Thursday, October 08, 2015

Gallery, gallery, gallery, cuppa, gallery, walk, walk

I just walked in the door after a very long, full day and I have to be up and out early tomorrow, so this post will be brief. My day, distilled down to the essential info, included:
The Photographers' Gallery: Burden of Proof exhibition. Very interesting, often powerful, though the bit about the Shroud of Tourin could have been left out.
Got take-away lunch from a place in Newman Street called Caffix, where everything they have on offer costs 1 pound. Got quinoa salad and curried lentils and chickpeas -- yummy. Ate sitting on a sunny bench in Soho Square.
White Cube Gallery: exhibition of textile art, including quilts, embroidery, some carpets and a couple knitted pieces. A mixed bag.
Walked up The Mall, saw the tacky Queen Mum memorial and the grave of Giro the German dog.
National Portrait Gallery: Faces of Britain exhibition. Really well curated and well worth seeing.
Tea and catching up with Barbara. Lovely time, as always.
Wallace Collection: old masters, old furniture, old china, old armor. I liked the room with all the paintings of Venice.
Roamed around, got two samosas in the foodhall at Selfridges, walked through Grosvenor Square (ugly American edifice) and Mount Street Gardens (a beautiful, peaceful spot with benches, palm trees and birds) and up to Cavendish Square.
Guided walk: Sherlock Holmes in Marylebone with Jen as our guide. A very well-planned, interesting and amusing walk that kept us moving, pondering and deducing the entire time. 
Beer with Jen and Malcolm and a few others who came on the walk.
Bakerloo back to Queen's Park. Knackered. Good night.
2 pounds for lunch
2.90 for samosas
31,773 steps, 13.64 miles (I believe that's a personal best)

The Magnificent Seventh

It was a bit misty yesterday when I walked up to Queen's Park for the 10 a.m. mat class at the Pilates studio, but it had stopped by the time I finished class. I checked the weather report when I nipped back to the flat to change my clothes, and the forecast said rain would be ending by 11:45. I also checked Citymapper, which said that the earlier signal failure that was disrupting service on the Circle and Hammersmith & City lines was cleared. Both were wrong.
I waited nearly 15 minutes on the platform at Westbourne Park and took the first eastbound train that came along, unfortunately a Circle line train that got me only as far as Liverpool Street. But the walk from there to the Whitechapel Gallery wasn't really that much further than had I gotten the H & C to Aldgate East, and I ate my peanut butter and jelly sandwich along the way.
At the gallery, I looked at some of the Emily Jacir exhibition, entitled "Europa" -- I saw parts of the large section on the assassination in Rome of Palestinian writer Wael Zuaiter by Mossad agents in 1972, and  "stazione" (something she did for the 2009? Biennale in which she added Arabic lettering to the names of many of the vaporetto stops in Venice as a way of highlighting the connections between Venice and the Arab world -- the work wasn't completed because it was deemed too controversial or dangerous or something). I also saw part 1 (three more parts will come over the next year or so) of Arabic art from the collection of the Barjeel Art Foundation -- modern works (1900-1968) by artists from Egypt, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine. In the small children's gallery was a bittersweet exhibition called "The Name of Fear." A Brazilian artist had asked London school kids to tell her what they feared, and she made a series of capes of fabric and other materials, with lettering spelling out the fears such as "strangers," "the end of the world," "nightmares" and "biscuit crumbs."
When I left the gallery, the mist had returned, but I was still optimistic that it would pass. But it was my optimism that passed, for it was coming down steadily by the time I reached Brockley station and my walk to the gates of Nunhead Cemetery was a soggy one. There I met up with David and Janie, who for the second year have very generously accompanied me as I tick off another of the Magnificent Seven cemeteries. Nunhead sits on a hill, with a view of the tall buildings at the Elephant & Castle visible in the distance, framed by the trees and the cemetery gates. There's a lovely ruin of a funeral chapel (not quite as creepy as the one at Abney Park) and winding, tree-lined paths around the (mostly) Victorian gravesites. The gloomy day certainly made for an atmospheric stroll among the headstones. We found a couple of the noted memorials -- one to the nine boy scouts who were drowned in boating accident on their way to a camping trip in 1912, and the other a massive tomb in a Greek or Turkish style (David will know, as he recognized the shape) of someone named John Allan. So now, I've done all seven of the great Victorian cemeteries. It's taken me only ten years to do it!
Damp and in need of refreshment, we then headed for the Ivy House, a nearby pub that was saved from developers when locals had it declared a community asset and developed a share-based funding scheme in order to purchase it. I'd heard an episode of the Londonist Out Loud podcast about the pub, which was a popular music venue in the 70s and 80s. Ian Dury, Elvis Costello and Joe Strummer all played there. Just as we were walking to the pub, a line of about 30 school kids and their minders marched up the pavement and right in the pub door. We followed. The kiddies were headed to the back room with a little stage where they took part in an after school program of arts and theatre. We got 1/2 pints and crisps and settled into a booth in the other back room, a room with booths, tables, dark wood paneling and a fireplace (not lit, alas). Soon, some girls about 10 years old came into that room for their dance class. It was great to see the pub being used to fill the needs of the community in this way. I'll have to listen to the podcast again, but I seem to remember that different adult groups meet there during the day. The pub really functions as the community's living room, something we'd never see happen in America, unfortunately.
By the time we left, the rain had stopped for good and it looks like I'll have good weather (cool but dry) for the rest of my visit. Thanks again to David and Janie. Next year, we'll go to Highgate.
15 pounds for Pilates class
80 p for two biscuits on my way to Westbourne Park station
18,961 steps, 7.91 miles

