Tuesday, March 12, 2024

Sky Joy



Highway of Combes le ville-Giovanni Boldinni


"The sky is the daily bread of the eyes.”  
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson

“I've never seen a moon in the sky that, if it didn't take my breath away, at least misplaced it for a moment.
-- Colin Farrell 

      The weather for much of last week reminded us that spring is on its way. So too have the gardens in the neighborhood; the crocuses, snowdrops and redbuds have all started making their appearance. The morning sounds now included the sounds of robins, cardinals and other avian life. And Sunday is Daylight Saving Time. Spring is on the way. To that end I am re-running a piece I published last year about the sky and looking up. 

      I love this painting. I LOVE this painting. It is perhaps the most important painting I have ever seen in my life. I first saw it at the Philadelphia Museum of Art when I was in junior high school, and a few of us one afternoon, for some unremembered reason, decided to go the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I came upon the Boldini in the first-floor gallery of European Art on a wall on the left of the gallery, and it literally stopped me. I was caught and amazed. I looked at it, moving closer to take in the all the beautifully crafted colors, the subtly changing shades of green and brown marking the highway, the scale of the carriage and the people, and the placement of the trees along the road. Then I noticed the sky in this painting -- the varying shades of blue that seem to infuse the scene with magic, the way the background sky seemed to just arise and appear to slowly dominate the scene, and the marvelous clouds that seem to be quietly, majestically, and steadily in motion. The scene felt alive; real, and I was hooked. Every time after that, whenever I went to the museum, I had to see that painting. In my high school years, in my early 20’s, for some fifteen or so years I visited this painting as often as I could. It changed location during those fifteen years, but I had to see it and I tracked it down. When they took it off view for some 15 years, I was saddened. And when I saw it back on view in the 1990’s, I was astonished and joyous, and I literally burst out crying when I first saw it again. This is probably the single most important painting I have seen in my life. For this is the painting that has made me forever look up and marvel at the sky.

      I was an urban kid and did not have too much experience being outside the city. Some summers we stayed for a while with relatives in Coatesville when I was a kid, but I really didn’t notice the sky then. I liked the trails we walked, the dirt roads, and the sounds of the freight train going to and from Lukens Steel. But I paid little attention to the sky. But in my high school years I had more outside experiences, and they happened after I had seen that painting. So, I was much more aware of the sun, the clouds, the moon and the wondrousness of sky. I went to the Folk Festival and to Be-Ins and was listening to music outside in the day and in the night. And I would look up and pay attention to the sky. I started going camping and bird watching and had the joy of looking at the sky away from the glare of city lights. Looking up became something of vital importance to me. 

      Fortunately, when I married my late wife, Penny, she was a camper and birder, and she loved the sky as well. In fact, we had a 15-day tent-camping honeymoon in Maine and Nova Scotia and saw a couple of sunrises from Cadillac Mountain. And through our 40 year-long relationship we had many incredible experiences with the wonders of the sky. Seeing several eclipses over a lake at Montezuma State Park in upstate New York. Watching full moons in West Virginia, Canada and upstate Pennsylvania. Seeing dozens of meteor showers away from city lights and marveling at the sheer number of stars and meteors. Waking with the sun numerous mornings in our campsites and watching many magical and colorful sunrises. And I will never forget the experience we had one night at one of her cousins’ house in Arizona: laying on sleeping bags for a couple of hours outside on the deck, watching a moose walk by the house, and looking up into the clear night sky at the Perseid meteor shower as a wolf howled. Watching the sky has become an integral part of how I take in the world, and it still brings me pleasure and joy.

      I am thinking of that now because I am again doing more early morning walking. If I leave the house around 5:30-6:00 AM I am catching the last of the winter night sky's darkness and watching the day coming into being at the same time. If I look south and east, I often see the orangish, yellowish, reddish streaks that are beautifully announcing the day. And if I look to the north and the west, I can still see the moon sitting shyly above the roofs. It is just hovering there, watching over us for just a little longer. No matter the mood I am in upon awakening, seeing day and night simultaneously improves it, if only for a while. It is a quiet cup of amazement that I can sip from as I start my day. It is glorious.

  As we get ready for spring to arrive, I realize yet again that I owe my awareness and appreciation of all of the simple beauty of the sky to Boldini and that magical highway somewhere in France. Encountering his work was the start of a lifetime of “skyjoy.” I think I will visit the Art Museum again in the next week and spend some more time standing and looking in Gallery 155 on the first floor. I have to once again say, “Thanks,” to a painting.

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