Louise Phillips ~ Museo

Monumento a Velázquez

Aniceto Marinas (stat­ue) Vicente Lampérez (pedestal), 1899

The celebri­ty fell in love with the Prado Museum. His spir­its had soared when he spot­ted the first ‘museo’ sign. He’d been ready for it: Rubens, The Three Graces, El Greco, The Garden of Earthly Delights. He’d stopped out­side in front of the bronze stat­ue of Velázquez to explain the sig­nif­i­cance to his wife and their nan­ny. The painter was hold­ing his palette and brush, with his Krusty the Clown tufts of hair and legs spread wide in a pow­er pose. Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velásquez. The celebri­ty read the master’s full name out loud, savor­ing every syl­la­ble. He loved Spanish names. He loved Spain, peri­od. The diver­si­ty of regions: Madrid. Catalonia. Andalusia. The Pyrenees. Michael Douglas had a house in the Tramuntana Mountains and he raved about it. The col­ors, the light.


Christ Crucified

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velásquez, 1632

The first paint­ing he want­ed to see was the Crucified Christ by Velázquez. He was a man pos­sessed. His wife hur­ried after after him, the heels of her boots tap­ping against the mar­ble floors while the nan­ny pushed their baby’s stroller. The celebri­ty had been told it was the most beau­ti­ful por­trait of Christ, paint­ed to reflect the idea that Jesus was the most beau­ti­ful of men.

Crucified Christ was tucked away in the cor­ner of a small room beside a fire hydrant. The gallery walls were for­est green and the paint­ing hung in a gold frame and glowed like it was spotlit, draw­ing a rev­er­ent crowd from across the room. He took in Christ’s Apollonian splen­dor, which brought him to the edge of tears. The baby start­ed to cry and his wife said they’d be in the cafe­te­ria and he waved them away, enchant­ed. A small­er Crucifixion hung on the oth­er wall. Experts thought it had been paint­ed by an appren­tice in Velázquez’s work­shop who’d signed his sig­na­ture, an imi­ta­tion that might be real.

The celebri­ty checked his phone. President Obama had called for the release of three Al Jazeera jour­nal­ists detained in Egypt. The vice pres­i­dent of Google had been named the CEO of YouTube. A German news­pa­per said US intel­li­gence had mon­i­tored Chancellor Gerhard Schröder 12 years ago because of his oppo­si­tion to the Bush administration’s plans to go to war in Iraq.


La maja desnuda

Francisco de Goya, 1797—1800

La maja desnu­da was one of the ear­li­est works of Western art to have depict­ed female pubic hair. A nude reclin­ing on a green vel­vet divan, hang­ing next to a paint­ing of the same woman wear­ing the Spanish folk dress of the Madrid women known as ‘majas.’ The celebri­ty lis­tened to an English-speak­ing guide from a dis­tance. She told her group that the man who’d com­mis­sioned the paint­ing had kept it in a pri­vate cab­i­net with his oth­er nudes. It had been sequestered dur­ing the Inquisition and had hung in the Prado since 1901 and she used to draw quite a crowd, the old maja, back in the day. The celebri­ty could already hear him­self telling the sto­ry of the painting.

The way Goya paint­ed her, it’s like she’s look­ing at you out of the cor­ner of her eye,’ the guide said. ‘How does this make you feel?’
Nobody said any­thing. A few peo­ple shift­ed back and forth. The celebri­ty popped the col­lar on his sports jack­et. The last thing he need­ed was to be rec­og­nized by a bunch of Americans.

Does it make you feel uncom­fort­able?’ she tried, ‘Does it make you feel good?’

No response. She was bomb­ing, step­ping on her applause moments. He want­ed to jump in and save her but he’d learned enough to know it would be the exact wrong thing to do. Everybody had a cam­era, every­body had an opin­ion and no one had any pri­va­cy. Well the celebri­ty had real­ized years ago that the only way to sur­vive was not to give a rat’s ass about oth­er people’s opin­ions and judge­ments. He did not give a rat’s ass.

