It is 8:30 on a Friday evening and I've had just enough cheap wine and looked at just enough bad art to feel happy and sad. From this vantage point the evening is vast, stretching out in all directions, and the streets full, cheerful couples and small packs of friends roaming in the gloaming. It is warm, summer has finally arrived, and the good stink of day-hot asphalt perfumes the air. There is a carefree nature to the milling crowds; an animation Monday morning knows nothing about. It doesn't hurt that free wine is being poured and seldom-seen friends are meeting. Standing on the corner of Bond Street and Minnesota Avenue, I listen to the Doppler of laughter as people pass. It tells me tomorrow is a long way away.
Maybe it's the wine or maybe the warm night air, but worry leaves the people on evenings like this. It's like a coat they take off. The future can take care of itself, is what they are saying, just give it its own sweet time. I've come downtown for the simple reason to be downtown. Hoping for nothing, expecting less, I predict to be cudgeled by small talk and lifted by chance. The excuse is to look at art, but really it is something far less worthy, something far more important than that.
My evening begins with a cursory pass through the galleries, pausing in each one, stopping to admire one or two of the pieces as I angle toward the three-buck Chuck. The gallery owners spot such freeloading and offer a wan smile with the diminutive cup. Like a bad actor, I wander their galleries, amused, bored, sipping my Merlot of guilt - it tastes exactly as it should. Every so often, I stop at something I truly admire. "I like that," I say to my wife, and mean it. She concurs and we talk about where it would look good in our house, which one of our friends would appreciate it. This is inane blather, we freely admit, because we are not buying, we are never buying, we are peasants dreaming, a wonderful sad thing to do.
I've read the average time spent looking at a piece of art is 15 seconds. This includes places like the Louvre, where a vast majority of folks speed through to get to the big-ticket items. Most are said to be disappointed in the end, the Mona Lisa in particular looking smaller than they imagined. I spent a pair of afternoons there once, overwhelmed, watching the people watching the art, a favorite pastime of mine and a wonderfully sad thing to do.
Back out on the street, live music pours from a doorway and I stop on the sidewalk to listen. The crush of humanity, so distasteful at other times is bearable tonight - I almost like these people. Meanwhile, daylight is going and twilight settles on heads and shoulders of the crowd. It looks as if fairy dust has been sprinkled over the city. Friday night is the night the city feels most European. People are out of their homes, out of their cars, and not just walking, but sauntering, strolling as if by the river Thames or Seine. It is my favorite speed, the simple act of placing one foot in front of the other slowed to one gear above stall. I like the purposeful aimlessness built in, the one you can't find at noon.
Drifting with the crowd, I eddy by a gallery door and then slide in sideways, a stick caught in the current. I slip my shoulders between a name-tagged artist and the woman he is talking to, her copper skin, designer sunglasses and anchorwoman smile just driven up from California. I spend another 15 seconds here, other 15 there. I know which galleries offer a generous pour. Back on the street, I turn to my wife. What now?
It's Friday evening, every possibility exists and we stroll toward an unpromised land. In the end, we do not want to be saved and do not want to do the saving; so we aim low. The idea of a late dinner overlooking the river, the best we can do. These nights of languor, I think, who can begrudge them? Milling place to place, not giving a damn, the sidewalks clogged with inebriated knots of the best and the worst the city has to offer. Does it get any better? We pass shop windows, peering in at their wares, immune to their calls to buy, buy, buy. Too often life is meaningless, we all know this, but on Friday nights, wandering the town, looking at art, a little high on wine, a little low on cash, is exactly how we want it.