Monday, February 29, 2016

Moments in Henley-on-Thames

Lost in heartache? Immerse yourself in art. It's cliché, but I was reminded of that advice last week while in Henley-on-Thames. I had a few days off, and spent much of it on that stretch of the Thames Path, and in the River & Rowing Museum.

As I recall, the advice suggests that such exposure will lead one to the inevitable conclusion that human suffering is ubiquitous, and, importantly, survivable. What came to mind, after exploring some of Hockney's works, and reading Murakami's focused memoir, was how a more general sense of connectedness and wonderment can also come from those sorts of moments.

David Hockney: from the beginning takes up but one room in the River & Rowing Museum, and, at first glance, didn't seem like much. Close to three hours later, I left, my head abuzz. From the collection highlighting his fascination with water to his narrating footage of his creating an etching and having it printed, I found the selections absorbing and compelling. My favourite was A Bigger Splash (1973) - all 105 minutes of it, and worth every one. I loved its pace and simplicity, and the way his works came alive in it - the live-action mirroring of The Room and Beverly Hills Housewife, for example, and growth of Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures). And to think that all this was created when my parents were in the prime of their youth. I can't explain why that thought kept circling my head. It was all so vibrant, crackling with an energy all the more apparent in the measured stillness; in a word, it felt modern.

And the day before, I'd spied a tantalising, stylised road to the horizon on the cover of a Vintage edition of Haruki Murakami's What I Talk About When I Talk About Running on a rack in the bigger Oxfam shop in Henley. Walking the Thames Path, listening to the wildfowl, and the terse instructions from a coach astride a bicycle - gosh, that's awkward... Cycling coach doesn't work... Nor does becycled coach, I'm sad to say - to his rowing student, as they both easily outpaced me in a matter of moments, I was reminded of Murakami's joy in running without music. As he comments, one can't help but feel privileged - in my case, as I looked out over patchwork sunlight on the distant marsh. And, simply put, it's inherently uplifting to read about someone harnessing that much energy - both physical and mental - particularly at the age Murakami is writing about (and at the age I'm reading it!).

In summary, I'd hoped that the opportunity for a few days away in a new place would be a short vacation of sorts, and, between the outstanding weather, beautiful surroundings and chance encounters with art, came away with so much more.