Thursday, 30 June 2011

Matroushkas in St. Petersburg

Wyona bought a set of matroushkas (10 dolls, one inside of the next) in the market in the same time that it took our guide to gather 20 people around her and get them walking toward the bus.  I was nervous that she was going to miss the bus, so I was keeping my eye on her as she darted from booth to booth.

At the same time, I was keeping my eye on the guide so that I would know which corner she turned if she got ahead of us.

As well, Wyona bought a couple of Cokes from someone who only spoke Russian, and Wyona waited as the clerk to get the right change for her at another booth. 

No one speaks the international language of commerce that goes with buying and selling as Wyona does.  

Buy your dolls at Red October
I have seen her do it in China and now in Russia.  There was no time to shop on the tours.  

And the ship tour guide had lingered on the picture of the market that runs beside the Church of the Spilled Blood.

He told everyone to memorize the look of that market.  

Then he said, "Buy something here at your own risk."  

The chances of you being pick-pocketed will never be higher.
We shopped instead at a new market called Red October.  In fact, we lost each other -- or I lost her.  I didn't even see this isle of goods until we were leaving the shop.

Fables are painted on the body of the doll.
What we didn't buy in the market, we bought when the ship ran their own Russian Bazaar.  The Jewel of the Sea shops close down when we are in a port.

But at sea -- buying and selling is sweet.


Saturday, 25 June 2011

After the Fact... London with Arta

After the better part of a week spent in London hounding the streets for a home to rent for the year, I was left with one free day to spend with Arta. The three of us headed off to Leicester Square, to the half-price booth to get theatre tickets for the last night. The plan was to head in different directions: Arta wanted to see "Love Never Dies" again, and Wyona wanted to spend her last night with "Dreamboats and Petticoats".

Ten minutes before hitting the Tube station, we'd had a long talk about how to meet up with each other if we got separated... the easy answer is of course just to look back for Rebecca's hair. :-) In a moment of irony, the two women went through ahead of me, and my Oyster card ("bus pass") denied me entry (I had run out of money and hadn't noticed).... the line up to re-nourish my depleted Oyster card was long, and the women were gone...Arta, though, in typical Arta way, had decided for fun to see how easy it was to find me, and had noticed I was gone. They came back, spoke to me through the barricade, and we sent Wyona ahead to wait in the ticket line up while I lined up for the Oyster card. Nice start to the day... way to practice finding each other after getting lost.

Just proving that different paths do not always run at the same speed, Arta and I somehow still managed to arrive at the Leicester Square before Wyona.

Go figure. 

So... tickets purchased, we split up for the day: Wyona to visit her favourite scarf sellers (What?! More scarves?!), and Arta and I to visit the National Gallery.

One of the recent 'installations' at the national gallery is the "Eco Art" outside. VERY westcoast!

They have planted grasses and small mossy growing things all over one of the walls of the building.

Not sure how visible it is in the shot, but the effect from some ways back is a bit like a Georges Seurat painting... it just looks like a lovely watercolour painting. Pretty groovy!

Arta and I have not spent much time in museums TOGETHER (as adults, that is... i certainly spent time following in her path of educational exploration as a know, "fossil rock walks in downtown Calgary", "identify bat guano in fish creek park", etc).

But it was a revelation to see that she is just as bad as me in her desire to consume til your belly/brain explodes.

In between our own wanderings, we took in the 10:30 and 2:30 guided tours, each of which offered a more close exploration of 5 or maybe 6 paintings.

Christ Healing the Blind Man by Buoninsegna
We started out looking at some panels from an alter piece done by Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1255-1260 – c. 1318-1319), the most influential Italian artist of his time.

The first one we saw has Christ healing the blind man. 

It is fun to look at the conventions for telling story through image: here, you see the blind man both before and after being healed. 

The panel that goes beside this one has Christ appearing to the apostles.... when they are set along side each other, you can see that the "healed" blind man is looking up at the body of Christ in the panel along side. 


