Saturday, June 20, 2009

Chronicles of the Visit of Dwight and Sylvia, Part 5

Wednesday, June 10, 2009
A Museum and a Feast

I woke up early this morning (early being a relative term!) to put my kitchen back together, more or less. Then Sylvia and Dwight and I took a bus to the Archaeological museum. Demetrios, tired, begged off.

I have a theory that when you do too many museums in too few days, they all begin to run together. You arrive at the point of aesthetic overload. Everybody says Thessaloniki’s Archaeological Museum is Not To Be Missed, but I cannot remember a single thing about it. There were more marvelous marble statues, more fabulous pieces of jewelry, more mosaics, more pieces of wondrously decorated pottery. I’m looking through a guide book right now and I don’t remember anything I see in the pictures except the marble sarcophagi in the courtyard, and a horrid “sculpture” there, consisting of about a hundred pairs of pantyhose cut flat, stretched out, and stitched together in places, a canopy looking like so many kites. It was an imaginative “work,” I’ll grant you that, but that’s the only praise it can have.

It’s as I’ve said before, people a thousand years from now, looking back at our times, will ask each other, “What AILED those folks?”

The Benaki Museum in Athens did the same stupid thing, by the way; interspersed with the ancient masterpieces were silly little modern mobiles, papier-mache thingies, and other trivial, uninspired objects any kindergartner could have made in an hour, with a little help from the teacher. They only detracted from the exhibits.

Art has to be much more than merely original, dear reader! It has to display some more than ordinary skill. And it has to be beautiful. I don’t need any artist to show me the ugliness of this world; it already intrudes too much. Much less (good heavens!) do I want to see the ugliness of the artist’s soul. My own soul is ugly enough. That ugliness is not edifying and is meant to be healed rather than exhibited any more than I can help. No, I need the artist’s sensitive eye and keen perception to help me see the beauties my gross soul may miss. I once met an artist, a Russian woman named Galina, and she was always saying things like, “Look how the sunlight shining through those branches makes the pebbled driveway look!” and it was wonderful to see the world through her eyes.

Or show me your true sorrow and anguish, but do it with actual talent, skill, instead of mere “difference”, and for heaven’s sake express it with beauty instead of ugliness. True sorrow, as distinct from self pity, does have a beauty to it, as for instance when it arises from the love of a departed one. Love and beauty are synonymous. Don’t make us a tangled black mass of rags to show the wreck of your soul; paint or carve or write us a loving and poignant portrait of the deceased.

Anyway, Sylvia and I trudged dutifully through the museum, and if she remembers anything of it perhaps she will share it with us.

Dwight had the good sense to wait for us in the lobby after a short look around.

In the evening, Mena came in her car and took us all to the kastro (“castle”), meaning the ancient fortifications at the top of the city, on the hills above. It’s more than walls, it’s towers and forts and there’s a prison up there, too, not used today, although it was during the time of the Junta in the ‘70s.

So we had a wonderful time poking around the fortifications and taking pictures of one another there, and then we all went to the Hotel Philippos, a posh hotel from the ‘60s, where people stay who don’t care about the cost of driving from there to – well, anywhere. It’s isolated in a forest atop a ridge of mountains. We had a drink there, by the swimming pool.

Then Mena drove us all to Manolis and Vasilea, in the country, for dinner.

The menu for tonight started out as a joke. Last time we were with Manolis and Vasilea for dinner, and everyone was congratulating Vasilea on such a splendid feast with so many dishes, somebody said we were lucky it wasn’t pigs’ feet. Mena cried, “What do you mean? I adore pigs’ feet!” And that’s how the talk began of having pigs’ feet next time. I didn’t think Vasilea would really do it, but yes, she did. She made it into a soup that tastes pretty much like vegetable soup with bacon in it, and very small pieces of pork. It wasn’t bad. Mena, the connoisseur (connoisseuse?), pronounced it, “Perfect!”

Of course there were other things to eat, such as lambs’ heads. Yes, lambs’ heads. You chop them off at the neck and split them in two, skin them, season and roast them, and that’s all.

Dwight tucked into both the pigs’ feet soup and the lambs head without any visible hesitation; Sylvia, too. They ate the lamb’s tongue and brains and eyeball and all. Afterward I asked if they had known what it was and they said yes, they had, but it was worth a try. All part of the adventure. (I didn’t sample the lambs’ heads.)

It was a truly marvelous evening. The Greeks seemed delighted to have the Americans along – part of their adventure! – and Dwight and Sylvia weren’t at all shy. People spoke enough English to converse quite well with them. And of course, with these people, you are instant friends. They will love you, and show that love, immediately.

Every once in a while Demetrios would nudge me and point to Dwight, who was literally glowing the whole evening. Seeing his delight alone would have been enough to make it, for us, the highlight of our guests’ visit.

“Do you see that man over there?” I whispered to Sylvia. “His name is Demetrios, and I’d bet a dollar he has his harmonica in his pocket.”

He actually had two harmonicas in his pocket, which came out quite soon after the dessert, and everybody began to sing.

Manolis always ends his parties by taking his guests to the church on his property and singing, “O Gladsome Light.” Tonight we did a longer thing, saying numerous prayers, concluding with that quiet hymn that somehow removes the party spirit. By the time it’s over, the evening is over, too, and everybody just knows to get in their cars and go home.



elizabeth said...

I have been enjoying all of these parts; I agree and struggle often with how ugly things are being made now; I am still morning a beautiful tree that was taken down to make a house into a place to lease for buisnesses. Horrible to think that busness now means destruction of beauty.

Lord have mercy.