We spent Saturday out and about, getting starter plants and seeds for the garden after starting our day at SAM’s twin traveling exhibits, The Gates of Paradise (hurry, it closes April 6) and Roman Art from the Louvre, through May 11.

It was wonderful to see the Ghiberti panels so intimately. Unfortunately, as the Louvre show is a certified blockbuster, they use timed ticket entry and I was unable to head directly to the panels for some leisurely, intense looking prior to joining the jostling masses one floor up.

The Roman show is flat-out terrific, with a couple of minor exhibit-based quibbles. First, audio-guide numbers are sparsely sited and hard to see, leading to much poking and jostling as people try to figure out what entry they should listen to as they observe this patch of mosaic over someone’s shoulder or that left eye of a head between those two tall persons standing very very close to the sculpture.

The effect is to divert attention away from the art and artifacts, both for the persons desperately seeking a layer of interpretive information to mediate their looking and for other members of the onlooking throng as the seekers dodge in and out of the knots of would-be viewers. Especially in chilly Seattle where personal space is so important, that produces room after room of people uncomfortably twisting away from one another, casting their eyes about in order to mee no other’s gaze, backing away from that tiny grey-haired woman only to bump into the gladiator-huge man standing directly behind your head.

And that, of course, is the other issue. Certainly, by attending the show at midday on a Saturday, we almost certainly experienced the galleries at maximum attendance. That maximum, to put it simply, was too much. The art was not satisfactorily observable. It was truly impossible to look at any one object long enough to develop the least moment of concentrated observation.

However, the objects in the show and the arrangement of them in relation to one another were really quite stunning, well worth another trip at a less trafficked hour, and I surely intend to return. Vivian especially enjoyed comparing the information and nonsense (surprisingly little of that, really) obtained from our relatively recent viewing and appreciation of
the HBO miniseries Rome, which included historical accuracy as a primary production goal.

Viv’s favorite pieces were the twin full-figure sculptures of Augustus and Livia that announce the main body of the show, in a room mostly occupied with portrait sculptures of the family of that founding dynasty of the Empire. I’m not certain what my favorite was, but the amazing mosaic panel in the introductory section of the show may be the one I’d choose.

Given my recent home projects, I would have loved it if a bit more time had been invested in information concerning both formal residential gardens and kitchen gardens in the Empire, but obviously that is outside the scope of the show. Still, I’d like to know about Roman spices and herbs, for example. My intuition is that many of the European herbs we commonly use today such as lavender and oregano would have been in the garden and in the larder, while most Asian and Oceanic herbs (such as black peppercorns) would have been unknown.

Afterwards we drove all the way up to Sky Nursery in Shoreline and returned with a wide array of starter veggies and flowers. Despite all my pissing and moaning I have been forced into book-larnin’ to grok the intrickasees of the planter’s art, which appears to revolve, in spring, about the last frost date for your area. Hereabouts it is March 26.

Thus, most of my flats will go out the weekend before the 26 while I hope that the cold won’t come in those few days. Over the next week I’ll be starting sprouters inside, too.

One unexpected wrinkle is that the books seem to suggest I should wait until mid April to start working on outside tomatoes, which is a pain in the butt from my perspective – I moved my plants in over the winter and they have grown into enormous, vining monstrosities that make it hard to move around in the solarium. I guess I’ll just cage them inside for now and disentangle them from the furniture and so forth.