Thursday, March 02, 2017

sweet adelaide

Every traveler experiences a dilemma.

You blow into a new town with only six hours to acquaint yourself with the place and its inhabitants. Even if you have visited before, you need to wisely budget your time.

There are two obvious choices. The first is to run about madly trying to absorb as much new culture as possible. This is the culture vulture option -- often on the top of a hop-on hop-off bus. Those buses are often my choice.

The second option is to pick one or two items to visit. You can then spend enough time to learn something in medium depth. I always take this option in Florence -- where I will spend the day admiring Donatello's Mary Magdalene: my favorite sculpture.

I chose option number two for our visit to Adelaide yesterday. Adelaide is a big city -- with over a million residents. And it is one of the few large Australian cities without a convict labor history.

But I was not in Adelaide for that history. I was on an historical scavenger hunt of a completely different species.

Most of you know fellow blogger Joanna van der Gracht de Rosada from writing from merida. She wrote to me while I was still in Perth. It turns out she has a family connection with Australia. Her grandfather was part of the Mawson expedition -- one of the famous expeditions to Antarctica.

She had discovered that some of his paintings are in the South Australian Museum in Adelaide. Even though her email was meant only to be informative, I took it as a challenge to find the paintings.

Finding the museum was simple. It is on one of Adelaide's main streets nestled amongst the state's governmental buildings.

I told the volunteer guide what I was looking for. She pointed me to the Mawson expedition exhibit on the third floor.

The museum is like most natural history museums of its era. Lots of stuffed major fauna. Meteorites. Rocks. Aboriginal art.

And the Mawson exhibit. There were artifacts and photographs. But no paintings by Joseph van Waterschoot van der Gracht.

I was on a scavenger hunt and not to be deterred. Joanna had mentioned the Mawson Centre. It had to be somewhere close.

And it was. The receptionist in the museum put on her bureaucracy hat when she informed me the centre was not open to mere members of the public.

She had not reckoned with a journalist on a story. I had picked out several details in Joanna's email -- including the name of the senior collections manager. So, I started dropping names faster than Quentin Crisp.

The next thing I knew I was signing into the Mawson Centre and being most graciously greeted by Mark Pharaoh (an appropriate last name for a museum curator). I am not certain what I expected to find -- probably framed paintings on a wall. David Rosenthal comes to mind.

That is not what I found. Instead, Mark took me to a drafting table and started opening storage drawers filled with paintings in protective sleeves.

I almost felt as if we were opening an ancient tomb. Each of the paintings had been carefully stored to avoid further deterioration. He lovingly laid each one out separately, and we started discussing them. He had a true love for the art he was protecting.

Joanna's grandfather was unknown to me before this trip. But after spending an hour poring over his paintings, I feel as if I had met him.

Most of the paintings are either in water color or crayon. He is a master draftsman. There is a colored drawing of rockhopper penguin whose feather barbs can be clearly seen.

But the paintings have something more. They are humane. The works document the work of the expedition. That work was done by men. And their humanity is quite clear in the paintings. Man conquering nature while simultaneously being awed by its majesty. There are even moments of humor that peek through the work.

I would like to share some of my photographs. But I signed an indemnity agreement that prohibits me from publishing my shots. That is a bit ironic since I first met Joanna at a blogger conferenc where I spoke on intellectual property law.

If you want to see them, please feel free to stop by the house with no name. I would be happy to share them with you in person.

Having successfully completed my scavenger hunt, I spent part of the rest of the day in Adelaide's immense and quite tranquil botanical garden. Joining up with Roy and Nancy, we took the train back to the ship.

But, not before a brief stop in Port Adelaide. Port Adelaide was once the major port for Adelaide. But its size was too limiting for the shipping that modern Adelaide required.

Rather than completely abandon it, the residents did what people who care for dying towns do. They Disneyfied it -- restoring its old buildings to a spiffiness they probably never knew. But I am glad they did. It was almost like visiting the set of a whaling movie.

Then it was back to the ship for my traditional dinner with the singers and dangers of the ship's performing company. But that is a tale for another day.

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