Sunday, 31 May 2015

A VERY busy weekend (but fun). Starting with Friends, and Neil and Amanda.

I just spent 4 very crowded days in London,doing all kinds of fun stuff, some of it with lovely people (and some by myself)

First up was 'An Evening with Neil Gaiman and Amanda Palmer' at the Hackney Empire, which was tied in with Neil and Amanda guest-editing an edition of the New Statesman magazine.

Despite the New Statesman having made a real mess of the ticket sales, I was fortunate enough to have not one, but two good friends who offered me tickets, which meant that not only did I get to go, but I also got to put friends in touch with each other so they could go too - so there ended up being 5 of us meeting up before the event (although we did not all get to sit together at the event ) for drinks and food and general catching up.

We drank beer (after a struggle with an entirely un-trained bartender) and bumped into further friends and acquaintances, and we ate delicious ramen at Tonkotsu, before we headed to the Hackney Empire.

After a brief introduction on behalf of the New Statesman, Neil and Amanda came on stage, and Neil read a new poem, Credo, (which is published in the magazine) then there was a mix of Amanda and Neil's performances, and a number of special guests.

Guests included Roz Kaveney, who is a writer and activist, performed a very personal poem, comedian (and transvestite vegan) Andrew O'Neill who performed what may have been the longest drawn-out joke ever, (and later, a wonderful reconstruction of the genesis of the 'knock-knock' joke....Writer Hayley Campbell, who read her piece from the magazine, a horrifying picture of what may happen if google and twitter ever publishes all our un-sent drafts, and comedian and writer Mitch Benn, who, in keeping with the 'saying the unsayable' theme of both the evening, and the magazine, performed a song written in response to the Charlie Hebdo murders.
Neil, Roz Kaveney, Haley Campbell, Andrew O'Neill, Amanda Palmer (and bump) Mitch Benn
 Although the evening had a theme, and a set list, it was fairly free-form it was fun - everyone on stage seemed relaxed, despite the variations on the running order (Neil kept looking at the list in front of him and gently trying to follow it, but I think Amanda was seeing it more as a guideline than a binding list, and I suspect they were both a little jet-lagged!

But despite the slightly free-form style (or perhaps because of it!) the evening worked well, and little things like Hayley Campbell being introduced after, rather than before, her reading  with a mix of light-hearted and more serious takes on the theme of saying the unsayable, the age of outrage, censorship and its effects - Neil read a (very funny, but also scary) article about hosting a table at the PEN benefit where Charlie Hebdo received an award, and his story Babycakes (which he described as the only story he has written which disturbed him)

Amanda playing the Ukulele Song
Amanda played 'The Killing Type' and parts, by way of illustration, of 'Oasis', and there was discussion, and conversation. It felt very intimate; we, as well as those on stage, were among friends. 

As always when seeing Neil and Amanda on stage together, I loved seeing the obvious and open affection between them, and enjoyment of one another's performances.

At the end, Amanda returned for an encore, playing the Ukulele song, with  a short, pregnancy acid-reflux induced interruption.

It was a whole lot of fun,and I think, on appearances, it was mostly fin for those on stage, as well as those of us off stage.

And yes, I have now bought a copy of their New Statesman edition!

Thanks again to Hellie and Lyle,who booked tickets. 

a couple more pictures on Flickr, all from the curtain call, as photos were not allowed during the performance itself (and anyway, I was concentrating on what was being said!) 

Saturday, 23 May 2015

In which there is a Lot Of Dust

When I moved house last year I knew that the place was going to need redecorating, and it was fairly clear that this would (unless I were willing to live with painted woodchip wallpaper for ever) also mean lots of plastering. 

Before starting work
 It took a while to get quotes, and to work my way up to taking the plunge, but I did, so this weekend just gone I spent a lot of time putting things into boxes.

End of day 1
Then on Sunday, watching while 2 removal men carted virtually everything I own out to be stored in the garage. 

And on Monday morning, work started.  I went off to work, leaving the house to the tender mercies of the builders.

It turns out that if you are to have new plaster on your walls and ceilings that this means that the old plaster all gets removed. Which I knew in principle, but that had not really prepared me for coming home to discover that my bedroom walls were down to bare brick. 
End of Day 2
Or to the new experience of seeing the loft insulation from underneath.

