Linguistic London is one of my favourite things about living here. I can follow German tourists (in a non-stalkery way!) around art galleries as we traipse through the same rooms, and they chat through their day as I walk through mine, lulled by the eloquence and intonation of language. Today, I just so happened to sit next to four French women enjoying a coffee - Ouai, c'est la vie!
Days off when others aren't around can be quite lovely. I sit in the day and allow it to wash over me with rest.
Today was particularly restful.
I stared at The Water-Lily Pond for 25 minutes, and it looked back at me.
That is, all for the grand total of 30 seconds, after which the many patrons of the National Art Gallery tried to engage with it perhaps in the only way they know how to. They took pictures. Lots of pictures. Zoomed in pictures, pictures of aspects of the painting, pictures of the whole painting. Pictures of themselves with the painting, pictures of their family, friends, pooches and purchases in front of the painting.
And that was it.
Their entire engagement with this one particular painting was through the lens of their own camera. And then they moved on, devouring other pieces at a pace that would many anyone's head spin. Don't get me wrong, I've walked around a fair number of art galleries and I've snapped away to my heart's content. (And what is a painting, after all, but an image of something else?) But this was different. There was a ravenous rapidity to the way in which my fellow art fans were 'claiming' these canvases. Perhaps they didn't have much time, perhaps they thought they'd look upon it later, perhaps they weren't really that interested and they felt obliged to take 'interest' in these acclaimed masterpieces.
Whatever the reason, most lingered for only 10 seconds before the pond.
I fell in.
Before long, my attention was noticed. A couple of other people stood next to me trying to understand what I was looking at. I wish they'd have asked me. But they didn't stay long.
I've been listening to a podcast series on prayer. It's super good. I was reminded attention leads to adoration. A bit like the whole 'we become what we behold' thing. It's important we are aware of what we pay attention to, and as we increase our attention of good things, we grow to adore them. As a Christian, the implication is probably obvious.
I decided to stare at Monet. I noticed the greens. The painting was suffused with life. As I noticed the contours - the light and shade - I lost sight of distinction. All was green, all was tumbling into each other, the bridge was overcome, the pond was adorned and the skies were filled with the glories of green. I walked into verdant lands beckoning me stay. I then noticed the blues. How the light dances on the pond - it shimmers - it catches the light and throws it back delicately at us. The bridge comes into focus, and the steps in the pond yield their pattern. I took in the pinks of the lilies, the whites, the mild yellows. And as I did this the whole scene embraced me. It drew me in, engulfed me. I was enraptured, intoxicated by transcendence. I smiled. One step forward and I was certain I'd be dipping my toes in, entangling myself in Monet's mossy tendrils.
And then the sun came out and light filled the wing in which this painting is hung. It became real to me. The vivifying light brought the painting to life. It was... Beautiful.
I left and made the error of walking through the gift shop on my way out, replica Monet's and Van Gogh's littering the displays. I saw The Pond. But it didn't see me. A mere carcass, shell, a corruption of the vision that had captured me. I don't think I've ever looked at a painting long enough to discern an unequal likeness in its reproductions. Today I did, and I did not want that image leaving messy fingerprints upon my Monetian memory.
So I went back again.