Thoughts from a Trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

My last day in New York City in March 2012, I took myself to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My eyes were drawn to the wall niche where hydrangeas–slightly pink, slightly blue, slightly lavender–raised their plump arms towards the upper reaches of the Great Hall. Passing through this room, I climbed the large steps to the exhibit I wanted to see: The Worlld of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty. The Met’s program notes describe the exposition as covering the period from 1215, the year of Khubilai’s birth, to 1368, the year of the fall of the Yuan dynasty in China founded by Khubilai Khan.”

I spent an hour and a half with the guided audio tour taking in the paintings, sculpture, textiles, and other decorative arts. I came away with a sense of the art and culture of this period. My favorite single piece was a drawing in ink on a handscoll titled: Noble Horse by George Kai, which beautifully captures a once robust and noble horse, his jutting ribs depicting neglect while retaining nobility–a symbol of lament for the fallen dynasty.

Time running out before the clang of the airport call, I wandered down the stairs and into the American Wing. My purpose: to eat an early lunch in view of the Tiffany windows so that–in my mind’s eye–I would take home a piece of my great-grandfather’s (Louis Comfort Tiffany’s) art.

Whilst in my revierie, a woman put her coffee cup and Danish down on my table and sat down. Before long, I knew she was Dutch, lived in rural east Holland, had not recovered from her husband’s death but was trying hard to move on. Her two grown sons were applauding her uncharacteristic trip to get out in the world with this trip to New York. Then she found out exactly what I was doing at this table in this room with this view, in this museum at this moment in time.

She said she was thrilled to have a personal meeting story to take home to Holland and tell her sons.

Paris Part IV

Next morning, Paul and I went back to Le Rostand where we once again indulged in a delicious petit déjeuner, sipping our hot coffee in the most leisurely fashion. I ate the entire meal. Things were looking up!

We had lots planned for this Sunday and intended to walk everywhere, if possible.

Such fun things as:

• Sainte-Chapelle
• Cathédrale Notre Dame
• the place on Rue de Rosier in the 4th arrondissement where Paul had lived for six weeks
• the ultimate ice cream cone. (I had read about “the best ice cream cone” to be had in Paris in a book in our hotel room and wanted to try one.)

Such not fun things awaited us Monday morning as in :

• finding the American Express office to pick up my new card.

Lining up for a tour of Sainte-Chapelle, I saw this lovely girl with her mother who looked so much like the women in Paul Gauguin’s Tahitian paintings, I just had to snap her.

Once inside the upper chapel of the medieval Saint-Chapelle, I took in the beauty of the stained-glass with the ghost of my great-grandfather–Louis Comfort Tiffany–over my shoulder. Without truly knowing, I thought it made sense that he had studied this 13th century colorful glass, the vibrancy of the red and blues–the hallowed effect they bestowed–and learned from what he saw. I thought he must have incorporated this knowledge and built on it in the creation of his own stained-glass, such as “Four Seasons.”

Paul and I kept walking…with our Sunday plans to Notre Dame :

to Rue de Rosier:

To Paris’s best ice cream cone at Berthilon, Rue Saint-Louis en l’lle (I had mocha and it was the most delectable chocolate ice cream cone of my life!):

On our way back towards our hotel, we licked our ice-cream cones and took in the charming scene on this sunny afternoon on Pont de la Tournelle:

Paul and I simply forgot to be worried about my lack of passport. We were happy in the moment creating a new path of being together in Paris as the older couple we are now:

….And, things did work out the next day. We found the American Express office where my new card awaited me. We arrived at the airport early and I was allowed to travel to Oslo with just my thin little paper police report. (This was July 4th . I doubt this would have occurred after Oslo was hit with such unexpected chilling news on July 22nd.)

But on the personal level–on which I am writing–here was a stark contrast to be had between the ghosts of my father, Grandmother and Anna Freud in England, and the ghost of the break-up of Paul and me when we were young in Paris. The ghosts in England would haunt me forever, whereas Paul and I lassoed our ghost rather well. In spite of some very tense moments we added an exciting, enriching adventure to our lives together, overwriting the old story.

…As for the ghost of my great-grandfather, Louis Comfort Tiffany, who was unbelievably the father of Grandmother, I would have to say the beauty he created in stained-glass gives gifts to the soul so profound that his ghost is one to hold onto.

England Part XIV

 

The curtains were now opened in the upstairs bedroom facing the garden, always Grandmother’s bedroom to me, but in reality Freud’s bedroom until he died, and Anna Freud’s bedroom when she became ill towards the very end of her life and where she died.

Visiting as a teenager, I responded to the light in this large airy room, the painting of Grandmother’s mother by her father, Louis Comfort Tiffany–if memory serves–over her bed. I responded to the cut flowers Grandmother always had in a vase and the photos she had of my father here and there from when he was a boy in Vienna. I liked to go to the windows and gaze out at the garden.

With light now coming into Grandmother’s room, I searched for signs of her. Very little evidence remained, even though this room was hers for over thirty years. I was horrified to see a little placard on a table saying something like: Miss Burlingham was a companion and colleague of Anna Freud for many years and slept here. MISS Burlingham! If she had been MISS Burlingham, that denied the existence of her marriage and of her four children; therefore, of my father, of my sisters and brothers, and of me.

