Friday, 30 December 2011

The comfort of churches

As I grow older I find I’m changing,  and I'm not referring to my waistline or the effect of gravity on my body.  I’m becoming interested in things I wasn’t interested in before.  One of these things is architecture. Another is my family history. A third is a curiosity in churches. There are probably more if I think about it.

My interest in churches lies in two things: their architecture, and how I feel when I’m inside one. 

I like being in a church with very few people. Preferably on my own. I think that’s because other people are a distraction. 

And the church has to be old.  I have to see its age in the smooth, well-polished wooden pews, and its character in the stained glass windows.

I like to study the scenes depicted in the windows. Mostly, they tell me about the kind of church I’m in.  I like to know that countless people have sat where I’m sitting, and I like to think about why they might have been in church. I have to sense the church’s history.  

I’ve often wanted to enter a church, and simply sit, and let the church enter me as it were.  This morning I did this.  And I was lucky, the church was empty.  Everything else seemed to fall away as I sat there, the outside world, any concerns that I’d had.  I felt at peace. Cocooned and protected.  I also felt small and insignificant. The church I’d chosen to sit in is cavernous. I was dwarfed by awe.

The building almost seemed to be alive. I’m not religious, but I did feel the spirituality.  

And when I emerged into the street I found I was walking slowly, almost trance-like, which is unusual for me. 

I remembered, as I was sitting there, that when I was in England, my cousin took me to Winchester Cathedral. There’s a church where you can sense history. Unfortunately, it’s always full of people.   I went to Google to refresh my memory of it, and found the photograph below of Antony Gormley's statue in the crypt of Winchester Cathedral. I am able to reproduce it here because of a Creative Commons Licence. (Some photographers are very generous.)   

Photograph by David Spender.

I hope you like it.  I find it inspiring.

It made me think of the deep-sea diver, William Walker, who worked six hours a days six days a week for something like six years, saving the cathedral from submergence.

But, as I am fond of saying, that's a story for another day.


Friday, 9 December 2011

There's something about Melbourne

I’ve been lucky enough to spend a couple of days in Melbourne.

And I’ve been fortunate that during the day I was alone and could wander the streets of Melbourne at my leisure, with no set plan.

If someone else had been in tow it would have been difficult, especially when I wanted to do nerdy things like revisit a laneway to check if the light had changed.

Or ask someone if I could photograph their shoes. 

One of the things about photographing a city in which you don’t live, is that you can do it without being self-conscious. Being over fifty has its advantages, too.  Much of the time you’re invisible.  (I had heard that about being over fifty, but I didn’t believe it until it happened to me.  At first I was astounded. Then appalled.   Now I think it can be a good thing. Every so often, you understand, NOT all the time.)

We lived in Melbourne more than ten years ago and I hardly ever went into the city.  I was too busy raising little tackers out in the leafy suburbs. (Melbourne suburbs aren’t all about eucalypts and bush fires, or drugs and crime.)  On this visit and other previous visits I’ve discovered its beauty.  

Melbourne has daylight saving.  The evening goes on and on and on and the darkness drags its feet.  There’s something romantic about that.

In the early morning I walked between the buildings, through slivers of sunlight and into the cool, gloomy depths of their shadows. I almost want to write I skipped between the buildings because of the combination of the light and the architecture.

I sat on a tram with an elderly European lady and her husband. They conversed loudly, well, loudly on her part; he mostly said nothing, I think she said it all for both of them. Did you change your vest?  we’ll get off in William Street do you think Pia will remember the bruschetta? Anyway, they conversed in a foreign language. And I love that about Melbourne, that you are surrounded by any number of nationalities at any one time. 

I’m writing this sitting in 530 Collins Street, a building that has an immense lobby – as tall as it is wide – and a little sparrow has just landed at my feet.  I wonder how he has learnt to negotiate the revolving glass doors? One of my favourite bloggers, Molly Wizenberg of Orangette fame, says she sometimes gets good value out of the photographs that don’t work.  I think that with this little guy.

Oh, and by the way, you’ll notice a distinct Gothic angle to much of Melbourne’s architecture. 

And all the time you thought my interest was just in passing.   


Thursday, 1 December 2011

The white chickens, the red wheelbarrow

I’m a little obsessed with colour at the moment. 

It’s got something to do with my new interest in photography.  And the fact that it’s summer and hot and colours are vibrant and intense. 

I’ve been thinking about colour in writing.  And how some writers don’t use colour but let the words do the colouring in.  

I picked up J.M. Coetzee’s Disgrace and at random selected a passage: 

            Through a window he glimpses the Shaw’s backyard: an apple
tree dropping wormridden fruit, rampant weeds, an area
fenced in with galvanized-iron sheets, wooden pallets, old
tyres, where chickens scratch around…

No colours.  But we can picture it vividly. 

I spent the best part of half an hour going through some of the novels in my bookshelf searching for a passage I could contrast with J.M. Coetzee’s and…nothing. Niks –  to translate into J.M. Coetzee’s home language. To be honest, not quite nothing because I did find two novels where colour featured, The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak.  But both of these writers use colour in these novels for a specific purpose, so they don’t really count.

I enjoy colour in writing.  William Carlos Williams’s poem The Red Wheelbarrow and e.e. cummings’s “leaping greenly spirits of trees” and “blue true dream of sky” in i thank You God for this most amazing, but of course these poems are about so much more than colour. 

I thought I was probably overly fond of using colour in my writing.  But I looked at some of my work, and I don’t use colour all that much.  Not as much as I thought I did.  Which was a surprise. I must have learned something.  

Then I looked at some of my early work, which was embarrassing.  My face grew red.  There’s a colour for you.  Here’s an example:

            Alison, in the passage, in the soft glow of hall light, was biting on
her lip. She was wearing Drew’s thick cable jumper – the white
one he’d bought in Edinburgh which was too small for him – over
faded blue jeans, and her shining dark hair was caught up behind
her head with something resembling a black chopstick.

Much much more embarrassing than the use of colour was the use of adverbs. Not in that particular passage, but elsewhere. Believe me.

Hooley dooley. 

But that’s a story for another day.