Thursday, December 26, 2013

The fault…. is not in our stars.

   I didn't graduate from college.
   Didn't fulfill my major. One credit short. One class I walked out on, cursing the professor. 
    My fault. No excuses. 
    Hell, I dropped another class -Econ 148 "Industrial America: Eden to Empire" it was called- to go dancing. Every Thursday was "Funk Night". Term paper due on Friday. Or dance till 3? 
    I chose the latter. 
    But I minored in art history and took more classes in that than I had to. 
     Like they say, that little itch may be telling you something.
   Anyhow. I've traveled a lot since I was 25. And wherever I go I try to find the museums, the galleries, the architectural gems, the houses of such and such an author or artist or composer. 
   I've crossed major time zones to see a single museum. A single painting. It's just how I work. 
   Put me on a beautiful beach in a gorgeous sun splashed equitorial country with sweet wind in the air and succulent fruits for the mouth and by day two I'll be digging around the alleys of the port looking for a two room museum devoted to the regional history of processed flax. 
    Sad, I know. 
    But of the 34 known Vermeers I've seen 28, face to face. I've stood in front of Rembrandt's Nightwatch in Amsterdam, his Lady with Ermine in Krakow, I've seen the Botticellis in Madrid's Thyssen-Bornemisza and the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, I've wandered the gardens of Kyoto tended to continually since the first crusades, I could draw you a layout of the paintings in the Frick, I walked the whole of the Louvre in a day, I've seen the Freer and the Frye and the Tates and the DeMenils. I like the Providence Atheneum more than the Hartford but the Alexandria one ain't bad. The guards in Atlanta's High are the sweetest but the docents in the DC Phillips actually like that you like their art. There's a world class collection of Netsuke in Butler PA and a museum of cosmetics in the hills behind Osaka. Winslow Homer's house in Prout's Neck, Maine used to be privately owned but I knocked on the door till someone answered and that someone, who told me sternly this was NOT a museum young man, turned out to be the father of a friend of mine from that college I didn't graduate from and I ended up sharing a bottle of wine with him in Homer's studio. After college, I broke into a steel mill to see a giant deer head that some brilliant street kids made out of the mill's dying hardware and got arrested, I've bribed guards to let me stay in the Giotto chapel in Padua after closing, I sang Soviet war ballads to a docent in Leningrad to get into Tsarskoe Selo when it was closed the day we were able to find a driver, I pretended I was a location manager for ABC TV to tour North Carolina's derelict Oaks Plantation.
  I've begged, borrowed, and I've stole. 
  My hero's the guy who lived in the basement of the Hermitage for two years to make sure its treasures survived the Seige. 
  I wasn't pissed at the bad guy in Red Dragon till he ate Blake's drawing. 
  The Taliban never registered on my radar till they blew up the giant Buddhas of Bamiyan
  I desperately avoid going to museums with anyone I'm dating for fear they'll get bored and I'll have to hate them. 
  I've threatened people who flashed their photography on ancient drawings or tempera. 
  I chase cell phone users out of galleries.
  For art's sake.
  It's a commitment. 
  
  But the finest piece of art I know is in a little park in Western Pennsylvania. 
   
   During WWII, the Mellon family tore down a gigantic home in Pittsburgh's East End. (It was their home so who can fault them and from all accounts it was kind of a pile.)
  Pieces of the place ended up in a church not far away and they donated the grounds so the city could make a park. 
   Mellon Park. Sitting on the vector where Fifth Ave meets Beechwood blvd. A green triangle - like Pittsburgh in miniature. Undeveloped land held above three rivers of traffic. Beloved of dog walkers and private school girls on the lam, perched on its hill overlooking Homewood and then East Liberty sweeping beneath Garfield on the way to Highland Park. 
   A fine view. Not a large space. Nothing too special about it. Good for small garden parties, art classes are taught in the adjoining lot, there's lots of parking, and they don't lock the gates so it's fondly cared for by the locals. 
   Go in the day you can play frisbee, you can lay on a sloping field of grass and catch the sun, you can smell the roses, you can introduce your dog to the canine crew of Shadyside. 
   Go at night and it might just change your life. 
  
