Over the course of two short weeks, I was blessed with the opportunity to visit two European capitals and witness some of the marvels of this world. Amidst the hustle of the business world, I experienced two events which left me numb and lost in completely opposite ways.
First I was able to fulfill a lifelong dream of mine as I got to see a Claude Monet exhibition in Vienna. An entire floor of the Albertina museum was dedicated to the work of this impressionist, and I got immersed in a world which is somehow completely devoid of trouble. I even got to learn that impressionism was a mock name, given to Monet’s work by his most distinguished critics. And yet it stuck, it outgrew them whilst their names were left to be forgotten.
Painting after painting my spirit was lifted and gradually I stopped noticing people around, all voices became echoes, and I realized I was witnessing a glimpse of divinity. As Monet gradually stopped picturing people in his work, one starts to marvel at the unfathomed presence of nature and the glory of God.
I have to warn you – if you visit a Monet exhibition, by all means, do not plan anything else for the day. You will simply not be able to do it. The only thing I wanted is to go back home and hug my family and stay in silence. (Well, the silence part is a myth, but the rest worked out just fine!)
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And then, just a couple of days later, I had to visit Bucharest for a large international conference. I have been to Bucharest before and I remembered one funny fact – it had the second largest building in the world. Now, why the hosts decided to take us there, still beats me. But I went to see the Romanian Parliament building.
In 1971 Ceausescu went to North Korea and saw the palace and the large boulevard. He wanted to have the same at home… only bigger. So he got 20,000 people (at least of them 700 eventually died!), working on three shifts day and night over the course of 5 years, to build… a monstrosity. I had heard a lot about it, but seeing it on the inside is something else. When a man wants to elevate himself to a God status and is given the resources, awful things can happen. It is devoid of any spirit and haunts your thought when you walk in it. A colleague of mine was only able to mutter, “It is… wrong. It is just wrong!”
Just two small details should illustrate what I mean. If one lights all the lamps in this giant building, the energy needed will be equal to the consumption of ¼ of the entire city of Bucharest. And second, the giant marble staircase at the entrance was demolished and started anew over 20 times, as the leader was not completely satisfied with how large or steep the steps were. Eventually, he got the idea to have two of these – one for himself and one for his wife, so that they can slowly descend from each side and greet the guests in a hall, which is designed to augment the sound produced by clapping hands.
And this all leads to the huge open space, where the dictator wanted to greet the crowds. He pictured himself on the balcony, waving a hand to the loving crowd. He even built a boulevard larger than life. Ironically, he never lived to experience this dream. The first to actually address a crowd from this balcony was… Michael Jackson. And yet more ironic, the words he said were:
The silent introversion of Monet versus the shouting grandeur of Ceausescu. The sheer greatness of a nature scene and the utter disdain produced by the tons of marble and crystal. The divine sparkle in the simple things and the emptiness of the pretentious heights. Ironic. Both left me speechless and full of mixed emotions.
The highs and lows of humanity. We see examples of this every day. But it takes something big to shake us out of our numbness. After that, we appreciate things differently.
I am humbled by the thought that one mockery intended to be degrading gave the name of one of the best schools in art, whereas another human action intended to lift a person’s name above any other, ended in utter mockery. I admit that no one can know in advance how history will turn out, or even understand the seeming randomness of it all. But I dream of being able to discern at least some of this on a day to day basis when I walk into the local shop or travel in the bus. Because life is actually there to be seen.
And yet, the mere knowledge that God knows the hearts of every one of us and acts accordingly is astonishingly precious and comforting at all times.
Nothing can be further added to that.