Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Iced in

As I write this, there is an ice storm warning for Vermont. Vermonters have been advised not to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary. Friends, worried about their kiwi friends' ignorance of the treachery of ice, have been emailing and texting us: drive slowly, like Vermonters; don't go out unless you have to; make sure you're stocked up with food and water and candles; think about how you will stay warm if the power goes out. But we're already aware of the dangers: just walking across the road to a neighbour's solstice party felt reckless. The road is a sheet of ice. The snow is safer to walk on but has a deep crust of ice, so with each step you don't know whether you will glide over the surface or sink through the ice. Rose said "it's like walking on creme brulee".

Any plans for the weekend have to be contingent on the weather. Whether we will make it to church and Emily's rehearsal for the Christmas pageant tomorrow is anyone's guess. But there's a nice feeling to being iced in. We have pulled games - Scattergories and Scrabble - out of the cupboard.

Our tree decorations have a Vermont theme

We're wrapping Christmas presents and chatting, with carols playing in the background. It's nice to have a house full - Sue arrived today, and we've been revelling in news from home. There's time to think.
multitasking in the kitchen

I've been thinking about an aspect of our New York trip that I haven't written about yet: our visits to the art galleries. 

Until a few years ago, I would say that I never had even the remotest interest in art. OK, that's something to admit in public (almost up there with admitting that this English professor has never read Othello or managed to wade through Middlemarch). Yes, I'd seen pictures that I liked, but that was about it. All that changed when I went to a conference in Chicago about 10 years ago (I'm beginning to see a theme of life-changing conferences in my autobiography here).

I was staying in a hotel a few blocks away from the conference venue, and those blocks took me past the Chicago Art Institute. It never occurred to me to go in, until one day I was walking back from the conference and they were handing out free tickets for the last hour of the day. I wasn't doing anything, so I walked in. And I fetched up in front of this painting - and fell completely in love.

I'd seen prints of this picture many times, but I had never, ever realised what a difference it would make to see the real thing. For the rest of my stay in Chicago I went back to the Art Institute every day. And at any conference I've been to since, I've found my way to any art museum and walked around in awe.

So - we were in New York - what a wealth of possibilities! How to choose? Especially with two young girls in tow? The Museum of Modern Art, I decided, was where we would focus. It had Lizzy's very favourite painting in its collection, and a special exhibition of Magritte.

Rose and I had a very happy time at MOMA. Bruce not so much.

Lizzy was extremely happy to see her favourite painting of all time.

But most of the time, Emily and Lizzy walked around with a look of deep disapproval, which made it difficult to fully engage. While we were walking around the Magritte exhibition, for example, Lizzy utterly refused to walk into certain sections, for reasons that were at first unclear. But I realised what was going on as we stood in front of this painting.

"Look, Lizzy!" I said, "isn't this wonderful!". There was a muffled noise beside me. I continued to pontificate about its meaning. "Can you see that, Lizzy?" I said. "Yes, " came the same muffled, disapproving sound from beside me. I looked round at her, and she was standing with her back to the painting. "Well," she said indignantly, "would it have made the meaning any less if he'd painted her with her clothes ON???"

We did have some break through moments though.
I translated. "Well, that's just stupid," said Lizzy, "of course it's a pipe - what else could it be?"
"Can you smoke it?" I asked, and she fell about laughing.

On the whole, though, I didn't feel that a trip to MOMA had inspired in my youngest daughters a deep love of art - they were a great deal happier skating at the Rockefeller and exploring Central Park.

While they were skating that evening, I grew cold and bored and went off in search of a cup of tea. There were no cafes to be found (of course), so I wound up in the only warm shop that was open nearby - the visitors' shop for the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I came out aflame: I had to go to the Met before we left. 

It seemed impossible. We were leaving the next afternoon. But Bruce worked out a timeline and decided it was possible - if we packed up that night and left the apartment at 9am, so we could get there when the Met opened, I could have two hours at the Met.Of course we hadn't factored in a deep snowfall which made walking painfully slow: one and a half hours.

One and a half hours is a heartrendingly short time to spend at the Met. We dashed through galleries hung with paintings, each one of which I could have spent a hour gazing at. One moment stood out. I walked through an arch, into the Van Gogh gallery, and my eye fell on this:

And, totally without thought, I gasped out loud. Two women were sitting on a bench gazing at the same painting. When they heard me, they turned round to me, their faces full of joy. "You feel it too!" said one. "We are so, so lucky, aren't we?' cried the other, "Just to have seen this!"

Yes, we were. We loved the Met. It had a totally different feel to the MOMA. I've been trying to think through what was so different. Thinking about the Magritte exhibition, I feel that what had enthralled me there was an intellectual curiosity, a sense of its cleverness. The Met felt like all heart.

Tiny ancient drawings, where you could feel the artist's pure engagement with their subject. Renaissance portrayals of the annunciation where the angel's awe-fulness and deference and Mary's anguish and trust shone through. A pastoral scene that looked idyllic until you noticed some tiny detail that hinted at a storm or fear. 

I had some moments of ambivalence - walking through the medieval section, for example, I was torn between what are all these treasures from an antique world doing away from their home and thinking well, a whole new nation of people get to experience a history they couldn't feel in any other way. But, that aside, it was unalloyed joy.

I could write more. But it is Christmas Eve day now. The ice storm has passed and our world is a glitter of sunlit ice. Our internet connection (lost for two days - which is why this post hasn't been finished) has been restored. While there were some positives to this disconnectedness (all of us immersed in books,  happy games of Scattergories, playing in the snow),  we have been worried that our families might be puzzled about our sudden disappearance, and we are grateful to Bruce for trudging out early this morning to buy the necessary equipment to reconnect us to the world. We are all anxious to call home today.

It's Christmas day in NZ. We're thinking of Eddie and Anna hosting Christmas dinner at home. Grandad bringing the wine, and Grandma shelling fresh peas on the front porch. Anne-Marie and John and Maia and Steve arriving with hoops and beer and hot bread from Steve's oven. I'm thinking about Jane and Digby's last service at Central Baptist. I'm sitting up here watching the squirrels (there are six of them in the back garden) and the birds and the glistening ice, and my heart is glad. But I'm thinking, with all love, of home.

Our Vermont nativity scene - Sue's brilliant inspiration. Please note that the wise men are wearing flannel!

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