days, with nary a book eaten before Wednesday's mournin' bell nor scarcely a beer drunk.

It was a bit ridiculous, racing 'gainst the clock like that, chugging a couple beers Tuesday at 5pm before 6pm dinner while watching a televised Meat Loaf concert featuring an explosive rendition of "Paradise by the Dashboard Lights". I was quaffing the beer because I was back late from what I'd assumed would be a pedestrian art museum but which had left me surprised by beauty. Happy hour was delayed, but man has a natural right to beer on vacation. (Note to self: check Thomas Paine's "The Rights of Man" for confirmation.) I find my mood greatly improved by regular beer much as a famous great evangelist found his greatly improved by daily sex. The great Hilaire Belloc saw his sense of humor atrophy during a wineless Lent; I find my far less witty version similarly afffected without the hops or prospect thereof.

It became increasingly clear though that I was experiencing an idyllic vacation high at precisely the wrong time. New vistas suddenly lay before me for it is only the relaxed who are open to mystery ("Americans can't relax enough to be able to pray well" said Blessed John XXIII). If I took the next day off I would surely read the Douay, King Lear, I would find some secret long eluding me, I would linger awhile in the uplands of my library, gathering in the sheaves, making love to my many splendored volumes. Pick your own metaphor. Like the businessman too consumed with work to visit his mistress, so too did I give scant attention to the many beauties within arms length. Tis better to be a contemplative with three books than owning thousands along with a distracted attention.

So the thought of calling in sick to work was just so...obvious. It should be easy now as there's no lie in it; our vacation days and sick days go into the same pile. And yet I'm a miser, a vacation day miser, and I was unwilling to go with my gut and read like a mo' fo'. "Save your vacation days," I thought, "for a pretty day. The year is not 20 days old, for heaven sakes! Hold your fire, keep your tinder dry."

No guts, no glory. I went into work semi-begrudgingly. Oh sure, I played the radio up high on the way in. Oh sure I was alit with calm and peace when my boss stopped by Wednesday morning. I was filled still with the glorious images of art, invigorated most especially by the unaccountably moving scene of George Washington's death bed. He too was mortal, the greatest president of all. All images of him I've seen were of strength yet now I'd witnessed him supine.

There was also that huge panoramic of Cincinnati in 1853 and I searched the large canvas in vain for where my great-grandfather may've worked or lived or worshipped. Call it art as time-travel - be it at George Washington's bedside or my great-grandfather's town. I get to see what he saw, which reminded me of the time I became moonstruck because it - the moon - was the only thing I could be sure I'd seen and Christ had seen, and it was like we had shared something very significant.

There was no shyness in the musuem curators at the Dayton Art Institute in displaying nudity; artists and curators are professionals, like doctors, and so they have their reasons. I marvel at those who can remain pure while painting a nude. I can't imagine the discipline a male painter must have in really seeing a woman's hand when a few inches away lay...

I read long from Updike, "Widows of Eastwick", and received that filling sensation I sometimes feel from his prose. Updike wrote about the desire of one of the older women to stay in the warm sun of New Mexico rather than travel to cold and snowy Boston to visit a friend. And it struck me how it is no accident that Florida is filled with snow birds and that the elderly seek warm climes during the winter. I began to wonder if I'm old before my time in my sensitivity to climate. Certainly if the 'plaints of the elderly are any indication, my own dislike of winter will only grow. It's not something I am particularly concerned about except as an indicator of character. That is, whether it's an indicator of my unwillingness to adapt to nature rather than force nature to adapt to me, since it's modernity's sin to think it can control nature. Embracing the winter seems an indicator of toughness and character and for that reason I should be interested in increasing my tolerance for Ohio winters. Lord knows my life is soft enough as it is.

They say it's the little things that matter, and it's true that I appreciated the little thing of the return of those golden fish filets at the cafe today. To eat when one is truly hungry is a good thing. But my mind goes back to that time of the idiot savant, that of the time spent in the DAI where I looked. I even made my own art, carefully removing the condesation from the window in order to get a shot of the courtyard beyond. I left part of the condensation in the picture in order to preserve the ambiguity.

I recall how startling it was to come around one blind corner and find the bright, airy modern art room with the very tall transparent doors fronted by vines of iron leaf. I remember too the room where I could rest my elbows in the window well and enjoy the bright sunny winter scene beyond, overlooking the mighty Miami river next to the signs of the highway that would take me home. I felt a feeling of exquisite comfort in the moment. I was immaculately preserved from interruption while surrounded by beauty, both outside and inside. I reveled in the moment as I made notes about all the things I wanted to explore. That moment, that single moment looking out the window, was impossibly filling. I was a child again and could’ve leaned in that window well for an hour or more. I walked twice to those great transparent doors with the iron leaves twice.

2 comments:

Maureen said...

I love how much you loved the Art Institute! You should send them an anonymous printout or something.... :)

TS said...

Not a bad idea Maureen! In fact I think I'll do that. :-)