Tuesday, 15 May 2007
The Man Who Wasn’t Quite
Last night in Calais I heard my first mysterious tale.
The Art Museum close to the Richlieu park has a daily visitor. He is old, perhaps as much as eighty; tall with a shock of white hair and long beard, intellectual looking and very English, I am told. He is said to travel forwards and back every day from Dover on a ferry: he has some kind of cheap deal. Once in Calais he makes straight for the museum and looks at the art, very slowly, and when the gallery closes he goes home to Dover.
When asked why, he is said to say: “Why not?” The art is good; he likes art. And so he makes his daily journey. Today I went to the Museum to meet him; but on Tuesdays the gallery is closed and my white-haired man remains in Dover, I suppose. I ask the man on reception. An old man, from Dover, every day, I say. “Yes, perhaps he is a journalist,” the young man says, though he is not sure. “I am sorry. Come tomorrow.”
But tomorrow I follow Tom Coryat to Boulogne. Instead I try to imagine this man: he must be of the sea, just old enough perhaps to have fought in the second world war. What brings him here that cannot be satisfied in Canterbury, or in the museums of London? Why does he return to these paintings and sculptures, what is their hold on him?
I miss him already, my mysterious old man of Dover, the art lover of a museum I have never seen.