You get used
living with New York City cockroaches. No matter how much you clean, how much
you spray and poison them, soon they promenade again about the kitchen counter.
I seal every bit of food, religiously throw out my garbage, I immediately wash
my dishes, and scrub the stovetop after cooking, but all to no avail.
Cockroaches are here to stay. They serve their purpose. Each time I come into
the kitchen and I see the nation scurrying about the counter and in the sink, I
pounce on them and kill galore. It’s my only aggression venting outlet. I
rarely raise my voice, I don’t ever scream at unbearable people, and I don’t
jostle obnoxious folks about.
I just relish killing cockroaches.
I’m not like this with other bugs though. I’m even glad when I see a stray fly captive in the apartment. I enjoy its buzzing about; its tiny body all business. It’s not like they come from some garbage dump, since we live on the seventh floor.
And they die in a day or so.
But it’s no use explaining to my son that the Romanian national poet, Mihai Eminescu, whose statue stands around the country in religious reverence after he died in a bedlam, so Eminescu wrote Cugetările sărmanului Dionis, a romantic poem about insects. The Cogitations of Wretched Dionis talks about bed bugs and fleas. “It’s disgusting,” my son snaps. Iulia, a Romanian friend now living abroad too, also shivered with disgust and warned me that when I crush a bug, I just release its many babies. A sanitarian instructed her on this.
So, I dig out the last two bug bombs stored under the sink and we decide we’ll explode them on this fine Monday, Presidents Day. But the instructions say, Get out of the house while the poison kills the roaches.
Well, time to go to the museum anyway.
When I go to my museum, Metropolitan Museum that is, it’s like I tumble into a phantasmagoric trip through space and time and civilizations. Just walking through the neighborhood to get to the building fills me with awe, actually. Beautiful, tall apartment buildings with bored, liveried doormen, wide clean sidewalks, piles of evergreen branches surrounding trees within their low fences, clothing shops with colorful merchandise along the avenues, little dogs in little coats peeing about eagerly, synagogues with immense menorahs carved on the endlessly tall facades, The Gate to Prayer Temple, next to Mexican tequila bars and manicure and pedicure salons. Here is the Czech Bohemian Hall, then the Hungarian Protestant Church. Funny how the fire hydrant in front of it got painted in the colors of the Hungarian flag: red, white and green. No one cares about that here. Back in Romania, this would cause a national fit. That’s why I relish my Manhattan. Here there is a solid peace. This is not Bucharest where cars triple park, climbing onto the sidewalks right up to the building walls, disregarding the rights of pedestrians.
Here, I can enjoy a walk to the museum. I give a quarter at the counter and I hop on the artmobile and plunge into Japan, Egypt, Greece, Afghanistan, Turkistan, Korea, China. Oh, how come it’s just a quarter when they suggest a $20 donation? Because I’m part of the caste whose hands make the things that folks come to the museums to gawk at and whisper, ‘How marvelous. Did you know she cut off her ear and died in poverty?’ So allow me to pay just my quarter. Next time I’ll pay a penny.
What does one see at a museum? Lovely bowls and vases and bottles and broaches, and hair combs and silver ladles and all kinds of boxes, and belt ornaments, loads of statues with shiny marble buttocks, figurines, tiny animals, carpets. Oh, the colors of that turquoise platter, and oh, the shimmering aquamarine bowl in which three dolphins chase each other.
The hours upon hours of enchanted solitude spent perfecting the skill of making playful dolphins in ocean blue waters. Hands at work. Serene hope settles in me. My life’s work is not in vain, I just have to stately arrange it in a museum of my own and in time eyes will look upon the fruit of my hands the way I look upon this glazed bowl.
I arrive in the Japanese Birds exhibition hall. Scrolls of cranes and peach blossoms, egrets, black birds on gilded screens, ducks and geese, sparrows, hawks, ravens, crows, quails go about their daily business. I admire the way the drawings are displayed on the silk scrolls, encased in ornate matting.
