As a child I spent a lot of time in art museums. My parents were culture vultures and we traveled a lot in Europe, including a year in Paris and some summers in Italy, France, and England. From the age of 7 to 14 I tagged along to every church, museum, archaeological site, castle, and concert in the First World.
Despite my strong desire to run in circles and eat sweets, I enjoyed high culture as a child. I could sit staring at a favorite artist’s work for a long time, and even if I didn’t like the stuff it was a fun game to learn all about it. For an agnostic I know way too much about Catholic saints to this day. There were downsides to this life (my mother would delay lunch way, way too long if the museum was good), but on the whole I was happy.
My favorites were Henri Rousseau’s big, colorful, naive paintings; Monet, especially the biggest ones; Arp’s shiny sculptures; Caravaggio’s paintings; and, although we never visited any of those countries, almost anything from Asia.
I have a particular memory of sitting in front of a large bronze Buddha. The museum atmosphere was sterile and white, and the only sound was that of the hygrometer occasionally ticking in the corner. The gallery was mostly empty. I sat on a wooden bench slightly too high for me, so that my legs swung, and looked up at him. I think this must have been a Nepalese or Indian Buddha, because he had the half-twisted little wry smile I associate with Hindu art. His patina’d hand was held up in the Buddhist benediction sign. I wanted to be that statue, and for an hour or so I thought I almost was, under my own personal Bo tree, unmoved.
That experience is in the library now, and I can go there when I need it. I’ll never be a Buddhist, but I can go back to that moment in a forgotten museum and sit on that bench next to Buddha and be still any time it’s necessary.