Tuesday, October 06, 2015


Up until now, the closest I'd ever gotten to Venice -- or to Italy, for that matter -- was the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas with the fake canals and gondolas. The real Venice is much better.
We arrived from London at about noon on Saturday, and were met at arrivals by Cha-cha, who would be our shepherd at various times throughout our stay in Venice. Cha-cha is a retired river taxi driver, who is a great friend of the parents of one of Roger's students. He picked us up at the airport in his friend's water taxi and dropped us off at the Arsenale vaporetto stop, where we were met by the young woman who showed us to the flat that Roger had rented for our stay. It was a 2-minute walk to the flat in Calle de Pestrin, in Castello and very near the venues for the Biennale where we planned to spend a lot of time looking at art (weird, edgy, inexplicable, all of the above). Anyway, Cha-cha will return in this story and will be a central figure in our Venetian experience.
So, on Saturday afternoon, we mooched around the Arsenale venue of the Biennale. Some of the art was cool, but a lot of it seemed pretty pretentious and selfindulgent. I was just happy to actually be inside the Arsenale and see the architecture of the place, which is normally inaccessible except during the Biennale. This is where, for centuries, the great ships of the Venetian navy were made by incredible craftsmen.  At its peak time of operation, there were 16,000 skilled craftsmen working in the Arsenale, turning out a boat a week.
I really wanted to see the Jewish Ghetto more than almost anything in Venice, so that was our destination for Sunday morning.  First, we bought 2-day vaporetto tickets and headed up the Grand Canal. A short walk took us into the ghetto, where we saw the 6-storey houses (because the area was so confined, there was no where to go but up, and even then families had to sleep in shifts for lack of room) and the oldest pawn broker shop in Europe (or the world, I forget which). The pawn broker was Banko Rosso, which issued red receipts for goods, hence the term "in the red."
From there, we wandered along various canals which were blissfully devoid of tourists until we reached Fondamenta Nove vaporetto stop, where we got the water bus to San Pietro and then walked down to the Giardini venue of the Biennale. More weird, edgy, inexplicable art, but a few things were incredibly cool. Stay tuned for photo evidence, which will eventually turn up on my Ipernity photo site. Just as we were leaving at around 6 pm, we got caught in a torrential downpour, which turned out to be the only truly crap weather we had. We waited out the worst of it back at the flat, where I used the hairdryer to dry off my only pair of slacks, until the rain let up and we wandered out for dinner, finding a lovely trattoria near the flat.
Monday was our day on Cha-cha's speed boat, being shown around wherever we wanted to go, all as a treat from Roger's student's parents. Cha-cha and his co-pilot Tony met us at 10 at the dock by San Giorgio Maggiore. We boated from there to Murano, where Roger and I got out to visit a glass foundry and to mooch around the island for a little bit. The next stop was Torcello, where we saw an amazing Byzantine church with a huge mosaic depicting the last judgment. Then, on to Mazzororbo for an incredible three-course al fresco lunch -- sardines, risotto, sole, eel, lots of prosecco, dessert and espresso. Roger and I staggered from there over a bridge to Burano, were we gawped at the multi-colored houses and then met the boat for the ride back to San Giorgio.
I can't believe that we had room for more food after that lunch, but we did venture out in the evening to a great place for pizza. We had enough strength to stop in St Mark's Square for a bit before our exhausted, sated bodies fell into our beds beds back at the flat. During the night, I was attacked by mosquitoes and woke up with blood blotches, but thankfully no hangover.
Today -- our last day -- Roger and I each went out early to explore on our own for a bit. I wanted to find the spiral staircase at Palazzo Contarini del Bovolo. I reckon I hadn't walked five minutes from the flat before making a wrong turn. Instead of going west, I found myself at the magnificent entrance to the Arsenale, which was east of where I started. A happy mistake, for sure, because I got to see the lions that guard the entry.  Somehow, I made my way back westward, finding the church of San Zaccaria (I didn't go in because early mass was going on) and then to St Mark's Square, where I found Roger. We worked our way in the direction of Palazzo Contarini, but Roger decided to head back on his own, perhaps not trusting my ability to find it or just how cool it would be to see. I zigged and zagged, found some signs, and then found the Palazzo as the rain started to fall. But I got my photo op and the satisfaction of mission accomplished.
Cha-cha then picked us up in the water taxi at the Arsenale vaporetto stop and delivered us to the airport in plenty of time for the return flight to London. Did I see all that there was to seen in Venice? No, not by a long shot. But I saw some of the iconic places, wandered off into places where few tourist venture, and had a great time. I will return.
250 euros, including lodging, meals, Biennale, vaporetto 2 day ticket, etc.
About 44 pounds for Gatwick Express for Roger and me
32.10 pound for 7-day travel card on my Oyster card when we got back to Victoria Station today
Saturday -- 19,731 steps, 8.18 miles
Sunday -- 22,110 steps, 9.11 miles
Monday -- 20,225 steps, 8.33 miles
Tuesday -- 14,645 steps, 6.13 miles

