• Inside Worlds


    Amanda Davies

    Shannon Field

    Curated by Angela Casey

    Essay by Patrick Sutczak

    What an opportunity it is to see inside of something.

    All too often the mechanics of almost everything are hidden because what lies beneath, and within, is a complicated space. Complicated because the parts are plenty, the arrangement preferences function over aesthetic, and nothing is immediately clear. The world inside is a place that exists behind a curtain that offers no apologies, and rightly so. Lifting the lid doesn’t necessarily equate to understanding, but it does is offer a glimpse into the things that we are curious to sight, curious to know. Lids of course, need to be loose, curtains need to allow being drawn, and doors need to be cast open willingly. The inside is a protected space and rarely accessible to the unknown caller who wishes to cross the threshold.

    Amanda Davies and Shannon Field are brave and willing keepers of their doors. For Inside Worlds the artists have both stepped aside and allowed outcome and process to become somewhat entangled in an exhibition that not only says here it is but also here I am. A refreshing collision of artist and influence, Inside Worlds operates on multiple levels across two clearly defined spaces where Australia is the central character.

    Place, experience, history, memory, facts and fictions are all evident on the surface, and deeper inspection is a mere scratch away. Contemporary masculinity is navigated through violent and repeated narratives of dark and uncouth convictism. Field examines what has shaped our post-colonised society and thrusts it into an alternative possibility. Davies explores modern identity, location and the blurriness between lived experience and precious memories. Here, abstracted ideas are manifested into resolved works alongside speculative voyeurism, and shades of truth. The midnight artists.

    How much to be viewed is real, and how much of a window do we have? To be found within the work of each artist is a degree of fiction. The works are representative of deeper influences that ask the audience to engage and interpret, connect and associate. To browse the bookshelf of invented titles is an exercise in extracting information and drawing threads together – Painters on Porridge: Tasmanian Painters and their simple lives tells us something important, and personal. Roman Holiday commands attention with a deliberate mash of settler culture labour with a modern European twist and asks that we bridge these things together and make sense of it. To read with jest, is to read foolishly. There are clues within. There are buried realities and ways of speaking and ways of revealing - voices that Inside Worlds so cleverly make audible, if we should allow ourselves to listen.

    Seeing isn’t everything. Peering behind the veil demands a number of senses. Nothing is literal, everything is abstract, and all is in a state of convergence and fluidity.

    Inside Worlds is as much an insight of surface disturbances and all that resonates, as it is a rabbit hole.

    Stay on the surface, or go as deep as you like. 

  • Knees

    I was on them.

    My hands were dirty and the sweat pouring from my forehead was irritating to say the least. I ungraciously wiped my nose with the back of my hand and looked at the growing pile of weeds beside me. It was mid-afternoon and the sun was still high. Even though I was working beneath the apple tree in relative shade, I was still hot. I purposefully fell back on my rear, arched my legs, draped a casual elbow over my knee and slugged my water.  I could hear the kids inside the house, though only faint. Apart from that, only birds. I surveyed my garden and thought about such growth in four months. Given the right conditions, things went wild. The wisteria was particularly opportunistic – when presented with the chance it had reached toward every branch it could - from the fruits of the nearby lemon to the thorns of the hawthorn beside – all things at once, for as long as possible.

    Deliberate, determined.

    I surveyed my back, tossed my aged and rusty Felco’s aside and lay down for just a moment. Beyond the leaves of the apple and the birch, the sky was blue. From within the house, my youngest screamed, my eldest fought back and my wife intervened. It was all a muffle but I am tuned to tone - high, medium, low and then silence – resolution, or at the very least, treaty. I continued to stare at the sky. A few days ago I pulled my scarf up to shield my face against the piercing cold of the Parisian night. My stomach was full and the taste of wine lingered on my tongue. I checked my watch. It was nine-thirty and I was freezing. My eyes were watering as I crossed over from the Left Bank. I continued to walk away from Notre-Dame toward the studio slowly. Every so often I would turn back wondering when I would actually be satisfied. At that point I realised I never would be.

    The sky was still blue. Nothing but blue.

    I begrudgingly sat up because if I didn’t I would have wilfully slipped into sleep. I got to my feet, took a deep breath and made my way up the garden toward the house. My water bottle was almost empty. I upended it and shook out the last remaining drops as I went.

