A Question About How Women Interact With One Another (or don’t) at Portland’s Japanese Gardens

This week I visited Portland’s Japanese Gardens.  The day was cloudy, and the Gardens were damp and calm and peaceful and lovely.  I was excited to be there, I’d brought my new art supplies anticipating I would do some sketching.  Early in my visit I got turned around and almost didn’t go to the Natural Garden.  The Garden map made it seem as though it would be quite the hike to get there.  I mulled it over and decided the $9.50 admission wasn’t something I was going to pay a second time during this trip, I’d backtrack.  Happy I did, I sat down to sketch.

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The Natural Garden is a small, seemingly wild space with a zig-zag stone path that takes visitors across the water and around to the side of the pool.  Plants appear to grow at their leisure, with little maintenance.  The water bubbles lazily from one side of the pool to the other.  Along the edge are benches where one can sit, empty one’s mind and appreciate the moment.

That is where I did my sketching.

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Muscle memory is amazing.

Just as I was thinking this a noisy group of tourists came through (not that I’m not a tourist, but I’m a quiet, introspective tourist).  Loud Man Tourist comes immediately over to me asking loudly: “Have you captured it?” and leans over to see what I’m working on.  I answer politely; the man didn’t seem like he meant any harm, but his actions did feel intrusive.  Then, believing I am ten years younger than I am, I’m sure, he asked if I am in art school.  I’m not.  I told him so and even offered that I used to take art classes (meaning: as a child).  He told me to “keep it up” before going off with his (silent) wife to the Zen Garden.

Another couple had come along during this (either with the Loud Man couple, or simply behind them), the man from that couple murmured that my drawing is “very nice”.  Him I thanked sincerely as he and his also silent woman passed by.

After they were gone, I had this thought: What did those women think?  Neither of them had said a word.  I’m not sure either really even looked at me.  I was only peripherally aware of any of them, myself, wanting to focus on my sketching.  But the women were conspicuously  silent while their men talked to me.  Why?  Did these women sense that the men speaking to me was intrusive and not want to add to my interruption?  Were they embarrassed the Loud Man checked out my drawing without asking me for permission?  Did they think their men were paying too much attention to the pretty, solitary woman in the Garden?  Did they like my sketch?

I became so engrossed by this topic I no longer cared about that man’s presumption.  I wanted to know what those women were thinking.  What they thought of their men during that interaction.  If they thought anything of it at all!  Maybe it didn’t seem weird to them that their men spoke to me and I to them, but between us women no acknowledgement was made?  But maybe it did.  It certainly is interesting.

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