    There are only three roads that run east out of downtown Pittsburgh through the flatlands called The Strip. Penn, Liberty, and Smallman. They're the only exits. Come rush hour, in either direction, they're jammed. 
   Some people know that there's an alley parallel between Penn and Liberty that runs the length of this jam. Spring Way. 
  None of the 30 streets that cross Spring along its length have stop signs for it. You take it, you take your chances.   
   A man in a particular hurry to get home one October afternoon in 1999 blew across one of those streets and killed a young girl named Ann. She died in her boyfriend's arms. 
   A month shy of her 20th birthday. 
 
  Go to Mellon park after the sun's gone down. Come in off Shady ave. Park in the old Belgian block lot, there's always space. Behind the art studio bldg, and cut into the garden wall, you'll see a small wrought iron door propped open  
  It lets you into a walled walkway. A few steps down to the left and you'll be standing next to a fountain that generations of Pittsburgh high school students have met and played by and flirted around. Spread before that is a lawn a little larger than a tennis court. 
  Embedded in that lawn are 150 stars. Lights. Each surrounded by a tiny stone collar on which is written its name and location in the sky above. This pattern fills the lawn but to see it you have to cross the grass and wander within it. The stars at the East end can't be seen from the West. You must enter. You must take the steps.   
   Stars above and stars below. And on November 20th they're the same. The lawn mimics and draws down the sky. Real stars and our stars and us in the middle.
   November 20th was Ann's birthday. 
 
    I come home to Pittsburgh and invariably I overschedule. I do too much, promise too much and focus too little. 
  Every museum, every gallery, every happening, every play, every reading, every thing that anyone's ever made for me to see and be astonished by, everything I've tried to find in art that I found not in myself and consequently everything I have not finished….each defaulted class and task and journey. These make me forget that this little park makes them pale by comparison.
  I'll be home a week and come some evening, driving from a bar to a restaurant, from a meeting to a drink, it'll suddenly snap into my mind. Mellon Park.
  And I'll pull into the lot and my car will rattle across the cobblestones and I'll curse my suspension and then two minutes later I'll be standing suspended between heaven and earth, but very much of the earth and as human as I let myself be.  
   To say that there aren't words for it is to want too much. We have words for everything. We're built by them, crippled by them, but sometimes they're what make the species worth not wiping from the world, that we engage and remake and recast, with our words.
  But sometimes fewer of them more finely fit the music of a place.
  And there are places where even your breathing seems privileged, the movement of your eyes in your head and the sound of the blood passing round your body an astonishment. When I'm in this tiny park, when I'm standing among this girl's long lost stars, mostly I stay silent. I never knew her. Never even met her. But sometimes I'll sing. Or hum. Or pray. I can't really carry a tune and half the prayers I remember I remember half of them, but it's a way to say thanks.
  
     
  

14 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I guess not all learning is done in the classroom. Looking at a painting or listening to music you don't normally listen to gives you a different perspective on that particular music or painting. Never lose your love for the arts. The world needs people like you.

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  3. It may not interest you in the slightest to do so, but were you to record your journey through these galleries, sharing as you have done here, I imagine the result would be a book that is both arresting and inviting—an opportunity. You do more than paint with words. Yes, the imagery is powerful, tangible even, but along with your passion and love, you prod and probe the very essence of who we are, forcing the reader to question and explore. And I would love to bear witness to the chasing of an oblivious cell phone user. I hope you get to see more and share that seeing as you have done here.

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  4. I just went back and read through your last few posts and I think your writing has gotten better :) Just my opinion, it's not like I know everything about writing and I only have one perspective. I also think it's great that you ponder things so much, I wish more people would do that.

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  5. Enjoying your stories. I agree with Alia Miller's comment. Your writing is getting better (not that I ever thought it was poor). Sometimes a bit deep for me, but am getting used to your style. Love your stories of your travels, and especially regarding your life and experiences in PA.

    Keep writing! I am looking forward to a "New Year's" story.

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  6. So now, to my bucket list of 'places to visit', I'll have to add one more stop - Mellon Park.
    And in exchange I leave a note for a few more museums to your list - in Portugal, so you can discover artists you've probably never heard of.
    We have roman bridges and ruins and castles too; one is said to have been built more than a thousand years ago and when the weather is just right, you can stand on the highest turret and feel the wind blow upwards while you try to capture in your memory all that you can see from up there.
    And we're also home to the westernmost point in continental Europe. With the lighthouse behind your back, you will stand on the rocks - with care so you won't fall but the view is worth it - and actually have to turn your head one way or the other to see land, because ahead of you is nothing more than the immense Ocean, green/blue waves that turn into liquid silver when the sun starts his journey down, down 'til it plunges.
    Maybe someday I will have the pleasure of rediscovering my own country through your eyes, translated into words for everyone to capture what you saw and felt.
    I bet it will be as magical as Mellon Park :)

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  7. My favorite summer reading spot, and I never knew. Nearly a decade spent here and my romance with Pittsburgh continues to surprise and delight me.

