Hidden Treasure

I’ve been without  internet  for the last week or so, but the upside is there’ll be a post a day for the next week.

I could no longer pretend that drinking a couple of  bottles of wine a night (not by myself! No, I have beloved friends my leading me astray.  Really good friends, the sort that can pick up a conversation  with you after ten years  absence with no more introduction than “Gosh, you haven’t changed a bit – have you had botox? I won’t tell. Ugh, the bloody neighbours woke me up again shagging at 3am. I don’t know where they get the energy, they’re both in their seventies.  I’m starving, let’s go to the place around the corner, they’ve got an amazing happy hour.”  You know these friends.. and if you don’t, it’s time to start being nicer to the friends you have); stuffing my face with long forgotten childhood treats (and new treats I’d never had the good fortune to try before); and taking lovely long strolls through the park constituted a valuable use of time.  There’s only so much ‘catching up’ you can do before you can’t get into you clothes.

With this in mind, I took myself off for a day of culture at the National Museum of Wales.  The museum is one of those places that I know, I just know, I probably visited as a child  but have absolutely no memory of it (have recently asked my mother about this who has confirmed that we were regular museum visitors, but still I remain amnesiac on the subject).  A big museum in fancy stone buildings in the city centre that has free entry (all museums in Wales are free entry… not boasting or anything but seriously we’ve got free museums; an amazing recycling program; the biggest greenbelt of any capital city in Europe; and were the first in Britain to bring in the plastic bag initiative; no smoking inside public venues; and 24 hour licensing laws – yay Wales)  how could I not have been there?  Every parent who’s ever known the urge to put the TV on for the kids, get in the car and drive far away, far faaaaaar away, assuming a new identity and wearing a panama hat low on the brow, will have taken advantage of a day trip to the museum.   “Go forth offspring, run wild and free!  Howl like monkeys, squabble until your voices are hoarse.  Don’t come back to me until your vocal chords are broken and you are falling asleep standing up.” Or at least that’s what I’d do.

The  more city centre museums you go to, the more you realize that they follow a very similar pattern.   There will be a natural history section filled with stuffed animals and some interactive panels, including a sea-life area (an actual aquarium if you’re lucky! With real fish and everything), and some dinosaurs.

Then you have the space section with an obligatory selection of meteorites that have fallen to earth, which makes me wonder if there is a giant mountain of meteorites in Arizona with a spaceship above it – one incapable of being detected by earthly technology – where the aliens are having a laugh using our planet as a meteor dart board.  The alternative is that there’s an iron mine in the desert where wizened miners carefully extract and chip away at lumps of iron ore, before making a call to the local newspaper to report a freak meteorite shower.

You must visit the section which tells you something of the history of the local area, because otherwise you’re just cheating.  However, it is completely allowed to stroll through and only look at the pictures.

The Museum in Cardiff also happens to have an art wing.. an art floor in fact.  It starts with a wide range of avant garde pieces, some sombre portraits of local dignitaries, and then, THEN you get to go into the gallery where you’re surrounded by Monet, Renoir, Degas and Rodin!  In fact, not only do they have Rodin sculptures, but they have one of only three life size bronze sculptures of The Kiss.  This was followed by several of Monet’s water lilies studies, Degas’ ballet bronzes, and amongst the Renoir paintings, The Blue Girl (… which actually has another formal name, buggered if I can think of it right now, and I can’t get internet connection so I can’t google it.  I am lost without the internet now).

Who knew that all this resided in my home city?  I am torn between incredibly proud, and really gutted I didn’t come across it sooner.  Pride wins, it is a central tenet of being Welsh – pride always wins.

Apparently the artworks are part of a large turn of the century gift from the Davies sisters, daughters of Davis Davies.  It seems that there was a period of time when it was quite fashionable in Wales to name your children the same first name as their last name, Griffith Park in Los Angeles is named after its original owner Griffith J. Griffith, local boy done good from Newport in South Wales.

The two girls… whose names are lurking at the back of  my mind, stubbornly refusing to come to the fore ( damn you lack of internet).. Gwen and Margaret??  They were splendid ladies of the jolly hockey sticks variety who sensibly decided to invest their father’s wealth in contemporary art and had a chap on the continent advising them of the hottest new artists of whom they should be aware.

Having  a chap, or chappess, on the continent to give advice seems to be restricted to the wealthier classes: “You need an incredibly rare truffle, found only in the Umbrian foothills, for next week’s supper?  Dahling, get Reggie on the blower, he’s a whizz at sorting this sort of stuff out, knows absolutely everyone, he’s been tiddly at every royal court in Europe.   Hahahahahaha.”   The rest of the world do not have chaps and chappesses, instead they “know someone who knows someone”.

Anyhoo, it turns out that Gwen and Mags (if those are their real names) were not only well connected, but also had splendid taste in art, and us lucky visitors to the Cardiff museum are all the richer for it.

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