owlfish: (Smiley Faces)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:20pm on 09/12/2011 under
I went to the Royal Academy this morning to see the Degas exhibit. I had only the fuzziest grasp of what it would comprise - dancers. And yes, it featured a lot of dancers, to the extent that, seeing it, you would never know that Degas had ever painted anything else ever at all.

Royal Academy shows usually have stilted narratives. That's not what they're good for. In this one, Degas appeared to have become a painter in his late 30s, painting exclusively dancers. He evokes them beautifully, carefully, intelligently, limbs and strength and motion deliminated in pastels and oils and charcoal.

But that's the framework for the show's central argument: the ongoing, changing relationship between Degas and the nineteenth-century development of photography and moving pictures, from stop-motion to the earliest films of the 1890s. "The Little Fourteenth-Year-Old Dancer" sculpture is shown as the culmination of numerous sketches in which the artist moved around his model in the same way that cameras moved around still subjects at the time. Muybridge's stop-motion photography influenced Degas and his exploration of movement. There are glorious sculptures - by people who are not Degas - of birds in flight, the moments of their motion melding together in the same way some stop-motion photography ends.

Fittingly, the show ends in the seconds of documentary recorded of Degas himself. He had turned down the documentary maker, not interested in being filmed for a piece on older artists. So the filmmaker laid in wait one day on the sidewalk, and captured him, for perhaps ten seconds, walking down the street, half-blind and unaware of the camera.
owlfish: (Shiny Astrolabe)
I finally saw the medieval reliquaries show at the British Museum this weekend. It was the last weekend, but same-time tickets were still available. Even so, it was, as usual, crowded enough to require negotiation to see most given objects up close.

After reading other peoples' reactions to the shows, I was expecting lots of body parts. That's what reliquaries are for, right? Well, that and other remnants of holy things. There were plenty of bits of the true cross on display, a couple of thorns from the Crown of Thorns and... well, that was it, in terms of visible relics.

There were reliquaries galore, but the focus was very much on the vessels, the craftmanship, the forms as a focus of worship, and more generally belief in the intercession of saints. But with very, very few exceptions, every one of those reliquaries were ones which *used to* house sainted body parts. They didn't currently.

Those few exceptions were, on the whole, ones at the other extreme: large collections of lots of very tiny bits of saints, tidily parceled up and labeled, visually sanitized. If there were any other body bits in that show, the labels omitted them and they were not visible.

It's not as if I'm habitually obsessed with seeing bits of long-dead corpses, but it is a rather normal part of seeing reliquaries. That's what they were made for, in effect, although tidily wrapping and labeling the small bits is good form too. So their absence in this show really struck me. Either the choice of objects was delibrately designed to sanitize reliquaries for the general public; or those with visible bone bits were too sanctified to loan for the show; or it was a very strange accident that it just all happened to work out that way.

One of the highlights of the show was having a good look at Erhardum Reuwich's 1486 map which accompanies Bernhard von Breydenbach's Journey to the Holy Land. The focus of the caption and the map was Jerusalem, but I was fascinated by the edges. The map has east at the top (it's well-oriented), Syria/north on the left and Egypt/south on the right.

In Egypt, in addition to all those Christian churches and tombs on top of the burial or death places of Christian saints and martyrs, Breydenbach visited the pyramids, which were, as the map label helpfully tells us, built "over the tombs of the rulers of Egypt". I know they're all tombs, but I never mentally structured pilgrimage to the pyramids as par for the course with pilgrimages to the Holy Land. No reason they shouldn't be, as ancient Egypt is certainly implicated in the Old Testament. The walking route across the Red Sea is also marked on the map, for example.

The pyramids engraved by Reuwich are cute. He clearly just knew they were "pyramids" and made them all really tall, sharp, and pointy.
owlfish: (Feast)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 12:15pm on 22/09/2011 under , ,

It's like a stage set, isn't it. The table is set, the lighting is arranged, helped by ample skylights above, the cast is gathering, some just visible in that mirror over on the left.

The twist was that it was a promotional event for a new line of seafood main courses from previously-wholesalers-only Lyons Seafoods, we were sent home with samples of all four of the feeds-two, fresh easy-to-cook dishes, and I live with someone who doesn't eat fish or seafood. Fortunately, it all worked out. My thanks to [livejournal.com profile] wishus for enabling, and [livejournal.com profile] coth for providing me with mouths in need of feeding. In the end, I only needed to consume the entirety of *one* of the four dishes all by myself, over the course of two meals. And, to my relief, they were all pretty good.

I've done a full write-up of the event over at One Peppercorn.
owlfish: (Default)
Sometimes, it all works out better than plannable. Friday was one of those nights. As of Wednesday morning, I could not have told you I would be at the sold-out Much Ado about Nothing at the Wyndham, but someone else's inconvenience was my fortune. (It was very generous of you to have a conflict, [livejournal.com profile] ashfae!)