    As they dissolved into heat of the earth I thought about breadcrumbs of a transient kind, and wondered if I would ever find my way back again.

  • Celebration

    I saw myself in the reflection of Moon (Light Blue). I don’t fancy my reflection too much, but I stood there for a while. I saw myself distorted.  All around people were mulling over the retrospective work of Jeff Koons. I had already seen Michael Jackson and Bubbles but there was a crowd gathering now. I saw them curved and elongated in the surface of Moon. Behind them, works of The New series illuminated by neon.

    As I broke away from Celebration toward Made From Heaven, I observed the attendant cautioning parents and forbidding younglings from entering the enclosed space, and rightly so. Cat on a Clothesline is a bit of a stretch from Ilona’s Asshole. As I moved through the exhibition I thought about the work, I thought about my work, I thought about the work of others here at the Cité. I left and made my way down the celebrated escalators of the inside-out Centre Pompidou. The familiar jerk and clunk of moving stairs beneath my feet reminded me that nothing is perfect – everything is subjective based on experience. I rode it out. I stared at my feet. I readjusted the grip on my bag containing an exhibition catalogue and various other things bought on a whim. All the while, I was still going down slowly, and with an anticipated hiccup of a sticky stair every now and again. I exited and made my way through the streets toward Rue de Rivoli and as I did I became aware that I was walking faster than usual. I consciously slowed down. I hugged the shopfronts as an excuse to change pace. After a while before turning the corner to be washed with the Rue de Rivoli tide, I stopped altogether. I found a wall space and backed myself against it to watch the people move by.

    The air was cold but that was nice. I am not sure how long I was there against the wall, but I certainly knew why. Paris was like sand.

    I crossed the street and took the slow walk by the Seine.

    As slow a walk as I possibly could have.

  • Barbaric

    It was cold. I stood on the footpath and leaned over the wall lining the Seine. I had planned to eat lunch on the seating steps across the road from the d’Orsay as I have done many times before, but not today. The modern steps that arched over the stone walkway below were being removed for some reason. I watched the dismantlement for a while bemused by the way in which the work was being carried out. One guy controlled the crane as another shouted at four or five others who shouted back throwing arms in the air whilst pacing in circles. A section of the supporting frame came away and was lifted with precision atop of many others. Shouting continued. I am not sure why. It seemed as though things were going pretty smooth, but who am I to say - I have never dismantled an arched step construction before. I was trying to decipher an information panel about the work being undertaken when a nearby Pedicab operator starting spruiking his custom to a couple of young women who clearly didn’t need it and were having a battle shaking him off. They quickly passed by and he gave up. He looked at me and said something with a smile on his face while flicking his cigarette away and returned to his cab.

    I leaned there for a while longer before heading down the nearby steps and taking a seat by the river.

    I was pleased to drop my bags. I had been carrying around the Sade tome since making the purchase in the d’Orsay a few hours before when two things suddenly dawned on me. Firstly the weight of the thing, secondly the weight of it combined with every other book I have bought. I turned around to look at the d’Orsay another time. I turned back to the Seine.

    I am going home.

    I ate my sandwich and drank my Coke. I would like to think that I wasn’t thinking at all, but I was. I saw, heard and felt everything. I casually turned around and there was a young couple exercising on some bars. They nodded and I nodded back. They dropped to the ground and started doing push-ups. She did less and checked her watch as he did more. I turned away again. I admired their allocation of time to shaping themselves and to the benefits that would bring. I stared at my feet and the ground beneath them. I thought about the Sade. I thought about the exhibition.

    ‘I am barbaric to the point of frenzy when I have an erection and cruelly cold-blooded when I have spent my seed’

    I watched the ebb and flow of the Seine for a while longer, gathered my things, climbed the steps and fell in with the crowd. 

  • Anatomy

    It is Sunday. By lunchtime today I was feeling restless. I had woken up expecting rain and there was none. The day was bleak for sure, but that one crucial and beautiful element I so dearly wanted today was missing.

    Rain does something for me – it sorts everything out. I made a cup of tea. I drank it while looking out over the garden.  Shortly after I went across the street to check my mailbox because I didn’t check yesterday. There was an invitation to a concert here at the Cité. I stood in the mailroom, read it and stepped back across the street, through the passages and back to the studio to pin it to the wall – a dedicated section to order.

