Monday, November 7, 2016

November 7: Art and Science in London

Art is not what you see, but what you make others see. 
                                                               ---Edgar Degas

Mr Parris contemplates eggs and museum options.
After a good night's sleep and a good breakfast, it was Paul's day to choose the activity. "The Royal Institute of Art," said he. And so we were off to see an exhibit on abstract expressionism. Think Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko. This is an almost exclusively American art phenomenon starting in the 1940s.  According to the information in the museum, the last time a collective exhibit of abstract expressionist paintings hit the UK was 1959 at the Tate.

The abstract expressionists are thought to have lived in an age of extremes and catastrophe heralded by two world wars, the great depression, the Spanish civil war and the cold war, as well as the US rising as a world power.  They are said to have had "a burgeoning tendency to allow paint to flow of its own volition."

Here are some of the works we got to see. One of the amazing things is the bounty of museums and private collections they were drawn from.

Arshile Gorky. DIARY OF A SEDUCER.  Originally from Armenia, Gorky immigrated to the US and lived in Connecticut. He had a fire in his home in 1948 and thereafter his work is characterized as "somber.' He hanged himself in 1948.

There were a wealth of Jackson Pollock compositions on display including this very famous and his largest work commissioned for Peggy Guggenheim's Manhattan townhouse:

Mural by Pollock. 1943. Being an abstract expressionist didn't bode well for longevity. Pollock died in a car wreck at age 44.

Willem de Kooning was a Dutch immigrant who lived in East Hampton, NY.  He did better than the two previous artists at longlife! He lived to be 93. He was fascinated with women whom he believed he painted as " satiric and monstrous, like sibyls."

Pink Angels. Willem de Kooning
Mark Rothko is a painter that Paul and I have encountered all over the world. His work, he said, was meant to embody human emotions. "Tragedy, ecstasy, doom..." His work is almost instantly recognizable.

Untitled. (but known as black on grey). Mark Rothko.

Clyfford Still is an artist Paul and I have no familiarity with. But I think you would have to live in Denver to really know him well as 95% of his works are housed there in the Still Museum.  He spent only 12 of his 75 years in New York and preferred to remain outside of it. Like Pollock, he hailed from the big expansive Western US.  He described the West as an  "awful bigness."  He apparently wasn't too friendly with many artists of the abstract expressionists except Pollock, who insisted that Still made the rest of the art community look academic.

Clyfford Still's massive art expanses at the Royal Academy.

We were also treated to the lovely sculpting of David Smith.

David Smith's Hudson Valley Landscape. It reflected a train journey he once took.

We were also treated to another artist we knew little about, James Ensor. Supposedly when Albert Einstein met him on a train once, he asked him what he painted and Ensor said, "Nothing." Ensor was painting in the late 1800s and his teachers were very disappointed with his focus and his methodology. He lived nearly all his life in Ostend, Belgium, travelling little, and defying his maestros by painting whatever he wanted. You shall see, it does NOT resemble "nothing." And it has a real depth of humor.

Paul loved this one called Bad Doctors. Wonder why I didn't think it was so funny??

The artist surrounded by evil

Self Portait of Ensor. There were many self portraits in different circumstances. Here he has a feather cap.

Two skeletons fight over pickled herring. Yes, that's the real name. Paul says when he sees this happening, he runs the opposite direction.

These exhibits at the Royal Academy were very enjoyable and if you have the chance, it's not that easy to get this group of artists in one place. The collection was quite large and this is just a taste of what we got to view.

From there we went to the Farraday museum, which is a science museum at the Royal Institute of Science. As Paul says, we take for granted that everyday things were discovered by people working tirelessly in labs.

Farraday's electromagnetism lab in the Royal Institute of Science

Many of the elements were discovered at the Royal Institute. Here are a few.

Royal Institute of Science.

This museum is very small, but it is free and fun for nerds like us.

From here, we walked amongst fancy shops along Albermarle. Oh my. We could barely afford to pass through much less buy anything, but it was good window shopping.

An entire shop dedicated to macaroons

Holy macarooni, batman!

Paul got interested in the vintage Rolex collection.

Shoes, anyone?

High end pens.

From here, we were off for a walk on the Princess Diana memorial path in Green Park.

Green Park looking not so green in the late autumn

We under and overgrounded our way back from here to Dalston Junction and had our dinner at the nearest pizza parlor. Our observation after 7.25 years together----there's hardly any pizza that's bad. We had ours at THE BITE. 

The back of the waitresses T shirt

Paul waxes serious over proscuitto, mozzarella, black olives, mushrooms and capers.

Then it was on to reason that we came.... the Necks at Cafe OTO. Night #2. Sold out show. These gents are a real pleasure, because they are the musical box of never know what you are going to get! And we got a very melodic hum for sure.  We sat near the percussionist and it's always a pleasure to observe his approach. 