It is all rather alarming.  And they haven't even started on the living room yet. (when they do, that will be even more dramatic. 

End of Day 5
The bedroom decor looked OK from a distance (or in a photo). The living room will probably look better even at the 'bare brick' stage, than it does now!

In the past day or so they have started putting the new walls on, and I am sure that the extra space where the chimney now isn't will be nice, once the room is finished.

Meanwhile, I am getting used to sleeping out in the garden shed, (which is, I should add, built of brick and has electricity and light, so is fairly comfortable for a shed. Especially as it currently contains all my bedroom furniture) I find that I am remarkably efficient at getting up in the morning, due to a terror of being caught in a state of undress by the builders (they arrive very promptly in the mornings, and the bathroom is,despite dust, still in use. (Except for that one morning when they turned off the hot water and forgot to tell me, or to turn it back on afterwards, which resulted in my having an extremely fast, and bracing shower!)

I am, however, looking forward to my trip to London next week, when I shall get to sleep indoors, and will almost certainly not 

Now, if only I can find a reliable local painter and decorator..

Sunday, 17 May 2015

The Louvre - Pyramids and Beautiful Things

As our visit drew to a close we decided to visit the Louvre. I'd been once before, when I was still at school, and had a vague memory of visiting the Mona Lisa, but that was all, and I don't think that my mother had ever been before.

Last time I went was before the Pyramid was built, so I had not seen that before, in person.
I liked it.

Particularly the spiral staircase leading up to ground level, under the pyramid.

We decided that we would start by visiting some of the better known masterpieces, so we started with the Mona Lisa, (beautiful, but unsurprisingly, rather crowded)

In order to get to her, we passed through galleries of other Italian art - I particularly enjoyed Ucello's Battle of San Romano, (not least, I must confess, because I correctly identified it as being by Ucello before looking at the label!)
The Winged Victory of Samothrace

We then visited the Winged Victory of Samothrace, which is a little bit headless, but otherwise glorious. She is Greek, dating from around 190 BC. Apparently she may originally have stood above a pool of water, so that the (stone) ship on whose prow she stands may have appeared to float. I would love to see the Louvre display her that way..

As we were on a roll with ancient Greek sculpture, we moved on to visit Aphrodite of Milos, more famous as the Venus de Milo who manages to look very serene despite the huge crowds around her! 

I also found  this lovely little blackwork vase of an owl. I should have been very happy to take it home with me had that been permitted! 

There was an exhibition on, about the discoveries made in Bulgaria, of a number of Thracian burials - there were vast quantities of grave goods, many of them in gold or silver gilt, and none marred by any trace of restraint! 

Fascinating stuff! 

We then visited the wonderful Islamic Art department (via Coptic Egypt). 

Unlike the famous highlights, this section of the was almost deserted, and we were able to admire the beautiful tiles, woodcarvings and mosaics almost alone.   
Which was a treat.

By this stage, we were starting to become exhausted - there is only so much art one can take in at any one time, so we wandered back through the courtyard to visit the Horses of Marly, before heading out of the museum and into the Tuileries Gardens for a late lunch.

We then spent the final afternoon wandering around the ile de France. We had thought we might visit Notre Dame, but after seeing the queue to get in, decided that we didn't want to go as badly as all that!  

Instead, we wandered along the banks of the river, watching boats go past, and admiring the various bridges, including those where the railings are collapsing under the weight of 'love-locks'. . .

It made for a rather nice, relaxed finale to our holiday!

Our journey home  the following day was slightly marred by a security alert at the Gare du Nord which resulted in our standing in a very large queue for 40 minutes, while the security services carried out a controlled explosion on someone's luggage, but fortunately this was done swiftly enough not to delay our train. 

(More photos of the trip, for anyone who is interested, on Flickr)

Saturday, 16 May 2015

Science and other Interesting Things

On the Sunday we decided to visit the Musée des arts et métiers, which is another museum situated in a redundant church, and which is one of the world's oldest science museum.