    I can’t stay in the studio too long. Everything I need for my work is out there. The sky was overcast, nothing overly threatening, so I gathered my things and left. The Saint-Paul Metro station is a minute or two away (given the circumstances) and that is where I went. I was in the mood for a rocket ride to the Arc de Triomphe on Line 1 and a slow walk back home.

    When I exited the station at George V I walked up the steps to find the rain was just about to break. Unexpected given the impotence of the morning, but welcome. I fell in immediately and made my way to view the magnificent Arc again. I will never tire of it. This day, as I gazed upon it from my vantage point against the wall of a building buffering the roundabout, the rain fell. People popped umbrellas, raised coats over their heads and dashed for cover. The tiny silhouettes of view-seekers on top of the Arc disappeared. The rain was belting down yet the atmosphere was jovial. Experience – the stuff of stories, being places alone, with friends, with lovers.

    I broke away wrestling my umbrella to join the crowd waiting to cross the street. The walk light went green, the cars, motorcycles and scooters stopped (sort of) and I stepped out. As I walked across I looked to my right. The Arc de Triomphe stood, as it should, against a dark and turbulent sky, triumphant and glorious under the assault of nature. Just then I looked to my left, down the Champs-Élysées, down toward the spinning, glowing, ambient Roué de Paris- the magnificent wheel in the distance beyond the temporary but spectacular Ville de Noël, the Obelisk before it visible, just, and a little further, the familiar lines of The Louvre.

    What I felt was a perfect dissection of visual, historical and emotional stimulation. A half-second crossing the street among the crowd in the pouring rain will stay with me until my grave.

    I made it to the other side. I found a bookstore but rather than go inside immediately, I aimed for the place under an annexe where it rounded the street. I could still see the Arc de Triomphe and I was pleased about that.

    I thought then, under the annexe with the relentless splattering of rain upon canvas above, about the anatomy of a city - about the structure, the bones, the blood. I thought about the microcosm. I thought about understanding and the need to be present, to get wet, to get messy, to feel cold, to get pestered, to get excited, to get hungry, to get fed, to find warmth, to find joy, to push my way through a crowd, to be part of one.

    I thought about observation and documentation. I thought about the two combined.

    I put my camera away. I stayed there under the annexe for a little while. I continued to look upon the Arc de Triomphe. After a few more minutes I entered the bookstore.  

    The rest of the day, this day, will be shared over a coffee, or a wine, under a tree, or somewhere else with friends far from here.

    I woke up feeling restless. I went to bed feeling enriched. The rain continues to fall, and as I drift off to sleep, I feel glad about that.

  • The Last Queen

    At the RER platform deep underground I was leaning on a vending machine looking down at the train tracks. It was cold up above on the street, but it was warm below. I had had very little sleep the night before and was feeling a bit flat. People were pouring in down the steps and moving by. The constant underlying sound was the whip and clunk of tickets going through the machine and people passing through the turnstiles - above that, the hum of chatter. Over on the opposite platform across the tracks, among the scores of people, a guy with headphones was standing dangerously close to the edge. He was staring at me. I stared back for a moment and then looked toward the curved ceiling of the tunnel. When I quickly glanced back, the headphone-clad man was pacing around as if waiting. As if waiting for a train, listening to music. Killing time. Not staring at me at all. I looked to my right into the darkness of the tunnel beyond the platform. I could hear the rumble of an approaching train. Internally I was abuzz again. Outwardly, I checked my watch, figured this was the right one, flicked the growing hair out of my eyes and waited for the train to stop. Maybe I smiled a little. Maybe I tried hard not to.

    Forty-minutes later I was standing on the street outside the train station beyond Paris turning up my collar against the chilling wind. The area looked nice. I had no idea where the Palace of Versailles was, but I knew it was close. My bag was beeping. My GPS was flat. I went back up the steps into station, darted for the little shop there, found batteries, handed over my last note, and went back out into the cold. I found a seat, fumbled around and gave life to my orange and black companion – the keeper of my paces. After a wake-up coffee I returned to the street and realised that Versailles was just around the corner. I rounded that corner onto a tree-lined boulevard with an autumn flair. Beyond the dusky hues of leaves about to fall lay the Palace of Versailles. I paused for a moment, and made my way up the road.

