A Little Taller

January 3, 2009

When Lynn and I visited New York in November to see the Van Gogh exhibit at the Museum of Modern Art, I bought a membership. My main concern at the time was efficiency. The exhibit required a timed entry pass, and I was concerned that there might not be any available the Saturday we would visit, or that we would have to wait until late in the afternoon to get in. When I calculated that the cost of the membership would pay for itself in one visit, I signed on.

One benefit was a members’ only last look at the Van Gogh exhibit that took place tonight after regular museum hours. I took the train into the city this morning, checked in at my favorite low-priced Central Park West hotel (the Comfort Inn on W. 71st, $100 a night [sometimes] for a small but perfectly adequate room in a safe, quiet neighborhood), took a nap, and then headed downtown to the museum.

As much as I loved having this experience with Lynn, I really do better in museums and historical sites and art galleries by myself than when accompanied by someone else. It’s like reading. I couldn’t have a conversation with someone while I was reading, and even moving about at an exhibition knowing that I am there with somebody changes the energy of the experience for me. I’m not distracted by the strangers milling about around me (except the ones who let their cell phones ring and then have to dig around in their purses for it while it plays the entire Hallelujah Chorus and then answer it with “Yeah, I’m busy, I’m at this great exhibit did you check with Bob about what time for tomorrow. . .”), but when I’m with a friend I do feel an obligation to be present to that person as well as to the material I’ve come to see.

This idea is expressed in “The Concert,” a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. The speaker tells his lover that he wishes to go to a concert alone, because she would put herself between him and the music. “We must not make of music a filigree frame,/Within which you and I,/Tenderly glad we came./Sit smiling hand in hand.”

And so I moved about alone among strangers tonight, having my last look for a while at The Starry Night (the exhibit is moving to Amsterdam until June) and at Starry Night Over the Rhine probably forever, since it is on loan to MoMA from a museum in France.

It was that painting that captured my attention and imagination in November. It makes the familiar Starry Night pale in comparison, literally. Where Starry Night depicts a scene lit by blazing stars and a dazzling moon, Rhine shows a darker, moodier night. The starlight spills out of the sky into the water like shots, like stabs, and I could feel them hitting me like explosions. The blues and greens are the ones I’ve always sought in my clothing, in my home decorations, and looking at them made my heart beat faster and my eyes almost hurt from the beauty.

I was also taken by the streak of red in the skirt of the female figure walking with a male companion in the foreground. The person who wrote the interpretation for the wall sign called them an “amorous” couple. And while I certainly see a couple there, I would regard “amorous” as a signal that they are headed for some activity where they will draw the blinds against the magnificent sky. I see instead a couple bound to each other by the depth of an enduring love, an intimacy that encompasses so much more than the physical.

Millay’s poem concludes with the speaker reassuring his lover that he will return to her. “And you will know me still./I shall be only a little taller/Than when I went.”

I feel taller, stronger, straighter tonight, a new person headed into the new year.



A  year ago, I wrote a meta piece about all the reading I was going to do in the new year.

Two years ago, I wrote about my weight loss efforts. I’d forgotten that!

Three years ago, I articulated my Six Goals of a Quality Life.

Four years ago, I wrote about a grade-school classmate’s birthday.

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