Thursday, February 25, 2010
#68 – ROMANS
I was happy to be alone in the park and the museum, which had become my Saturday morning routine. There would be plenty of people in the afternoon at a gathering at a cheery and happily liberal left upstairs place way over east in the 20s. The previous Saturday I had agreed to meet Abigail in the park, and that was when it dawned on me that this very gray and bitter lady wanted me and was stalking me.
In a cold sort of way Abigail was intensely intelligent and could be moving about things she disliked. And we were both in a subset of people determined not to let this wild and hard program, where we probed the past, move back into something genteel and conventional and religious as we thought AA must be. And Abigail was particularly biting when she stared talking about people who spoke of god or wanted to close a meeting with the lord’s prayer. And Susan, a clinical therapist who was at last getting on to what her own family and an addict husband had done to her, was not so biting, but talked about anyone who opposed religious trappings as being “one of us.” Including young George, who came to these meetings drunk sometimes – “one of us," Susan said, even though these meetings were packed with people who had been badly abused by alcoholics.
I was glad to be alone and away from Abigail and also away from people I liked, and I was already in the museum in my mind by the time the subway got to 86th Street. I could picture every room in the European Painting area, in the American wing, in the 19th century section and the new 20th century wing. While walking over to Fifth I pictured myself coming into the museum, turning left, handing over a tiny donation, rather then the exorbitant suggested donation, to get a colored button as my pass, going past those almost out of context Cypriot statues and the ancient wall with ancient paintings, and then the Greeks, heroic and otherwise, and a bigger than life size woman saying farewell and also being inviting from the side of an old late classical Greek grave stele. And from there, I was thinking, I would stop for mediocre coffee in the big old world circular restaurant, and then head through Oceana fast to get to the 20th century – Hopper and Bonnard and everything in between, and then circle around though another millennium,
When I got to the museum I was following my plan. I turned left but was stopped before I got to even the Cypriots, To go by this route to anything I liked in the museum I had to pass through a room of Roman busts which till now I had gone through hardly looking around me, moving as quickly as when I went through the things from Oceana. But on this day I stopped. I was beneath a bigger than life black marble standing statue of a threatening Cesar who could well be on an old Nazi. And all around were these portrait busts – the only original Roman art – mug shot busts of the rich Romans who commissioned these works and hence had to have approved how they turned out -- even more of a departure from idealized Greek statues than my comforting farewell scene woman. These knife edge Romans so far from comforting that I was instantly filled with horror verging on terror. I knew these people. I know these faces. I had been around them all my life. Intelligent faces, most of them. Hints of humor, if snide irony counted. Sometimes no irony, just petulant fury – as in one that seemed a mug shot of my brother.
And I hoped this was the last gasp of cold antiquity. For the first time since I lost my faith at 16, which was close to 40 years before this time, it occurred to me that the arrival of Christianity was not a bad thing. Which did not feel like a call to action, nor like something to be dismissed.