March 2nd, 2014

Not even funny

Yesterday Mike and I went up North to Washington Heights, to the Cloisters museum. They were having a traveling exhibit that I wanted to see. Stained glass windows on tour They are from Canterbury cathedral. They date from the 11th century, and have been removed for repairs, for the first time in hundreds of years. They depict figures from the old testament.

They were originally mounted 85 feet up, in the clerestory  they made it through the reformation unharmed. Maybe they were just too much trouble to remove. So-- Kit would have seen them!

Then we went on to enjoy the resident exhibits too. It is a small museum, but so dense with tiny new things to notice. I had to put my hands behind my back, it was so hard not to reach out to touch the wood or stone! There was even a life sized wooden Jesus, riding a life sized wooden donkey. It was on wheels, meant for a procession.Jesus had both hands and his face was whole. He had one hand up, so you could stick in palm fronds. His face was very kind, and utterly himself. I would know him, if I saw him in Manhattan. His feet were bare, and came right down to the ground. He had his robe all bunched up, it looked uncomfortable.  The donkey had a kind face too, a little dim, and forbearing. Perfect. While I was looking, a little boy came into the room with his mom. He was perhaps three. He had to be dragged away in tears, upon being told that he could not 'ride the play horse.' (I felt the same way!)

The human drive to make art is astonishing to me. When they  had to make stained glass by making the glass, and digging up the lead, and making chalk themselves, and making the paint, and the paintbrushes, and the time, they did it.  Art mattered to them. They needed it. We still do, but how much easier now to make it.

There were a lot of sculptures, in wood, and stone, biblical scenes, where each face, of each person, was made unique, funny, or sad, or old, or foolish.But in a lot of cases the faces were smashed or missing. These bits of art have been through 500 or even 1000 years of war. Because of course, that is another thing we seem driven to do.  One room of Spanish art had bullet damage from the Spanish civil war. A lot of the figures had hands missing. The hands were made separately, and applied later. I think sometimes they just got lost.

And Washington Heights is, itself, a battle site. It was here that Alexander Hamilton and Nathanael Greene stood and wept, over leaving their cannons behind. They had been so much trouble to get, but there was no way to bring them on the retreat to New Jersey.  Hamilton and Greene were 22. Manhattan was in flames-- set, some say by Nathan Hale. He was captured and hanged by the British. He was 19.


We saw a plaque dedicated to Margaret Corbin. She is known. I wonder how many were not.

Mike and I saw two robins, two squirrels, and a purple finch. I thought at first it was a cardinal, but he argued strongly for the finch, and I came around to his thinking. Where there are robins there must be worms. Also, there were tiny green shoots of crocus flowers, just peeking above the dirt. The very first trace of green this year. Tonight they will be under the snow again. We are due for another slamming.

Then I came home, and went to the news, and it was all people hurting each other. Stabbing in China, occupation of Ukraine, and another child who found a loaded gun and shot himself by accident.

Idiots with guns. Guns where kids can get them. Boys, it seems are especially in danger.  Here is NY Times today.