“I can only note that the past is beautiful because one never realises an emotion at the time. It expands later, and thus we don't have complete emotions about the present, only about the past.” Virginia Woolf
Today in my email, I received from our English friend Sue, the beautiful painting on the left. I should emphasise here, that she had painted it. She said that it was based on a photograph I had included in a photo book of our week together in Umbria back in 2012. Of course, I immediately went to my photos of that trip, initially searching for the seed photograph, but pretty soon I was into browsing through photographs of the 10 days or so that we spent together in Italy with her and husband Mike - old university friends. But pretty soon I was browsing through photographs of that entire holiday which we had spent in Italy and France, and, for me, in England too, here and there, with friends and family. One gorgeous painting and a whole 7 or 8 weeks of my life sprang into life in my memory.
I think the original photograph in question is one of the two below, which show Sue painting under a tree in the grounds of the house we were renting. Whenever we holiday together she always finds a beautiful spot and spend hours sketching away in her book. Back at home I think some of these get worked upon until we have a fully formed painting worthy of a place of honour in anyone's home. I love the one she sent today because of the sunlight on the tree - the poppies - which I know we both love - and the movement of the wind in the tree and the flowers in the grass. The poppies are a somewhat French addition I think - but as I said, she loves them. Don't we all?
I have to resort to photographs because painting is a skill I just do not have. And the above is the best I can do
Such moments, are indeed moments. Frozen, past and future unseen, and yet there is movement and life. To emphasise this point, coincidentally my desk diary turned up this very famous painting - Sunday on La Grande Jatte, by Georges Seurat, today.
Obviously quite, quite different to Sue's painting but it too is frozen. Some would say rigid, and apparently Seurat was striving for something similar to the friezes on Roman and Greek buildings. A procession almost. But when you look more closely there is movement - the children run and play, the dogs sniff, the rowers row, even the loungers somehow actively lounge. And there is sunlight. And uncannily as I write this, sunlight floods through my window on an otherwise extremely dull day.
But our own less monumental moments in time, lead us on into a whole world of memories. Having found my moment in time photograph, I was transported back to that particular holiday and all of the memories associated with it. The place is northern Umbria, the house was high on a hill, a long way from anywhere - the owners owned several acres. There were 360º views of the glorious Umbrian landscape, the sun shone ... Paradise. And I had to include this other group of trees which stood near the house - they had such personality.
We spent a large part of our week at the house - why would you not? There was a large pool, the terrace, that you can just see in the photograph of the house, was the perfect place to sit and eat and reminisce about our time at university together, and to talk about our lives on different sides of the planet. But we did also explore the area - grand tourist sites like Orvieto and Perugia, lesser known ones like Castiglione del Lago and the smaller villages nearby. We listened to waiters' tales, ate wonderful food and cooked our own in the souvenir laden kitchen of the owners whose holiday house this was.
The food, of course was a massive feature of our time there, from breakfast and lunch on the terrace, to dinner at night, either 'at home' or out in a not too distant restaurant. Although I do remember that the last almost kilometre of road through our landlord's land, was along a pretty dire stretch of unmade road which always made David very nervous, especially at night. Which, of course, made our arrival at the house itself always a huge moment of relief and repeated wow moments. I do not actually have any good photos of the food we ate, but here are a few of those wonderful shops and market stalls that you find in Europe. Are they real, or are they just for the tourists? And how are they faring now?
So thank you Sue, not just for the beautiful painting - but also for the memories that flooded back on this pretty dismal winter day - our first visit to the amazing Dubai, Lerici, near the Cinque Terre, a tiny village called Apricale on the French/Italian border, the most amazing meal in a tiny restaurant in L'Isle sur Sorgues, the always awe inspiring Roman arena in Nîmes, St. Rémy, and England too. I think it's a another almost virtue of COVID that we reminisce on holidays past wondering whether they will ever be possible again.