Dinner at Hawksmoor Seven Dials... )

After a little bit of suspense, we found L, who had the tickets. It required texting since it was a busy pub and we had not previously met her, and K, whom I do know, had gone to look for me when I was looking for her. L was a delight, and we had more time to get to know her and the rest of the group at another pub afterward. Anyways, the important thing is that it worked out just fine.

Much Ado about Nothing at the Wyndham sold out long since because it stars Catherine Tate and David Tennant as Beatrice and Benedict. It was a giddy romp of a production, adorable and delightful and ridiculous to the degree that the serious parts were often overshadowed. They often are in this play, but they particularly were in this version. The scene in which Hero tells Beatrice that Benedict loves her - I didn't hear a word of it because all attention was on the aerial hijinks of Beatrice. Poor Hero.

I wonder how many tunes there are out there for "Sigh no more, ladies". The Branagh movie had one. This version set in post-Falklands Gibralter had an '80s rendition (as, indeed, was the entire original soundtrack). These are surely not the only two. There were lots of '80s jokes/references/homages built into the visuals, from heavy Princess Di/Hero paralleling to an electronic keyboard to a Rubik's cube. I missed the Super Mario Brothers homage (a costume in the masked ball/dance), but there was one, apparently!

In any event, a really lovely evening.
owlfish: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 09:42pm on 07/05/2011 under , ,
I was handing my father books to browse. Two pages in to The Dervish House, he told me the introduction was surely based on one by the book he was telling me about earlier in the day, the one whose author he had forgotten. I just looked up the author of the book, The Echo-Maker. Richard Powers, whose book Generosity was a fellow Clarke nominee this spring along with The Dervish House.

In other book-related thoughts, I keep thinking that Soulless would make a really good graphic novel.

I voted for the first time in the UK on a flimsy piece of paper. I hung out with a fifteenth century manuscript with gorgeously clear humanist writing. I went to the Real Food Festival at Earl's Court (only £5 on the opening half-day). It was not at all crowded, and I spent lots of time chatting to vendors and buying things. Lots of samples, and a feeling of being in a village, running into people I knew periodically. (More about the fair later, I hope. It's on until Sunday, and I went in part since I will be missing my favority annual food festival, Taste of London, this year.) Afterward, catching up, meeting new-to-me people, cricket and Novacon incentives at First Thursday.

Strikes in Venice meant my father's flight was rebooked, so that he would no longer arrive in time for the opera. We will see it tomorrow instead: rebooking was so quick, I could scarcely believe it had happened.

A walk through the woods in warm, lightly drippy weather to visit the local bronze age fort and circumambulate it. Then we went down the Underground a mere few stops to a cook-out, a feast of endless, well-seasoned meats, potato skins, and a conveniently thin chocolate cake almost entirely consisting of ganache.
owlfish: (Default)
Some evenings work out fabulously. It was good enough that I knew I was going to see the Susan Hiller show this evening at the Tate. It was a private showing with the artist, the museum opened up just for our group, spacious and tranquil.

Encyclopedias, aliens, holy water... )

And then, after canapés and wine and conversation with the artist and with friends, I ended up at Perdido Pollen Street Social, the new Jason Atherton restaurant with a dessert bar. (The dessert bar, of course, being one of the major elements which caught my attention in advance descriptions.) We had tapas and cocktails at the bar. The char-grilled prawns were fiddly but very tasty; my fingers still smell nicely because of them. The lamb chops were, improbably, even more fiddly than the prawns; the sauce was good, a rich infusion of onions, jus, capers, something citrus, and something berry-y, but the prawns were better. Also, I should have asked for a real cutting knife. The rhubarb bellini was undermined by its hint of vanilla, which gave it echoes of candy rather than enhancing the complementary bitterness. Indeed, I could scarcely taste the rhubarb. Still, the space is pleasant, the staff are a delight, and I'm only being picky because it seemed fundamentally solid in the first place.
owlfish: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 03:53pm on 08/04/2011 under
My mother is visiting, so we went to the National Gallery yesterday to see the Jan Gossaert show, a collection of early sixteenth century Low Countries paintings and prints, with a few sculptures thrown in. It is rich in images and slight in curatorial narrative which strings the pieces together. Labelwise, it was the Facebook of exhibitions, telling us who knew who and how they knew each other; the only thing it was missing was "Like" buttons.

Gossaert was from Hainault, which is not near Newbury Park.* He traveled to Rome with his patron, while both Raphael and Michaelangelo were there, but clearly, it is not known if he actually met them.

One of my favorite images from the show was of an exiled Danish princess, a young girl holding an armillary sphere in her hands. It not only had the sphere and a beautifully-realized person, but one of Gossaert's distinctively playful details: her head overlaps a painted-on frame, as if she were in front of her frame, and not within it. Another virutoso piece which sticks with me is his St. Luke painting the Madonna, wonderfully rich in its layers of visual references. Gossaert liked painting people with big curly hair (apparent in both of these paintings), a style which echoed the fiddliness of his drawings and prints; no comment from the labels as to why.

