Saturday, 25 February 2017

Mary Magdalen repentant and Just Kids

Cagnacci's Mary Magdalen repentant currently on show at the National Gallery (on loan from California).
Love the jewels and fabulous blue dress cast aside. Also the clear weight of her hip against the floor.

A few rooms away, Veronese's painting of the same subject has an Easter pastel colour palette (as noted before....)
Robert Mapplethorpe bought Patti Smith a white dress for Easter (Just Kids) after Martin Luther King was gunned down.
'Robert had bought me a white dress for Easter, but he gave it to  me on Palm Sunday to assuage my sadness. It was a tattered Victorian tea dress of handkerchief linen. I adored it and wore it in our apartment, a fragile armour against the ominous portents of 1968.'

Tuesday, 21 February 2017

Spotted en route to Jackie

Spotted en route to the cinema to see Jackie last night - sheepskins that look just perfect.
Wouldn't have caught my attention at all if I hadn't been to Helsinki (in January) - and got really interested in interiors in a snowy landscape.
Travel that opens the mind.

Monday, 20 February 2017

Pilgrimage in Wales: St Dyfnog's Church

One thing I brought back from St Dygnog's Church, Llanrhaeadr (as well  - of course! - as photos on my phone) is the Church guidebook 'A Little Help for Visitors' by a former clergyman at the Church,  Rev. Hywel Davies who was a scholar, graduate of St David's College, Lampeter and Oxford - as well as an outstanding athelete capped for Oxford and Wales for Association Football.

This booklet has sold at least 15,000 copies since its first publication in 1972 and I'm not surprised - it has such an elegant turn of phrase.

The church too is stunning (Jesse window and barrel ceiling) and am lucky enough to arrive at the end of the Sunday morning service.

I sit down for a second or two and the churchwarden asks me if I'd like to join them for coffee. Pale turquoise china mugs with a rose.

Talk to the vicar (without realising it) for some minutes and a delightful woman called Marion who helps me with the (incredibly difficult Welsh names). 'Where have you been?' Impossible to say - have to spell the words.

She is handsome, in her 80s, I would say, with beautiful eyes and so welcoming - as is the vicar, the second woman priest in two days who has gone out of her way to talk and explain.

'Have you come to see our Jesse window?"

 Marion says thank you so much to the vicar as she leaves and then behind us the organ starts to play and a group sings.

'It's the choir," says the vicar. "Marion lost her husband on Tuesday and they are practising a hymn for his funeral."

On Tuesday? She is so robust and brave.

"Well, he was 95 and he had been ill,. She was his second wife, they married seven years ago and he always said the greatest joy of his life was Marion.'

Such a love story!  Blink back the tears.

"He was a splendid man, there's lots for me to wax lyrical about,''" says the vicar.

The holy well outside is reached by a winding path up through woods and arched stone bridges behind the church.

The well itself is lined and paved and has steps down into it - the relics of 18th century building work when pilgrims flocked here to bathe and the place was busy.

Rev Davies' church guidebook quotes a visitor in 1773:
' "This fountain is enclosed in  an angular well, decorated with small human figures and before it is the well for the use of the pious bathers."
'There is little left of all that now, but the water rungs strongly and sweetly yet, and the bath is still there.'

Pilgrimage in Wales: Pennant Melangell

A visit to the church of Pennant Melangell in north Wales - inspired by the writer of Notes from A Common-place Book. 

The church is at the end of a remote valley: there is a path (marked discreetly with pilgrim's signs) halfway along the road from Llangygog leading up across the fields then down to the church. Such a different experience to walk - and arrive by foot.

Drifts of snowdrops everywhere.  The yew trees are 2,000 years old.  As old as the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane.

This is a thin place - reminds me a bit of St Levan in Cornwall. So quite and still. Though people were there when we arrived which meant that was harder to appreciate. Perhaps better when visiting a small place to wait until you can enter the space alone.