We also learned that this was painted on wood, which was then covered with linen, and then covered with plaster to make a smooth surface to paint on. The paint was egg tempera, which would give you vibrant colours, albeit without tons of nuance: the paint would dry very fast, so you only had a short time where it could be pliably worked). 

Annunciation of Mary
In the afternoon session, we returned to Duccio, to look at another painting of the Annunciation (Mary getting informed by the angel that she was going to have a baby....). 

We listened to a nice discussion about the number of people who would have participated in making the painting.

Different artists in the studio would have done the people, and the buildings (would would have had painters specializing in buildings)

Then we moved up a hundred years, to spend time with the Spanish Bartolomé 
St. Michael Triumphs Over the Devil
Bermejo's 1468 painting "St Michael triumphs over the devil". This one is in oil, which explains the greater nuance and emotion captured in the paint. We also learned more about just how much gold leaf there was on the original. First there was a 'cartoon' of the painting... like a paper version laid over top of the prepared canvas. then someone would poke holes through it onto the prepared canvas below, so that the outline of the painting was transferred there. Then the gold specialist would be next, and would cover certain part of the painting with a red glue, over which was laid tiny pieces of gold flake. The gold would then be further pressed it into the wood with some kind of embossing tool, so that the painting would be even more luminescent when seen in the candlelight of the darkened church. Only after all the gold pieces were laid down would the artist come into to paint the figures and images in the scene. When you look at it now, there is not so much gold, and the background looks reddish... that is just the red glue stuff (which had some special name i have forgotten) showing through. If you click on this link, so will get the picture on the national gallery's website, and can zoom in to get a closeup of the monster! The feminist in me was so happy that the guide did eventually take us to a painting by a woman artist! Here were looked at a painting by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755 - 1842). This is a self-portrait of her, but she is also showing off her skills as a painter by making hers a version of a similar painting by Rubens, on the right of the gallery and which you can see beside her in this post. What she was doing here was making a 'calling card'.

Self Portrait of Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun

She is showing herself AS an artist, showing off all the skills she has, letting male viewers know that she can make their wives look this good but that they needn't worry about leaving their wife alone with her. I also like how she is holding her hand out, encouraging them to give her a commission! There was more, but I am getting tired. :-) which was just what happened to us too! So.... in between the two guided tours, we went for a "Talk and Draw" session. Here, they set up 40 chairs in front of one painting.

Artist: John Constable
In this case, the painting was John Constable's "Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Someone talks to you about the painting for 20 minutes, then they give you two drawing tasks, to practice some of the techniques that were used in the drawing. They hand out these nice big easels for you lap, boxes of pastels, pencils, conté, etc. So we had two tasks. First to draw a single tree from the painting by building up layers of colour (ie. start with black, go over with red, with brown, yellow, etc). Second task was to show perspective in the same way (ie. capture the darkening woods in the distance). I will confess, we both had to come to terms with some of our limits! hahaha. And yet, it was totally fun, so sit, listen, draw, and laugh. At the end, they had people set their drawings at the front to compare what people had produced. We also then had to head to the bathroom to wash the evidence of our crimes from our fingers (stained by the pastels). I felt very much like Lady MacBeth! We did bring our drawings home and showed them to Wyona at the end of the night. I will not be more specific re which of the drawings below belongs to Arta and which belongs to me... but I think Wyona was arguing that one of the paintings looks less like 'the woods', and more like a Judy Chicago plate! You can see that neither of those two women was taking my artist production very seriously.


They are never appreciated while still alive...

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Lend Me a Tenor & Million Dollar Quartet

Some sights are so visually out of the ordinary that they stay with me for a long time.  One was Rebecca standing on the floor but with her coffee mug raised to the ceiling, trying to catch the fine Stream of water that was pouring out of the fire alarm detecor, splashes of it landing on her haïr, her shoulders, the rug and the bed beside her.

"Call the front desk.  Just dial zero.  Tell them what is happening here."

