Thursday, 16 June 2011

Early Spring Outings

I.  St. Mary's Hospital

My school goes on a lot of field trips to interesting places.  In late March, our class visited St. Mary's Hospital near Paddington Station.  We got real finger casts, which you could put on and pull off; and I used mine to fool my parents by pretending that I had broken my finger (it worked)!  We also watched a video on accidents that can happen if you are not careful:  burns, cuts, choking, car crashes and electric shock.  Lastly, we learned CPR on a dummy and the "respiratory position."  I learned a whole lot.

II.  Watercolor at Late Tate

On the first Friday evening in April, we went to Late Tate Britain.  Dad and I went to an exhibition called "Watercolour"on different artists' use of watercolor as a way of painting.  In the first room, we saw some old books, one from 1200 CE!  They had beautiful letters.  The next room was full of detailed and colored plant and animal prints, which were part of old science books.  The animals included an osprey (hawk), lion-haired macaw (monkey), blue grosbeak (perching bird), European grass snake, and the drinker moth caterpillar.  There was also an engraved copper plate along with the print that was made from it, illustrating an exotic plant.  Another watercolor I liked was a painting of a "spray" (bunch) of withered oak leaves, so very detailed, with a bright blue background.  It was painted by John Ruskin, one of the most famous Victorians, my Dad explained.  Also, there was a small painting of figs, all plump and green; and there was a funny painting covered with hundreds of beans and seeds, which Dad said must have been really hard to arrange.  The last thing we saw was a book on hummingbirds, with pictures of the birds painted in.

John Ruskin, Withered Oak Leaves (1879), Sheffield Museum:  wow, can he paint!

Rachel Pedder-Smith, Bean Painting: Specimens from the Leguminosae family (2004):  that's a whole lotta beans!
The next room had a detailed picture of a "sultan's" wife with her maid; it was filled with beautiful patterns covering the walls and the ladies' lovely dresses.  We also saw Turner's sketchbook that he traveled with; and they also had some early watercolor kits and paints:  cool!  

The exhibition was so excellent that I didn't have a favorite painting; I loved every one!

John Frederick Lewis, Hareem Life in Constantinople, 1857 (Laing Art Gallery, Newcastle-upon-Tyne)

III:  V & A Work Day

On the first Saturday of April, I rode on the back of Dad's bike, our favorite mode of travel—smart, environmental, and fun!—to the V & A, where we planned to work on our various projects.  At the museum, I worked steadily on the different books that I am writing, which always keep me occupied; and we had a minced pie, chocolate biscuits, and a whole bunch of cups of peppermint tea!  An hour and half before closing time, we went down to the galleries to see the "Cult of Beauty" show, which is a big new exhibition.  It tells the story of how they thought about art in Britain during the period 1860-1900.  The motto was "Art for Art's Sake":  by this they meant art should just be for beauty and nothing else.  There was a room that you could peek into, designed to look like (and with things from) the home of the famous painter Dante Gabriel Rossetti.  After this, we went to see some things in the Japanese galleries.  Dad explained that lacquer, an art practiced in China and Japan, is a kind of varnish they use to decorate wood, which can be painted red, green, or gold, but it is usually black.  We also saw the most valued thing in the Japanese collection—and one of the most valuable thing in the whole museum—a lacquered chest with mother of pearl and gold, very rare, richly done, and owned by an important French man [Dad says:  Cardinal Mazarin of France].  On the bike-ride home, we picked up some baklava (a Middle Eastern cake with nuts and lots of honey) for Mom, since it was British Mother's Day that Sunday—and this capped a lovely Saturday.

The Mazarin Chest (ca. 1640), made from wood covered in black lacquer with gold and silver hiramakie and takamakie lacquer; inlaid with gold, silver and shibuichi alloy; and mother-of-pearl shell; with gilded copper fittings:  Phew!

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

When the Aunts Go Marching to London ...

The Aunts Arrive!

It was a bright Saturday when my Aunt Sylvia first came.  Though jet-lagged (she's from California) we all went out to Portobello Market to give her a little feel of the neighborhood.  After going in and out of the busy shops, including All Saints Spitalfields with its hundreds of old-fashioned sewing machines in the windows for decoration, we journeyed homeward and had a delicious Spanish dish we sometimes make, Chorizo Stew, loved by everyone. The next day my Aunt Erica came from New Jersey.  We went for an outing to the Tate Modern museum with both aunts, walking through Hyde Park and seeing, of course, the big touristed sights:  Buckingham Palace, Big Ben, the Houses of Parliament, and the London Eye.

