March 3, 2007

Stay With Me Traveling

When Out of Africa came out, I had a lot of friends who were forever imitating Meryl Streep’s heavily accented voiceover, “I had a farm in Africa once,” but the line that always stuck with me was her saying, “I am a mental traveler.”

Although I was just in New York (where I met alg, whose smell is only rivaled by her force of nature self, and saw sdn, who is as lovely as ever) and am soon heading to California, my travels have been, lately, more of the mental kind. I am, in other words, reading Henry James. Wings of the Dove, to be exact. This is my third attempt, but I think I’ll make it to the end this time. I’m on a schedule of five pages a day, which is just enough to get drawn into his dense forest of language, commas and elusive asides without getting lost in it. Or annoyed and confused, which is just as important to avoid.

So far, my greatest pleasure in this reading schedule has not come solely from Mr. James. On the train up to the city, I read my five pages. It all took place in an English home, with the characters standing in front of a Bronzino painting and talking of how much one of the characters looks like the portrait itself. What was really going on was that one character was asking another to accompany her to the doctor. But the part that was easy to understand was the Bronzino and the chit-chat about it resembling the character who has to go to the doctor.

Okay, so about seven hours later, I’m at the Frick collection, where I’d wasted hundreds of hours in high school. Because the central room with the fountain and marble benches is closed, I’m not taking my usual route through the mansion, and I pass by this golden, green painting of a pale young man. It’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. I don’t remember it, and I glance down at the little description. It’s a Bronzino! The whole scene in Wings of the Dove changes. This is why everyone calls that character odd and queer. She looks like a Bronzino painting. And she has to go to the doctor and she is afraid, and she has asked a woman who is not odd (and who probably looks like this Whistler portrait) to go with her. And the Bronzino makes sense, and everything about the novel springs to life and I am standing in the Frick, but also in that English house, listening to these people talk and being totally, hopelessly, happily lost in Henry James.

I am so excited I almost tell the security guard. But, in addition to being the sort of person who needs a schedule to read the novel, I’m just this side of shy. So I simply stare at the painting before moving on.

On the train back home, I read about the Bronzino girl’s visit to the doctor. Because I saw the movie ages ago, I know she’s really sick and going to die. I might have known that from the actual pages, but I might not. I don’t think I’m reading James for the story so much as I am for the chance, however briefly, to go somewhere.

I would like to know who has been traveling. What kind of trips, where and why?

Published in: on March 3, 2007 at 5:27 pm  Leave a Comment  

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