Gorgeous breakfast brought to our cottage dining room table by the couple who run the B&B. They’re a study in contrasts. Ahuva is an exuberant Israeli – part international sophisticate, part California earth mother, all bubbe. Bob is a goofy, laid back California surfer dude in his 60s , always ready with a quip. Their partnership gives the B&B its idiosyncratic vibe.
After inching our way through the dusty, drought-stricken; palm tree-lined streets of LA, and along the car-clogged Pacific Coast Highway, Robert drops me off at the Getty Villa. http://www.getty.edu/visit/villa/
The modern California world falls away.
I walk along the winding path through the gardens to the hilltop museum. The architecture is based on a Herculaneum villa. I pass by four gardeners kneeling alongside the walkway, in obeisance to Demeter, clipping stray twigs off the espaliered foliage, while a fifth sweeps up the trimming.
Entering the museum, I immediately notice the absence of water. Due to the drought, all of the water features are empty. The empty basins, the lack of sparkle from light reflected off the water, the absence of the gurgle and plash of fountains, has a big impact – more than I would have expected. It’s like a well-preserved body without a pulse. Throughout the museum, pools and fountains link one courtyard to the next, and the villa to the gardens. The lack of water gives it all a deserted, abandoned air.For a museum dedicated to a vanished culture from another age, this isn’t altogether wrong. I walk through the rooms on the ground floor, paying my respects to the gods, goddesses and heroes who are up to their fabled hijinks. http://www.online-literature.com/donne/865/
I climb the marble stairs to view the visiting Byzantine art exhibition. Martyrs with dour, accusing looks, squinty-eyed Virgins with dolorous faces, dim lighting. I compare this with the last exhibit I saw here, one that celebrated Aphrodite. It showcased objects associated with the goddess; sated sleeping hermaphrodites, drinking cups helpfully illustrated with amorous positions, courtesans’ poetry, and general flaunting of naughty bits. When it comes to content, the goddess of amore (Passion! Beauty! Desire!) wins hands down over Byzantium Christianity (tortured martyrs, long-suffering virgins, avenging angels).Flocks of children in school uniforms swirl in and out of the rooms, following adults wearing Educator badges, old people blink in the shade cast by table umbrellas, young couples eat their brown bagged lunches on the amphitheater steps, touching shoulder to thigh. The museum grounds feel occupied and reasonably full, but not crowded. The wisdom of requiring timed tickets to park and enter is immediately apparent. The Louvre should try this. No joke. I forgo lunch in favor of a high tea in the Founders Room – a smallish venue with wonderful views and more than I can eat, nicely presented on tiered cake stands. Well-trained staff leaps to fill my teacup every time it falls below a third of the cup.
Back in the center courtyard of the villa, I see a woman in a hadjib and jeans taking selfies, and a similarly slender, tatted-up man with a sleeveless hoodie do the same. It’s a California cultural mash-up of dueling silhouettes that works for me.
The walls, marble floors, and ceiling of the peristyle alongside the empty pool are painted with trompe l’oeil swags of foliage and historically appropriate decorative flourishes.
I walk through the lower gardens, until I find a long, grapevine-covered arbor. The dappled shade is wonderful to look at, lively but restful to the eye. I sit and read a while. This day marks my sixty-fourth birthday. I think how supremely lucky I am.