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The Village Idiot

Educating the unenlightened

Jack Deatherage, Jr.

(2/2012) In the on going effort to educate and enlighten the Braying Jack, we went to the Walters Art Museum (WAM) in Baltimore one Saturday in January. Iíd have sooner caught the Metro at Ownings Mills as it has roomier seating than the DC Red Line, but Luke doesnít mind driving into Balímírí and there is parking at the museum. The Mad One was also out of feta cheese so a trip to the Russian deli in Pikesville was on the dayís to-do list. As Iíve been out of canned sprats and Akbar "Ceylon" tea for months, and can only find them at the Russian store, I wasnít about to argue.

The WAM was more of a museum, at least as I imagine such things, than the National Geographic in DC. The lighting, though not enough to suit me, was better for viewing than the NGís had been.

Luke led us through the ancient Roman and Greek exhibits while the Mad One sighed and grumbled. She told me she didnít really care about those periods, or cultures, and having been to the museum numerous times, wasnít interested in revisiting works that bored her. At my suggestion we jump to the sections she and Luke liked, she said DW (Dear Wife) and I should see everything. I argued, but arguing with the Mad One is only an exercise in rhetoric as Iím going to lose anyhow.

I dutifully snapped pictures of anything vaguely interesting, which slowed me down so I didnít often lose DW who seemed determined to study each piece in minutest detail. The several times we lost DW and had to backtrack, we found her pondering some piece Iíd barely noticed. Every time we found her she was surprised we hadnít always been in the room with her! (I canít recall the last time I was so into something that I lost track of what was happening around me.) Before we venture into another museum, the woman is getting a cell phone so we can find her when she thinks she isnít lost!

I was lost five minutes after starting through the exhibits. If I hadnít kept track of the people Iíd entered with Iíd have had to ask a docent for help getting out of the maze. I see the reason for setting the rooms up the way they do, but for me the maze doesnít work. Itís always in my mind that I need to get out. Iím looking for a door instead of absorbing art, culture or couth.

It wasnít until we reached 17th century European art that the Mad One began to show some enthusiasm. (Several times she had gotten "lost" in the earlier periodsí exhibits of jewelry, but hadnít infected me with a lust for the baubles.) Her obvious enjoyment of ceramics and the painted board may have triggered my interest as I began taking pictures of details of paintings that otherwise didnít mean a thing to me. A dog here, a belt pouch there, an angry face. I was starting to enjoy the day as I found more and more of interest to photograph! And the camera battery died. CRAP!

Just before I lost battery power the Mad One had led me to what Luke calls "The Downfall of Man", Adam, the Tree, the Serpent and Eve. (I donít know if thatís the official name. I took pictures of lots of stuff I have no idea who the creators were, or what the pieces were named.)

As the Mad One approached the "Downfall" piece I stopped to take a picture of her and it. A young couple stood beside me until I lowered the camera. They offered to take a picture of the Mad One and me together. I allowed I didnít like her that much.

"Do you see the serpent has Eveís face?" The Mad One pointed once Iíd caught up with her. I didnít see it, which started an argument, of course. I mentioned it was odd the artist would give the serpent a female head. Was he implying that evil comes as a female?

"Jack, the serpent is a symbol of knowledge. Of course the artist would use a womanís head to symbolize knowledge. Women have to think about many things while men can focus on one thought."

"Bull. I agree about the snake being a symbol of knowledge and therefore evil in the eyes of Xians, but I doubt the womanís face was used to reinforce that!"

It didnít take me long to decide I might be gazing upon Adam and Eve, but I was standing beside some aspect of Lilith, the first female companion of Adam, according to Hebrew mythology. I realized, had the Mad One been in the Garden the serpent would have fled with Adam and Judeo-Xian fables would read differently today, if either religion had been birthed at all.

The Mad One led me to some Flemish paintings where I started snapping details and the camera died. "Why such loutish people?" I was depressed by the expressions on so many of the faces.

"These are like Bosch." (Hieronymus Bosch? Someone Iíd actually heard of!) "The artist is showing the brutality and stupidity of the people he found himself living among."

I pondered the scenes, feeling slightly sick and a bit guilty as I recognized personalities Iíve met and sadly saw some of myself in many of those twisted faces, too many. (Iím thinking this attempt at enlightenment is proving to be more of a pain than I imagined it would be. At least in my garden the revealing of my stupidity and lack of self-control is usually witnessed only by DW, the sky above, the plants and insects at my feet.)

Mercifully, DW said sheíd had enough walking about and we all agreed it was time to head for the Russian store.

A trip in itself, the Russian deli places me where I am the minority. Not only can I not understand the words flying about me, I can rarely read a product label. (Stepping outside provides little relief. Most everyone out there is black and using English words in ways that confuse me.) Luke and the Mad One know the people working the deli. Iím told that most of the employees can speak English, though they donít because they are embarrassed by their accents or limited vocabulary. My admission to being born here and still not being able to speak or understand English (though it hasnít stopped me from braying) elicited a few smiles but no words I could understand. The Mad One translates for me. She, and whomever sheís talking to in Russian often turn to look at me and laugh. I donít care. I have my basket of sprats and tea.

Weíll visit the WAM again, with at least one extra camera battery. Iím starting to wonder if Iím being enlightened. At no time did I manage to provoke the Mad One to her native tongue. Perhaps my comments and arguments are showing some signs of intelligence? I actually missed being cussed at in Bulgarian. I worry I might be learning to enjoy self-flagellation, too.

Read other articles by Jack Deatherage, Jr.