Monday, August 18, 2014

Lunedi Lunacy

I don't normally find this sort of thing very funny but for some reason this had me chuckling yesterday afternoon.



And on a more subtle note:

David Sipress - The New Yorker - Conde Nast Publications

Something tells me I should be looking for bodies along the cliffs behind Parliament!

August 18 - 1612: The trials of the Pendle witches, one of England's most famous witch trials, begins at Lancaster Assizes.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Sidd Gets Some Culture - Ontario Style

It's been almost a year since we had the pleasure of Sidd's company on one of our travels.  The last time the Hounds from Hell were left to the gentle mercies of their Uncle Pervy Sidd was off gallivanting around the United States of America with another colleague from work.  At that point we had the pleasure of Juan's company for a jaunt through Germany and Austria.  He attended the opera, several impressive exhibitions and even had caffe and strudel mit schlagsahne at the Zwinger in Dresden.


Juan has an afternoon coffee with a rather taciturn but seemingly contented Matrone aus Dresden in the
square in front of the Zwinger.  Her strudel was - you should excuse the expression - smothered in schlag.

However now it's Sidd's turn to join us for a bit of culture - Ontario style as we head down to Stratford.  Sidd has travelled on trains in Europe but this will be his first adventure on Via Rail - going to have to see how it compares.

Sidd was a bit overwhelmed by everything that's on offer this season but decided that for
his first go at Ontario Culture he'd try Shakespeare, Brecht, Gershwin and Farqhaur.
And though he's been to the theatre in London, Salzburg and several other places he's never seen anything by that Shakespeare guy.  And apparently this Stratford Shakespeare Festival has been going on for a while and has a reputation for doing the guy's stuff up pretty good.  And Sidd's heard there's a chance he'll be able to try some fancy stepping and learn a number from Crazy For You at one of the extra events.  Plus he'll get to meet Spo and Harper's Other Daddy and have some good food and wine.  Now if that ain't culture I don't know what is.

August 17 - 1959: Kind of Blue by Miles Davis, the much acclaimed and highly influential best selling jazz recording of all time, is released.


Thursday, August 14, 2014

How Much Is That Half Doggie.....

... in the Museum Shop.

You may recall that earlier in the week I posted some wonderfully lunatic furniture by French designer Hubert Le Gall and asked if anyone could identify the decorative purpose.  Well a rollover the picture  below will give you a view of its role in the interior scheme of things.




And this little half-doggie accent lamp can be yours for only $700.00 - Canadian of course and plus tax ... cause its a luxury product you know!

August 14 - 1040:  King Duncan I is killed in battle against his first cousin and rival Macbeth. The latter succeeds him as King of Scotland.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Mercoledi Musicale

I mentioned yesterday that a story from Washington Irving's The Tales of the Alhambra was the source of a poem by Alexander Pushkin that gave rise to an opera by Rimsky-Korsekov.  Written in 1834 The Tale of the Golden Cockerel was the last of Pushkin's six fairy tales in verse.

Under the reactionary rule of Nicholas I, intellectuals such as Pushkin were subject to close surveillance and strong censorship.  The poet was angry and frustrated but like many others turned his outrage into his work with a particularly pointed satirical look at a bellicose Tzar who has fallen in to indolent old age - getting rid of his wise counselors and listening to the call of a golden cockerel to warn him of danger. The countries he has once waged war on are now looking of their revenge as they see the once mighty power reduced to feasting and sleeping.

Out of the devastation of the battlefield - in their ineptitude his two sons have killed each other in a fight against the foreign forces -  the enchanting Queen of Shemakha appears (right: Natalia Goncharov's design for the Queen in the Diaghilev production in 1914) .  She totally bewitches the King who leads her back to his Kingdom and proposes to make her his Queen.  However the Astrologer who presented him with the magical Cockerel demands the payment he was promised with disastrous results.

Rimsky-Korsakov saw a similarity between the story of Tsar Dodon, Tsar Nicholas II, the Russo-Japanese War and the events of Bloody Sunday.  Though he had considered The Legend of the Invisible City of Kitezh (1905) to be his last opera he decided that Pushkin's story would allow him to compose " a razor-sharp satire of the autocracy, of Russian imperialism, and of the Russo-Japanese war."  Needless to say when Zolotoy petushok (The Golden Cockerel) was completed in 1907 the  work was banned by the Palace censors.  It was premiered posthumously in 1909 - one year after the composer's death.

