To wind up the story of my foray into California: On Sunday my aunt took me to a lecture and exhibit at UCLA, and we ate lunch on campus. My feeling of being on foreign territory was slightly alleviated by the fact that UCLA has, in fact, a beautiful campus, with classically styled architecture (Gothic, English, and Spanish influence) and pleasant landscaping. On the other hand, the lecture was definitely weird, being ostensibly on the subject of Sir Henry Welcome, an American pharmacist who emigrated to Britian, helped found the Burrows-Welcome pharmaceutical empire (don’t worry, I only just heard of it too), invented the term “tabloid” (tablet + alkaloid) as a trademark for his line of compressed pills, and traveled the world, collecting ethnographical objects, especially those related to medicine and health in general. He is said to have amassed one million objects by the time of his death. Since his collection was a little random, it suggested to the dear postmodern curators the idea of throwing various random exhibits, not really related to each other, into one room, and seeing what enlightenment and new understanding could be generated. They were very pleased with themselves for having this idea. I was merely bored by a room full of grotesque African statuary, modern art, anatomical illustrations, phrenological heads, linen with a pattern of hands printed on it, a tray of glass eyes, etc.
My aunt then showed me around downtown LA, which again did not look as fearsome as popular mythology in this part of the country would have it. Or maybe I’ve got LA and San Francisco mixed up? There’s a new Catholic cathedral there, with windows of polished alabaster, which look dreary from the outside, but quite light and mellow from the inside. Unfortunately, at the time my aunt chose for visiting, the cathedral was being used for an Armenian mass, in full regalia, pews packed with Armenians in fancy black and white, and soaring choral responses. The Copts and Armenians being ecclesiastically related, I was embarassed to be intruding on their mass as a tourist, particularly dressed in denim!
On Monday we took a long, winding, scenic route through the mountains (which reminded me strongly of scenes from Alfred Hitchcock, except no one ran into us), and ate lunch on granite rocks by a secluded stream surrounded by cedars and pines. We visited my cousins, whose oldest son, by some genetic freak, is ten years old and half an inch taller than me. He was suspicious of me at first (we never having met since he was one), but after a while he warmed up charmingly and showed me all around his room, which had been decorated by himself and his mother in complete Harry Potter regalia. He was horrified that I was not conversant enough with the legend to play a trivia game with him, while his mother and grandmother were (with cause) rather worried that I would disapprove strongly of the setup. I did, if possible even more when the young man produced an “authentic” wand and began waving it about. But I tried to act nonchalant, for the sake of friendship. I’m not sure if I succeeded. (Ask me, and we can discuss Harry Potter at greater length.)
Then, the watercolor class, subject of my title. My aunt has taken up watercolor painting, and has found a teacher whom she likes very much, and goes to his house for evening classes every so often. They included me on this occasion. I was not enthusiastic, since my artistic efforts so far have been limited to imaginative drawings of faces, which my mother disapproves of as not realistic. Attempts at realistic things, like bottles, flowers, buildings, have not born any marked resemblance to their originals. But I didn’t want to disappoint my aunt. So I resolved to follow instructions carefully, and not bother what the result was. The artist and students began chatting about doctors: their laziness, their callousness, their pride, their being not-so-smart-as-they-think-they-are. I kept quiet, and winked at my aunt. But I couldn’t control myself completely. I inquired as to the artist’s personal knowledge of doctors. He explained that his brother, a doctor, has recently been fired from a sixth job for – making advances to the wrong nurses. He proceeded to quote various derogatory comments from his brother regarding his own medical knowledge or expertise, and by extension that of all his classmates. Well. By this time the teacher had begun to look at my painting and praise it. Presently he made some guess, which he attributed to my hands, but I think it was because of my strange expression at his jokes, that I must be a medical student. Which I admitted. I must say for him, he did not become any more polite; which is honest; and I suppose it’s good for me to hear what people think.
My aunt later observed that I and all my siblings were homeschooled. The artist began to praise the public school system, and revile charter schools as weapons of the elite. So I thought it was only poetic justice that, by the end of the evening, he was admiring my picture, and saying all kinds of flattering and complimentary things, I can only believe because he really thought so, since he certainly hadn’t taken pains to be polite earlier. (Which was not so nice for my aunt, who works hard on her painting, especially since most of the things he liked best were completely accidental (as in “how did that splotch get there?!”) ). But I don’t want to paint. I want to do surgery. And I have a feeling the surgeons won’t be half so impressed with my first efforts.