Tuesday October 21, 2003 03:31 PM
The Knights

We'd planned a pretty big weekend- things to do with Isaiah on both Saturday and Sunday. Saturday's plans didn't work out so well, but Sunday's did.

Lately Isaiah has been interested in knights and dragons. I'd heard a guy here at work talking about the armor exhibit at the St. Louis Art Museum and I thought that might be something Isaiah would enjoy. So I checked their website and discovered that in the month of October the Sunday afternoon family program at the museum is entitled "Knights and Days: Arms & Armor Through the Ages". It sounded like fun for all of us and when I discussed it with Ruth, we decided to take him to see it.

We'd mentioned it to him earlier in the week and on Saturday evening, we used it in a manner quite mercenary to ensure Isaiah's exemplary behavior on the following morning. He was told that if he wanted to go see the knights, he needed to wake up polite and happy in the morning and to cooperate without fuss with his mother as she helped him get dressed. He was also informed that he would be good at church and go to his room to 'rest' on his bed ("No, you don't have to actually sleep, but I do expect you to be still and read in your bed.") without any hassles if he wanted to see the knights.

This plan worked almost perfectly, achieving the desired results. The only point in which he deviated from the set-out conditions was that he spent his resting time, not in his own bed where I'd put him, but in our bed where Ruth was resting. I discovered this when I set aside my book and came in from the back porch. I went upstairs to rouse my wife and son and spied, as my head crested the stairway, the boy's small form scuttling from my bedroom into his own.

When I went into his room he presented the appearance that only a four year old who has just jumped back into bed after having been out of bed and is trying to look like he's been there the whole time can exhibit.

"What were you doing in there bugging Mommy?"


"I saw you run across the hall into your room."

"I was resting."

"I told you to rest in your own bed. Mommy is trying to sleep in there and she needs extra rest with your brother in her tummy."

"He wasn't bugging me," Ruth called from the other room.

So I let him off the hook. Of course, I wanted to see the knights, too, so I was going to let him slide anyway. I explained to him, though, as I have numerous times in the past, that when I tell him to rest in bed I mean for him to stay in bed.

We left between two thirty and a quarter to three. I was hoping we'd make good time since church starts at six on Sunday nights and Ruth had a cake to ice for the potluck afterwards. The progress was maddeningly slow though not as slow as it seemed and we were there in around forty-five minutes. I figured that would give us about an hour since on the return trip we wouldn't have to take the long way around some construction-closed exits.

We got a good parking spot just a short walk from the front entrance of the museum. As we entered, a guy with a clipboard approached us unavoidably.

"Hi. Have you heard about the museum membership plan? No? Well there are many benefits, not the least of which is half price admission to the German Modern special exhibit going on now. Normal price is ten dollars- that would be twenty for your wife and you, but as a member you'd get in for only ten dollars today- in addition to invitation to special members-only events and ten percent off all museum purchases. Does that sound like something you'd be interested in?"

"Not today, thanks. Can you tell me how to get to the armor exhibit?"

"Oh. I- uh... Well, the information desk is right over there," he pointed though it was plainly obvious, "they have maps and stuff that should show you right where to go."

"Yeah, thanks, Man," I said walking away and wondering what kind of dope would think we brought our four year old with us to spend twenty bucks to see the German Modern exhibit.

The information desk did, in fact, have maps. We got one and a couple of other pamphlets- one of which Isaiah kept calling a postcard and it had a 'knight' on it. He wanted to carry the knight postcard. I checked the map and decided that, though it wasn't the clearest map I'd ever read, the armor should be that way and off we went.

The armor wasn't that way. We made a circuit around the main level south wing and were back in the central entrance area. I asked the guy by the door (not the clipboard guy, a guy whose dignified blue jacket distinguished him as part of the regular museum staff whose job it was to answer questions such as mine) where to find the armor and the family program. What he told me proved that my initial hunch was correct, but that we needed to go downstairs.

Once downstairs, we thought we were on the right track, but asked another bluejacket to be sure. He said we were on the right track and his directions lead us right to the armor.

The armor collection is down about six steps into a sort of hushed, darkened area with midnight colored walls and lighted, coffee-colored wood cases displaying two-handed swords taller than me and helmets, daggers, and even some early guns. Off to one side of this area is a brighter area where two complete sets of armor are on display. This was Isaiah's favorite part because it had a 'whole knight' instead of a gauntlet here and a helmet there. The collection isn't large, though, and there was no sign of the family program.