It has lots of fun stuff, including 18th Century clocks trying to tell decimal time (I knew that the French revolutionary government renamed the months of the year, but had not realised they also introduced decimal time. It didn't catch on.)
Clement Ader's 'Avion 3' - 1890

There are also lots of weights and measures, many of them very beautifully decorated, and lots of bits and pieces from Lavoisier's laboratory.

I enjoyed the architectural scale models of bridges and windmills, and the baby steam engines.

There are also more modern exhibits - early televisions and computers, not to mention M. Lumiere's film.

My favourite part of the museum came at the end of the museum, however, where there are some early flying machines and vehicles. 

There was Clement Ader's 'Avion 3', which looks like an inspiration for Batman, and is displayed very strikingly above a staircase. It didn't quite achieve flight, but it does look impressive.

Then in the body of the church itself, there are further planes, (Including a reproduction of Louise Bleriot's plane, in which he crossed the Channel)  and Foucoult's pendulum, hanging from the centre of the Apse.

There's a walkway which allows you to climb up to see the planes 'face to face', as it where, and also to view various vintage vehicles.

I am not certain it would have occurred to me to display vintage aircraft in a deconsecrated church but it works beautifully!

Thursday, 7 May 2015

Tall Places

No trip to Paris would be quite complete without a visit to the Eiffel Tower. We were originally only going to look at it from the bottom:

We had not pre-booked tickets, as they were sold out by the time we looked, but once we got there, my dad decided that we wanted to go up.

So, we queued for tickets, and then for the lifts, and then we went Up a Very Tall Thing.  Which is always fun. (Well, it is for me. I like Very Tall Things).  There were views, letting us play 'spot the famous landmark', plus you get to peer down at people below.  Did I mention that I like going up very tall things?       Having gone right to the very top, we then came down to the lower levels, including walking on the new glass floors at level 1 (which wasn't an option last time I visited) It gave more opportunities to look down at all the people still queuing, down below!                                                         

Then back down, just in time to eat crepes and avoid being rained on. Which I think counts as a win all round!

Wednesday, 6 May 2015

More of my Holidays

We moved on (after lunch, of course!) from Cluny to the Musee D'Orsay, which started life as a railway terminus, and which now holds lots of 20th Century art, including lots of Impressionist paintings, and sculptures.

It's a nice building. I like that the exterior still has the names of all the towns and cities that the trains used to go to. And I like the big clocks, and the fact that you can go inside and peer at out Paris through the clock face.

Oh, and the Art is pretty good, too.

Seeing famous artworks in real life is always a little odd - there is that shock of recognition,at seeing something so familiar for the first time. And then you start to look more closely, and realise that the eyes in Renoir's paintings are always and distinctively Renoir's, for instance.

(and, slightly embarrassingly, I realised for the first time that Monet actually painted that woman with the parasol twice, once facing left and once right..)

I enjoyed the Art Nouveau exhibits, which included a wonderful plate by William de Morgan, with Eagles (there was a glorious dish with griffins, too, but the angle was wrong to get a picture of that (it was much richer in colour than the picture at that link suggests)

And then we could wander past the Degas's and the Rodin sculpture, and past the Polar Bear, and then there were the Van Goghs, and I do love Van Gogh's work.

There were some Gaugins as well, but it is the Van Goghs I was really drawn too.

After all of the art, we were exhausted and had to have some very expensive tea in the museum restaurant (with another Big Clock!)

There comes a point when tea is, at least temporarily, more important even than great art.

Monday, 4 May 2015

What I Did on My Holidays: Cluny

Day two of our trip started with a visit to theMusée national du Moyen Âge (which used to be known as the Musee de Cluny). 

The museum is housed in the former Benedictine Abbey of Cluny, near the Sorbonne, in very attractive buildings.

It is famous for housing the 'Lady and the Unicorn' series of medieval tapestries, but also has a huge collection of other artifacts.

Swabian wood carving
When we visited, the museum was holding an exhibition of Swabian wood carvings. 

These were impressive by virtue of their age and state of preservation, but I have to admit that they did not appeal to me very much aesthetically - it is extraordinary that they have survived since the 1500's.

