Tuesday, 21 March 2023

Visiting some old favourites this afternoon. I hadn't been to the Courtauld Gallery in ages, not since it reopened for sure. Today they had free admission if you showed a lottery ticket, so I bought one - haven't done that for ages either - maybe Manet will bring me luck.

Sunday, 19 March 2023

I'm a bit late to the bowl of dumplings - but I so loved this beautiful series about two best friends who set out to be maiko (apprentice geishas) in Kyoto; one has a natural aptitude, but the other - despite her sunny, cheery nature - is too clumsy ever to be an elegant geisha. But when her cooking skills are discovered, she becomes the cook for the maiko house ... what a delight, the marketing, the knife skills, the care lavished on even the simplest dish - and the close-ups of food, oh, you can almost smell the aromas wafting out of the screen! Not to mention the insight into modern geisha life, the elegant kimonos and make-up and dancing - and the sacrifices involved. Imagine having to be simultaneously a corps de ballet student and a novice nun, whilst living in a boarding school dorm, maintaining perfect hair and make-up plus cultivating a head for strong drink. Such a lovely gentle series. I do love a foodie movie - and this is up there with classics like Eat Drink Man Woman and Babette's Feast.

Sunday, 12 March 2023

It doesn't happen very often, but sometimes you read a book that is simply perfect. As indeed was Claire Keegan's more recent novella Small Things Like These. Last night she left me feeling awestruck that writing can be as good as this; she tears your heart out in a 'long short story' that I read in an hour. And then I watched the equally perfect Irish-language film adaptation - The Quiet Girl - which left me gulping a massive lump in my throat; it richly deserves the Oscar that I'm sure it will win tonight.

Wednesday, 8 March 2023

Finally made it to Leighton House which I've been meaning to visit since it re-opened last year. Wouldn't it be lovely to host a party in the Arab Hall - with mint tea and Moroccan nibbles - and if a clumsy guest lost their footing and landed in the fountain pool, well, apparently they wouldn't be the first. (I'm now compiling a guest list of friends/family most likely to fall in.) But they'd have to go home, wet shoes or not ... this must be the grandest one-bedroom-only residence in London. I loved the contrast between downstairs grandeur and Leighton's rather monkish bachelor bedroom with its narrow bed and (shudder) shop-bought wallpaper ... Perhaps he learned from the example of the neighbour who welcomed GF Watts for a three-day visit - that extended into a stay of 21 years. After much fantasising about myself wafting down the staircase in the gown from Flaming June (which would have looked fabulous on me, ooh, about 30 years ago when I still had Pre-Raphaelite hair), I took a walk along Melbury Road admiring the studio-houses of the Holland Park Circle, now owned by feuding neighbours. And I was very amused to discover a little village of garden gnomes (honestly, on the site of Scottish artist Colin Hunter's house - destroyed by bombing so it's now flats) with every amenity a gnome who can afford the W14 postcode could desire ... washing line and outside lav, greengrocer's shop and pigsties. I wonder what Lord Leighton would have thought!

Saturday, 4 March 2023

For the past few days I've been completely engrossed by Celia Paul's imaginary correspondence with Gwen John, after reading her memoir Self-Portrait a few weeks ago, far and away my best books of the year so far. Both had obsessive affairs with more powerful male artists, Rodin in John's case and Lucian Freud in Paul's. She met Freud when she was an 18-year-old art student, fresh out of boarding school, and he was 55 and her tutor - and I felt enraged on her behalf, longing to grab the dirty old bugger by the scruff of his neck and kick him down the 80 stairs that led to the spartan flat he bought for her opposite the British Museum. And also wondered why her deeply religious parents - her father was a bishop - were so passive and ineffectual ... her mother even encouraging her to get pregnant by Freud who had who knows how many children by various wives, lovers and muses already. Celia was in thrall to him until he died in 2011, long after the passion was spent, out of fear that he would take any resentment out on their son.
Gwen John, A Corner of the Artist's Room in Paris I was at the British Museum this week. The art exhibition I'd planned to see didn't really grab me - though coincidentally I came across an etching of Celia by Freud - and so I drifted off instead to the amazing Sutton Hoo treasure which I hadn't visited since seeing the film; well, probably not even since reading the book. But it's hard to love the BM and rise above the crowds and the noise and so after an hour or so I found myself out on Great Russell Street again. And there was Celia Paul's plane tree that she can see from her studio ...
And so I loitered on the pavement, gazing up at the mansion block that used to be a temperance hotel - 8s6d a night, with dinner - where Gwen John's lover, Rodin, once stayed, and wondered which curtainless window was the artist's studio ...
And thought what an ascetic, driven, lonely life she leads up there above the trees.

Monday, 27 February 2023

Guess that like Punxsutawney Phil, I saw my own shadow and returned to my hole - and reports that I'd emerged from hibernation were premature. I was so cross with myself on Friday evening for letting the day slip away that at 7pm I grabbed my coat and set out for the V&A and Donatello ... what an inspired idea and why don't I do this more often! There was hardly a soul there and I communed in peace with perky spiritelli and Madonnas holding properly wriggly babies.
Nearly 600 years old ... but so alive you could imagine him in Florence today, standing at the bar with his espresso or a glass of Chianti. After 40-odd years of living in London, I still sometimes feel awestruck at what I can access with my old-lady travel-pass within 30 mins of home.

Wednesday, 8 February 2023

I think I might be emerging from hibernation! It's amazing how a flicker of sunshine makes you feel livelier, not to mention daylight lasting until 5.30-ish ... well, I'm not a morning person and I hate that feeling of it not being worth setting out when it's only 2pm. Anyway, today I headed for a bit of colour and the Orchid Festival at Kew which, though you wouldn't think it from this image, is rather more restrained than in recent years ... a good thing, I think, because it can be a bit brash and (whisper it) vulgar. I'd far rather see orchids in their natural habitat than the splashy displays contrived from supermarket varieties from Holland. (Still plenty of these as apparently the public expects them.) But this year, taking inspiration from Cameroon, it looks a bit more natural - and the animal sculptures are still good fun. I loved the leopard and the crocodile. Last year I see that I combined my visit with the first chilly bench picnic of the year ... not today, thanks! far too much of a shock to the system stepping out from the Palm House. I nipped on the bus to Richmond for hot chocolate from here - and yes, I do find that menu deeply confusing but then I remember when coffee came in black and white.