In case you wondered...

Percussionist extraordinaire lair

Hands of a neck

Foot of a neck

Necks in motion

It's a little odd being at a live performance where 25% of the audience appears to be sleeping (and maybe 10% of them actually are), 25% are bobbing their heads,  25% have their eyes closed AND are bobbing their heads, and 25% are watching the band... and the other 25% who are either closing their eyes, sleeping and/or bobbing their heads. 

This band is so very talented and no two shows are alike because they are inventing the music as they play. That's a pretty special end to our London sojourn and we are grateful.

"...Entirely new and entirely now...They produce a post-jazz, post-rock, post-everything sonic experience that has few parallels or rivals. They may teach us to listen in a new way, but they communicate a fierce energy and warmth at the same time. Their music is a thrilling, emotional journey into the unknown. Like seeing a world in a grain of sand, The Necks permit us to hear a whole new world of music in a sliver of sound" THE GUARDIAN (UK)

Paul's Ponderings:  A bit of a brisk day out for our last full day here in London this time around.  The art exhibit we attended was really broad and deep and did a great job of bringing a bunch of threads together about Abstract Expressionism.   That was followed by a nice walk in Green Park, one of the larger green areas next to Buckingham Palace.   Tonight it was back for another round of The Necks!

We preceded the event by some great pizza at "Bite", accompanied by a salad....about 50 feet from our door, which was perfect.  

A great second show by The Necks!   We've seen four long pieces and as expected, none of them were the excellent variety of music this time around by them.   And a great end to our visit to London.   Tomorrow we fly home to real life.

November 6: Lisbon to London! Living Large!

Subtitle: A Long Slog of Blog

A mighty mass of brick, and smoke, and shipping,
  Dirty and dusky, but as wide as eye        10
Could reach, with here and there a sail just skipping
  In sight, then lost amidst the forestry
Of masts; a wilderness of steeples peeping
  On tiptoe through their sea-coal canopy;
A huge, dun cupola, like a foolscap crown        15
On a fool’s head—and there is London Town!

Lord Byron
Someone's wife made him breakfast in a trendy Dalston apartment

We made a safe transfer thanks to British Airways from Lisbon to London. Future travellers, we will tell you of one potential hitch. If you are not EU and you are leaving the Lisbon airport, there is a very long, slow queue to have your passport checked. We got to the airport 3 hours early and still almost missed our plane. We arrived 2 minutes before the gate closed. And they really closed it, so please be aware that you need additional time to pass through the airport. And this was on a Saturday, when theoretically air travel slows a bit.

Paul had trouble smiling after nearly missing his ride to the UK

Complementary bubbly to help you forget about the long Lisbon airport line...

We had a very nice dinner last night at Allain Ducasse restaurant. This is the only Michelin 3 star restaurant I have ever been in and one of only 2 in London...and it was really a "dining experience." It took about 5 hours to eat a meal there! I will post some photos of that at the end for those who enjoy food porn.

 On the way to Allain Ducasse, we were a bit disturbed to see a couple of policemen with assault rifles getting out of a patrol car, but we saw nothing nearby.  During the dinner, we kept seeing ambulances and police going by in hordes. Finally, we were disturbed enough by it to hook up to the Guardian website. It ends up we were arriving on Guy Fawkes Day and there were protesters from the group Anonymous around public monuments in the city. Police had imposed a 9pm curfew and apparently there were some tussels with law enforcement leading to about 50 arrests and a number of injuries in both groups. We heard plenty of fireworks going off, but they were literal and figurative.  Amazingly, other than noise, the cast and crew of the Dorchester hotel seemed unphased by this. 

A bit of explanation about the initial Guy Fawkes incident for those who forgot.

We are staying this go round in East London in the Dalston area. We chose it because it is very close to Club OTO where one of Paul's favorite musical groups, The Necks, are playing for the next 2 nights. They were the inspiration for this trip.  This area is undergoing something of a re-gentrification. The overground station, which is relatively new, is right across the street and there are many conveniences in the neighborhood. We get the feel for living here. Our immediate neighbors appear to be predominantly Turkish.

The neighborhood mosque

We booked a small apartment above the Tesco grocery store from Airbnb. For those who haven't tried Airbnb, I recommend it highly. Just be sure you look at the comments section. I have had only one bad experience, and that was in Knoxville during a recent writers retreat where the "dog smell" drove us away.  But my other stays have vacillated between very good and stellar. I like having plenty of space to spread out and be comfortable, as well as the ability to cook, do laundry and other "homey" things ..and at a price LESS than most hotels.

