I wrote recently about walking Whitstable. Yesterday we walked Margate. Like Whitstable, it was a first visit for me.
Margate has a bad reputation. From an aesthetic viewpoint, I understand. The seafront buildings are some of the ugliest I’ve seen. The beach is glorious. The tide was out when we arrived, exposing great stretches of golden sands (unlike many south coast beaches, which are made up of flint pebbles). There are rock pools. The sea was striped turquoise and leaf green.
Opposite this natural beauty, however, is a long promenade of rundown buildings, accommodations for seedy plastic and chrome amusement arcades. Not very amusing. Instead of the exotic names they carry above their doors, it should be writ: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here.
From an outdoor stage, a raucous-voiced jock jarred passersby with Soul as part of a weekend festival of Soul Music. Since when was Soul supposed to be jarring? Further along, screaming kids on sophisticated fairground rides were see-sawed from earth to sky and back again, while at the same time, rotated. I couldn’t help thinking of oxen being roasted alive. The fair had its own conflicting cacophonies of music, along with the drum and hum of generators (vomiting petrol fumes into the ether), to add to the torturous Soul tones.
We descended to the promenade and beach from Mill Lane car park, running a gauntlet of secondhand and charity shops and outlets selling tacky new goods. We headed for Margate’s one great sparkling gem: the Turner Contemporary. It is situated exactly on the spot where Turner used to stay when visiting Margate. The exterior of the building resembles a warehouse. It is saved indoors by the enormous cathedral windows which overlook the canvas of the sea.
We headed first for the café and a shared lunch, dining from a wooden trencher on a Ploughmans consisting of strong vintage cheddar (there’s a choice of 3 cheeses), red onion chutney, salad leaves and tomato, thick slices of seeded bread, a zingy apple. We followed this with a portion of orange and lavender loaf cake and a pot of loose leaf tea for two.
The exhibition we went to see was in line with this. Curiosity: Art and the Pleasures of Knowing, revolves around the principles behind the 17th century cabinets of curiosity – mixes of scientific, artistic, and unable to be categorised (sometimes fake), collected objects. Aside from the smattering of stuffed birds and animals (which I cannot bear (if you’ll pardon the pun)), the exhibition was entirely delicious and included doodle-like sketches from Da Vinci, studies of birds by Turner, a breathtaking collection of minerals, little ivory (sadly) models of humans prostrate as effigies whose organs could be removed for inspection, including a tiny foetus. There were exquisite illustrations of marine life and I particularly liked a group of 19th century glass models of extraordinary marine creatures such as jelly fish.
Of the work of contemporary artists selected to exhibit I was drawn – being a mystery and suspense writer and enthusiast – to Corinne May Botz’s Kitchen, group of photographs of an exhibition entitled The Nutshell Studies of Unexplained Death : “… an exploration of a collection of eighteen miniature crime scene models that were built in the 1940’s and 50’s by a progressive criminologist Frances Glessner Lee (1878 – 1962).”
As you see from the photos, I replenished my artistic well of images not only from the exhibition, but also from walking the beach. I ran a stretch of the beach, too – chasing a plastic bag I dropped by accident and then snatched by the wind. Lots of seaside colours and textures here.
I caught the plastic bag, mildly alarming a boisterous group of fledgling seagulls in the process.
- Curiouser and curiouser! (xalicatx.wordpress.com)