Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Travel funnies 2013 (4)
Torrey Orton
June 24, 2013

I grew up with this line incised in memory through a thousand singings of America the beautiful in primary school I imagine (because I can’t really remember) and finally in an unlikely place and time I saw amber grain waving in central France a few weeks ago!! And I’ve looked at a lot of grain in Australia in the last 40 years!! The waving grain struck me in two different settings: one, upland farmlets in the Parc Mercantour and, two, much larger broad acre plantings along the TGV pathway in Burgundy between Beaune and Lyon. I think the revelation of this obvious experience has escaped me in Oz all these years because the grain growing season is winter when we almost never go to grain growing areas and the grain grown in our neck of Oz is thinner on the ground per hectare than the dense covering of early summer French grain growth. It really did wave and look like waves as it did so…high enough to have peaks and troughs but not to break. There were no green or amber horses to be seen.

Seen, and then again…
We went out for a bite on our first night in Montpellier to a central city area called La Comedie after the opera house which heads up one end of the Place which is the main public open space of the central city, fed by a tram line populated with recognisable versions of our imported trams in Melbourne, save for the better paint work, cleanliness (nil tagging) and overall state of repair of their French originals. As we wandered around a bit before settling for a beer and a bite we were passed by a guy of 50ish talking somewhat impressively to himself in those exclamatory bursts which suggest a thrashing of insight is assailing him but felt like it was assaulting us. This is not too unusual in cities these days, and judging from some 15th century Dutch paintings we saw in a museum on the Place a couple of days later, may have been typical of any level of close human habitation over at most times in human history.

A day later we were back for a shopping tour of the Pentagon – a wholly inappropriate modernity attached to the Place – and there he was again. At hearing/seeing him I thought: some people’s lives are to keep reappearing as a bad dream in the lives of others, invasively demanding attention they need but can’t get, yet we cannot just tell the dream to go away.

“man section”…
..it said on the right hand front side of a wooden drawer whose left front side said “pen knives”. The whole sat under a glassed in display of various products of knives used correctly. I was attracted to the weird usage with its implication of something hairy beyond the handle. Turned out to be an offering of hunting knives around the size of the one I carry in my walking backpack thanks to a long ago gift from a Chinese friend who noticed during our living in china 30 years ago that I always carried a Swiss Army knife complex enough to live off the land with if necessary.

Of course, the “man section” in question was in the local handicrafts section of the Buda Pest public market, a mid-19th century iron and brick barn of railway station proportions, light and airiness so my expectations were roused in that blank but irresistible way that a sudden touch of hominess (the man section in this case) came into view. Foreign places produce in me a disposition to search, to find the familiar in the foreign while thinking I’m looking for the foreign.

The Antigone…a star of failed grandiosity
Finally, two last takes on the grandiosity theme. One, the Antigone in Montpellier is a roughly 70’s production leading off from the above Place and competing with it for grandeur but failing miserably, so much so that the cafes which line parts of its 1.5 kilometre of fading 5 story mixed use living and business buildings are barely making it and the infrastructure is
scruffy and needing renewal it may never get. The thing never worked and so is grandiose??

Two, in reflecting during lunch (which was quite presentable, as usual) in one of said cafes it occurred to me that this business of judging grandeur, greatness and grandiosity is very much a matter of taste, which in turn is very much a matter of those two enduring sources of human potential – gifts of birth and the inherited social standards which accompany them, often enough incongruously. Similar observations can be made about ethical as aesthetic matters.

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