Friday, October 02, 2015

I'm Baaack

Here I am, back in Blighty. I've brought my bluetooth keyboard.  It's  pain in the arse to type on, so I reckon my blog posts are going to be shorter than they've been in the past. This is all because I don't have unlimited access to the desktop computer at Roger's flat, but that's a whole 'nother story and I'm not going into it.
I flew over in steerage on British Air and spent at least an hour this morning in the immigration queue at the UK border. But once I cleared that, it was easy-peasy to grab my bag and get on the tube to Paddington via Hammersmith (I hadn't changed there before, but opted for a route with step-free access). I topped up my Oyster card at the news agent on Praed Street (because it was a step-free alternative to the in-station machine), got on the #36 bus, and was at Roger's flat about 9:45 am, too late to take a Pilates mat class, but plenty of time for exploring.
My adventures today took me to some new places and some old. I took the 187 bus to somewhere in Maida Vale and walked down through Lisson Grove. My first stop was the old aeroworks factor (now luxury flats, natch), which is a lovely art deco building. As I was snapping photos of the facade with the fantastic deco airplanes and Egyptian deco columns,  a nice middle-aged gent in a high-vis vest saw me with my camera and chatted me up about the building and how very few people even notice it.
The next stop was another new-to-me destination -- Church Street. I mooched around the street market and the antique shops before getting a sandwich at Tesco Metro, which I ate in a nearby park. Then on to the Lisson Gallery for an interesting gallery show called Fieldworks (link to come when I figure out how to do that with this keyboard). At Edgware Road, I went in search of the Joe Strummer Subway (found it) and the Subway Gallery (no luck there, I think it's closed). From there, the number 18 bus took me to the Wellcome Collection, one of my all-time favorite places for interesting, albeit strange, exhibitions. This one was by Alice Anderson, who explores how we make memories through her use of fine copper wire to "mummify" various mundane and/or iconic objects, such as a Mustang car chassis, plasma tv, various tools and electronic devices. I thought about doing an hour stint helping to mummify stuff with wire, but decided I needed to push on.
The Crypt Gallery in St Pancras Parish Church was my next stop. On my way there, a German or Dutch couple asked me for directions to their hotel in Tavistock Place, and I was able to help them out. The exhibition was kinetic sculpture/installations that came to life -- with lights, gunfire noises and Germanic (Nazi?) voices -- and made a lot of racket. Things in that gallery space are always hit or miss. I'd say this was somewhere in between.
Pushing on, as my aching back was improving from Advil and arnica, I went to King's Cross Station in search of Harry Potter kitch for my Pilates instructor's 6-year-old son. I thought I'd just be able to walk up to platform 9 3/4 and take a snap. No! There was a queue of at least 50 people, waiting for their photo op. I waited at the side for the interval between two selfie-seekers and got a quick photo. Next, I managed to get in and out of the shop with a Griffendor patch in less than 5 minutes. Online pre-shopping is the way to go.
Why I decided to push on from there, rather than doing  hasty retreat back to Maida Hill, is beyond me. I was drawn to a structure behind King's Cross that said "Viewing Platform" on the side. The views were of all the development -- tons since I'd last been there. I was hoping to see the gasometer being reconstructed, or where the swimming pond is, but if they were there, I couldn't find them. What I did have was a nice chat with a uni student from Tanzania who is studying fashion at University of East London. They have Fridays off for sports day, but he and his mates were exploring the town instead.
Now I'm back at the flat and about to eat dinner.
25 pounds to top up Oyster
1 pound for lunch
5 pounds for Harry Potter patch
20876 steps, 8.59 miles