Stained glass - Partridge
The Abbey was built on the site of a Roman Bath-house, parts of which remain,  and the museum also has a number of pieces of Roman carving (mainly the heads and bases of various columns) as well as later additions such as statues from various churches around Paris. (Apparently a lot were removed as they were seen as Royalist, during the revolution)

Ivory Casket - 1300
There is some stained glass (I enjoyed the Partridges), and other art work, including reliquaries, a few illuminated manuscripts and some works in ivory. 

I particularly liked an intricately carved ivory box from around 1300, illustrated with scenes of knights and ladies, and courtly love.

And a gold rose, which is delicate and perfectly formed. 

Then there are the tapestries themselves.

The 'Lady and the Unicorn' series consists of 6 linked tapestries, 5 of which illustrate the five senses, and the 6th, "À mon seul désir"  which has been interpreted in a number of ways, including as love, free will, or even renunciation of the emotions or passions raised by the first 5 senses.

The tapestries are large, and all show the arms of the Le Visite family. They have been dated to the end of the 15th or beginning of the 16th Century, and are charming.
"À mon seul désir"

As well as the Lady, and the Lion and Unicorn, the tapestries all have lots of other birds and animals in the background 

Mostly rabbits, but there were also hawks, storks, foxes and a  magpie. 

There was also something which the guide said was a baby unicorn, although how they decided it wasn't just an ordinary foal (it had no horn) they did not disclose.

I have a particular weakness for the rabbits, although there was also a rather nice stork or heron, lying on it's back in order to fit among the flowers!

The 'Lady and Unicorn' tapestries are not the only ones, there are also a whole series of 23 tapestries detailing the life of  St. Stephen, completed in 1490. (There is a scene where his body is exposed to the beasts, which features a rather lovely porcupine).

There are others showing daily life, including one of a woman spinning using a drop spindle, which includes a cat playing with the thread - obviously cats have changed very little since the 1500s!

There is also the Abbot's chapel, which is small, but exquisite.

I loved the delicacy of the stone carving in the ceiling.

It is not a museum I am familiar with - this was my first visit, but it is well worth it. We spent most of the morning there, and it would not have been difficult to stay longer. We mostly only left because we got hungry! 

Sunday, 3 May 2015

What I Did on My Holidays - Versailles

I got home yesterday after spending long weekend in Paris, accompanied by my parents (OK, not the most romantic option, but fun!)

We travelled by train, including the Eurostar, which I haven't been on before. It was, if I am honest, a little underwhelming - the train was comfortable, but a great deal of the track runs through cuttings so  you don't see as much of the landscape as I had hoped.

On the other hand, it is less stressful than flying, and brings you into the heart of Paris, which is nice.

Once we arrived, our first day was spent visiting Versailles, as I'd never been, and have wanted to see it for a long time

It is extraordinary.

It would, I think, be fair to say that it is not marred by any touch of restraint. 

Chapel, Palais de Versaille
The Bourbons may have been aware of the concept of understatement, but if so, it can only have been in order to avoid it at all costs.

It is not difficult to understand, wandering around the palace, why the French Revolution happened...

I have never seen so much gilt in one place.

I am not a big fan of the rococo or baroque styles, but it has to be admitted that this place is impressive!

As well as the main palace, we also visited the Grand and the Petit Trianon (giving us a chance to see the Napoleon's taste in furnishings was no better than that of the Bourbons) 

Also Marie-Antoinette's little Hamlet, where there are half a dozen 'cottages', all almost painfully picturesque - it isn't possible to go inside any of them, so I cannot say with absolute certainty that nothing there is gilded, but they are a little less blingy from the outside, at least! 

I had not previously appreciated that the Petit Trianon had been built for Madame de Pompadour,(although she died before it was finished).

It was occupied by her successor as Louis XV's mistress, Madame du Barry, before being passed on to Queen Marie Antoinette..

We ended the trip with a visit to parts of the gardens. If  I happened to have several acres of garden I might be tempted to add a parterre or two, with lots of little yew trees clipped into perfect cone shapes..

But Louis and his friends can keep the gilding.

We spent the entire day at Versailles, and could have spent longer - we didn't spend much time in the park and only visited parts of the gardens.  It was a very interesting day.
Hall of Mirrors