Category Archives: Art

Last Week’s Gallivanting

It is still summer, English way of course! More clouds than sun with occasional rain. It did not stop us from making good of warm months though.

We did some tripping into a countryside and made use of our renewed National Trust membership. We went to Stowe for a Sunday walk. I saw it last time in winter and I got thrilled with its rolling landscapes in the summer with sheep grazing around. The gardens were lush –  we actually found a few mushrooms (edible ones) – it always amazes me here in England, that  the art of mushroom picking is long gone.

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Last week we did a long planned trip to Wimpole Estate – once owned by daughter of Rudyard Kipling and then gifted to National Trust after her death. It consist of the main house, farmyard and parkland with walled gardens. It showcases how such an estate like this was set up and worked. Therefore, you are able to visit the lady and lord of the manor house and how the housekeepers and other staff were living and working. Moreover, you can see some of the animals that were kept on the estate: pigs, mighty Shire horses, cattle or sheep etc.

I was impressed the most by the walled gardens: the abundance of colours, textures and smells. Having a summer in the full swing, there is a plenty of fruits already and the volume of flowering plants was simply stunning. There was a whole array of purples, reds, blues, yellows and air filled with the buzz of bees. Again, I admired skills of gardeners who created espaliered fruits trees: that combination of sculpture and usefulness. With a backdrop of the old red bricked wall, it brings home why British gardens, especially those of Victorian and Edwardian era are so admired and inspiring.

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Wimpole Estate is surrounded by beautiful parkland with a lake and folly ruins thrown in for good measure. Children enjoyed a lot the visit to a farmyard, especially they were keen to learn how to milk a cow and watching piglets feeding with a fascination.

On the rainy day, we  drove to Tring to visit Natural History Museum – it is a branch of the famous London one. This museum was created by Walter Rotschild, whose family lived nearby. His primary interest were natural sciences and studying animals, so he kept on collecting new specimens from all over the world until he dedicated himself completely to this. Eventually the size of the collection required to hire a few dedicated scientist to help to catalogue it. It was the one of the largest collections of that kind in the world and it turned into a private museum by the end of 19th century. It was given to the public on his death in 1937 and became a part of London Natural History Museum.

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Because it was a miserable rainy and windy day, the museum was packed up to the rafters with families and a few artists sketching away animals. The butterflies collection was astonishing along with beetles and odd ensemble of pet dogs. Tring museum has a vast assembly of birds, so all birdwatchers should visit for a valuable lesson.

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Last, but not least on Sunday, we ended up in Kew Gardens. The place my visiting sister wanted to see, so we braved it on the weekend in the perfect weather. Despite the volume of people, the gardens were magical and enchanting: I know it is man arranged setting, but it looks like Nature’s work only. We discovered the Princess of Wales Conservatory with its carnivorous plants, orchid gardens and fruiting bananas trees. We did the Tree Top Walk and it turned out to be nerve wrecking experience for the Big Son. The walkway was bursting with the visitors and that caused the structure to tremble and sway like the ship on the open sea. Experience was funny and bizarre, youngsters enjoyed it, some adults did not.

There you go, we were gallivanting last week.

Bayeux Tapestry

We are holidaying in France now, blessed with perfect weather. We had a short stopover in Normandy in Caen and went to visit the nearby town of Bayeux to view the famous Bayeux Tapestry.

The town itself is a beautiful place, dotted with picturesque buildings, cafes and an impressive cathedral. The dedicated museum displays the Tapestry, which shows the story of the Norman Conquest of Britain by William the Conqueror. From the winner’s point of view, of course, as it was commissioned by William’s half brother.

It very much is like a medieval movie, it is that good. Plenty of meticulous details, lots of action going on, good and bad guys, plenty of horses and knights, feasts and the build up to the battle. The quality and craftsmanship of embroidery is gobsmacking. With all that action, I almost missed the famous depiction of the King Harold with the arrow in his eye.

While  you browse the Tapestry, you can listen the audio, a very good one in this case. I would highly recommend visiting this place, we were all impressed and amused. I can only imagine what impression it must have given to people centuries ago!

