The day I didn’t want to go to the Getty – 11 January 2012
Pixie and I met up for lunch on his end of town, at Philippe the Original. We’ve known each other online for 3 years via NaNoWriMo. Somehow, and I think it was through the main irc channel, it came out that my novel was set in Los Angeles, though I was not (any longer.) We chatted throughout the event. Then we chatted on IM. For the intermediate. Until he bought me lunch at Philippe’s. And I was explaining to him, again, what was wrong in Austin
And again, he was not unforthcoming with his advice, which can be summarized thus
Fuck him and the horse he rode in on. What’s in it for you?
Which, fairly, was Pixie’s challenge to me in September. Or August. One of those. I had bought into the promises that shit would be different if I came back. But it wasn’t different after the first two or three days, maybe a week. And I was convinced that it was me. I wasn’t good enough, trying hard enough. They told me if I would just be better, I would do better. I had tried to understand, make myself understand. These are the people who professed to love me. But they told me over and over again that I would “be prettier if…” or reading/listening to her wax on about how great the two of them were together and him sneering at me for daring to feel left out. I wasn’t trying hard enough to be someone else. Someone who didn’t care that she wasn’t interesting or attractive. I was so beholden to being honest, but he always told me I made everything up, that I lied to everyone, and all our friends knew it, and told him so.
It was all my fault. And stop thinking that he’s wrong, he’s always right. (And if if I didn’t think he was right, I wasn’t submissive enough. I wasn’t trusting enough. I was leaning upon my insecurities and not fixing my mindfulness upon his needs/wants/whims.))
So Pixie had just come out the other side of the flu when I got to L.A. He did me a great service by meeting up with me for lunch and walking Olvera street. He had someone take our picture.
We had a good time together, it was great to be in person with him, he’s smart and snappy and witheringly honest. I like him a lot. But Pixie couldn’t make the trek up to the Getty with me this time around. “But if you’re staying, we can do it another day.”
I think I was pretty sure by then that I wasn’t getting on the plane the next day. My body was both heavy and restless as I made the 90 minute ride from Union Station to Westwood, where I would hop another bus up Sepulveda to the Getty, which is always free. (You pay to park is all No admission.)
The bus from Westwood was a bit heartbreaking, through my old haunts. We were on the Sunset side of North Campus. I used to go on marathon-training runs here, from the time I was in school, in these hills, down that road. The ride really isn’t altogether long from Westwood and Lindbrook to Getty Center Drive. Half the riders disembarked at that stop. Like they had all planned to go with me? I don’t know. I walked across Sepulveda.
I don’t want to be here.
It’s on the itinerary.
It’s in the plans.
I took all the right buses and at all the right times. I have planned three or so hours for this visit, and then back to meet up with Uncle Abduction after work, we’re getting In-and-Out tonight. Dutifully, I wait for the tram up the hill. Smooth as ever, it glides into its dock and I get on, but I do not sit down. It’s not worth it to pretend this is anything approaching comfort. I’m here on principle. I have to see this place. It holds some of my secrets.
When I was at school, my last term was practically devoted to the 16th and 17th Century in Europe. I had a viciously early morning art history course, MWF. I can’t remember the professor’s name. I could probably chase it down. Probably. But i have no idea if it matters whether I remember his name.
Wait let me go back some more.
One of my first weekends in Los Angeles, easily within the first month or six weeks of moving there, I visited the Getty Center for the opening weekend. A friend who went to UCI arranged for it, the parking, at all that. (Back in my day, it was only $5 to park, not the $15 today.) Anyway. I don’t think I went there in a car many times. (But I love public transpo.)
Right so the first time I went, I was a budding history/art history major and I was sure I would love fucking fucking everyeverything there. There was one work that had me stuck to the spot. Stunned. I took it in for a long time.
Once upon a time someone had asked me:
What the hell with the benches in museum galleries? What the fuck are they for?
I was gobsmacked.
Me: Well, what if you want to look at something for a good long time? Wouldn’t it be nice to have a seat?
Them: Why would you look at something so long you’d have to sit down?
Me: We can’t have sex anymore.
One of the paintings I couldn’t shake (and it wouldn’t shake me) was this litlle beauty called Portrait of the Interior of the Church of St Bavo, Haarlem, by an artist called Saenredam. When we got the gift shop that afternoon of that first visit, I found a print of the painting on posterboard. I bought it for $5. It was a huge amount to me then. (Funny how some things come back around.) The print joined me all over the world in subsequent years. But it wasn’t all that long later that I was taking that Dutch Baroque art history class (the early morning one (it was probably at 10 and I’m a dramaqueen)) and the professor required each of us give talks on one of a selection of paintings that originated in 16-17C Holland that were in L.A. area museums. And I had first choice.
