Saturday, March 19, 2016

The vagaries of memory

We are back from the trip to New York and Boston.  It was jam-packed, and we are all exhausted.  I actually cut quite a few things off the initial list, and there were three evenings that I went off to see a museum on my own in the evening without trying to guilt trip any of the rest of the family to come along.  Still, my wife was keeping track of our steps/miles and we were well above 10,000 steps (approximately 5 miles) every day except the last one.  We probably did walk close to 30 miles over the vacation, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if I was over 35 miles.  If I can get a more accurate total I will put it in.

I don't really know how much I will be able to cover in the blog, as I am getting a bit weary of always being a few posts behind, but I'll probably write about a few highlights and get at least a few photos posted.

On the flight to Boston, my wife asked me how many times had I visited Boston, and I am not entirely sure.  It is probably between 5-8, being a bit closer to 8.  It was her first time, since we had planned to make the trip the weekend after 9/11, and understandably didn't really want to go after that...

After combing my memory, I recall an early trip to pick up my father who was on sabbatical at Tufts.  (This was back in the day when parents couldn't just arrange to take kids out of school for "educational purposes," (like taking kids to see Spring Training), let alone home-school them.  Still, I imagine there were some difficult discussions back then when the idea first was broached.)  Then a few years later, I somehow convinced my parents that I was going to go to an Ivy, so we did a tour of most of them.  I know we saw Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Brown and probably Cornell.  We didn't visit Columbia as far as I recall.

Then I ended up in Boston for a few days in the summer between my sophomore and junior years at UMich.  I believe that would have been the summer of 1989.

I'm pretty sure that I went for another visit at some point after my move to the East Coast in 1991, maybe in 1992 when I had a break from temping in the city over summer break (I was a public school teacher but worked most of the summer).

I went up to Boston in 1995 or so to attend the wedding of one of the young women I knew through volunteering for the East Side High School Color Guard.

Then I moved to Chicago for grad school and didn't get to Boston nearly as much.  After I became a consultant and moved back to New York in 2000, I was sent off to Newton, Mass. for software training, but had the evenings free and spent a fair bit of time in Boston.

Then several years later, I joined Cambridge Systematics, and I was sent to Boston at least once for project management training and perhaps a second time.  I think that is all the trips I've made to Boston, but I may be missing one more.  That seems to add up to 7 different trips (before this one) though it could even be as high as 9.

Why is this really on my mind so much?  Thurs. evening I stopped in at the Isabella Gardner Museum.  I think it was a bit of a mistake to visit in the evening, as many of the galleries just are not lit as well as I would like, and everything just seemed murky and dim.  Also, the second floor was being renovated and was closed off, though some of the most important pieces were on display in the new wing.  On top of everything else, they had a bar area completely blocking off access to Sargent's El Jaleo.  I understand you can't get right up next to it, but I wasn't able to get anywhere near the rope (another 8 feet or so was barred by the drinks table and the milling crowd), so I have borrowed someone else's photo.

John Singer Sargent, El Jaleo, 1882

So it wasn't really the best visit this time around.  I hadn't really realized that my taste and Gardner's taste were so divergent (though I certainly liked El Jaleo and wished I could have gotten closer...).

I hadn't done much research before the trip, and I sort of made a fool of myself asking about the Vermeer to one of the guards.  Well, in one of the most infamous art heists of all time, 13 paintings were stolen from the Gardner Museum in 1990, including the Vermeer and one of the Rembrandts.  It's fairly likely that the paintings still exist somewhere, and there has been a bit of a lead recently in what is a very cold case, but I am not sure I would wager these paintings will be recovered in my lifetime.  I do hope so, obviously.

Johannes Vermeer, The Concert, ca. 1664 (still missing)

I then tried to cast my mind back to whether I actually had visited the Gardner on one of the three trips prior to 1990.*  I suspect we would have gone on that first visit, and I'll check with my father to see if he remembers, since it seems like something my mother would have wanted to do.  I also probably went in 1989, though I'll have to see if I kept a diary of that trip.

Where things get really weird is that I was paging through the excellent guide to the museum.  (I definitely should have read this before the visit instead of afterwards back in the hotel!)  There is a photo of the way the Rembrandt portrait is laid out that triggered a memory I had.

Or more of a shadow memory, where you remember something that you once remembered a lot better, but it is kind of hazy when you try to really remember the details.  I was convinced that on my first visit to Victoria, BC (in 1994), I went into this small house that was actually a gallery, and that there were small gem-like paintings (perhaps Dutch) when you came down around the stairs.  On a subsequent visit to Victoria (in 2013) I couldn't find anything that remotely matched that.  And while Victoria is quite nice, it would be completely shocking to me if this artistic treasure was completely hidden.  They just never had the kind of collectors with serious money out on the Pacific Northwest.

But flipping through the Gardner Museum guide, it is not at all impossible that I somehow shrunk the mansion to something a bit more modest but kept a few of the Dutch masterpieces in the back of my mind.  I could of course be completely mistaken, and I wasn't conflating two different museums.  Still, I would say the odds are better than 50-50 that I did see The Concert at some point prior to the heist.

My guess is that it will be a while before my next visit to Boston, but now that we have relocated to Toronto (and the kids are getting to be fairly seasoned travelers), trips to New York, DC and perhaps Philadelphia will become an annual or at least semi-annual tradition.  (I just have to make sure they are in better shape next time before we set out...)

* I'm sure I visited the Gardner on the trip in 2000, but that would have been too late for the Vermeer.

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