I went back up the few steps to the second bluejacket and asked him about it. I pointed out the listing on one of the pamphlets Ruth had picked up. He said it must be in one of the classrooms that are through there and out that way. We passed back through the armor and followed his directions, but when we arrived it became apparent that he didn't know where the family program was either. There were the classrooms, all right, but they were obviously empty.

At this point I quietly mentioned to Ruth that all we'd talked about with Isaiah was 'seeing the knights'. He didn't realize that we hadn't found the activity, and furthermore he now wanted to see the mummies. We figured we'd go see the mummies and maybe the knights a second time and then it'd be time to go. We thought it was kind of goofy that three different people obviously associated with the museum had no idea how to find this thing that was billed as going on there at the very moment we'd asked about it, but we shrugged it off and headed for
the mummies.

"Look- it's a mummy-case!" Isaiah proclaimed.

"Do you know the word for a mummy-case?" I asked, "it's sarcophagus."

"Look, Mommy, it's a sarcophagus!"

He liked the mummies, but again, there weren't many of them. Three, to be exact, all in their respective sarcophagi, none of which you can see more than the feet. We lingered in the small dark, slightly gloomy mummy room with black walls and only spot lighting and then we moved on through the pre-Columbian, Hawaiian, and African areas. At first Isaiah thought all the crazy masks were funny, but it didn't take long for his super-powerful imagination to catch up with him and all the bizarre creature-like entities and dim lighting started to make him notice how spooky all this stuff was- especially since we'd have to go back through the mummies to get out of it so we made our way back around to pass through the armor a second time on the way out.

After we'd looked at the knights again and were on our way back up the half-level of steps to return to the main part of the museum, another bluejacket, this one a lady, asked if Isaiah would like her to show him something really special. I had a suspicion what she was going to show him and when she motioned him half-way up the steps and told him to look to his right, my suspicion was confirmed. The sides of the cases facing the steps were mirrored and on the steps between two cases you can experience the old 'infinite barbershop effect'.

"This is my favorite part of the museum," the lady said, "and everybody just walks right by without noticing it."

"What do you see in there, Isaiah?" I asked, "I see the front of an Isaiah and the back of an Isaiah..."

"And I see the front of a Daddo and the back of a Daddo and the front of another Daddo and the back of another Daddo."

He thought that was pretty cool and he thanked the lady for showing it to him. I guess she liked him because she asked him if he knew what a griffon was cause there was one in the next room. She explained that it was a winged lion with the head of a human and told him to look for one in the room we entered. He thought the griffon was pretty cool when we found it serving as the pedestal holding up a small table. Evidently it was the woman's second favorite thing in the museum. We bid her farewell and made our way to the main entrance area once more.

"I want to find one of my favorite paintings, Ruth. I think I can find it quickly and we still have a little bit of time."

It was as we were headed for the gallery that I thought the painting was in that we spotted the family program. The activity, it turned out, was to make a helmet out of construction paper. We thanked the guy running it and took our sheets of heavy construction paper and carton of markers and sat on the floor by the runner of heavy paper which was taped down to provide a marker-safe work surface on the hardwood floor.

There was a pattern provided for the simplified helmet shape, but didn't use it. I improvised and came up with something a little better, I think. Meanwhile, Ruth had been using a spare piece of the construction paper to make a sword for Isaiah. When we were done, I made a shield to round out his panoply of war. He was a 'real knight'! Unfortunately, the real knights helmet wouldn't stay on his head very well. That was OK, though, he was content to carry his shield and brandish his sword while I bore his helmet.

We thanked the fellow who was cleaning up the room by then and made our way to the next gallery where we found the painting I'd been searching for when we found the armor-foundry: Sadak in search of the Waters of Oblivion. It is a very impressive painting- much more impressive than the image linked can depict. To begin with, it's large. The information online says it's thirty by twenty-five inches, but in person, to me at least, it seems much larger. The dynamic lighting, the rushing water and lightning coupled with the figure of Sadak struggling to hang on to life in the immediate lower foreground made a great impression on me the first time I saw it many years ago and I never neglect to view it when I visit the museum. There's another, Sea captains carousing Surinam, I try to see whenever I'm there, but I admire it for less noble reasons. I like it because it shows a guy throwing up in another guy's pocket.

After viewing my favorite painting and the briefest of scans through the gift shop, it was time to go home. It was a perfect outing. Isaiah had been good and had a terrific time as had we all. Ruth had gotten a nap earlier and I'd gotten to read on the back porch. It was just about a perfect day.

The only way it could have been better was if Isaiah hadn't woken up cranky from the nap he took on the way home, but that's life with a four year old.