Yesterday, TB and I returned home after having driven over 2,500km just to see a couple of paintings. Yes, we drove to Canberra to see the Masterpieces from Paris exhibition, a collection of impressionist and post-impressionist works from the Musée d’Orsay. You can’t spend more than 30 hours in a car, one full day in Canberra and 3 hours in a queue without learning a few things.
Impressions of the National Capital - Wet
1. When travelling by road from Brisbane to Canberra or vice versa, the longer way is both quicker and more beautiful. According to various maps, the shortest distance is via our National Highway, route 1. Pros: you’re probably less likely to be involved in a head-on collision; the speed limits are higher; the route is shorter. Cons: you may still be at higher risk of having a collision due to the higher number of vehicles sharing the road with you; the 110 speed limit is all very well when you’re stuck in a traffic jam on the outskirts of Sydney; you don’t see so much (unless motorway walls are your thing). The inland route via the Newell Highway may be longer, with a lower average speed limit but it’s a lot quicker, quieter and more interesting (you can see the landscape, wildlife – you know, stuff other than concrete walls and traffic).
2. Canberra isn’t used to being popular. We could not get a car park at any major venue, or even nearby. We ended up taking a taxi from our hotel to the Gallery. Given Canberra is a pretty flat town, we could have walked, but our capital was experiencing unusually torrential rain that day. We could see it was heavier than Canberra was used to – gutters overflowed, gardens dissolved and chaos ensued – but when one local described it as being akin to the monsoon rains seen in Darwin, we had to smile. We weren’t standing in ankle deep water for a start.
We did walk back to our hotel in the afternoon along streets lined with very un-Australian trees. It’s all very romantic to shuffle through drifts of fallen maple and oak leaves, but not so fun when you’re stumbling over vast quantities of uncollected acorns. I commented that Canberra was in need of a good squirrel analog; TB suggested a city employee armed with a broom might be a better long-term solution. Meh.
3. Australians like art. We stood in a queue for 3 hours; others who arrived later in the day waited longer. We did see some people arrive, see the queue and decide van Gogh et al were not worth waiting for. Can’t say if they’re right or wrong; we’d already driven all the way to Canberra and bought our tickets beforehand, so we’d committed ourselves to seeing the damn paintings no matter what, but if we’d strolled up on the day thinking we’d pop in to see a Monet or two, then realised we’d have to stand in line for hours first, we might have opted out.
Note: you can still just pop in and see a Monet or two without waiting and without having to pay; the gallery has a small collection of Impressionist and Post-impressionist works that includes one of Monet’s waterlilly series and one of his Haystacks.
4. A painting can thrill me. The exhibition had over 100 works on display of which only three captivated me. The first was a Monet (surprise, surprise), and I wanted to sit and look at it for hours but couldn’t due to the procession of people queueing past it. The second caught my eye across a crowded room, made me gasp and gave me goosebumps (I kid you not). van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone is a glorious painting made dull by every photo and print ever made of it; had we decided the drive to Canberra wasn’t worth it, I would never have seen how amazing the work really is. The last also thrilled, but not just for the execution of the painting itself. Every self-portrait van Gogh made has a quality to it that makes you stare, and the one owned by the Musée d’Orsay is no exception. It’s the face of a man looking for answers, a man wondering if he’s incapable of contentment, if life is hard or if he just makes it hard on himself.
Left: Monet’s Houses of Parliament, London, Sun Covered by Clouds, c. 1904; Centre: van Gogh’s Starry Night Over the Rhone (September 1888); Right: van Gogh, self-portrait, 1887.
5. Emus may be seen in pairs at this time of year. They also eat ants.
6. Junk food is exciting at first, but soon has less attraction than a simple cup of tea.
Now I’m tired, I have aches and pains, and I have a sore throat and a sniffle, but I have seen inspiration as well emus running wild in the rain.