Friday, April 11, 2003

My Birds Have Given me Wings

Sometimes, little things make all the difference. The weather, for example, is generally a small thing, but it provides us many hours of pleasure because it is safe to to gripe about, in fact, in NYC, discussions about the weather have been the starting point for more than one friendship.

The weather here has been simply atrocious. It's been even more unpredictable than Seattle weather, in fact. Today, for example, it is raining with a vengeance and the sidewalks are flooding (who needs them anyway?), which is good I suppose because the rain has finally melted the snow from last week's blizzard.

Because of our unpredictable weather, it is very cozy to sit in my overheated office and look out over Central Park towards the east from my window, to the Metropolitan Museum of Art and other nearby artsy institutions. Of course, the weather was terrible last Friday, when I visited the Met for the first time since the war in Iraq began. Even though the Met is my favorite place in the world -- even moreso than my own museum, I just couldn't bring myself to enjoy such amazing beauty when I felt such tremendous worry and sometimes great sadness about the undeclared war in Iraq.

But the Met waited for me, a faithful old friend. Returning to the Met after my long hiatus was amazing. My absence from her hallowed galleries had been too long; I discovered that I had been gone from this place for my entire life; I was re-discovering these treasures for the first time and this made me new again. I was seeing the light caress the many layers of paint, adding depth and life to colors faded by time, I wondered how each masterpiece looked when the paint was fresh, wondered if the cracks in the paint added character and power or detracted from the overall beauty of each work.

Some paintings that were absent had been returned to their places on the walls. One such painting was entirely new to me: I saw my first Signac painting, which delighted me with its subtle beauty and delicate precision. And my old favorites were there: I almost wept when I once more beheld works by van Gogh and Monet, Cezanne, Seurat and Pissaro, Vuillard, Gaugain and Renoir. When I was a child, I found great hope in art, but I never hoped I might experience these masterpieces in real life, that I might stand with my eyes merely inches away from the original canvases.

One of the paintings that I discovered at the Met is Monet's "Ice Floes". Unlike most of the masterpieces in these galleries, I had never seen this pale painting before in any books, so when I first saw it, I tried to dismiss it as merely white on white, a polar bear against a snowbank in a blizzard, but no. Inexplicably, it draws me back every time I visit, like a moth drawn to a flame, where I wonder about the subtle and lovely colors, wonder about its magic, about the story this painting is trying to tell me, waiting for its story to unfold in front of me in its own time.

The view from my office window right now reminds me of this painting. The rapidly changing color scheme as the sun sets is something that Monet would have found great pleasure in painting on his dozens of canvases. Monet would have enjoyed the mist as it snuggles up to the bare trees and skyscrapers, softening sharp edges and transforming everything into subtle shades of grey and white decorated with lovely splashes of pale blues, pinks and yellows throughout.

I wonder what Monet would have thought of my birds (who are no doubt rioting in my apartment at this very moment). Their brilliant colors and vibrant personalities might have driven him mad from trying to capture the changing light as it was reflected from their glossy plumage, or maybe he would have been changed forever by them (as I have been) and gone off in a different direction entirely? Maybe Monet would have been more like Gaugain or Matisse if he had lived with lories?

Of course, it isn't much of an imaginative leap to also wonder who and what I would have been if I hadn't discovered the pleasure of small things, if I hadn't lived with lories for so much of my life, for example. In fact, it's really quite amazing to think that a girl who grew up in a farming community in the middle of nowhere, who was actively discouraged from pursuing any education at all, would have gotten as far as I have under any circumstances. Is it improbable to think that such a person discovered colorful parrots from exotic islands thousands of miles away and would have fallen under their spell so completely? Without all these little events, would I ever have lived in my beloved NYC? Would I ever have had an office with a window to look out over Central Park on this soggy evening? Would I ever have discovered my vision, my calling, my purpose for life?



© 2004, 2005, 2006 by GrrlScientist

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