Tuesday, May 19, 2009

The Art of Missing Someone, and a Museum Visit

1 &2. Local graffiti, 3. Nearly empty chapel, 4. Spring at Mamacoffee, 5. Tactile exhibit, 6. Door from chapel, Center. Master of Theodoricus paintings*

Friday, Caroline waved farewell, swung backpack onto shoulder, climbed up bus steps, and headed for the country. As we waved goodbye to her through the bus's tinted windows, I did a quick mental calendar check, because surely she’s still only five. Why did it feel like she should be carrying a guitar and wearing sunglasses behind those dark windows, off to see America. And why were we crying when she’d be back in a week and anyway, we’d all been looking forward to her kindergarten camp since Christmas?

Imponderables. I moped a bit and then threw myself into a spreadsheet so I wouldn’t think for the rest of the day. By the time Will came home from work I was so deep in numbers it took me until the next morning’s coffee to recover my equanimity. We spent Saturday the way we usually do, shopping at our local stores, strolling by mamacoffee for an espresso, pushing the stroller through the park to check out the latest flowers, and keeping my camera ready for any new additions to our local graffiti.

This Saturday though, the green grocers wanted to know if we’d heard anything from the children yet (their daughter and Caroline were bus buddies). The Greek store cashier asked where the little holčicka was and the drug store cashier volunteered that maybe the weather was on its way to getting warm after all. We walked home and I couldn’t help thinking that big cities are full of little villages and I was happy right in the middle of ours, even if it took C heading to camp to remind me.

The next day, still getting used to the quietness of space without Caroline, we decided to do what we hadn’t had a chance to do for nearly six years - visit a museum undisturbed.

Or at least nearly. We lulled James to sleep strolling across the sway and rattle of cobblestone, and arrived at the Convent of St. Agnes happy to have won sixty minutes of quiet. We spent a few of those minutes wandering around the ground floor looking for pictures, lost in a maze of corridors, convincing ourselves that the art collection must have moved. We found empty chapels and a tactile exhibit for the blind (complete with a braille typewriter for leaving notes), we circled the gardens again, and just as we were about to leave, discovered the staircase up to the galleries.

The Convent houses the Czech National Gallery’s medieval art collection, beginning the exhibition with a wood carving from the very early 1200s, and ending it with prints from the mid 1500s. Sometimes, in an art museum that covers the medieval to modern, I’m happy to stroll past the rooms of madonnas and saints to get to the renaissance. But that morning, with a sleeping stroller, and a collection dedicated to the Gothic, we slowed down and took the time to look.

We were the only visitors, the guards decided we were harmless, and we were free of children, so we spent the rest of our hour arguing all we wanted: about the goldfinch in the madonna portraits (from the apocrypha or not?), the Theodoricus blank books and their bindings, the apostles and just who might be Judas, and the aptness of poor Catherine clutching her wheel. We had a deliciously nerdy time, and James slept until the last gallery.

When he woke, he wanted to be carried, and his wiggling turned the paintings back into art to rush by. It was time to go. We stopped to pick up a book to try to solve a few of our morning debates, and headed home.

And if you’re wondering how Caroline is doing, the latest news from this morning is that she hasn’t cried one bit, she can’t wait to ride the horses today and she’s been a perfect milá, or dear. Pshew.

Goldfinch – the jury is still out on this, Will thinks they are related to the birds in the apocrypha which the infant Jesus brought to life from mud. The National Gallery guidebook suggests the association of goldfinch with thistle bushes, thistles representing the crucifixion, the goldfinch thus foreshadowing the poor babe’s later fate. My guess is that it could be a combination of the two, depending upon where the tradition started from and if that group of artists even had access to the apocrypha books.

Blank books – it’s pretty unusual to see blank manuscripts already bound, as most medieval manuscripts would be prepped by assembling parchment into folios, scoring the skins for neatness, writing and illuminating the text, and then binding the whole. My vote is a tabula rasa motif, but Will is not biting.

*Master of Theodoricus paintings from the Virtual walk through of the gallery. Understandably, no cameras are allowed in the actual exhibition.


lizardek said...

Sounds like she is having a great time. I love the photos. Am kicking myself for not making it to Prague last summer after all my big talk.

Kelly said...

I love the school trips. You wouldn't believe the gaping stares I received when I told people here that our kids had gone skiing for a week by themselves :) James must be loving only-child status!

Julia said...

Liz, there is always this summer you know!

And I do agree, kindergarten camp is really cool. We just got a postcard from her today and she drew herself with a huge smile on her face. Very reassuring!

Kelly, James thinks life is great, he likes to walk around holding onto BOTH of our hands just for good measure. I do think he misses C though, every time he hears children's voices in the hallway, he runs to the door and yells Ahhroooli!

countrypeapie said...

A nice, long post -- clearly there are not two kids running around the house just now! It's always such a mix of emotions for me during our (rare) kid-free times. We long for the break, and then they're gone, and then there's a something missingness tinged with worry, and then we're overjoyed when they return, and in no time at all we're longing for us-time again. I bet C will seem so grown up when she returns!

Barrett Bonden said...

I only respond to madonnas and saints for the wrong reasons: "Gosh, so they painted like this, then." or "Can't understand that because I don't know the code." However, blank books are something else. The symbolism is mega. "Inside here is the greatest book in the world. Just one tiny snag; the author never got around to writing it." I worry about the empty pages. To write something on them would be a violation: a betrayal of the book's infinite potential. I have a nicely bound exercise book I picked up twenty years ago and it remains empty. Handwriting for me has always been a transitory stage, between the thought and the printed form; to write in that book would be to convert it into mere notes, but the binding's too nice.

Julia said...

Meg - James already seems so much older, just because there is no C around for comparison. I'm sure she'll loom like a teenager when she gets back, and I also bet she'll talk to us just in Czech for at least the first day!

BB - Blank books are like that for me too, so I always start writing on the second page, and vow to learn how to bind one myself some day. Re the codes, we have a great aunt who specialized in early flemish primitive paintings, and when we were young, she showed us the keys to that style of art. Every now and then I get a chance to dust those keys off and see if they still fit.

Mary said...

Your photos always shine a lovely light on a very different world to mine.

And I enjoyed having my brain stretched by this post..

Julia said...

Thanks Mary! I stretched my brain on this one too ;-).

Lucy said...

I always write on the second or third page too! I've more or less got over the sense of fear and unworthiness about writing in them at all. I would have assumed that manuscripts would be written then bound too.

I've always liked the goldfinches in those old madonna paintings, but have never bothered to find out why they were there; sometimes those things were just heraldic panderings to patrons,weren't they, but I'm not sure about that one. To me they're particularly magical birds anyway, which seem to carry their own concentration of meaning.

This is such a wonderful post, I enjoyed both the missing someone bit and the museum visit! Caroline is very brave and grown-up; I always admire the way the French and their kids get used to the latter going off on their own very youg, I think it's good for everyone. I first went off to camp at 11 and was so miserable!

The List Writer said...

Ah, that museum sounds so good! Thanks for stopping by my list. I love seeing where other people like to go.

Jery said...

This blog is long but nice . It's really nice to went through your blog.
Thanks for sharing all these.
Good Day

Jery Williams

alice c said...

How wonderful - thank you for sharing this. The moment when your children find independence is always full of opportunities even if it is tinged with the faintest sense of sadness for what is being left behind.

Julia said...

Thanks for stopping by Alice! Your blog is such a pleasure, and I thought of this post partially as your favorite reminded me of it too.