Who paints a mountain pink?

In and amongst the traveling and the checking into hotels and the dressing up in a suit and high heels and the giving of papers and the eating of Indian food with other conference-goers, I've had a day of refreshing my sight. Ottawa is beautiful in a graceful, stately way, full of water and wide streets and striking governmental buildings whose architectural style I cannot name with certainty (though if your life depended on it, I'd call them good ol' Victorian Gothic Revival).

Even before I was out of Ohio's airspace last night, though, I got a head-start on the clearing of my vision. Here, for those of you who've never been to mid-Ohio, is where I'm writing from (when I'm at home, that is). Note the blocks and borders: fields. Note the dark streaks and patches within the blocks: water, gone underground. Gambier would be somewhere near the top of this image; we weren't far from Columbus yet when I took it. It was also a little later than I'd have liked, because we had some mildly worrying weight restriction problems on the ground in Columbus; these problems necessitated the ground crew's packing much of our gate-checked luggage into a closet in the front of the plane, because there wasn't enough weight in the cargo hold to balance out what had been put in the back.

In mid-journey last night, a realization of how I'd romanticized flying: landing at Dulles's Terminal G means walking into the airport through a semi-lit, semi-outdoor hallway--a touch which for me only adds to the romance of arriving at a strange airport at night on a jet from which you descend down roll-up stairs. But landing at G also means finding that there are no monitors between the entry and the place where one gets picked up by the shuttle for the rest of the airport. Only by some mysterious power of grace did I find a monitor and then catch a shuttle bus, all without running someone over with my luggage or becoming outraged enough (however senselessly) by the thoughtless behavior of large, slow men talking to earpieces and thumbing messages to the far-away to have spat or kicked. Dulles: not an airport I'll be choosing to connect through, in the future.

Arriving in a new city after dark has its charms, particularly if the airport is on the far rural outskirts of the city. I used to have this experience when returning to Ithaca on the last flight in, which arrived anywhere between 11:30 p.m. and midnight. Because the Ithaca airport is north of the city, in the middle of mostly wooded land, there aren't lots of ground lights, which means that on certain approaches, you know you're nearing the ground more by the feel of the plane than by anything you can see out the window. The same thing held true last night.

Before we dropped down through the cloud layer, I looked out the window and saw--of course--not just the waxing moon, waxing me out of my twenties, but also Orion, walking me to Ottawa. As I watched and we dropped, the clouds were flashbright and sparkle, sprayed by our wings.

This afternoon, after spending most of my day in a room with a tantalizing view of the Parliament buildings and the lovely cool weather, I was finally able to go for a walk. So:

a door

a cathedral, unexpected and gleaming, I tell you, gleaming as the day is long

relief: apprently, civilization is somewhere in Ottawa, perhaps near the river

language lessons (now you know, in case you ever need to know)

cette Maman n'est pas belle comme ma mère

The afternoon's great revelation lay just beyond this giant bronze spider (Louise Bourgeois's "Maman"). Canada's National Gallery is a veritable cathedral of art. I kid you not. Here's the view of the glass ceiling and walls of one side of the gallery's main atrium. My brain swam with the cerulean geometry of it, and the white flags sailing, translucent. I thought of my startling high school math teacher, the man full of quiet nervous joy who would proclaim beauty when we solved difficult problems and proofs, who once stood on his head because we all made dodecahedrons during a long weekend.

As my friend and I ambled about, lingering and lounging around the works we liked best, we discovered that we have completely different tastes. I was a little surprised, as I always am, to find that the things to which I felt myself drawn were often things that left my friend feeling something best approximated by "ennh," were she a dismissive person, which she's not. But we did rapidly reach a point where she could call what I was going to like even before I'd stepped into a gallery. I'm pretty predictable: bright primary (but not neon) colors, the boldness of the unexpected, the breath-catch of a painstakingly meticulous easy detail. In front of a Derain, trying to explain why I loved it so much, I said, "Who paints a mountain pink? Who does that?" Turning to a Prendergast, the woman in yellow snared me, with no eyes at all:

But the paintings of Venice were the ones where we surprised each other, each exclaiming over what the other beheld with joy. It was here that I finally asked the guard shyly whether I could take pictures. He seemed unconcerned. The people my eye loved in the paintings turned out to be the people standing in pairs, lingering and lounging, chatting, contemplating. These figures are tiny, inches tall on canvases five feet high. Their shadows are impeccable.

The quality of vision needed to see these people's details through to oil and canvas--to care for the details enough to realize them for the world--is one I'm glad I get to return to now that my crunch has eased again.

My head is thrumming up a throb, angry that I won't stop and go to sleep.

If you don't know about Tom Thomson and the Group of Seven, you should seek them out, if only because Thomson was able to produce images like this (not one, alas, that I got to see today, though the National Gallery has rooms and rooms of the Group's work):

(I should add that I did learn things about narrative today, too.)

source for tonight's last image: The Tom Thomson Memorial Art Gallery's site.