To make the visit more memorable, we had the wonderful petit dejeuner in the Bistro De La Galette. The service and welcome we received was outstanding, definitely recommended and I shall return there if ever I’m in that neck of woods again!

Petrie Museum Visit

Over the last weekend we visited the Petrie Museum of Egyptian Archeology – it’s a part of London College University. The weather was fabulous, minus a strong wind, sunny streets busy with Londoners and tourists, so we took an enjoyable wander from St Pancras via back streets to Petrie Museum.

The Museum is tucked away in the campus itself and its entrance doors are the only modern addition to this Victorian era building. Once you start climbing up the stairs, you find yourself transported into the old times. It does not seems to change much since the exhibits were brought back from the vault after World War II. I really liked that very much, the scent and the dimmed light and the fact that so many exhibits still carry small hand written descriptions next to them.

The display cabinets were old fashioned too, doing their best to present the plentiful bounty of artefacts. Petrie Museum offers a very different experience of Ancient Egypt to the British Museum and do not think it is its poor cousin. While the British Museum offers you the glimpses of what is best known about Egypt’s past: the monumental architecture and sculptures and of course the Mummies and the exquisite burial goods, Petrie has an abundance of, maybe smaller and not so flashy but quite intimate items. It is one of the world’s top collection of Egyptian artefacts and you are able to view it in more intimate atmosphere as Petrie Museum is not crowded. It is very honest and probably more providing for those with keen interest in Egyptian history. Nevertheless, even those visitors who do not know much about Ancient Egypt will undoubtedly experience its fascinating, ever-changing and abundant story through the artefacts uncovered by archaeologists.

The museum was established in 1892 as a teaching facility to the Egyptian Archeology Department, opened the same year. The first items were donated by Amelia Edwards and its first professor William Flinders Petrie sold his collection, amassed during his excavations in Egypt, to the University college in1913. Then the collection became one of the most important ones in the world. Worth to remember is that only a small fraction of items is on display with the rest being kept in storage but available to view for a research purposes upon arrangement with museum.

Flinders Petrie, after whom the museum is named, was an interesting figure himself. He developed a method for dating excavated pots, but he also pioneered the procedures that became the basis of excavating archeological sites in a more thorough and scientific manner. It was not a hunt  for treasures but a methodological and scientific approach that was not popular before. He studied and recorded finds in the smallest details and trained many egyptologists, among them was Howard Carter who discovered Tutankhamun’s tomb. He also had interest in Palestine and carried out excavations over there as well.

Petrie drew controversies as he held pro-eugenic views and believed that ancient Egypt Pharaonic culture was not a product of people of African origins but was introduced by invading Caucasoic Dynastic Race from Mesopotamia. The theory is now in decline and DNA evidence does not show significant ancestry from Mesopotamia and cultural studies of Predynastic Archeology does not show any significant replacement of native culture. However it is still very sensitive topic carrying heavy emotional and political weight. Despite the polemic, we cannot deny Petrie’s achievements and legacy which greatly improved our knowledge and understanding of Ancient Egypt and allowed the development of modern archeology to the way it is today.

Petrie Museum occupies only one floor with the exhibition displayed throughout three rooms and offers quite an intimate atmosphere. You enter via a small reception and go straight into a corridor with display cabinets on both sides showcasing Egyptian steles with inscribed  texts. It was fascinating to notice how perfectly they were carved in stone, seemingly printed. There were also items used for teaching of the art like pieces of grid charts.

I very much enjoyed browsing the jewellery items like beautifully preserved rings or necklaces. There is a wealth of necklaces on display, all very delicate and intricately made of stones or shells. The finds became even more personal when I noticed a small rag doll adorned with a carved head and real hair with a few garment to dress her – little girls are little girls regardless when they lived, loving to play dressing their dolls.

There was quite a notable item: a pair of woollen socks with partition for toes and weaved from pieces to fit around an ankle comfortably – that item was looking quite modern and it is hard to believe it to be a couple thousands years old.

