Thursday, 7 October 2010

"Willows whiten, aspens quiver" - seeing details differently and having time ...

One of the great things about being on holiday is having the time to take things in and appreciate them differently. Opposite the back courtyard where we're staying there is a lovely mediterranean pine tree in the middle of a village garden. It gives me simple but deep pleasure on the late sunny evenings to simplysit and look at it, to watch the play of sun-setting light turning the bark red, to see how the wind makes the outline of the pine leaves move across the blue and darkening sky.
Looking at the bark of the plane trees in the market square or along the canal du midi; seeing the random pattern of the shells on the beach; wondering at the continually changing movement of waves on the sand; seeing the way the leaves of the olive trees move and how the shape of the varieties is different; seeing the asparagus gone to seed in people's gardens and taking pleasure in the way the garlic is plaited and the pumpkins are piled up on the market stalls; seeing the vines changing colour and liking the newly turned ground - all of these things made me think of my irascible English teacher Dan Plim. (Sadly the only online trace I can find of him is his history of Redditch golf club (!) and details on Friends Reunited of his death two years ago.)
I remember him twirling his reading glasses in his fingers and encouraging us to note the poet's eye for detail as we were reading Tennyson's The The Lady of Shallot. The leaves of different varieties of tree behave differently in the wind "Willows whiten, aspens quiver". I was lucky enough to have both a willow and an ash tree in the hedge of the garden at home and so could test what the poet and my English teacher said. And I still get irritated with Dr B for not knowing his oak trees from his willows - though after 20 years in France he can just about spot a plane tree.
There is beauty in majestic landscapes, broad brush strokes and the big picture, but there is also deep beauty in the small almost insignificant details. Artists of the word or brush may capture them for us, Caneletto for instance. But for me this holiday time blesses me with leisure to enjoy details and wide views, to be restored by both and to take that transformative pleasure back into my everyday life. Dramatic sunrises or sunsets, a beautiful autumn leaf or a scurrying lizard searching for fading warmth amongst the rocks, sun from behind the clouds, all help to add a different dimension making life more poetic, less mundane and taking me out of myself. so even when the holiday is over, it won't be over - the poetics of plaisir, loisir et désir will be able to continue. "Pleasure, leisure and desire" was the title of a brilliant Bible study on the Song of Solomon by Jacques Chauvin. Wonderful title and a great holiday ethic it seems to me, more on that theme later.