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Aristotle at Afternoon Tea participates in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn commissions by linking to Amazon. This means that whenever you buy a book on Amazon from a link on here, I get a small percentage of its price. That helps support my writing in a small way, so thank you. Happy reading!

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On a Temporary Exhibition

April 6, 2017

‘“Exactly,” the geographer said. “But I am not an explorer. I haven't a single explorer on my planet. It is not the geographer who goes out to count the towns, the rivers, the mountains, the seas, the oceans, and the deserts. The geographer is much too important to go loafing about. He does not leave his desk. But he receives the explorers in his study. He asks them questions, and he notes down what they recall of their travels.”’
- Antoine de Saint Exupéry, The Little Prince

 

 Edgar Degas, Dancers in Blue 1889

 

To be among the living is first, to be breathing. Second, to go through life. The latter in an orderly sequence of preset steps along a well-oiled production line. At one end, Monday morning coffee, to-do and shopping lists, appointments, reservations, weekend and five-year plans. At the other, Sunday blues conclude another well-trodden week with folded laundry, clean sheets on the bed, cherry tomatoes and fresh basil for a dinner of ricotta and bread.

 

being alive seems

to be a necessity if you want

to sit in the sun or rub your

toes in the sand at the beach.

 

You need to be breathing

in order to eat paella and

 

drink sangria, and

 

and it is Monday morning and the living are chasing after the seven forty-two train. They step on the wildflowers they do not see peaking through the sidewalk cracks. They hurry forward past a frayed and peeling poster; a reproduction of a Degas. One of his many, recognizable dancers; these four are backstage, in blue.  A temporary exhibition at the art museum; today is closing day. The living do not see it; they need to be breathing. The train pulls onto the platform.

 

The doors open with the promise of swift transport to the next station, the next step of the line, the next day of the week in the series to come until the living runs out.

 

being alive seems

to be a necessity if you want

to sit in the sun or rub your

toes in the sand at the beach.

 

You need to be breathing

in order to eat paella and

 

drink sangria, and

 

and suddenly, you stop. A foreign, amorphous feeling, like mist, touches the back of your neck.

 

You need to be breathing

in order to eat paella and

 

drink sangria, and

 

When was the last time you ate paella, drank sangria, made love?

 

A knee jerk impulse. An itch in your nose, the urge to look at the sun and sneeze. An urgency to grasp something fleeting in the flurry of the commute.

 

The living are pushing to get on the train. Let them. Do not move. You only need to be breathing. Everything else is a choice. Remain on the station platform.

 

Watch the automatic doors close, like coming up for air. Wave the morning train away as it whisks the living off. Turn to the poster and make a note of the exhibition’s address. Walk out of the station with your life. Mind the wildflowers in the cracks.

 

Look around, across the street at the café-trottoir you ran past a few minutes ago. Take a seat and order a croissant and café allongé; you have time to sip it as you watch the living chase their lives and the next train.

 

The art museum must gloriously empty, and just opening for the day. Head over there after leaving a few coins on the table by the empty cup.

 

You need to be breathing

 

as you walk into the art museum’s atrium and follow a guide, a map, your feet, or the neat little arrows on the walls. Past Braque, who lived in interiors while the Nazis took Paris outside. Past Beckman’s Messina that he never visited; he lived in newspaper headlines. Van Gogh’s life of asylum window landscapes, Magritte’s bowler hat filled dreams, Klimt living in a gold gilded era gone by, Hopper’s lonely cafés and cities.

 

The Impressionist Wing.  Inside, stop, respectfully, at the first Monet. A life of purple, red, blue water lilies; living with cataracts. Breathe for a moment in his Giverny garden, then move on to Eugene Manet. Seen from his window, this artist’s own garden; his wife is in it, in a summer dress. Reach Degas’ painting of the four dancers, backstage at the Opera, in blue. This is no poster peeling off a metro wall. You need to be breathing, so breathe.

 

Now leave the museum. Eat paella. Drink sangria. Make love. Then join the ranks of those who know the difference between living and life.

 

You need to be breathing

in order to eat paella and

drink sangria, and making love

is quite impossible without

a body, unless you are one

of those, given - like gold -

to spin in airy thinness forever.

- Joyce Sutphen, The Idea of Living

 

 

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