November 22: in the art gallery

In the art gallery on a Sunday morning you are with a special group of people. They are here because they don’t go to church anymore. But they are still in their Sunday best. Today it is the equivalent of a brisk early winter walk, but one where culture might adhere to you. How you make you way through is up to you. There is a special route that the gallery organisers recommend, the stations of the cross round the top top artistic icons of the place. There is also a plan of the gallery that can lead you through century by century. Or you might just follow your own path. Some people might just follow a pretty girl round from a safe unimpeachable distance, or you might go from nude to nude (in each room there is at least one nude), or you might decide to listen in on one of the guides talking in front of a selected artwork which, I have noticed, will be a commentary mostly revolving around what the artist was doing at the period he painted the picture (invariably in love with someone or other or being influenced by some other one or other or living in some place or other). The word contemporary comes up a lot. Guides say it and visitors say it to each other as they wander round. It’s got so that I can recognise the word from fifty paces through lip-reading skills that have naturally accrued due to my exposure to this word in galleries. Naturally, it is a word I would ban. I sit down in a side corridor opposite an elderly man who is wearing sandles with no socks. It is cold today, the second day of winter. He must have feet that burn him that he needs to expose them in this weather. I feel impelled to ask him why he has no socks on, but before I can summon up my mode of approach he gets up and shuffles off. There are a lot of single old people here this morning, as well as the Sunday family groups. The elderly sit in front of canvases but mostly look down to their own knees or at their hands. This too is contemporary.

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