1. London by light

Czech Republic and Austria, 9 July 2011

[These notes are copied from the July update at the end of Biography, long version]

My Great Adventure to the Czech Republic and Austria started early Saturday morning, 9 July 2011, when Molly Radecki met me at the Prague airport and, with Petra, as driver, we three sped south through hours and hours of beautiful Czech countryside.


We finally crossed the border into Austria, now a simple unmanned control point, and within a short time found ourselves in the hidden beauty of Primmersdorf, where Jonathon Roberts and Vesna Elfriede Michi preside over a most special environment. There’s an inner courtyard with a studio for Vesna’s Haut Couture designs and a clock tower and various houses, but the real accent is the Schüttkasten. I’m placing in here a photo taken from a Wiki entry. Consequently it is very small. The snow somehow accentuates its baroque lines. And my summer-time photo shows the entrance. It was built in 1706 and the architect is Jacob Prandtauer. He is famous for the Benedictine – Melk Abbey. And so the Schüttkasten is original baroque.

Inside, the feeling of the building hits straight to the heart, partly design, partly warmth of spirit. The bar lounge area is where I met Jon. He enfolded me in a friendly hug and offered me a drink from the bar. He warned me in his charming way that, as it happened, there weren’t going to be many people at the vernissage that night, but that it was going to be a very good party. And he was absolutely right.

It was a wonderful party. Good wine, good entertainment, good food. And above all fascinating people. At Vesna’s atelier there was one especially striking couple. Erika Ebner, dressed in red with red flower petals attached by honey to her forehead. She is in the Haut Couture business. Her partner, Pekka Janhunen, is an architect and lectures in Vienna at the University. But look at his outfit – green trim on his black jacket and – green shoes. Erika organised this apparently. My photograph shows him writing out his address for me. These two photos also show something of Vesna’s atelier.


When the opening party for this two-person show happened upstairs in the Schüttkasten I didn’t take any pictures because I was, well, focused on the party atmosphere.. But oh yes, a little before, I nabbed a picture of Ida von Szigethy as she was posing for a friend in front of one of her paintings. I like Ida. I hope we will keep in touch.

Here, by the way, is the exhibition information with its title in German:

Kunst der Frauen

Fantastishe Malerei

Ida von Szigethy und Judith Clute

 

In Partnerschaft mit “Centre for the Future” Slavonice.

Die Ausstellung ist vom 9. Juli bis zum 31. August 2011

 

And the contact details:

Schüttkasten Primmersdorf

2095 Drosendorf

tel: 02846 464

Mobile: 0650 8713727

schloss.primmersdorf@aon.at

www.schuettkastenprimmersdorf.at

Vesna had asked me to say some words. I thought about it beforehand. Although some of the people speak English very well, it of course was a German-speaking audience, so I made my speech very simple and short.

The photos here of our exhibition space were taken the following day with natural light. The salient feature is the beauty of the venue. Just look at its depth. And the thickness of the wall as shown by the window niches.



Then Alexander Stipsits – “Dearest Sascha” – will make a video of the hanging when he returns from Colorado, and it will go onto my site under Real Media. There is plenty of time, because the exhibition will last until the end of September.

Entertainment downstairs in the bar lounge area was quite extraordinary. I’ve included here two pictures of Taurinta, the Lithuanian jazz singer. One at rehearsal in the afternoon: the other performing in her bright green dress. Note that she holds a handset from a gaming module. This is her gizmo to click in certain electronic procedures. The keyboard player of the band, Gert Kapo, from Albania, is an avant garde composer. He combines various 21st century elements and, along with David Rival’s computerized remixing, transforms traditional Lithuanian folk music into something surprising and wonderful – a striking new jazz form, fresh and immediate.  Completing the combo is Palestinian bassist Ahmed Eid, in the background of the green dress picture.  More information on this band at Taurinta.info.


And so the festivities stretched beautifully into the deep night and then we were presented with a delicious buffet dinner. I wish we could live this way back home in London.

