Documenting the seasons of coastal Dorset. I'm a complete amateur so don't trust I'm always right. If ever you see I'm wrong - whether with identifications or in anything else - do say!

Friday, 11 November 2016

GOLDEN LIGHT AT THE ASHMOLEAN

Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. Light from the courtyard spilling down some steps onto the street
The other side of Oxford; its golden light. Lots of places have golden light but if the sun happens to shine like mad in the middle of a rainy day in a place where the stones are dull and the pavements grey . . . and you  (oh so surprisingly) have your camera to hand . . . well, what do you do? You look for street plants, that's what.

I'd arranged to meet a friend outside the Ashmolean Museum but was a little early. I could have gone in - seen the Rembrandt Paintings . . the Viking Hoard . . masses of things bound to be special. A notice outside says it's the oldest museum in the country. (And of course, as we know, it's one of the best) . . .  BUT . .  if I were an exhibit, although I'd be proud to be there . . . I'd probably be a little vain by now and wouldn't be too chuffed if a scruffy woman in worn-out shoes came and stared into my eyes. And however famous I was, I reckon I'd be a little overwhelmed too. All those visitors; in-out, in-out. All day. No peace for a statue or a painting! So, respectfully, I decided to leave them alone and potter around looking for plants instead.

My world is somewhat divided into places where weed-killers are used . . . and places where they are not. The area in front of the Ashmolean must be a killing field. Could I find little seedlings between paving stones? No. Little trees up on the rooftops? No. So, having walked up and down the courtyard for a while ( 'courtyard' is probably the wrong word because it has a side missing) . . . I wandered under an arch, down a flight of steps, into the street.

By every second, the light was losing day. The clocks have already turned to winter and autumn is settling in. But an odd and brilliant shaft of golden sunlight had landed in front of the museum. Here (above) you can see what I mean. Looking back up the steps . . . you can see that tourists gathered outside the main doors are unfairly standing in summer. And for all that my socks are soggy where the rain has crept through my shoes . .  a little bit of summer is leaking down the steps onto the wet pavement and has almost reached my feet.

Leaves on paving stones (flags?) outside Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Retrospectively, I should have gone and stood in summer and imagined it was there specially for me - but I think it was really trying to get to these particular leaves. Some leaves are . . . some leaves are . . . some leaves are as good as anything you find in a museum. I'm not turning ridiculous. If I had to chose between preserving a Rembrandt or an autumn leaf, I would, definitely, definitely, chose the Rembrandt - though with regret. Because for all that leaves are ephemeral and plentiful in a way great paintings are not, they are still absolutely and marvellously incredible. Actually . . . a leaf is more incredible than the very best, the very most beautifullest and insightful painting. It's obvious how a painting came into being (someone picked up a paintbrush and made it) a leaf just is. And if I were in a scientific mood I'd go into paroxysms of praise for its complexity. And how, when I was at school, words like 'zylem' and 'phloem' were magic. (And 'ox-bow lakes' - but that's geography.) (And 'chlorophyll' is pretty good too.)

Oh, my goodness, where am I?

Yes. So. While paintings were busily being protected in the museum . . . I was searching for plants beyond attention.

Little plants where a paving stone has broken outside the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
Back on the terrace (better description than courtyard?) the golden light had vanished (it does!) but a few foot from the main doors; look! a cracked paving stone and a little garden!

A magnificently rebellious garden. And the most rebellious, the most defiant of all, a little grass plant in flower. See it? Oxford has it in for grass. University authorities must have arranged for armies of gardeners to keep grass under assault. There are acres and acres of lawns . . . mowed and mowed and mowed, battered into uniformity and into wearily precise, ultra-green stripes. Ne're a daisy to be seen. You can't even walk on most of the grass! What do they think grass is for if it's not for growing daisies in and picnicking on? But there you are. Back to big brains missing the point yet again - and tiny plants re-seizing their world.

Dead plant on window sill by column at Ashmolean Museum, Oxford
And, by chance . . . (it can't really be chance? more that I can't think of a reason?) - one plant on a window sill. A bit of a dead plant admittedly. But that's what most plants ultimately are - dead. It's what they eventually do - die. This one is a real mystery though. Why was it the only one there? How come other window-sills didn't have dead plants too?

And one last walk under the arch before tea at the top of the museum . . .

If you have ever wandered between state schools and public ones . . . or FE colleges and wealthy universities . .  you notice things like doors. And handrails. The more money a community has to spare, the more it has to live without interesting scratches. Being a bit of a grump-box I tend to think there are better ways to spend money on than polishing doors . . . but . . . Now. Here's a really important question. Why don't statues smile? This isn't the beginning of a joke. I really ask - why it is that citizens in public sculptures stare straight ahead or thoughtfully frown? Cherubs blow out their cheeks and grow fat. Dancing children look dizzily happy and smile past each other as if they've been drugged and frozen mid-prance.

