Sketched at the museum

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IT was the first warm day in spring, so I thought it might be a good idea to walk to one of the nearby museums, putting the paints aside. Having been up and working since 5, I walked slowly on the sun-drenched side of the avenue, enjoying the intensity of summer as early as May. This day the four great urns in the Great Hall of the largest museum in Manhattan held bouquets of many small starlike lilies, among which long periwinkle-blue stalks mingled with magenta pompon flowers and a few pink blossoms. Among the green was something silvery and fernlike. The wonder is that the arrangements are fresh every Tuesday.

Resting here, I soon felt refreshed enough to visit the European gallery on the second floor, hoping to run into someone copying, and I did. She was less than middle-aged, wearing a large-brimmed straw hat and finishing a portrait by Ad'ela"ide Labille-Guiard (1749-1803), done well. I never dare ask copiers why they choose a particular subject.

The room was crowded with children about nine years of age, all seated cross-legged on the floor, their teacher waiting for order before speaking.

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Although I might have enjoyed listening, there was nowhere to sit. I passed through into the next room, then on into the Dutch gallery, hearing in my mind's ear the teacher in the French gallery telling her children, ``This is a self-portrait of the artist with two pupils, one of whom was to become a successful painter.'' If I had been willing to stand, I might have learned which of the two pupils standing in the portrait was the one to become a favored artist herself.

The Dutch gallery was also surprisingly crowded, but with teen-agers. The only bench to rest on was almost completely occupied. I managed to squeeze in the middle, and it held six of us back to back -- for a while.

I soon became aware of someone sitting close while writing fast about the picture on the far wall in front of us. She had a yellow carry-all bag next to her on the edge of the bench. At the opposite end was a young boy. I asked him the time. It was 11:15. In that moment the girl who had been sitting next to me had gone, leaving behind what I believed was her yellow bag. Quickly two other girls squeezed into the place occupied by one, asking me if the bag was mine.

Might that be the same girl who had been sitting next to me now standing in front of the painting but still writing fast? I watched her for a while, then asked if she had been sitting on the bench, leaving something of hers behind.

``No-ooo.''

Several more young people came and went on the crowded bench. All noticed the bag on the end, which now seemed to belong to no one. Still seated at the opposite edge was the boy of whom I had asked the time.

The yellow carry-all was beginning to worry me. Two young women guards stood under the arch between the rooms, so I spoke to one of them about it. They thought it was a good idea to bring it to their attention.

But the moment we picked it up, it was quickly claimed by the boy seated so far from it. I left feeling it was better to mind my own business.

I had used the escalator up but chose the grand stairway down instead of the elevator, holding fast to the banister all the way, because I enjoyed noticing the wonderful perspectives. Soon I was out of doors again, finding rest under the trees near the entrance.

I moved from a too-sunny seat shared with a sun-worshiper to another where a man was reading an article called ``Just What Do You Mean . . . `Armageddon'?'' He looked at me in silence, pointing to the title. I said, ``It is a battle.''

He answered, ``It will be with Russia, there is no way out.'' I remained silent, still hoping there will be a way. . . .

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