Saturday, April 24, 2010


I start early on a sunshiny July day, just after the July Fourth weekend, which I spent quietly eating burgers cooked on Peter and Julie’s outdoor grill. I have Judy Collins alternating with Mozart’s Jupiter symphony on the tape deck. Although I have hardly ever been in Vermont – and this trip and the one in the fall were brief in time – it feels like I have known forever these gentle mountains, these picture postcard farms, these old mill towns.

I drive in light morning traffic down Vt. 7 to Manchester and Bennington, and then I am near where Vermont, New York and Massachusetts meet, and I follow signs to the Sterling and Francine Clark Institute. Peter had told me about it. A comprehensive private museum of art through the ages that was put together by a collector couple for whom the museum was named. It is a light, rambling, carefully modern building set back in greenery.

Vermont felt familiar as I was going through it just now and so to does the Clark Institute, where I am in what I know now is my life. Peter Cooper had told me about a painting by a man named Bougerough who could really capture girls. It is quite wonderful, the flesh so real you feel you can touch these perfect nude ladies who seem to be climbing over each other in some perfumed, leafy paradise. And this is the light part, and it is the least of it. There are surprises. There is a late Middle Ages French depiction of a Christ who looks like a sorrowful middle aged mensch. There are painters I first saw just months ago but now seem part of my life, past and present. Around one corner is a Daubigny of greenery and a slow river that so closely captures what I have been feeling since I started breathing country air in the parks.

I am looking at a grouping of Corot’s feathery spring landscapes when I hear two matronly ladies talking behind me, one who apparently lives here and a friend who has arrived with news of the outside. The friend has one of those hopefully upper class voices that are somewhere between the sounds of stuffy British people and the sounds of prissy school marms. She has just been to the display at the Battery, which took place this past weekend. The ships I had seen anchored way out by Staten Island that day I went to hear Jesse Jackson had by now formed a semicircle around the point at the Battery where the poseur Ronald Reagan and his social climbing wife were being honored with fireworks and, though the matron does not get this specific, patriotic songs sung by a herd of Elvis imitators brought in by the Hollywood impresario who put together the event. She had been there for this unintentionally comic Nuremburg-like display marking the return, after cleaning, of the magic Statue of Liberty, and being taken, as commentators kept pointing out, as a display to honor Reagan. She seems to accept it all, much the way Prussian aristocrats accepted the tawdry Hitler regime. It is all so wonderful, so very happy, she says. So inspiring.

But the sun is still out in a cloudless sky and as I exit the museum I can smell grass and pines. I start up the car and I put on Willie Nelson. And I take my time, zigzagging around on secondary roads through places named Lenox and Lee in tidy Massachusetts. I imagine that I am not alone in the car, that someone beside me is handling the tapes, maybe not Gillian but perhaps that California red-head from the meetings or someone like her.

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