A Short Vacation
Listen to/Watch entire show:
You may or may not have noticed, but chaos has been in fashion for some time. You have your art expressing confusion and death, your t-shirts featuring dangerous words and half-formed images, your leather jackets decorated with skulls and iron crosses. Then you have your nihilist lyrics, your deconstructionist architecture, your torn jeans, your misogynist rap, your New Yorker short stories, your video games set in smoking ruins, and of course, performance art. Even if you peruse the recent release aisle at the video store, you'll notice that 90 percent feature some form of grim horror.
It may be, as folks often argue, that chaos is in fashion because we're nearing the end of Western civilization, or it may just be that chaos is cool.
Either way, chaos can get a little depressing. Even your toughest urban men and women need to escape, sometimes, into a world of order and reason: A world that plays, say, Vivaldi instead of Eminem. That looks more like the Parthenon than the apocalypse. In short, we need to vacation in an earlier part of Western Civ, when people were, like, optimistic.
Here in L.A., we have the Huntington. It's this huge estate filled with classic art, historic books, and magnificent gardens, carefully maintained by cheerful rich people. The architecture is Beaux-Arts, the columns Ionic, the paintings 18th century.
Me, I get the newsletter, and I carry it secretly around in my laptop bag. When life looks too damn dark, I pull it out and read the calendar: "President's circle fellows will enjoy a special program discussing Sir Joshua Reynold's portrait of Sarah Siddons." There's flower arranging and piano recitals. It makes me feel better, just knowing such stuff is going on, you know, somewhere.
This afternoon, I need a serious break to prevent me from sowing irony and distress on the airwaves, so I fight my way up the 110 and past the estates in San Marino. But when I arrive, I see it's already 3:00. And this world of order and reason closes at 4:30.
Quickly, I head for the grassy lawn where old statues frolic, then down among the carefully-controlled gardens. On the terrace, I observe a well-formed view, then, then checking my watch, I plunge through the drawing rooms of French furniture and Persian rugs, the library of leather-bound volumes. On my MP3, I play, yes, Vivaldi.
At last, I find myself alone in a massive gallery where the walls are hung with giant 18th century portraits of people decked out in their flamboyant best. I walk around this room, trying in 10 minutes to absorb their belief in progress, in classic beauty and human possibility. Facing each other across the polished floor, I find the famous Blue Boy and Pinkie, each the portrait of a pre-adolescent captured in a moment of boundless optimism, ignoring the dark clouds painted behind their heads. I try to forget that Pinkie would die a few months after her giddy portrait was made.
And yes, for a moment, I forget the 21st century altogether.
Right at 4:30, however, I hear a clatter of steps, and in the doorway appears a living girl of perhaps 17. She has boyish black hair, black eye shadow, black leather jacket, black leather skirt, black fishnets, black boots, a bit of chain riding beneath her left breast, a silver nose ring, and a t-shirt with a skull and a sky of fire.
For a moment she surveys the gallery with utter disinterest, and when she turns on her heel, I know my vacation is over.
Reluctantly, I follow her back down the hallways of galleries and marble busts, then out through the magnificent portico to the lawns, where I see her joined by another girl, similarly dressed. In the parking lot, they pile into a beat up Toyota and disappear. The Urban Man hesitates, gives a last glance back, then tunes his radio to high anxiety, and heads on home.
Copyright © 2009 Marc Porter Zasada. All Rights Reserved.
Engage & Discuss
BROUGHT TO YOU BY