My front doors are like the Elgin Marbles.
Our first trip to London, we planned a trip up to Bloomsbury to visit the British Museum. No surprise there, really, considering who we are (i.e., a couple of nerds). The day of our excursion, I was excited. All my life, I’d heard about the Elgin Marbles, one of the great statuary treasures of Ancient Greece, that resided at “The British.”
Problem was, I’d never read anything about them, didn’t know what they were, knew them only by reputation. I had imagined them to be this fantastic collection of free-standing figures–men, women, warriors, gods–all carved in glorious marble. I love sculpture, and looked forward to walking around them, taking them in from every angle.
When we got to The British, we spent time with the Egyptian collection, wandered past Assyrian masterworks, looked at a bazillion Grecian urns and craters. I was patient. I was saving the best for last.
We walked into the hall with the Elgin Marbles and my wife gasped in awe. I stood there, looking around. Where the hell were the Elgin Marbles? I even had the born-of-ignorance temerity to ask her. “Where the hell are the Elgin Marbles?” She pointed around the room. Right there. All around the room. On the walls.
You know, of course, as I now know also, that the Elgin Marbles are not a collection of free-standing statues. They are a collection of bas-reliefs, taken from the grounds of the Acropolis. They are the friezes that decorated the Parthenon, nearly 2500 years ago.
But at that moment, all I knew was this: they were not statues, not like the Nike or Venus in the Louvre. They were architectural pieces made to go up on a wall. They were not what I expected and then–idiot that I was–I compounded my stupidity and ignorance with a childish mistake: I pouted. It took a handful of years and another trip to London before I finally saw and enjoyed the Elgin Marbles for what they were.
My front doors are like that.
I mentioned that I was refinishing my front doors. They are fine double-doors of solid white oak, five decades old, and I’ve tried to keep them looking like wood doors for nearly twenty years.
I also mentioned that we’d opted this time for a stain and sealer, instead of the oil-rubbed finish I’d used in the past. And, I mentioned that the stain, a water-based product, sucked. Sucked so bad, in fact, that halfway through the first coat I had given up and decided to paint the doors…a failure in my eyes, as they would no longer obviously be wooden doors.
The next morning, my wife and I stepped outside to look at the doors.
I saw the unevenness, the places where the stain went gummy, the places where it was thin. I saw every flaw, every brush mark. I’d wanted a nice, clean, Danish-type look, and this was not that. I hated it.
She suggested I give it another coat. Could I steel wool the areas where it went gummy, she asked. And maybe I could even it out with a second coat.
So I did, and as I worked to shave down the places where the stain had gone on thick and darken the places where it had gone on light, I realized that it was a good color, warm and russet. As the tones evened out with the second coat, I realized that though it was not a Danish-style finish, it did have a nice, rustic feel to it. Stepping back, I saw what my wife had seen at the first and realized my mistake.
These doors were my Elgin Marbles. My expectations had overridden my judgment, and my disappointment had blinded me to what was right before my eyes.
We’re both happy with the result. I’ll still never buy another water-based stain, but I won’t paint over these fine, wooden doors any time soon.
You don’t paint the Elgin Marbles.