When I was a school girl, my sister and I would get Wednesday off school (but we had to go to class on Saturday morning). Every Wednesday, one of our parents would take us to visit a museum. This tradition stopped when I turned 10, because of choir practice, judo classes and all the musical activities my sister was doing, but for five years we would trot off, wrapped in thick winter coats or clad in summer dresses, to go to a museum. My father is an art historian (and my sister wants to be one as well), so he enjoyed taking us to galleries, wheareas my mother, also an art afficionada, was always happy to mix things up a little with science or zoological museums.
It never lasted very long. We weren't allowed to scream, run or make any kind of disturbance, so my parents understood that more than an hour would have made us implode with repressed energy. Museums for me are still sacred ground, echoing the slow footsteps of visitors, a place where you can't talk above a whisper. Paterfamilias would give us technical explanations: how did Rembrandt do his engravings? Why was the blue paint faded? How did apprentices rise up in the ranks? Who commissioned those murals?
My mother is a born story-teller and we would listen to the Greek myths, the Biblical episodes and try not to giggle, because she always added hilarious details. "Do you know who the naked lady is?" she would ask in front of stunned visitors, who then heard my then 5-year old sister make a speech on Helen of Troy.
I have wonderful memories of my first modern art exhibit, during which my aunt stared at a blank canvas entitled "White on White" and told me it was beautiful. My sister and I exchanged bewildered glances, wondering if we had an eyesight defect.
Another time, my father who is a very diffident man with British reserve, took us to the Museum of Mankind in Paris, where there was a special exhibit on demography. My sister (age 7)and I (10) took a test to guess how many children we would have.Among other fun activities, we had to chose between methods of contraception. She chose condoms, and had her chosen number of children, and I chose "withdrawal", wondering what this might mean, and discovered I was destined to have thirteen children. My poor father did not enjoy the walk home after that visit, so full of embarrassing questions were we. "Papa, how do you get vasectomies?"
After museum time, we would have hot chocolate or ice-cream. To this day, after a show or an exhibit, I long for ice-cream. It's become a reflex. Ice-cream goes really well with culture for some reason. I'm a Stracciatella girl, but I've b known to indulge in strawberry sorbet. When the family travelled in Italy, you can imagine the amount of Gelati devoured.
This summer my sister came with me to Berlin and took me to one of the art galleries. She explained many of the paintings to me, in a very didactic way, making connections between painters, telling me about the classes she had followed on such and such, and it was such fun to have a recreation of our childhood.
Whenever I see bored kids in museums, I yearn to take them with me to a fun section, sit them on my lap and tell them all the funny secrets behind the canvases or the sculptures. Like everything, art can be intimidating or boring until you meet a wonderful teacher who opens your mind.
I still don't get blank canvases though...
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