As the mist clears over the battlefield where Tsar Dodon has been mourning the death of his sons a tent is revealed.  As the sun rises the tent opens and the mysterious and beautiful Queen of Shemakha emerges and greets the rising sun.


The Hymn to the Sun is a concert favourite of many a coloratura soprano and has been recorded by many Russian sopranos, Amelita Galli-Curci, Beverly Sills, Mattiwilda Dobbs, Lily Pons and here the South Korean soprano Sumi Jo.  This was recorded during a live performance in Toulouse in 2003.  It's quite easy to see how the old Tsar could become besotted with a voice like this.

Though it is not produced all that often these days there have been some notable revivals and my good friend David saw and reviewed a production in London last month.  It was part of a Diaghilev festival and was a reconstruction of his 1914 production that combined dancers on stage and singers in evening dress at the side.

An illustration by Arthur J. Dixon from "The Arabian Astrologer" for an early 20th century edition of Tales of the Alhambra.

In Irving's Tale of the Arabian Astrologer Aben Habuz, the King of Granada, isn't pecked to death by the Astrologer's talisman but his old age is made miserable by the loss of the beautiful Princess, the forays of the surrounding nations into his Kingdom and the disappearance of the Palace of Delights he had been promised by Ibrahim Ebn Abu Ayub.  But the magical gate that was intended to led to this earthly paradise was eventually to become the Gate of Justice of the Alhambra.  And beyond it was built Al-Ḥamrā, a palace that "in some measure realizes the fabled delights of the promised Garden of Irem."

August 13 - 1792: King Louis XVI of France is formally arrested by the National Tribunal, and declared an enemy of the people.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Guide from the Past


This little volume was created in 1240 to serve
as a travel guide for Frederick II on his visit to 
the area around Napoli. It extols the virtues of
the soothing thermal waters of the region.
There is nothing more helpful when planning a trip than a travel guide – and there have been travel guides around since Eve and Adam departed the Garden of Eden. I recall on a visit to the Augustinian Library being shown a 13th century manuscript extolling the virtues of the waters of Pozzuoli near Napoli created for a royal visitor  complete with illustrations. Of course there were no end to the travel guides written for the gilded youth of the Renaissance and Enlightenment as they did the Grand Tour. And American writers of the 19th and early 20th century flooded the bookshops with tales of innocents abroad. And in our own day we’ve seen entire stores devoted to travel guides – Baedeker, Michelin, Lonely Planet etc. – and websites and Apps by the thousands – Trip Adviser et al.

The big decision is always which ones do you use when planning your trip? Which are the most dependable and up-to-date? Which can be used to help plan a trip filled with good wine, great food and incredible sights. And which are simply puff pieces put out by a local tourist authority or even worse an “enterprising” entrepreneur whose research on their subject has been restricted to cut and paste from Wikipedia.

Washington Irving and his Literary Friends at Sunnyside by Thomas Oldham Barlow, 1864
From left to right: Henry T. Tuckerman,  Oliver Wendell Holmes , William Gilmore Simms, Fitz-Greene Halleck, Nathaniel Hawthorne , Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Nathaniel Parker Willis, William H. Prescott, Washington Irving, James Kirke Paulding , Ralph Waldo Emerson, William Cullen Bryant, John Pendleton Kennedy, James Fenimore Cooper, and George Bancroft.
Operating on the theory that thus far they haven’t been far off track I tend to use Booking.com for hotels, Trip Advisor and Lonely Planet for restaurants and Wikipedia as a good general guide to a city/region. However on occasion I wander off to some obscure corner of the virtual or digital bookshelf and to find a livelier, if slightly dated, read on a place of interest.