Our not too shabby bedroom

Living room, dining and kitchen all glommed up, but lovely. Small apartment, great location for us

Since we are out in the East section of London and didn't get home until 2 am from the restaurant, we decided to "go local" with sightseeing and I am SO glad that we did. We visited the Geffrye Museum of the Home.  I remember a few years ago I read a book I highly recommend by Bill Bryson called At Home.  It was a really fascinating look at how human dwellings have changed over the years. Initially, everyone lived in one room and it served all purposes. Gradually rooms began to form for specific purposes and he recounts the history of what rooms came when and how. Really a great read. The Geffrye Museum explores some of the same themes and starts in the late 1600s.

External view of the Geffrye Museum and Gardens dedicated to "the home." It is named after its builder, an ironmonger. It was built as a charitable home for retirees. 
There are numerous exhibits and period pieces within the museum, which is free, but a donation is encouraged.  I particularly enjoyed their exhibit on chairs.

Chairs from 1600s to Victorian period

20th century chairs. The last one was 1990 which is about when I bought my first dining room set!

Beautiful art deco coffee service

Crystal vase

1800s tea service

Oil lamp

The majority of the museum was encompassed by an exhibit specifically about the "parlor," and how it had changed from the late 1600s through modern day. I learned so much and found the displays fascinating.  They also discussed how the home changed from the 1600s when you earned your living from your home to the 1800s when men left it and women became "housekeepers and angels of the hearth."

Late 1600s. The "middlings" (middle class) had a "hall." This was essentially where everyone gathered for meals and such and this included servants, apprentices, etc. They all ate together. 

After the great London fire of 1666, late 17th century homes had a street level parlor or dining room or both.  The parlors of 1695 were used for family and friends and there was more separation of family from servants.

1695 Parlour. More intimate, less hustle and bustle.

By 1795, the parlor was in the same position in the house, but the furnishings had changed a bit. Some meals were taken here, especially if there were guests and a social demeanor of politeness was expected. Politeness was more than common courtesy. It was being "agreeable" at all times and avoiding topics of controversy.

The socially polite 1745  parlor

Just before the turn of the 18th century, the furnishing in the parlor and decor changed considerably. The room had to be "neat" which meant bright, stylish and very clean.  Wallpaper became popular.

The 1790 parlor. Lighter colors were favored and decor was "delicate."

In the early 1800s, enter the drawing room. Elaborate curtains and ornamental balconies were the rage and color schemes unified.  Much attention was paid to the decorating and in many ways, this was the room where the ladies gathered for leisure.

The drawing room of 1830
By 1870, the drawing room was the area where the lady of the house, now at home while the men left the house to work, received guests. There was an eye for the fashion of the times.

Commercially made furniture with complementary homemade needlework or cushion covers dominated the 1870 room
Floor length fashion conscious curtains and delicate tea service were also a feature.
Tea, ladies?

By 1870, the drawing room became a statement against the mainstream during the Aesthetic Movement.  The woman of the house was expected to add some artistry and taste to the drawing room.

The tasteful drawing room of 1890

From here the museum skipped to the modern era living room and even the more open concept spaces of the late 20th century.. I will give you a brief view of room in the museum. You will recognize quite a few of them, I am sure!

Turn of the century Edwardian parlor circa 1910. The first electric powered living room.

The 1930s 'combo living and dining room." Central heat and air and hot water were introduced.

1955 open floor plan. The TV replaces the fireplace as the center attraction of the room.

1990s. The conversion of commercial to living space leads to very open floor plan with exposed loft bedrooms.

I suppose if you look at the space we are staying at here in Dalston (I already pictured above), the concept is now open floor plan for the living, dining and kitchen space with unexposed separate bedroom. 

The last exhibit was really quite funny and it explored contemporary teenagers bedrooms with multiple shadowbox exhibits of modern London teen's rooms and their contents. It was amazing how much personality each room revealed.

Typical London teen's bedroom.  I was afraid Paul might be compelled to go over and make the bed :)

I found the museum very well thought out and engaging and encourage you to take the overground from Central London to Dalston, an easy 20-30 minute trip, to see it for yourself.

We then attempted to go to the London Architectural Archive Museum, another off the beaten path building in the hood, but it appeared to be closed despite otherwise posted hours. So we missed that pleasure, but we did see some amusing signposts along the way.

Could be a men's clothing store, but possibly a certain type of urologist's office :)

Not sure where this cafe owner got the name, but we got a smile out of it!

Just in time for redhead day

Paul thought this was clever to use the underground symbol for an IT application. Nerd humor.
We also passed over the canals with the houseboats, reminiscent of Amsterdam. Paul tells me Richard Branson of Virgin Atlantic lived in one for a very long time.

I don't think Richard Branson is living here anymore.