The much reconstructed church is full of architectural wonder and details that fill the pages of The Buildings of Wales - pp232-34.
But most striking is the peace that surrounds it decide to read the guidebook later.

Our fellow visitors are very friendly.  'We've got a visitor from Tanzania...a  Bishop.' The splendid lady leading the way told me that the legend of St Monacella and the hare was probably apocryphal. There are no ancient carvings of hares in the church for example. But the Saint did for sure start a small religious community in the valley in the 7th century (the age of the Celtic Saints in Cornwall.) Made me think of St Crewenna and the very little that is known about her life. Her - we don't even know that Crewenna was a woman.

Equally friendly is the vicar who looks after the Pilgrimage Centre by a cottage nearby. Founded with the help of a donation from Prince Charles (that's really a way his money has made a difference).

She has cake and blue and white china mugs ready for her visitors and offers us glasses of water before we climb up the hill - or is this a small mountain? - behind.  It's a good thing to do. There's a mental challenge - as well as a physical challenge behind a climb.

At home spring has truly come to the kitchen. The plum blossom is at its peak. Branches like this have only one or two days of glory - it seems to me - forcing the blossom also has the effect of forcing the leaves. The first leaves on these branches are just starting to open.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

A glimpse of past family holidays...

Loved this hotel in a town close to Snowdonia whose name I didn't note.... so old fashioned with a wonderful deserted lounge and TV room - not used, of course, as rooms like these belong to holidays of 50 years ago (at least). We hardly went on holidays when I was growing up in the 60s as my father couldn't get away from the farm. But when we did they were often to hotels like this (in Winchester or Torquay) -  where people watched TV together in the evenings.
This Welsh hotel is 'under new ownership' - so they will be swept away, I'm sure now (if no one uses them, fair enough I guess.). But it was such a jolt to remember childhood holidays.
(I hope that the splendid dressers built to fit the space will stay).

Friday, 17 February 2017

Something to read and a lamp for a traveller

Patti Smith in M Train discovers (on a flight home from LA) that everything has been left at the hotel. She boards the plane with passport, pen, toothbrush, toothpaste and a Moleskine. She idly passes some time circling places she'd been on a map of Europe and Scandinavia, then looks at the four Polaroid photos stored in the back pocket of the Moleskine. One is of Sylvia Plath's gravestone in Yorkshire: she then starts to write about Sylvia Plath.

'I wrote to give myself something to read.'

As soon as I saw this light in my doctor's surgery ('I have patients from all over the world and we...') I had to buy one. The British Isles are suspiciously big - bigger than France. But it's the romance of it that counts.

A commentator on Radio 3 last night said there were no tunes in Beethoven (no beautiful melodies as in Schubert): just motifs that built into tunes.

In the meantime, the branches of plum tree rescued on Monday are even more glorious.  A thought: whoever could have decided to cut down a plum tree on the point of blossom?  Another thought (prompted by Patti Smith); Sylvia Plath is buried so far from home? Heptonstall is beautiful but bleak.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

The things I touched were living

A spectacular sunset last night in Shepherd's Bush.
< A bit like the colours of a linen chest painted by Duncan Grant spotted earlier at 2, Temple Place (exhibition on artists in Sussex between the Wars. Grant was a Conscientious Objector. The chest now at Charleston House - I think).

"When my children were young.... I rarely left the perimeter of our home. I said my prayers in the night by the canal draped by ancient longhaired willows. The things I touched were living. My husband's fingers, a dandelion, a skinned knee. I didn't seek to frame these moments. They passed without souvenir. But now I cross the sea with the sole aim to possess within a single image the straw hat of Robert Graves, typewriter of Hesse, spectacles of Beckett, sickbed of Keats. What I have lost and cannot find I remember. What I cannot see I attempt to call.  Working on a string of impulses." bordering illumination."
Patti Smith/M Train

Wednesday, 15 February 2017

All I needed for the heart

Some progress towards spring in my kitchen.

