books and art

so how refreshing to hear that there is a demise in the purchase of kindles and a rise in the sales of books – the young are posting Instagram posts with rows of bookshelves behind them – hooray!  I have not come round to the idea of reading a book on a screen – it makes sense if you want to declutter, but books somehow don’t add up to clutter, they are beautiful stripes that enhance an interior , they make a space lived in – our house is filled with books…..  we also have filled spain and Suffolk with books – and the feedback from clients is that they love browsing our collection – books are for sharing, for stimulating the brain, for escaping, for aspiring, for understanding, books are as much a part of my life as my family. at present I am reading ‘the Paris Wife’ – a book given to me by my Cornish friend, it tells the story of the rise of Ernest Hemingway in the 1920’s in paris through the words of his first wife Hadley Richardson – its not groundbreaking, but its interesting and paints a vivid story of the time and the trials of wanting to be a successful writer.   I went to Foyles cafe on the top floor of the recently refurbished shop on charring cross road – it was quite a surprise to see such a big bookshop with floors of books (and music) with a good cafe not run by a chain.   my friend Lyn alerted it to me and it really is a good sanctuary, pick up any book from the shop, take it to the cafe, get a drink and enjoy the book, then put it back on a trolley to be put back in the shop – its harking back to being in a library.  I remember my youth living in libraries, borrowing the maximum 4 books that you were allowed, trying to read the books before the date of return, or else you would get a fine.  I never bought books as a child, we were encouraged to go the library – the only books I bought were textbooks for my exams.  how different life is for my children now.  by the way, I am still pleasantly surprised that my book ‘stolen glimpses’ has been shortlisted for best book design and production in the photographic monograph category this year – winners to be announced in November – it means that somebody in the industry has recognised the hard work and thought that we put in to create the book.

this leads me back to my recent trip to Beijing – my favourite shops were the bookshops and art shops – which were usually combined – books about calligraphy, graphic art, painting, classic reads – they were far more interesting than the abundance of souvenir shops that are everywhere.  however, one fun area to spend a day is the art area 798.  based in the east, its an area that is full of industrial buildings built by the germans in the 1950’s and which have gradually turned into art galleries,  bookshops and cafes.  so much so that there must have been a few hundred galleries to visit, some are the renowned names, some are just local artists, some are fake art masquerading as art, which somehow makes the whole thing a bit gimmicky.  but in all honesty, its a big family day out for local Chinese, especially those who are craving a bit of culture or simply to get a great Instagram with one of the many novelty sculptures dotted around the district.  again, its a big area, and you can roam around for hours, so make a list of what you really would like to see;  a lot of the serious art galleries charge about £6, which is expensive, but its to deter the masses, most of the others are free.   the street food is great, but be cautious about food that has not been heated to a high temperature or uses the local water – I will be coming to food shortly, which is another reason to go to Beijing.

 

jazz and peking opera

i am lucky that my husband’s job involves listening to music cos it means that we get to see so many fantastic musicians! last night we saw the amazing Cecile McLorin Salvant at ronnie scotts; i was never a big jazz fan, but slowly i am being won over – all my husband’s jazz muso friends are now so busy or away that i have become his new jazz partner.  Cecile’s choice of songs were beautiful and strong ballads, harking back to early black songs reminiscent of Harlem or of times of slavery – her gentle but powerful voice expressed perfectly the words, the irony….   there is a humorous tongue in cheek aspect with some of the songs, in particular ‘wives and lovers’

Hey, little girl, comb your hair, fix your make-up
Soon he will open the door
Don’t think because there’s a ring on your finger
You needn’t try any more
For wives should always be lovers too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
I’m warning you
Day after day, there are girls at the office
And the men will always be men
Don’t stand him up with your hair still in curlers
You may not see him again
Wives should always be lovers too
Run to his arms the moment he comes home to you
He’s almost here
Burt Bacharach and Hal David
its strange to compare jazz and the blues to Chinese opera, but I have just experienced both in the space of a few days – very very different but in some ways so similar.  the discordant notes,  the tinkle and clash of music, the highs and lows, the emphatic expression, the drama, the gentleness, the sweetness……  we went to the Temple theatre , one of the oldest Hutong theatres to see a version of Farewell my Concubine – an experience worth visiting.  the theatre was very small, but beautifully formed with only about 12 rows – there was a long thin platform that the actors strolled down, interacting with the audience even more – you could see every detail on their elaborate costumes and make up – its an animated performance with dancelike movements, singing, live musicians and just in case you don’t understand, there are English subtitles on a screen discreetly at the side of the stage.  so like jazz, its an intimate engagement with the audience – such a different experience to the grand old opera houses that you are used to seeing.
my favourite track of the night was ‘wild women don’t have the blues’ – if you get a chance to see Cecile perform then do book  – its an unforgettable night. 
I hear these women raving ’bout their monkey men
About their trifling1 husbands and their no good friends
These poor women sit around all day and moan
Wondering why their wandering papa’s don’t come home
But wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have no bluesNow when you’ve got a man, don’t never be on the square
‘Cause if you do he’ll have a woman everywhere
I never was known to treat no one man right
I keep ’em working hard both day and night
‘Cause wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have their bluesI’ve got a disposition and a way of my own
When my man starts kicking I let him find another home
I get full of good liquor, walk the streets all night
Go home and put my man out if he don’t act right
Wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have their bluesYou never get nothing by being an angel child
You better change your ways and get real wild
I wanna tell you something, I wouldn’t tell you a lie
Wild women are the only kind that really get by
‘Cause wild women don’t worry, wild women don’t have their blues
Ida Cox. 1924