One reason I jumped at an opportunity to visit the museum was a five thousand years old clothing on display, the oldest from ancient Egypt. The Tarkhan Dress was excavated by Petrie himself in 1913, it was within linen cloth pile and was discovered by conservationists in V&A Museum in 1977 only. The dress was found inside out, probably pulled over the head and was worn as there are creasing at the elbows and around armpits. There is an interpretation that it was placed purposely in the tomb, but it is hard to make definite judgment. The artefact is very impressive, with delicate pleating around neck and on sleeves and it really caught my eye, because of my interest in old traditional clothing. The Tarkhan Dress is the earliest example of a tailored outfit – it was cut and fitted while other early examples of garment were wrapped or draped around. Here you find an article about dating the dress.

In the other cabinet, there were two small pieces of linen on display, small samples to admire the craftsmanship of ancient Egyptians and the quality of woven cloth. It was striking to notice that our traditional linen or ramie cloth is not too far removed from those examples of linen and those traditions are still being preserved.

There is one more famous object to view in Petrie Museum: Bead Dress. It was excavated in 1923-24 and reconstructed in 1994-95. Immediately it fired imagination of researchers who assumed it was worn by a dancer and beads producing a rattling sound with every movement of a wearer. It was assumed that it would fit a girl aged about 12 and was worn on naked body. However, when a clothing consultant made a replica, the theory was crushed: the dress was too heavy to be worn straight on the naked skin. Moreover, it turned out it actually could fit women of all shapes. However, we can still enjoy the tale about King Sneferu, who ordered twenty young women to row a boat, naked and dressed in nets only, the story that inspired the theory in the first place. Though the real Bead Dress appears to be funerary item.

The afternoon spent in Petrie Museum was enjoyable and drew my attention to the fact that through those smaller but not less important artefacts one could better comprehend that Ancient Egypt was not predominantly those monumental pyramids, temples or tombs. It was history weaved through thousand of years by people who hardly left its mark there and left behind small clues of what life there was like. The archeological finds could confuse us at times bringing more questions than answers. But it does not take away the emotional load from the very personal items I saw in the museum, imagining how precious and important they must have been once and now with its owner long gone, they still make me curious about that past world.

The Mito Principle

In my early years I was a car guy. I subscribed to Road and Track and every month I will get the magazine with the news and views of the latest cars. That publication had terrific writers and besides the cars to ogle at, the reading was always a delight.IMG_7688
At that time, like most, I dreamt of owning the latest cars and my dreams will be updated each and every month. My favourites back then were the Cizeta Moroder, Ferrari Testarossa and the Porsche 959. All stratospherically priced vehicles. If wishes were horses, I would have ridden.
As the years passed, my philosophy on owning things started to change. It became less of idealising objects and more of a sense of enjoying the beauty and utility of them. I expect if I can easily afford something, I am happy to own it, if possible. Still now I check the number of things I acquire because I am losing patience with being surrounded by stuff.
A couple years ago, at my first job away from home, I was prompted to get a second car to avoid having the family running up and down the motorway to drop me off on weekends. A buddy at work wanted to trade in a Saab Aero for a Land Rover so I ended up with a two litre turbo that ran like a thief. I enjoyed the long commute home on the big roads, swiping through the long bends and feeling the taught suspension balancing the car through the curves.
I changed jobs and then worked on the other side of London, the busy side, close to Heathrow Airport. There the quick acceleration worked against me on one particular evening when I got two speeding tickets from the Variable Speed cameras. I was nothing short of furious.
Those cameras have been hell in driving along that road, you have to keep your eye on the speed notices all the time toIMG_7693 avoid a loud PAX! That evening I lapsed and while under no danger, I was ticketed, twice
The Saab was already ten years old and starting to demand expensive repairs so I decided to get rid of it and set a new criteria for a replacement.
The new car must be under the tax band, slow to accelerate and cheap to run. With my parameters set, I started my search. I got a good price for the Saab and that served as a downpayment for the next car.
I found an Alfa Romeo Mito for sale that matched all that I wanted in a car. It was less than a litre in engine size and had many modern comforts that the Saab lacked. I got it for a song because the owner was pressed to migrate and to my surprise the car drove beautifully. It is a joy in the lanes! I took it through the Chilterns one weekend soon after I got it and it was one of the best country drives I ever had. The car is nimble and enjoys being thrown into corners where it just sticks to the line you carve from the steering wheel. Fun, fun, fun!
There is no doubt it is slow. You do get a quick take off from a standing start and that is exciting at traffic lights but by the time you hit 30mph, you are chugging along. It is very hard to break a speed limit in this car. Just what I wanted.IMG_7694
Recently the notice came for me to renew the road tax. I immediately got online and the process was one of clicking three buttons in quick succession without any exchange of money. Super!
Then there was the renewal of the insurance; which at £300 for the year makes me feel like the cat that got the cream.
I am somewhat smug about this entire episode but in standing aside, I will like to take from it some principles that might help me in other areas.
First was, I made a list of what attributes I was looking for. At that point it did not matter what make or model, just what qualities were important to me.
I then looked for a vehicle that was the closest match to that list. When the ad for the car came up, I already knew it was the one I wanted. I was able to move swiftly, without much hesitation and acquire it.
Those two points seem to form an approach I can expend in other circumstances. First decide on the qualities you want to work with and secondly when you find them, move promptly and confidently.