    The first thing I noticed when reaching Versailles was the ground underfoot. After crossing the road and making my way through the car park, I found Versailles proper. Bitumen and shale turned into history. As I passed through the first gates marking the incline to the Palace, the cobblestones caught my attention – rough, irregular, uncomfortable, functional – a stark contrast to the opulence ahead. There were fewer people converging on the Palace than expected. I shuffled along watching my feet and looking around. In front was an Australian family. I enjoyed listening to them talk about why Uncle Dave wouldn’t fly. He had problems with his ears. They paused. Mum was taking a photo. I went by. The youngest daughter, all of five or six suggested Uncle Dave could take the boat. Dad thought that was a good idea but said it would take months. I wondered if there even was a boat. How wonderful that would be.

    I reached the gates of the Palace and like so many others, pressed my cheeks against the iron for a glimpse of what was beyond. To my left was the contemporary entry – highly designed and contrasting. It was decision time –Palace or Gardens. Given my mood, I felt like a stroll. I wanted to clear my head. I wanted to get lost again.

    I have had many breathtaking moments in Paris. After following the signs that directed visitors behind the Palace, I was granted another one. The day was overcast and atmospheric to begin with but when I walked behind the Palace to enter the Garden I couldn’t help but slow down and eventually stop. The Garden fell away to the horizon. I thought about it for moment. I reached for my camera and then thought better of it. What is the point? I stayed there for quite a while at the top of the stairs, at the Water Parterre, looking out. I found a stone bench and sat down. The air was cold. The people were few by comparison. After a while, I set off down the steps to explore.

    I walked by the Grand Canal not sure where I was going. It didn’t really matter. Paths, streets really, went off in every direction. I consulted my map and realised I wasn’t far from the Petite Trianon – the retreat of Maire-Antoinette.

    Actually I was far, but that didn’t matter either. The avenue was lined with forest proper (once part of the forest used for hunting) and the walk was beautiful. A squirrel ran across the path and danced for a while at the bottom of a tree before shooting off and disappearing into the greenery. What a magnificent and nimble creature. I spent the rest of the walk scanning the trees hoping to see another. I was denied.

    The Petite Trianon was just the beginning of a fascinating insight, not only into the life and mind of Marie-Antoinette, but also to the evolution of modern France.

    The Petite Trianon lived up to its name. It was petite, but stunning. Every room had a distinctly feminine feel and a certain eloquence that painted a vivid portrait of Marie-Antoinette. From the dining room to the bedroom, it wasn’t hard to imagine her escaping from court life with her personal entourage and closing the door on what was an extraordinary (short) life of opulence. I paused at the windows overlooking the courtyard on the second floor. By looking out through the hazy panels of glass I felt an even stronger sense of looking in. Lost in my own thought processes I was interrupted by an older couple wanting to see the view. They imposed themselves on me and I was quickly shouldering the wall. For some reason I apologised and went down the stairs. Another moment gone too soon.  

    Almost two hours later I was far from the house but still in her garden, her grounds – her personal paradise. The sun was getting low in the sky and the light was something to behold. There was still a chill in the air which I knew was only going to get worse, but I didn’t mind.  The pathways, the many meandering pathways, held my fascination as they led me sometimes through open parkland and sometimes around a fantasy forest complete with hidden grotto’s and tiny waterfalls. As I followed the paths, felt the chill on my face and found pleasure in the light, I had a profound sense of mortality. I had done things backwards. During my time in Paris, I have stood where Marie-Antoinette was decapitated, I have walked the streets where she was paraded on the way to the guillotine in the back of an open cart, I have seen the cell where she was held before that final trip. And then, there I was sharing the space where she lived - where she found solitude. I thought about that then.

    I am still thinking about it now.

  • The Arcades

    I have spent the past two days making my way to Rue Saint-Denis.