 

life in the Hutong alleyways….

Smithfield’s

its lovely to walk around smithfields on a sunday when its quiet and explore – its strange how tranquil parts of london become on a weekend;  but if you are there in the week, its good to visit st bartholomew the great – its a beautiful old church originating from the 12C – the cafe is open for breakfast and some evenings its open for cocktails – its very atmospheric!  i saw a spectacular theatre performance there, so keep an eye out for events that go on there.

or take a visit to the museum of st bartholomews hospital, which tells the inspiring story of one of the oldest hospitals in the world or if you are interested in surgical history, take a visit to see the old operating theatre museum at st thomas’s  in bermondsey- its one of the most unusual museums in london.

of course there are 2 great restaurants to eat there, st john and club gascon.  i havent been to club gascon, but its meant to be quite good.

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royal college of physicians

I love open house weekend – I remember a couple of years ago it falling on a beautiful sunny weekend  – autumn seems to have arrived quickly this year. we looked at the list of open house buildings close to us and decided on the royal college of physicians.  its a stunning building, built in 1964 by the renowned Sir Denys Lasdun, who also designed the national theatre – which people either love or hate!  i love it!  but you cannot dislike the beautiful marble tiled building in regents park – the conference room is stunning as well as the library!   attention to detail is all over this design and how bold to be so inventive when all the neighbouring buildings are the famous nash terraces of regents park.  reminds me of the much smaller olivetti space in venice. open house london opens this weekend, so take a look at some of the interesting buildings that you can visit;  some you have to book in advance, but some you can just turn up and take a chance.

The Olivetti showroom is one of the most exquisite rooms I’ve ever been in, restored to its simple, yet sumptuous elegance and open to the public. It was designed by Carlo Scarpa in 1957 with the utmost attention to detail.  i love baroque venice, but it was refreshing to find something like this amongst all the venetian typical style.  i particularly loved the marble/chip floor which were similar to the marble tiles on the physician’s building.

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open air cinema

so I finally got to see my first open air film and experience the wonder of watching a classic great film amidst the nature of regents park.  however, I always remember September in london as being quite a mild and pleasant month – this last week has been far from that,  buckets of rain, whipping wind, but splashes of heat when the sun does finally pear through the clouds. and so I bought 2 tickets well in advance for the 50th anniversary release of the Graduate – a film that I only remember seeing in snippets on the television.  I kept googling the weather, hoping that it was going to change in our favour, but seeing that the evenings were bringing our usual downpours of the moment, we went despite the forecast, but armed with bin bags to sit on, picnic rugs and blankets, plus waterproof coats – we looked set for an expedition, not an evening at the cinema!   the Luna cinema didn’t disappoint, the screen was so generous, and the sound was very clear (speckled with the trees rushing in the wind);  its a wonderful experience and a great film – so funny, well written and beautiful shot with great actors.   it was made even more funny when the skies opened, the rain poured for 20 mins at the precise point in the film where there is a rain scene.  everyone in the audience just laughed.  try and catch it as its on at the cinemas.

whitechapel gallery

haven’t been to the whitechapel gallery for a while and was pleasantly surprised to see that it has been extended;  there is a new exhibition on, ‘the end of love’ – with a variety of works, including a lovely print by man ray and a hauntingly beautiful sculpture by don brown.  i  particularly loved the piece titled ‘bread’.  the cafe is nice for a tea break too.  follow on with a short walk through the wonderfully atmospheric streets of old georgian london – fournier street and princelet street, leads you to  verde and co, selling teas and chocolate and available for lunch some days, its actually in a temporary pop up space for the next month. sadly soaring rates have forced this independent to move.  i bought a couple of lovely teacups from there.