But the Schüttkasten ambience has its own special story. Several decades ago Jon and Vesna were able to buy this complex set of properties very cheaply. How? The answer has to do with iron curtain politics: all along the border were aggressive gun installations. Whatever inherent beauty there was in these historic buildings was negated by the bad atmosphere. Jon and Vesna had the foresight, however, to know that the buildings had great potential and that soon the politics of the time might change, and they could be transformed into something beautiful.

And here we are in 2011, and the world created by Jon and Vesna and their friends enfolds all newcomers. Theirs is a place I would want to return to. Certainly most of the guests, many of whom stayed over, are “Friends” of the Schüttkasten. They do return again and again.

 

Glyndebourne, 23 August 2011

Glyndebourne is a famous centre for opera in East Sussex. Every summer, hundreds of Londoners make their way to Glyndebourne from Victoria station. You can recognise them on the afternoon train bound for Lewes because they are beautifully dressed. There’s a man wearing a tuxedo and bow tie and he’s carrying a large Fortnum and Mason wicker box, and the woman with him is in an Antonio Berardi emerald green twist front gown. You know they are headed for Glyndebourne. The convention of wearing evening dress was established from the beginning by the founder, John Christie. He felt it was a way in which the audience could show respect for the performers.

When opera began in 1934 at Glyndebourne, the first troupe of critics arrived in a somewhat annoyed mood. They didn’t like the rule about evening dress and they resented the fact that they had to take a train 50 miles. But something happened at that first performance. The opera was Le nozze di Figaro and all the critics gave it rave reviews.

One reason was the high standard of production. The lead roles were not given to big name stars. Without considering reputations, Christie and his wife, Audrey Mildmay, selected the best singers from all over the world. And the performers had to be young and attractive, and they had to be able to act – the whole opera had to work as ensemble. That was, and still is, the key to the Glyndebourne way.

And there were other factors at work at that first performance. There was a long interval with time for a good dinner and then a stroll through the gardens. This is still part of Glyndebourne. In fact, the custom now is to come early with picnic gear, and establish one’s place in the garden, or under cover if the weather is threatening. I’m sure the champagne before and at the interval has something to do with the warm glow one feels at Glyndebourne.

The opera that we came to see on Tuesday, 23 August, was Benjamin Britten’s Turn of the Screw. And yes, we had consumed a bottle of champagne and had eaten some smoked salmon sandwiches before the start. But that just sharpened our delight. We, Sira and Julia and I, had seats second row from the front, right in the centre.

Young Thomas Parfitt (age 12) was wonderful as Miles. Likewise, Joanna Songi, as Flora. Miah Persson was perfect as the Governess and all the rest, excellent. The production achieved that “ensemble” mode of the early days.

The gardens were particularly beautiful as we strolled. The day was overcast but not raining. In the 1920′s, when John Christie had come to his inheritance here at Glyndebourne, he hired a new head gardener, Mr Harvey, who extended the flower gardens and created surprising combinations of formality and informality. He opened up new vistas. In the following pictures we see how those fine gardens, basically set in place in the 1920′s, are still imparting their magic, almost a century later.

 

 

Camden Town Disturbances, 9 August 2011

Last night I was working on an etching at my computer desk. John rang and told me that gangs had smashed in the entrance to the Electric Ballroom. The heavy curtains here were pulled, and of course my own music was playing, and I hadn’t noticed a thing about what was happening across the road. He was ringing from Maine, in the US. He had just found this news in the Guardian online. Indeed I looked outside and found the police had cordoned off the area. Even shut down the bars in Inverness Street. The police were like a little army getting ready for something nasty. About ten police cars at one time were parked in Inverness Street. Since they had closed the area to traffic their vehicles could come in either direction in this otherwise one way street.

view from garden

And so I pulled open the curtains facing the High Street and kept the place dark so I could stand and watch what was happening out there. For a while it was just police. Then I saw throngs of teenage boys, faces hidden by scarves, come up the street, raring for a fight. They looked frightening and they knew it, basking in the atmosphere of testosterone. But then, because they were still to their mind off stage – the action was ahead – you’d see an excited exchange and one would pull down his face cover and laugh and say something like, “We should go to Hatton Garden”. But they ran south along the street towards the junction outside Camden Town station. And the police were waiting for them.

