A few weeks ago MP and I were in New York City, and we went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art with some friends. You could actually spend an entire week there and still not see everything (we tried it), so if you only have two hours, you need to be very, very targeted in what you want to see. We went to the Arms and Armor section,whereupon our little group went its separate ways. I think that's because when a group of more than 3 people tries to stay together, it starts to feel like a field trip, and once you've graduated from middle school, that's just weird.
I went to the Japanese section. Seeing the daishō (both large and small swords, the the katana and the wakizashi, respectively) is interesting, but I like to look at the tsuba and menuki (the sword guards, which are removable, and the small decorative objects generally woven into the silk binding on the hilt). Generally speaking a separate set of craftsmen created these items, as opposed to the craftsmen who created the actual blades, and I could go on at great length about the artistry, etc. involved in all these pieces, but that's not what this post is about. But if you're interested, absolutely go to the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
These items are separate from the main collection for two reasons: because they're Asian (as opposed to European) and because, being Asian, they often have textile elements (the silk wrappings) which need to be under special low lighting conditions. Wandering the Asian collection is very private and quiet and... well, gloomy.
I was absolutely absorbed by a priceless set of swords, complete with a helmet, bearing a rabbit motif, when a voice next to me asked, "Have you ever thought about how many people they've killed?"
I turned to regard the questioner. No American man can tie his tie that perfectly unless he's military, and the dark blue (green? It's dark in that display) sweater and slacks with the stripe confirmed that.
My first thought was, "Dude, they've got bunnies all over them." But the Japanese don't see design elements in quite the same way, and after all, a razor-sharp blade with cherry-blossoms on it is still razor sharp.
My next thought was just exactly how to interpret the question. Because the truth is, I have thought about it. You can't look at those beautifully crafted blades gleaming in the dim light and not think about it. It's an object of art which has the sole purpose of dealing out death. Does such an object become imbued with some part of the lives it has taken, or the personality of all who have wielded it? What is it like to hold such a blade in your hand? Does it whisper words, a history, that only another swordsman could understand?
This man was military. But for time and culture, the swords behind the glass might have been his. He had trained for combat; had he trained for the sword? I don't see how you can serve in the Armed Forces and not think about mortality. Was he back from somewhere? Going somewhere?
More importantly, when a man and a woman are strangers alone in a darkened room and he asks her such a question, is it a vaguely creepy moment or the worst pickup line ever?
Saying something pithy about weapons as beautiful objects, I sidestepped the question and I sidestepped him. I didn't sense any particular harm to him, but I didn't want to find out. As a rule I don't strike up conversations, and especially not when the opening line is so fraught with creepy ambiguities. I give him credit, though, for saying what was on his mind. Some day I'd like to be able to ask random strangers for the answers to all those things I've always wanted to know — but that wasn't one of them.