And he was there. My beloved Saenredam, the portrait of a church. At the top of the list, or near the top. I didn’t care whatever the fuck else was on it. I would spend then next some few weeks reading in Dutch and German. I would study five or ten or twelve or who cares how many other painters to figure out what the fuck with this guy and what the fuck with this painting. I learned how many brothers he had, who was his maestro. I looked at church interior portraits until I dreamt only of them. Friends would drop me off at the bottom of the hill at the Getty center and retrieve me three hours later. And I would stand in front of that painting the whole time. What hadn’t I seen? What element of this could I further research? What questions had we forgotten to ask each other, me and this church interior, me and this humpback from Holland four hundred years ago.
I won’t rephrase my paper here. I gave a stellar reading of it to my class, a crowd of visitors and a handful of professors other than mine. I smiled when I had finished, but I smiled toward the framed work, too. I stayed and looked at it another ten minutes, missing someone’s bit about a Rubens that I supremely hated. They moved on to pretend to care like I knew I could in all honesty.
My professor came round and stood next to me. We took in the Saenredam painting. I didn’t say anything. He took a while but he did.
— That was quite a fine bit of research you gave, you know.
— I couldn’t stop. I just love it so much.
— It shows.
I did well in his class, and my senior essay or interdisciplinary thesis (or whatever it fucking was) was a particular thrill.
And then, there I was at the Getty, on a Wednesday in January, too many years hence. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to look at any other thing. Just that one painting.
The Getty have on display an amazing cabinet, a new acquisition.
I try to take pictures of it, ringed in rope so you can’t breathe on it funny. It’s lovely.
I don’t know. I keep trying.
It’s all stutters.
I turn away from the cabinet and find some tiles on the wall that are really quite something, but I can’t get into it. I care about it. I do give a shit about it. This is what I love about the world, this is why I studied history and art history, this is where I find the reality of the worlds. But my heart is not in this. By which I mean the gusto with which I tend to embrace art museums, or books on the 16th Century, or anything to do with the Thirty Years War or Lucrezia Borgia.
I force myself up the stairs. That day my knee hurt, it hadn’t bothered me since I landed. Today I’m weary, this is a huge decision. It’s on my body.
While I can remember minutiae about the Saenredam painting, I can’t pull from 8 years ago to find my way to it. It takes a few laps through the galleries to spy it, but I have to find it. It’s here.
It’s not in the same place. I don’t mind. And then I glimpse it, across the room, from the entry side. I’m wearing boots with heels that crack against the hardwood floors. There is nothing gentle about my approach to stare at this work. The reverence I offer is entirely in my gaze. I am in some ways purified before this painting, as I’m sure in some ways I profane it, my lengthy absence from these museums I’ve visited. My prodigal return, avering that I would, could I, fuck the sidewalks of this city.
For a while I lose the time.
I don’t know where I went then. Yes, I’m stressed out beyond reclamation because I do not want to go back to Austin. Yes, it seems like a sheer cliff, deciding to stay here. But I can’t tell you how solidly planted I am, rooted. If not before this painting of a church, housed in m kind of cathedral, maybe it’s me there, on a Metro platform. Or over here, in my old apartment building. On the beach watching the sunset, smelling the Ocean after I put my hands to the water. There are a hundred thousand places I could be in L.A. and I am myself in all of them.
Like nowhere the fuck else.
I have to break away from the painting at some point. I’m full from it, my vision is full; my head is so full. I have promised the Moth a something from the Getty store. I make rings around it, though, picking up a this thing or that thing, carrying it around, putting it back.
If I get her something right now, I am defeated, defeating. It means I’m not coming back, that this trinket, this postcard, this whateverthefuck it may be, it will be all we have to remind us that I visited Los Angeles in 2012, do you remember that?
I don’t want to be a visitor. While I have spent a week as a tourist, this is not my aspiration. This is not my completion.
I travel back to Westwood to wait for Uncle Abduction. I camp out at Peet’s. At some point I use the loo, and let another woman in (it’s a 2-er, but there’s a key), and I explain that I have just decided to stay in L.A. after visiting for a week. She throws her arms around me, kisses my cheek and says
“Welcome home! You’re a Lady in shining armor!”
I don’t know what to make of this, but I build out my resume in the next hour or so, and start looking for work.