Vincent and Beyond. The National Gallery of Victoria for Kids

In the digital age, where many children have instant access to famous art images from worldwide galleries, a visit to a national gallery may produce two completely opposite responses: they will either be enthralled, eager and stimulated or bored, indifferent and restless. Fortunately for me, I visited the National Gallery of Victoria (NGV) with a young art sponge: the day was a huge success for both of us. Oliver was keen to visit Van Gogh and the Seasons, an exhibition of 50 paintings and drawings by Van Gogh, which is now showing at the NGV until July 12. Like many other 8 year olds, he had some previous knowledge of the works of Vincent, mostly through art programmes at his school. He had also spent time with me leafing through large glossy art books and discussing these images, something that the curious love doing with an older person, unlike the image trawling, swipe, reject, like, swipe attention span deficient pastimes of today, where discussion, reading, and dialogue are sadly missing.

Vincent Van Gogh. I didn’t record the title and dates of each piece, thanks to our animated conversation at the time. Apologies.

Our visit was planned a few weeks beforehand, with a discussion of Vincent’s works and a look at a couple of other art movements in history. Oliver was also keen to see the work of Picasso, his current favourite artist, and fortunately, the NGV holds one small painting. He was also keen to see the Michelangelo’s Pietà and Leonardo’s Mona Lisa! I think this boy may need to travel to Italy and France one day.

My favourite Van Gogh from Seasons, NGV, Melbourne

Before embarking on a trip to the Gallery with young children, consider the following:

  • The age of the child. Kids’ attention spans differ greatly from age to age.
  • The interests of the child. Not everyone travels with an ‘art sponge’ but a trip to the gallery can be tailored to meet the interests of the child.
  • Pre- planning. Go through the collections online and choose a few pieces from one or two areas that are appealing rather than wandering aimlessly.
  • Limit the visit to one or two sections so that they are keen to return.
  • Be informed about the works you have decided to visit. Kids ask a lot of curly questions.
  • They probably won’t read the plaques alongside each painting. Kids will find stories in the works that will surprise you. I usually ask them to read the date and the artist of each piece.
  • Don’t be surprised if they move along faster than you would like.
  • Factor in a few breaks. There are lots of chairs and couches about the gallery. Have a break here and there.
  • Buy them a few postcards of famous artworks at the end as mementos of their visit.
  • If visiting a temporary exhibition, such as Van Gogh and the Seasons, book the tickets online before you go and arrive at opening time. There is nothing worse than trying to appreciate art through a sea of heads and iPhones.
  • The NGV is free of charge- only temporary exhibitions have entrance fees –  and is surprisingly empty on a Saturday morning.
Oliver contemplates Picasso’s ‘Weeping Woman.’

A few surprises for Oliver included Tiepolo’s The Banquet of Cleopatra, held in the 17th to 18th Century European Paintings Gallery, Level 2, NGV International. I am saving a few edited stories about this one for our next visit. He loved the grandeur of it, the dog, and the costumes. Other surprises included the Egyptian Sarcophagus, 700 BC, which led to an endless array of questions about dates, maths, AD versus BC, and the promise that we would return to visit the Egyptian and Ancient Art Collection next time.

Detail from Tiepolo’s, ‘Cleopatra’s Banquet’ NGV Melbourne.
A teaser for next time. Oliver with Sacophagus, 700 BC. NGV, Melbourne

I also discovered a few gems and am looking forward to returning to immerse myself in the Art of the Sublime, an English art movement that I find intriguing, and a concept where the word ‘sublime’ ( like other tainted words such as awesome, terrible, amazing, horrible) held far more meaning that it does today. Two works from this movement caught my eye. Mount St Michael, Cornwall by Clarkson Stanfield, 1830 and After the Massacre of Glencoe, by Peter Graham 1889, might need a solo visit, with the stories and the history of Glencoe stored until the young ‘art sponge’ is 14 or so. Let’s hope he’s still keen.

Detail from Mount St Michael, Cornwall, 1830. Clarkson Stanfield. NGV, Melbourne.
Detail from ‘After the Massacre of Glencoe’, by Peter Graham 1889

Oliver was impressed that there were no fakes in the gallery, something that I just took for granted but that many kids don’t. The geekish acronym IRL, or In Real Life, resonates loudly here. He is keen to return and I can’t think of a lovelier person to accompany me.

https://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/exhibition/van-gogh-and-the-seasons/

Focus in Hội An, Vietnam

In the cooler hours of the morning, before the tourists take over the yellow streets of Hội Anlocal couples dressed in traditional costumes arrive for a photo shoot. Weddings, anniversaries, engagements or portraits, many couples choose the less commercial end of Nguyễn Thái Học street for its colourful and historic built background. No one seems to mind my presence alongside or behind the professional photographer, though with my simple lens, the glare makes it hard to focus.

Morning glare in Hội An.

The old town near the Hội An’s historic district, is recognised as an exceptionally well-preserved example of a South-East Asian trading port dating from the 15th to 19th century. Chinese and Japanese influences can be seen in the shop fronts, houses and old businesses in the streets closest to the wharf. It is a city requiring a leisurely week or more of you wish to fathom its charms.