And wonderful tulips in the Fashion Textile Museum (Josef Frank exhibition).

Back to M Train: love the moment when Patti Smith lays out polaroid photos as if they were a Tarot pack - and able to convey some meaning. Perhaps they were.

Part of the rituals of travel: she pulls out a Tarot card before each journey.

'I was glad to be going somewhere else. All I needed for the mind was to be led to new station. All I needed for the heart was to visit a place of greater storms. I overturned a card from my tarot deck, and then another, as casually as turning over a leaf. Find the truth of your situation. Set out boldly.'

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Living outside time

"I travelled home backwards through Los Angeles, stopping for a few days at Venice Beach, which is close to the airport. I sat on the rocks and stared at the sea, listening to crisscrossing music, discordant reggae with its revolutionary sense of harmonics drifting from various boom boxes. I ate fish tacos and drank coffee at  the Cafe Collage, a block west from the Venice boardwalk. I never bother to change my clothes. I rolled up my pant legs and walked in the water. It was cold but the salt felt good on my skin. I couldn't bring myself to open my suitcase or computer. I lived out of a black cotton sack. I slept to the sound of the waves and spent a lot of time reading discarded newspapers."
Patti Smith (M Train) on returning from Japan.
Closest I've ever come to this is going to bed with my clothes on.

More signs of spring: tiny alpine cyclamen at Wisley.  They look hopeful. The anticipation of spring is almost as exciting as spring itself.

Monday, 13 February 2017

Grasping the moment

Still engrossed in Patti Smith (M Train) - so good that I only read a chapter at a time as I don't want it to end.

Cafes, coffee create mental space for her  - sometimes she doesn't want to let go of the place she's found.
'When I finished the coffee I couldn't part with the empty container. It occurred to me I could preserve the history of 'Ino, the lost boardwalk, and whatever came to  mind in microscript upon the Styrofoam cup, like an engraver etching the Twenty-third Psalm on the head of a pin."
On the way home from my run spot some branches from a tree on St Peter's Square about to be chewed up by a wood cutting machine. Perhaps something will come of them - blossom? The tree cutter told me they'd come from a plum tree. A brilliantly sunny winter's day without a cloud in the sky.

M Train is increasingly about loss - Smith misses her late husband Fred. En route to Japan she begins to weep.

"Just come back, I was thinking. You've been gone long enough. Just come back. I will stop travelling; I will wash your clothes.  Mercifully I fell asleeep, and when I awoke snow was falling
over Tokyo."

Travel to move away from grief.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Peggy Guggenheim and doing things well

This photo - simply because Peggy Guggenheim looks so fantastic. So immaculate, such wild style, and so self possessed. Her own gondola, apparently. To add to a list of role models.
Photographer Tony Vaccaro:“A very smart woman. She was powerful ’cause she was rich. She inherited a lot of millions. And she spent them well. Everything she did, she did well.”

Lists for journeys

Another list for journeys. From Patti Smith (M Train) as she gets ready to visit Frieda Kahlo's house in Mexico.

'I packed swiftly.... Everything on my list: passport black jacket dungarees underwear 4 tee shirts 6 pairs of bee socks Polaroid film packs Land 250 Camera black watch cap tin of arnica graph paper Moleskine Ethiopian cross. I took my tarot deck out of its worn chamois pouch and drew a card, a little habit before traveling. It was the card of destiny. I sat and sleepily stared at the great revolving wheel. Okay, I thought, that will do."

More lists in Joan Didion and - a thousand years earlier - The Pillow Book.

And on the top of her suitcase she throws The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Mirokami  which I've never heard of before (but just bought on Kindle).

One very striking thing about Patti Smith - she NEVER mentions her phone. Real liberation.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Time passing

A cold grey morning and my watch mysteriously lost an hour in the night. A false hope of spring! Thought for a moment when I woke at what I thought was six that the mornings had already started to grow light....

