Big Art and Little Winters

I have fantasies of fleeing the country, flying the coop, finding new vistas to gaze upon, vistas both exotic and comforting, with a pub and a few rooms to rent upstairs, a fireplace, perhaps, and signposts just there, by the road, pointing the way to ancient byways and Roman viaducts. Or anyplace, really, one that isn’t confined to my neighborhood or my own backyard.

Then, I read the news, although I try to avoid it, and Great Britain and the EU can’t seem to get their vaccine programs quite right, and even if we wanted to wear a mask for twenty hours as we fly across the ocean, once we arrive there will be nothing much to see or do. Everything locked down, or locking down. Fantasies in the dumpster, like old cardboard boxes and chunks of drywall.

Then, just as I was about to despair, I saw this. The Louvre, in Paris, is making available on-line all 840,000 pieces of its art collection for us to view while they remain closed during the pandemic. The Louvre, I am saying. So much art for us to see. The first virtual reality exhibit involves that most famous of painted ladies, entitled “Mona Lisa: Beyond the Glass.”

And if you have ever been in her presence you know just what this means, this small painting, enshrined in glass and almost invisible behind the wall of backs and shoulders and cameras you must clamor over to get even a glimpse. It is exciting as you come near her, hear the muffled voices trying to be quiet but not succeeding, and maybe you catch a glimpse of her hands, half her head and an eye, but mostly it is just a crush of tourists and their shambolic images cast back at you by the glass cage that holds her.

This exhibit, though, imagines more than the mysterious smile, takes us to a belvedere where she might have posed for the painting, places her there, tells us how her clothes were made, how her hair was styled, the brushstrokes of the artist, his technique. It is not quite the Louvre, or Mona Lisa, but it is fascinating all the same.

I plan to explore the site to look for a painting I saw there decades ago. I can’t remember the artist or the name of the painting, but it was huge, and it moved me as art must be intended to do. I stood looking, then I sat down and looked some more. Then I think I cried. Or what passed for crying for a twenty-something easily embarrassed and not all that deep. But I have tried since then to find that painting. Now, I think, with patience, I might.

If that is too indoorsy for you, or you just can’t stand driving by garden centers without stopping, I can verify that daily they receive plants, potting soil and manure. The little kiosks are stocked with vegetable and flower seeds and everything bright and shiny and seductive. Tonight and tomorrow we may have freezing temperatures, but next week the lows are in the fifties, and, while that may not hold, it is enough to get me out digging in the dirt, working to get ready.

My friend, Silas, says we are in Redbud Winter. He is an expert on all the little winters we have in spring. I may be all excited about planting shrubs or peonies, hydrangeas and dahlias. His enthusiasm is genuine, but muted and tinged with gloom.

“Yes, but we haven’t had Dogwood Winter, yet.”

And then he sighs.

Which leaves Locust, Blackberry and something called Britches Winters to go.

Even so, he will plant beans this Friday, Good Friday, because that, too, is a sign that gardeners know and live by. My vegetable garden consists of herbs, basil like you can’t believe, and peppers, because the squirrels won’t touch them. But I am at least two little winters away from getting all that in the ground.

Until then, I will till and weed, sow some grass, although the time for that was autumn, and thumb my garden catalogs to pieces. I’ll listen to Silas, but not too much, although we will swap advice and encouragement. Maybe in the bright days ahead you will do the same. Admire the art the Louvre has so generously offered. Admire the art of beautiful things popping up all around, just outside your door.

Eastern Redbud

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