The sublime and the beautiful

Phil and I had a long walk yesterday, from Carrum to Dandenong, along the Dandenong Creek. The landscape reminded me of Camargue – wetlands, hills on the horizon, long, geometrical lines. A manmade mix of earth and water. Reflections of trees, bird songs, water smells. I kept saying ‘this is so beautiful, this is so relaxing – who needs to go to the bush?’ Philip appreciated the walk, but didn’t quite take my point.
However, he did mention a Taize monk he had met in South Australia, who went in ecstasy over the Barossa valley – and how, at the time, he had found that odd. So we had a little conversation on French aesthetics.
We ended up thinking that the French don’t have a strong taste for the sublime – for nature at its wildest, ready to crunch you, for the landscape, immense, imposing itself on your eyes. That we are more atuned to the midler beauty of a garden, a manmade environment, orderly, which is obviously controlled – restrained. And the slight disruption that comes on this order – a bird flying obliquely over the parallel lines of a canal and its banks.
There is something Japanese in that French love for order. The French garden, with its clipped trees, low squares, and flowers arranged in colour patterns, is not too much unlike the zen arrangement of rocks.
And Victoria, the garden State, may appeal to the French taste in that respect much more than other, wilder, looser States of Australia. Not in vain did I once call it ‘Provence down Under.’

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