Not the southern ocean but I got my head underneath it.
First plan: drive to Cape Paterson or somewhere remote and beachy. Second plan: train and bus to Airey’s Inlet. Third plan: public transport to somewhere east-side of the bay. Final plan: train to Williamstown Beach, just down the road. Deep, clar blue sky, hot sun, slight breeze from the south, cool water and getting my head in it. Falling asleep on the sand. Best plan.
The left wing of Musée des Beaux-Arts de Valenciennes continues the right’s 18th century works first, more heavy glazing and daylight through uncovered glass. More assembling images from multiple shots. Quite a few didn’t make it. All of the riotous close-ups of Francois-Louis-Joseph Watteau’s La Bataille des pyramides didn’t either. Check your focus, Frances.
We get into a kind of post-mythological orientalism around here. Works like Jules Vincent Rigo’s Le Baptême de Clovis and Félix Auvray’s Socrate détachant Alcibiade des charmes de la volupté play with this, using elements of Baroque art—the theatrical, heroic settings, an indulgence of exoticism, and sliding into the explicitly orientalist in Antoine Jean’s Cheval arabe, when North Africa and the Levant became the subject of an anthropological documentary style of painting.
More Romani in Félix Haffner’s Halte de bohémiens, 1848, then the exquisite rendering of the woman’s clothing in Jean-Victor Schnetz’s Religieux secourant une pauvre pélerine, and then I’m spat out of the permanent collection into the temporary one, Rêveries italiennes: Watteau & les paysagistes français au XVIIIe siècle. Pretty much couldn’t photograph anything here because of dim light, shadows and glare—and no, I have no answer to how to light works that are glazed and dark tones. I do know using un-diffused spots for lighting is idiotic. The exhibition centres around a recently rediscovered work of Watteau, La Chute d’eau and northern European artists’ attraction to Tivoli.
There are goats.
One a Titian, Paysage à la chèvre, and one after him by Anne Claude Philippe de Tubières, comte de Caylus (and that’s the shortened version of his name).
Back into the permanent collection. A small bronze statue by Degas, Femme sortant du Bain, which because it’s him naturally looks like a dancer—which I like seeing in art and make an exception for him despite his right-wing personality and skeevy perving on young girls.
Finally, two 20th century artists from Valenciennes and surrounds, Pierre Bisiaux’s Saint-Tropez and Jules-Henri Lengrand’s Baigneuses. I just like these both, that’s all.
This is where we wake up each morning. We moved the table later today so we have a complete, uninterrupted view. The windows – if they can be called that at such a size; walls perhaps – also open. Last night in the storm with the lights out, I opened the one directly in front so we were exposed to its massiveness.
A few small things to remember by. A room in a house on a street called Borstal. A windmill visible on the hill up the road, squat and dark, like black-stained wood. A giraffe called Orelie. Amy fucking a chicken. Reading. Cheese, unpasturised and smelt from across the road, a sweet oily stench. Gluten-free bread that was bread-like, edible and wonderfully tasty. Fresh mussels (I am remiss in not eating Oysters). The beach, the waterfront, the harbour, the coast, all those words that miss where the wind hits sharp across my face, stinging pricks of rain. The groins also, and the tiny plant islands contained within each, sheltered from the wind. Yes, the wind also. The walk down narrow, muddy, tree-shrouded paths between beach and house, and the mold streaked concrete railway bridge, from the top all this was visible. I’m forgetting now, already. The train that sped me away, the airport, the airport, waiting, reading, arriving, Berlin at night. My heart has been taken by a hobo baker.
Avoiding rain by staying in bed with cups of tea, chocolate, various cheeses of distinct smelliness, perhaps to have arisen early when the sky was lifting. Bedeckt is the German word for overcast, it sounds as if something has been nailed down across the sky. We prepare to leave, the greyness lowers, a pause for more tea.
Outside is cold and sharp. I confess to a delirious addiction to this, and so we walk again through the paths towards the dyke huts – which really are – and this time west, towards London, or at least the muddier and less exposed parts of the Thames estuary. The groins are full of a slapping tide, not yet ready to fall as it is pushed onshore by the wind. The sky hangs with pendulous black clouds amidst the untidy grey, not infrequently disposing of its load upon us.
Further west. Faversham, where we have not reached nor will this week is home to the Islands’ largest repository of apple trees. I’ve been reading about these and their Kazakhstan history in Wildwood. The sky hands lower, just to walk a little further to the lone dark wood house at the end of this curve of the pebble and stone strewn beach. Seagulls swarm and wheel above, hovering on the north wind, gathering in ever larger crowds, waiting. The tide retreats some more, a flat gravelly island comes out of the water and here they dive towards.
