By Laura Grimes
It started innocently enough. A simple email from The Pantsless Brother last year pointed out that a Vermeer painting owned by Queen Elizabeth II would be on rare public view in London this spring. The last sentence: “We have to go back.”
I laughed. He was always being funny. As much as I would have loved it, I couldn’t really afford another extended vacation with my brother in London like we enjoyed last spring. To see just one painting?
Then, in early January, I got a note as I was having lunch with our mutual mother. The PB forwarded me a flight confirmation with this personal message: “Are you in? $568 roundtrip: Seattle to London, Zurich to Seattle. The first Hobgoblin is on me.”
I’m sure all I read was, “$568. London. Hobgoblin.”
My interest was more than a little piqued. I sent him a quick, flip response, but the tantalizing idea gnawed at me. Late that night I sent a more serious reply. “Where are you staying? What’s your plan?”
At 6:30 the next morning my alarm went off. I fumbled to silence it, groggily sat up, and rubbed my face while I reached for my phone. The red light was blinking. My brother had just sent me a message at exactly 6:30.
I continued to wipe my eyes while they tried to focus on what he had typed. “I will be staying at various airports and train stations. Between London and Zurich, I am trying to get in Edinburgh, The Hague, Berlin, Dresden, Brunswick, Frankfurt, and Vienna.”
I wiped my eyes some more. I read his message over and over again, trying to make sense of it. I put my glasses on. Oh, that’s really funny, I thought. That’s even more clever than usual, especially for first thing in the morning. How does he do that? I tried to think of how to reply, but I just sat there, staring at my phone. I finally decided I wasn’t awake enough to give it a proper response. I would have to think about it.
Much later, fretting that my wit was no match for his, I finally told him I’d see him in a few days and he could give me the lowdown then.
A few nights later, we were sitting across the table from each other. We each had a glass of wine. My notepad was open and my pen was hovering above it. “OK. Spill.”
He took a sip of wine and started to talk. I diligently copied what he said, seriously taking detailed notes about exactly what he planned to do where. London. Edinburgh. Amsterdam. The Hague. I wrote and wrote, and I slowly realized, much to my growing horror, that he was absolutely serious. That email early in the morning was no joke. He planned to go to all those places and then some and spend only a day or two in each one. I started writing more and more slowly until I stopped altogether and just watched him talk, fascinated, awestruck, stupefied and completely dazed. My notes trailed off to a mere list:
I notice now that I left off Zurich at the end. What was the point? There was no way in hell I was going to go. Turbo Tourism is not my thing. I’m more of the type who sips wine between museums and takes pictures of little monkeys in funny places.
The PB wasn’t going just to see one painting. He was going to see 16 Vermeers — 12 entirely new to him. He was going to complete his mission of seeing all 34 Vermeers (some say 36) that can be viewed.
But … less than two weeks before his Departure Date, I got this email from him: “My trip plans are coming along pretty well, though I had a setback earlier this week when I discovered to my horror that the Stadel Museum in Frankfurt, without asking me, has just loaned out Vermeer’s Geographer to a museum in Tokyo. Christ, now I have to go to Japan.”
Sadly, as current events have played out, I doubt he plans to go there anytime soon. The Geographer is supposed to be on exhibit in two museums in Japan until Aug. 28.
Sometime after that, I’m certain The PB and I will have to go to Frankfurt together to take in his last Vermeer. (Mr. Scatter will be surprised to learn this.) After all, I’m the only one who speaks a lick of German. The PB tries to say things like “Deutschebags.” Someone needs to save him.
The PB left on his grand Vermeer Chase last Wednesday. As he said, if it’s Tuesday, this must be Berlin. If it’s Wednesday, this must be Dresden. How is he getting along? Some emails from him:
I don’t think I can drink both of these by myself. But I guess I can try …
(I knew what the picture was before I even opened it. I showed the message to the Small Large Smelly Boy, and we looked at each other, both shook our heads, grimaced a little and said, “Hobgoblin,” at the same time.)
Subject: Oh Yeah
It took some effort, but I was able to manage on my own. I feeel a knapp cummiing onnn …
Subject: JoJo Would Like It Here
There’s a castle complete with cannons and a moat …
Subject: Make Mine a Single Malt
Okay, so I stop by this bar while in Edinburgh last night to try some Scotch. I don’t drink the stuff, but I wanted one of those authentic Scottish experiences. Marked as a tourist, the woman behind the bar asks me in an accent I can barely understand where I am from. I tell her Seattle (well, I was born there), and she says “Oh yeah, I’m from New Jersey.” Somehow my authentic Scottish experience wasn’t the same anymore.
Subject: Just So You Know
My fan base extends to two continents.
No word yet about how the Vermeers are going. Better get ready, though, and notch your belt.
The Pantsless Brother’s full itinerary and what Vermeers he plans to see where:
Wednesday — March 23
Thursday — March 24
Friday — March 25
London — Dulwich Picture Gallery
— The Music Lesson
Saturday — March 26
Edinburgh — National Gallery of Scotland
— Christ in the House of Martha and Mary
Sunday — March 27
The Hague — Mauritshuis
— Diana and Her Companions View of Delft
— View of Delft
— Girl With a Pearl Earring
Monday — March 28
Amsterdam — Rijksmuseum
— The Little Street
— The Milkmaid
— Woman in Blue Reading a Letter
— The Love Letter
Tuesday — March 29
Berlin — Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, Gemaldegalerie
— The Glass of Wine
— Woman With a Pearl Necklace
Wednesday — March 30
Dresden — Gemaldegalerie Alte Meister
— The Procuress
— A Girl Reading a Letter by an Open Window
Thursday — March 31
Braunschweig — Herzog Anton Ulrich-Museum
— The Girl With a Wineglass
Friday — April 1
Frankfurt — Stadelsches Kunstinstitut
— The Geographer
Saturday — April 2
Vienna — Kunsthistorisches Museum
— The Art of Painting
Sunday — April 3
Monday — April 4
Train to Zurich
Tuesday — April 5
Wednesday — April 6
Depart Zurich, arrive Seattle
TOP: The Music Lesson, (De muziekles), c. 1662-1664, oil on canvas, The Royal Collection, Buckingham Palace, London. This painting Â (image courtesy of the Essential Vermeer) is on view at the Dulwich Picture Gallery for the month of March. The museum is celebrating its 200th birthday by prominently displaying a new masterpiece every month.
BELOW: The Geographer, 1669, oil on canvas, The Stadel Museum, Frankfurt, Germany. This painting (image courtesy of the Stadel Museum) will be on view at the Bunkamura Museum of Art, Tokyo, until May 22, and at the Toyota Municipal Museum of Aichi in Aichi, Japan, June 11-Aug. 28.