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Lost In Translation

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Before I am even able to slip my ticket into the far depths of my pockets, I can tell I have made a grand mistake. I have been cheated. The stub reads ‘The Gallery: Votre Choix’ implying mystery and riches to a person like me, whose knowledge of the French language begins and ends with my usual breakfast order: a croissant and café au lait. I like the dark, but not when it comes to my coffee. There is neither mystery nor riches here, though I nearly spent one in order to find out the errors of my mistranslation. Dimmed lights cause me to squint, but even with half-closed eyes I can see that I’m in unfamiliar territory.


My crooked nose and matching smile stand out among the plastic men and their lifeless faces. If they stand too still, it becomes impossible to differentiate them from their oil-painted counterparts hanging on the nearby walls. They move uniformly from one installment to the next, hardly speaking a word, and clearly understanding the metaphors and symbolism in each brushstroke far better than myself. I go to and from each painting haphazardly, skipping the ones that are too blue, too bright, or too exposed for my taste. I wander the halls in a way M. C. Escher would admire; going up stairs and turning corners just to find myself going up the seemingly same staircase. I’m sure it’s just my horrible sense of direction, but the repetition leaves a lethargic sort of déjà vu that hangs heavy in the air.


I slow my pace and take more time to examine the artwork. On occasion, I find myself unconsciously mirroring the more serious art admirers. They stand stiffly and dare not slouch their shoulders or break from their mold. All but one that is; he’s The Thinker, flesh-and-bones edition. I leave the fields and pastures of the French countryside and move my way over to the opposite spectrum, suddenly turning in to a room of surreal masterpieces and modern works. After I’ve spent as long as any one person can spend looking at a bare canvas save for a single line, straight, no less, I notice that The Thinker has joined me. This is my first time at The Gallery, or any exhibit for that matter, so I’m unaware of the proper social etiquette, and its policy about making small talk. Even so, I’ve never been one to follow the rules, so I try to engage The Thinker in discussion. “The two of us could have our art hanging in galleries this time next week by the looks of it.” I say, pointing towards the modern “art” I’d just finished looking at. He stares at me quizzically, giving me a look of both pity and annoyance. I try again, “Imagine if we all just made our own artworks. I’m not sure about the watercolors, but I’ve definitely got to try my hand at this abstract stuff; a few lines and voilà, instant success.” Again, The Thinker seems too lost in thought to bother to respond, though after a noticeable pause I’m surprised by his voice.


“You can create or you can think.” And that was the extent of my discussion. His words replay in my head. There’s something amiss in the atmosphere of this place. The people are so one-dimensional and complacent. Yet I feel like the one who must change. The Thinker moves on, but I stay where I am. I look at the wall before me and see my favorite language scribbled across a painting: Ceci n’est pas une pipe. “This is not a pipe” the description reads. This is not what I expected from my visit. I make my way to exit when I realize in all my wandering, I’ve lost my way. There are no signs to follow, and there’s no point in asking for help, it’d be easier talking to a potted plant.

Once again, I find myself going in circles, down a flight of stairs, then back up a moment later. I’m experiencing jamais-vu now; I’ve been here I swear, but it’s not familiar at all. The darkened rooms and uncomfortable silence add an edge of tension. I know I’m too old to be getting lost and even worse, getting scared about it. But I am lost, and I am feeling uneasy, and I would very much like to find my way out of this gallery. Finally, I round a corner and see the lobby. Chipped marble and outdated front desks have never been so wonderful. At this point, they look just as impressive as the art on display. As I make my way to the end, I am stopped. There are two doors to leave from, and a giant mass of people standing in a line between them. They appear unsure of what to do. Free choice is too overwhelming, or so it seems. I remember The Thinker’s words. I can think or I can create. I want to do both. I pass by the crowd, still frozen. I manage to pull the stub from my pockets, now thoroughly wrinkled. “The Gallery: Votre Choix” it says. The door doesn’t matter I think to myself, it’s just your choice. I am choosing to leave. As I open the door, the outside light blinds me for a moment, as my eyes rush to adjust to the sun. I still can’t see a thing, but I feel a sense of freedom already. Once the bright spots fade away, I take a look around. I don’t recognize a thing. Maybe I made the wrong choice.





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