In my fourth-year high school German class, the teacher decided it wasn't enough just to learn a language. She wanted her students to know something about the people and culture that employ it. She assigned us to write a one-page theme about a specific person or place. I remembered a color photograph in an art history book from another class. It was a picture of the Kaisersaal, an eighteenth century palace ballroom. The floor is an oval chessboard of shiny tiles, bordered by twenty carved marble columns spaced around rose-gray walls. Between the various pillars are wooden doors; a fireplace; tall, arched windows; paintings and statues in wall niches. The teacher praised my description. It was so real to her in its details, she wondered if I had actually visited the hall. The vaulted ceiling, with its huge glass chandeliers, is painted in white and pastels with gold filigree seemingly flung from a Tilt-A-Whirl. Frescos top the dome with blue sky that seems to release us into the open air. Flags wave, angels and cherubs hover before sunlit clouds, warriors and gods gaze thoughtfully upon us. Kings and queens conceal their bodies in layers of ornate fabrics, even as Apollo proudly displays his muscular bare chest. Fifty years later, I've forgotten most of my German. I remember that lavish ballroom only by revisiting the art book colorplate. Its extravagance still grates against my preference for the plain and simple. Fifty years later I remember that essay as an invitation to the palace of the imagination. For an immature, inept kid who was uncomfortable and ridiculed in the social world, it offered the rich and vaulting universe where I have lived ever since.
Copyright 2019 by Brian Dean Powers
Photo by the author