Trip to the Tate Modern

At the Tate Modern we walked through the collection, seeing a set of paintings called Adam and Eve by the artist Barnett Newman, with combinations of brown and red sections of what makes up men and women.  Then we went and sat for a while at what turned out to be Mom and Aunt Erica's favorite room, which contained a set of Rothko paintings in deep reds, grays, and browns.  Dad and I went around the room with Aunt Sylvia talking about how each painting made us feel and what it looked like to us.  They made me feel very warm, like there was a fire crackling.

Rothko, Red on Maroon (1959), what an interesting colour combination!

We ended the glorious visit with a Cezanne painting (he is famous for his apples and his smokers and has a very distinct style) of a farmer colored yellow, orange, and gray who, I felt, looked very humble. Cezanne paints people with a lot of feeling, depth, and story behind them.

Hampton Court Palace

On Wednesday I took the day off from school and went with Aunt Sylvia and Aunt Erica to Hampton Court Palace, which was first owned by Cardinal Wolsey.  The palace had different parts to it, and first we went to the quarters of the young Henry VIII.  The rooms told the story of his relationship with Catherine of Aragon and included chairs which had written on the back some of the feelings that the couple and Cardinal Wolsey might have had at the time.  Next we explored William III's quarters with a room decorated with knives, drums, swords, and other weapons, which hung on the walls made into patterns of circles and lines.

This was the room that William III decorated in weapons and drums.
It had a very war-like feel. But it was a whole lot of weapons for nothing.
After that we saw Henry VIII's kitchens, which contained gigantic fireplaces and fake food.  Soon afterward, we went out to the gardens for a bit and saw trees shaped like Hershey's kisses.  Then we visited Henry VIII's quarters from when he was older.  The rooms contained many paintings.  Finally we went out to the famous Hampton Court maze, which is made out of hedges.  On the way there, we saw a performance of Henry getting changed for bed.  It was funny.  He asked us if we thought God liked him and if history would remember him.  I got a little lost in the maze and we were forced to dodge mobs of French schoolchildren.

Afterwards, we went back inside to look at the Georgian rooms and the Duke of Cumberland Suite of rooms, which used to be Henry's dressing rooms.  There was a battlefield bed made up of sixty parts.  A lady told us some stories about how the Duke of Cumberland was the second son and his parents hated his brother who was the oldest.  She also showed us a really old staircase.  It was the staircase that Henry had walked up to visit Jane Seymour when she was giving birth.  It had a spiral shape to it.  Jane's ghost is said to be spotted here; her organs, including her heart, are buried on the grounds of the Hampton Court chapel.  Overall, it was a fantastic trip, and I learned a lot more about Tudor history.

Aunts Sylvia and Erica at Hampton Court Palace (otherwise known as the Hershey's Kiss Gardens!)

At Hampton Court Palace I took some notes:

Boy looking through casement window (1550 to 1560) is a painting of a servant boy grinning through a window
-  I learned from Aunt Erica that, for her execution, Anne Boleyn ordered, instead of an axe, a sword specially from France to be used to chop her head off.
-  Original Tudor doors on the entrance to the Palace!

National Portrait Gallery

We went to the National Portrait Gallery with Erica and Sylvia.  After a coffee/baked-goods break, we went upstairs to the see the Tudor portraits.  Aunt Erica really likes them.  I really like the one of Henry VII, and the pictures were so realistic!  Richard III is painted with a vein showing on his hand and Edward VI's shoe position in his portrait was painted over and changed.  Then Sylvia and I went off to the see the 1900 to 1950 portraits.  There were many of famous people, including one of the Beatle Paul McCartney, which was titled, as a joke, “Mike's Brother.”  It had lots of colors to make black and brown on his clothes and skin color.  There was also a nice painting of Princess Diana where a pattern on her pants is mimicked on the wall.  And lastly one painting Aunt Sylvia and I looked at for a long time and liked was of a meeting with people writing, thinking, walking, and putting their hands in a number of different positions.  Lastly we went to the Victorian Galleries where we saw a painting of Florence Nightingale helping the sick.  In paintings like that one I like finding interesting details.

The V&A  Museum
Mom and Aunt Erica in the V&A courtyard. Lovely Victorian architecture, don't you think?
After school as usual on Friday we went to the V&A, but this time it was special because it was a new experience for Aunt Erica and Aunt Sylvia.  First, we stopped in the lovely cafe for high tea with scones, "Millionaire's Shortbread," other cakes, and a BIG meringue!  They were lovely and I savoured them.  Next we went to see the modern ceramics.  We visited a room filled with works by Richard Slee (whom we later spent the day with, since Dad is friend's with his partner, Linda Sandino, at the V&A).  We looked at his broom with ceramic bristles, all bent, and a bag of ceramic carrots.

