Wednesday, May 31, 2017
Messing About With Boats
I sat on a bench on the quay and started to draw. Mast, keep it vertical. Tie on the lines. Draw what I see. Watch those shapes. Two girls settled down on the next bench a few feet away. One had a Madrid accent, and over the course of an hour, I learned all about her life, her living arrangements and her job-hunting woes. Her English was excellent, despite the strong accent. The other girl barely said a word. I wondered idly if that's what it's like to sit beside me, and I wished they'd run out of steam. Then I was joined by two little girls with long dark hair and English accents. One carried a toy lamb, which she fed to Reuben. "This is my lucky Irish sheep," she said. "Your dog is sooo cute carrying it in his mouth! I'm a seven-year-old and she's a five-year-old. We're allowed to go and explore." I thought about the deep, open water everywhere, the cars passing through and the weirdos sketching, and wondered about the judgment of whomever sent them out on the quay. The little girls played with Reuben, who was tied to the bench, and he did his best to evade their little hands. Amid cries of "he's sooo cute!" they tried to pat him, who tried in turn not to be patted, tangling himself and my ankles in his lead. The older one trotted off for some ice cream and chocolate sauce, and while she was gone the younger one finally hit the jackpot when she gave him a rock - he loves biting rocks. "He's soooo cute biting the rock!" she said. The patting attempts continued, as did Reuben's attempts to hide, but the lead meant it was futile. How he must have regretted leaving the nice lonely hill. Eventually I think he snapped at her, as I saw her pull her hand back quickly - being five, she didn't understand that dogs aren't allowed to do that, and she didn't wail or complain. "Don't try to pat him any more," I said, "he'll bite." He has never bitten anyone, but there was no harm in letting the little girl know that dogs have their limits. Then the smaller girl told me about how bad cigarettes are and how she was going to get her hands on some candy ones when she went to America. This made her very excited - even at five, she was conscious of the power of a taboo. Over the course of an hour, the little girls knocked the bench I was sitting on ("Don't touch the bench," I said, "I'll do a wobbly line"), fiddled with my brushes and paints and ooohed and aaaahed over my sketch, their long hair obscuring my page. "That's sooo good," they said. "I bet the next time I see it it'll be in a museum." The innocence.
Finally a lady came out of the restaurant to get them. She was American and appeared to be their mother. I had the strong impression she was only just in charge, imploring them not to get onto people's boats, telling them to stay away from me. She didn't acknowledge me in any way, in sharp contrast to the little girls' easy, friendly manner.
An older Dutch couple stood behind me and discussed my sketch, without acknowledging my presence. The woman made lots of observations in Dutch, pointing at bits of the page. Her finger hovered millimetres from the surface of the page. Lucky for her she didn't touch the paper. Oh yes, she would have got quite the stern "please don't touch" from me. Finally the man said "Photorealistic!" to which I answered "Not really" because I did not take it as a compliment. I hate photorealism in art - you may as well cut to the chase and take a photo. But at least he was saying hello, in his way.
I always say one of the nicest things about urban sketching is interacting with passers-by. I still feel that way.
As for Reuben - he conked out when he got home. Little girls can be very tiring.