Good Enough to Hang?

My radio is a constant source of inspiration to me. But I did a double-take when I heard these words expressed by one of our Local Treasures: “I like a good hanging,” she said, with a happy lilt in her voice. “I love it when they’re good enough to hang.”

A public hanging sounds fairly historical. Ghoulish stories abound of villagers and townspeople turning out for such a spectacle. Although in those times, surely the debate would have been whether the person in question was ‘bad enough to hang’?

The general run of people are not quite so blood-thirsty these days, certainly not our Treasures. So, lifting my head from a text on the behaviour of the crowd in history, I was momentarily non-plussed.

Of course, as those with more artistry in their soul than I would already know, the lady, an artist and long time volunteer at the gallery, was referring to the inclusion of paintings for an upcoming exhibition.

Immediately, I began to think of a favourite print, a 1925 painting of a Paris street by Maurice Utrillo. Perfect in perspective, the street goes on and on, far into the distance towards a church or cathedral in the background.

In the foreground, shaded by trees, people stroll. A building proclaims its business in large, uneven lettering: vacheresse, cammionage, gravier, voitures à volonté (cars with steering wheels). This last fires my imagination. Suddenly, I am on the street in my straight, modern flapper dress, the breeze ruffling my new, shingled hairstyle, an assortment of long beads and chains clinking against my flattened bosom. A door opens in the building and I follow a handsome man inside. While he effortlessly cranks the elegant Bugatti, I shrug on a driving coat, wind a long, silk scarf around my head. The ends will stream out behind me like a gonfalon, inspiring envy in the breasts of all who watch me drive by.

The car trembles, sputters into life. My hero opens the door for me and I step in, settling myself in luxurious leather seats with ebony buttons. Light shimmers gently off the rosewood dashboard as I reach for my goggles. The engine purrs and the driver expertly manoeuvres the vehicle into the open. The cool air fans my glowing cheeks.

“Ready?” asks my escort, an irresistible gleam in his eye.

Before I can answer, an alarm discords, breaking up the lovely picture. I fall out of the car, out of my dream, out of the painting. Cursing the phone, I pick myself up from my lounge room floor, obedient, as ever, to its shrill demand.

Now, I will never know what it was like to go driving with that gorgeous Frenchman along a tree-lined street in Paris in 1925.

Isn’t it scandalous the way we let everyday matters interfere with our lives?

But, yes, I couldn’t agree more. A painting like that is certainly good enough to hang.

Oh, and by the way, I did learn something from the text about crimes of the ‘bad enough to hang’ variety. Historically, whenever crowds rebel, most of the deaths are caused by the authorities cracking down on them and not by the citizens themselves. Surprised?

Has anything changed?

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