Monday, May 02, 2005

Vanity, Redux

Having spent a few days as the Elephant Woman, with a face distorted enough to stop children (so they could stare or even ask, 'What's wrong with that lady?' although none, thank God, ever did) I am back to pretty much normal. If normal means bald and almost without eyebrows and eyelashes. The funny thing is, I think I look great. I look in the mirror and think, 'Wow, pretty nice looking woman!' Now mind you, my skin is damaged--tiny fine wrinkles--from the bleomycin and it's still faintly pink and a little rough from the infection. But I look in the mirror and feel genuinely attractive.

I guess my self-esteem would benefit from being truly ugly once in awhile.

I took the big leap and I bought my plane tickets for New Mexico. I think I am insane to go. I had chemo on Thursday, and then on Saturday and Sunday I kept thinking to myself, I'll be traveling this time in two weeks. I'll be traveling when I feel like this. I even did some stuff to see how I would handle it. Saturday we went and saw The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Not a plane ride, but then a plane ride isn't a triathalon, right?

I will be traveling, I have decided, doped to the gills on all my medications. By the time I get to Albuquerque on Saturday, I have no doubt I will be blind with exhaustion. And I figure, Sunday, I will be useless to any human being in the world. My husband and sister think I am insane, too. But my sister says she would probably have done the same thing. 'You love it there,' she said.

And I do. I love northern New Mexico in a way I can't find words for. One of the formative experiences of my life was when I was in my twenties and my roommate took me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. I'd studied a little art history. And one of the paintings that had just spoken to me was Velazquez's Portrait of Juan de Pareja. Who knows why. You take an art history class, you sit in the dark and slides flicker in front of you and sometimes, art infects you. In the Met with my rommate, we rounded a corner and there it was. If asked, I would have said that I thought it was in Toledo, Spain or something. I would have said I would never see it. But there it was. And of course, in person, it is so much more extraordinarily rich. I wanted that painting so much. I ached for it. I didn't want to own it. I couldn't say what I wanted from it. It was as if I wanted to eat it. To have it so completely. I wanted what it did to me to never stop happening.

When I first went to New Mexico, I got off the plane, and Sally Gwylan drove Sean Stewart and me north from Albuquerque through the desert to Santa Fe, and then up into the mountains to Taos. It got dark as we drove, but I could still see, all around me, the bones of the land, the mountains rising so abruptly from the desert like vertebrae. And I had some emotional reaction as atavistic as my reaction to the painting. I stared and I babbled. The next year I dragged my sister there, and the year after, my husband.

So I am going back. I don't care if I have to spend hours in airports feeling like I've been runover. On Sunday, I'll sit in the mountains, and the sky will be that extraordinary color blue. The mountains themselves will ring us like the lip of a huge bowl with the Rio Hondo river cutting down the valley and the air will still smell a little of cold because less than a mile from us, there will still be snow.


Blogger David Moles said...

That Velazquez is one of my favorite paintings EVER. I would much rather have it than, say, the Mona Lisa.

May 02, 2005 12:19 PM  
Blogger Maureen McHugh said...

Yeah, what is it? I mean the dignity is part of it. But it's just beautiful.

May 02, 2005 12:57 PM  
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March 24, 2009 1:40 AM  

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