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Friday, December 17, 2004

Lichtenstein!

Toured the exciting exhibition at the S.F. Museum of Modern Art yesterday. Not terribly fond of his early works (much like that of Andy Warhol) but the pieces he completed in the Nineties are magnificent! The huge canvasses that were greatly influenced by traditional Chinese landscapes, but that continued his applications of those tiny dots -- but now leaving the harsh bright colors of the Sixties and moving into pastels. Beautiful show!

The work may have been enhanced by the company, though. My new friend is a member of the SFMOMA and is the best art companion that I've had in years; maybe ever. His eyes are wide open and his interests are broad and deep. His appreciation for the arts matches my own, though he may be far more learned on the subject of visual arts. We're in the same general age group so have shared similar periods of history, though from very different perspectives. We may be complementary in much the same way that Bill and I were. He is also a scientist, though in chemistry rather than in the social sciences. I like him immensely.

We visited the museum in the early evening and afterward walked down Market Street to California near Battery to Tadishes Seafood Restaurant for supper. Hopped over the cable car tracks but saw none at the time. My friend is much into vintage cars and architecture -- so I saw through his eyes much more of lower Market than ever before. It's amazing how different the world looks from the sidewalks at the slow pace of a pedestrian than from a car at even 25 miles an hour. The distractions and demands of driving censors out so much more than I'd imagined. I'd forgotten that. There was a thin crisp of a waning moon in a black starless sky but with those marvelous skyscrapers outlined in lights for the holidays -- all of the visual excitement was in the near view with the black sky needing to provide little more than background.

I thought of that marvelous passage from one of Willa Cather's novels, "...in other places the sky is the ceiling to the earth. On the plains, the earth is the floor to the sky." (My Antonia?) I'm paraphrasing from a book read many years ago, but the thought slipped in in that micro-second between traffic light changes from "stop" to "walk." And I was reminded of the unmatched beauty of world-class cities that provide their own magic of a kind that Cather may not have experienced at the time of her writing that line. But then I've also seen the earth from Pike's Peak -- overlooking the plains -- and was awed by the wonder of that as well. How diverse is the world that I've experienced! Comparisons are foolish and unnecessary, but there's no other way to describe the emotional tsunami I felt in that moment. It was so ordinary in so many ways. So unsurprising, yet so very warm and comforting to have that sense of "mattering" again, romantically. I recalled a truth I'd learned long ago; that pretty is a feeling... one I discovered in Boston.

We'd traveled on separate BART trains, from different cities, from very different lives, to meet at the museum. Ordinarily I feel vulnerable on the streets alone -- except on the mean streets where I live and work. San Francisco overwhelms me. I read fragments of "six non-lectures" by e.e. cummings on the ride over as a way to distract myself from fears (hyper-awareness?) of traveling on the train under the bay. The old phobias of suspension and of tunnels still lurk somewhere deep in my brain, but I've long since learned to acknowledge them and move on.

I recall one day when I was visiting Boston and wanted to leave the Ritz Carlton (on Beacon Street) to visit a friend who lived in a loft many blocks away. It was a lovely day and I was determined to walk and waved several cabs on. The fear began to rise as I became less sure of my position in space. Stopped and bought a big red balloon from a vendor on the street. Carried it for several blocks through some questionable areas. Finally got my bearings and stood high on an overpass and released it to rise quickly up into the sky as I saw my friend's address up ahead. Yesterday it was the little paperback by e.e.cummings. I've grown up now. After all, I was probably only 40 at the time. Balloons are for kids.

It was on that long walk that I received one of the most memorable compliments of my life. It brings up a smile even now. There were several youngish black men socializing on a street corner somewhere along Arlington. They fell silent as I approached. As I passed them (trying to make myself invisible for the next 15 feet) one of them "signified" to the others just barely loud enough for me to overhear, "...we sho don't have too many a doze!" It was surely the equivalent of a slow wolf whistle, but sounded truly friendly and in no way intrusive, as if they sensed my fear and wanted to reassure this obvious stranger to Roxbury. Without hesitation, I grinned back at them, loosened the grip on my red balloon a twist or two, and sailed on toward Arlington feeling pretty.


Upon reaching the west side of the bay, I took the escalator up to street level past a fine street musician playing a familiar jazz tune on his keyboards; folded myself into the friendly crowd for the walk up Market Street past Annie Place to Third and to the Museum. It was comfortable. I sensed the friendliness of the city. Picked up imaginative gifts for my grandkids in the museum shop, then -- as confident as could be -- found a table in the coffee shop, tucked cummings into my MOMA (status symbol) bag and started to sip a fine cup of green tea to wait for him ... .

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