Saturday, June 24, 2006

susan sontag, mislabeled plantations, sharp objects that i left at charles de gaulle airport

If it's Friday, chances are you'll find me at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Summer hours are in full effect. At a quarter to 1 pm, my colleague Nicole came over to Katie and me and said, "Why are we all still here?" Nicole and I left, saying our goodbyes at the subway station. (She was headed to the F and I to the N/R/W)

I met RJ at a bookstore on Madison b/w 82nd and 81st and we headed over to the museum before I plunked down a credit card for 5 books or more. We had lunch in the cafeteria and we made our way around the museum. I was blown away by the exhibition of photographs in tribute to Susan Sontag who passed away around the same time as the Tsunami in 2004. I remember being mesmerized by a C-Span book talk interview that lasted three hours or something after she passed away. I was eating every word. I felt the same way looking at this selection of photographs drawn from the museum's permanent collection. The photographs were paired with excerpts of Sontag's writing. It was incredibly powerful. I almost teared up, but was breathless with her insight and the evocative photographs.

One photograph in particular affected me. It was by Walker Evans, if I'm not mistaken (I'm going back again so I didn't take any notes), and it was of a delapitaed room in a plantation. The ceiling was giving way to history, yet the collumns on the wall retained their majesty. The filthy floor exposed the ugliness of the events that transpired there. Piercing light struggled to burst the latched shutters on the windows. It was haunting and said everything about New Orleans, pre and post Katrina.

But it was mislabed. Should I tell the Metropolitan that Nottoway Plantation is in White Castle, Louisiana? It was labeled Oak Ridge, I think. But it definitely is Nottoway in White Castle. My mom took my friend Marguerite and I there on a rainy day when we were in middle school. I was doing a report on buildings along the river.

Atop the Metropolitan, a crocodile and an alligator (maybe two of either, I didn't get a good look)stand watch over the building. They're really plaster casts of these creatures, but the genuine articles are the sharp objects confiscated at airports which stab into the ferocious reptiles. It made me lonesome for the letter opener I had to offer up to the gods at Charles de Gaulle last week. I got it for 10 euros at a marche aux puces in Place St. Sulpice for it's cast iron weight and the charming owl atop it. I was sad to let it go, but all my yen for it was lost when I thought I had to check a bag. Better travel light and get home faster. That should be my new mantra. I wonder what Susan Sontag would have to say about that.


Blogger R J Keefe said...

The mislabeling of the photograph, I believe, would be in the naming of the plantation, "Belle Grove." I recall that White Castle was named on the card.

It's an astonishing picture to see up close and personal.

Sat Jun 24, 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger Ms. NOLA said...

"Belle Grove" - yes, thank you! It was, I'm sure, Nottoway.

Sat Jun 24, 02:24:00 PM  

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