The absence of culture

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Duomo, Siena

Duomo, Siena

Australia is a great country with amazing natural beauty, cities full of character, an ancient culture and plenty of space. I love Australia and would miss it if I was away for too long but it’s missing something. As such a young nation we just don’t have the history of a thousand years that created great buildings, beautiful masterpieces and cultural traditions that have survived multiple transitions though the ages. After a month in Italy I feel I’ve been soaking in a long hot bath but instead of water, I’ve bathed in culture – art, sculpture, grand buildings, majestic churches and ancient sites.

Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

I feel a sense of saturation, yet I want more. I haven’t finished, in fact I’d only just began. I’ve absorbed so much culture visually that I’ve barely retained the knowledge of what I’ve seen but I’ve realised I need to go back. I need to return and not flit from one great visual feast to another but stop and savour, explore the items further, research their provenance so that I can remember with greater clarity the wonderful month that was.

Baptistry, Parma

Baptistry, Parma

We are probably all guilty of this. As Europe is so far from Australia the ability to spend time and really savour everything is difficult instead we try to see as much as possible until, like gluttons, it all becomes a blur. I took photos of as much as possible to make sure I’d remember everything – unfortunately, now, I look at these images and can’t separate one thing from another. Who would have thought I would take so many images of the Madonna and Child, each one special and unique but can I remember why? Sadly, not always.

I kept a diary for most of the trip and this will be my guide to unpick the hundreds of photos, to identify where they were taken and why I thought they were worthy of a shot. I know in many instances it was because they touched me in some way – the colours used, the style of the faces or the story told in the guide.

Roman Forum, Rome

Roman Forum, Rome

I realise I have a bit of a thing for architecture. Of all the photos of paintings and sculptures, there are just as many (or even more) of the ceilings and frescoed walls of palaces, museums and cathedrals. No two are alike, there are similarities clearly but with each the individuality of the designer, architect or painter are obvious. It became a running joke amongst my travelling companions how our first action in any room was to look up, gasp and admire, take a shot or many, then focus on the room itself.

Despite the best efforts of many, our country is a wasteland when it comes to culture. I’ve probably started a huge outcry by some people but in comparison to Europe the depth and history just doesn’t exist here. To turn a corner and see a work by Bernini, or to cross the street to find the temple where Caesar was murdered, or walk down an alleyway to find the sarcophagus of a saint – it’s overwhelming and amazing, and can’t be replicated here.

Duomo, Orvieto

Duomo, Orvieto

The Italians obviously have great pride in their culture but there was a level of ambivalence. When surrounded by so much I think they’ve gradually forgotten to look. I never want to forget to look and I’ll never become ambivalent, I just need to work out how to keep going back.

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