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Vincent van Gogh?........Who is That?
by M.R.J.
A Dutch woman, sitting next to me on a train headed for Madrid, taught me a valuable lesson about van Gogh.

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If you are a lover and learner of the humanities – which I am – it is easy to get so enthusiastic about criticism, detail, and ideas that you can forget you are really a lover and learner of humans. I was reminded of the humanity within art while I was travelling on a train from Toledo to Madrid. My sister and I wanted to take a break from intense University studies and experience Spain together before we began our student teaching.

This particular day on the train we were tired from a long day in Toledo and felt perfectly fine sitting quietly while watching the Mediterranean land panorama through the windows. However, the elderly lady sitting across from us began speaking to us in English, which broke my meditation. I listened to her explain – after casual introductions – that she was from Holland on a trip with friends. I was excited to hear she was Dutch for I knew Vincent van Gogh was from the Netherlands. I, having just finished my Senior Thesis on the topic of van Gogh, wanted to hear from a native about his art.

“Do you know much about the painters from your country,” I asked trying to keep it simple because there was a language barrier?

“I know a little. I’ve been to museums,” she replied.

“Do you like van Gogh,” I asked hoping she would be excited

about the topic. However, instead of the looking pleased she looked perplexed.

“van Gogh, I do not know this. What is it,” she asked wonderingly?

“He is a painter. He painted with a lot of paint. He is very

famous,” I explained desperately probing her memory and hoping she knew of his work. She continued to look perplexed. I repeated, “van Gogh?”

A change came upon her face. “Yes, you mean van Gogh,” she

pronounced in her native tongue putting the sound in the back of her throat. It sounded so different from how I was saying it that I understood why she didn’t understand me. “I love his paintings,” she continued.

We all laughed until our stomachs hurt.

As I later thought on the discussion I realized that I had been so busy trying to critique van Gogh’s paintings and find a philosophy behind them that I forgot to do one simple thing. I didn’t know the proper pronunciation of his name. Now with all the studying, critiquing, and teaching I do I try to at least give a proper name to the human I spend intimate time with.

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