24 March 2011

Out and about

One last London blog post before I follow Michael's welcome emailed instruction this morning to "start packing." We'll be leaving for Jakarta mid-April and need to get not only the flat but the house in France ready to abandon for a year. Thank heavens both properties are modest.

For future expeditions, I want to get down the details of the stained glass tour Sonia (a soft-spoken but formidably knowledgeable friend we met last year on our trip to Tunisia) took me on last Wednesday.

We weren't able to see the windows at the first of our three destinations. St Peter's, Vere Street, a short walk from Bond Street tube station, was locked up. The glass was grimy on the outside, so there was no chance of having any sense at all of the designs that Edward Burne-Jones made for Morris & Co.

Not from St Peter's, but an example of a Burne-Jones stained glass design. Very Pre-Raphaelite.

Ducking into House of Fraser to see the new Biba collection, we forgot our disappointment. It's expensive, and I've read that the founder of label, Barbara Hulanicki, is less than thrilled by the clothes on display. But the iconic logo is there, with the rock'n'roll vibe still present in the sleek black background and all the feathers and beading. I remember visiting the original store in the 1970s, not to buy anything, just to look. Which is exactly what we did this time.

Another photo stolen from web

Back to higher things. We wended our way to All Saints Church on Margaret Street to be overwhelmed by what Sonia calls a High Victorian approach to decorating every square inch that can be decorated. You can see for yourself what she means in the photos below. The architect, William Butterfield, supervised the stained glass as well as the structural elements to achieve this extravagant explosion of Victoriana.

Photo for Michael.

And one for Walter.

Wonderful though all this was, the absolute highpoint of the day for me was the John Piper window in the Sanderson Hotel on Berners Street. Designed by Piper for the Sanderson textile showroom and executed in glass by Patrick Reyntiens, this 1959 wall of vivid color would, I read, be gone if the hoteliers had their way. Instead, they've converted the space it dominates into a billiards room. Surely all this vibrant exuberance must seduce a few players into taking their eye off the ball.

First the hotel, sufficiently exclusive that its name doesn't appear on the outside: if you have to ask, I guess you don't belong here.
And now — prepare to be overwhelmed. I was.

A sentimental journey next, to the church where Sonia attended services as a young girl. Designed by John Nash (architect of Marble Arch, who also remodeled Buckingham House to create Buckingham Palace), All Souls, Langham Place, seems almost stark in comparison to the unapologetic rococo of All Saints, Margaret Street.

Glass BBC addition visible behind church in first photo.

Art Deco now, with the BBC's Broadcasting House.
The size of the genitalia in Eric Gill's statue of Prospero and Ariel caused offense and purportedly had to be reduced in size.

Fourth period of architecture on this crossroads: The Langham, opened in 1865 as London's first "Grand Hotel."
It has just had an £80 million facelift.

Only in London. In case you can't read this plaque, it reads:
Oscar Wilde and Arthur Conan Doyle dined here with the publisher of 'Lippincott's Magazine' on 30 August 1889, a meeting that led to 'The Sign of Four' and 'The Picture of Dorian Gray'

Culture fix over, we took off for a little shopping and a little food on Marylebone High Street. Returning my tour guide's efforts in a very modest way, I introduced Sonia to Daunt Books, our favorite London bookshop; we also nipped into The White Company, where she bought a pale dusty rose terrycloth hooded robe. Sonia is a quilter, her eye always attuned to patterns/fabrics/embellishments, so we made sure to hit V V Rouleaux to take a look at ribbons and The Button Queen for -- you guessed it.

We didn't even try to enter this shop near Berners Street, but we did admire the workmanship on display in its windows.

23 March 2011

The one that got away

The week after Cheri left I finally found myself at the Tate Modern exhibition we had never quite managed to squeeze in. It was good, too, so I'm sorry we didn't make it. But then we never got to go mudlarking either, or gaze at the river banks from the Tate-to-Tate boat on the Thames, or marvel at the Hunterian's curiosities, or revisit the British Library: or, or, or. Still, we're only sixty-plus. Lots more fun times ahead. As my friend Claudia just wrote, with regard to the Wellands' imminent move to Jakarta, "Your good fortune restores and strengthens my belief that there is always another adventure out there just waiting to be scooped up."

Jackie F. and I met at lunchtime, so we first had to decide on somewhere to eat. On my way to Tate Modern, I had passed a new pasta/pizza place, Vapiano, that was surprisingly full of customers given the cavernous size of the dining area I could see through the plate glass windows.

This would do, so off we went to experience a new way of ordering — German efficiency in action. It turns out this is a chain, founded in Germany, and now in the UK, US, Poland, India, Chile, Serbia, Oman, Australia . . . the list is long. It bills itself as a "very urban concept for young professionals." Just as well I didn't know that in advance or I might have been afraid to go in, in the same way that I'm reluctant to make an appointment at any hair salon that looks forbiddingly glamorous.

When entering the restaurant, every guest is given a chip card, on which everything you order is then recorded. Jackie and I opted for pasta, so we went to the pasta station, chose from a reasonably priced list, had our cards scanned, and watched as chefs simultaneously boiled the pasta and sautéed our sauce ingredients in handsome all-clad frying pans. Freshly prepared and very tasty. On the way out, we simply handed our cards to the cashier and paid up.

Having looked after our stomachs, we proceeded to provide a little sustenance for our brains. Like Susan Hiller, Gabriel Orozco is provocative, though in a less cerebral, more exuberant style. Which isn't to say this Mexican artist doesn't make the viewer think. We shook our heads over the shoebox sitting on the floor of the largest exhibit room (Marcel Duchamp? or the Emperor and his new clothes?), but loved the Peugeot with a central strip removed. And Orozco's skull is a lot more interesting that Damien Hirst's diamond-studded version.

Not in the Tate exhibition, but I really liked this reconstructed whale skeleton when I found it online.
Blown tire fragments collected in Mexico over several years.

I think I'll end with an artwork of my own. You'll remember, Cheri, that I don't drink coffee when I'm on my own. That's the only excuse I could possibly offer for not noticing until about two weeks after you left that the glass pot of our Krups coffeemaker needed to be emptied out. I hope everyone viewing this will keep these words of Duchamp in mind:

"The creative act is not performed by the artist alone; the spectator brings the work in contact with the external world by deciphering and interpreting its inner qualifications and thus adds his contribution to the creative act."