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Sunday in Bermondsey, and Summing Up

My last day in Blighty was a bit slower than previous days, but no less interesting as I explored another area I didn't know very well. We set out to do the first half of the Bermondsey walk in London's Hidden Walks v. 2, starting at London Bridge Station and ending at the Angel public house on the Thames. Spooner snapped a lot of photos, so I might be able to post a couple of those later. Cameraless, I was happy just to take in the sights: 17th century houses, old warehouses used when Bermondsey was the hub of the leather trade in England, the Time and Talents Settlement House, and St Saviour's Dock (formerly a squalid area in which Dickens set Bill Sikes' death). 

Along the way, we made a couple of stops for art, refreshment and use of the loo. Our first stop was at the White Cube gallery to see a massive exhibition by Gilbert & George called Scapegoating Pictures for London, which we both enjoyed a lot. You can see some of the works here and read a review here

We next headed to Maltby Street Market, where we each got something to eat from the vendors and shared a large bottle of Spanish cider in a tapas bar. The market is small -- located in a ropewalk next to the arches under the railroad tracks -- but is packed with great food. 

Afterwards, we headed north to the river, walking east along the Thames Path to the Angel pub, which is along Bermondsey Wall East but is actually in Rotherhithe. It was a beautiful day to stand along the wall, look out at the Thames (and consume more beverages). We were a bit disappointed that none of the tall ships that were down in Greenwich over the weekend sailed past us up to Tower Bridge, but that didn't stop us enjoying the sunshine and the river. The tide was pretty well out, so we went down the slippery old stairs to the foreshore and did a bit of mudlarking. We didn't find any treasures, but I came home with a bag of clay pipe and pottery bits. 

£2.50 for spinach croissant at Maltby Street Market
£2 for 1/2 pint of bitter at the Angel
£2.40 for 2 packages of Hobnobs to bring home
£5 to top up Oyster card for journey to Heathrow on Monday 

15,011 steps, 5.92 miles


I was out the door early Monday morning for the long (15 hour) journey home.

30p to use the loo at Paddington Station
$77 for parking at the Massport lot in Framingham
$2.45 toll on the Mass Pike

7581 steps, 2.99 miles

£5 remaining on my Oyster card (the 7-day travel card save me a lot of money)
630 photos taken before my camera died
74.24 miles walked

It was another fabulous visit, and I really appreciate the hospitality of my host Spooner and the friendship of all my mates with whom I had adventures and meetups.  Until next year!