Wednesday, November 4, 2009

KC Trip: Day Three Part 2

As she approached the museum through the late afternoon mist the letters carved deeply into the surface of the limestone running along the lintels said, “The Soul has greater need of the ideal than of the real.” Victor Hugo. With that, she eagerly rushed the steps, taking them two at a time, knowing that she had found a place of import, knowing that she had not allowed enough time to take in all the wonder that these linked buildings would contain.

This was not the first time today she marveled at this Midwestern city. When she was researching for her trip she was floored to discover that both major art museums charged no admission. The Arboretum she had sought out yesterday was also free of charge, as was the music on Thursday nights in the Blue Room where she was planning to spend the evening. Even the theatre events were reasonably priced. Maybe she had misjudged this place. She was beginning to see that these venues were not free because they had nothing of value, but instead, it appeared that the residents of Kansas City wanted to be sure that beauty and “the ideal” was available to lift the souls of all, regardless of ability to pay. She caressed the heavy stamped brass doors as she entered the sanctuary.

She shook the last raindrops from her hair and scarf, dripping on the marble entry floor and glanced back outside. Not that all the art was contained within she saw, and from the doorway perched 15 feet above the lawn she saw there were many outsized sculptures scattered about the gardens that she had missed in her dodge of the damp.
A stocky, kind faced guard stood at attention and therefore noticed her hesitation. “Pretty dicey out there today, yes?” she murmured to help tip the arrival’s decision toward staying inside. “Yes, but getting clearer.” Her charge conceded, and moved on squeaking soles toward the first gallery to the left.
A strong bias toward all art pieces painted, drawn or welded caused her to blanch at the door to this room for it was filled with lit cases that were filled with dishes. She always avoided the amber boxes, the gilt utensils and the earthen vases at her own local museum, and with time at issue, wanted to cut to the chase. Too late – for in the moment spent in indecision a single, exquisite teapot had drawn her in for a closer look. She drifted from case to case, and thought about her mother’s fixation with cloth napkins and formal table wear. She had always resisted this mindset; her Scandinavian practicality winning out over her English sense of propriety and her Irish flair for the dramatic. And yet, seeing these beautiful wares and imagining the afternoon teas and the morning coffee served with a scone on the stacked dish seemed suddenly just the right thing to do – well and there was all this talk now days about landfills and conservation—she made a mental note to pick up some charming fabric for some linens and some pleasing cups and saucers from the jumble sale upon her return home. She’d keep it quiet from her mother and the friends who were hell-bent on saving the environment; let their low opinion of her remain a while longer, for some reason she wanted that unchanged.

Finally released from the delicate table wear, her dried boots now tapping out an echoing staccato in the soaring entry, she crossed to the tiny old elevator and made her way to the third floor. At last she reached the first room of paintings. Although she began by chance in the American art gallery, seeing work by many of her favorites from the Hudson River School movement, and a large collection of work by Thomas Hart Benton it did not take long for her to realize that since her recent delving into the mystery and politics of Spanish and Italian art of the 16th and 17th centuries, she wanted to view works from the masters she had been reading about, and after consulting a map, she hurried down the back stairs to the second floor. Now is the point in her day when time stood still. Rather it hurled her back 300 years and then it stood still. The additional reading she had done did indeed have impact on her enjoyment of these canvases she previously had skimmed past. The colors, the light, the choices in texture and paint thickness and in the way the subject was positioned. It pleased her that new illumination could be extracted from her studies.

Before she knew it, the time for the museum to close approached, and she retraced her way through the halls, here and again catching a work she had missed in her haste to take in as much as possible. “I will come back next year and allow more time.” She pledged to herself silently, a promise she intended to keep.
Back outside she walked briskly to her car, the rain clouds now thinning and letting small bursts of the sun’s power peek through. Again, as if a touchstone, the words along the top of the building brought a coda to her visit. Yes, the ideal was an important balm, a necessary stop in the urgent march toward the practical. And march toward the practical she must—she extracted her cell phone and quickly dialed her hostess; their meeting time was fast approaching and one look in the rearview mirror as she entered the car told her that a stop to have the tangle of her hair re-tamed was a necessary step in her enjoying the evening of live music they had planned. They agreed to a new meeting time which accommodated both her need for a stylist and her friend’s need to finish fetching dinner for her kids that were to be kept at home, and she was off in search of the drop-in hair salon she had subconsciously registered on her way to the museums earlier that day.

Although in a neighborhood her suburban husband would label “sketchy”, she got a good feeling when she finally located and entered the salon. The two stylists were busy and the waiting area crowded, but they immediately greeted her and assured her that they could wait on her shortly. The good natured verbal jabs being directed at one of the clients from the “gallery” came from a rowdy bunch that had apparently come in to cheer their friend on as she got “done up” for the evening on the town. In a matter of moments their bright and joyous chatter surged through the door and suddenly the place seemed silent. “They were a fun lot” the other customer commented, and we all chuckled in agreement. As she studied this client from across the room she realized it was not clear if she was in the presence of a fellow woman or a man. The already short cropped hair was being shaved off to stubble everywhere but a thin stripe down the center—there was much discussion on just how long the mohawk could be left for the comfort of the boss at the day job. At night, the client was engaged as a club band, and there of course were no limitations of hairstyles in that realm. Man or woman? Man or woman. Overall the appearance brought to mind K.D. Lang, and the Lang look-alike left after paying with the woman none the wiser as to whether it had been miss or mister.

She settled into the chair by the sink and relished the extra heat as her young stylist massaged shampoo into her hair. The age of the stylist of course immediately brought to mind her own young daughter, a stylist now for three years. Before her daughter had graduated, the woman had used the time during salon visits to sleep, but now that her daughter was “in the business” she found herself more engaged, and it was not long before she knew the name, age and childbearing status of the woman who was washing her hair and putting it back in order. She encouraged the stylist to provide more details, and her mind wandered off as they were provided. Where did it wander, you might ask? Well, to her own children of course. She thought about how young this girl was to be a mother of a two year old at the age of 19, to be working fulltime in a salon. What excited her interest was the focus; this girl knew what she wanted and had set about achieving it. So like the woman’s son-in-law; a homeowner at the early age of 20, a wounded war veteran by 22. She could see reassuring logic to a plan that included early graduation, immediate enrollment in a vocation-based school, and then to pursue further higher education with a marketable fall back trade under ones belt. Yes, she would talk to her husband about these ideas and they could together find ways to encourage their youngest to consider this type of path --a practical plan with accommodation for making a living wage while pursuing higher knowledge. The sense of it made her smile, and that smile reflected back at her in the mirror the stylist held up to her now completed coiffure. Just so. Now she could proceed with her plans without the distraction of frizzled, windswept bangs.

She said a quick prayer as she paid, tipped and exited to her car, entrusting the hands and heart of the young stylist and her child to the protection of the Creator, and then she was off, hurrying back across town to a night of jazz music and friendly chatter.

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