I ask a custodian if the drawings are glued on the surrounding textile double mats, are they sewn or glued? ‘Oh,’ the tall, all-knowing custodian expounds that, ‘the drawings are glued, but with such infinite care. On top of their game these artists were. One could not afford mistakes.’ ‘And the mats?’ ‘They are all paper, all glued together.’ I don’t believe him since I clearly see on one mat a thread sticking out. That is not paper, that is cloth. I know what cloth looks like, I work with cloth. You, Sir, are yet another man who talks when he should shut up. I read, again, the explanation by the exhibits. Indeed, it says there, silk. Not paper, but silk.
Yet the custodian misinforms eager visitors.
I walk to the next room. Roosters battle on walls. Here comes a romantic couple on a date. ‘Aaah, roosters,’ booms the young man! ‘I will have a rooster tattooed across my chest! I saw a guy at the tattoo parlor who had one. It has a swagger, this bird. It does. We eat them, but small as the rooster is, still it has a swagger to it!’
‘You’re so dumb,’ his lady laughs him off.
I walk into the next room. A blonde woman walking towards me looks with a delighted smile obliquely at a bench placed in the middle of the room. I follow her gaze: a little girl in a pink tunic talks animatedly to her mother. Her face is pink, her thick long hair black, she is so very beautiful, like a portrait come to life unexpectedly here in this New York City gallery when her place of origin is, perhaps, Japan, from where these screens and lacquered boxes of jewelry and wedding kimonos strewn with birds traveled. But there they would be her everyday objects. What we see here is dead. I know too well that I can’t know Japan and Japanese life truly, here. Oh, how I long to be transported to a place bustling with life that uses these objects. Yet I have this amazing creature of beauty sitting in front of me. Her mother with her back to me listens intently to her voice, her words, which jarringly come from the voice of an American. Definitely American. She is not from Japan anymore. She grew up and went to school in America with other American little girls.
And I am an American, and I am like her. One can go crazy realizing that!
I am a museum! She is a museum! We carry our exquisite cultures about.
Well, I never!
I ask the towering custodian where the Turkistan jewelry show is located because the flier listing the special exhibitions is confusing. More shows had either closed in January or don’t open until end of February than the ones that are open today. He again lords over me that it is I who errs by coming at the end of the season. Never mind. He takes out his own flier, with most exhibitions crossed out, and explains how I should hurry up to the end of the corridor and then turn to the right. They close the museum soon, at 5. I shall enjoy the jewelry exhibition. ‘It’s a good one,’ he approves.
I walk along a balcony. The hall reverberates with the voices of the visitors below. I cross rooms filled with intricate base reliefs, mosaics, wrought iron. The Middle East. Exquisite. And they go on and on in the newspapers and on the internet about Middle Easterners being primitive?! How can it be when this beauty surrounding me, quiet and poised, obviously requires strenuous concentration and tremendous artistry to be made. It makes me dizzy.
Everywhere are cultivated people, artists, real artists. Why don’t we talk about that? Why war, hate, ugliness?
In the Turkmen jewelry room silver pendants, temple pendants, chest pendants, back pendants, huge rings, with large carnelian and turquoise stones. Substantial pieces that would weigh me down. Yet, so beautiful with their bells and red stones.
Reminds me of my once friend who collected carpets from Afghanistan where he was stationed to work with refugee camps. When his travel chests finally arrived in Europe, the carpets were all eaten by moths.
A bow legged custodian barks we have 15 more minutes before closing time.
A mother pushes a stroller and talks to her daughter in Russian.
Yes, this jewelry was made during the rule of USSR by nomad Turkmen. Harsh.
In the museum corridors, visitors head towards the main entrance. I wander in the Greek tomb section. Gray marble caskets heavily decorated with partying people; marble naked girls and boys cavorting about.
Yet another bored custodian barks, ‘Two more minutes until closing!’ I walk thru the cemetery of bodies with missing arms, legs, on one pedestal the entire sculpture missing altogether, just the iron stub sticks out of the stone.
‘Museum is closed!’ Out we go holding the exit doors open for those behind us.
In our kitchen, deceases baby roaches, mama roaches, belly up into eternity.
We make a new rule. Twice, alright once a month, out comes the roach bomb while we go to the museum.
You can listen to its audio version by clicking here: http://www.blogtalkradio.com/ellaveresshow/2013/04/11/open-ended-april