In literature there are some poetic and sublime accounts of that special interaction which can sometimes unfold between an old man and a young woman. Recently I lived though such an encounter.
Meng Zhang is 24 and comes from China. I am far far older and I am European. We are separated not only by years but also by history, philosophy, space, culture and personality. For two weeks we worked together on an art project that became essentially an extended conversation between the two of us. It was one of the most delightful moments I have ever experienced. There was – and is – something enchanting about Meng.
She completed her B.A. in oil-painting in the Chinese city of Dalian. Imagine: A degree devoted entirely to the art of oil-painting. She’s artistically and technically very accomplished. I think she has had to work hard to adjust to the open-ended nature of studying and practising Fine Art in the UK. She’s resilient, audacious and sensitive.
During our work together she would oscillate between treating me with enormous respect and insouciant subversion. We always enjoyed each other’s company. We laughed a great deal. At the end of our project she gave me a gift: a parcel containing a special white tea. I recalled that beautiful line from one of my favourite songs: ‘… and she feeds you tea and oranges that come all the way from China.’ I also gave her a gift: A 3D book featuring Peter Pan with the sounds of Big Ben chiming, a ticking clock, the melodic lapping of waves … (Time waits for no-one.)
For my birthday she had noticed that there was a hole in my gloves and, in response, she gave me a new pair of knitted woollen gloves. She looked at me as she gave me the present and I could ‘feel’ the ancient Chinese saying which tells us that ‘a bit of fragrance clings to the hand that gives flowers.’
In her next project, as far as I can tell, she will explore a personal sense of re-birth central to which is her chosen motif – a flower, the hyacinth.
Yes, sometimes we are lucky: there are perfect moments in a life.