Cazabon at Belmont

Belmont is a neighbourhood, just east of Port of Spain in Trinidad, bordering the Queen’s Park Savannah, the large central park located at the north end of the city. Belmont is a collection of tight lanes with houses pressed close to their front gates. It is a great place to live and be close to all that the capital city has to offer including the national Carnival that precedes Lent.

IMG_20160409_213656Belmont House in Kent, England, is the home of the Harris family. The third Lord Harris was the governor of Trinidad and Tobago between 1846 to 1853. In Port of Spain today there is Lord Harris Square and in San Fernando, the second largest city, there is Harris Promenade. He was married to a Trinidadian and their son later became a famous cricket captain of England.

I learned of Belmont House through some research done by Mrs FTF on a painter I mentioned to her some years ago, Jean Michel Cazabon. Cazabon is considered one of Trinidad’s first internationally known artists. I’ve always admired his landscapes and I had a book showcasing his work when I lived in Trinidad. It turns out that Lord Harris was a patron of the artist and owned a sizable collection of his work. Many of those pieces are now kept at Belmont House.

With the daughter in Warsaw for two weeks, we took the four-seater Mito for a round trip through Kent. There was a tour of Belmont House early in the afternoon and we were unusually on time after taking the long way around London on the M25 via Gatwick Airport. It was my silent protest to the Dartcharge and a chance to see rarely visited areas of Kent. The rain made the drive slow but the views were great as many parts of the road ran along high valley sides.

We made an impromptu stop at the Beacon restaurant. Everyone was cramped from being curled up the last two hours. The building is located atop the side of a valley that was at the time of our arrival shrouded in mist. The interior was beautiful and as we had the place to ourselves, we all enjoyed walking around taking in the paintings and other design features. The snack was tasty although it was the smallest machiato I ever had. By the time we left, the skies cleared and the view across the valley was truly restful.IMG_20160409_125140

Belmont House was cold so we kept our coats on and with Little One on my back we followed the group tour around the house. It was a tiny group and the entire exercise had an intimate air. The house is small as stately homes go and we appreciated this because we had had enough after an hour, the length of the tour. The group knew from the start we were there to see the paintings so when we got to the room with the largest collection, everyone stopped and insisted I go in first.

A full set of water colours were on display in the master bedroom. Very delicate, very beautiful. To see these views of the island in the late 19th century always creates a sense of nostalgia, especially when you recognise a location. I was allowed to stay back and take in the collection if I wanted to. I declined as I knew there were more in other rooms and the guide was very knowledgeable. I did not want to miss a tidbit.

