The thoughts which arose whilst looking at the paintings in Reading Museum, mentioned in the last post, have persisted, weaving their way through my mind. A sense of place is such a personal emotion, and yet used to such great effect by the masters of our daily lives: the advertisers.
Percy Kelly: Red door, ink on paper (image from here)
Sometimes an artist can capture some element which chimes with the viewer's own sense of place - and sometimes of a different place, but with similar emotional characteristics. We saw an exhibition of Percy Kelly drawings a few years back which although of Cumbria reminded me strongly of Scottish Border villages and towns in the '60s. I remembered that seeming blank stare of stone and pebbledash housing, empty roads, few cars, no people, as if I had arrived on half day closing, ....
Time seems to have a lot to do with spirit of place too. Returning after a significant number of years to somewhere of which the mind's eye has a clear sense can so often be a disappointment. This can be less so in remote landscape, although I was shocked a couple of years ago by the quantity of traffic, people, and second-house-building in far flung Sutherland which for me had always had a sense of almost complete solitude. Perhaps that had now become its holiday destination selling point.
Novels and films have conjured a sense of place which lures tourists. How many visitors to the Vaucluse area of Provence were attracted there by and perhaps thought they experienced the place and people depicted in Peter Mayle's A year in Provence?
The upcoming UK referendum on whether to stay in or leave the EU has also had me thinking about spirit of place. I am a European most simply in the sense that my father was born in the north east of Scotland, and my mother was born in the south east of Greece, and during the first twenty two years of my life I travelled between the two edges, mostly by train across a Europe recovering and developing after WWII. Since marriage I have lived and worked in England, a country in which in many ways I still feel a (happy) foreigner - but when living in the USA for a couple of years I realised how European, and specifically British I really am.
I love living in this diverse culture of larger Europe, with so many languages and their nuanced meanings, with those languages all around me here in my own small part of England. Rainy, drear England - the sense of place of old - where now we sit on the pavement to drink Italian coffee and eat French (or Portuguese) pastries, and kiss ! each other on greeting. I find us delightfully unrecognisable from the days when nuns on the Tauern Express across Austria leapt up to give me a small child with a British passport a seat.