Thursday, February 04, 2016

*****Pleasure and Piety-The Story Of Perseus And Andromeda-With The Dutch Painter Joachim Wtewael In Mind

*****Pleasure and Piety-The Story Of Perseus And Andromeda-With The Dutch Painter Joachim Wtewael In Mind


From The Pen Of Sam Lowell


No question Jack Callahan was tired unto death of being Mr. Toyota of Eastern Massachusetts (and a couple of times being Mr. New England Toyota when he ripped up the 1998 and 2000 Camry record book just like he had when he was the star running back of the 1967 State Class B football champions at his alma mater, North Adamsville High, his rushing records mostly still intact to this day even against a guy in the 1980s who went on to play professional ball for the Steelers). Tired of hustling cars after almost forty years in the business once he could not play football anymore when he had hurt his knee so bad against Boston College when he played for State U that even the starving for recruits (read “grunts,” cannon-fodder and you are not far from the truth) Army gave him a pass. Jack had grown utterly tired of having to spent every waking hour (and some sleeping hours to) worrying about monthly quotas, about whether his sales staff was “pulling his chain” when number crunch time came and he had to finagle the books to keep the whole fucking operation (Jack’s term) running. And tired of hearing Mrs. Toyota Chrissie (nee McNamara), his high school sweetheart nagging him about turning the reins over to somebody else and let them live a little. Not good company policy but a heart-felt cry from the deep.  (Yeah, for every Mr. there has to be a Mrs., or Ms., so recognized officially by the company and in these days of same-sex marriage the Mrs. could be replaced by another Mr. or visa versa for the female version of the marriage arrangement and nobody would bat an eye since gays, lesbians, trans-genders, bi-sexuals, queers, and whatever other sexual orientations there are buy cars, need transportation to get on with their lives and it might as well be in a safe as a bug in a rug Toyota).

No, if that is what you are thinking, neither Jack nor Chrissie are tired of each other, looking to play the field or any other of the things they had heard that happen to some 60-somethings once the kids leave, once the nest goes empty, or once they recognize their own mortality and flip out to do all the lampshade on the head things they have avoided as inappropriate when they were rising above their parents’ station and hoping to push the kids even further up the hill.

To the contrary Chrissie has always been, is, Jack’s rock and visa versa and that core truth has been the basis of their relationship ever since sophomore year in high school. Since the day, night really, when smart-as-a-whip Chrissie decided that she had had enough of Saturday afternoon falling leaves granite grey skies hero football player Jack taking his peeks at her (and she at him) and not doing a damn thing about it and had gone to Salducci’s Pizza Parlor where Jack hung out with his corner boys on Friday nights goofing off and planted herself in Jack’s lap. Even at the 40th class reunion a few years back Jimmy Jenkins, another corner boy, remembered that long ago night vividly and made everybody at the reunion once again aware of the situation because the look in Chrissie face then said that it would take the whole football team to get her off Jack’s lap. And Frankie Riley, the self-proclaimed but undisputed king of the corner boy night, chimed in and said that the look on Jack’s face said that it would take the whole football team, throw in the junior varsity and the water boys too, to get Chrissie off his lap.

Yeah, it was that way for both of them. They were solid but Chrissie just wanted to get out from under the grind, go a few places that were not company-tainted, go get some culture (pronounced cultuah or something like that in Boston). So one week, for a few days, Jack agreed to go to Washington to visit the art museums and the like. Just the two of them, just for the pleasure of looking at some paintings that have withstood the test of time and fashion.

On a nice spring day for Washington before the cherry blossoms faded Jack and Chrissie could be seen walking arm in arm with a little skip in their step toward the Seventh Avenue entrance to the National Museum of Art. Now you might think that a guy like Jack, a former jock, a former corner boy (or maybe not so former when the surviving members of the Salducci’s Pizza Parlor crew get together and toss down a few at friendly Jack’s Grille in Cambridge where Jimmy Jenkins lives), not much of a student, and a guy who earned his dough hustling cars would give a rat’s ass about art (Jack’s expression carried over from corner boy times when if you did not give a damn about something that was the expression de jus). But you would be wrong because you would not have factored in the effect that the late Salducci’s Pizza Parlor corner boy Peter Paul Markin dubbed “The Scribe” by Frankie Riley and everybody else picked it up had on Jack Callahan (and the others as well if the truth be known).

Now Markin came to a bad end down in Mexico back in the 1970s when the “wanting habits” hanging over him from his poverty-stricken youth got the best of him over a busted drug deal the details of which never were made clear by the authorities there except to warn everybody off. But in his corner boy days, the sunnier days of the 1960s when he/they thought a new breeze was coming to open things up even for poor ass corner boys he was the fountain of knowledge for about two thousand arcane facts that made him smart in that circle. His whole point then, or most of it, was to use such information to try to impress every girl who would stand still long enough to hear him out (and a few did and not just nerdy girls either). And Markin took Jack up as a special case, as a guy who was going to college for the wrong reasons, to just play football and make State U famous, when he should be imbibing some culture and make everybody really look up to him  (on that culture thing you already know how they pronounce it around Boston). Yeah, you can see even then Markin had his quirky side since half the world could give a rat’s ass about culture however you pronounced it.