We turn back, a vast dark occlusion stalks above us, walking the beach it stings, pricks, strikes, tries to blow us over. A delight in the shock of feral elements normally seen from within somewhere safe, inside, though glass. We decide in our wetness though, the third time in three days we find ourselves in this state, to walk home along the road. Almost lost, not sure if it will lead us astray. The yellow traffic diversion signs and a street name, Joy Lane, lead us back to food, chocolate, my last night in Whitstable.
Alleys for fishermen and harbour girls. The greyness creates a completely different light here and sounds from the distance travel through silence to arrive. I wandered along the street behind the waterfront, back of houses that line it, narrow alleys and paths, some unchanged for decades, others merely retaining the route while on both sides nothing from history remains.
Squeezegut Alley I stumbled into from the wrong, unmarked direction. It looked like an interesting gap between two buildings, worn enough to not merely be the disused path to empty an outhouse by. I found myself later approaching it from the other direction, off the high street and discovered what along the beach feels far east from town, from the other end is near the centre of the main road.
More wandering through alleys and other streets, some hours spent in a bookshop, acquiring Tipping the Velvet for a couple of pounds, more hours in a café reading most of Lighthousekeeping until deciding to finish daylight with another stroll along Tankerton beach. Fresh mussels with my Hobo for dinner.
Another walk yesterday, after two hours of yoga, inadvertently, I just pottered through things I haven’t done for a while, and set off a while after along the waterfront again, past the harbour and then further, wandering Tankerton Beach, The Street still buried under an shallow tide, beach huts barred and locked for the week and for winter, the yacht club also, more singing of rigging on aluminium masts, and eventually reaching the far east end of the beach, where a large green sign, much hacked at announces, ‘naturism is not condoned on this beach’. Turning around, walking back, a brisk wind chilling one eye in its socket, then up the hill to Whitstable Castle, not as impressive as its name, and sitting for a while, the sea wind biting fingers to numbness, four days of clear sky losing to a haze of cloud stealing in, and so to find my Hobo as the sky loses its life, darkness and wind and her for company.
I went for a walk yesterday, in search of fish and seafood for dinner, but arrived too late, too much time dawdling along the coast under a cold blue sky and chill wind. More of the same today I expect, without visiting the fish market though.
The customs inspector at Flughaven Tegel was most concerned at my obvious overstaying of the three month tourist visa, stamped efficiently into my passport in early July, but rather more smiling and good-natured once I produced with a flourish, my as-yet unfolded ‘fictional’ visa acquired from the Ausländer office on armistice day. I was though, still unsure until the smiles continued and a new stamp was ratcheted into my passport and I was waved on into customs, whether this ‘fictional’ visa would allow for happy traveling within Schengen countries without being banned forever and shipped south.
It was still dark and snowing, so I amused my neighbours in the exit row aisle where there was not the expected extra legroom, by falling asleep and possibly drooling, sometime later arriving in sunny London. And so on the tube to Victoria, via several changes due to construction, and from there just catching the 10:33 to Ramsgate, ‘this train will split at Faversham the front four carriages going to Ramsgate, the rear four carriages going to Dover Priory’, uuhhh… not for getting a recital of this including the intervening stations, and to make sure you are in the correct carriage, mine being ‘2 of 8’, even after the split at Faversham, and plonked onto a deserted platform, wind cutting and sun occasionally covered by swift clouds.
Whitstable, home of oysters since the Romans, a farmer’s market, much cheese and other local produce, fresh seafood and fish, stoney beaches and mudflats, the Neptune pub, setting for Tipping the Velvet which I think I should read, and I am staying with my delightful Hobo on a road to a Borstal.
Ten days here, a reprieve from Berlin where I think the grey was driving me slowly insane, and all the other attending worries and anxieties. Little to do here except wander the beaches and woods, cook and eat, read many books from my Hobo’s shelves.
Yesterday a wandering east along the coast, we could go all the way to London, through the groins, past what I have called the Dyke Huts, and further, the sea dark and calm, wind turbines in the distance, then returning as far as the harbour, fishing boats resting in the mud, the tide out and a glimpse of sea visible below the entrance, the high-water line far above their decks, and all the way accompanied by the singing of yachts’ mast riggings. Bread and cheese, apple cider, wandering home in the dark.