The Skaters

Washingtonians have been unsettled as of late because of certain “unnatural” weather patterns.  Temperatures in the teens!  Three inches of snow that hasn’t melted!  Icy sidewalks!  Miserable commutes!  Shocking, really, for January.

I am a Minnesotan.  These weather patterns are more reminiscent of a mild spring than a hard winter in my mind.  But I keep my mouth shut.

This afternoon, as Gabi and I walked to the National Gallery, we saw Washingtonians–in groups of two and three for safety–gingerly venturing out onto the frozen Capitol Reflecting Pool.  They slid, they took selfies, they crouched and rapped their knuckles on the ice.  Finding it solid, they spun joyfully.  We stopped and watched for a while.  It was nice to see them like this.  No blazers or sensible heels or harsh commuter expressions.  Just people playing on the ice.

The reverie only lasted for a few minutes before a policeman jumped out of his squad car to shoo them off.

Gabi and I walked away, feeling the ashamed relief of schoolchildren watching our friends be chided for an activity we were about to join in on ourselves.

The National Gallery, as you might expect, is miles and miles of art.  I won’t go into detail about every piece of art we saw, nor about every time I complained when I couldn’t decipher the meaning of a postmodern sculpture.  (When people were near, I would say loudly, “It’s evocative, isn’t it?” which made it seem as though the meaning were so clear that I felt I needn’t explain further.) (Art museums bring to light all sorts of insecurities, don’t they?)

I will show you the single most (forgive me) badass painting I have ever seen:

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Gilbert Stuart, The Skater (Portrait of William Grant)

It’s all well and good at first: “can’t touch this” smolder, arms crossed in affected nonchalance … And then you see that he’s on ICE SKATES.  He’s ICE SKATING.  With a “can’t touch this” smolder and crossed arms and legs mid-strut.  Not to mention the coat with tails.  Have you ever seen the like?

Research tells us that this painting was initially intended to be a formal, seated portrait, but upon meeting the artist, Grant remarked that the weather was better suited for skating than for sitting (source).  Off to Hyde Park the pair went, and when the ice began to crack (as rumor has it), Stuart instructed Grant to grab hold of his coattails that he might be towed to safety.

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