Category Archives: Art

Beautiful Bayeux: A pink room, loneliness, and a tapestry

Friday 28 August 2015 (Day 96 of my midlife gap year)

8:20 pm A Restaurant in Bayeux

It’s nice to be in a city again. Bayeux is compact, beautiful, and busy with visitors. The helpful tourist office found me a reasonably priced chambres du hote on the edge of the city centre which I’d never have noticed myself as it’s located over a hair salon. My room is quite pink, and I like it.

A double bed beneath a cheap chandelier in a pink-walled hotel room.
My very pink room in Bayeux.

Sometimes I ride past ‘old’ buildings, but mostly I’m riding in modern France – physically and mentally. This past week I’ve been mired in World War II – history, but of a modern sort. Bayuex is a reminder of the depth of human history here. It was founded in the 1st century BC but there is evidence of older occupation by way of fortified Celtic camps and indications of Druid activities.

Bayeux was the first city liberated following the D-Day landings. The Germans were drawn off to defend more strategically important locations so Bayeux was spared destruction and is – on this late summer’s evening, a gorgeous place to stroll.

Bayeux at sunset.
Bayeux at sunset.

The mass of tourists promises conversation, I hear English on the streets – but I’m feeling stuck in my cone of silence. I know there are chats for the asking, I just can’t find the … energy? Nerve? Conviviality? To bowl up to an English speaker and say “hello”.

So, I’m here –  in this poorly chosen restaurant with a poorly chosen meal.

Jim says I should get out more – he’s right – but getting out more equals getting lonely more. This is the space of loneliness: dining on a Friday night, alone, in a strange city. I am surrounded by couples and families. It’s a lovely city, and I’d like to enjoy it, but lonely plus a disappointing meal makes me grumpy and sad. The irony is that my response to loneliness is a wish to be alone.

Saturday 29 August 6:33 am (Day 97) – Relais ‘La Roseraie’, Bayeux

I’ve been awake for nearly an hour.

At the American cemetery a British father with two sons under 10: the older says, “So he survived?” Dad looks around and says, “Does it look like anyone here won?”

While I appreciate what Dad was doing there – those boys and men, interred there, may have lost their lives – but that we’re not all speaking German, and are living in free, democratic countries – they won. They most definitely won.

I’ve had an email reply from Robert – which is nice, he’s pleased I’m reading Selected Poems. I’ve typed up my ‘poem’ about reading his poems – as it exists so far … it’s … okay. Not sure if I’ll send it to him – that’s a bit nerve wracking, really.

[I]t seems that someone who wants too much to get things is also someone who fears. And living in that fear cannot be free. (From Robert Pinsky’s An Explanation of America (Part Two, III, Epistulae I, xvi)).

My freedom on the road is borne of some of this fearlessness – not a bravery but a lack of worry and want. Others tell me they see it as bravery, but I think bravery is mostly in the eye of the beholder.

11:15 pm – Relais ‘La Roseraie’, Bayeux

Bayeux has been at the cross-roads of clashing civilisations going back to the Roman arrival in Gaul. Later the Vikings came and then the Franks and the English. So, I guess, there’s something appropriate in the city being associated with one of the oldest artistic renderings of human warfare.

The Bayeux Tapestry, which I saw today, was made around 1070. It tells the story of William the Conqueror’s triumph over the Saxons at the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

The 70-metre-long tapestry (really an embroidery) is a series of panels with some (Latin) text. The museum supplies a little audio device which explains the tale as you move along at a steady pace in what is, basically, an ever-moving queue of tourists.

It’s gorgeous, the colours vibrant, and it’s just generally in very good nick for 945-year-old cloth. While the names of famous men are attached to its history it’s important, to me, to remember the work itself, the stitching, and so the fundamental artistry, is the work of women. Anonymous 11th century English women – and they have done a stellar job.

But it is a depiction of war and I am reminded that the same stories of war and loss, bravery and sacrifice, have been played out way too many times.

Detail of Bayeux Tapestry found on www.english-heritage.org.au © DeAgostini/Getty Images
Detail of Bayeux Tapestry found on www.english-heritage.org.au © DeAgostini/Getty Images

Aside from successful touristing, the day was insanely productive: bike fixed (I’d had a wee gearing problem and the brake cables needed adjusting) – they charged me nothing, so I bought a new cap – Australian green & gold with kangaroos no less; Intersport sold me expensive but fine knicks to replace my old, inexpensive, but fine knicks.