All the museum going and walking awakened a snack attack, so we were off to the neighborhood ice cream store called CREAM. It was very crowded but delicious...and hopefully low calorie...okay, I'm kidding myself... but can you blame me?

Now he's smiling!

We discovered a WONDERFUL little very inexpensive restaurant for dinner which I will place in the food porn section at the end, but if you are here, PLEASE VISIT. It's called Salut! It has about 10 tables and a multicultural chef and staff. He trained in France and Italy and you get the joy of watching him cook in the open kitchen.

Attention to taste and plating!
From here we were on to the best part of the day and the whole reason we are in London. THE NECKS. They played two beautiful sets of Cafe OTO to a standing room only crowd...which is about 100 people. It's such a small space. You are never far from the artists and the energy of the crowd.  I'm sure Paul will explicate further and with more knowledge but allow me to quote Ed Sullivan--it was a really great shew!

The Necks at Cafe OTO performing their extemporaneous magic

What a full day and a joy. I am so privileged to be here walking the streets bundled up in a cold drizzle, water and wind in my face, numerous languages swirling around me, people walking, shopping, eating , getting haircuts, feet in bubbles at the pedicure shop, buses lumbering past me, smells of curry and kebabs, neon and wood signs advertising anything imaginable,  the call of the minaret, a motorcyclist asking for my help with directions to an unfamiliar street address, music exiting cafes and bars, a big jumble of throbbing life. London!

Paul's Ponderings:  Two days of news combined into one....a lot going on here, but all good!   Alain Ducasse's restaurant is pretty stunning -- one of two 3-star Michelin restaurants in the city and among the few in the world.   We've eaten at an outpost of his in Las Vegas called "Mixx", but this was on another level.   Perhaps food as rock concert is a good analogy.   I expected it to be a bit more stuffy ambiance-wise (it's in the Dorchester, an old school hotel near Hyde Park), but it was relaxed, albeit with a dress code!   It was all great, but my personal high points were the mushroom dish (they are in season here), the lobster melange of flavors, and (surprise) the wines, which were awesome (and priced as such!).   We got there at 830 pm and walked out about 1 am.    The other big kahuna here in London is Gordon Ramsey, who also has the other 3-star restaurant....we could not get in this time, but hopefully next.   I'll say in conclusion that the line between a 1-star and a 3-star Michelin place is very clear, but less so between a 2-star and a 3-star as things are pretty much in food stratosphere.   But, there's no question the Ducasse place is incredible in every way -- food, service, ambiance, wine, taste, plating, etc.   

That all said, "Salut", where we ate the following night, was superb and was 10% of the price, just to give a price point.    If Salut existed at home, we'd be there regularly.    The difference between the two boils down to wines and the "dining experience".    We spent an hour at Salut and nearly 5 hours at Ducasse.   And so on.   London is full of great food at every price is the bottom line.

Most folks who know me know that I have a lot of musical interests and a longstanding one is music that lies outside the boundaries of jazz and rock in various ways.   I could write a tome on this topic, but will limit myself here to saying that I've been to London many times to see niche music events for nearly 30 years now and the area we are in at present has two great venues close to each other, The Vortex and Cafe Oto.   This time up it was The Necks at Cafe Oto, who are originally from Australia and are celebrating their 30th year as a working group.  They've been to Knoxville a number of times. Cafe Oto is a small space and there were around 100 people in attendance which was "sold out".   We saw two long pieces performed, improvised from scratch....this music varies from dream or drone like to fairly intense, but it's very listenable to anyone who enjoys a bit of adventurous jazz or rock in their listening experience.   Funny aside, we had sushi with the band in Knoxville several years ago after a show -- very nice guys as well.   

Tonight we have another show with The Necks who are playing three nights here....then it's back to see America's latest Nobel Prize winner for literature in K-town on Wednesday, followed by ZZ Top on Thursday.   Interesting week of music to say the least :-)   

FOOD PORN SECTION (for those interested in what we eat.....but some of it is exotic!)

LED lighted curtain that surrounds the "private dining room" of Allain Ducasse. We weren't in it!

He gets happy even before they bring food! What a sweetheart.

Incredible dish made entirely of raw and cooked mushrooms

Lobster pasta. Salivate!

Cheese course with accompaniments

Macaroons to make you swoon

An egg white preparation with fruit syrups

Paul with multiple desserts to take home and still smiling!

The dining room of Allain Ducasse

And now the contrast but I think equally delish: Salut!

Ten tables of Salut with the chef in action

Beetroots salad The beet mousse was crazy good.

Getting it right on the presentation

Duck breast for Paul, perfectly spiced, affordably priced.

Hartfordshire red deer with greens. 

Paul marvels over chocolate disks, raspberries and spun sugar. We actually got to see him SPIN it. What a show!