"Hello.  Water is streaming out of the roof.  Would this be consisent with the history of this room?", I said.

“Run, get me another empty cup from the bathroom,” called Rebecca, at the same time the clerk saying “I will be up in five minutes”

“I don’t think she can stand there with her mug in the air catching the water that long,” I replied.

I hung up and at that moment the fire alarm went off – in our room only.  Rebecca’s arms holding the coffee mug came down and we both reached for the three things we would want most  if we had to leave our hotel bedroom and never come back.

The clerk was at the door by the time we had our shoes on and our passports and money collected.  “I will find you another room, he said as he opened the door to our room.  At that moment the fire alarm in the whole building went off.

People began streaming out of their rooms and walking down the stairs, all of them in the same condition as we – only half woken from sleep and marching in tune to the fire alarm.

Two hour later we had repacked our bags, moved to the lower floor, a bigger room and were again unpacking and remarking how nice it is to do that with a heightened level of adrenalin flow.

June 4, 2011

Yesterday, Rebecca had taken advantage of pre-booking her plane seat to the bulkhead, a place with plenty of leg-room.  I slipped out of my seat in the row behind her and by the time we had taken off and the plane leveled out, we were both scanning the choices of movies.  Rebecca mocked me – nothing trashy or light.  I was  interested in the Dutch biopic Goethe – knowing nothing more than how to spell his name and a few minutes into the film, charmed by the good acting and clever dialogue.  I do not know what Rebecca and I had been talking about at the airport, but she had said to me, “Don’t speak ill of the dead,” and then she laughed and said, “though I don’t know why not.”   

Don’t speak ill of the dead is a phrase straight from Goethe.  And speaking of the dead, dead tired is what I was.  I couldn't manage any more of the plane movies!

June 5, 2011

After telling me not to come to the Heathrow to pick her up, Wyona changed her mind, gave me consent. I travelled the Picadilly Line to fetch her at the airport, playing the part of all of those Brits who stand at the Airport Exit, either with signs or waving to whomever they are to help continue on their journey.  Every tube stop has its charm.  I am getting to know and love Earl’s Court, finally knowing where the lifts and ramps are for luggage.  Watching Rebecca lug suitcases up and down 83 stairs works to help me spot other alternatives.   When I am paired with Wyona and lift is broken, it is easier.  We look like two old characters our of a movie, struggling to get those suitcases up some stairs.    A true gentleman on the run must have had a few extra minutes to spare and he stopped to help us.

June 5, 2011

Wyona and I left for Central London to get tickets for tonight.  Rebecca got on the phone making appointments to have renting agents show her flats to let.  Our job was easier – since it is easy to find te ticket office for Legally Blonde and the Leister Sqare Ticket wicket marquee held promise of half price shows we have not seen.  All three of us were sitting in Lend me a Tenor by the eveing, Wyona set up with her drinks, her candies to kee her awake and an empty chair on the left side of her to accommodate her left arm. 
The show made me laugh until I cried.

Then tears spilled down my cheeks for a different reason -- over the sentiment of the show's message. 

Rebecca said the same thing happened to her. 

”Pure cheese,” she said, “but it feels so good.”  

The show was rich in stereotypes: the ingénue, the tempermental opera soprano and the fiery Italian wife on the one side and on the male side, the famous Italian tenor, the opera house manager and the yet-to-be-discovered singing sensation.  A comedy of manners – at one point three tenors are on stage, all pretending to be the same person.  The show satirically reference popular and high culture with the same intensity.  It was in the opera singer’s aria when she sings a bit of Butterfly, some of Die Walkerie, the soprano’s aria in the The Nightingale and  show stoppers in10 other operas that I was l
laughing so hard I was crying.  

How can so many operas make their way off the stage and into tunes we all know – either via elevator music or background tunes in cartoons?

Lend me a Tenor is still in its previews.

