Maxime was waiting outside of the Metropolitan museum when she got there. I was so happy to see him and anxious to be with him, that I ran up the steps until I was standing in front of him. How I longed to throw myself into his arms but I just smiled up at him, thinking how gorgeous he looked dressed casually.
“Hello,” he greeted me with a smile.
“Hello.” My heart, as usual, was pounding like crazy.
“I’ve already bought the tickets.”
I followed him inside. It was as huge as I had always imagined that it would be and up to now, I still can’t believe that I’ve never been here before. “Have you ever been here before?” I asked.
“No. This is my first time.”
“Good. We will experience it for the first time together.”
“Yes.” I liked the sound of that.
“I read that there are 10 must see artwork here,” he said as we made their way to the art gallery.
“Really? What are they?”
“The Death of Socrates, The Denial of Saint Peter, Young Mother Sewing, a human-headed winged lion, Venus Italica, The Sphinx of Hatshepsut, Interior of Saint Peter’s, Rome, Dancing Celestial Deity, Gertrude Stein and Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara in Water Moon Form.”
“Sounds very interesting.”
We visited each them in the order he mentioned them. Although I was more a fan of sculpture, I liked oil paintings too. “This is the Death of Socrates,” Maxime said. “It was painted by French artist Jacques Louis David.”
“I’ve read The Trial and Death of Socrates by Plato in my junior year in high school. It was very interesting.”
“The trial and execution of Socrates have puzzled historians. They can’t understand why a society in which the citizens enjoyed more freedom and democracy than the world had ever seen, a seventy-year-old philosopher was put to death for what he was teaching.”
“Do you have an idea of why he was tried, convicted and executed?”
“It’s possible that many were of the opinion that his teachings were no longer harmless and that his logic had become a dangerous and corrupting influence. He was seen as a breeder of tyrants and enemy of the common man.”
I studied the painting. “Is that him on top of the bed?”
“Yes. He’s reaching for the cup of hemlock as his followers surround him. You can see the sadness in them. When Socrates was given the choice between renouncing his ideas or dying by drinking hemlock, he found death to be honorable. It’s like many of the Christian martyrs and the Roman Catholic Church. Many preferred to death to renouncing their faith.”
“Yes, like John Huss.”
We moved on to Caravaggio’s painting of the apostle Peter’s denial of Jesus. I’m a big fan of this Italian artist. His paintings were always a sharp contrast between dark and light. And in this one, you could see the how his display of color brought out the emotions on the faces of the people. I focus on Peter’s face and it looked like it pained him to deny Jesus but he did it because he was afraid for his life. Fear makes us do things we never thought we would do. Peter never once thought that he would deny the Lord whom he loved.
I loved Mary Cassatt’s painting of the Young Mother Sewing. I felt as if the little girl was looking at me as she leaned on her mother’s knees as she sewed. It looks so natural and realistic. A slice out of life. We lingered there for a while and then, we went to see the rest of the artwork Maxime mentioned. I was fascinated with the lamassu, the human-headed winged lion. Apparently, it protected Assyrian king Ashurnasirpal II and his palace from enemies. The lamassu had five legs which meant that it was standing proudly when you looked at it from the front and walking when your looked at it from the side. The marble Venus statue looked lifelike as she looks over her left shoulder as she clutches her fabric to cover herself.
“Have you ever been to Egypt?” I asked Maxime when we were gazing at The Sphinx of Hatshepsut. That’s a place I have always wanted to visit.
“No, but maybe one of these days I will go there.”
“The sphinx is a very curious creature. It has a human face but the body of a lion.”
“In Greek tradition, the sphinx has the head of a woman, the haunches of a lion and the wings of a bird. According to myth, she is treacherous and merciless and will kill and eat those who cannot answer her riddle. We read about this kind of sphinx in the story of Oedipus. The Egyptian sphinx is typically shown as a man and is seen as benevolent but with ferocious strength. Both types were thought to be guardians and were often seen flanking entrances to temples.”
“So, this sphinx is male, then?”
“No. This sphinx is of Pharaoh Hatshepsut who was the first female ruler known in history. She is wearing the same ceremonial costume as the male pharaohs which include a false beard and a striped royal headcloth.”
“I didn’t know that there was a female Pharaoh.”
“Before Hatshepsut declared herself to be Pharaoh and ruled as a male counterpart would for over 20 years, she was the daughter of one Pharaoh and the queen wife of another.”
“Was she a good ruler?”
“She was a gifted and cunning leader. Rather than go to war, she established trade relationships with many foreign countries. It was through trade that she made Egypt a rich nation. During her rule, the nation enjoyed a time of peace and prosperity.”
I beamed. “Good for her.”
He smiled. “I knew you would feel that way. Let’s move on to the other must-see works of art.”
I liked the painting of the interior of St. Peter’s basilica. Rome was another place I was hoping to visit. “Have you ever been to Rome?”
“Yes. I visited it years ago. This painting shows what the basilica was like in the 1700s.”
As I listened to him talk about the painting and the artist, Giovanni Paolo Panini, I wondered if he went to Rome alone or with a woman.
The Gertrude Stein painting seemed boring and bland compared to the sandstone sculpture of the dancing deity made in early 12th-century India and the figure of Avalokitesvara, the Buddhist deity of compassion. I was blown away by how the folds in the fabric of his clothing made the figure look so realistic.
“Now that we’ve gone through the 10 must see list, is there anything you would like to see while we’re here?” Maxime asked me.
“I would like to check out the Native American Art Exhibition.” I would have liked to see the Ethiopia Gallery but I heard someone say that it was closed to the public for renovation.
We went to the gallery and I was so impressed with the display of beautifully woven women’s hoods, shoulder bags and. There was a black-dyed bag which was traditionally used to hold amulets and other personal possessions. It didn’t have a strap.
Maxime drew my attention to a man’s coat worn by a hunter. It was very attractive. It was a blend of Indigenous and European traditions. “It’s an ancient Native belief that that well-made hunters’ clothing honors the spirits of the animals and unites hunter and prey. It was a woman who painted the coat’s designs to please the caribou.” I smiled as I tried to imagine Maxime dressed in one of those coats.
Other interesting objects included a war club, an abstract representation of an animal or a bird created during the colonial period; two bowls, one used by a healer or shaman to administer herbal remedies and another larger one used for consecrated food for religious ceremonies in the early nineteenth century. I loved the comb which had two men wearing frock coats facing each other. The comb was carved from moose antler. There was a shaman rattler which gave me the creeps. It was of an emaciated human face and was either a spirit being or the shaman himself. The dagger had a carving of the shaman’s face as he was in a trance state. No display would be complete without moccasins.
It was a couple of minutes to five when we eventually emerged from the museum. “Thank you, Maxime,” I said. “I had a wonderful time.”
“I’m happy to hear that. Are you hungry?”
“Café Fledermaus is within walking distance from here. We’ll have an early dinner there and then, it’s school for you tomorrow, isn’t it?”
“Don’t remind me,” I groaned, rolling my eyes.
He smiled and reaching for my hand, we descended the steps and headed towards the café. I was on cloud nine. Here I was holding hands with the man I’ve fallen head over heels in love with. I wished that I didn’t have to go to school tomorrow. I wished this day would never end. I wished that Maxime didn’t have to return to England.
I tried not to dwell on anything that would put a damper on such a lovely afternoon and made up my mind that I was going to enjoy every single moment we had together.