Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sun, Lions, Yellow Chairs and Red Squares

Sun greeted us yesterday. I climbed through our living room window out onto our balcony to take it full in the face. My pain is worse in the early morning hours and so I wait for the coming of the day. Today was the day I was to board one of those red lumberers, learning to flash my Oyster card. La Professoressa saw me off, bending low, with a wave, through the window of the 91. I felt like a young child being waved good-bye at her first day of school. Illness has made me unsteady and I appreciate my love's recognition of my undertaking.

Settling in, behind a mother and her lively baby girl, I thought, Joan, this is no different from the 104 careening down Broadway. It is really a short hall from Russell Square where I boarded to Trafalgar Square, my assumed destination. Up the Strand, with its titillating glimpses of the river through narrow side streets, fanciful bridge turrets catching the sun. You wait, I thought. I will come back and find you. The river in the sun is the special promise of London, I thought and then, catching sight of the dome of the National Gallery, I decided to get off at Charing Cross Station. The buses are gracious with their low and even boarding plates. I can easily get on and off. Such a prosaic sentence but now I look at cities not just for their erotic buzz of urbane life but for how kind they are to fallen bodies.

Enough. One of the dangers of writing in the darkness of a new day is that tangents seem so interesting. I am putting off the grandeur of the morning I had once I got off that bus. Opening up before me was the sun filled, leaping water-filled, people filled square. The  lions first greeted me, their huge muscular flanks shining, little people, tourists of all kinds, sitting on their massive paws, cameras clicking. The fountains shooting their waters high into the blue day, spray and fanciful water deities cavorting in the lower waters, arcs of water emanating from mouths and tails. Some visitors like me just positioned themselves against a fountain rim or the white wall that forms the base of the National Gallery and let the sun hit them full in the face, immobilized in our good fortune. This space, this offering to a city's people and its history, the shared glories of the day made me see again the wonders of these stone heavy cities, how they can dance with their own forms of joy, their persistence in time, their free offerings to those who make their way to their open places.

In the Gallery itself, I moved quickly past the Italian religious paintings of the early centuries, found Goya, and then galleries 44 and 45 where first I walked the snowy streets with Pissaro, he who knew the Caribbean light and then I found my Cezanne and Van Gogh. Van Gogh's yellow chair holding in its nest his pipe and tobacco, simple, he said, like him. The next, his yellow-gold-ochre thistle, filling the whole canvas, a gift awaiting Cezanne when he came to visit his old friend, the painting, Van Gogh, said is the idea of generosity. And across the room, enough Cezanne to see his vision, the early realism of his business success father, sitting, legs crossed, heavy in his black suit, light on his large face that is turned away from the painter, then a thickly wooded--but painted lightly--scene with a house hiding behind the verticals, next the beginning of his squares of color forming shapes of hill and vistas and finally one of his Bathers where the forms lounging in their own free form colors of blue guide us to the next moments of Western art. You know, I grew up in a book less, artless world of the working class Bronx of the 1940s. It was the public schools that I attended all my life, from kindergarten through college, that opened the doors to so many other rooms. The very schools that suffer so much neglect these days, particularly here in London where private school connections are riding high. Now I have stood in three countries gazing on the work of artists that rend my heart. I know how lucky I have been.  

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