What if someone goes missing? What if a house burns down mysteriously? Or a will is destroyed or a war starts or a pandemic begins. What if you are able to spend a night or two in a place usually off limits to the public? That’s my ideal real life What if.
E. L. Konigsburg
In her classic children’s book, From the Mixed-up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, Konigsburg sends two children into the mysterious world of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. They are run-aways and find physical comfort in Irwin Untermyer’s antique bed and intellectual stimulation in their hunt for information about Michelangelo.
My What If
Decades after first reading Konigsberg’s book, I would still opt for a night (or a few nights) at the Met. I even have a favorite bed selected; after all, comfort is required if I’m going to have the energy to wander the galleries all day.
Lives past and future
If I had a second and third chance, or even a fourth choice for my night somewhere off limits, I’d pick other museums. Years ago, I had the opportunity to work at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice, Italy. I guarded paintings, gave public tours, and helped with special exhibitions. In this role, I was often in the museum after hours (although never entirely alone, and never all night). There is something special about inhabiting a public place without the public. The walls carry the sounds of footsteps and of hushed voices, of people who lived and worked there.
The Peggy Guggenheim Museum palazzo was her private home in Venice from 1949 to her death in 1979. While only a few reminders of the ‘house’ remain, you can feel her presence and imagine a world where art was an integral part of life. This is especially true on the terrace, where the same sculpture greets guests today as it did when Peggy pulled up in her private gondola.
Dipping into the past with the art AND the place would be exceptional. The Louvre and Versailles are both extraordinary museums which began life as palaces. Similarly, the Musee Jacquemart-Andre was the private home of an exceptional 19th century Parisien couple, built to display the art they collected during their lives. Staying in any of these museums would mean studying another time, observing it, and living it. I even have beds picked out!
What if is key to storytelling. What if the girl falls in love? If the man kills his father? If the country goes to war? I’m certain that a few nights alone in one of these magnificent places would spawn a number of What ifs.