Wednesday, July 21, 2010

The Perfect Present

I think it is ok to use the proper word as Mommy would likely not find it vampire-worthy, in this instance: The Gates of Hell. To Dante, a reason to abandon all hope. To that poor armless, legless boy in the ICP song, something he never saw coming. To art fans, it is magnificence and beauty. And to me, to me it is a great story.

The Search

“I called Tokyo and Paris, neither of them have one.”

“Darn, and I called Philadelphia, and they didn’t have one either.”

“You, know it’s possible there just isn’t one made.”

My friend, Ant, was attempting to help me find the perfect jonny and jonathanbirthday present for another friend, Mr. Maintenance Man.  I knew exactly what I wanted to get him, but it was starting to seem that the perfect present literally didn’t exist.  A poster.  It seemed simple enough.  A poster of his favorite piece of artwork, Rodin’s Gates of Hell.

The birthday boy and my goat, which I named after him (for reason).

Ant and I had started by searching online stores.  Though not as ubiquitous eight years ago as they are today, there was still a pretty decent selection of stores.  But try as we might, we couldn’t find anything.  So we started calling the Rodin museums around the world and inquiring about their gift shops.  Nothing.

The Plan

Then. An idea.  It was 2am, or some other ridiculous time of night when only drunks and college students are awake.  The Rodin museum in Philadelphia, the only one on this side of the planet, has a Gates of Hell, outside, in front of the building.  A road trip!  Yes, that’s it, a road trip!  I’ll just go there and take a picture myself and get it turned into a poster.

But work, shoot, I have work, and I can’t miss that.  A weekend!  I can go on a weekend.  Where is Philadelphia?  Ouch, that far?!  I can’t drive there and back, and get to the museum while it’s open in a weekend….  I know, an airplane!  I’ll fly there and back in a weekend.  How much are flights?  Oh, that sucks.  Hmmm……

And then, the most brilliant idea ever: Greyhound.

Oh, and I’ll need company.

It just so happened that my very good, and practically life-long, friend, The Great Ecclestone was on AIM.

Hey, wanna go to Philly?  On a Greyhound?  To take a picture of a statue?

What?  Ok.

Alright, so the conversation was a little longer and convincing him might have taken a bit more work, but soon we were set.

The Trip

Nelson and our bus ticketsEarly on Saturday morning ,we stood at the Milwaukee bus station.  I had never been in a bus station before and had no idea what to expect.   People and luggage were everywhere.  Buses rolled in an out, trails of fumes behind them.  The Great Ecclestone and I looked at the stack of tickets in our hands.  One ticket for every bus we would board on our 24-hour trip eastward.  The strip of tickets reached almost to the floor.

The Great Ecclestone and our Greyhound tickets.

Many filthy bus terminals and bathrooms fit for a lead-in to CSI later, we arrived at our destination.   Backs sore, feet and legs cramping, groggy and damp with sweat, we disembarked from our last bus into the hot Philadelphia summer sun.  Sunday morning, welcome.

The Rodin museum was only about a mile or so from the bus station and would be opening in a short while.  Time for some breakfast, and a change of clothes.

My SLR camera and about a dozen rolls of film jostled in my bag as we approached the large iron gate at the foot of the museum’s walkway.  No tripod, not allowed in the museum.  And there it was, shining brightly in the sun, towering far above me, immense yet exquisite in detail.  The Gates of Hell.  I began to take my pictures.

Rodin sculpture The Shade All day I stayed at that museum.  All day, taking pictures of The Gates of Hell and of the art work inside.  The Great Ecclestone accompanied me through the small museum and then headed off to the large art museum down the street.  Perhaps he even ran up the steps like Rocky.  I don’t know, I had a job to do and shadows to beat as the sun came over the roof of the museum  and illuminated bits and pieces of the giant brass sculpture.

Rodin sculptures: The Shade.

When I had finally finished my pictures, and my film, I met up with The Great Ecclestone again and we went to see the Liberty Bell.  We had to.   I mean, you can’t go all the way to Philadelphia for the first time in your life and not see the Liberty Bell!  It’s a bell.  With a crack.The Liberty Bell

Dusk began to settle over the city.  We grabbed some Chinese food for dinner and headed back to the bus station for our long ride back.  Our day in Philly was over.

The Liberty Bell.

Getting Back

After the ordeal of getting out to Philadelphia, we thought we had a pretty good idea of what to expect on our twenty-four hour ride back.  Boy we were wrong.  24 hours later, when we were supposed to be back in Milwaukee, when I was supposed to be on my way to work, where were we?  Stuck in a bus station, in Gary, Indiana.

Never been to Gary, Indiana?  Good.  Keep it that way.  Let me give you some perspective, some places where it might be worse to be stuck.  ….  Places where it might be better to be stuck.  A bus station in Chicago, a bus station in Lusaka, a bus station in Oakland, a luggage locker in a bus station in Oakland.  You get the idea.

Five hours.  Five hours until the next bus.  Our bus to Gary had gotten stuck in construction traffic on the highway and we had missed our connecting bus from Gary to Chicago.  Five hours.  Needless to say, I had to call into work stranded-in-Gary.

We did eventually make it home.  And the present, the present turned out spectacular.  He loved it, and the Philadelphia Chinatown fortune cookie.

The Gates of Hell poster shotThe photo that became the poster: Rodin’s Gates of Hell.

*Note: the white edge is from a crooked scan and was not on the poster.

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