Another beautiful Vietnamese couple line up against the yellow walls of Hội An for their portrait.

Women often choose to wear the áo dài, the Vietnamese national costume, for these portraits.

Other portraits taken in Hội An, Vietnam, can be viewed here and here.

Chinese Street Scenes. Order and Philosophy.

In a country like China, where everyday life is complex, busy, and often crowded, order creates harmony. It enables Chinese life to work smoothly. Orderliness can be seen in the cleanliness of the streets, the hygiene applied to food preparation and the behaviour of the Chinese people. The ancient principles of Confucianism, a system of norms and propriety that determine how a person should act in everyday life, underlies many aspects of Chinese society, with later overlays of buddhism, daoism, communism and capitalism. Below: some sketches of everyday life in Sichuan and Yunnan provinces.

Scene below the Ohm hotel, Chengdu. A very orderly dumpling operation.
Not a leaf or butt in sight. Kunming.
Street Recycling, Kunming.
Beautiful brooms made of twigs. Sichuan Province.

Young Monks of Myanmar

Another rainy day in Myanmar. We spent the morning visiting the vast temple grounds of Shwedagon Pagoda in Yangon. Out of nowhere, a flash of crimson passed by, an evanescent moment. The colour, so striking against the backdrop of gold, was unexpected, as was the youth and animation of the group. The young monks were quiet and respectful as they ambled through this magnificent Buddhist monument but their gait and facial expressions revealed something else.

Buddhist monastic schools play a vital role in the education of the poor and underprivileged throughout Myanmar, as well as in Laos and Thailand. I often visit these schools when in the vicinity, and watch as young monks are instructed in business maths or English grammar or art, the latter usually based on sculpting Buddhist images or restoring carved panels.

‘ Generally, Burmese monastic schools accept children from needy families who live nearby and are unable to attend government schools. Many of the orphans who attend monastery schools in Yangon and Mandalay are from remote areas and have been sent by senior monks from their villages and small towns. Some operate similarly as boarding schools and some as day schools depending on the situation and support of the public.

The schools are required to cooperate closely with township education authorities to be officially recognized. The operation and finance rely heavily on donations and collaboration from the public. The fees of most of the students at the school were covered by these donations, and some parents were able to make a small contribution.’¹

¹https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monastic_schools_in_Myanmar

Make it Rain: Bagan, Myanmar

I love it when it rains somewhere in Asia. It’s hot and humid and the sudden downpours are refreshing. They don’t usually last too long. When it rains in Bangkok, I like to duck into my favourite Chinese -Thai dumpling shop and sip a cup of ginger and lemon tea while grappling with chop sticks over a bowl of slippery dumplings. By the time they are scoffed, the rain has passed.

Rainy day fun, Bagan, Myanmar

This love of a good passing storm did not prepare me for the frequent downpours during our travels through Myanmar. I spent more time than usual meditating in golden pagodas due to heavy rain. On this occasion, we were tucked inside a restaurant in Bagan, watching the young lads outside having a ball.

Rainy day in Bagan, Myanmar

And my favourite rain song? Ed Sheeran’s Make it Rain. I sing this song often during Australian summers. For Ailsa’s travel theme, rain, on Where’s My Backpack.

Woman with Peaches, Dali, Yunnan

Yunnan province in China has the largest population of minorities with 25 different ethnic minorities, 16 of which are indigenous to that area. Wandering around the town of Dali, you will recognise many different ethnic groups largely by their dress, traditional customs, cultures and language. The town is a awash with colour and makes an exotic first stop after leaving the capital, Kunming.

Here a Shaxi woman arranges her peaches for sale on market day.

For this week’s WordPress Photo prompt, Heritage.

Reflecting in Oamaru Public Gardens

The light down the south coast of New Zealand is glorious in May. It is the best time to go for Autumn’s deep colours, nature’s majesty and that hypnotic chiaroscuro that precedes the depths of winter. The nights are chilly and the mornings frosty, then the days open up splendidly. A leisurely walk through Oamaru’s public gardens is one of the highlights of this wonderful town. It’s a place of reflection for some: for the energetic, it’s a place to run: for children and the young at heart, it’s a fairyland, with sculpted mushroom tables and chairs, hidden stone grottos, and mysterious dark places to explore. It is also a place to consider the foresight of Victorian planners, who, in 1858, set aside 34 acres as a public reserve. Oamaru Gardens opened on this site in 1876, making it one of the oldest in the country.

Some highlights of the gardens include the Japanese Red Bridge, the Oriental Garden, the Fragrant Garden and the large trees around the band rotunda. Details from the Victorian era can be seen everywhere – a sundial, croquet lawns, a wishing well, an aviary and a peacock house.

