Saturday, September 09, 2006


Victoria, originally uploaded by macatay.

We spent the past few days tied up to the Causeway Docks, directly in front of the Empress Hotel in Victoria Harbor. This is the very heart of tourism in Victoria, and it was like being in a fishbowl. But it was also delightful people watching in beautiful early fall sunshine.
Along the Causeway, artisans and craftsmen set up booths to sell their wares to tourists. Among them are several sketch artists who will do portraits in charcoal - caricatures, really. To advertise their skill, they have portraits of well-known movie stars hung in the booth. People pay to have their personalities captured, joking with their friends, answering the artists questions, posing, in every sense. The captain and I were strolling past one of these sketch artists yesterday when we saw a scenario that touched us both deeply.
The artist was bent over his drawing, rubbing out, retouching, really working, without the easy facility that characterized the cartoon-like pieces we had seen previously. Sitting in front of him was his subject, a young woman of the Mennonite or Hutterite faith, wearing a plain cotton dress, hair pulled back into a bun, without makeup. Her expression was solemn; she was resigned to sit, serenely, until the process was finished. She gave every impression of not being aware of what was apparent to all - she was utterly, and unaffectedly beautiful.
Her beauty and apparent innocence were exactly the source of the artist's difficulty. Caricature was unthinkable. He wanted to make a portrait this time - to use his skills to make art, instead of a cartoon. Behind him stood a young man who was clearly the husband of the young woman. His expression, too, was difficult to read, but we guessed that the complexity of the commission and its execution were of as much concern to him as they were to the artist.
We didn't stay to watch the process finished. It seemed too much like voyeurism. But extraordinary natural beauty and grace co-exist with crazy tourism and commercialism in Victoria. The photo above is the sailing ship "Pacific Grace", which leaves the Victoria docks most days with a cluster of tourist passengers, and gives them a taste of the beauty of sailing.


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