Sunday, March 11, 2007

Tarting up or tarting down

I was always taken with the image of the sailor with the sextant, from one of the big sailing ships, below the sign for the Combridge Galleries and above the one for the opticians Murray McGrath, on the corner of Grafton Street and Duke Street, in Dublin city centre.

I took a slide of this in the 1960s which I included in my Ireland show. I showed the slide of the sailor in isolation from his surroundings and asked the audience to guess where it was. Often as not they hadn't a clue.

We don't always look around us as we go down the street and we look up even less.

But if you did have the leisure to cast your eyes upwards - there he was. Still navigating off the wall.

He looked dignified, calm and competent. He knew where he was, where he had come from and where he was going. He conveyed a sense of stability and continuity, not to mention vision - 20/20 that is, and him perched above the opticians and within a brush length or two of some fine visual art.

That's how I remembered him.


I was in town the other day. The area around Grafton Street was buzzing. Open air cafés, street traders and buskers all added to the bustling atmosphere.

I passed the way and looked up.

My eyes went up and my heart went down.

Instead of my remembered sailor there was a mere gaudy shadow. My real sailor had been replaced by a modern piece of tack.

His coat was pink and peeling. He was looking at the sextant in his hands as if he didn't know whether to play it, eat it, or poke somebody's eye out with it. He was reduced in stature and had clearly put on a bit of weight - puppy fat maybe. He had lost his bearing as well as his bearings. He knew not whence he came or where the hell he was going. And it didn't really seem to matter. Nothing was expected of him.

Sad to see such tack in a country whose income per head has shot to the stars.

Per ardua ad astra, was the motto of my alma mater.

That was getting there.

But the return journey - a bit more flaky methinks.

1 comment:

Póló said...

Apparently he has now vanished.

Hopefully just for a cleaning or to be replaced by his predecessor.