138 Toledo, OH: Sink or Swim

To visit the files, I had to go to a building designed by Frank Gehry. Its modern glass walls laced with metal grids looked terribly out of place next to the museum's original white classical building. But it did seem like Bernie's sculptures, which grow organically out of the industrial history of Toledo.

While I waited to be led to the files, I interviewed a woman behind the information desk named Barbara. Her platinum white hair was dark at the roots and pulled back tightly. Her bright red lipstick was not quite in line with her lips. She wore white pants with a black belt and a denim shirt whose cuffs were rolled back to the middle of her forearms. She also wore a lot of large gold jewelry. As she answered my questions how the Hopper painting might relate to Toledo, she looked away at the ground next to me, as if she were finding her answers there.

"In downtown Toledo," she began, "we have renovated our old Valentine Theater, which was built in the early twenties. And we do have, on both floors, box seats like those in the painting. And we still have our widows and our widowers, and our divorcee syndrome. I have a box. And, having been on all sides of the coin of being divorced, widowed, and married, you know what the social statuses are. In my community here in Toledo, when you have a widow or a widower, the community makes every effort to include them in theater events and home parties. They don't let people stay alone."

"In Toledo, we have very distinctive communities, definitely. But Toledo is a fantastic melting pot. A friend of mine married a very prominent Greek five years ago. And a few of the Greek ladies got together, and they taught her how to effectively function in the Greek community. They did it for friendship, because they respected very much the gentleman in this case, and they did not want his wife to be an outsider. I don't know that much about how the Lebanese or the Syrian communities are, or whether or not they are inclusive," she whispered, "The Irish community was assimilated years ago, as were the Germans. Although I would have to say they did not lose the stigma of being German in our community until probably the seventies, because of actions going back to World War II."

"The community I live in, our neighbors are from every country, and there is no racial problem in that community. Our neighbor to the west is of Polish descent, our neighbor to the east, English. The people across the street are of Italian descent. I don't know what the Sancas are; they're nuts! My husband graduated magna cum laude from Harvard. Andre, our oncologist neighbor next door, graduated from Stanford. And we also have people who are graduates of Bowling Green University, University of Toledo, and have gotten a wonderful education here."

"We have always laughed because, when people come to Toledo, we get pooh-poohed. 'It's a small community.' 'You don't have this; you don't have that.' Once we have people within the community, we've got you. You don't want to leave. It's a big small town is what it is. With what I do at the information desk, I've had curators from the Louvre and all over the world walk through the door unannounced."

"I'm sorry," I apologized. "I'm keeping you from your duties."

"I'm okay," she waved me away. "There's a young man back there being taught how to run the computer, and he's very nervous about it. So the best thing I can do is to let him sink or swim."

No comments: