I admit that it had been a long time since I’d tried to commune this deeply with van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait With a Straw Hat,” from 1887, one of the Met’s treasures. For years, every time I’d gone to pay it — him — my respects, the crowd of admirers made it impossible to get near enough, for long enough, for us to achieve any real understanding. But over the last few months, with Covid restrictions severely limiting attendance, the world’s most famous museums have given their art a new opportunity to speak to us.
A handful of animals are so woven into the fabric of human existence that they are part of how we think about ourselves.
With these dogs, chickens and giant pandas, we are caretakers, companions, trainers, consumers, oppressors and rescuers.
Rarely, though, do we admit that with some animals, we are students.
For Nadia Owusu, the question “where are you from” does not have a straightforward answer. Rather it prompts an eight-paragraph rundown of numerous cities and countries; lists of family members spread out around the world, and half-sisters and half-brothers with multihyphenated identities – “Armenian-Somali-American”. “Confused?” she writes in the opening of this memoir. “Me too.” The sudden displacements in her life – from Tanzania to England, then to Italy, Ethiopia and Uganda – can feel like earthquakes that shake the ground beneath her feet, threatening to unleash chaos. Meanwhile, Owusu’s mind has developed a seismometer of its own, always on the lookout for threats, guarding against her persistent fear of plunging into an “all-consuming abyss”.
I will swing my lasso of headlights
across your front porch,