A Digression on Travel and Water Lilies

Friday, June 4, 2010

I was fortunate enough to spend last weekend in New York (one of the benefits of now living only five hours from the city), so my next few posts will probably be about different things I saw and learned while I was there.  It had been awhile since I was in the city, so I did the normal touristy things (Times Square, Statue of Liberty, Empire State Building), some of which I'd never done, as well as visited some of my favorite museums, saw the Stephen Sondheim musical A Little Night Music on Broadway, and went to a Yankees game.  There were setbacks all along the way, but for each disappointment there seemed to always be a small reward.

For example, A Little Night Music stars Catherine Zeta-Jones and Angela Lansbury, but when we got to the theater we found out that Catherine was ill and would not be performing. That was certainly disappointing (although her understudy was absolutely amazing and Angela Lansbury was fabulous), but a lot of people exchanged their tickets because she would not be appearing, so we got to sneak from our nose-bleed balcony seats to some of the now-empty mezzanine seats. After listening to the cast recording and reading reviews, I'm actually sort of glad we got to see Jayne Paterson play the role of Desiree instead of CZJ.  Her voice was amazing, she fit the part exactly (I thought), and her rendition of "Send in the Clowns" brought me to tears. I only wish I could get a recording of her version because every version I've listened to since then (including CZJ's, Sinatra's, Streisand's, Judy Collins's, and Glynis Jones's) seems sub-par.

Better seats also came our way at the Yankees game.  A couple wanted to switch with us so they could sit with their friends, so we got to move about ten rows closer.  (Great seats, on the third base line.)  The disappointment came in that A-Rod had been given the night off and Posada is on the DL, so they weren't playing.  But we still won (8-2 against the Indians), I got to see Cano hit a grand slam, and I got to hear "New York, New York" played over the loud speaker at the end and sing and sway with thousands of true Yankees fans, so it was a great night.

The most disappointing thing that happened, though, was that MoMA had none of their Monets on display at the moment, but when I asked about it a lady told me there was a fabulous exhibit (the best she had seen) at the Gagosian Gallery in Chelsea.  I checked their hours (10-6, Tues-Sat), and Saturday afternoon we headed to Chelsea, only to find that the gallery was closed!!!  We weren't the only disappointed ones--we met other groups coming and going to the gallery who were all upset that the gallery had decided to close for the day, but unlike most of those people, we weren't New Yorkers who could come back the following weekend.

Monet is my favorite artist, so there was really nothing "good" that could come from this disappointment, like in the other two cases.  I have since looked at the exhibition online (linked above), and my only consolation is that many of these paintings are on loan from the Musee Marmottan in Paris, which I visited in 2005, and that the layout and space of the exhibition has nothing on Marmottan (a whole room of Nympheas!).  I also self-indulgently high-tailed it (okay, I actually waited until Sunday) to the Met, which has several rooms almost entirely devoted to Monet, so that I could sit and bask in the calmness that only the Water Lilies can create.

I have seen the Water Lilies in many galleries and museums (the National Gallery in D.C., the Legion of Honor in San Francisco, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, the Art Institute in Chicago, the National Gallery in London, Musee Marmottan and Musee d'Orsay in Paris), and although many of them appear very similar, I never tire of looking at them.  Just being in their soothing presence, seeing Monet's thick brush strokes and masterful manipulation of color, calms me and gives me a feeling I can only describe as joy.  This is the feeling I was after on Sunday when I bypassed thousands of masterpieces in the Met in search of the one piece I wanted desperately to see--Monet's Water Lilies.  I sat in front of one of the later Nympheas--from the time when Monet's cataracts were worsening and his paintings of Giverny became increasingly darker and more abstract--and let myself get lost in the color, let the painting sweep me away to a happier place, one in which I was not in a crowded museum gallery with dozens of other people, but alone with the painting, alone with perhaps Monet himself.

The Water Lilies always spark something inside of me--the feeling I earlier described as joy--that makes me want to create--to create art, to create beauty, to give someone else the feeling Monet has so graciously shared with me.  Right now I'm working on a rather strange project--part performance, part flash fiction.  I don't know where it will take me or if I'll even be able to finish it, but I have Monet (and Marina Abramovic and Picasso, but I'm saving them for another post) to thank for the inspiration.


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