(Or How I Went to London to Find a Greek God and All I Found Was A God-Damn Greek)
One day, I woke up and passed a magical threshold that I didn’t even know existed. At 20 years,10 months and 17 days old I was but a girl. The ones who tried to flirt with me, pick me up in clubs and honk at me from their trucks were around my age, or in their late twenties at most. Then, on that apparently crucial day that began like any other, I woke up, walked from my flat in Islington to my work in Archway, and somehow on the way became fair game for any man not on a respirator. All at once, and ever after, being hit on by men in their 40s, 50s and 60s was alarmingly common. Men older than my father would leer at me. Men with no hair and few teeth would call me “Babe,” and attempt to place a meaty hand on my thigh. Without my consent or understanding, something had changed, and I was now considered appropriate trophy wife material. (Go me?)
On that crucial day, after work I had decided to go putter around in the National Gallery located in Trafalgar square.. I arrived at the marble steps leading up to the museum at about 7:30, and so had only a short hour and a half to wander the halls and enjoy the sights. I entered the building and noticed a tour guide was just undertaking yet another trip, leading around a gaggle of tourists with cameras, British children in uniforms, and teenagers with brightly dyed hair and enough piercings to be considered cyborgs. I half-followed the tour and listened to the Indian woman give lilting tidbits about various paintings, and half wandered on my own. I was having a wonderful time of it, seeing paintings and recognizing them, not just the title of the painting or the artist, but sometimes even knowing the date it was painted. I was shocked by my own subconscious knowledge, and finally figured out it was due to a painting book my mother got me when I was little. I decided on the next Skype call I had with her I would inform her she raised me right.
I once again join the tour and was looking at Dutch scenes from everyday life; a Vermeer of a woman sitting at a piano
, her blue dress billowing around her, and a Maes
depicting a chiaroscuro
maid, wearily sitting, the pots and pans to be scrubbed around her. I had already marveled at the perfect perspective box
(you looked in the side and even though the bisecting canvases were flat, the illusion of depth was complete), when a man came up to me and tapped me on the shoulder.
Pieter Janssens' Perspective Box Painting
I turned around and saw a middle aged guy with receding silvery black hair, tan skin and a short stature. He looked a little like a wooden marionette, with jerky hand movements and skinny limbs. The man said, “Are you part of this tour? You look a little old to be part of a school group.”I explained to him I was working in London, a tourist, really, and what’s worse, an American. He laughed and told me he was Greek, working in London himself as a medical translator. His name was Nikolas. He started to explain how he made a good amount of money, very good for a translator. He also emphasized that this meant his English was good. I began to get slightly uneasy. The tour had moved on to French Impressionism, and here I was, still with the Dutch genre paintings, talking to Greek man, in Britain.
“This has been lovely, but I really want to continue to look at these paintings, and the museum closes in about a half an hour,” I said, after twenty minutes or so.
“Alright,” he said amicably, blinking like an excited owl, “We can look at the paintings, and then get a drink after.” I was now the one that was blinking.
“Are you trying to pick me up?” I blurted out, sounding stupid and rude. A light-bulb went on in my head, blinking in Morse code Duh, you idiot.
He looked genuinely confused. “You are talking to me and seem to enjoy the conversation. You are beautiful, and I am wealthy. It is dinner and drinks hour. Why shouldn’t we continue our conversation?”I hesitated, still wrapping my mind around the fact, that yes, this man who looked to be my father’s age saw me in a sexual light. He smiled at me timidly, waiting for my answer. I suddenly felt sorry for him. It had to be difficult, getting older.
“Why don’t we leave this as a magical moment,” I began gently. “Two strangers who met, said hello, and said goodbye in a museum, both of them a long way from home. Remembering the other fondly as the moment passed.” I stuck out my hand. “It was a pleasure meeting you, Nikolas.”
He looked a little sad. “And you too, fair American.” And he drifted off into the room full of German woodcuts, his hands in his pockets.
I silently rejoined the tour. That encounter would be the first of many instances of much older men trying to pick me up, but it is the only meeting I do remember with some sweetness, and a little remorse.
It has been difficult, getting older.