We rinsed off under the open fresh water showers, then walked down the beach carrying our outer clothing until the sun had dried us. Raven pointed up to the top of the concrete wall that lined the beach. American tourists with long lensed cameras were recording the scene below. I wondered if any of them saw the beauty, even vaguely, or felt a deep ache in their belly from knowing that they could have come down those narrow stairs and joined the dance, instead of watching and sniggering from above.
Life is not a spectator sport.
We left the beach and hid from the sun among the tree shaded streets. Raven mailed her letter, and we talked. She wanted to know more about the rest of Europe, so we could plan the weeks ahead. She only knew the Europe of tours and hotels, not the Europe of streetwandering.
We found ourselves climbing a narrow street in the south end of Nice, where the sun beat down directly out of a pale blue sky. We hid from the heat in the Musee des Beaux Arts, and wandered around the vast converted mansion admiring the delicate marble statues and sumptuous paintings.
At the turn of the century in France, impressionism swept the art world and changed the face of painting forever. The victory was so complete that those they ousted from prominence, the pompiers, were all but forgotten. It was too bad. The pompiers had their faults; their subjects were antique, their treatment was too romantic and studied. Yet they produced a body of beautiful work, far more to my taste than the impressionists.
There was a Clement, Egyptian orange merchants, depicting two women, dark skinned and richly robed with a spill of oranges that glowed against the darkness of their clothing. The Nile behind them was shadowy, faded tan, almost like a mirage.
Down the wall was Thamar by Cabanel. It showed a powerful, robed, dark skinned man with a half nude white woman collapsed in his lap. She appeared to be sleeping, or lost in grief, but she might have been dead. The pompiers had a romantic view of death.
“I wonder if Thamar is French for Othello?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t like it,” Raven said.
“The colors are warm and rich. His face and outstretched arm are powerful statements.”
“Yes, but the girl is a half-fat, pasty wimp. I can’t get past her to enjoy the rest of the painting.”
“How about the next one?” That was Thaïs by Tanoux.
Raven laughed. “Come on, Ian. Great fruit, great cloth, great leopard skin on the bed, great background. And she’s not fat, but why is she naked while he is fully clothed? And what has he just asked her to do that she should look so shocked?”
“I can imagine.”
“Me, too. But if I were her, I wouldn’t listen to a word he said until he stripped down and joined me on the bed. Two people clothed is ordinary; two people nude is erotic; but a naked woman with a clothed man standing over her whispering shocking suggestions is pornography. It reminds me of an off-color Victorian novel.”
I smiled. “Feminism has just ruined a whole school of art for me.”
“I’ll bet. You’d love to be him.”
“Do you really think so?”
Raven gave me her full attention. “You probably don’t want to think so, but in your heart, you would.” more tomorrow