I think the police procedures were excellent. They were confrontational in appropriate measure, standing across the road where they didn’t want the youths to go. So the kids rampaged into Inverness Street and they pulled one of the market barrows into our Camden High Street. And then the police chased the lads into Inverness Street and by this time the action was out of my viewing.

I don’t think I ever saw that same bunch again. I think the police sort of boxed them in at the other side of the junction. I could hear angry shouts and dogs barking. But further sorties of guys would come from the north. They came in small knots of expectation, mostly young. You could spot some however as more hardened nasties. The ones who come to life when there’s a good fight to be had.

And quite a bit later I saw two older guys coming down on their push bikes. They worried me. They looked especially tough. But one said to the other. “Don’t go down there, the police have got them caged. That’s what they’re trained to do now.” And they went away.

In due course you could feel the tension ease somewhat. People were now coming on their bikes to photograph from a safe distance. People would stand in front of our place and photograph whatever was to be seen at the junction.

So the evening passed without further incident for us in this little patch of Camden Town. And I think the police did an excellent job.

 

Holland Park, January 2011

We have much more than a beautiful London park here. It wasn’t always a “park”. If you look at London guide books published shortly after WW2 you won’t find any mention of Holland Park. That comes later. War damage to Holland House (built in 1608) was too sad. It was yet another symbol of loss. On the 28th of September 1940, the gorgeous Jacobean structure (designed originally by John Thorpe but variously modified throughout the centuries) had been badly hit during a ten hour bombing raid. Apparently it was a Molotov ”breadbasket” of incendiary bombs that fell all over the whole structure.

There is a well-known photograph of the library in ruins. It’s a posed photograph of course, but most effective. Here we have a part of it for the cover of Philip Zeigler’s London at War. The full photograph includes another person on the left and more damaged shelving on the right. (The photograph is in the Hulton Deutsch Collection.)

But firemen were able to save parts of the east wing. And the south facing gateway. That is where we were headed on a midwinter day shortly after the turn of the New Year, 2011. We were on a mission. We were looking for a particular coat of arms on the gateway. A Bauldry coat of arms. Bruce Bauldry, a friend in the USA (Lincolnville, Maine) has family papers connecting with the gateway and indeed the old house.

East Wing of Holland House

renovated part

Gate Way

a coat of arms

We, Liz Hand, Callie Hand, Tristan Grant and I, cameras to the ready, closed in on each decorative coat of arms. Perhaps there were some others hidden in a different part and I may go back on my own and search because, in the event, we weren’t able to find exactly what Bruce was hoping for.

And so here we were in this amazingly beautiful environment. We strolled. Remembering that it was midwinter, it was nevertheless enchanting. Look at my photo of the bare trees over the ice house. These trees combined almost invisibly with a photo I took of Callie walking through the colonnade – and so with a little photoshopping on my part you have my background page for this London by Available Light.

trees by the ice house

Colonnade, Callie

The colonnade can be seen in its full extent, stretching behind the Iris garden (which is looking rather derelict because it is winter after all) and so I snapped a family pic. Liz, on the left, Callie Hand standing, and Tristan Grant sitting. And there’s another showing the special qualities of that arcaded walk: Callie is in the distance looking at her cell phone.

The colonnade dates from 1840 when the 4th Baron Holland tore down a 17th century stables and built the Garden Ballroom (now the Belvedere Restaurant). The colonnade connected this new ballroom to the west part of the old house. And so began a shift of emphasis. Now that the house is destroyed we are centrally focused on the site of the old stables. Here’s the present address:

The Stable Yard

Holland Park

Ilchester Place

London

W8 6LU

The last owner of the place, the 6th Earl of Ilchester, sold the ruined house and its 22 hectares of landscaped park to the London County Council in 1952, opening up wonderful opportunities for exploration by scholars and visitors. The northern, naturalistic, parts of Holland Park were planned by the18th century garden designer, Charles Hamilton. Londoners love this stretch of greenery especially. I plan, another time, to set out with my camera and study more of the garden aspects of the whole of Holland Park.