Wednesday, November 10, 2010

With the stroke of a P.E.M. or the Return of Rebecca Cathcart-Monet

"Pem" said a voice over the telephone.
"Pem?" I drawled in stupified response "Vas is dat?"
"The Peabody Essex Museum silly! We are GOING!"
"B-but why?" I faltered.
"Cuz you have never been there and I need to inhale some art! I'm taking my floatplane, meet me at 9am Sunday in Salem on the Grand Canal" she rapped.
"Who am I to defy a whim of iron like that?" I thought as I fired up the Black Beauty and roared up Route 128 for yet another fateful rendezvous with destiny.
The Grand Canal in Salem is lovely in the late Autumn, its ancient stones grey with dignity, it's water still tinged red with the reflections of autumn's last foliage. A very definite Ray Bradbury-ish "Martian Chronicles" vibe can be felt.
Promptly at nine AM Rebecca brought her canary yellow SPAD S.XIV float plane for perfect landing on those placid pellucid waters.
Out of the cockpit she sprang resplendent in flying helmet, scarf and goggles "Buy me breakfast ya flatlander cheapskate" she trilled as I was forcibly dragged by the collar to the nearest dinner.
Rebecca is a woman of simple even puritanical tastes, all she wants is a house with an epic courtyard. How else to explain her intense affinity for the foyer of the Isabel Stewart Gardner Museum or the Yin Yu Tan House at the P.E.M. with it's tiny fountains and exquisite centeredness. The tiny precisely laid out rooms all opening out into a large almost theatrical space...Nothing hidden everything within the line of sight.
That would seem to be Ms. Cathcart-Monet's natural setting.
How she adapts all this to the winterly blasts in her home town of Niftyborough New Hampshire is another matter.
From there it was a quest across three floors to find "Cleopatra's Barge".
I of course thought this was some contemporary relic of the old budget busting Liz Taylor film circa 1964, but whatever it was Ahab did not seek the whale half so zealously as Rebecca sought the barge.
Turns out the damn thing is an authentic stateroom to a mid-19th century luxury yacht, with fine wood paneling and painted landscapes on the backs of the chairs. The whole thing was a symphony of restraint compared to the ostentation that would characterize the yacht style of the gilded age.
So of course, it spoke to Rebecca...
From there it was off to the Korean art with it's subtle designs and then the "Moon Bed" which is best described as Rebecca's childhood of gigantism by way of dreamland.
By the way, Asian outsourcing goes back to the beginning of the 19th century when enterprising American merchants hired Chinese artists to mass produce facsimile paintings of the late General Washington for sale in the USA.
Who knew?!
This is what you learn when you trail behind Rebecca Cathcart-Monet at a major museum, the woman has taste and with that in hand the whole experience can be mastered fairly easily.
Indeed Ms. Cathcart-Monet can enter a huge hall devoted to maritime art and unerringly lead one to the smallest yet most compelling display, the very toolbox of John Haley Bellamy, a local folk artist of the late 19th century noted for his elaborately carved wooden eagles. But It isn't so much the toolbox as her relationship to it, the artist's modesty, the enduring value and rarity of his work and his status as a notable in the local arts scene.
Taste is Destiny, Rebecca has that in abundance, to spend a day with her in a museum is to further one's education and broaden one's horizons, the arts have no better friend or vigilant guardian.
Ah but even we suffer the pangs of hunger after a while and after a brief stroll around town and a visit to the world's most dangerously stacked bookstore we memorialized the whole afternoon with a picture of the statue erected in honor of Elizabeth Montgomery star of "Bewitched".
A fitting end to a day given over to good taste in extremis.
On our way to the tavern at the Hawthorne Hotel we passed a sort of museum/boutique dedicated to the infamous Lizzie Borden murders.
Well of course, Salem as a town has given itself over to the Halloween tourist trade, but for the life of we couldn't figure out what Salem had to do with a grisly pair of ax murders than went down in Fall River?
The only link we could discern was that Elizabeth Montgomery played the part in a notorious TV movie adaptation back in the 1970's.
And on that suitably bizarre note we ate lunch and repaired back to the Canal where I saw Rebecca's floatplane taxi down the canal, her scarf snapping crisply in the wash.
And once again I had the same thought as last time "In the name of Ghod almighty how do I ever top this?"

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