“Don’t go to a museum with a destination. Museums are wormholes to other worlds. They are ecstasy machines.”
― Jerry Saltz
They are consolations too —
“not by finding in them old objects we love, but by losing all sense of Time.”
― Orhan Pamuk,
Stop 1: The State Library of New South Wales
Gary Cook. Oh look. How I had fallen into another web of wonder that life had strung together for me. This was our final day in Sydney, and, knowing Mum and sis aren’t the biggest fans of spending hours perusing museums and daydreaming about belonging in worlds that artists of the long-gone past had created, I ventured off on my own and so did they. I hurriedly made my way out of the concrete jungle to where one could see passing clouds and be caressed by the gentle touch of sunshine again. There, I looked to my right and gasped at the sight of the Public Library of New South Wales. With an absolutely regal façade (picture 2) complete with Corinthian pillars that reminded me of Athen’s Parthenon, and shadows which accentuated every immaculate detail of the grand structure, shivers ran up my spine. “What a beauty,” I whispered breathlessly. My heart was torn – I knew spending my morning at the Art Gallery of New South Wales would’ve made me the happiest girl, but I knew my heart would sing praises of joy here too. “Ten minutes,” I instructed myself (but secretly knew ten minutes in a library would be akin to me resisting the temptation of a good ol’ ripe banana, i.e. impossible), and I walked straight into the world of the oldest library in Australia in a heartbeat. I quickly befriended the security lady, became infatuated with the books that were rulers in this world (picture 5) (and where Trim’s – read on! – plushie resides! picture 6!), and got recommended by my new stranger-friend, Claudio, to go for the free tour of the library starting in 30 minutes. What was a girl like me to do in the face of the possibility of being immersed in the world of history, knowledge, and Shakespeare’s grandness other than say yes yeEeSSss YES!! Nothing was going as planned, but I shrugged – very few incredible, memorable and special moments have ever been born out of accordance and obedience (to plans). Who was Gary Cook (picture 1), You ask? He was the tour guide who took us around the compound. He told me about the haphazard adventure that was Matthew Flinders life with his loyal cat, Trim (Did You know that — cont. below…
cont. here — (Did You know that Matthew Flinders and William Blight drew one of the first versions of the map of Australia? And that it was called ‘Terra Australis’ that meant ‘The Great South Land’?); spoke about the wonder that was Shakespeare’s room that was built to celebrate the 300th anniversary of his passing; and astonished me with the fact that every year, the library’s archive grows by the length of two – yes two! – Sydney Harbour Bridges put together. I learned a whole lot that morning, but my favourite fact from the day has its roots in Shakespeare’s Room (picture 7) – but more specifically, in Arthur G Benfield’s exquisite stained glass series depicting the Seven Ages of Man from Shakespeare’s play ‘As You Like It’ (picture 8). There were blue chips of glass (picture 9) randomly put in the masterpiece, and there are two theories behind this: 1) Benfield thought his work was so good that he put in slight imperfections; 2) Benfield believed that only God could do something perfect, so he inserted slight imperfections in it.
I picked up this book a few weeks ago in the quaint bookshop of the State Library of New South Wales. I'm a sucker for beautiful strings of words that come together to convey life-lessons, reminders, or advice. And this book happens to be chock full of exactly that. What I found so incredibly attractive about the author's writing style was the way she seamlessly, almost carelessly, weaved these amazing quotes into the storyline. Like she didn't intend to. Like she didn't know how remarkable and greatly pivotal those paragraphs or monologues actually were. I'll give You four examples: 1. "I liked myself this way, it was such a relief to be free of disguises and prettiness and attractiveness. Above all that horrible, false, debilitating attractiveness that women hide behind. I pulled my hat down over my ears so that they stuck out beneath it. 'I must remember this when I get back. I must not fall into that trap again.' I must let people see me as I am. Like this? Yes, why not like this. But then I realized that the rules pertaining to one set of circumstances do not necessarily pertain to another. Back there, this would just be another disguise. Back there, there was no nakedness, no one could afford it. Everyone had their social personae well fortified…" 2. "There are some moments in life that are like pivots around which your existence turns—small intuitive flashes, when you know you have done something correct for a change, when you think you are on the right track. I watched a pale dawn streak the cliffs with Day-glo and realized this was one of them. It was a moment of pure, uncomplicated confidence—and lasted about ten seconds." 3. "When I die, this is the only gold that will go with me. What does one take after death? Just one's good deeds and the love of others." 4. "I had rediscovered people in my past and come to terms with my feelings towards them. I had learnt what love was. That love wanted the best possible for those you cared for even if that excluded yourself. That before, I had wanted to possess people without loving them, and now I could love them and wish them the best without needing them." See what I mean? 🕊🌷🌟 Davidson is just incredible.
I remember wandering into the cafe that resided next to the library shop, and taking a surprised gasp of air when I saw that there was a retractable fabric roof system which had these quotes so fittingly printed on them:
“Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested.”
— Sir Francis Bacon
“In books likes the soul of the whole past time, the articulate audible voice of the past…”
— Thomas Carlyle
Stop 2: The National Gallery of New South Wales
I had intended to spend an entire morning here — a stretch of time not enough to savour the entirety of the museum, but enough to temporarily appease my heart that sings and swoons amongst stunning collections of art. But as is the way life works, sometimes we walk past surprises that may present itself in the form of the National Library of NSW and end up, instead, spending a great part of one’s morning there — again, a stretch of time not enough to savour the entirety of the library, but enough to temporarily appease a book and history lover’s heart. Then I ask myself: What amount of time would be ‘enough’? How could one justify having fully experienced what a place has to offer if art, in essence, is abstract and comes in layers (of meaning or literal paint) more than one could imagine?
Long story short, after having spent a majority of the morning engulfed in books, folklore, and history, I walked over to this museum with not more than 45 minutes left to spare. I barely covered a fifth of the museum, but it was sufficient to spot a few pieces of art — incredible art — that made it into my favourites either because of the memories they invoked, the way the artist(s) made the sunlight bounce off objects in the paintings, the intrigue the medium of art chosen aroused in me, or just because… it was as beautiful or as close to perfect as it was.
‘Landscape with watermill’ by Samuel Palmer (England, 1805-81), according to the little card pasted beside it on the wall, ‘shows Palmer’s liberal use of body colour to attain richly variegated surfaces through stippling, dotting and dappling’. I found this treasure amongst other treasures in the treasure trove that was and forever will be the Art Gallery of New South Wales. Something about this piece intrigued me. Something about this piece I loved (and still love) very much. Maybe it was the fact that something this remarkable came out of merely scraping out over black chalk underdrawing. Or maybe it was the fact that it reminded me of Suffolk, where Miriam and I rode bicycles, went where the wind blew us, and dipped our tired feet into the cool water by Pakenham Water Mill. I couldn’t have smiled more widely as these memories flooded back right then. Have You read ‘Cider With Rosie’ by Laurie Lee? It’s an oldie goldie in my books, and it had this lovely quote that seemed so fitting for this painting: “Bees blew like cake-crumbs through the golden air, white butterflies like sugared wafers, and when it wasn’t raining, a diamond dust took over which veiled and yet magnified all things.”
I met Mum and my sister for lunch shortly after, packed up our room, got a lift to the airport, and concluded our time in Sydney with a cheeky wave out of the airplane’s window. Short and sweet, but it made our hearts beat. Till next time, beautiful Sydney!
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