This evening I washed my clothes at a laundrette and had take-away sushi for dinner – pricy but good. I chatted with Jim on Facebook – which was nice, as always.

Sound and light projection show on a 1797 tree at Bayeux Cathedral
Sound and light projection show on a 1797 tree at Bayeux Cathedral

Then I went out to see the Rendez-vous a la Cathedrale – Les Lumieres de la Liberte – a projection and sound show on the 1797 tree in the Cathedral courtyard – 10 stories of liberty from across history. The WWII section was haunting in its way, the Flower Power one fun and lovely.

(Not my video – it’s the whole show, so a bit long – but you may enjoy bits and pieces of it.)

A few drops began falling just at the end of the show, which became steady rain, then torrents by the time I got within about 200 metres of home.

It’s pelting – torrential, tropical nearly, with thunder and lightning too. The last rain this heavy might have been on the Australian leg of my journey.

I am so glad not to be in my tent tonight.

Poetry, Light, Ice Cream and Friendship on a Beaut Irish Summer Day: Monday 10 August 2015 (Day 78)

11:20 am – The Gourmet Store Café, Kilkenny

We are finally getting a run of sunny and warm days. Cornelia says this sort of day is exactly what one hopes for when thinking of an Irish summer’s day.

7:30 pm – Zuni Café

I’m feeling like a local. I know where everything is and I run into people I know on the street.

At the café this morning Hazel, Cornelia’s right-hand gal, passed by with Robert Pinsky. He’s just arrived from Boston and they were looking for an Irish SIM card for him but said they’d come back for coffee.

I read the blurb about him in the festival catalogue and had just started in on his Wikipedia page when they returned.

I learned he was US Poet Laureate from 1997 to 2000. He’s a poet, obviously, and an academic at Boston University. Jewish, from New Jersey. That’s about all I knew as we started chatting.

Cornelia had to go and Hazel, while she stayed on, was hard at work at other tasks – so Robert and I had a nice chat about American politics, guns, violence, Australia, John Howard & guns, etc. He hasn’t yet visited Australia, but would like to – this seems a worthy project to help with.

The rest of the morning I ran around for Cornelia. I delivered lunch to an organist at the Cathedral. And I picnicked outside St John’s Priory – pressing my ear to the stained glass to hear the Bach Cello Concerto being played within.

At 4pm I went to the Rothe House Garden for Robert’s “Secret Garden” performance, which was quite good.

Afterwards Cornelia and I took him to the Architects of the Air installation.

The Luminarium is a pneumatic sculpture (one filled with air) constructed of specially designed plastics where the colours of the material and the design of thinner bits illuminate the inside just by the natural light.

Here’s how the artists describe it:

Each luminarium is a dazzling maze of winding paths and soaring dorms where Islamic architecture, Archimedian solids and Gothic cathedrals meld into an inspiring monument to the beauty of light and colour.

The domes are the large chambers rising up to 10 metres high that provide the focal points. The tunnels connect the domes and determine the journey the visitor will take. The luminaria also feature ‘pods’ – alcoves where people can sit and relax out of the way of the other visitors.

Each luminarium is made up of around 20 elements that are zipped together on site to typically occupy an area of 1000 square metres. Easy to erect, laying out the structure and anchoring can take as little as 4 hours then, in just 20 minutes, the luminarium is inflated to its monumental size.

Inside the Luminiarium
Inside the Luminiarium (Photo by Glenn Lucas)

W got ice cream and sat in the Butler House Gardens. He was, I think, just trying to keep going to keep jet-lag at bay. A plight I well understand. Cornelia had to go and left me to see Robert back to is hotel but first we lingered.

We chatted away about politics and swapped Clinton stories. He told me about his Favorite Poem Project, which he began as Poet Laureate and continues. They hold events where everyday people share their favourite poems and there’s a web site with videos of people sharing their favourite poems.

It’s been quite a while since I’d had such a long chat about stuff I know and care about with someone who knows as much or more about the same stuff – if that makes sense. The conversation was very enjoyable and unlike any I’d had recently. He gave me his card … if I get to Boston I’ll drop him a line.

Now I’m sitting at Zuni having had a glass of white wine and a serve of chips. I’m waiting on Cornelia to return. My face is sunburnt and I’m very sleepy.

Cornelia arrived and we ordered some more wine and, then, Jim!