Richard Slee, Carrots

On this visit to the V&A, as usual, I  learned new and interesting things about ceramics – that there are different types of clay which made different kinds of pottery: fritware, stoneware, earthenware, porcelain, boneware, and delftware.  Then we went to the theater area where Mom and I tried on outfits.  We also went into a room with beautiful tapestries of hunting, falconing, and romantic scenes, and one of a unicorn (representing the Virgin Mary) in a million (not really) flowers.  After that we went to the medieval rooms, which contained the most precious glass vase from the 7th century which hadn't cracked.  Finally, we went off to Hereford Road Restaurant for a late dinner of razor clams, potted crab, pickled herring, roast lamb rump, lemon sole, wood pigeon, braised roe shoulder, and sticky date pudding--delicious!  That night was a feast of new, creative, and spectacular things.

British Museum

On Saturday we went to the British Museum.  Dad and I were going to an exhibition on Afghanistan but first we went to the Enlightenment rooms.   This period in Western history comes right after the Renaissance.  We looked at many different pieces, one by Joseph Wedgwood that was a circular medallion in relief which showed a kneeling black man with chains coming down from his hands to his ankles.  Written on the top were the words “Am I not a man and a brother?”

Anti-slavery medallion by Josiah Wedgwood (England, 1787):  'Am I not a man and a brother?' Poor guy
Then Dad and I went to a special exhibition focused on the rise and fall of Afghanistan and how the people carefully protected and saved the ancient treasures when war was going on.  There were little earrings, necklaces, and hairpins, made mostly of gold and found in tombs; but other materials used were turquoise, ivory, precious stones, glass, and alabaster.  Some of the treasures included ivory carved pieces of women which decorated the frame of a couch, beautiful and valuable glass bowls and fish, a golden mouflon (a type of goat), and a jingling gold five-part crown.  Another material was lapis lazuli, a blue rock, which, when polished and carved made lovely jewelry (and was used in paintings for the color blue).  That day I learned a lot about a period I never knew about and Afghanistan.

St. Paul's!  Monument!  Museum!

The next morning Aunt Sylvia left (boohoo!).  Erica, Mom and I went to the great, grand St. Paul's Cathedral.  Inside we admired the large grave of the Duke of Wellington, with all his battles written on the side, and of General Gordon.  There was a wooden cross, and many candles lit all around.  They were like people sitting and walking.  The decorated dome was closed off but that didn't really matter.   Then we went to the 311 step Monument to the Fire of London.  We climbed up and at the top we looked at views of the London skyline which included the Gherkin, London Bridge, the Tower of London, and the London Eye.  The stairs going up and down seemed like a never-ending spiral and there was a little golden design at the top.
The Monument to the fire of London:  Don't venture up there if you are afraid of heights!
Then we went to the Museum of London where I went to a mini-exhibition about London Past and Future.  I saw paintings of colorful market scenes and some people bringing food to houses.  Other scenes included a woman gathering watercress and a man fixing a chair.  There was also a moving display of things having to do with London and you could learn about their past, present, and future by hitting the image on the giant river, for example, the London telephone box.  There was also a book commemorating all of the 52 people who died in a terrorist bombing on the Tube.  The next day, Aunt Erica left (boohoo!).

Monday, 9 May 2011

Our Life in London, Our Life in History

We live in London this year, which is a city with many layers of history:  Roman London, Medieval London, Tudor/Stuart London (which we studied in school!), 18th century London, Victorian London (among our favorites!), and of course modern London.  Over the year, we have many chances to "see" history--as we walk around the city, visit  museums, celebrate funny holidays, and more!  Here are some examples:

I:  On a dark Friday evening in early March, Mom and I hustled to the V&A (as usual), where we met Dad.  After our "snack," Dad and I went to look at some galleries which are normally closed off (for renovations); they are the "Europe 1600-1800" rooms.  We saw some amazing, priceless things made of precious stones (such as amber), wood (pear wood and ebony, for example), pearls, shells, rock crystal, gold, silver, ivory, and bronze.  There was even a spinet (small piano) with little, fragile decoration and about a THOUSAND precious stones; and an ivory, amber, and wood alter with a calendar on the back.  We also played a game where I guessed what some pear wood and stone figures were:  Abraham sacrificing Isaac (which I got right)!  Next we went to the "Cast Courts," which has plaster replicas of famous historical things:  statues, tombs, pieces of architecture, and so on.  One of things we saw was Trajan's Column (we saw the real thing in Rome a few weeks later!), which we looked at from a balcony above.  On our way out, we noticed some mosaics floors, which cover the cast courts (they were renovating these).  A guard standing nearby explained that these had been done by women prisoners, and, in the 19th century when the V&A was built, it was considered an honor to be allowed to work on this project.  I've said it before and I'll say it again:  I love the V & A!

