Sunday, August 8, 2010
My happiness, I’m afraid, is shrinking—not its depth, nor its height, but its range, its breadth, its sweep. Has my happiness become the size of walking into Michael’s arms when we see each other Sunday afternoon after being apart for the weekend? Perhaps it’s small as cats rubbing up against my legs or the slow way morning’s light comes, one breath then another.
Happiness: the look on the homeless woman’s face when I gave her some food on Friday but more, her face on Saturday, when she recognized me and offered me God’s blessing. Happiness—though I couldn’t see it, only feel it, was the look on my face when she accepted the food. Her slight smile had some happiness in it that I could see but it had a lot of not so happy too. She’s been sitting on the same bench in front of the Ferry Building every time I’ve walked by since arriving in San Francisco on Friday. She’s a heavyset woman but I don’t think her happiness is, the little bit of it I got to see, anyway. But what do I know about her, really?
Arriving in the City, on a terribly gray morning, my first stop, after getting rather lost, was the Palace of the Legion of Honor, where my happiness became quite small. It distilled down to the size of the red umbrella in the impressionist painting of two women sitting close together reading in the shade the umbrella made. I’d never heard of the artist, an American, Charles Courtney Curran. The picture, Afternoon in the Cluny Gardens, Paris, 1889, was no more than a foot long, its height less than that. So the red umbrella could fit easily in the palm of your hand. Ah, but to have happiness by the hand!
When I go to a museum show, I quickly walk through the exhibit, see the pictures that call to me, and come back, sometimes many times, to my chosen few to linger. Seeing the Matisse exhibit in Chicago last spring with my best friend, Gina, I kept returning to the bronze sculpture of a woman’s back. There are 4 of them, actually. Back I11 drew me in, nearly the least figurative one. In that bas relief sculpture you see the woman’s figure from behind, her long braid loose down her back. She’s leaning her head on her raised and bend arm. Is it the war that’s pushed her into this position, her sorrow?
I’m not such a great friend or wife or daughter at a museum. (Though perhaps I learned this method of museum-going from my father. We’ve spent more time together in art museums than nearly anywhere else.) I don’t like to talk about what I’m seeing and I don’t like to look together. It feels adulterous because for the brief moment I belong to nothing and no one other than the painting before which I’m standing. I’m happiest when I go to a museum alone (or with my father).
After a while at the Legion I left for the big Impressionist exhibit at the De Young, got lost again, (no happiness there), parked on the street since the lot was full. This should have been a sign. Well, it was; I just didn’t heed it. The long lines inside the museum were the next signs I ignored. My desire to bolt was strong; I had to hold myself there with the strength of my persistence, if that’s what it was. Idiocy might be a better word.
Though I got to see Caillbotte’s Floor Scrapers again, a most favorite painting, sadly, even that wasn’t enough. My shoulders were always pressed against two others. My hips got to know hips I never wanted to know—too many strangers, too much shared air and thought space. It set my breathing to fast and shallow and my pulse kept skipping important beats.
The whole day was blaring car horns, cars racing to red lights and all the world’s used car lots worth of traffic, a missed street here, another one there. Even the gorgeous dahlia exhibit at Golden Gate Park undid me in its profusion. But also, one perfect parking place in front of one of the world’s tiniest and most perfect shops—Belle Ochio—beautifully arranged with delicate things and ribbons fit for a queen, enough money for a nice hotel room to which I possessed the only key and hot soba noodle soup for dinner. The day made my eyes feel as if they weighed a thousand pounds each from all the looking I had done. My ears were flooded and begging for silence. And by day’s end, I felt as though my head were facing one way and my feet the other.
After checking into the hotel, there was only one place to be—outside in an open spot, as away as I could get. For a long time I sat at water’s edge, the Bay Bridge in the middle distance, watching wavelet upon wavelet, feeling sun on my droopy shoulders, now that the day had brightened.
Despite my gratitude for a weekend away that I could kind of afford, better face it; I’m not the girl I once was. Give me the forest crowded with trees, multitudes of leaves in every green shade, the camaraderie of scurrying squirrels and snakes, the breath of coming autumn wind. That’s the size my happiness is.
Posted by Patrice Vecchione at 9:25 AM