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The sublime Vermeer, and my beloved penpal Barbara

Cold but sunny: your roller-coaster weather report for today. Some crazy Canuck guys are still stubbornly wearing shorts, but I’m pretty sure they regret it. 

Yesterday’s treat: a documentary about the blockbuster Vermeer exhibition in Amsterdam. As you may recall, the minute I heard about it, I determined to go see my favourite painter in this once-in-a-lifetime exhibition, but when I tried to buy a ticket they were sold out, and other circumstances were against the trip. So rather than flying to Europe, I was grateful to walk to my local Cineplex, to see close-ups of the paintings and hear Vermeer experts speak with passion about this sublime artist, his life and work. 

So many of his tranquil women are playing musical instruments, reading, or writing, by the light of that ubiquitous casement window on the left side. In a couple of instances, she’s drinking wine. We can relate. 

Here are some of the notes I took during this spectacular show: He was a storyteller, a filmmaker before his time, showing us in intimate moments what it is to be human. He paints human still lifes, depicting the mystical in the mundane, showing an intriguing but incomplete story. A magician obsessed with light, a master of light, who made the everyday important by painting it. 

I thought again of him when reading a moving email from my friend Penny in England, whose sister Barbara was my penpal from 1962 to 1966, when she died, at the age of sixteen, after an operation at the Mayo Clinic to repair her damaged heart. It took me decades to write about her; the essay, Correspondence, was published in Queen’s Quarterly last year. The magazine did a beautiful job. 

Penny wrote that today was Barbara’s birthday and she wanted to find her sister, wondering where she was – not in the souvenirs she has kept, nor in the gravesite. She Googled the Mayo Clinic and Barbara’s name, thinking there might be some record there, and And do you know? There she was. In black & white, in that lemon yellow bridesmaid dress, and in all your beautiful words Beth. Immortalized in Correspondence. 

Thank you for giving me my sister back.
I replied: 
I saw a doc about Vermeer yesterday – he died in poverty at 43. And I thought, if I had 3 wishes, after world peace and a cure for disease, I’d ask to be able to go back in time to speak to people who died without knowing their vast worth and importance: Vermeer, Anne Frank, Mozart, Van Gogh, Jane Austen, so many more. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be able to tell Barbara how very much she is still with us, how much she has mattered through all the years? 
That is one of the great things about human beings. We know elephants grieve, and maybe whales and other creatures, but definitely, human beings know how to keep each other alive in memory. 


Here’s Correspondence. I’m proud of it. Love you always, Babs.



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About Beth

I began keeping a journal at the age of nine. Nearly fifty years later, I started this online journal, sharing reflections, reviews, updates, and the occasional secret.

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