Am I a European snob?

A few weeks ago I went to see an exhibition of the London Royal Academy of Arts at the Bendigo Art Gallery. Bendigo is an historical town in central Victoria, it was one of the most significant town during the gold rush and there are lots of beautiful heritage buildings that testify the splendour of those early years. The art gallery is well respected and its exhibition are usually very popular and well attended.Unknown

I rarely go to art exhibitions and I am certainly no art critic but I do like some of the English masters and I decided to go and have a look.

The gallery was small and intimate, a few rooms full of people, even if it was only ten on a monday morning, looking with interest at the paintings. I joined the crowd and wandered around the gallery, immersing myself in the atmosphere. I looked at some of the work, I studied the beautiful images and found myself been drawn into the landscapes. I chatted with a lovely lady about the waves and the rough sea represented in one of the pictures. How Frank Cadogan Cowper: Vanity, 1907.real it looked and how you could almost feel engulfed by the water. I thought I was having a good time, enjoying my experience when all of a sudden I started to think: but where are the famous ones? This is certainly not to be compared to one of the european galleries!

And the magic was broken. I became judgemental and quite critical of the masterpieces on display. Only one Millais? I expected so much more. And a whole room dedicated to Australian painters? Why can’t we have more Europeans?

All this chattering in my head interfered with my enjoyment of the exhibition. I looked around a bit more and I left, feeling disappointed and not dwelling for a second on my terrible attitude.IMG_1050

The day after I spoke to a friend who had also been to the exhibition and I told her my thoughts. Her reply made me think: “You Europeans are spoilt, always expecting the Uffizi”. There is definitely some truth in her statement. I was enjoying the exhibition until my expectation changed and I started to compare it to Europe.

Am I spoilt or am I trying to cling on to something I feel I have lost? Or am I simply a European snob?

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Long distance friendship across time

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Shopping in Freemantle

I met Fiona in 1990 in Kota Bharu, Malaysia. I walked into Mummy’s Youth Hostel, tired after a night bus trip, and there she was. I think we became friends the moment we introduced each other because from that very moment my life has never been without her.

Fiona worked at the hostel in exchange for bed and board, I was just passing through, not really sure of where I was going. We spent about a week together in Kota Bharu, eating at night’s markets and laughing a lot, then we went our separate ways.

I was looking for a photo of the two of us at that time but I could not find one. I was a bit surprised but then I remembered that in those days (yes, I am one of those “vintage” traveller, I have to accept the fact!) taking photos was not that easy. You actually had to carry a big, chunky camera with you and then, once you took your photos, you had to find a cheap place to have them developed and you had no idea of what you were going to get! No previews and no deleting the duds, sometimes you even had to wait for a few days and then you got your precious little parcel of memories.

I like to think that we knew we would have plenty of opportunities to take hundreds of photos of us over the years. And we did indeed!

Fiona and I have never lived in the same city but for a few months we both lived in Europe, her in France and me in Italy. This was as close as we ever were. It was then that we decided we should try and meet in different places, explore new parts of the world while we caught up. And we did. We met in Paris and London, in Bali and Perth, Singapore and Melbourne and we explored lots of different places together.

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Posing in Singapore

Over the years of our friendship Fiona lived in different countries and I met Nigel and moved to Melbourne. We often didn’t see each other for years but we wrote long letters, with pen and paper and stamps. Our stories were travelling around the world in white envelopes or aerograms (does anyone remember those?) occasionally we even sent tapes and I still remember the excitement at every delivery.

Then we moved from letters to faxes. I remember the day Nigel came home from work with Fiona’s first fax. She only wrote it the night before, almost instant, almost magic! But the problem with faxes was that the print would faint after a few years, I never really warmed to the idea that Fiona’s precious words would disappear. Luckily faxes were soon replaced by emails. Now this was a true step forward and it was instant and certainly magic!

In the last years our communication has evolved yet again and we don’t have to write anymore. We can Skype and Viber, new words meaning we can talk and even see each other while we have our coffee in our different countries.

Fiona is living in Singapore now, only seven hours flight from here and only two or three hours time difference. We are on the same side of the world and it is wonderful to have her so close.

When we meet we talk and talk, usually non stop, jumping from one story to the next without really making much sense. Our days together have always been joyful and our separation never sad.

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Singing in Melbourne

As a romantic teenager I read Illusions by Richard Bach and, although I am usually terribly at remembering quotes, one line of this book got stuck in my head: “Can miles truly separate you from your friends? If you want to be with someone you love aren’t you already there?”. My friendship with Fiona is summed up in this one quote. I never really miss her, because she is never really gone.