Spinet made in Milan by Annibale Rossi (1577) from cypress (case and soundboard), with boxwood and ivory ornaments, inlaid with pearls, amethysts, lapis lazuli, jasper, agate, turquoise and other precious and semi-precious stones:  phew!

II:  Whilst in London, we have been cooking a lot of traditional British food:  bangers in mash (sausages and potatoes), colcannon (an Irish dish with potatoes, cabbage, and onions), haggis (see blog on Robert Burns Supper), Eton mess (a dessert made with berries and cream) red slump (berries and doughy pastry), and so on.  This week, it was shepherd's (or cottage) pie.  Shepherd's (or cottage) pie is a dish with minced meat, vegetables, and a crust of mashed potatoes.   We prepared as follows:  On Saturday, Dad and I got veggies from Tony, and then we went to get minced meat from our favorite local butcher, where they always play reggae (and, on the way home, also got a falafel).  Later that evening, I helped Dad to make it:  mincing meat and other vegetables on the "hob," boiling and mashing potatoes, and finally layering and baking the pie.  I got super excited when it came out of the oven—and it tasted delicious!

Shepherd's Pie:  Don't you wish you could have a slice?!

III:  That Sunday was a bright morning, and I took my usual run with Dad in Hyde Park.  On the run, we looked at the Anish Kapoor sculptures, which had been installed specially in Kensington Gardens.  They had been around since the Fall, but were scheduled to be taken down after that weekend, and we wanted to get one last look.  We looked carefully at each individual sculpture—there were four, and they were scattered throughout the park—and we also stood in the middle, where we could see all of them at the same time. 

Isabel in front of Anish Kapoor's C-Curve (2007):  "Hey, everyone's upside down!"

Anish Kapoor, Non Object (Spire) (2008):  "Wouldn't want a seat on the top of that!"
After the run and breakfast, Mom, Dad, and I set out for a four-mile walk to Fulham Palace, the (former) country home of the Bishops of London and the palace where Henry VIII once sent Catherine of Aragon when he got tired of her.  Inside there were not many paintings, but a long set of history texts, objects to show what life might have been like, and (behind) some lovely gardens.  We walked through the gardens down toward the Thames and Bishop's Park; on the way, we also saw through the gates of the gardens an overgrown cemetery, and we tramped through some tall grass to get there.  It was old, very "atmospheric," and spooky!

We then walked along the Thames, which was blooming with life:  flowers, birds, and rowers, all coming out to enjoy the spring day!  This took us to Fulham FC:  the "football" club and stadium where Fulham plays.  Lastly we walked to a church to hear a piano and cello concert.  The music was very nice—it was classical, so also from the past—and it made me feel very peaceful after long and adventurous day.

IV:   Following our regular Friday evening tradition, Mom and I walked to the National Gallery where we met Dad.  There was a new exhibition that Dad and I wanted to see on the Netherlandish painter Jan Gossaert.  Gossaert was trying to discover how to draw the human body; one of his inspirations was an ancient statue (which we later saw in Rome!) of a boy pulling a thorn out of his foot: Lo Spinario.  Gossaert did a lot of practice drawings to help him figure out how paint the human body, which he needed to do for his many paintings of Adam and Eve, who were usually pictured naked.  The paintings he did were very detailed.  I know a lot about Dutch painters, but Gossaert was new to me, and Dad did a very good job of explaining.  To end the evening, we met Mom, and I drew from my favorite set of paintings, The Four Elements (by Joachim Beuckelaer).

Jan Gossaert, Adam and Eve, ca. 1520 (Royal Collection):  "Put on some clothes, you guys!"
History is shown in many ways, as I discover all the time in my London adventures.  Architecture, food, museums, and music are only some of the ways—and I am sure I will find many more!

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Half-Term Activities

I.  The Imperial War Museum

The first official day of half-term was a Monday, and Mom and I had it all to ourselves.  We immediately decided to head off to the Imperial War Museum.  We saw an exhibition on "Children of the Blitz" (children who had been sent away from London to avoid the bombing of the city by the Germans).  It showed things about school, included things such as letters, and it even had a typical house from London during the Blitz, which you could go into.  At the end, there was a little newsreel (brief movie) showing people celebrating the end of the war, but it also had a few things about how the children felt when they came back to the city from the countryside and other places outside London.  For example, one girl hadn't seen her parents for years, and they couldn't recognize each other when they were supposed to meet on the train platform.  We also went into a model trench from World War I -- a trench is where soldiers stayed before going out and fighting -- which had life-size  soldiers writing letters home, talking, cooking, going out from the trench to fight, and helping the wounded.