    I have walked past its southern entrance many times at Les Halles doing various things like eating, sitting, standing at the spot where Henry IV was assassinated, drinking coffee, getting wet from the rain or cursing the sunshine. I have looked at shoes because I have worn mine out. Other times I have looked at people looking at me as I am looking at them. At Les Halles I have frequently descended underground into the Forum des Halles and emerged again sometime later, fed, watered and witness to the effects of converging a Metro station, an RER train station and a shopping mall three-stories underground, all the while being somewhat fascinated by the order of chaos, as well as my increasing love of it. I have sat before the immense 1895 painting by Léon Lhermitte some distance away at the Petit Palais titled Les Halles and found myself more aware. Les Halles is concentrated, visible – the place of necessity and desire.

    Rue Saint-Denis offers yet another journey into Paris - a gateway to the old and the new, the rise of modernity and the end of the flâneur. The Arcades of Paris have captured my attention since mulling over the translated version of Walter Benjamin’s unfinished The Arcades Project on and off over the past few years. I won’t lay claim to understanding it all – The Arcades Project is many things and took on many forms at one point or another, and as written by its translators drawing on Benjamin himself is ‘a “torso”, a monumental fragment or ruin, and at worst a mere notebook’. It is about change, transition and capitalism. It is poetic, beautiful, mysterious and of course, unfinished. It also has the Arcade at its core – a sign of progress, and of ends.

    Glass before its time, premature iron: it was one single line of descent - arcades, winter gardens with their lordly palms, and railroad stations, which cultivated the false orchid "adieu" with its fluttering petals. They have long since given way to the hangar. And today, it is the same with the human material on the inside of the arcades as with the materials of their construction. Pimps are the iron uprights of this street and its glass breakables are the whores (The Arcades Project, 1999).

    As I walked through many of them, there is a great sense of stepping back in time. As The Arcades Project is a collection of Benjamin’s own thoughts jumbled in with all sorts of quotes and ideas from others, it is not difficult to understand his motivations to write of a changing society, a society of the consumer. Benjamin talks about the department store, and indeed the arcades as the last home of the flâneur (described by others as a new wanderer of the time – a determined flâneur – someone sheltered from the weather and ambling within a vault, or certainly a series of them). To leave one arcade around the areas of Rue Saint-Denis and Boulevard Montmartre is to cross the traffic and enter another - fascinating and charming yet a very directed experience, unlike the experience of the streets. The flâneur was an endangered species according to Benjamin:

     A man who goes for a walk ought not to have to concern himself with any hazards he may run into or with the regulations of a city. If an amusing idea enters his head, if a curious shopfront comes into view, it is natural that he would want to cross the street without confronting dangers such as our grandparents could not have imagined. But he cannot do this today without taking a hundred precautions,- without checking the horizon, without asking the advice of the police department, without mixing with a dazed and breathless herd, for whom the way is marked out in advance by hits of shining metal. If he tries to collect the whimsical thoughts that may have come to mind, very possibly occasioned by sights on the street, he is deafened by car horns, stupefied by loud talkers (The Arcades Project, 1999).

    Rue Saint-Denis offers much (as do most streets), loud talkers included. Food, drink, clothes, entertainment, temptation. Open air ambling toward the north, toward Montmartre. Toward the arcades - toward the Passages – through history, but not. Benjamin says that the flâneur lived by a past that wasn’t his own. From days of youth, a song is with me still. It spoke to him. The streets of Paris spoke to him. 

    An intoxication comes over the man who walks long and aimlessly through the streets. With each step, the walk takes on greater momentum; ever weaker grow the temptations of shops, of bistros, of smiling women, ever more irresistible the magnetism of the next streetcorner, of a distant square in the fog, of the back of a woman walking before him. Then comes hunger. Our man wants nothing to do with the myriad possibilities offered to sate his appetite, but like an animal, he prowls through unknown districts in search of food, in search of a woman, until, utterly exhausted, he stumbles into his room, which receives him coldly and wears a strange air (The Arcades Project, 1999).

    I have felt (am feeling) the intoxication of strolling (and the exhaustion). I know very little of what is being said around me. I hear the noise of the city but I also hear the music of the language. I understand the hunger. For the most part, I don’t know where I am until later – how close I was to this or that – the seeds of future journeys and new experiences. Sometimes afternoon, sometimes evening, I return to the studio and after work and a rest, I become restless.

    I want to be back on the streets, aimless, lost, getting drunk on observation and experience.

