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Spadina Literary Review  —  edition 31 page 06


For the next hour Simon strolled through other rooms. Here was indeed a magnificent collection of works from some of the finest European artists. Pictures by Braque, Ernst, Magritte and Klee, amongst many others so elegantly displayed, briefly held his attention, though not as much as they might have done had not so much of his energy and enthusiasm been sated by the time spent standing before Guernica. His mind was constantly drawn back to that one picture that had been central to his mission in visiting the Reina Sofía. Whilst making efforts to refocus, telling himself that this was an opportunity to experience so many pictures that were known to him only through depiction in books, he realised that efforts to extend his concentration beyond a few minutes were all in vain. Resigning himself to the futility of continuing in this manner, he decided to give his racing mind a rest and went in search of coffee.

Making his way across the gallery, pausing only to view Bacon’s painting Lying Figure, Simon descended the stairs to the second floor, where he would once again cross room 206, the room housing Guernica. Despite having resolved that he would not be distracted or stop to again view the centre of his obsession, his progress was arrested as he realised that the woman in black seen earlier remained at her station just where he had left her. Glancing at his watch Simon confirmed that an hour had passed since that time. So, having initially promised that he would not pause in this room he now found himself once more focused upon the distinctive painting. However, this time his attention was arrested not so much by Picasso’s work, though it would hardly be possible not to be aware of its overwhelming presence, but by the face of the woman who he surmised was intent on paying homage to the picture.

Simon could hardly fail to notice the wetness of the woman’s eyes and the tears that soaked her cheeks. How blurred must the features of Picasso’s picture be through all those tears, he wondered. Acutely aware that he might be at risk of disturbing what he perceived to be so personal a moment, Simon turned away and slowly made his way to the stairs leading down to the first floor where the café was located. He too could have stayed longer standing before Guernica. He too had been close to shedding tears. This after all is the beauty and the power of art, the reason why the galleries of Europe attract so many visitors each day.

Seated in the café Simon reflected on the morning’s events. He was pleased at last to have seen the one picture that had been the main purpose of his visit to the Spanish capital. Even so, he was surprised at how this single picture had distracted him to a point where he was unable to appreciate other works in this great collection. Savouring his coffee, he formulated a plan. He would return to room 206 where he would once again absorb the story that Picasso conveys with such intensity on his canvas. He would then leave the Reina Sofía but return tomorrow, when he would pass quickly past the salon housing Guernica in order to focus all of his attention on the other great works. In that way he hoped to do justice to those other artists whose creations he had failed to appreciate today.

Having set his mind on this course of action Simon departed the café and climbed the stairs to the second floor. He felt a certain satisfaction that his long-held desire to see Picasso’s great work had been achieved and he would spend what remained of his visit today absorbing more of the picture’s stark messages. Entering room 206 he strode purposefully towards his favourite vantage point opposite the centre of the canvas but was distracted when yet again he saw the woman in black continuing her vigil exactly positioned as she had been since his first visit. There she stood, silent still, leaning on her walking stick, transfixed by the image before her. Once again Simon found himself torn between taking in the details of Picasso’s masterpiece and staring at the woman who, as before, was weeping silently at her adopted post.