Downstairs, just off the main entrance hall where the last Lord Harris was known to have his afternoon tea, was the best piece, View of Port of Spain from the East

Never Liked Red 911s

This Saturday the family was down to four. Our daughter is in Warsaw with her aunt and grandmother for two weeks. We took the opportunity to use the Alfa Mito and enjoy some driving around the county.
We went to a garden centre to get some soil for our first experiment with planting potatoes in used tyres. These places are well designed to provide an outing with much more than garden stuff on sale. We passed the tea room which was fully packed and focused on our list. Then we headed off to Russell Park in Bedford. It is a wonderful park with near everything a family with children can ask for.
On the way we stopped at Chicksand Bike Park. It is a relatively new facility for off roading. The quality of bikes on view there was thought provoking. There seems to be less and less difference between what amateur weekend riders use and what the professional riders compete with.
The drive took us past the Airlander hangars, two huge green facilities from where the first test flights of this modern dirigible are due to happen some time this month. Big Son has written to the company for test dates but they are unable to commit to any at the moment and advise that he joins the support club.
When we got to Bedford it was very busy around the park and as usual on a weekend, parking was a premium. We ended up next to the ice cream van at the second bridge that crosses the rowing course. You have to provide your car number plate ID when paying for parking. No passing of tickets to new drivers when you leave early! With ice creams in hand, we headed towards the popular playgrounds where all types of climbing rigs are there for children.
The two boys were absorbed in play for nearly an hour before we decided to leave. We walked along the back path of the park and came into a side street where unknown to us, the parking was free. There was a red Porsche parked in that street which caught my ear for two reasons. It was an unusual colour red, not the Ferrari Red which looks out of place on a German car but more a milky red. It was also handsomely optioned with a dark glass roof and black accents stylishly placed across its body. The car looked good.
Then we saw the front boot lid pop open and the only people within range of the car was an elderly couple looking very unassuming. The association was entirely incongruous. True enough they walked to the car, placed their recycled market bags in the front boot and got in with the greatest of ease and familiarity. It was a sight to behold.
It is difficult to completely explain what was so striking about this scene because one can think it is about the car or the couple but seeing the two come together with a utilitarian attitude was quite refreshing and in some way, hopeful. Hopeful for the achievement of a certain level of equanimity.

Van Gogh Alive Exhibition

Van_Gogh_-_Starry_Night_-_Google_Art_ProjectLast weekend we spent in Warsaw, Poland, where we went to visit the multimedia exhibition on Van Gogh. The show is touring cities of the world for some time now. Of course, we took the chance to see it.

The show was a story of Van Gogh’s life and art, how entwined and inseparable they were. The story was told through his personal letters and paintings, starting with his Dutch childhood, how he decided to pursue painting, artistic choices, personal tragedies and struggles leading  up to his suicidal death. It was amazing to read his own words explaining what it meant for him to be a painter, his own outlook on life, learn how important it was that he was self taught artist, his ethos.

Multimedia display walks a visitor through Van Gogh’s early paintings, showcasing changes, giving a background of what was going on in his personal life. Then it moves onto a period in Paris where he joined the Impressionists.

Exhibition creators refer through his letters to his mental troubles leading to self imposed Van Gogh’s stay in asylum and showcasing the south France period paintings, fascination with stars and landscape. The display ends by bringing in events leading to his suicide. The show is accompanied by Van Gogh’s contemporary music (especially Erik Satie).

I found the exhibition was a good way to talk about Van Gogh, the artist and man as it could easily bring together a set of paintings and shoot at you with multiple screens and close ups entwined with his letters and sketches.

The most striking for me was the assembly of his auto-portraits, close ups when you cannot stop being pulled to Van Gogh’s eyes and noticing changes in his mental state in those wild, very evocative looks he gives. That was the best of the exhibition, the modern technology allowing such a connection.

Here’s a link for you to have a glimpse of the experience.

And here are my two favourite quotes by Van Gogh himself:

“At present I absolutely want to paint a starry sky. It often seems to me that night is still more richly coloured than the day; having hues of the most intense violets, blues and greens. If only you pay attention to it you will see that certain stars are lemon-yellow, others pink or a green, blue and forget-me-not brilliance. And without my expatiating on this theme it is obvious that putting little white dots on the blue-black is not enough to paint a starry sky.”

Vincent van Gogh

“To do good work one must eat well, be well housed, have one’s fling from time to time, smoke one’s pipe, and drink one’s coffee in peace”

Vincent van Gogh

Funnily, in Polish translation the fling notion was completely omitted!