Daffodils from M&S bought yesterday, the stems already perfectly dry and healed over. Picked in Cornwall how many days ago? Just opened overnight.

Defying time: Alessandra Ferri in Woolf Works this week so fabulous. She said Virginia Woolf at 59 thought in her mind of herself as a teenager - and so she too, in her 50s, thought of herself as a teenager. But something so poignant about her in this. The opening act based on Mrs Dalloway about death, of course.

Patti Smith (M Train) talks about her 66th birthday. "As always, I quietly thanked my parents for my life, then went down to feed the cats."

Her mother, who sent an early birthday gift in the winter of 1993 (a copy of a favourite book from her childhood) - remembered vividly earlier in the book:

'It was to be a difficult winter. Fred was ill and I was plagued with a vague sense of trepidation. I woke up and it was 4am. Everyone was sleeping. I tiptoed down the stairs and unwrapped the package. It was a bright 1909 edition of The Little Lame Prince.  She had written we don't need words on the title page in her then-shaky hand.'

At the end of her birthday she sits on the stoop looking at her dungarees straining across her knees.

Patti Smith - Willows, St Clair Shores
"I'm still the same person I thought, with all  my flaws intact, same old bony knees, thanks be to God. Shivering, I got up; time to turn in. The phone was ringing, a birthday wish from an old friend reaching from far away. As I said good-bye I realised I missed that particular version of me, the one who was feverish, impious. She has flown, that's for sure. Before retiring I drew a card but left it face up on my worktable so I would see it in the morning when I woke."
She takes cards as a ritual from her Tarot Pack before journeys.

Throughout there's a slightly melancholy and a sense of loss in her life - left by her late husband, Fred, whose old flannel shirts lie in her bedroom ' washed into weightlessness'  - someone who she  perfectly existed with - 'silent synchronisation'.

'For a time we considered buying an abandoned lighthouse or a shrimp trawler.'

Thursday, 9 February 2017

My Morocco

A light in the church by Fuller's Brewery is on at 815am promising Morning Prayer - but no  - only builders, renovating I guess. A sign on the door says that the church is closed for building work.

There is though a new cafe just opened on Chiswick Mall, empty at this time but looking inviting.

Patti Smith (M Train) creates cafes even when there are none. They're a space for thought  - where the mind can travel. Not so easy for this to happen in a home office.
"We lived in an old stone country house on a canal that emptied in Lake Saint Clair. There were no cafes within walking distance. My one respite was the coffee machine at 7-Eleven. On Saturday morning I would rise early and walk a quarter mile to 7-Eleven and get a large black coffee and a glazed donut. They I would stop at the lot behind the fish-and-tackle store, a simple, whitewashed cement outpost. To me, it looked like Tangier, though I had never  been there. I sat on the ground in the corner surrounded by low white walls, shelving real time, free to rove the smooth bridge connecting past and present. My Morocco."

Love the idea of 'shelving real time'. Real escape.

Reading and watching

  • Foot by Foot to Santiago de Compostela/Judy Foot
  • The Testament of Mary with Fiona Shaw at the Barbican
  • The Testament of Mary/Colm Toibin
  • Schwanengesang/Schubert - Tony Spence
  • Journals/Robert Falcon Scott
  • Fugitive Pieces/Ann Michaels
  • Unless/Carol Shields
  • Faust/Royal Opera House
  • The Art of Travel/Alain de Botton
  • Mad Men Series 6
  • A Week at The Airport/Alain de Botton
  • The Railway Man/Eric Lomax
  • Bright Lights, Big City/Jay McInerney
  • Stones of Venice/John Ruskin
  • The Sea, the Sea/Iris Murdoch
  • Childe Harold/Lord Byron
  • All The Pretty Horses/Cormac McCarthy
  • Extreme Rambling/Mark Thomas
  • Story of my Life/Jay McInerney
  • Venice Observed/Mary McCarthy