June 7, 2011

We tried to get day tickets to see Berlioz’s Faust but with standing room only and in a place where we couldn’t see the surtitles, we wasted our time in that line-up, though we did get one free performance out of it at the Collessium.  Wyona poked me when she heard a commotion at the box office and I listened in – a well-dressed Ruropean was complaining that he had been sold a ticket where he couldn’t see the stage – just what we had turned down.  He was wanting his money back.  Then he was demanding to see the manager.  “I am the manager,” said the clerk.  “I want a manager higher than you,” he shouted when he was told that the Collesium can’t honour ticket sales purchased from any other venue. 

Then out marched the man I had seen in a suit, hanging out by the programme stall and about who I had said to Wyona – wow!  The programme man is well dressed.  He was now playing the role of the bouncer, and bodily shoved the man to the door and then pushed him out the door forcefully, with no thought about damaging the beautiful wood or the brass handles on the door.  The man was right back in the door, shouting at the top of his voice, demanding respect and satisfaction.  I was moving to get my back against the marble pillars, this being the closest thing I have ever seen to a bar fight.  The rest of the Brits in the opera line-up seemed to keep theirs eyes on the books they were holding as they stood in the line-up as if they couldn’t see anything. happening.  The first bouncer was joined by a second one who helped shove  the opera patron through the door – a more brutal push than the first exit he had been given.  The man in the expensive leather jacket ending up on the street again, walking down toward the Thames, shouting more loudly than ever and waving is fists in the air. 

“That bouncer has no respect for the beautiful door that opens into this theatre, shoving a person through them like that,” I said to Wyona.

“All I can say is that was a performance at the Collesium we didn’t have to pay for,” Wyona said as we wandered off to the Noel Coward Theatre to get tickets for the Million Dollar Quartet for this evening. 

You might have seen reviews about the Million Dollar Quartet, a story built around the night in 1956 when Sun Records brought Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis together and recorded their evening jam.  People were swaying to the music as they entered the theatre and singing the words of the old tunes to each other as they passed each other in the isles:  Blue Suede Shoes, I Walk the Line, Hound Doug, and Great Balls of Fire. 

This is the short form of our theatre review.  Wyona said Greg and she tried to get tickets to this show when they were in New York earlier this year and it was sold out.  She was glad to see it here and hopes to bring Greg when they come back in the fall.  I hope future shows are sold out in London as well.  A night of music to be remembered and so interesting to get an overview of the history of early rock and roll this way and seeing some riveting musical performances from the past brought to life again.

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Cancelling the EuroRail Pass

Wyona and I put aside our plans to get EuroRail Passes this fall, tempting as the adventure sounded.  Our common friends, Peter and Margaret Oldham, did the trip and updated Wyona on the planning that has to be done.  Even the seats on the train must be pre-booked. 

The two of us are spoiled from the freedom of the BritRail pass – no booking unless you desire a certain seat and the freedom to change travel plans on a whim. 

“How about letting me plan a Mediterranean cruise instead of going EuroRail,” said Wyona.  “Greg, Margaret, you and me. I think we can see the same places, and not have to carry our bags along with us, but leave them behind on the boat while we do day trips.”

So the next trip will be one that is planned for so far in advance that Wyona and Greg bought special luggage for it.  When they  passed through an outlet store in Texas that sold cruise luggage, they called me to say, “We are getting a large piece of this for the two of us, and think you would enjoy a single.”

That is the piece of luggage I was packing today.  It is getting a trial run before the Mediterranean trip. I might have cancelled both trips if I had known that I would be in a cold sweat before I got my clothes inside.  This bag has more compartments than I have categories of things to pack:  14 pockets, 22 zippers, 16 snaps, various plastic interlocking straps and a complicated locking system.

Good thing that I am counting this as a trial run with me so that I will be skilled with its use by the fall.  I had to get someone to come into the room and help me close the bag, and it didn't even weigh fifty pounds.

“Did you get everything ironed before you got it into the hanging garment bag,” she asked me this morning.

“Ironed?  Is that part of the deal?”