Giving a Name to the Woman in Gold

Today, Mom took me to see the movie Woman in Gold, a film documenting the restitution of the Gustav Klimt painting that used to be named for its original model, Adele Bloch-Bauer.  I know that the critics said it wasn’t that wonderful.  Good thing I don’t have sophisticated taste.

I loved it.

Sure, I could see issues within the cinematography and the this-its and the thats-its.  In the end, I really don’t care.  What I experienced was a profound story that filled with me anxiety and grief and hope.

Basically, in the 1920’s, the Bloch-Bauer family commissioned Klimt to paint a portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer; this family, by the way is Jewish.  As the story unfolds through flashbacks juxtaposed against the contemporary (meaning 1999), the audience learns that the painting was eventually stolen by the Nazis as they invaded and occupied Austria.  As Adele was Jewish, the Nazis changed the name from a portrait about Adele Bloch-Bauer to Woman in Gold.  In 1999, a woman, Maria Althaus, begins the process of finding a lawyer who will assist her with regaining possession of the portrait which, eventually, turns into suing the Austrian government.

I won’t spoil it from there.

I have learned a lot about the Holocaust starting when I was a child.  In the movie, the filmmakers document the Jews being forced to scrub the streets or being forced to stand still while the Nazi soldiers cut off ear locks, trimmed beards, or tossed off the men’s hats.  What is poignantly showed in this movie, though, are the reactions of the civilians:  they were brutal in their approval of the humiliation of their former neighbors.  Compassion?  Gone.  Protectiveness for their fellow human beings?  Dissolved.

I am desperately trying to find the soundtrack because the music was soaring and lifting and inspiring and saddening all at the same time.  As I sit here, I mentally cling to the last couple of notes that, even now, are disintegrating into my fragmented memory.  I want that music.  As I was watching the story unfold, I was mentally writing as well.

Names are such a significant aspect of our lives.  I have nicknames for the Boy and the Girl which they alternately love and hate.  These nicknames immediately call forth either the tiny boy running around the house, lisping his name or a little girl with her left thumb jammed into her mouth while her blanket is tucked around her chin and face.  Both of my children have names that they will never find on pencils, license plates, or coffee mugs.  At the same time, my children have names that will stand out and will always be memorable, much like their incredible personalities.

Over the years, my name has steadily changed.  My first name is taken from a flower that grows on the moors by the little town in England where I was born.  Originally, my name was supposed to be Sarah; however, my mother clung to a different name and my father agreed but only if he could meet at least several other girls/women with my name.  Apparently, four girls were born right before me and they all have my name.

As my time in teaching has elapsed, my name has gone to just being my last name.  I feel rather like Prince or Madonna…only without the money and power.  I have a single name which is mine.  I have plenty of nicknames for myself, only one of which has stuck.

My name is my husband’s last name.  What’ really funny is that when we were getting ready to get married, he confessed that he didn’t want me to take his last name.  In such a precious voice that was layered with shame, he admitted that he didn’t want to “share” his name.  Oh, what a wonderful man (sincere tone here).  I love him because he was honest and I could understand what he was trying to communicate.

Too bad for him.  I took his name while keeping all of my name which created quite a tongue twister that no one can really speak.  And now his last name has, in some respects, become my full name.

But this name symbolizes me in my career, my motherhood, and a lot of my personality.  I haven’t lost myself.  I have merely adopted new aspects to my self.

This summer, my children and I want to go to New York City for a short vacation.  After watching the Woman in Gold, I know that I will go to the gallery there which houses Adele’s painting.  I don’t know if the kids will enjoy going to look at a painting whose history they will not understand.

But I will know it’s story.  And I’ll tell it to them as we make our way through the city.

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