Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Late Summer Walkabout

Sometimes, when we're looking for that land over the rainbow, unlike Dorothy, we have to go farther than our own backyard. Although I live in the soul-opening majesty of Big Sur, I still feel a touch of wanderlust. Due to the "recession" we are mostly in stay-cation mode, but work, long overdue social and family visits, plus a compelling art exhibit called us out of Oz into the larger world.

San Francisco's De Young Museum exhibit "Birth of Impressionism" was mind-blowing, and dovetailed nicely with my husband's gig as a wine sommelier at the SF Chefs Food and Wine Festival. We dreamed and sighed over the Impressionist paintings on loan from the Musée d' Orsay in Paris, sharing the audio tour as we wove through the crowd.

Seeing the canvases in person (v. looking at reproductions) is like listening to live music instead of recordings. You are there beside the artist making the brush-strokes. These paintings hold immense energy. How radical these painters were, to paint exactly what they wanted, and to show so perfectly what they saw. In the early works (think: Bouguereau) I decided that no, that was not paint, but luminous flesh on the canvases holding those figures lifting lamps or sprouting wings.

I have so many favorites from this exhibit, and am eagerly awaiting the Post- Impressionist show at the De Young beginning later this month, but what stands out to me now are Renoir's The Boy with the Cat, and Stevens' The Bath. Sisely's painting of The Barge During the Flood, Port-Marly occasioned this comment from my husband, "I was there!" I had to laugh, but then was surprised to hear him mentioned on the tour as a former patron of the pub on the edge of the Seine (kidding).

Later we dined on the best pub food I've ever enjoyed at the Phoenix Irish Bar on Valencia St., followed by a drive across town to the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square (despite the encouragement of a girlfriend, we did NOT have an amorous encounter in the fast-moving glass elevator).

Toby had pulled some very interesting strings and scored The Windsor Room on the 31st floor, a large and corporate style suite (with yummy red wines and chocolates strewn about). Queen Elizabeth II stayed there in 1983. We felt rather regal, at that. Apparently the Queen and Prince Phillip had bumped then-President Ronald Reagan downstairs into another room, and in the photo of the hotel lobby you can see them toasting, Reagan wearing his signature strained smile.

Next came a quick trip to Discovery Bay, to see one of my oldest, dearest friends, and her fiancée. After watching the bride-to-be do flips on a sky board behind their speedboat, we christened her Our Dolphin Lady of the Delta! But before we made it out of the murky city fog into the blazing heat of the central valley, we had to pass through the clogged arteries of the megalopolis that the Bay Area has become. Mysterious road crews performed arcane deeds, their minions directing traffic below overpasses and onto the Bay Bridge. I tried hard not to think of that 7.1 shimmy California's tectonic plates did in 1989.

Instead, I thought of one of my favorite books of all time, where caterpillars climb enormous pillars composed of their fellow squirming worms. Obsessed with reaching the top, they discover that transformation comes only by jumping off the damn pillar. Which is what I felt I'd done when the roads finally cleared around Concord, as I headed east on Highway 4 to the Delta.

Yes, in search of that elusive summer sunshine, we went far afield, including even a quick trip to Lake Tahoe, a visit of surprising gifts. There is just no substitute for actual contact with the branches, leaves, and acorns (not to mention the odd squirrels and wing-nuts) of one's family tree.

We need to breathe the same air, to laugh and break bread together in order to make it real. So we did that too, on this last summer trip. Our reward included not a rainbow, but the heavens shined on us after all, and showed us love.

Photo by Toby Rowland-Jones

1 comment:

Lisa G. said...

A charmed woman, living a charmed life.