In the early spring of 1829 Washington Irving, who was living in Madrid at the time, decided to make the arduous trek to Granada along with a friend from the Russian Embassy. After several weeks his friend was recalled to Madrid however Irving stayed on and managed to arrange a billet at the semi-derelict Alhambra until he to was required to leave in late July to fill his appointment as Secretary to the American Legation in London.  His Tales of the Alhambra was published, unusually for the time, simultaneously in England and the US in 1832. That first edition was to contain his colourful – and perhaps in some cases apocryphal (after all this was the man who had us all convinced that in the Middle-Ages people believed the earth was flat) – journey to and stay in Granada. He included a few of the exotic folk stories he had heard from his fellow lodgers at the former Great Red Fortress. He was to expand on these in a later edition (1835) and, as only he could, recounted tales that are a heady – and delightful - mixture of Arabian Nights, Spanish superstition and Andalusian story telling.  One of those tales was to be adapted by Pushkin and surfaced as Rimsky-Korsakov's opera Zolotoy petushok (The Golden Cockerel).

Unlike Irving we had need neither of the boastful Sancho with his blunderbuss to protect us nor of overnight stops as guests in small towns: the comfortable and efficient Renfe service took us on the same route in three hours.  Though it would have been a bit more romantic to have been entertained by the local Alicade and curious townsfolk.



Even the landscape has changed in the two hundred years since Irving made his journey.  Modern irrigation systems have turned what was once barren and treacherous scrub into olive groves almost to the Sierra Nevadas. 
Much has changed since Irving’s journey but much has remained the same. He describes the barren, rocky – and dangerous - road through to the Sierra Madres and the surrounding bleakly beautiful landscape. Though the road (or at least train ride) is less dangerous and the hill and mountainsides are now planted with endless olive groves there are still patches that are barren and bleak. Much of that bleakness and barrenness comes from the industrial sites on the edge of towns where concrete and rusting steel skeletons have replaced hard packed earth and leafless trees silhouetted against the burning sun.

Perhaps Irving would have recognized the names of the five intersecting Calles but I'm sure he
would have been astounded by the buildings and the confusing traffic lights. 

On the winding road up to the Alhambra a  local artist has left their mark.

The entrance to the Capilla Real de Granada - the burial place of that
"Servant of God" Isabella the Catholic and her slightly less Catholic
husband Ferdinand. It is a marvel of Spanish-Moorish ecclesiastical
design with a truly magnificent central grill.

Above the Capilla entrance the decorations on the Cathedral show the strong Moorish influence
of the previous rulers of Granada which are apparent throughout the core of Granada.

The entrance to an old and semi-derelict building on a side street
with a gloriously carved Moorish ceiling speaks of the city's past.


 And other than recognizing the Great Cathedral, some of the monasteries and the honeycomb of Calles and Tendrilles in Centro he would have some difficulty finding his way around modern Granada. Broad avenues – with a confusing system of traffic lights that even Irving’s brave muleteer Sancho would have found daunting – are lined with buildings in the grand Spanish style of the 19th-20th century. The narrow roadway up to the Alhambra allows for the passage of one car – right of way controlled by a system of lights – but still allows glimpses of the city spread out below. Some of that spread being the urban sprawl typical to, and identical to, any modern city. What Irving would recognize is the crowds of people on the main streets and down the winding Calles, eating, drinking, battering, selling, buying and socializing the way they did long before he arrived in this little corner of Andalusia.

As dusk falls over the Sierra Nevadas the Alhambra glows like the jewel it is.  A truly glorious sight.

Once at his old residence I have a feeling he’d be, if not lost, then certainly astounded. What was a dusty – howbeit to his eyes romantic – pile of ruins and decaying fortifications, untended gardens and rutted passageways and terraces has been restored to much of its former glory. The remarkable 12th century water system – partially restored by the departing French troops in 1812 and remarked on by Irving - now refreshes and cools all the tile and marble courtyards. Once again it irrigates roses, vines, orchards, sentinel stands of cypress and sculptured rows of myrtle and brings the music of cascading water into fantasy festooned galleries. Much of the splendour he had heard spoken of in the legends told around the table of the aged Dona Antonia and saw crumbling evidence of during his residence has been lovingly and carefully restored. And the work is on going: an eight-year plan to restore the rows of trained myrtle trees in the Generalife is at its halfway point.


One of several of the rooms that Washington Irving lived in during his stay at the Alhambra - a residence he shared with a wonderful cast of eccentrics and local characters.  The fantastical stories they wove over the evening meal and by the fireside are an enchanting mixture of Arabian Nights, Andalusian folklore and religious superstition.