The Children's War - Morrison Shelter: air raid shelter in 1941  You sleep in it!  You ate on top of it!  ou could get a little tired of being in it!
World War One trench exhibit at the Imperial War Museum London
We also went in a pretend submarine and learned about accidents and sinking.  And, lastly, we went into a pretend bomb shelter: it was totally dark, the benches shook, and we could hear people talking and singing, trying to cheer themselves up.  After that, we walked down a pretend street and saw the ruins of houses and stores that were burning after the bombs had dropped.  In the bomb shelter, we sat next to a grandmother and her grandson.  She could remember being in a shelter during World War II as a child and she recalled the musty smell.  It was all a little scary.

II.  Mom's Work

My mom works at "The Junction,"and I had to go with her on half-term Tuesday so she could drop off some papers.  The Junction is in a narrow building without much space.  The Junction is where my Mom works with clients who are addicted to alcohol and drugs, such as heroin.  The people who work with her are from all different cultures.  Fred is from Scotland, Isaac is from Canada, Devika is from India, and Chinye is from Nigeria.  There are lots more people, but that would be too much to go into. 

III. Wonderful Wednesday

My Mom sometimes goes running in a park called Wormwood Scrubs, and finally on a wet Wednesday morning she took me there to see the birds and the nature.  It had open football fields and little clusters of undergrowth.  I had a good time there listening to the chirping of the birds.  After we got back home and ate lunch, we went out again.  We went to see the movie The King's Speech about King George VI whose father dies and the next king, his brother David, leaves the throne, to marry an American divorced woman.  This means that King George the VI, also known as Bertie, has to be king now, and he is a stammerer (sometimes stumbles over his words).  The hero is his Australian speech therapist, Dr. Loeb, who uses very interesting methods, like swearing, to help him and asks him all these strange questions.

The king, his wife and their two girls (Elizabeth and Margaret). I don't think they are the jokey sort.

IV:  Isobel and Her Kids 

On Thursday, we went to meet Mom's workmate Isobel and her eight-year-old girl Neve and six-year-old boy Fergal.  We couldn’t find them at the tube station where we had planned to meet—until we got paged!  When we did find them, we walked, or I should say zig-zagged all over, to Borough Market (in Southwark).  We walked through the market and smelled some Stinking Bishops cheese, which everyone hated but me!  Then we ate lunch in the gardens of Southwark Cathedral.  There we saw a European robin and a … fox!  (There are foxes in London, and both my Mom and Dad have seen them on their runs and rides through town.)  Next we went to the "Poetry Corner" at Southbank Center, where we sat and wrote poems.  There was also a kids' area, where kids could run around; and there we had a big PILLOW fight.  Overall, it was a fantastic day—and, I forgot, we had a Flake (vanilla ice cream with a milk-chocolate 'stick')!

V:  British Museum

We used the Friday of half-term to go to the British Museum.  First, we all wandered up to the first floor, where Dad and I looked at some old clocks.  We saw many lovely clocks, very complex, with all sorts of moving parts and things that chimed (like a church bell).  There were  beautiful and exquisite clocks: for example, two tall wooden "grandfather" clocks, with well thought out marquetry designed in the shape of birds, flowers, and other animals.  I love marquetry and I like to think about cutting out and fitting together all the pieces—which, though very tiring and difficult work, sounds like fun!

Long-case clock, wood marquetry, made in England by John Draper ( 1700-1710), BM

Next we went to the room "Europe 1400-1800," and here are a few things that stood out in my mind:  There was a figurine of man, meant to be an allegory of "Winter" (dressed in winter clothes, with a muff that had wrinkles), made out of white ceramic.  I found it very beautiful and wondrous.  There were also two plates, one with a gray dog chasing a butterfly, with small drawings of bugs and plants on the rim; the other was clear glass with a green-leaf design.  I also saw some blue and white salt-glazed stoneware, earthenware (unglazed), and a ewer designed to look like a shell with glass coral (orange!).  I also discovered a new type of glass called potash-lime glass.  When it was time to leave, Dad pointed out a cup made from elephant and rhino tusks; there was also a cup with amber on it and things made out of mother of pearl.

Hunting horn of ivory, of European form (1490-1530), British Museum (similar to the one I saw)

VI:  A Day in the Eighteenth Century (Really!)

On the next day, a sunny Saturday, we headed out for some fun at the Wallace Collection.  They were putting on a "Day in the Eighteenth Century" program, with special actors and singers!  We first went to listen to a singer who was accompanied by a harpsichordist, both wearing fancy wigs and dresses.  Next we went to do a craft project, where we designed with colored pencils and pictures two golden boxes, which had patterns on them.  (I now use mine to keep all my beloved treasures in.)  We then went to another craft booth, where Dad and I designed our own "service":  paper plates, which would be used for "special" occasions (like the special porcelain services at the Wallace, used by kings and queens).  We also got to meet and listen to Madame de Pompadour—it was really an actress!  (On the way, I stopped and played some betting games with fake money—really fun!—and the two people running these games wore elaborate costumes.)  Madame de Pompadour, who wore a fancy pink dress, spoke to the audience about her relationship with King Louis XV; what it was like at court; her favorite artists; and her likes and dislikes.  After that we went to hear a bit from Voltaire—but he was boring, so we moved on!  Mom and I went to finish our boxes, while Dad went to hear a talk about the museum's famous collection of Sevres (porcelain).  It was, all in all, a fantastic day and an experience that was different from any other I have had.