Me and Jim (last seen at Sydney Airport 72 days ago)
Me and Jim (last seen at Sydney Airport 72 days ago)

Oh, my goodness how nice it is to see him. I’ve seen a few old friends along the way and made many new ones but I hadn’t seen anyone from my immediate, loving, fabulous circle of Sydney friends for 78 days (when Jim and Vickianne saw me off at the airport) and now, here, was one of my besties and someone I’ve known for 27 years. I think I got a little teary.

Shifting Attitude, Celebrating Art at the Arts Festival: Saturday 8 August 2015 (Day 76)

Saturday 8 August, 6:30 pm – Langston House Hotel (Kilkenny)

Attitude. It’s really a bit about attitude. I’m here. Doing this. Be here. Do this. I’ll sort the rest as it comes. I’ve made decisions which, now made, are as they will be. I’ll be in Ireland until 22 August. Deal with it. Enjoy it.

So, I’ve had a pretty full day with the festival.

I helped Cornelia with this and that before completing a 3 ½ hour shift at Cleary Connolly’s Meta-Perceptual Helmets – which was actually quite good. I met the artists. They are former architects. The project is about how we’d see the world differently with different eyes. They’ve designed a heap, but only made these five so far. They are aluminium and sleek, shiny, with a back like a time-trial helmet with optical contraptions which allow the wearer to see the world like a … cat, horse, giraffe, hammerhead shark, chameleon. It’s set up in the garden of Rothe House.

When my shift ended, I made my way to the Cathedral to find Cornelia and continue to be helpful.

Concert at the Cathedral
Concert at the Cathedral

At the tail end of the day I caught a bit of the beautiful performance by Toumani & Sidiki Diabate

Utterly gorgeous.

This isn’t from Kilkenny but give you a good taste of their work.

Be Here Now, Be Here Now, Repeat: Friday 7 August 2015 (Day 75)

Kilkenny and County Carlow:

What am I thinking? Why am I here?

I feel like the trip has come off the rails a little bit and that I’m stuck in Kilkenny-ish. The ish being stuck-ish.

I feel like maybe I’m spending more time in Ireland than I need to. Though it is pleasant and relatively cheap and filling non-Schengen time. And I’m making decisions and having realisations.

I’ve  gotten an hour’s work done today and otherwise just been … in a town I was bored with after the first hour a week ago. I feel I’ve made mistakes that have me here – to an Irish bog. I want to magically be back on the Continent and pedalling on to a next destination. And I feel like I can’t expedite that process, having said ‘yes’ to helping, and ‘yes’ to wanting to wait for Jim, and having made plans for the North, and have booked my ferry. It would all be fine if I was also having days like I had in Florence – productive.

I spent some time working at the volunteer office this arvo. If I can get on the WiFi there – just put some music in my ears, then, maybe tomorrow, Sunday, Monday I can really crank through some work. That might make me feel better. Now I feel … anxious, bored, tired (I’ve lost my cyclist’s sleep pattern and cyclist’s sleepiness and I’m not sleeping well), thirsty too – of course, and just wanting things to clarify again. I’m out of my zone – I want to be back in it.

Tonight, I did a volunteer shift as an usher at DruidShakespeare’s full-cycle of Richard II, Henry IV (Parts 1 & 2) and Henry V. It was a long and very chilly night – the production is on in the courtyard of the Castle Yard. They split the telling over two nights. I didn’t stay for the whole show tonight – once the audience was seated after the last break I was free to go – and I did because it was really cold. I hope to get back and watch some of the second half before the festival is over.

Overall, I thought it was a good and engaging production – their twist was that most of the traditionally male roles were played by women and this worked fine but for one of the main actresses who, um, just had an annoying voice and way of speaking. It was overdone, over-acted, and pulled me out of the story.

That said, it was a cool thing to see and it was fun being part of a team and having colleagues again.

So I continue to battle between thinking I need to be working and planning and trying to simply be and enjoy it.

This is (another) test of my commitment to, and ability to, BE HERE NOW.

Yes, I have work to do – writing, photo editing, planning – but I need to BE HERE NOW. Enjoy the festival, embrace it.

Joy Joy – My Bicycle is Here! Let’s Go See The Last Supper (Milano – 28 May, Day 4)

My bicycle is in Milano! And will be delivered to Maria Elena’s after 2pm. Meanwhile I’ve moved across town to stay with a WarmShowers.org host, Daniella. I’ve a room in the attic of her rambling home in another multicultural neighbourhood but this one to the northwest and near a university. She is an academic, but not at that university, and a sociologist.