You don’t have to tell me,’ the guide fin­ished. ‘I just want you to think about it.’

The celebri­ty checked his phone. Kim Kardashian had put Kylie Jenner in the hos­pi­tal after a tram­po­line acci­dent and every­one on his feed was tweet­ing that it wasnt actu­al news.


Café Prado

The celebri­ty poked the screen on his phone to enlarge a head­line in the Times: ‘Republicans Spar on Leaks and Surveillance, Underscoring Partisan Shake-up.’ He wished he could be the type of guy who didn’t care—he want­ed to beg a Fortune 500 CEO to teach him how to not care about tox­ic waste and defor­esta­tion. Grab one of ‘em by the col­lar of their tux open­ing night at Lincoln Center, get right in their face to scream: Teach me not to care! Teach me not to care like you dont!

His wife had ordered him a frothy cof­fee dust­ed with brown sug­ar. The celebri­ty was torn between the ham and water­cress on sliced brioche or black spaghet­ti, gar­lic, oil and baby shrimp cov­ered in a nest of grat­ed Parmesan. He went back and forth, and his wife looked up at him and shook her head. She sug­gest­ed a health­i­er option then din­ner at Luzi Bombón as a reward. Smiling, she’d placed her tiny hand on top of his, and he thought of the line of poet­ry Michael Caine used to describe Barbara Hershey in Hannah and her Sisters: ‘nobody, not even the rain, had such small hands.’  E.E.Cummings. He looked at his wife and their adorable new baby and he thought of that Talking Heads lyric—this is not my beau­ti­ful wife—and he felt so lucky. How the hell did he get so lucky?

He checked his phone. Satya Nadella had been appoint­ed the CEO of Microsoft. The Pakistani side had failed to show up for Taliban peace talks. Tom Sizemore had told Radar that he’d hooked Bill Clinton up with Elizabeth Hurley and then recant­ed and Justin Bieber had smoked so much weed on a pri­vate jet the pilots had to put on oxy­gen masks.


Villanueva Building

A secu­ri­ty guard tapped the celebri­ty on the shoul­der to pre­vent him from tak­ing a pic­ture of his wife in front of Luis de Morales’ The Virgin and Child. Fotografías pro­hibidas. The secu­ri­ty guard rec­og­nized the celebri­ty when he turned around and—after con­firm­ing the celebrity’s identity—clutched him by the elbow and beamed as he pumped his hand. The celebri­ty insin­u­at­ed with mime that the tables had turned and it was now the secu­ri­ty guard who want­ed a pho­to­graph— a self­ie with the celebrity—and the secu­ri­ty guard, the celebri­ty, his wife, and their nan­ny all shared a laugh.

Their lit­tle group cir­cled the first floor try­ing to put the baby to sleep, wav­ing every time they passed the orig­i­nal secu­ri­ty guard. ‘Mi ami­go,’ the celebri­ty called him. It took some time for the baby to nod off so they walked the Instagram feed of the Renaissance: Rubens, Botticelli, Caravaggio, The Descent from the Cross. Women in dress­es of unusu­al splen­dor and men in sump­tu­ous vel­vet suits. The movers and the shak­ers. The kings and courtiers wore rib­bons and medals. The badge of this, the garter of that, and it remind­ed him of stu­dio heads and exec­u­tives and their shelves of Emmys and Golden Globes and Armani suits and even­tu­al­ly, after they’d walked for long enough, when he looked at the por­traits, he just saw guys.

Some of them were guys like him, with beau­ti­ful young wives and incip­i­ent bel­lies hoist­ed back by cum­mer­bunds. There were guys who looked like the old timers at Sardi’s and young guys in plat­form rid­ing boots who could have been on their way to Studio 54. He saw human beings dressed in their favorite out­fits to have their por­traits paint­ed with their kids or their dogs, and he looked at them and he saw himself.