So Markin and Jack would go up to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston on the QT and look at the masterworks of all the civilizations who put paint to canvas (or chisel to marble or whatever they used to leave a record that they existed and had dreams of eternity too). And Jack loved it (on the QT of course). Loved it too later when Chrissie and he would go to museums like the Getty or Metropolitan on days when they were not attending some Toyota regional or national conference. So Jack had actually been looking forward to the experience since he had not been in the building for about thirty years. Especially wanted to see the Impressionists that he had always been fascinated by.

After getting by the mandatory security check Jack and Chrissie noticed that there was special exhibition by a Flemish painter, a painter named Joachim Wteweal (that is how he thought the name was spelled when he later told Frankie Riley about the experience) neither had ever heard of but the brochure advertising the exhibition looked promising with a photograph of a painting showing a rich palette of colors somewhat unusual for Flemish painters who tended toward the darker sober colors of the wheel. So they headed to the far end of the building on the second floor where the exhibition was staged.

Some of the paintings by Wteweal were in the tradition of the Dutch school, you know portraits of the senile burgers of the country who felt a need to show their greedy little faces to posterity. Some were the nature and food scenes that those self-same burgers loved to show in their houses.  And some were the drawn from Greek and Roman myths always a welcome subject after centuries of holy-shrine Mother and Virgin or death of Christ stuff that was getting to be pretty thin gruel for the better educated and free-spirited artists who survived the Renaissance and the Reformation without facing the lord high executioner or the Inquisition.  It was an example of the latter, a painting from Greek mythology about Perseus rescuing Andromeda that mesmerized Jack that day, had him thinking about what Markin would have said about it and also how it fit in with everything about his growing up times. Maybe too why it took his love Chrissie something like a personal civil war to get him to confess how he felt about her that Salducci’s Friday night.

Naturally it was not until later that Jack found out by looking it up on Wikipedia what the story behind the painting was about. About how Andromeda had offended the gods, or her parents had going on and on about how beautiful she was, and the handmaidens to the gods took a nutty. Thereafter as “penance” Andromeda was chained, chained naked, according to every account (and every painting done on the subject since Wteweal was hardly the first or only painting who saw something exciting in the myth to draw on) to be left on the barren forsaken shoreline some place for a sea monster to have for lunch or whatever sea monsters do with human sacrifices (nothing good from the human skulls which litter the ground beneath Andromeda’s feet). Of course no beauty, whether she upsets some old hags or some other beauty in mythology or modern novels or in Hollywood is going to be lunch for some ugly mist-breathing sea monster. That is where Perseus comes to the rescue and of course slays the dragon. And unchains the fair Andromeda, perhaps. They naturally live happily ever after producing something like seven sons and a couple of daughters so they had a very active sex life. In the end Andromeda got to be immortal and got a constellation in the night skies named after her (and some funky NASA project too so her fame was not fleeting after fifteen minutes).

Jack admitted that at the time he saw the painting none of that latter information entered into his fascination about Andromeda and her chains. What struck him was the whole idea that in the 16th century artists working for some patron (or patroness) felt comfortable enough to paint a frontal female nude showing all her private parts when until fairly recently such nudes were considered pornography or worse (that worse being some make-shift S&M thing with the chains and the devilish sea monster lurking about). Could show her in that condition for what could only have been meant for a private collector. So a mixture of awe, childhood modesty, some perverse sexual thoughts and some “what would Markin say” got all mixed in that day. He returned to the painting several times and even Chrissie who knew what a modest guy he was around women, although not in her bed once they got around to that shortly after that lap episode at Salducci’s, whispered in his ear that he was a “dirty old man.”

Okay, Jack confessed that might have been part of it but a lot of it was about that Catholic upbringing that they all had been brought up on which skewered what they thought about sex, or thought that they thought. Here is how bad it was one time. The class in seventh grade when Jack first met Markin went on a field trip to the Museum of Science in Boston and while there they came across an exhibition of  female figure showing all her parts (nude in other words). Jack couldn’t look at the figure, grew red in the face when Markin noticed he refused to look at her. Then Markin with his two thousand facts (a few wrong on this occasion) proceeded to tell Jack all about the female anatomy in scientific terms things which previously were left to schoolyard terminology (cunt, pussy, boobs, ass, tits and so on) without knowing what that all represented. So some things don’t change so much (although Chrissie who had an older married sister who she confided in didn’t let that condition go on for long) but that day Jack had the sneaking suspicion that the painter Wteweal really was painting the scene for his own pleasure. And he wished, wished to high heaven that the Protestant Reformation had been more successful. Yeah, Markin would have agreed with that sentiment.                                                


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