An Iowa boy in the Mauritshuis12/11/2019
She’s definitely looking at me. Of course, it’s just a trick of the eye. A common phenomenon. We’ve all experienced it. But still. After all the adulation, the paparazzi, the gazillion of hours devoted to her in articles and on TV shows and even in a movie, you might . . . just a minute . . . is she following me around the room now? There she goes, charming me with those glistening eyes. Lord help me.
Yup, I’m from Iowa. It is one of those small states you will never visit. We Iowans have zero pretensions about our importance, although we are a little pretentious about how unpretentious we are. To be fair to Iowans, however, one of our senior politicians was elected to the Senate based on her ability to castrate hogs. That’s pretty unpretentious.
So I’d love to write about Vermeer’s use of light and shading and interesting brush strokes. But I don’t have a clue about those things and it would be very un-Iowan for me to pretend. No matter. My Girl (and doesn’t she belong even to me?) is an emotional firebrand getting ready to burn down the house. You can talk all you want about the white dab used to make the pearl hanging from her left ear, but you might be missing the sparks flying out of her eyes. I imagine that just off canvas, right where you can’t see, she has raised her hand and dropped the microphone to the stage in an electronic roar. The crowd goes wild. She turns in triumph.
And that’s the moment when Vermeer made his painting.
The Girl with the Pearl Earring hangs in the Mauritshuis in The Hague, Netherlands. I visit her every couple of days during this trip. She doesn’t mind. Sure, I check out the Goldfinch (made even more famous by a recent movie), and Jan Steen’s jokes (I want to live in a Jan Steen home of smoking and drinking and oysters), and Frans Hals’ Laughing Boy (this painting may be the single cure for depression), and Rembrandt’s aging face (he always makes me walk a little taller). All truly amazing. But it is the Girl I go to first. Just climb up to the top floor, turn left, go through the open door, turn left again, and there she is. All yours. Unbelievable.
And when it’s time, I make my way to the museum cafe. I have vowed that whenever I go to a museum, I will stop at the museum’s cafe to savor the experience — which is secret code for having a glass of wine. The large one, please.
And the same server from years past is working the floor today, taking care of a long table of well-dressed women and two dads with kids in strollers.
She stops her work, gives me a smile and a hug, and welcomes me back. I suspect she remembers most of her customers — and their orders.
“Chardonnay?” Patty Scott says.
Patty is Dutch. She has done this kind of job for over 30 years. And she’s a pro. Every customer is taken care of with graciousness as I sit and watch her work. She takes orders, cleans tables, rescues a baby in the swinging doors, helps an older man down the stairs . . . and brings my wine.
“I want everybody to be comfortable. Even the person who is upset, I want to make their day all right.” She smiles with a refreshing directness.
And what do you think of the Girl with the Pearl Earring?
Patty laughs her deep laugh.
“I have worked here so long, this is my house. I live here with the Girl.”
And with her own twinkling eyes, Patty goes back to work.
Several years ago I was outside the Mauritshuis as the Girl was being returned after being on tour. I showed up at the front gates expecting a few curious people like myself. I foolishly thought I was one of a few admirers.
Thousands of people were there. A marching band played. The Dutch King appeared. Speeches were given. Actors dressed up as the Girl zigzagged through the crowd pausing for photographs. And on the side streets, artists painted her likeness while vendors sold Dutch sausages and breaded meats.
At last, the painting was delivered by crane in a large wooden box. We all clapped and cheered and cried. We were thrilled. Our Girl was home.
So, you may be wondering what’s all this have to do with the price of corn?
Well, I think . . . just a minute . . . is she looking at me? ♦