One small suite of rooms has remained largely unchanged since Irving’s departure in late July of 1829. The rooms he occupied in the Nasrid Palace and where he was tended to by little dark-eyed Dolores, the stuttering Pepe and the faithful Matteo – a true son of the Alhambra - are as Spartan as he first found them. Nothing remains of the furnishings – even at the time they were only odds and ends from other rooms – but there is a simple plaque that tells us he stayed and wrote in these rooms. There is even the suggestion that his writings may have been the catalyst that began renewed interest in the once forgotten fortress.











Neither my words nor, unfortunately, my camera could capture the thousands of details that make up the glories of the Nasrid Palace.  The artisans who created the stone, wood and inlay; the architects who meticulously planed the graceful arches, open spaces and cooling waterways; the gardeners who nurtured the groves and floral beds are all anonymous but their work creates a harmony that speaks of a culture advanced far beyond the one that replaced it.
I had the highly romantic notion that it might be possible to follow his path when exploring the palaces, gardens and fortresses that make up the complex: discovering them as he discovered them. However a nighttime visit to the Nasrid Palace meant being restricted to certain areas only; though wandering through the illuminated rooms and gardens did conjure up the magic of the tales he tells. The crowds on a Saturday were even more restrictive and plans to go beyond the Portal of Wine and into the old Fortress had to be abandoned. Plans for another visit perhaps?


Two things that Irving would find unchanged in Granada:  the good earthy taste of salmorejo.  No doubt this simple soup of tomato, garlic and olive oil was a staple in the kitchen of Dona Antonia.  And.....
....  the welcoming charm of a lovely Granaina!  Carolina and her family at La Parrala provide
a warm and friendly atmosphere and homemade dishes paired with great local wines.
Irving is a writer who appears to have fallen out of favour in our time; one critic has referred to his writing as “all style with no substance” – as if style were a fault. For the first time I’ve read beyond The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle and find his style elegant and sophisticated and there is more than enough substance in his prose. Descriptive narrative, history, personal anecdotes, food critiques (perhaps a little out of date where price, location and fare are concerned) and fables mix to paint a picture of one of the treasures of our Western heritage. All delightfully written from a very personal perspective. What more could you ask for from a travel guide?
August 12 - 1676: Praying Indian John Alderman shoots and kills Metacomet, the Wampanoag war chief, ending King Philip's War.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Lunedi Lunacy

With the Fabulous Fabergé, Jeweller to the Czars exhibition le Musée de Beaux-Arts de Montréal has another winner on it's hands. Coming on the heels of the Chihuly last summer and the  Splendore a Venezia this past winter they've come up three for three for intriguing subjects and inspired display designs.

Designs by Hubert Le Gall for the Fabergé exhibition at le Musée des Beaux-Arts de Montréal. 
A subtle progression from Tzarist mysticism to mortality as traced in the work of Carl Fabergé.

The installation for the Fabergé is the work of French designer and sculptor Hubert Le Gall.  His design is a subtle progression from liturgical mystery to rooms reflecting the glint of Imperial jewels to an unsettling sense of the coming fall of the Romanov dynasty.  It's a brilliant piece of work by a master artist.

Le Gall is known for his decor for a series of high profile exhibitions and for his unusual furniture designs.  And it seems only fitting that the Museum Shop include a few of his inspired - and dare I say marevelously lunatic - pieces amongst the fake Fabergé eggs that will be adorning the homes of many a Montreal matron in the coming months.

I'd be delighted to have these two rather antic rabbits pulled out of a hat at my dinner table.

And I'd be tempted to play Jonah to this whale of a chair.


With a knick-knack, paddy whack,
Give a dog a bone;

Or in Le Gall's case a bass lamp?



And finally a little quiz.

Would anyone like to guess what this is?  Yes I knew it's a doggie butt but I mean what useful purpose would it serve in your home decor!


Answer will appear later this week but meanwhile take a guess in the comments.

August 11 - 1942: Actress Hedy Lamarr and composer George Antheil receive a patent for a Frequency-hopping spread spectrum communication system that later became the basis for modern technologies in wireless telephones and Wi-Fi.