Bust of a smiling man beyond windows in polished wooden doors.
Yet . . . under the arch . . . where the doors are polished and clean . . . looking out and smiling . . . the bust of a smiling man. Does anyone know who he is? Why he is there? Why he is smiling? I took his photograph with a wink of complicity. I doubt many people notice the garden in the broken paving stone . . . or a remnant of summer on a window-sill . . . But he and I shared something. I was looking for a world-un-noticed and he was looking un-noticed onto a world where a little bit of golden light had got itself left behind under an arch.

(Of course, he may turn out to be a mass murderer, chortling cheerfully over his crimes. Let's hope not!)

10 comments:

liz said...

Beautifully described, Lucy. And right on point. So glad to have you back again; a joy to read.

philipstrange said...

I enjoyed this post, thank you. I have to say that I find Oxford a bit "up itself" and my theory about the forbidden grass is that it allows students to rebel very mildly by trespassing but if that's the extent of their rebellion then it doesn't threaten the college very much. So it's all about control
Yes and I also remember ox bow lakes, also eyots and billabongs .....

squirrelbasket said...

Great post! I'm glad you are still chasing street plants and still on brilliantly entertaining form.
I knew the face of the smiling man from somewhere and managed to work it out after searching for various faces of scientists and philosophers on Google. Of course! It's Voltaire.
I thought I had seen him before (although not in the flesh, of course). He always seems to have that fixed smile. Perhaps he had lost his teeth? Or maybe he did know something wise that has eluded the rest of us?
All the best :)

elaine said...

Hello Lucy
I didn't realise you were still blogging - I have a feint recollection of you bidding farewell - oh well, no matter. Thanks for visiting my blog and prompting me to come over here. I enjoyed this sideways look at Oxford (a place I have never visited - how remiss of me). I loved the old gentleman smiling at you through the glass doors, did you not go through and find out who he was, maybe then you would have discovered just why he was smiling - as you say perhaps he was just enjoying the last shafts of sunlight.

Toffeeapple said...

A lovely, refreshing post Lucy with good images, thank you.

Diana Studer said...

Was it Voltaire who said 'cultivate your garden'?
Then he laughs with you and us your readers.

Lucy Corrander at Loose and Leafy said...

Thanks, Liz.

Hi, Philip. It's odd. The students must really have to work themselves up to fever pitch to want to rebel enough to walk across the grass. I admit I haven't stood around to do a proper survey but I haven't seen one do it yet.

Hello Pat at Squirrel Basket. Thanks. Yes. Agreed. Voltaire. The nearest I can see is a bust by Houdon but it seems to have wandered around rather between French Museums and possibly the V&A . . . so is it an original or a copy? And why is just there by the door? . . I've emailed the Ashmolean to ask. (Well, not about why it's by the door but maybe they'll say all the same.)

Hello Elaine. Yes. I did stop for a while - wearied by a chain of technical problems with my camera and with my laptop. But all sorted and a bit of a break - and I'm up and running again!
The bust of Voltaire (identified by Pat) wasn't in a public bit. The door was closed and locked. So that's why I didn't go and see . . . but the mystery about the smiling remains. Maybe it's to do with his facial structure rather than inherent merriment because I looked him up on Google images - and it seems he smiles in every representation. (Lucky I don't get sculptured. I'm forever morose in photos!)

Glad you enjoyed the post, Toffeeapple.

Diana - it's turning out to be fun this. I didn't know it was Voltaire who said about cultivating one's garden - even though I've come across it as a saying. (It's one of those things which can mean all sorts of things depending on the context.) So . . . in looking this up too I came across an essay in The New Yorker where it says Voltaire was 'thrown into the Bastille twice for being generally annoying'. I'm trying to decide how to react to this. Was his interminable smile irritating enough to get him incarcerated twice or was it his ability to smile which got him through such adversity - twice? (It also says he 'became one of the first human-rights campaigners in Europe' - gosh . . I know so little!)

Everyone . . it's a good read . . . and if you want to know the answers . . here's the link

http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2005/03/07/voltaires-garden

Pat Tillett said...

Great and funny post! Nature always seem to find a way. It always helps to have a little assistance though. Really nice photos also!

Stewart M said...

Nice post - and a rather different take on the Dreaming Spires types of shots.

Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

Elise Ann Wormuth said...

Just discovered your blog and love it. Will be looking forward to exploring your previous posts!