There is something post-decadent about Versailles in winter. The fountains are off; there are not many tourists. Everything is still fiercely geometric and over-the-top, but in this gray, expired kind of way, at least for most of the day; sunset, and the crisp, clear chill of nighttime being the exceptions. Most of the sculptures are covered with tarps, and tertiary destinations like the amphitheater and “outdoor living room” are gated off entirely. As at all times of year, there is remarkably little furniture, the bulk of it having been moved to the Louvre in the name of égalité. I spent the first five years of my career working in grand museums, and this has always been one of my favorite things about them: that they are bastions of opulence that seem morally defensible, inclusive and elite at once. Because Versailles too is now a museum, the awesomeness of its grandeur has been contextualized into an argument against itself, its ostentation forgiven as a public good. At moments it feels almost Soviet, and you can’t help but be reminded that if you trace the political spectrum far enough left or right you end up in effectively the same place.
A. Kendra Greene began her museum career marrying text to the exhibition wall, painstakingly, character by character, each vinyl letter trembling at the point of a bonefolder. She became an essayist during a Fulbright fellowship in South Korea, finished her MFA at the University of Iowa as a Jacob K. Javits Fellow, and then convinced the Dallas Museum of Art they needed a writer-in-residence. She is a guest artist at the Nasher Sculpture Center and a Library Innovation Lab Fellow at Harvard University. Her first book,The Museum of Whales You Will Never See, will be published by Penguin Books.
I feel greedy, I have a frog in my throat because of this
expensive beer. I start to ask around, like a detective,
and immediately get some info
from the writer sitting at our table nearby,
whom I got to know just now. The house of Ashbery has likely mahogany doors facing
the square, probably where city hall is. I don’t even think about visiting without letting someone know first. I stop and read a few poems in a bookshop.
You won’t repeat the jokes, I say,
you’ll go around to all the apartments on Halloween with pumpkins, like I used to do
in my childhood, but then the main thing was trick or treat, not to force someone for an interview or a photograph.
It begins with her saying I’ve never told anyone and ends with me saying Neither have I. And in between, a single sentence on how the love we feel for a child is not necessarily immediate, on how we need time to get to know and fall in love with another being, even though they were once inside us. We talk over the phone; this may never have happened face-to-face, or as we looked one another in the eye.
“I write and that way rid myself of me and then at last I can rest.”
—Clarice Lispector, A Breath of Life
1:05 a.m.: The rain starts. I arrive; so close to her I can breathe the rain mixed with the sour smell of her scalp.
1:13 a.m.: Fighting against the slowdown of the pills, C sits in front of the dressing table and hates what she sees: an ancient face with new furrows, an aged reflection of whom she thought she still was, a worsened version of herself. She can’t leave the house tomorrow as she is now: swollen face, short eyelashes, brittle hair stuck to her scalp. Grey spots mark her pale forehead like stains on the face of a full moon—a reminder of the fire in the apartment that almost extinguished her years before.