Even though I booked my flight to Milan six months ago and managed to remember to book a ticket to La Scala I had forgotten about The Last Supper until a fortnight ago. If you plan ahead you can book a ticket directly for about 7 euro but if you have left it to the last minute (and for The Last Supper two weeks is last-minute) you have to book into a tour. Fortunately I had found one that was “only” 35 or so euro and at 11:15 this morning.

Before I had a few minutes to admire the associated church.

Santa Maria della Grazie
Santa Maria della Grazie

Access to the room is in groups of 30 people for 15 minutes – which for me was both pleasantly uncrowded and sufficient. Our guide provided us with some history and interesting facts about Leonard da Vinci and stuff. None of which have really stuck but you can look them up in you’re keen.

It was, at first, smaller than I expected somehow but that impression faded as I looked at it and our guide pointed out details. A long term restoration project finished sometime in the last decade so now visitors are seeing more of the actual pigment as applied by da Vinci and a more accurate sense of the original colours.

It’s beautiful. Of course. I’m glad to have seen it. I just don’t have much more to say for it but that it’s one of those things which is so a part of our culture’s collective assemblage of images that its quite a strange thing to find oneself before the real thing.

Having gazed upon one of western civilzation’s greatest works in the morning I spent the afternoon putting my bicycle together.

Once assembled I rode off into the streets of Milan on my own bicycle. A bicycle I have been riding for six years in Sydney (mostly – and a few other places in Australia). What an amazing feeling it was – to be on my own vehicle, familiar in every way, on foreign streets. I was riding a few kilometres to meet Daniella and her friends for dinner. The place we met is well a squat, a sort of squat headquarters. The people there had a few years earlier occupied an unused office building in the city for a while and when they were cleared out had claimed this sprawling former abattoir. There was a bar and, eventually, a serve-up of Eritrean stew served on injara. A dj was playing reggae. There was a real mix of people there – various ages from children to the grey-haired, Italians and immigrants.

Daniella, her friends and I sat on the front steps in the warm evening air with our cups of beer and plates of food. Her friends were a pair from a Polyamorous society – he was originally from Mexico but had been living in Milan for seven years.

Again, what I love about being hosted and saying ‘yes’ when invited along … you meet people and go places you never otherwise would.

Finding Inspiration at the Art Gallery of NSW

I spent part of New Years Day at the Art Gallery of NSW having a wander through the exhibits.

The text accompanying Tony Albert’s Hey Ya! (Shake it Like a Polaroid Picture) read, in part

Ritsi (the young man in the photographs) and Albert share an experience of re-connection to country and community by following the movements of their ancestors.

One image from Tony Albert's 'Hey Ya! (Shake it like a Polaroid picture)' at the Art Gallery of NSW
One image from Tony Albert’s ‘Hey Ya! (Shake it like a Polaroid picture)’ at the Art Gallery of NSW

 

Part of what I’ll be doing on my Big Ride is, in a way, just this: I’ll be re-connecting with the places my antecedents lived for thousands of years by following their movements across Europe. I will visit reminders and remainders of their culture and, hopefully, connect with my fellow descendants who still, or are again, living there.

The European Jews were, of course, displaced by the awful tides of hate history bore down on them. My families have done well in the diaspora, I’m not complaining. They were fortunate to have been driven out by the pogroms before Hitler’s Final Solution was enacted. But still, they were displaced. They were disconnected from their places and their communities. They had to learn from scratch how to make their way in the world.

As a still new, and happy, immigrant to Australia I suspect I see Australia’s Aboriginal history and people somewhat differently than I would if I had been born and raised here. The relationship between new and old Australians is complicated — as are these relationships anywhere in the world where there are New and Old.

Tony Albert’s work had me thinking about two things. How can I, living my modern peripatetic non-religious assimilated life connect with my not-to-distant Eastern European Yiddish-speaking shtetl-living observant Jewish ancestors? And how can my efforts to do so connect me with these, my fellow Australians, the descendants of the first Australians.

* * *

Tom Carment's 'Flame Tree'
Tom Carment’s ‘Flame Tree’

I was also taken by the exhibition of Tom Carment’s small watercolour sketches of parks and street scenes. These reminded me to put a sketch book and watercolour kit on my shopping list for the trip. I have basically no experience drawing or doing watercolours – not since I was a kid anyway – but am keen to give it a go. It seems like the time one would take to really look at a scene to try to represent it in pen and ink would be good — just taking that time to really look, will be a good exercise.