Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Scenes from the National Gallery II: Ordinary People

They're famous, and long-dead, so they must have been a different species. It's how I classify them, I suppose--I must, because these little things always snag me. The exhibit attracted me not from a love of either artist, but because the focus was their friendship, marked by shared exhibitions and haunts. As I roll these words around in my brain, the image of movie stars sharing the red carpet, smiling for cameras and having a private chuckle comes to mind. That kind of friendship--casual, professional, circumstantial.

But Edgar and Mary were more than that. (And how quickly we assume that this meant they were lovers! Appreciation to the Gallery for not making the assumption.) This was more than a friendly smile when they bumped into each other at an after party. They sharpened each other, challenged and spurred one another to new techniques and studies, never letting the other rest on their rising acclaim and laurels.

Even this I think I understand until a simple piece--sketches with a touch of color--catches my eye, and through such a tiny window I can suddenly see them. The Gallery's high walls are dwarfed as I recreate the Louvre around me, with paintings larger than the side of a house, horses twice the size of life. "Two Studies of Mary Cassatt at the Louvre" (1879) should, by rights, be unremarkable. It doesn't seem to have been worked on or polished, and had her name not been affixed to it, it might well have faded out of keeping. But in such a quick sketch, a wide swath of light falls across how they inspired each other.

You can love something more by watching someone else love it, and that's what I see here: Mary's peering, her gazing, her studying, her note-taking, requires Edgar to capture her being caught up. I'm comfortable in being sure he didn't necessarily show this to her, either--that the point was to keep this in his studio, to pull it out occasionally and ask, "What would Mary see in this?"

I love how ordinary this is. How normal, how non-glamorous, how unarrogant. Degas was and is the bigger deal in most circles, but he saw something to be echoed in Mary Cassatt--his friend.

Tonight's Snap Shot

It is not so hot for August, but it's the kind of mid-grade muggy heat that creeps up on you from your armpits and backbone. You don't remember feeling hot until you are damp in every inconvenient place.

Too hot, regardless, for the oven to be on these few hours, but on it is--dessert now resting patiently on the stove, and the last breadcrumbs on the macaroni and cheese twinkling from white to golden to brown. It is too hot for these comfort foods--better a quickly-snagged jar of salsa or takeout.

But when I offer to care for someone--offer to make life just-so-slightly better--this is how it is done: not with a coupon for takeout or a salad bar, but by constantly stirring the roux in a hot pan, pouring in the milk slowly to smooth out the lumps, watching for the first bubbles before blending cheese and pouring over waiting pasta and braised chicken.

And now I sit in a darkening living room, the fan oscillating its light breeze across those armpits and backbone, happy. I haven't read that love languages book because I don't need to--this is how I love. Through sweat, through twirling of wooden spoons, through the crunch and steam and sigh of newly-made food.

Drafter's Note: I started trying to push this, to make it longer--and realized that, were I doing a Five-Minute Friday or a Slice of Life, I'd be very pleased with this, and call it finished. So we're calling it... And maybe writing something else later...