August 11, 2015

Last Saturday Turned Out To Be an "I Love My Life" Day

Once upon a time, I could handle Washington's hot, humid summers. Even on the worst days, I'd be with the "mad dogs and Englishmen," biking "out in the midday sun."

But for several years now, those extremes of summer enervate me. Quite a few times, I've nearly fainted outside in the heat. So, the usual questions arise: Is it Parkinson's? Is it aging? Is it my carbidopa-levodopa medication?

From July into early August, we had 13 consecutive days with sky-high humidity and temperatures 90+. During that spell, I left my air-conditioned house only when I could get right into an air-conditioned car. And I did that only to attend my senior bridge game and Parkinson's support group meeting. Back-porch time came only at breakfast.

The heat wave finally broke, and on Saturday I spent several hours enjoying the back porch. My housemates had invited some friends over later that afternoon for a cookout. So I decided the day presented a great opportunity to get out of the house, get some exercise, and do something fun.

But where to go? Someplace where I could have lunch, then take my usual after-lunch nap... then walk someplace interesting where I also could take breaks, reading and relaxing.

After 60 years living in Washington, I knew exactly where to go.

The National Gallery of Art
And I knew exactly what to do there.

I've always enjoyed lunching in the Gallery's cafeteria with its glassed-in waterfall:

I like the museum's garden courts at both ends of the gallery, where greenery and sculpture provide a restful haven... a haven I can enjoy in a comfortable chair.

I read for a while in the East Garden Court, close to the cafeteria.

Then I moved to the West Garden Court and did what these guys are doing:

The Smithsonian offers free concerts in this court on Sunday evenings.

As I walked the gallery, I stopped to pay my respects to my favorite painter, Vermeer.

Vermeer at the National Gallery
The National Gallery has three of the 34 paintings attributed to Vermeer and one picture of unconfirmed provenance. The two paintings at left below are definitely Vermeer's. Experts "think" the painting at right is his.

Here's "The Lady Writing," the gallery's other Vermeer:

Johannes Vermeer - A Lady Writing - Google Art Project.jpg

I just checked my book. Of Vermeer's 34 paintings, I've seen 26. One painting was stolen in 1990 from the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston.

Leaving Vermeer, I entered a room showing some of the gallery's Rembrandts. Unlike many museums, the National Gallery offers seating. So I sat on the couch and took these photos without leaving the comfort of my seat.

I always thought the painting below was a self-portrait of the artist as an old man. I just checked: Rembrandt was only 54 years old here. But he had just suffered financial failure after many years of success. His large house and other possessions had been auctioned off the previous year to pay his debts.

He died ten years later.

Then I walked to the West exit and caught a cab home. 

After another nap, I made a cup of coffee and headed upstairs to the reading chair in my bedroom as my housemates' guests began to arrive for the cookout.

I love having young people in the house. Their chatter is like background music... and not at all distracting to me since it's another language -- Nepali.

Then -- spontaneously -- I said to myself:

"I Love My Life "
Such "outbursts" have surprised me on many occasions. But they never happened before 1978, when I was still a practicing alcoholic and closeted gay.

I recall an especially powerful example from about 25 years ago. I had just returned from an autumn bike ride on the C&O canal towpath to Great Falls, Maryland. I paused with my bike at the top of the driveway and was struck by an overwhelming feeling of happiness. Involuntarily, and with nobody else around to hear, I said "I love my life!"

These poignant feelings don't occur during "big deal" occasions in my life, like seeing the Taj Mahal at dawn. Instead, they seem to happen in more "ordinary" circumstances, when I'm just biking or walking or sitting and contemplating.

And they don't happen all that frequently these days. So, Saturday was a good day.

Sunday started off fine. But by the end of the day, I felt like shit.

And so it goes.

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