Monday, 10 March 2014

Suspension of disbelief and pink blossom on the plain

Three men near the hotel - looking like the three travelling Indians in The Moonstone with their mission to recover the diamond murderously plundered from a temple by an English officer. One is sitting on a glass and supporting the other with a bamboo pole. The man sitting on the glass has a rosary in his hand, and is praying. A third stands watching.... A sign says take photos but please don't touch. Imagine touching! They would topple.
Immediate reaction is to wonder if this is a trick. But however are they doing this? So much harder to cast cynicism aside and to wonder. Why not just wonder at this? Drop a euro in the tin and there are rolls of paper with messages to take as you make your donation - an exchange as it were. Someone says Grazie and I think it is the man sitting on the glass but it is probably the one he is supporting, sitting on the bamboo. More words on a scrap of paper.
'Il Dio ti faccia del bane.' "May God do you good' perhaps - is 'bane' a spelling mistake for 'bene'? Perhaps
To the Central Station to continue in the footsteps of Childe Harold aka Byron. Wondrous detail on the coffee. This is a station from which trains leave to cross frontiers. To Zurich and Cologne - and beyond.
A slow train across flat country to Padua. In the sunshine pink blossom is appearing on trees - brilliant apple green grass. There is still snow on the mountains to the left, but this feels like the start of a Mediterranean spring. A large woman across the aisle from me does not raise her face rom her mobile phone throughout the two-hour trip. At one stage she takes her puffed jacket from the rack above as it is cold - almost icy - in the carriage....
A bus from the station through Padua to the Prato della Valle where people are lying on the grass. Women in dark coats watching from the benches. The photo does not do it justice. In the bright spring light this looks like some kind of Elysian Field - so huge (the largest square in Europe, they say) - and edged with Roman statues.
Padua is a maze of quiet arcaded streets. An early glimpse of St Anthony's Basilica (a pilgrimage site of course, not least for me) Then the Scrivegni chapel and Giotto's frescoes. It's surprisingly hard to find. It is the end of the day and the light is fading. But there are few signs anyway. Ask a large blonde woman sitting in a nearby church with her slight dark-haired boyfriend (half her size - his hair is greased carefully and slicked back). She says in Italian that they can't find it either. I say I can't speak Italian to ask. She says she is Hungarian and speaks French, German and Italian, but not English. We find it together.

Dusk is falling and there is a sense of early spring. The grass is starting to grow. Only 30 minutes in the chapel (all that is allowed) but long enough to see ... This is the start of emotion in painting.

Ancient pews and a brilliant blue ceiling. These frescoes were commissioned by a son to make amends for the sins of the fathers - God appeased. A vengeful God was warded off.

Did the Indians this morning believe that a God was keeping them on their precarious perches? It was certainly a question of mind over matter.
A side street on the way home. On the Prato del Valle, evening has come.

Reading and watching

  • Foot by Foot to Santiago de Compostela/Judy Foot
  • The Testament of Mary with Fiona Shaw at the Barbican
  • The Testament of Mary/Colm Toibin
  • Schwanengesang/Schubert - Tony Spence
  • Journals/Robert Falcon Scott
  • Fugitive Pieces/Ann Michaels
  • Unless/Carol Shields
  • Faust/Royal Opera House
  • The Art of Travel/Alain de Botton
  • Mad Men Series 6
  • A Week at The Airport/Alain de Botton
  • The Railway Man/Eric Lomax
  • Bright Lights, Big City/Jay McInerney
  • Stones of Venice/John Ruskin
  • The Sea, the Sea/Iris Murdoch
  • Childe Harold/Lord Byron
  • All The Pretty Horses/Cormac McCarthy
  • Extreme Rambling/Mark Thomas
  • Story of my Life/Jay McInerney
  • Venice Observed/Mary McCarthy