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Art appreciation 

It was The Observer's birthday and anniversary over the weekend. Why Spouse and her man decided to get hitched in the sweaty season of mid-July, we'll never be able to fathom. That's a decision 23-year-old Us made, so Old Us has to live with it. Them's the breaks. It's a lesson everyone who is fortunate enough to live into adulthood eventually discovers: that we are the slave of the idiot we used to be, the softheaded ninny who made decisions based on coin flips and whether the car would start and whether we had enough money for both beer and getting a suit dry-cleaned for a job interview. The beer usually wins when you're that age.

We did what we usually do for the Birthiversary, which is to get the hell out of Dodge, heading up to Eureka Springs and the Crescent Hotel for some much needed time outside the bubble of responsibility. Compared to Thunderdome: Little Rock, NWA is like some Star Trekian pacifist planet, ripe for plucking by the Klingons. In Eureka, a visitor drunkenly getting on the wrong bike and pedaling it for two blocks before abandoning it in a bush would likely be front-page fodder. We, meanwhile, came home to the news of yet another senseless homicide and reports that, over the weekend, a guy had tried for some kind of world record rob-a-thon by holding eight poor souls at gunpoint in the same parking lot at 13th and Main over the course of 30 minutes, relieving them of their valuables and a bit of their peace of mind. The latter is probably going to hurt more in the long run.

While in NWA, The Observer finally bit the bullet and headed out to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville. Like a few people we've talked to, The Observer has mixed feelings about that joint. We won't get into it here, lest we descend into spitting, impotent fury about the decline of Mom and Pop America.

So, we went. And it was beautiful. We guess. Harrumph.

OK, it was beautiful. Unequivocally beautiful. Awesome, to use the overused word once again, this time without hyperbole. The building and grounds are a work of art in their own right. Once inside, our inner Che Guevara melted away in appreciation of the stunning treasures there. We stared at the smallish Jasper Johns' flag for a good 10 minutes, drinking in the chaotic brush strokes that dissolved into order as you backed away.

In the center of one hall is a marble sculpture of the poet Sappho by William Wetmore Story, her fingers so carefully wrought that you can see her cuticles, the moons of her fingernails, the tented arch of her index finger resting gently on her arm, so light and delicate, and all carved from a gatdamn rock. We paid our four bucks to see the "Warhol's Nature" exhibit, and were simply poleaxed at the loveliness and humor of an artist we'd long since — we must admit — written off as a wise ass whose patrons had more money than good sense.

Rosie the Riveter. Rothko. O'Keeffe. Maurer. Calder. Lichtenstein. Even the big, mirror-polished Jeff Koons heart hovering at the end of pink ribbons over the dining hall. It was enough to make The Observer long for a paintbrush in our hand; to feel the longing to try, to create, to find the strings of our heart and attempt to pluck them into something beautiful and meaningful and pure, the effort itself worth any failure. That, of course, is the goal of any museum: to make the observer feel slotted into The Grand Try of Humankind — the singular need of our species, even when the clock is ticking on these mortal lives, to sing one more song.

The Observer found that in Bentonville over the weekend. We'll leave the socio-politico-economic bickering for another day, and just say: Thanks for the memories, Miz Walton. You definitely helped make it a birthday to remember.

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