Summer is a time for vapidly empty weekend schedules, oppressive humidity and asphalt streets that almost steam with resignation from heat that is almost cruel. Today was that kind of day.
I found myself with nothing to do this Saturday, with the family out of town, enjoying internships, camp and assorted travels here and there.
I’m of a mindset to shake things up a bit, and so, I decided, with no forethought or planning, to visit the Museum of Fine Arts. Now, know that I’m not an “art guy.” I’m from a low-income immigrant background, and museums usually make me nervous. The idea that people have so much money that they buy art and because they have so much money can give it all away is a bit much for me to process.
But, I headed over to the MFA with no plans, intentions or expectations. As luck would have it, I immediately was intrigued, for I saw an exhibit on 19th-century France and headed to that area.
The artist? Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, of whom I was not familiar by name, but whose artwork was recognizable immediately for its fluid design and an almost casual affect. I thought of him as The French Can-Can Guy, as one largely ignorant of art. I need such convenient labels to organize the myriad of artwork at a museum.
I have to say that it was an enjoyable-and-quick 60 minutes through the MFA, like a power walk with art all around me. I always enjoyed the paintings of John Singer Sargent, Renoir, Monet, Manet and Cezanne. Their works were just extremely multi-dimensional and provoking.
Inspired by this mélange of France and sophistication, I could think of no better lunch option than La Voile in the Back Bay. It’s a casual French establishment with the usual offerings of bready, fatty and meaty options. My kind of place.
I sat outside under a huge umbrella and observed the crowds walking by: families with sullen teens in tow, hipsters in black shirts sweating away, Japanese tourists holding umbrellas and random dudes wearing shorts, t-shirts and backpacks looking like they were on a mission to who knows where.
But, then, the first course arrived, and I snapped to attention. How could you not like a board filled with warm toast, cornichons, pâté and duck rillette, a combination of crunch, brininess, salt, fat and meat?
How could you not order a glass of Crémant from Alsace, that chunk of land that has passed between Germany and France multiple times and is, well, a commingling of both confusion and harmony between two cultures and former enemies? It was a pink wine, almost tinged with the blood from all the fighting that has occurred at that region for centuries.
And, how could a cold salad of smoked salmon, onions, cucumbers, capers, and boiled eggs not pique your interest, a refreshing dish on such a hot day, made ever more bracing with some hearty turns of fresh black pepper?
Of course it does, and, of course, all these dishes do. And, if they do not, then, I really no longer want to talk to you.
I watched the crowd walk by and happily tucked into my lunch. I observed, as casually as possible, the two Japanese teens at the table next to me, prim and pose for Snapchats as they chattered pleasantly and with great interest. I saw two lavishly-dressed men, one clutching a small dog, both with perfect hair and sunglasses just right, try out various tables until they found the exact right one that had complete shade, lest their fair skin be exposed to the elements. I saw cyclists from Germany, slick from sweat, lean their bikes against the metal fence and stumble to the restaurant, eager for rest, water and some gulps of cold wine.
And, on and on, an ever-changing cascade of people, voices, expressions and gaits.
It was a fun time. I enjoy observing people and, yes, I confess, eavesdropping on conversations while pretending that I have heard nothing. But, their secrets are safe with me.
Alas, soon, the meal was finished, and I felt the call to walk, lest I take a nap then and there at my seat. The bill was paid, the usual pleasantries with the waiter exchanged, and I walked back out towards the blinding sun, steamy asphalt and crowds.
It was only when I got home that I learned that tomorrow is Bastille Day. Life is funny in that way. Sometimes, things are just meant to be.
A wonderful summer weekend to all….