Monday, September 3, 2007

Palace in the Clouds

Time does scamper away from us, and I am not getting any younger for sure. My face is no longer so fresh, my skin no longer so smooth, and my body is starting to show a bit of embonpoint. Sometimes I look at younger men with their good looks and glowing health and feel a pang of regret, but then I think that they are most likely full of wrong ideas, wasting time and energy to chase after illusions. A couple of centuries ago some Frenchman -- how come it is always these darn Frenchmen who said wise things, in this case Victor Hugo if I'm not mistaken -- said that it was the young who had good looks and the old who had wisdom. I am right at the middle, neither young nor old, does that mean I'm both good-looking and wise? It could be the other way around though, meaning that I am not young enough to look good but still not old enough to possess wisdom. Quite a comforting thought.

Just the other day I was riding in my buddy Joe's SUV passing a racetrack in a suburb of Philadelphia, and he remarked to me, "I've wasted a lot of time at that racetrack." "But Joe," I protested, "you were young and you made mistakes, it just comes with being young." I wasn't entirely truthful to Joe, because in my younger days I'd rarely made that kind of mistakes, but then I'd also missed out all the fun and the opportunities to learn from life.

Which brings me back to last Saturday, most of which I spent at the National Gallery of Art in Washington. There was a set of paintings by a nineteenth century American artist named Thomas Cole, which is called "The Voyage of Life". This set has four parts, sequentially named "Childhood", "Youth", "Manhood" and "Old Age". In each part man is depicted being in a boat, but the interesting thing about "Youth" is the guy raising his arm as if in salute towards a magnificient palace hanging in the air.

That palace would come down in the "Manhood" painting, but of course the fresh-faced guy in "Youth" wouldn't know about that.

"Youth" by Thomas Cole (1842)

No comments:

Post a Comment