Madame de Pompadour, painted by François Boucher [her favorite artist!], (1759), Wallace Collection
Madame de Pompadour, the actress (which one do you think is prettier?

VII:  Dinner with Family of Four

The final day of half term began as a bright Sunday morning, and I went for a good four-mile run with my Dad in Hyde park.  There we saw baby ducklings with their mother and father!  Fortunately for us, since I love nature, we noticed a tourist taking pictures and asked if he might be able to send us some photos—and he did!  (He was a nice Italian named Frederico.)

Make Way for Ducklings, Hyde Park Edition!
Later, at around 1:00, we left the house for an outing in a terribly rainy world.  We walked five cold, hand-freezing, shoe-drenching miles, until we reached Kenwood House (in Hampstead Heath).  Dad and I circulated through the galleries almost three full times; and we finally compared three of our favorite paintings in the museum, all in the same room:

1. a self-portrait by Rembrandt around age 60, with two circles in the back (the story goes as follows:  a famous medieval Italian artist Giotto wanted to show his artistic skill, so he drew a perfect circle—as did the ancient artist Apelles, they also say—and Rembrandt was trying to show that he could do that, too).

2. a portrait of Pieter van den Broecke by Frans Hals, with wild hair and very detailed ruffles

3. a guitar player by Johannes Vermeer, showing a woman with funny curly hair

And the winner was:  Rembrandt!  Second place went to Hals, and coming in third was Vermeer. 

Next we walked two more miles to Sarah and Boaz's house.  There I played with Ottilie (we did bother Isaac, too) and with the family pet, a brown rabbit called Muffin.  We also had delicious Sunday dinner.  So, after eleven miles, loads of paintings, hours of playing, yummy roasted chicken and potatoes, and torrential cold rain, I discovered the London truth:  that even horrible weather cannot dampen a wonderful, final half-term-holiday day!

Rembrandt, Self-Portrait, ca. 1665-1669, Kenwood House
Frans Hals, Pieter van den Broecke, 1633, Kenwood House

Jan Vermeer, The Guitar Player  (1632-75), Kenwood House

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Dad Day, Fun Day, Sunday!

I:  One Saturday in mid/late February, after Dad returned from Hyde Park and his morning run, he and I went off to Tony's.  Generously, Tony offered us some minced apple pies.  After we came home and had breakfast, we packed up stuff that we planned to work on and headed off to the V&A.  When we got there, Dad and I went up to his office to do work—yes, work!  Dad works in the Research Department, on the fifth floor, above the crowded museum galleries.  He has a small but nice office, and sometimes he also works in the National Art Library (also in the V&A building).  But today, we were sitting side-by-side, in his office, working on our various projects (for me) and books (for Dad).  We also had tea and treats:  peppermint tea for me, and also Spanish marzipan, molasses cookies, and Tony's pies.  We took an afternoon break and went down to the galleries at 3.30, where we looked at beautiful textiles, which their makers must have worked very hard on!  The lace had very fine detail, and I remember one sample of lace showing acorns and leaves.  Though very noisy and crowded, the V&A is quiet upstairs, and I got a lot of work done—plus fun chattering with Dad (whom I also call "Pai")!

Band of hair lace, England (1625-1675), at the VAM
II:  As usual on Sunday … I had a run with Dad in the park (!), and this began our eventful day.  After breakfast, Dad and I headed out to Leighton House, a museum that used to be the home of Frederic, Lord Leighton, an architect and painter, who also collected beautiful objects from, and designed rooms after, the Middle East (Orient style).  We admired the splendid Arab Hall, which had a little fountain, a kind of Syrian/Egyptian window covering with holes, and a domed ceiling.  We also went into the Narcissist Hall, with a shining gold ceiling and ash-blue tiles (Narcissist was in love with his own reflection).  In front of the stairwell, there was a gorgeous peacock sitting on a couch that had been made from a Muslim wedding chest (no one ever sat on it, though!).  It was awesome!

Arab Hall, Leighton House Museum
Next we walked to Nuria's house (a kid from school).  Dad had bumped into her father one day on his bike ride to work and, after they chatted a bit, Nuria's father invited us all over for a Sunday Lunch plus playdate at their house.  Nuria is on Year Four (3rd grade) and has a brother Aniol, who is five.  We had seafood paella, a Spanish dish with rice, shrimp, monk fish, and calamari rings—very tasty!  Playdates are hard to get in London state primary schools, so this was a real treat.

