I missed my flight, and it was my fault. I am not going to tell you where I was coming from, because I don’t want you trying to find where I wound up. I could tell you not to try, but I know you would not listen. A year from now I’d read about some American tourists (I’m staring at you) who got in trouble looking for Shang Ri La, like in that sorry De Caprio movie.
Well, back to the story, The lovely young lady at the ticket desk explained in passable English that they could get me home to America, but that I would have to take a round about way to get there, with several intermediate stops in small, unfamiliar (to me that is) airports. I agreed and boarded the plane, and gingerly negotiated the stairs to the cabin after having made friends with the little bar in the passenger lounge.
The first leg of the flight was long and boring, and the stewardess introduced me to a few more friends from her food and beverage cart. We had to stay on the plane at the first stop, as a few souls got on and off. I was in a solitary seat by a window, and was in solitary confinement for all intents and purposes, not knowing the languages of any of my fellow passengers. I made a few more friends on the second leg, and realized I was dozing off as we began our descent into the next step. Well, they’ll wake me if they need to, I thought.
But they didn’t. I woke to humming sound, one that seemed to be approaching me. When I opened my eyes I saw a man in a blue work uniform running a vacuum. He turned it off when he saw me looking at him. I asked him where everyone was, but he did not speak English, and pointed to the jet way. I was not feeling that well, and a little panicked that I might have missed a change in my connection. I squeezed by him, patting my pockets as I went to make sure I did not leave behind my phone, tickets or wallet.
When I got into the terminal, I went straight to the ticket desk. My sole piece of luggage was right next to it. The kind young man explained in fluent English that there was a mechanical problem with the flight, and that it would not leave till tomorrow morning. The small city had several nearby hotels, and the other passengers had already dispersed to them. He gave me directions and wished me a good night.
The hotel was a few blocks away, and I decided to walk. The little city was exceptionally picturesque, but I can’t really describe it to you, and I never thought to snap any pictures. I was still a little boozy, and not sure I followed the directions correctly. I arrived at the hotel, or at least, a hotel. A beautiful young woman at the desk checked me in, but told me it would be a few hours before my room was ready. She suggested a few restaurants and cultural sights to keep me busy. I thanked her and walked back out into a sunny, blue sky afternoon.
On my way to a restaurant I came across a grand looking museum, a combination of Beaux Arts and some other style I could not place. It was open, and I ducked in, not quite catching the name on the door. I realized it was an art museum once I stepped into the grand foyer. A tour group of elderly people was gathered around a guide, and I learned that they were just about to enter an exhibit. Miracle of miracles, it was a group of American and English tourists, and I decided to stow away with the group. I grabbed a program and held it in from of my face, trying to blend in as best I could near the back. The sign over the exhibit entrance said: The Fullness of Time.
We made our way into the first gallery, and the guide described the very large painting on the main wall:
“This is The Repentance of Judas, which was jointly painted by Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci during their early, collaborative period.”
I did a double take. While I was no art historian, I knew Michelangelo and Da Vinci hated each other, and could not imagine that they had ever worked together. Was this some kind of alternative art show?
“Michelangelo modeled himself for Judas, and Leonardo painted himself as Peter” the guide droned on. The painting was of the Last Supper, in particular the scene where Christ was washing feet of the Apostles. Jesus was as stripped to the waist, and kneeling on the floor. Judas was on the floor too, crouched down, and his arms about Jesus’ waist. His faced was buried in Jesus’ abdomen, and you could only see the back of the head.
“The bowl of water has been tipped over, and has soaked Judas’ robe, perhaps suggesting a second baptism,” the guide continued. The expression on Jesus face was ineffable joy.
After a few minutes, the guide led us over to the next painting on the opposite wall.
“Here we have The Prayer in the Garden. This was painted by Donatello. It shows the Lord, Peter, James and John seated in a square, each holding the hand of the person on each side of them,” the guide stated. The four men looked completely at peace, and there was a faint smile about Jesus’ mouth.
It got stranger after that. The next one was called The Honor Guard, by Titian, and showed a group of Roman soldiers and Temple guards escorting Jesus and the Apostles from the Garden of Gethsemane. I looked about, waiting for someone to laugh, ask a question or object. Were they just too polite?
The group moved on from room to room. I’ll only describe two more of the sequence of paintings. The most memorable the guide called, The Coronation in the Temple. It depicts Jesus in Herod’s Temple, standing outside the Holy of Holies. The Temple Veil billows out around him, as if a strong wind from within the Holy of Holies has issued from it. The High Priest and the Sanhedrin kneel before him.
The last was the The Two Crowns, allegedly by Rembrandt. It showed Pontius Pilate and Herod Antipas, at the Antonia Fortress, kneeling before Jesus. Their laurel and gold crowns are at his feet. Roman soldiers salute Christ with raised palm leaves.
I could take no more of this, and raised my hand.
“Yes?” the guide asked.
“All right, I was a late addition to the tour, but what exactly is going on here. None of these events actually happened in the Bible. And Michelangelo and Da Vinci certainly never painted a picture together. I’m no stranger to experimental art, but you cannot completely make things up. These other tourists may not get whatever joke you are playing here.”
“They are not tourists. This is their new home. But I think you may be a tourist. And perhaps with the wrong tour at that.” He walked towards me.
He stood before me, and looked into my eyes.
“You have been misplaced, haven’t you?” He looked over my shoulder, as if summoning someone.
“Just where am I then?” I asked.
The guide smiled, talking slowly and clearly, as if I was a child, “You are where the fullness of time meets all things new. But it is not your time yet. See you later,” he said, tilting his head ever so slightly, and I fell asleep.
When I woke, I was back on the plane, descending for my final connection before home. Everyone about me acted as if things were normal, and no one mentioned an extended layover at the last stop. I even asked the stewardess about the mechanical failure, but she did not understand me.
As we landed and taxied, I talked myself into accepting that I had experienced a bizarre dream. As I rose from my seat to deplane, I went through my ritual of patting my pockets, making sure I had lost nothing. I felt something in my shirt pocket I did not recognize, and pulled out a piece of paper. It was a museum ticket, a little rectangle of heavy, pure white, paper, on which was written, “The Fullness of Time.”