Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Heading in the right direction

Once is an aberration.

Twice is a trend.

Three times...?

It began in Florence Italy on our unscripted stroll through the Boboli gardens on a rainy October afternoon. We had been forewarned not to expect flowers (even if it weren't mid Autumn) but rather more of a botanical garden - ornamental grounds laid out for public enjoyment and recreation as my online dictionary defines it.

We had not been told about the sculptures. And definitely not about the giant head - fifteen to twenty feet tall and constructed of what appeared to be cracked, dry clay. It was situated against a green bushy background on one side of a football field sized lawn with paths along the outer edges.

There had been other statues and carvings mixed in amidst the vegetation - not one of which that I can actually recall at the moment nor do I seem to have photographed. This one apparently "spoke to me" (so to speak). Even though it really didn't say anything it was still a Zippy moment - like those dialogs with "Muffler Man" or other pop culture effigies that occur in that eponymous comic strip. And it was made even more Zippy by the playful mounting of the bust by a female blonde tourist and the subsequent photo-shoot by her photographer boyfriend.

I quietly took my own pictures of the sculpture and her. Then I stored my own mental impressions of the enormous half-baked head on my brain's memory card, and moved on to other parts of the gardens leaving the head behind. Or so I thought. A week or two later I saw a photograph of the same statue, sans the flaxen mannequin, in a picture frame at our local Restoration Hardware store. If I didn't already have a better shot I probably would have bought it and discarded the frame - as nice as it was.

Then this past Christmas in New Mexico we were snowed in for four extra days. As a result we unexpectedly found ourselves on New Year's Eve afternoon wandering the white-powdered grounds of the Albuquerque Art Museum, and trying to decipher what turned out to be a rolled-over, oversized head partially covered with snow.

This one was about two-thirds the size of the Florentine noggin, and because of its horizontal attitude and snow-altered appearance it wasn't until I looked through my camera's LCD monitor that I was able to recognize the physiognomy in front of me. And then no matter how hard I tried to get my eyes and mind to return to its pre-realistic view, I just couldn't not see the face in front of me. Sort of like when you finally see the Virgin Mary on the taco chip - a phenomenon that scientists say is caused by our mind's innate need to turn chaotic perceptions into familiar objects.

So when Mars and I went to Quebec City at the end of January the Florentine and Albuquerque colossal crania were, so to speak, still in the back of my head. On our drive up, when we experienced our first (albeit modest) taste of snow since that Southwest trip, the images moved up to a more conscious level in my mind. So, as the two of us set off on our first walk through that historic Canadian landmark, I jokingly told Mars that I was looking for another humongous head to add to my rapidly growing photo collection.

It was about ten feet tall, set on a pedestal twice that height - and located at the corner of an open area with its back turned to the busier, lower parts of town. This objet d'art was totally out of place with the eighteenth/nineteenth century European architecture and ambiance of the area, and in fact pretty much the entire city. But totally in line with what I was now beginning to expect on our forays to unfamiliar venues.

When I saw the New Mexico noggin I thought, "I guess two heads really are better than one." But now I began to wonder, "three?..."

So I have been looking around locally to see if, as I frequently do, I've been missing something obvious in midst of the too familiar. After all this is my head-quarters. And today, on my drive home from our Hartford-based health club, I think I may have seen what could be it - or at least as good as I'm probably going to see around here.

It was on a highway advertising board drawing attention to the "VIP Pleasure Warehouse". I have actually noticed this signage for months now with its billboard-sized female face, and have been not able to get clear in my mind what emotions her facial expression was trying to convey. (photo by Mars.)

It seemed odd, even to me, that an image that was so overtly designed to draw my (admittedly prurient) interest was instead disquieting me, whereas the three disembodied hydrocephalics were bringing me peace and comfort.

I could probably explain half of the equation by remembering a bookshelf-sized replica of an Easter Island Moai head that Mars and I purchased and displayed in our living room when we first got married. We named him Ralph because he just seemed like a nice, friendly kind of guy - even being bodiless and all. Maybe the happy memories of the beginning of our time together are merged in my unconscious with the image of that South Pacific icon - and by extension other similar statues.

Then an op-ed in our local paper calling for the removal of a twin to that Pleasure Warehouse billboard cleared up the other half.

"From its high perch, a Brobdingnagian brunette peers down, looking far more Satanic than erotic. You couldn't really blame an out-of-towner from turning around and hopping back on the bus."

I've heard that one of the purposes of travel is to take you out of your comfort zone so that you can learn new things about the world, and yourself. But occasionally it's the familiar that freaks you out, and the surrealistically strange that offers comfort.

At least for some of us headhunters.

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