Seafood Paella:  amazing we haven't dug in yet!

Conclusion:  I love my London weekends and I love spending time with my Dad!

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Fri, Sat, Sun

I:  Weekends are often spent going on long, fun outings, and, almost always on Fridays, we spend an evening out at a museum or do another cool cultural thing.  The first weekend in February was no exception.  Mom and I walked to the Tate Britain to meet Dad for "Late Tate" (music and art).  There we looked mostly at Constable and Turner paintings:  Dad and I admired Turner's early and late stuff and saw an exhibition on his use of line and color; Mom spent her time sketching.  The Turner exhibition showed what the eye saw and how that can change.  For example, they had a black box with a bright light inside; after looking at it, if you closed your eyes, you could see the image of the light appear to you again (vaguely).  There was also a (loud!) music installation, which was really annoying!  I like the Tate, since it has lots of different kinds of art.

 John Constable, Flatford Mill (`Scene on a Navigable River'), 1816-17, Tate Britain

On Saturday evening, we walked to Stephanie and Doug's house for a house-warming party.  On the way we saw a type of stork or heron flying above us, which was really magical.  And on Sunday, after   some small errands, we went to the "Little Draw" at the Wallace Collection.  Little Draw is a monthly activity where kids (and even adults) meet in a specific gallery and try to draw something with help from a drawing instructor.  This time it was held in the "Great Gallery," which is long hall and grand gallery that includes the museum's most famous paintings:  Frans Hals, The Laughing Cavalier, Titian, Perseus and Andromeda (Mom's favorite), and the painting I drew of Titus, who was Rembrandt's son.

Rembrandt, Titus, the artist's son, 1657, Wallace Collection

II:  The following Friday, we went to the V&A.  There was a concert in the Norfolk House Music Room (in the British Galleries), so we went there and, in the fairly crowded room, watched a viola player and a pianist.  Then Dad and I went to the porcelain galleries, where we looked at old English ceramics.  Then we looked at the Dutch ceramics to try to find a "puzzle jug," which is a jug with all sorts of holes in it; the trick is to drink from it without spilling all over yourself!  Finally we went to look at some ceramic bowls among the European stuff, and  I spotted 75 snuff jars from all over Asia and Europe:  all different colors, textures, shapes and sizes, and all with interesting designs.

Snuff bottles, China, 18th century, half coral bead set in metal [stopper] and carved nephrite jade [snuff bottle]

On Saturday, we went to Tony's, and then we took a fun walk in the market--it was quite an adventure!  We walked through Portobello Market and got pig-crackling samples from a man who has a stall with a big, dead, roasted pig!  We also popped into Garcia, one of the Spanish delis, which had some great jamón serrano and cheese tasters.  Next, on to Golborne Road, where we got mussels from our favorite fish monger (Golborne Fisheries).  We also wandered into a gallery/shop, which had the owner's exotic collection of stuff:  a stuffed peacock, dead butterflies, animal (and human?) skulls, and two small yellow birds (live!) outside.  And then, on our way back home, we passed by a popular stall that sold sandwiches with lamb and chicken kabobs.  There Dad noticed our award-winning crepe maker--I'll explain.  In Portobello, whilst we stroll along, we usually check in at the many crepe stalls to marvel at the crepe makers.  We even started a crepe "Olympics," where we judge the stalls by their spreading, folding, flipping, and other crepe-making techniques.  Our award-winning stall also has an award winning crepe-maker (a man), whom we got to meet as we walked along Golborne Road.  His name is Jemal, and he is very nice (he invited us for a 'gratis' crepe).

Jemal, our Portobello Market "Olympian" crepe maker (so famous, we found a picture of him on the web!)

That Sunday, I went for a run with Dad, as usual, and for breakfast we had pancakes.  Valentine's Day was the following Monday, so I went out with Mom to buy Dad some licorice tea.  It turned out that V. Day was super, and I got lovely cards and cookies from Mom and Dad.

III:  One more weekend:  The next Friday night, Mom and I walked to the National Gallery.  Once we got there (and after our usual pre-art snack!), Dad and I went to look at the Old Masters.  First we looked at paintings from the medieval times, when they were crazy about Jesus!  Then we headed to the Van Eyck room, which has the famous "Arnolfini Portrait"; but Dad and I also ogled over "A Man in a Red Turban," also by Van Eyck, who painted the turban with very detailed folds and knots.  I also loved a painting on pear wood of St. Jerome (with lots of animals) by Albrecht Durer.  The National Gallery is one of the many places in London with endless, entertaining art!

