…then wilt thou not be loth
To leave this Paradise, but shalt possess
A Paradise within thee, happier far.
One day, a few years back, wandering confused and aimless as I often did when I first moved to New York, I found Paradise.
It was another month or so, though, before I realized I had found it because I hadn’t written it down. All I’d written in my notebook was, “saints and angels embrace.”
“Are you a saint?”
“Oh, yeah, sorry—this is a pretty roomy gown.”
“Oh, I see, so you just…”
“Yeah, they just fold right on in.”
“Ah, I see, I see.”
“So…you’re a saint?”
“How’d you get into that field of work?”
“Oh, just, you know, like, the usual M.O.—gave away my money and stopped wearing shoes…you?”
“Oh, well, I mean, I’m—”
“Oh, right, sorry. Angel. God, those wings hide away real well under there, it slipped my mind!”
“Haha, That’s ok.”
“Well, I see another angel I’ve gotta go embrace. Nice meeting you.”
“Yep, nice to meet you, too.” [They embrace]
I don’t think I believe in God, I don’t have a Christian background, and I am not Italian, nor have I ever been to Italy. That I tend to be moved by Italian Renaissance painting, and that I was so moved by Giovanni di Paolo di Grazia’s “Paradise,” was, then, surprising. This is the advantage of getting ‘museumed,’ a process that involves at once aimlessness and faith, spontaneity and concentration—you encounter things you would never expect to like. “Paradise,” as I found out when I returned to the Metropolitan Museum with the vague aim of finding what I had found before, is an 18 ½ x 16 inch tempera and gold painted canvas, transferred from wood. Part of the gallery label reads, “In this vision of Paradise, filled with flowers and trees, groups of saints and angels embrace.”
Of course, what museums you may not museum someone else. When my friend Morgan and I went to the Met’s extended hours one Friday evening, she was museumed by Egyptian scarabs, while I was museumed by portrait painter, John Singer Sargent. We were both museumed by the vision of the Temple of Dendur in eerie dimmed spotlights, all the windows of the Sackler Wing’s great hall dark except for the distant glow of streetlamps lining paths in the park. We also visited “Paradise,” by which I was museumed again and Morgan was not. Afterwards, thoroughly museumed, there was nothing else for us to do but stand on the streetcorner waiting for the uptown bus, eating the macaroons we’d bought from a deli on Madison Avenue.
I’ve always been disappointed that life can never mirror the perfection sometimes achieved in works of art–paintings, poems, songs, films–but it occurred to me, waiting for the uptown bus, that what we were doing at that moment was somehow exactly what I’d always imagined life in New York to be. Morgan agreed, and just as we finished our macaroons, up Madison Avenue came the M4.