Mrs. Bellejambes and I are members of The High Museum. I visit three or four times a year, and manage to wrangle the odd out of town visitor in as a price of our hospitality. The original Richard Meier building of 1983 houses the permanent collection. The exteriors and cold and austere, but the interiors provide terrific sightlines and ample space for both creative works and the people who like to contemplate them.
Four years ago, a friendlier Renzo Piano extension doubled the gallery footprint . The High became more suitable for blockbuster events like the Terra Cotta Army, and other such migratory exhibits that make cash registers clang and belch smoke. Their coffers have been considerably padded of late through its long standing association with the Musée du Louvre, whose masterpieces of pre-revolutionary statuary, portraiture, furniture and the random spoils of empire have helped drive a staggering 1.3 million curious people more or less voluntarily into a place of learning in the last few years.
The place is a real gift. And a place I have meant to visit for quite some time in Petra mode. Occasion presented itself yesterday, as I had a couple of hours free before a visit with a friend on a perfect, warm spring day and so I want to share with you today a pleasant adventure.
The courtyard was busy with sun-worshippers, the patio lounge at Café 1280 was thrumming, and I was clearly the most fully dressed patron of the arts to be seen. Shorts and ball caps, sundresses and sandals were the the dominant fashion look, but not for your correspondent. I was the one in the half-sleeved ruched neckline blouse tucked into a 17” wool/lycra blend I.N.C. skirt with a couple of pounds of brass detailing bias-zipped neatly over the Hue black micro-mesh tights. While it was warm enough to go without a jacket, I was not bold enough to show that much arm.
With an exhibition of John Portman buildings and pictures on presently, I thought I might pass as an architect or designer of some variety. At the very least I was passing as someone who has absolutely no spring wardrobe. And passing quite well, thank you vey much, attracting no undue attention from my fellow patrons until an interesting thing happened.
I walked up to the Members wicket in the main foyer, and the smiling woman behind the counter greeted me with:
“I remember you from when you joined”.
Keep in mind, dear friends, a couple of things here. We joined several years ago. I did mention the 1.3 million visitors just a moment ago, right? I was dressed then in my more typical drab gear. I do not consider myself to possess any real distinguishing facial characteristics. I was 3” shorter that day not being perched on a nice set of heels. You would think that with the make-up, with longish bangs obscuring much of my face, and a couple of mitt-fulls of neck, wrist and finger bling, that it would be hard for a stranger to match these two very distinct visitors, but evidently not.
“Wow, you are good. What’s your name?” said I as I tendered my membership card.
“Teesha. I remembered your wife more clearly, but I do remember you.
That made some sense to me. My wife stands out. I get a lot of scrutiny along the lines of.. “how the hell did they happen?”.
And with a little thought I remembered that myself and Teesha did have a nice little chat when I signed up, but we were merely two amongst hundreds jamming the building on the last day of an Annie Leibowitz exhibition. Good god, what sort of recall do you have to possess to pull two faces from memory and imagine one of them in a different gender presentation?
This encounter set off a cascade of neural activity. I had never thought of my personal Clark Kent / Wonder Woman pair as a natural match. They seem to be from such different shores, and possessed of such unique characteristics. These two halves are integral to me yes, and after a few decades of labor I have managed to put them together (ed. such a nice couple too) but I have the advantage of familiarity with myself.
I have always quite happily run the risk of bumping into someone who knows the everyday me while out en femme, and never weighed the “risk” as anything more than trivial. I am pretty good at mastering urges to run flailing like a mad bastard, or to freeze, bunny-like in the glare of predators, thereby attracting the wrong sort of attention. I am mindful of my physical presence, and never more so than when dressed: I know where the exits are. Barely recognizing myself when Petra takes over the surfaces, I never felt as though anyone else would.
So doesn’t that just beat hell out of everything? We just never stop learning.
Be assured, I was very much south of being rattled by the encounter. Amazed yes, but not rattled. Teesha was just warm and natural, clearly in love with her work, and happy to see a smiling and (oddly) familiar face. Perhaps as well she was happy to see a visitor to her temple of beauty so engaged as I was in my own act of creativity and artistic expression.
What we do is creative after all. There is much art in uncovering who we are, and embellishing our canvasses in a way that pleases the senses.
Less artistic matters however press in on me just now. I will continue with your tour of The High tour here in the next day or so.
Happy dressing and everything else….