Places of the Heart

The des­ti­na­tions that stopped Sarah Fer­gu­son in her tracks

Qantas - - Contents -

1986 | Italy

MONTERCHI My friends and I had come to this Tus­can hill­side vil­lage to see a fresco – the Madonna del Parto by Piero della Francesca – in a lit­tle ceme­tery chapel. The fresco shows a young Madonna in a daz­zling blue gown. She is preg­nant, which is quite an un­usual de­pic­tion, with one hand at her hip and the other on her belly. Two an­gels are hold­ing back a tent to re­veal her.

I’d been to gal­leries but this was my first truly per­sonal ex­pe­ri­ence with a paint­ing – and the first time a work of art made me cry. It felt like Piero had painted the Madonna to talk to you. This young woman with a cool gaze, so serene and ex­quis­ite, ask­ing you to con­sider who she is and the mys­ter­ies of her po­si­tion.

The fresco is now in a small mu­seum but see­ing it in the chapel moved me deeply. I can still feel it.

1992 | Italy

VENICE My now-hus­band [ABC TV pre­sen­ter Tony Jones] and I had taken the night train from Paris to Venice. Strangely, we slept soundly, wak­ing only as the train pulled in to Santa Lu­cia sta­tion. I saw that the belt con­tain­ing my money was miss­ing. Our wal­lets were also empty of cash and all but one of our credit cards.

We found a guard, who seemed un­con­cerned, so we pressed on to the sta­tion­mas­ter. He shrugged. “You’ve been gassed.” The guards were in ca­hoots with the rob­bers, he told us. They get a key, gas you and take all your stuff. He wasn’t even shocked. And he said the city was in flood and im­pos­si­ble to en­ter; we should go home. In­stead, we put our cases on our heads and splashed through the wa­ter in the limpid win­ter light to the nearby Ho­tel Bellini – me in my lit­tle Paris skirt, heels and fake-fur-col­lared coat, try­ing not to wad­dle.

I’d just met Tony and I’d never been to Venice. It was a hell of a way to ar­rive.


I have a deep ten­dency when trav­el­ling to want to see around the next cor­ner. Sri Lanka is the first place that made me stop.

We stayed on a promon­tory in the south in a sim­ple, mod­ern pavil­ion – the last work of the renowned Sri Lankan ar­chi­tect Ge­of­frey Bawa. So stun­ning was this place, it made me want to stay still. Even­tu­ally, though, I be­gan ask­ing about lo­cal tem­ples. The man who ran the house was a bit eva­sive but fi­nally agreed to take us to Ve­hera­galla Sa­mu­dra­giri Vi­hara, a tem­ple I hadn’t seen in any tourist guide.

We went in the evening, walk­ing down a densely wooded path, and young monks, skip­ping around in their robes, joined our pro­ces­sion. In the lit­tle tem­ple, lit by just three or four bare globes, were the most ex­quis­ite mu­rals de­pict­ing the life of the Bud­dha. And, in the in­ner room, a large re­clin­ing Bud­dha that you could stare at for­ever. This lit­tle tem­ple, so im­por­tant to the evo­lu­tion of Bud­dhism in south­ern Sri Lanka, was right there on the edge of the prop­erty, just be­neath the house. We could so eas­ily have missed it.

2016 | Sri Lanka

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