Wednesday, February 3, 2010


The other night, a group of about half a dozen of us American girls were walking back from a borrel at the international building (as far as I can tell, a borrel is a sort of welcome party). There was fresh slush covering the icy ground though nothing was falling from the sky. As we paused at an intersection, an old man rounded the turn on his bicycle, not seeing the black ice, and fell down with a crash directly in front of us.

We disentangled him from his bike and tried to communicate to him, but he either didn't speak English or was too shocked to get any words out. It was only his leg that was hurt, but as he put his legs out in front of him, his right foot had turned an entire ninety degrees towards his left leg. With his leg at such a gruesome angle, he could hardly move, let alone walk. All we could do to keep him from being run over was to crowd as many of us around him as possible to make sure the cars or bikes would see us.

Several Dutch people showed up just as we had gotten the emergency number on the line, which was incredibly fortuitous as we realized too late that none of us yet speak Dutch and we couldn't relay the cross road information.

The ambulance came very quickly and it looked like the old man would be fine except for a slow recovery from his leg injury.

The look of terrorized confusion, but seeming lack of pain in the old man's eyes while he sat crouched on the slick ice mesmerized me. His face stuck with me for the rest of that night and through the next day until I was sitting in the first meeting of my Art of the 20th Century course. The lecture was on Picasso and my professor ended with his final self-portrait painted only months before his death.

This was the old man. I had found him again on a screen in a darkly lit classroom just a block from where I had last seen him.

It is Picasso and it is the old man. It is every person knowingly approaching the end of their rope. The haggard terror concentrated in the eyes waning into a straight mouth, numb from exhaustion...or an emotion I can't yet know. Whatever the case may be, it is a testament to Picasso's ability to perceive and represent that his works are able to penetrate precise sensations behind the figures he saw in reality and evoke those same sensations in figures we have seen in our lives.

In other news, I bought a bike today.


Anonymous said...

uhm, all sorts of ways, pal. be careful out there...and everywhere (...and everywhen)

Anonymous said...

it's incredible the way one is able to make so much sense out of the somewhat nonsensical works of Picasso :) glad he was ok!


Rose said...

that picture does seem to capture it quite well. what a terrifying experience that must have been, i hope he is okay :(