How narrow an opening does one have to adjust a telescope in order to FIX a certain vision for the public to see?

I had some moments by myself sitting on a bench in the garden. It was a beautiful day. The garden afforded breathing room and straightforward enjoyment.

Such lovely roses!

Finally, I went up the side stairs to the top floor, a whole floor–to what was once Anna Freud’s consulting room, now a large office for about five museum workers, containing Anna Freud and Grandmother’s library and archives of their work, primarily of course, Anna Freud’s.

Having never been in this room before, I now saw THE PLACE where my father had come for so many years to, I imagined, lie down on Anna Freud’s analytic couch–which was still there, and do the endless “talking cure.”

I thought, at least there were windows, lots of windows. At least the room was flooded with light. At least…

God, I couldn’t wait to get out of that house!

***
Jesse had come to say goodbye while I was still sitting in the garden. He and Scott were off to see some London architecture.

Paul and I said our thanks to the Freud Museum Director–who had been gracious and quite understanding about my negative responses to the world of Anna Freud and Grandmother from my past.

We walked down Maresfield Gardens and found a pub on Finchley road. Over a clear soup, for my stomach was still unwell, I told Paul, “I just can’t go to Golders Green Crematorium where my father’s ashes reside (along with Grandmother and Anna Freud’s). Even after all these years, it’s all just too weird and painful. I’ve had enough of THESE PARTICULAR GHOSTS.”

Thoughts from a Trip to the Metropolitan Museum of Art

My last day in New York City this past week, I took myself to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. My eyes were drawn to the wall niche where hydrangeas–slightly pink, slightly blue, slightly lavender–raised their plump arms towards the upper reaches of the Great Hall. Passing through this room, I climbed the large steps to the exhibit I wanted to see: The World of Khubilai Khan: Chinese Art in the Yuan Dynasty. The Met’s program notes describe the exposition as covering “the period from 1215, the year of Khubilai’s birth, to 1368, the year of the fall of the Yuan dynasty in China founded by Khubilai Khan.”

I spent an hour and a half with the guided audio tour taking in the paintings, sculpture, textiles, and other decorative arts. I came away with a sense of the art and culture of this period; my favorite single piece, was a drawing in ink on a handscroll entitled: Noble Horse by Gong Kai, which beautifully captures a once robust and noble horse, his jutting ribs depicting neglect while retaining nobility–a symbol of lament for the fallen dynasty.

Time running out before the clang of the airport call, I wandered down the stairs and into The American Wing. My purpose: to eat an early lunch in view of the Tiffany windows so that–in my mind’s eye–I would take home a piece of my great-grandfather’s (Louis Comfort Tiffany’s) art.

Whilst in my reverie, a woman put her coffee and danish down at my table and sat down. Before long, I knew she was Dutch, lived in rural east Holland, had not recovered from her husband’s death, but was trying hard to move on. Her two grown sons were applauding her uncharacteristic trip to get out in the world with this trip to New York. Then she found out exactly what I was doing at this table in this room, with this view, in this museum at this moment in time.

She said she was thrilled to have a personal meeting story to take home and tell her sons.

Revision X6 of My Memoir, Jewels That Speak

I revealed in my first blog article–The beginning of my writing life–that it was editor Margaret Gable in her course at The New School in New York City who trained me to sit down and revise.

Long before I retired from teaching, I knew I wanted to tell my story in a memoir. Not everyone grows up in two different countries and has to quickly make up new character traits in order to fit into different cultures. Such jarring experiences occasionally produce the themes of great artists, like one of my favorites–Henry James. Not every bored ten-year-old goes up to the attic to rummage through suitcases and musty old boxes only to find pieces of the most beautiful colored shimmering glass the eye can behold.

Later I learned the pieces were remnants of the opalescent stained glass, Favrile glass, named and patented and used in his designs by Louis Comfort Tiffany. And who was he? No less than my father’s grandfather–my very own Great-Grandfather. Not every child has to take an ocean voyage on the Queen Mary during the 1957 boat strike to rejoin a father in London who had essentially left us–my mother and us five kids–in order to be closer to his mother, Dorothy Tiffany Burlingham, and her famous colleague and companion, Anna Freud. How did Grandmother and Anna Freud wield so much power? Not everyone is the daughter of a strong, handsome Norwegian mother who devised a plan to take us five kids to ski in the mountains of Norway and on arrival handed out backpacks bulging with all our food and other supplies to strap on our backs to cross-country to a remote hytte (cabin) with no running water, electricity, or toilet when not one of us had ever skied before. Not every girl learns how to attract men like flies to defer the pain of the loss of her father’s love. But everyone suffers losses, and has to be ingenious in learning how to combat them. We just all do it differently.

My Memoir–Jewels that Speak–began with the title scribbled on a page of a plan book in March 2007, when I was in the Ozarks with my husband Paul for my birthday weekend. Within six months, I produced a first draft. Editorial help from Laurie Wagner Buyer prompted me to write a second draft. Then, a third draft. Since then, the book has been in the hands of a New York editor, producing additional critiques, and inspiring additional revisions.

After a fifth round of critique from the Writers Group I blogged about last week–Feast for Seven Women–I have started another draft. Who said, “in revision the scissors are even more necessary than the pencil,” or some such thing? Sounds about right.

In another blog, I will talk about what the jewels mean in my memoir.