Room 255 saved my sanity yesterday. No, I haven’t been committed to an asylum yet like the tranquil setting in Saint Remy where Vincent Van Gogh spent much of the last year of his tormented life. Boston’s cold, snowy record-breaking winter has been really bad this year, but not that bad.
Still, after a Friday morning filled with frantic phone calls to roofers and handymen to shovel off our roof before yet more snow and rain tonight, after shelling out $400 for one of the region’s heavily taxed winter workmen to climb up there and shovel for an hour, after pulling small avalanches off my garage with a 15-foot long snow rake, I declared Friday a lost workday, and Kathy and I drove to Boston’s Museum of Fine Art.
What a good decision. The museum was largely deserted and incredibly tranquil in this, our season of discontent. There was a terrific photo exhibit of some of the unpublished work of Life Magazine photographer Gordon Parks, who in 1950 documented school segregation (he was black) through what had become of his schoolmates in Fort Scott, Kansas.
After spending time with Parks’ proud and powerful photographs, I was feeling human again.
Then we came upon Room 255, home to the museum’s small but selective collection of the Impressionists, where we found a statue of one of Degas’ dancers, two Van Gogh’s from the last year of his life, and a half dozen or more of the works of Monet and Renoir. There were fields filled with coquelicots, the bright red Provencal poppies.The mountain range along the Mediterranean coastline of the Cote D’Azur. Dawn on the Seine, where the curator wrote that Claude Monet, at age 56 would go at 3:30 a.m. in 1896 to sit on a boat with his easel and wait for the sun to rise to capture the light.
We sat for 10, then 15 or perhaps 20 minutes, my thoughts turning back to last winter when each day Kathy and I would walk the mile from our apartment to the center of Aix-en-Provence during our sabbatical stay there and when spring burst forth in the poppy fields leading into the Luberon Mountains.
As more snow and ice and rain descends on snow-shocked Boston this weekend, I’m devoting more and more of my free time dreaming of a student trip I hope to lead to Aix-en-Provence this May. You know, Spring — a season when it’s not white and cold and pot-holed.
The math for this journey is simple but a bit daunting; I need to attract at least 10 participants. I’ve compiled a slideshow of Provence, bombarded would-be participants with details of the course and Provence sites, contemplated handing out my entire teaching stipend in scholarships to attract the minimum-required class size.
Even so it won’t be easy, what with the distractions of this horrid winter, a quick-turn time-frame to sign everyone up, a mid-four-figure price tag, and a brand new course description for an intensive, immersion course on language and culture based in Aix and centered around life with Provence families, classroom instruction and field trips to some of the more interesting and historic Provencal sites.
But by gosh I’m sure giving it my best effort. Until yesterday, that alone was keeping me mentally atop the mountainous snowbanks growing on the street corners and in the parks of Boston. Now I’ve found a new respite: Room 255.
The museum, we learned, honors each paid admission for 10 days. That sounds like a good reason for an encore. Next weekend, I think, I’ll once again join Monet and Renoir and make believe that this is another time and another place, somewhere among the plane trees of Provence, with the sound of laughter and the clink of wine glasses as light plays off the pastel colors of our favorite refuge in the South of France.