On July 1st I started a leave of absence from my volunteer work as a docent at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts. It’s been a full month since I walked into the Museum, checked out who is taking tickets today, looked around to see if any of my particular friends are guiding, or researching, walked in with the particular little satisfaction that comes with wearing an ID badge. Have I missed it? Have I missed that feeling of being part of what no one can deny is a “status” institution? Not yet. The only moment I had a pang was,the other night when I guessed wrong about an item on Antiques Road Show. I am a bit weak in Chinese ceramics and porcelain and am inclined to arrange my tours in Cultures of the World so that I don’t have to plumb the depth of my ignorance on those items.
I have great admiration for my fellow guides who study like mad and have all the facts at their finger tips and their tongue tips too. Montreal is a city where French and English are heard and spoken everywhere. The guides are trained and guide in one or other of the languages although there is a movement to encourage bilingual guides to offer tours in either language. I think this is a wonderful thing and I hope one day to be one of that group. I note among my French speaking colleagues a wonderful scholarship and a devotion to study, to the acquiring of knowledge. I put this down to the old Quebec education system. I was taught French grammar by nuns of the Congregatin of Notre Dame and most of it stuck. I remember an absolute devotion to correctness, to exactitude, to perfection. I think this approach carries over to all fields. Of course many of my French colleagues are much younger than me and so were exposed to a different educational system. Also, many of the English speaking guides are founts of knowledge and very erudite.
Of course, I study like mad for the temporary exhibitions. The one on Venice a few years ago was terrifying. We had to learn the paintings and painters, of course but there was so much about history, politics, religion and music ( think Vivaldi) that my head was in a whirl by the time I gulped hard and started my first tour. How much of it sticks in my head? Certainly some of it and frankly I rather like the feeling of having my head in a whirl over new ideas. It’s a bit like the moment before you enter the examination room when you know you’ve prepared pretty well but you hope there won’t be a horrid surprise question.
But it’s not an exam, is it? I know I’ll never be quite as aware of all the facts as I should be but I think the real secret to a good museum tour is to connect with the visitors and make sure they have an enjoyable time. Helping people to look and to see is important too. Things these days are very fast and fluid so that it’s a novel experience to stand in front of a work of art and look at it, see details in it, talk about it, understand it.
I’ve been in the country for almost all the month of July, looking at other things. How many different kinds of grass there are! How many different shades of green. I’m in Group of Seven country and it’s a good thing for a guide to get in a canoe or to swim in a Muskoka lake. I’m dong my writing and that’s very important. Every kind of creation can be art. Making a meal or a garden or writing a report can be artful and graceful. So, it’s good to step away sometimes to see and to understand more clearly.
The photo? Just before I left I was given this certificate for having guided over 500 tours.
PS I got published in the August edition of “The Lake”. It’s an on line magazine out of the U.K. Check it out. One of the advantages of having a last name that starts with “C” is that I got to head the contributions. Certainly I am in good company as other poets are well known and awarded!