I learned something this week, in Provincetown. Not that that’s unusual. Quite the opposite, actually.
I learned more about the definition of Hospitality. That definition that I’ve been chasing for quite some time. What I discovered was that it does not have to include a huge or elaborate or fancy or, even, correct meal. It only has to include the idea that welcoming friends and strangers into one’s home is the most basic of human gestures.
In fact, it recognizes quite a few universal needs….nourishment, contact, interaction, relaxation, safety….love.
So thank you for the ill-received fried shrimp, shell-on. Thank you for the the grunts and groans and non-communication as you sat at your computer making lists each morning. Thank you for the reluctantly-accepted, spur-of-the-moment invitation that turned out to be a delightful evening and the impetus for new, lasting friendships. And thank you, for the hug, the recognition, the “hey John Brown!” and the embrace of the newest addition to my life.
I’ve said before that a restaurant can change one’s life.
I may might not have specified which restaurant, and I think perhaps I was thinking collectively: Prune, TopFlr, La Tavola, Osteria al Doge, Devon’s.
Tonight, my thinking was reaffirmed. I ate with Kris at the bar at LaTavola. I dined solo. Kris, my friend and former co-worker, poured my drinks. She was happy, in a good space despite recent loss. We talked about life and important things and reconnected and realized our love for each other and our friends. And this place. This service. This process. This family.
And I dined in what I consider a holy temple.
A temple of friendship, hospitality, encouragement, forgiveness, creativity, refuge and respite.
And a place that continues to inform my life.
It’s odd that two buildings cast such permanent shadows. Somewhere there’s a picture of me on the roof of one of them, looking at a tight-rope artist’s signature on the window washing rail. In this one, taken 8 or 9 years later, I’m standing a bridge watch onboard the USS MacDonough, sailing into New York Harbor for Fleet Week 1989. And today, those shadows still linger, having changed our entire way of life, from politics to art to our ability to travel unencumbered through our days.
When I read that the Provincetown Art Association and Museum was mounting an exhibition of Helen Frankenthaler’s work, my heart leapt. When I read further, and learned the show was to be comprised of works she created in P-Town, I got chills.
You see, Frankenthaler is the first artist whose work moved me to tears. It was her retrospective at the National Gallery in 1993, particularly the show’s “finale’, the oversized bronzed screens in that last hall that gave me pause and moved me emotionally. Since then, I’ve been pleasantly surprised to find her work here and there, in Birmingham, for instance. And even here in Atlanta at the High Museum of Art. For 25-years, I’ve enjoyed this casual relationship with her lovely, oversized, vibrant canvasses.
I never knew she painted in Provincetown. I never knew she counted Mattisse as one of her primary influences. I never knew she swam daily. I never knew she kept notebooks detailing dinner party menus and guests. And I never knew that the odd 3-story structure across the street from my Ptown flat was the studio she shared with her husband, Robert Motherwell. I never knew.
But I knew that I had to get up to the Cape to see this show. And so I did.
And once again, I was moved to tears. Not so much by the scale of the work or the enormity of the exhibition or the other, non-related emotions coursing through my brain. No, this time because of the connections this stranger, this disciplined, beautiful, creative soul has had to what’s been important and significant in my life. I’m baffled by the similar affect aesthetics have on individuals separated by life, location and generation.
And amazed and appreciative for her work, once again.