Las Meninas

Diego Rodríguez de Silva y Velásquez, 1656

The celebri­ty had scooped up arm­fuls of books in the gift shop—la Tienda Prado—which his wife had brought back to the hotel with the baby. He’d have to buy an extra suit­case and pay a for­tune to take them back but it would be worth it to sit in his offices turn­ing the pages, as thick and sharp as chef’s knives.

The most famous paint­ings drew a crowd like any star. The same horse­shoe-shaped groups who wait­ed out­side restau­rants for a glimpse of Jay Z or Sarah Jessica with their phones raised in the air. The crowds ebbed and flowed and bumped into the celebri­ty, who breathed through some angry feel­ings while he wait­ed his turn to see Las Meninas, the ladies-in-wait­ing paint­ed into art his­to­ry by Velásquez, immor­tal­ized along­side the king and queen and the Infanta Margaret Theresa.

The celebri­ty watched a group of straight-backed Spanish school­boys in uni­forms lis­ten­ing to a guide. None of them were smirk­ing or whis­per­ing, none of them were look­ing at their phones. None of them were even chew­ing gum. He post­ed a tweet that a vis­it to a muse­um was restor­ing his faith in human­i­ty and start­ed scrolling. The Olympics were begin­ning in Sochi. The celebri­ty could remem­ber when the world stood still for the Olympics, back when the three orig­i­nal net­works had an oli­gop­oly and a show could pull in 22 mil­lion view­ers and peo­ple actu­al­ly trust­ed and respect­ed news anchors and politi­cians. Before talk radio and stream­ers and the Internet and any rube with a phone hav­ing an opin­ion and the coars­en­ing of pub­lic life and the cor­rup­tion of the pub­lic sphere, before the media had become an organ he loathed and despised in a way he did not pre­vi­ous­ly believe to be pos­si­ble. Over nine­ty peo­ple had liked his tweet.


The Garden of Earthly Delights

Jheronimus Bosch, 1490–1510

Jheronimus Bosch had his own room at the Prado. The celebri­ty noticed a few peo­ple got away with pho­tograph­ing The Garden of Earthly Delights but he kept his cool. None of his busi­ness. Not his prob­lem the secu­ri­ty guard wasn’t doing his job. The Bosch gallery need­ed the guard from earlier—his ami­go. Bosch had paint­ed the trip­tychs of his mas­ter­piece over the course of twen­ty years. The celebri­ty took them in one by one: the Garden of Eden, the Garden of Earthly Delights and the Last Judgement. He zoomed in on every char­ac­ter and detail: God pre­sent­ing Eve to Adam while newts and sala­man­ders scur­ried out of the water.  A cou­ple encased in a giant clamshell and naked yoga in the Garden of Earthly Delights. Women stand­ing in the Pool of the Maidens with apples bal­anced on their heads watch­ing a pro­ces­sion of men rid­ing wild animals.

A knife plunged between two giant ears in the Last Judgement, as human­i­ty reaped eter­nal damna­tion after suc­cumb­ing to the temp­ta­tions which lead to evil. Bosch had looked into the future and paint­ed the hellscape their world was becom­ing. Cities on fire and mutat­ed ani­mals feed­ing on human flesh. The skele­tons of build­ings illu­mi­nat­ed by flames looked like a still from an An Inconvenient Truth.

The celebri­ty was think­ing about buy­ing a house in Madrid. In Salamanca or Retiro—theyd check out a few areas. He need­ed a base in Europe. His wife would be hap­py because her fam­i­ly lived in Spain. She’d grown up trav­el­ing between the two coun­tries, Spain and America. He checked his phone: Pakistan and the Taliban had begun peace nego­ti­a­tions, Jay Leno had just taped his final Tonight Show, and 273 peo­ple had liked his tweet.


Louise Phillips was born in Toronto and lives in London. Her fic­tion has most recent­ly appeared in Columbia Journal, Litro, Requited, fail­bet­ter, New World Writing, 3AM Magazine, and her non-fic­tion has appeared in The Independent, La Rampa, and Blizzard. She blogs at theintermediateperiod.wordpress.com