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  8. Your words read as if they were spoken - not fluffed up, or structurally balanced with wordiness. I’ve read a few of your pieces, and truly enjoy your writing style - passionate and refreshing. You capture moments and even seasons in your life eloquently, sparking reflection of our own, thank you!
    Your writing flows…it's clear, concise - inviting pause to reflect, and.to.feel.
    Many blessings to you, Dave!

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  9. Good morning David,

    Trying to catch up on your writing - interesting to go backwards :-)

    I absolutely love this one, for all you share and the smooth spontaneity of your writing.

    Am jaelous of all you've had the chance to see... 28 Vermeers face to face???
    Lucky you! Is "the Girl with the Pearl Earring" one of these 28?

    Now am stunned by this: you wrote you "walked the whole of the Louvre in a day"... How did you manage this? I mean, you must have made some choices or look at the master pieces only for a few seconds... I could just look at a painting from Caravage, Magritte, Miro or anyone else, the light in them, for pretty much hours. The Rodin sculptures? I'd like to "see" them with my own hands, feel every inch of them the way he sculpted them... another way to discover arts and as it comes to Rodin, quite sensual. Giacometti's work is different, and yet I'd still love to turn around and scrutinize each single piece...

    Now there's one thing... you LOVE arts and understand it. So for that part:
    "I desperately avoid going to museums with anyone I'm dating for fear they'll get bored and I'll have to hate them." I would say if arts are so important to you, they are part of you.
    If you date someone who cannot understand this or who cannot appreciate the art work, then this person may not be the best match - so to speak.
    If she's got another point of view on arts, that's good: you can discuss and argue with one another, which can be quite enriching.

    This "wild" committed side of you is awesome:
    "I've threatened people who flashed their photography on ancient drawings or tempera. I chase cell phone users out of galleries. For art's sake. It's a commitment."
    Whenever I run into these type of art-unrespectful person, I try humor at 1st... not saying it's the most efficient way but hey! am a woman, not as tall and muscled as you ;-p

    Should I finally make my way to PA, will make sure to visit the park you mention.

    Beauty and Art can lie in the tiniest as well as in the biggest... It all depends on the look you give it and the spirit you look at it with.

    Sending you my best xxx

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  10. I've enjoyed reading your posts. Your passion for your hometown is visceral and it makes me wonder how much I know about the place I live. I've moved too much to consider anyplace a "hometown" but I've been planted here a while and, while highly conversant with the Egyptian and Gemological exhibits at DMNS, I know there's a lot of art and history I'm missing. I've always been more of a hiker/seeker of isolated spaces but I'm excited to broaden my horizon.
    I have a museum for you: the Hotel de Paris in Georgetown Colorado, should you ever get the chance. No one else was interested the day I went so five dollars got me a private tour of the building. I still think about Mr. Dupuy's book collection...

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  11. It is 1:06am and I cannot sleep. Thank you for sharing the beauty you appreciate and experience. November 20th is 16 days away...

    "A painter, who finds no satisfaction in mere representation, however artistic, in his longing to express his inner life, cannot but envy the ease with which music, the most non-material of the arts today, achieves this end. He naturally seeks to apply the methods of music to his own art." - Wassily Kandinsky

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  12. Started to read from the beginning and again realized the power of words specially if you are a very sensitive individual. :-) Well, I am definitely looking forward to continue but got to go to get some sleep and this sentence of yours:.../ And there are places where even your breathing seems privileged, the movement of your eyes in your head and the sound of the blood passing round your body an astonishment. / will take to guide my dreams...

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  13. This post really made me smile... I think I'd use the opposite approach and take a date to a museum just as a weed out mechanism. It's important to be able to share your hobbies with the person that you love. I've been to some pretty awesome museums ... even set off an alarm once because I was glancing a little too closely (haha, now I know.) PA guys are always surprising me with their intellect and sense of culture. Some of the smartest guys that I know, I met while attending college in PA. I was watching one of your Christmas movies yesterday and I really liked your character and your acting. I hope you find what you're looking for in life and in love! Keep blogging... you are quite fascinating!

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