Steve and I just learned of the first person we know to have died from COVID: Pedro, a gifted and kind maintenance man with whom we worked in Florida.

We didn’t know him well, but well enough to know of the impact his death is having on his family. But not well enough that we’ll be able to find out for a while if they’re all ok. We’ll give what help we can, but, well, this sucks.

I have a feeling he won’t be the first.

Things feel different.

Paper? What Paper?

My adventures with the local paper appear to be at an end for the time being. This week, there was no published response to my last letter, for which I am grateful. A lot of ink is dedicated to people running for things like county commissioner and sheriff, two races I’ve never paid the slightest bit of attention to. Here’s the thing with local politics: They’re freaking exhausting. Kinda like COVID and the upcoming election.

I’ve spoken to a few people this week and the common thread is that we’re all tired of at least one thing, and usually multiple things. My own ennui seems to be just accumulation. A few stressful situations to deal with this summer that had little to do with COVID except that now everything has to do with COVID. As in, COVID is already stressful enough, and so even if that’s the only touch point with whatever the stress-creating thing is, the stress ticks up a few notches.

Steve therefore wisely suggested we take a day to go up to the Detroit Institute of the Arts.

So we did.

I Heart Museums

One early detection that told me Steve was my guy was his membership to the Detroit Institute of the Arts, aka, the DIA. It’s about an hour and a half to get there, so we head up a couple of times a year, usually when they have a big important show, which they do frequently. We’ve seen Fabergé eggs, the groundbreaking 30 Americans exhibit, a round-up of art with dance as its subject, and highlighted artists from Rembrandt to Kahlo to Isabel and Ruben Toledo.

The DIA doesn’t have a big huge blockbuster show at the moment. Mostly, I was impressed with how happy people were to see us; clearly, they’ve missed working.

Meanwhile, there’s an extensive collection of Dutch and Flemish prints and drawings. These are not typically things that blow my hair back; I can appreciate most types of art, but walking through these galleries is a little more dutiful on my part. That said, the first exhibit I visit at any museum gets my best and most alert mind. I read most of the descriptions, stand in front of things for about half a minute to see if I want to stand longer.

And honestly, how can you not be sucked in by the detail here? (Unfortunately, I didn’t snap the name of this drawing or of the artist. But it’s some Dutch guy. I think it’s called “The Presentation of Simeon,” attributed to Philip Konink.) I love the contrast of the judge’s face—should he have soup or salad for lunch?—with poor frantic Simeon (if that is indeed him).

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Or by poor Icarus, as he screams and tumbles out of the sky? This one’s by Hendrik Goltzius. I love pretty much anything to do with Icarus. Don’t ask me why.

There was also a whole exhibit dedicated to the restoration of Brueghel’s “The Wedding Dance,” complete with a hugely entertaining discussion of why codpieces were painted out. I’ve always wished I’d known art restoration was a career option. And restoring codpieces? Count me in! Although, admittedly, these codpieces are pretty explicit.

There’s also a very brief exhibit, really just one room, on the ways in which Salvador Dali and Frida Kahlo presented themselves, contrasting their work with photographic portraits. It was nice and bite-sized, and the photos are pretty wonderful. Here’s Dali in a marvelous collaboration with photographer Philip Halsman….

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….and here’s Frida, beautifully captured by Bernard Silberstein. One hand on a fawn, the other on a cigarette. Love it.

Back to the Dutch, after a brief French interlude.

Having seen the featured stuff, we decided to wander around the nearly empty galleries. We ended up with the impressionists, and I was struck by the beauty of this Renoir, as well as by how contemporary it felt. She reminded me so much of my daughter, the same candid gaze, the strong features that are also soft. The kid prefers no pictures of herself on the internet, so you’ll have to take my word for it.

Meanwhile, I knew the DIA had a few Van Gogh, but I noticed this one for the first time. I love the way he gouged out lines with the non-brush end of the paintbrush.

And then, after a lot of frankly insipid pastoral/Biblical scenes from a bunch of yawn-inducing French painters, I happily plunged into the dark theater of Dutch portraits. Look at the transparent cap over the woman’s bun which has its own little lace cap, the lace of her cuffs, the pleats in the ruff on her neck. The artist captures her smug, well-fed glow, like she’s basking in the light from the piles of gold coins that her husband keeps on hand.

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This landscape, so haunted and solitary.

Home Again.

After a couple of hours, we came home. Dutch masters, you are the bomb. But can you do…..this????

Just an update: I’ve felt out of sorts and grouchy all day, which was somewhat relieved by a good long whinge with my friend Joanna. She’s in England and I miss her pretty badly. Afterward, I fell asleep for 2 hours, had a hell of a time getting up, feel achy, and have a little bit of a sore throat. Unless I’m dramatically better, I’m heading in for a COVID test tomorrow morning. I’ll keep you posted.

The Marcus Aurelius Moment* for 15-July, 2020

From my Dutch husband, that art needs to be supported. Because it supports us.

*In the first part of The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius, the Roman ruler details what various people in his life have taught him. To read the full intro to why I care about Marcus Aurelius, click here.