It really is quite an odd feeling revisiting such a once in a lifetime adventure a year on. As with the adventure itself, it’s proving quite unpredictable: both lovely and a bit unsettling.
Day three a year ago was Calais to Montreuil and the first full day out of the UK. It was quite a challenge with cool to cold headwinds and a constant roll up and down of little hills as I first headed off down the minor roads near the coast. By late morning I decided there were no real gains in terms of views, as the sea was out of sight to my right, and I opted to turn sharply inland before hooking back onto a more major but still unthreatening road south. I think this was the day that I started to be aware that I was going to need quite a lot of food (though the perhaps the pound shop chocolate was really the first acknowledgement of that). That was a bit of a challenge as I had been more oriented to thinking of losing weight, or trying to avoid gaining it, for a few years by then.
I can remember two grub stops, one at a large hypermarket in the middle of nowhere where I stocked up with food, and the other in a tiny hamlet whose name I’d lost. However, coming to 2017 and by the technlogical miracle that GPS in my ‘phone stamped the EXIF data in my ‘photos with latitude and longitude, and the complementary miracle that I can just type those into Google maps and, hey presto, I find that the lovely little church which persuaded me to stop and munch some more was at Le Wast
Another nice trick means I can just paste that information in here so you can look at the location on Google maps if that appeals to you. I can see I am going to have to do some more sleuthing to get better at handling these images and going back to mapping things.
But what about today? I think I can’t do this revisiting to the exclusion of the present day and perhaps I really need to bounce back and forward between last year and this to start to link the two into a more coordinated and fertile meld. It helps that today was a bit of a pilgrimage day and it involved a bit of cycling too though only a 19.8km round trip from home to the British Museum.
This was another of my trips with my daughter. I had persuaded her that she really should see the amazing exhibition of Hokusai’s work before it finishes Sunday week (13/8/17). This was my visit and each time I’ve been it been absolutely packed, you crawl around in a long queue moving very, very slowly as everyone, or pretty much everyone, is locked into the amazing prints and paintings. It’s that packed despite access for non-members, who are paying quite a lot (£12) to get in, being rationed to keep it from being unbearable. It makes having paid for family membership at the BM a joy as we can just walk in and join the tail of the queue.
I’m not sure I’ve ever found myself getting round an exhibition so slowly, and in such a millipede of fellow gawpers. Oddly it brings back memories from young teenage years in the very same museum going to the famous Tutankhamun exhibition (hm, bit of sleuthing: 1972, so I was 15).
I had warned daughter of the queue and she’d worried that she might kill someone as, like me, she doesn’t like people in her personal space nor being constrained by a crowd in what she can do. I probably shouldn’t have worried but I was relieved that she was completely engrossed. I guess we found ourselves talking about probably over 80% of the exhibits as we went around, mostly alongside each other. Hokusai has a very high and sacred position in my odd pantheon of humans who have fundamentally changed my way of seeing and experiencing the world and its possibilities. I think, perhaps hence the recollection of Tutankhamun, that probably goes back to around that time, perhaps earlier. I know I went to a Ukiyoe exhibition (BM again I’m pretty sure) with my father at some point in my teens or student years, but I think that was bit later.
This huge exhibition seemed very well curated to me and I learned a lot I hadn’t known about my hero. One thing was how often he had changed his name, ending up with Gakyo Rojin: “old man, crazy to paint” (and daughter suggests I should now be dubbed “old man, crazy to cycle”!) I also learned for the first time just how deeply his particular Buddhist faith had influenced him and that a part of it was, or became, a deep belief that all things, animate and inanimate, have a spiritual meaning and connectedness. I wonder if something of that has always communicated to me from his works. As I did a lot on the ride a year ago, I am pondering exactly what that means to me but boy it does hit a chord for me. That’s something I was able to immerse myself in on the ride last year but something I find harder to touch and hold in the pressures and mundane artificialities that so easily become my life day to day when I don’t grasp opportunities as we did today.
If you can, and can bear the queue and have some hours in London between now and Sunday week: I’d recommend the exhibition. Ouch, sold out: if you can afford it, buying BM membership will get you in, I honestly think it would be worth the money but clearly I’m hopelessly enamoured of Hokusai and his work. If that’s not on, I can also recommend pointing a bike towards Santiago de Compostella, or any other reasonably distant, transcendent, target, or starting to plan that. Electric bikes are fine by the way!