SUPER STRAWBERRY MOON 2022
Two weeks ago, a man disguised as an elderly woman rolled through the Louvre Museum in a wheelchair. When he reached the Mona Lisa, he leaped to his feet and tossed a custard pie at the most famous painting in the world.
The man was quickly hauled away by the Paris police to a psychiatric hospital. Meanwhile, museum staff patiently mopped whipped cream from the bulletproof glass protecting da Vinci’s masterpiece.
The Mona Lisa has taken her fair share of punishment over the centuries. Back in 1911, an Italian handyman kidnapped her for two years. (The thief was supposedly lovesick over a woman whom he believed to be the reincarnation of Mona Lisa.) In 1950, a vandal doused her with acid. More recently, museumgoers have treated her like a carnival dunk tank, hurling rocks and even a terracotta mug at her head.
It’s no surprise that the Mona Lisa is now encased in protective glass.
What is surprising is that other well-known paintings are not.
I remember shuffling up to Van Gogh’s Starry Night in New York’s Museum of Modern Art, surprised that I was allowed to get so near to its churning surface.
I leaned in so close that I easily could have disfigured the world’s third most famous painting with one careless swipe of my fingernail.
Fortunately, I was too busy imagining that I was Van Gogh, holding his paintbrush and staring through the iron-barred window of his room in the French asylum where he spent the final year of his life.
For all its commercial popularity, The Starry Night is a death-haunted canvas.
Not only is the cypress tree a symbol of mourning, but Van Gogh always associated stars with the afterlife.
As he wrote to his brother Theo in a letter:
…the sight of the stars always makes me dream in as simple a way as the black spots on the map, representing towns and villages, make me dream.
Why I say to myself, should the spots of light in the firmament be less accessible to us than the black spots on the map of France?
Just as we take the train to go to Tarascon or Rouen, we take death to go to a star. What’s certainly true in this argument is that while alive, we cannot go to a star, any more than once dead we’d be able to take the train. So it seems to me not impossible that cholera, the stone, consumption, cancer are celestial means of locomotion, just as steamboats, omnibuses and the railway are terrestrial ones.
It's a strange thought—that we can travel across the universe, but only by paying the ultimate toll tax.
It reminds me of the classic fairytale written by another tormented artist in France, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry.
At the end of The Little Prince, the protagonist can only return to his home asteroid by inviting a poisonous desert snake to bite him on the ankle.
"You understand,” the Little Prince says to his friend, “it is too far. I cannot carry this body with me. It is too heavy..."
The thing is, the Little Prince must specifically time his return voyage to the stars.
He contrives to be bitten in the exact spot where he fell to Earth exactly one year before. That way, when his spirit ascends upward, his trajectory will intersect with his house-sized planet.
I worry about Van Gogh.
Thirteen months after painting The Starry Night, he shot himself in the chest…but the bullet didn’t kill him immediately.
He staggered back to his inn, fell into bed, and clung to life for thirty hours.
Did he miss his home planet?
Given the nearly full moon the night he died, it’s possible he crash-landed there instead.
In the past, many people believed that departed souls congregated in swirling masses on the Moon, where they wait to be reincarnated back on Earth.
Is Van Gogh still up there?
If so, he must be miserable.
The Moon lacks an atmosphere, so lunar sunrises and sunsets are abrupt and colorless affairs.
It would be pure torture for a plein-air painter.
Personally, I don’t think I would mind if life turned out to be a series of night flights to and from the Moon.
Even the Mona Lisa knows what that feels like.
Of course, reincarnation moves at a slower clip than a pulsing laser—and it’s the waiting that would be most challenging.
I’m looking at the Moon right now, and what I see is a brightly-lit airport terminal with open-ended delays and no gate staff to be found.
Even when you get the red-eye back to Earth, there’s no telling where you’ll be born, and the chances that you will run into the friends and family from your old life (or lives) are desperately slim.
But perhaps the wait will make the reunion even sweeter.
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry—who was also a world-famous pilot—described this existential condition in his novel Night Flight.
Airline pilots are widely dispersed over the face of the world. They land alone at scattered and remote airports, isolated from each other rather in the manner of sentinels between whom no words can be spoken. It needs the accident of journeyings to bring together here or there the dispersed members of this great professional family. Round the table in the evening, at Casablanca, at Dakar, at Buenos Aires, we take up conversations interrupted by years of silence, we resume friendships to the accompaniment of buried memories. And then we are off again…
Life may scatter us and keep us apart; it may prevent us from thinking very often of one another; but we know that our comrades are somewhere "out there" - where, one can hardly say - silent, forgotten, but deeply faithful. And when our path crosses theirs, they greet us with such manifest joy, shake us so gaily by the shoulders!
See you on the Buck Moon!
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