The Forty-Niner

On Sunday, Eric and I took a day trip to Santa Barbara. We visited the Santa Barbara Museum of Art and, while it is partially closed, we thoroughly enjoyed the pieces that are currently being exhibited. 

My favorite was a painting of a gold rush miner sitting in a small cabin, his dog nuzzling him. The young man reads a letter, and the dog stares lovingly at him. No surprise that it was my favorite. I read the placard on the wall. The artist Ernest Narjot, until yesterday unknown to me, had been a young man who was part of the California gold rush. In fact, apparently, the gold rush is what inspired him to leave his native France and go west. 


When I got home, I googled this painting in hopes of finding a crisper image. I couldn’t find one. What’s up, internet? What I did find were a few more biographical details about Ernest Narjot. How he wasn’t exactly the most successful gold rusher. And how now, many decades later, he is most known for his gold rush paintings. AND, most of his gold rush paintings were done in his later years, with a nostalgic element prominent in those works. It’s certainly here in this lovely portrait. He painted The Forty-Niner in 1881, when he was 55, a middle aged man looking back on another time. 

Time flies, I know. Seems just yesterday, I was a young man leaving my own home and traveling far away in my own hopes of striking another kind of gold. Because today is September 11, I searched my old photos to find an old picture of me with the World Trade Center in it. I found a picture from 1991, from my first visit to New York, on a trip where I fell in love with the city the second I crossed the Holland Tunnel. 

I was on a mission trip with my Bible college. I wanted more than anything to live in New York but I didn’t know if I would ever be brave enough to make such a big move. Clearly, it was a grim day, all clouds and some rain, but still to me, paradise. Less than a year after this trip, I was living in New York. There is a part of me that will always feel that the day I moved to New York is the day my life started. 

So, today, on September 11, I reflect on the great tragedy of that day, the lives lost,  the people affected in New York and Washington and Boston and everywhere else.  We say we will never forget and I hope we never will. 

But also, on a lighter note, I reflect on young Ernest Narjot who in 1849, left his own version of Kansas and moved to his own version of New York and then, eventually, created beautiful paintings that touched the hearts of wayfarers (and dog lovers) for years to come. 

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Guest Blogger, Michele Medlin Laikowski: Mr. Blue Sky

3451142218_b62b4a8380_zWhen I was at the William Inge Festival last Spring, I attended a symposium where the topic of 9/11 came up. A Kansas playwright posed the question, “Did 9/11 personally affect you?” Perhaps because I once lived in New York and have friends that still live there, I was shocked by the question initially, I believed that 9/11 affected everyone. But as the people in the room weighed in, I realized many felt that 9/11 was something very sad, a tragedy to be sure, but not something that affected their day to day lives.

On the morning of 9/11, my Mother woke me up with the phone call telling me that the twin towers had already fallen and that the Pentagon had been attacked. I remember my sleepy brain trying to process what she was saying, it was unreal. And one of my Mother’s most pressing concerns was whether I had talked to my good friend Michele, who at one time had worked at the World Trade Center. This is something my Mother reminded me of on Monday when we were talking about 9/11. So, prompted by the conversation with my Mother and remembering the discussion at the Inge Festival, I asked Michele if she would share on my blog, her memories of that day. Whether you were on Manhattan or 1190 or 2451 or any other number of miles away from that island, I still believe 9/11 affected all of us.

Mr. Blue Sky

On September 11th, 2001, I was early for work. Not particularly unheard of at the time but of note because otherwise, I’d have missed seeing the events come to fruition as they unfolded. I worked at JP Morgan. We had news on 24/7 because the bankers needed to see what the money would do that day. So, coming in, a little early – changing from my sneakers to my heels – sitting in my cube, I heard the panic first in the news reporters voices and then I heard it in the voices of the other employees who were watching and then, I went to the little screen and heard it from the voice in my head. You’ve all seen it, I’m assuming, so you know that feeling of horror and disbelief I experienced. Still to this day, I find it hard to believe. That kind of horror belongs in a picture show and it should have a giant monster behind it – not misguided men who have hate like a tidal wave, flowing out of them. No one should have that much hate. It’s ironic then that what they did that day while hateful bred love that is what I remember most from that period.

Anyway, the day went on and it became apparent that this wasn’t a mistake and the panic in my head made its way out to voicing my concerns to my boss that perhaps, staying put in midtown Manhattan, was possibly not the best option. He tried for business as usual for several hours until he realized that the trains were stopping to run out of Grand Central and he’d be stuck, like the rest of us, on this island. So he hoofed it to the train to his lovely home in Westchester. We got to leave around 10:30/11, my friend, Leigh, who was a temp for some clothing company was forced to stay until something insane like 2 … BECAUSE WHAT IF SOMEONE CALLED THERE. Her location was right next to the Empire State building. We were on the phone for hours until you couldn’t get a signal any more. In retrospect, it may not have been hours. Having a clear view of that day, years later is fraught with half-truths, I’m sure, it’s so hard to know a timeframe beyond once the towers were hit. She was also my neighbor so as soon as she got off, we got together and smoked a ton of cigarettes and drank beer and if it weren’t so awful, it would have been an amazing day. The weather was absolutely perfect. There wasn’t a cloud up in the sky. Well, except for the clouds of smoke that billowed towards us from downtown, the clouds of people grey people making their way home and the clouds of war eminent on the horizon. But, those clouds, were dissipated by the amount of pure love that we all felt for each other that day. I have never in my life seen or felt anything like it. It started on September 11th and it lasted for a month, 2 months – just this feeling of kindness flooding the streets. I don’t wish for this to happen again, it goes without saying, but I would adore to feel that love once more. This will be the 12th year since it happened and for the most part, the majority of NY’ers have moved on and brushed passed it but every year at 8:46 AM, a shiver runs through all of us.