When you have been bitten by the bug to travel, sometimes you’re so focused on looking at exotic and far away places that you forget what’s just around the corner from you. Similarly, life can be lived in the same way and although I didn’t realize it, I ended up getting a few lessons on how to live in an art museum.
Balboa Park, in San Diego, California, is one of the nations largest urban cultural parks. It has fifteen major museums, an outdoor concert pavillion, several live theatres and of course, the World Famous San Diego Zoo. Many of the buildings in the park were built for the 1915-1916 Panama-California Exposition and the architecture is gorgeous, with sculptures and ornate decorative facades, that are themselves, art.
With the best of intentions to get out the door and on our way to our next adventure, my Prince Charming husband and I are invariably late. Although we’ve never minded this about ourselves, when we went to Balboa Park we didn’t arrive until well after lunch and the museums were going to close at 4:00 pm.
Feeling in need of a moment of relaxation we stopped at the Prado restaurant and sat in the bar. The bite was anything but quick but the food was warm, comforting and a great lead in to our cultural afternoon. We sat down in the ecclectically decorated cafe and pondered what exactly was the motif’ we were admiring. Latin American, Mexican, Italian? The confusing, colorful décor always gave you something to look at so we decided it was designed to be a little of everything, that way no matter who came here, or where in the world they came from, they would be comfortable. Even our meal had influences from different parts of the world. Basically a pizza; meat, cheese and vegetables on on Italian-style flatbread. However the Mexican inspired ingredients on top were anything but Italian. Guajillo beef, roasted green chilies, chimmichuri sauce (which I’ve developed a real love for), manchego, mozzarella, jack cheeses and cilantro. The flavors exploded in our mouths, waking us up from our lazy slow beginning of the day.
Wanting to get to our destination, we walked across the parking lot and into the San Diego Museum Of Art. After showing our identification to prove we live in America’s Finest City, we were allowed access. It was Free Tuesday in Balboa Park. One or several museums each Tuesday are open free to residents of San Diego county. If you didn’t live here you would just have to pay to get in.
Stepping into the lobby we reviewed the exhibits and decided that a methodical approach was necessary. Start to the right, move through one and on to the next, and so on.
The first exhibit was Behold, America! An exhibit of art from American artists from several different museums. This art was not for me, or for my Prince Charming husband. The pieces had no cohesion, it was a confusing exhibit and most of the art bothered me. Many of the pieces, I’m certain, were specifically designed to create that feeling; pain, torture and unsettling images. We moved on.
In the adjoining room was the Impressionist works by Charles Reiffel. These lovely paintings were filled with movement, shape, color and texture perfectly placed to reveal a scene; a woman in a park, a snowy day, a rainy afternoon. Yes, these paintings moved me. Although Monet is probably my favorite impressionist painter, this guy was pretty good too. I find impressionism to be a metaphor for life. Don’t get too close and don’t concentrate on the details. Step back and look at the whole picture and it’s beauty comes into focus.
Several of the other exhibits were lovely, filled with glorious works of art that as I pondered over them I was thankful they had survived through time to find their way here, just for me. Just for the sake of beauty. That’s why they exist. Perhaps that’s another great idea for a way to live life. Just for the beauty. Another one of several lessons I would learn on this day.
The next exhibit turned out to be my absolute favorite, The Temple Palace Mosque* pieces. It contained exterior walls of temples and shrines from Hindu, Buddhist and Jain temples, all across India and Southest Asia, as well as other objects. These sculptures are broken shells of larger works with saints and divinities cemented into art forever. One piece in particular shook me more than all the others. It was called ‘Navagraha’ and was a piece from a temple in Eastern India from the the 10th century. Nine figures; Sun, Moon, Mars, Mercury, Jupiter, Venus, Saturn, Rahu (Demon of Eclipses) and Comet, all together. These nine likenesses together tell us that the temple they were part of was built on a day when the stars and planets were properly aligned. This was very important for the efficacy of the site as a place of worship. I looked at the extraordinary piece of art and wondered how that temple ever got built, because it seems in my life that the stars and planets never line up perfectly. Surely, divine intervention is the only way it could ever happen. I’d like to be there for that moment! Perhaps what I’m to take from this is another life lesson. Like the details of the impressionist paintings, I shouldn’t look too closely. I need to step back and look at the big picture of my life and realize that it is beautiful. Maybe the sun, moon and stars align more often than I realize.
We completed the museum and ventured out into the cool evening air. The sun was fading fast on the horizon as we surveyed the park, strolling around and marveling at the architecture and enjoying the holiday lights. The light was warm and glowing, like a fire slowly dying out. The famous tower of Balboa Park was illuminated, showing off it’s lovely details. We walked, talked and laughed and I felt my worries lift a little. On this ordinary night, I was creating memories and treasured moments of my life. It was a lovely big picture to look at and everything was in alignment. I just need to remember not to look too close.
*The Temple Palace Mosque exhibit is unfortunately no longer at the San Diego Museum of Art.