    I want to find my way back home to feel the strange air. Then I know.

  • A Place of Contrast

    After leaving the l’Orangerie today I felt somewhat emotional. I had not only seen the epic Waterlilies by Monet for the first time since being here, I also saw the work of Émile Bernard in a stunning exhibition alongside the The Walter-Guillaume collection. In terms of security, getting into the l’Orangerie was more difficult than getting into France, but once inside I felt moved (and I was allowed to put my belt back on which was a plus I must say). I hadn’t particularly avoided the l’Orangerie, it was just one museum that I wanted to enter with the right frame of mind. It is bite-size and specific. The timing as I passed by on a chilly Paris morning was right.

    A great deal of the art I am seeing in Paris is moving, but today I was particularly tender. Maybe I have pushed my espresso intake to the limit. Maybe I am realising how fleeting my time here is.

    With the hours gone, and in a first for me, I went to leave but couldn’t. As I was walking up the steps toward the exit, I felt a little incomplete. One of the overwhelming things I have found is that it is one thing to look at some works, and it is another to experience them. Admittedly, like many of the artists I have encountered, Bernard was not overly large on my radar, but he is now. My viewing of the work on this occasion was far from done. I went back down the steps, and eventually left satisfied, for the moment anyhow.

    After struggling with pulling a glass exit door that clearly weighed more than it should, I stepped out into the cold with my next destination in mind – Place Vendôme.

    I knew I was too late to see the thing I wanted to see. Paul McCarthy’s Tree had been dealt with by conservative art-ninjas just a few days ago after its, er, well, after they put it up. Anyway, Place Vendôme is a pretty ritzy part of town, in fact the Ritz is there, but it also represents so much of Parisian reality. As I have mentioned before, it is a case of how would you like your Paris to be?

    On the way to Place Vendôme, just a street back, there are numerous stores where the vendors try to pull you in. At Place Vendôme, there are plenty of stores where the vendors try to keep you out. I obviously don’t look as though I could afford a watch worth €50 000, let alone wear it. Fair assessment. I gave the guy staring at me through the window an apologetic smile and thought about the absurdity of it all. I happily walked away from that one. For all I care shove it... oh wait, never mind.

    What I wasn’t so happy about, or rather confused about was the backlash to McCarthy’s work Tree. Sure, many touted that it resembled a 24-meter high green butt-plug, but McCarthy insisted it was a contemporary take on a Christmas Tree. His controversial works might have preceded him, but when the inflatable sculpture went up last week, Parisians got angry. The first report was that McCarthy was slapped in the street. The second report was that he was slapped three times. Apparently the French slap like they kiss, and then some. At any rate, it was gone and McCarthy has refused to reinstall it saying that ‘instead of profound reflection about objects as a mode of expression with multiple meanings, we have witnessed violent reactions.’

    So, there I was in Place Vendôme with nothing to look at but expensive shops, expensive hotels and expensive cars parked in the street. As I observed all the beautiful people pass by I started amusingly putting the pieces together, and then decided it just wasn’t worth it.

    Let’s just hold hands.

    My watch, what, this old thing?...

    One of my newly discovered favourite paintings by Émile Bernard is called Le Repos dans le jardin ou Deaux NusResting in the Garden or Two Nudes.

    Strip naked. Eat lunch. Fall asleep in the sun.

    That’s freedom. Isn't it?

  • Moments

    It is close to one in the morning again. I have the windows open and can still hear the traffic, though faint. I do enjoy this time of night, or rather, day. One thing I have learnt is that I am what I am, wherever I am. My way, good or bad, is built-in and I don’t know how to change it. I am not sure I want to. I like being quiet while everyone is sleeping. I like working and thinking by the light of a desk lamp. I like getting frustrated by my own creative inabilities and finding solace (and energy) by staring out the window and looking at the stars. Despite being told otherwise, Paris has stars too - clearly visible and just as impressive, thankfully.

