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Somebody's Baby

One of the privileges of membership at the Metropolitan Museum of Art is access to the Trustee's Dining Room. Situated over the Modern Art galleries at the rear of the museum, it is as close as Kathleen and I will ever come, probably, to eating at a club. The room is beautiful even if it is beige, and the view into the treetops around Cleopatra's Needle, with the grand buildings of Central Park West beyond, is one of the rarest in New York.

We hadn't been there at night before Saturday last. Kathleen had the bright idea of taking Dr B, one of her oldest friends in the world, to dinner there. Dr B was in town from Los Angeles to pay a visit to her parents, and we had planned for her to spend her last evening with us. But we hadn't planned anything else. I was surprised that Kathleen was able to get a table at short notice. The room, when we got there, was fairly full. Dr B loved every bit of it. Just for the record, I had a Maryland crab salad - they were out of Kumamoto oysters, which is actually a good sign late in an evening - followed by breast of guinea hen. (Oh, the sauce!) My dessert - and I was the only one to have any - was "Bananas Foster Brûlée. I suppose it was only a matter of time before someone matched the famous New Orleans treat with Manhattan's favorite.

But what prompts this entry is the reflections that were spurred by two portraits in the lobby area outside the restaurant. The museum has, of course, far more art works than it can display, and some of the overstock appear on rotation in this lobby. On one wall, there was Lawrence's John Julius Angerstein. On the other, a Portrait of a Man by Romney. The pictures are virtually contemporaneous. Yet we know the identity of only one of the sitters. The subject of the Romney picture is a blandly handsome young man with bright, clear eyes and an affable expression. It would appear that he never amounted to much. Can you think of another explanation? Lots of bright young men fail to make a mark on history. But this gent was evidently placed well enough to have his portrait done by Romney. I couldn't help thinking of Christine Lavin's wistful "Somebody's Baby," from Good Thing He Can't Read My Mind.

He once was somebody's baby

someone bounced him on her knee

do you think she has any idea

what her little boy's grown up to be.

As for John Julius Angerstein, I looked him up in Chamber's Biographical Dictionary, and found out why the name rang a bell. The entry reads,

a London underwriter of Russian origin, whose thirty-eight pictures, bought in 1824 for £57,000, formed the nucleus of the National Gallery.

That would be the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square. How'd his portrait wind up on rotation at the Met? Another line of rumination altogether.


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Random aside: I immediately thought of the Jackson Browne song called "somebody's baby" which was always on the jukebox at Ted's Frostop when I was a kid. Yo La Tengo has a cover. I should find it... Sorry for the ramblings.

I have always wanted to be part of that club, just to see that view. Oh! Oh!

But it's been a good year for art. I was able to go to the Met AND the National Gallery AND the National Portrait Gallery all in one six-month period. I felt so terribly cultured. It was wonderful.

In my case, no, mom is totally non compos mentis these days. Number three, Daily Blague is number three on Googling "Christine Lavin's wistful Somebody's Baby, from Good Thing He Can't Read My Mind". Everyone seems to think Ms Lavin is wistful and poignant. And, now thanks to Mr RJ we will find out for ourselves now that he has made us aware of the album. Such a nice French word, poignant, and so seldom used correctly in English at least to my mind since I always associate the word with a paper I wrote in High School French attempting to use poignant to describe a section of a Joyce poem and both my French teacher and the English teacher she consulted rejected my contention that poignant could possibly mean arid or desolate in French. Yes, mom, what has he grown up to be? Is grown even applicable? See, Ms NOLA, we can ramble with the best of them. OK, somebody cue Willis.

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