Visiting the Art Museum. On A Quest
Harold’s friends were talking about a new exhibit at the art museum.
“It’s really cool,” Pete had said, “You’ve never seen anything like it. Contemporary photo exhibit, from American artists. No joke.”
Cut off from the outside world, these college kids had never seen anything from a Western country. They thought their friends were playing tricks on them.
But they had nothing to loose. With free entrance to the museum, and nothing fun to do, Harold and Edith decided to check it out. They walked the few blocks to the old palace turned art museum during the communist rule.
As they entered their favorite building in town, they searched for a poster or some other advertisement for the new exhibit. However, they did not find any.
“I knew they were tricking us. I wonder why they wanted us to come here,” mused Harold.
“Who cares? Let’s go see if they switched any of the works around.,” answered Edith.
They entered the palace, where the ancient plush red carpet still absorbed their footsteps. The marble staircase, the golden moldings on the walls and windows reminded them of an era they had not been part or, of an old world where beauty and true art had been treasured.
Soon they forgot about their original quest as they walked through the rooms, admiring the paintings from past centuries. Finally, almost at closing time, they set off to leave.
The Exhibit Does Exist
If they had left any earlier, they would not have noticed the light streaming from under the cracked door to the palace basement. They knew the place well, since Harold had exhibited his paintings there in the past. The art school had the use of the basement hall for its student exhibits. As far as they knew, no-one was exhibiting at the time, but they could be wrong.
The door was slightly cracked. Curious, they pushed it open.
Once inside, they finally noticed a poster advertising the photo exhibit they had been seeking. The girl at the counter looked up, waved them in and got back to her reading.
They knew they had to hurry since closing time was only minutes away. They felt rushed, but knew that they would return. The photos were so different than anything they have ever seen before. The artists played with light, with exposure times, even juxtaposing images. Some of the landscape seemed out of this world.
Edith saw one photo she just couldn’t leave. As she stood in front of it, she had the distinct feeling that she needed to go there. She was just staring at the rugged landscape, red rocks in unreal shapes in the distance, towering in the middle of flat land and red sand. She never imagined such a place existed, so desolate, seemingly devoid of life, yet so beautiful. Two structures with doorways suggested that someone lived there. Or had lived in a distant past.
Looking at the photo, she felt the heat radiating from the ground, the loneliness of the people who lived there. The buildings reminded her of the yurts that her nomad ancestors had used. She knew by looking at the shadows that the photographer took the picture at sunset. The doorways were facing East, towards the rising sun, the way she knew from her readings that her own ancestors, sun worshippers, had built their homes.
This can’t be a real photograph, she thought. The land is too flat, the sand is too red, there is barely any vegetation, the rocks and these ancient buildings look unreal. The artist had to use some type of trick to get this image. There is no way landscape like this exists. People don’t live in yurts or yurt-like homes any more.
Yet she knew it was real, more real to her than anything she’d ever seen before. She felt a sense of belonging to this wild place, to this rugged, inhospitable land. She needed to see it in real life, to live there, to experience the heat, the absolute rough beauty of it.
Harold came looking for her at closing time. The girl at the counter didn’t see anyone leave. The guards who later came to help him look, were stunned. No one has ever disappeared from the museum before. Yet they did not find a trace of Edith.
They searched for her for years. Finally they gave up. Her family mourned her as if dead.
Ten Years Later
The same exhibit came to town again. and Harold went to see it. This time he brought his parents and his own family.
He found the photo of the landscape that he last saw Edith staring at. In addition to the buildings, it now included a few people. A family was walking out of the bigger round building, the one he knew now as a hogan, a traditional Navajo home. The mother looked like an older version of his long-lost sister. She looked right at Harold and smiled, then stepped out of the photo with three kids and a stranger following her.
“We came to visit”, she said. “We can stay as long as the exhibit is in town. Meet my family.”
I grew up in Transylvania, where I spoke Hungarian at home, Romanian in school. I wanted to be a writer. But writers didn't exist in the Socialist Republic of Romania. With every word censored, no one could write, so I studied math and computer programming instead.
Now I live in the Sonoran Desert. I travel and write.
And sometimes I work as a translator.