    The past seven or eight days have been overwhelming. I am not sure why particularly, but they have. It isn’t just the art. I found myself leaning against a wall a few days ago overlooking a square. Of a weekend, the square becomes a flea market. This day it is nothing but a thoroughfare. I rubbed my eyes, had a drink of water and took the time to rest my legs for a minute or two. I was looking around at nothing and everything at the same time when a mother and her daughter caught my attention. Mum was tall and slender, child was stubby and finding her feet. Two years, maybe three - laughing and stumbling as the younglings do. The mother went over to a nearby tree and gathered some of the fallen Autumn leaves. She returned to the little one, knelt down and spoke in French. Music. Mum took her girl by the hand and led her over to a common sight at the edge of the square– a Metro vent. After saying something intimate while rubbing noses, the mother stood up and opened her hands. Dozens of Autumn leaves rose up into the sky and were caught in a vortex twenty feet in the air.

    The child was beside herself. The mother was too. Maybe it lasted ten seconds, maybe it was thirty. I don’t know, but Paris was gone for just a moment.

    Before I knew it, she scooped her child up in her arms, rounded the corner and disappeared. Paris was back and it was busy. The leaves returned to earth and blew away.

    As I do, I fell in and kept moving to where I needed to go. I thought about the moment, and realised it was a moment indeed.

  • The Road to Giverny

    I got to know it quite well.

    Since arriving in Paris, the weather has been warm and consistent. With the clock ticking over from Summer to Autumn however, I am reminded of a childhood favourite where in an instant ‘the skies grew dark, the sea grew rough and the boat sailed on and on and on and on and on and on’. Not quite as dramatic as Whilhelmina Witchiepoo pulling a meteorological swifty on Jimmy and his talking flute, but the change has been rather sudden.

    For now, time is on my side and after an early morning rise with the intention of heading out of town I drew the floor-to-ceiling curtains of the studio and was greeted by blue sky, grey cloud, sunshine and light rain. Perfect. No need to postpone. Today we would travel to Giverny.

    As this would be a shared adventure I took charge, and after a quick review of the Metro map and train times, gathered the family and pulled the door shut behind us. By 11am we would be seated in the garden of Claude Monet.

    In actual fact, by 11am we were seated in Starbucks at Gare Saint-Lazare with my wife just looking at me, and me avoiding it by dividing my gaze between the inky goodness of my Espresso and the train station clock. An hour later, the situation was much the same.

    The next one wasn’t far away. And besides, ‘we are in this amazing train station! Monet painted this! Here, look… oh wait, my phone just died.’

    It was to be one of those days. Sort of.

    We did eventually board the train and by 1:15pm, we were in Normandy. I confidently stepped onto the platform in the town of Vernon and took it all in. The sun was shining and the directions to the shuttle bus that would take us to Giverny were clear. ‘This way.’

    Twenty minutes later I was trying to justify missing the bus by standing in front of the sign and declaring that the arrow clearly pointed that way. The taxi, the only taxi that was there, was gone. After a bit of pacing, I found myself standing with my hands on my hips surveying the pub across the street. A couple of old men seated outside with half-empty glasses were staring back. One placed a hand upon his cane. Not sure if I had inadvertently initiated some sort of French standoff, I turned away. All I had to throw at him were used Metro tickets. ‘Okay, we walk. I think there is a map over here…’

    There was a map, and it was the most beautiful thing I had seen. You are here. Giverny is there. Cross the bridge. Turn right.

    As we neared the clearly marked and highly visible Giverny shuttle bus terminal ten feet from the train station, I saw a woman standing there. I don’t why, but as I approached I felt myself gravitating toward her. She was alone reviewing the timetable. ‘Hi, did you miss the bus?’

    ‘Yeah’. She was American. And that was it. We chatted and I extended the invitation.

    ‘Well, we are walking to Giverny. You are happy to join us.’

    And she did. And I am glad she did - such a beautiful woman in France with her mother touring the Seine by boat. As we walked and talked, it turned out that Laura was a ceramicist from Seattle. She had been at Giverny that morning, but had broken away from the group to explore Vernon, and she was on her way back. For the next hour or so we walked the road to Giverny.

    And what a road. I didn’t know if were on the right track. Laura wasn’t sure either. It didn’t really matter. At one point we slipped away from the asphalt and traffic to find ourselves walking past the cornfields along a country path.

    After a while we arrived at Giverny and exchanged details over a well deserved lemonade.

    We missed the train, we missed the bus, but we caught a wonderful memory right on time.

    Monet’s garden is something else, but the true experience, for me, was getting there.