Oamaru public gardens, South Island, New Zealand

 

 

Sunday Books and Radishes

We often keep a book in the side pocket of the car door. The book is chosen for its suitability for long road trips. It could be a novel with self-contained, non sequential chapters but more often it’s a travel diary or humourous journal, a book that can resumed at any chapter when we’re in the mood. Mr Tranquillo drives while I read a chapter or two aloud to break up the journey. One book that amused us for years was ‘Everything but the Squeal: a year of pigging out in Northern Spain,’ by John Barlow. The author/ narrator travels through Galicia, Spain, while trying to eat every part of the pig. It’s a journey with entertaining diversions and detours, where the quest for eating various parts of the pig often segues into insanely funny anecdotes, amusing passages on foreign language usage and grammar, historic and literary references, vivid descriptions of the Galician people, its villages and festivals, as well as an occasional recipe based on pork. The ingredients ( all pork unless stated) of Galicia’s famous Lalín Cocido ( pork stew) are listed:

“1/2 head, 2 lb cured foreleg ham, 3 lb backbone, 2 tails, 1 1/2 lb streaky bacon, 1 side of ribs, 3 snouts, 5 ears, 5 trotters, 10 chorizo from Lalín, 5 onion chorizo, 4 tongues, 1 free range hen, 2 lb veal ( hock or skirt), 1/2 lb pork lard, 2 lb chickpeas, 1 lb dried broad beans, 12 lb grelos, 3 lb potatoes.”

After 11 months or by page 270, the author lists all the parts he has consumed, and then ponders those bits not yet eaten, including the pig’s unmentionables:

” Male pigs are generally very well endowed, with penises up to eighteen inches in length, which, relative to body size, makes those pork swords among the most impressive in the animal kingdom. In Galicia’s distant past, the pig’s penis used to be stretch-dried and used as a donkey whip. There’s no longer much call for donkey whips. Carlos, our organic butcher, says there’s no call for pig testicles either. No one eats them. And with an eighteen incher, a substantial set of testicles would probably come as standard, so that’s a goodly plate of meat going to waste.”

I’m returning this book to the car door pocket. It will need a future trip up the Hume Highway to find out if John ticked off those parts of the pig. In the meantime, as a ‘mostly’ vegetarian, let me introduce you to eating more parts of the humble radish. After a recent thinning of radishes from the garden, I recalled that the tops of radishes taste very similar to cima di rape or turnip tops ( grelos in Spanish). Radishes grow quickly in most seasons and with continuous sowing, are always plentiful in my garden. As cold salad season has passed by, I’ve just started using radishes and their tops in roasts and stir fries.

Roast radishes with stir fried radish tops

Ingredients.

  • a generous bunch of radishes and their tops, preferably just picked.
  • EV Olive oil
  • garlic
  • anchovy fillets ( optional)

Heat the oven to 180 c.

Clean the radishes and their tops thoroughly, then separate the leaves and roots, discarding any yellowing or damaged leaves. Cut the radishes in half. Add to roasting tin along with some olive oil. Roast for around 20 minutes.

Roasted Radishes with Radish tops, garlic and anchovy

Meanwhile, chop the garlic and anchovies ( if using). Add some olive oil to a small wok or frying pan, then add the garlic and anchovies, breaking up the anchovies with the back of a spoon. Stir fry quickly then add the radish tops and stir fry until they are wilted. A large bunch of greens will reduce to a small amount. Add ground pepper. Add some salt only if you haven’t added the anchovies. Plate nicely and enjoy as a starter or side dish.

The dish that cost nothing except for the oil.

Sunday Notes

  • This post was going to be called Eats, Roots, and Leaves after that well known Australian joke.
  • Roots in Italian are radici while radishes are ravanelli. 
  • I have eaten some great vegetarian food in Santiago de Compostella, Galicia, that beautiful, wet and Celtic area of Spain which serves up more than just pig.
  • Everything but the Squeal: a year of pigging out in Northern Spain. John Barlow, Wakefield Press, 2009.

    Santiago de Compostela, Galicia, Spain. In search of good Comida.

Back Street Wanderlust

Melbourne’s secret lanes, inner suburban streets, Victorian historic precincts and 19th century abandoned factories and warehouses have turned from grunge to gentry. Colourful street art provides a changing landscape; painted facades give life to the severe modern apartment blocks tucked behind. Good graffiti is embraced. Railway bike paths open up a whole new world to the backstreet artist and walker.

Grace Cafe, Rose Street Fitzroy

The best way to enjoy Melbourne is to wander. The tram network services all inner suburban areas. Leave the car at home, take the tram then stroll. These images were taken recently along Rose Street, Fitzroy, close to the city. Catch the tram along Nicholson street and disembark at Rose Street. Start walking, and do not get distracted at the Brunswick Street intersection.

Car Park, Rose Street Fitzroy.

The following collage can be viewed as a media file. Open one picture below and the journey down Rose street will follow.

Earth Now, South Island, New Zealand.

Travelling around the South Island of New Zealand is like being immersed in an old Cinerama movie. The skies seem too big, the mountains too austere, the clouds too close, the Autumn colours more vivid. Earth, in all its majesty, is on show. Enter this landscape and be overwhelmed by the urgent need to protect it.

South Island, New Zealand.
Land of the long white cloud
Perfect earth pyramid, Central Otago

Also added to Ailsa’s Where’s My Backpack this week.