frozen saffron goodness

Before I even begin, let me explain something. I am from the south, not the deep south like Mississippi or Texas, but deep enough. My blood is thin; winter, for me, is a couple days of sunshine around 35 degrees. In Charleston, South Carolina, winter was the one day we broke out our sweaters and shorts.

Here in Richmond, winter is a little bit more harsh. Instead of one cold day, we get a day or two of ice, and then everyone runs out to the grocery store and buys milk and toilet paper because they are afraid they will never be able to leave the house again. Now I know this is not a real winter, it is not like Buffalo or Chicago, and it sure doesn't help your blood thicken any more. So, when I tell you that it was cold up in New York this past Friday, I realize my own bias.

We drove from Richmond to Manhattan over the span of 15 hours, breaking it up with a sleepover just north of Baltimore. Arriving in the Big City at about 11:45, we proceeded to drive around for about 45 minutes seeking a parking space in the general area of my brother-in-law's apartment. This, if you have ever driven into NYC, is no easy task. The thermometer in our car told us that the temperature outside was 29 degrees, the sun was shining, but there was one hitch... the wind.

With the wind, the chill creeps down into your bones. The cold cuts through denim and Polartec fleeces and leather gloves. The wind plasters cold fabric against your skin so that there is no escape from its bitterness. We parked on West Side Drive and we were still five long New York City blocks from Central Park. Those five blocks were a torturous march through a frozen wind tunnel. Even most New Yorkers stayed off the street this day. It is hard to believe that a city of millions upon millions was so vacant. I half expected a frozen tumbleweed to cross our path at any moment.

We had seen Cristo and Jeanne-Claude's exhibit on the morning news shows the weekend before. We were "live" when they began the unfurling. We watched as the metal structures awakened and took on life with the zip of a zipper. We were fascinated to say the least. So, we decided to go, there were ulterior motives of course, our four-week old niece lived a few scant blocks from Central Park, but we also wanted to see "The Gates." We wanted to be a part of history, a part of art, to wander through a living sculpture.

On this day, where the wind chill whipped into the teens, you could hear the gates as much as you could see them. As we crossed the street, around 96th street, we could see them begin to line up before our eyes. A neverending parade of saffron colored soldiers standing tall in the wind and cold. We took our first pictures the moment we saw them. Bundled up in our winter gear we posed beneath the backlit saffron fabric and smiled frozen smiles for the camera.

Then we took to wandering. We found ourselves walking up a hill. My goal was a glimpse into the scope of the project. To find out the immensity of what stood stoically before me. I found myself taking surreal pictures of layer upon layer of flapping fabric. Even now, as I look back at the pictures, I can see that we captured only a fraction of the art, a subjective piece of the places we found interesting and important.

My wife and I wandered south, weaving in and out of the gates. We snapped pictures of them as they waved to us in the frozen wind. At times, we would wander away from them and we would suddenly feel naked and stripped before the world. We would see and hear the frozen saffron goodness call out to us, begging us to return to the paths laid before. Hypnotic and welcoming the gates would beckon us to return and spend time beneath them. And so we continued to wander, past the reservoir, past the great lawn, on to Belvedere Castle, and through the brambles, we wandered and wondered beneath gate after gate.

In the end, we found ourselves about 25 blocks from our beginning point. The cold was miserable, but we found warmth walking together, snapping pictures that would remind us of this time in history, our time in history together. Looking back, these gates bring a number of images to mind.

First, they remind me of open windows, where sheer fabric hangs down blowing softly in the breeze. These are the bright lazy summer days in the south. Times before air conditioners where people knew people and salty sweet breezes cooled ancient homes and their occupants.

Second, the gates were, for me, an open door. The fabric impedes nothing and merely waves to all who wander before them. They are indiscriminate occupants thrust upon the land. They see no color, no race, no religion, no handicap, no sexual orientation or gender, they are ambassadors to all. Their welcoming words are carried along by the wind for all who pass near enough to hear. The gates are nothing without the people that they welcome. They hold little significance without the men, women, and children who wander beneath them, marveling at their appearance on the land.

We spent a scant three hours wandering in the frozen tundra, sharing space with these magnificent windows of the world. At this moment in my life, I have never spent a more meaningful time with art, not at the Louvre, not in museums in D.C., New York, or Atlanta. Art, in this form, was malleable and moving and it made us want to be near it, to touch the cold metal and slap the fabric as it beckoned us. I know that this was time well spent, because when I was there, time no longer mattered.

grace and peace



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