* London Underground reference
owlfish: (Default)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 04:04pm on 24/02/2011 under ,
Plaster Cast Court at the V&A

After lunch with our mutual friend [livejournal.com profile] daisho, [livejournal.com profile] 4ll4n0 and I went off to the V&A, which he had not previously seen. I took him (after the Chihuly) to see my favorite part of the V&A, the plaster cast courts.

I love them so much because it's a kind of study and tourism which just isn't done anymore, not in quite that way. In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, antiquaries traveled through Europe, making plaster casts directly from major works of sculpture and architecture and using those as molds to make plaster reproductions of the originals. Who needs the expense of a Grand Tour when one can go to the plaster cast courts and see the eastern façade of Chartres cathedral, Michaelangelo's David, eighth-century Scandinavian crosses, and the Trajan Column all in ten minutes?

After that we went through the Medieval and Renaissance galleries, eighteenth-century cabinetry, modern theater design, Japan (complete with an actual daisho), and a history of jewelry, before heading off to the BSFA, where the guest was so well-spoken and forthcoming, he practically interviewed himself.

On the tube, on the way home, I encountered the plaster cast courts again in the form of "this huge, ivory-white carved column of coherent light in the middle of the floor".
'What is that?'
'Trajan's column,' he said, without looking round. 'Scanned from the plaster cast in the V&A. Amazing, isn't it.'
(Gwyneth Jones, Bold as Love, 282)

Over at Torque Control, Niall is discussing Bold as Love this week. The first of the posts is here. No plaster casts. (Yet.)
owlfish: (Canary Wharf)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 11:01pm on 20/12/2010 under
I have been so pleased with the weather for the past few days. It has provided me with real amounts of snow, perhaps four inches, and it hasn't since warmed up so much so as to destroy the beauty and insulation of it. It's the best snow I've ever seen in England.

In the forest yesterday, I made a snow angel in the local bronze age camp under near-blue skies. The bare branches towering cathedral-like above were limned in snow. It picked out each branch and limb of every tree and bush with a precision and clarity which the motley camouflage browns and greens of it never approach on their own.

Today, at Kew Gardens, the whitened grounds were largely empty. I had the entire length of grand walks to myself, and, often enough, the warmth of the larger greenhouses as well. It was soothing to stand in the midst of the Temperate House, alone, small beside the vastness of the Chilean wine palm, while outside, it started to flake for a bit. In one capacious greenhouse room, I was disturbed only by a single large bird tramping up and down the ridge on the roof high above me. At the east end of the park, a carousel pumped out a chirpy, uptempo, music-only cover of The Beatles' "Yesterday". I couldn't find the Winter Garden, presumably because it was not designed to be snowed on.

Are children trained to talk to robins in this country? An alert boy noticed a British robin hopping about the floor of the house imported from Japan that we were all in. "Happy Christmas, Robin!" or "Happy New Year, Robin!" exclaimed the three or four children, each in turn.
owlfish: (Feast)
posted by [personal profile] owlfish at 09:14pm on 26/11/2010 under , ,
I walked over to my local butcher's yesterday morning to collect a rather large turkey. As the only customer in a small shop with three staff people, we fell into conversation about my turkey.

No, American Thanksgiving is not on the Friday, it's Thursday, always Thursday. Suddenly, everything fell into place for them. That was why they had already delivered three turkeys locally, in addition to the one I was collection. (I had no idea they delivered.) They pointed over to local streets and directions, indicating where those other three American customers live.

We moved to this town two-and-a-half years ago. I have never run into another American here, but figured they must be around somewhere. It's nice to know how to find them, for future reference. At least, the local meat-eating Americans.


It happens every year. I think I will make a token effort at American Thanksgiving, and then, a couple of days before, feel compulsed to do it properly. In this case, it really was only going to be [livejournal.com profile] larkvi and us up until I ordered the turkey. I wanted lots of leftovers, so they recommended a 6 kilo bird. They checked stock and didn't have one in stock, but I was willing to be talked into an 8 kilo one.

In the cold light of day evening, we realized just how big this bird was going to be, and hurriedly invited more people. It was my best turkey ever, all 8.6 kilos of it: it finished early, perfectly golden, and, for once, successfully achieved the internal temperature it was meant to. Shortly after that, [livejournal.com profile] lintilla72 called. The Underground line which runs out here was suffering severe delays. She had to cancel.

At this point, no one else had made it yet, and I was seized with a conviction that, poetically, the one-and-only time I managed to produce a perfect, enormous turkey, would be the one-and-only time that absolutely no one else would be able to come, not even C. They would be stranded in central London, foiled by transit, and I would be alone, all alone, just me and a giant bird.

Happy ending: everyone else was delayed, but not foiled. There was plenty of food, and good friends. About half of them were Americans, even the two who were visiting from Canada. I had very little chance to talk to them since they were here barely two hours (what with delays and all), but that's okay. The leftovers are not intimidating since they saved me from a surfeit of Certain Turkey.


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