Jan van Eyck, Portrait of a Man (Self Portrait?), 1433

Albrecht Dürer, Saint Jerome, ca. 1496

Saturday, 2 April 2011

Modern London

I:  The Saatchi Gallery

On another January Sunday (23/1), I went for my usual run with dad.  After that, we made plans to meet Andrew, Emma, Stephanie and Doug Smith, friends of ours also living in London for the year.  The Saatchi is a museum-size gallery of contemporary art.  We explored the galleries on our own, since A, E, S, and D only came to eat lunch and left after eating.  In the galleries we saw one sculpture called The Piano Lesson made out of all sorts of  media; it made a "visual pun" (Dad calls it) by hanging a house "key" off one part of the sculpture (get it:  piano "key"!).  I also remember the work of a woman who used pictures of her family when they were children and then staged similar pictures with her family members as adults (brother, mother, sister, herself, and so on). To help you understand the exhibition, they had on the top floor pictures of all the artists.  Finally, there were also some cool art works by kids, which was fascinating and inspiring.  It was very nice.
Clarisse d'Arcimoles Petit Roi (My Brother) 2009 at the Saatchi.

II: Tate Modern

The very next Sunday, dad and I went for … another run!  After breakfast, we all headed out to meet Marta (Dad's colleague), Bruno, Cecilia, and Isadora at the Tate Modern, a modern museum of modern art.  I hung out with M, I, and C, ate a bit of lunch and had a hot cocoa, while my parents watched a film that Bruno had made [ed:  about David Hockney].  Then dad, Ceci, and I went to the galleries to look at some art, including pink cow wallpaper (by Andy Warhol) and a block of wood that had been carved into a tree!  Next, we went to the members lounge, where M, I, and B were hanging out.  We got another hot chocolate!

Two conclusions:  While I am not so fond of contemporary architecture, I do like modern and contemporary art.  And when I look at modern and contemporary art, I get ideas for my own pieces, which I want to do.

Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Three Cultural (Food!) Events

I: Argentina

One Saturday in January, Dad and I went in the morning  to Tony's. We got vegetables, as usual and also ingredients for our special dinner; and we saw Jess, Tony's teenage worker and helper on Saturday. Then we took a jolly trip to Protobello Market. There we looked in shops and bought for our dinner from a Spanish shop blood sausage, in Spanish morcilla (say: mor-THEE-ah). After that we went home and started to make our Argentine feast.  For my homework I was writing a report on Argentina.  To help me, we were all going to make and eat a feast of Argentine specialties.  First we made the dessert Dulce de leche, "A sweet of milk," since it took the longest to cook. We got a can of condensed milk and made two holes in the top with nails!  Next we put it in a pot of boiling water on the stove for 3 hours! After that we made our appetiser: morcilla on toast.  We cooked the morcilla with onions and peppers and dad burned, or charred, it! But by doing this the dish was made even better.  Lastly we made our main course Empanadas.  I helped to make the filling and the wrapping.

Morcilla on toast!
Isabel and her camel Potter with the home-made empanada and Argentine menu

II:   Robert Burns Night (Scotland)

On the 25th of January, we celebrated Robert Burns Night.  Robert Burns was a Scottish poet.  He wrote silly poems about lice and mice, but they had deeper meanings, for example about how the rich treated the poor badly.  Robert Burns Night is an occasion also, to read his famous poem, "Address to a Haggis."  Here are the opening lines:

Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face,
Great chieftain o' the puddin'-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak yer place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my airm

And here are the instructions for making haggis:

1. Take heart, lungs and liver of a sheep and boil them.
2. Mince them up with spices, salt, pepper, chopped onions and toasted oatmeal.
3. Take a sheep's stomach and clean it out.
4. Stuff the sheep's stomach with your mixture then sew it up.
         WARNING:  Don't stuff it too full or it will explode when you …
5. … boil it thoroughly.
6. Serve it up with mashed neeps and tatties (turnip and potatoes)

Before we ate the Haggis, along with tatties (mashed potatoes) and neeps (mashed turnips), we recited the poem and after that sang the song "Auld Lang Syne' (also by Robert Burns).  Whilst the dinner was going on, we gave many toasts, too.  I thought it was really fun to look at the traditional customs of Scotland and to celebrate them.

Isabel and Jackson with the not-yet-addressed Haggis

III:  Chinese New Year

It was Friday night, the last Friday of the month, when the V&A does a special "Friday Late" that focuses on one theme.  Since it was January, around the time of Chinese New Year, and since the V&A was also hosting an exhibition on Chinese Imperial Robes, the theme was "China."  First, we went to the café, where dad's friend Gayle set up a special booth where you eat, listen to, and tell special stories about "spring roll experiences"; we all took turns doing this.  Next we visited the British galleries (1600-1800), where we looked at their chinoiserie art—things made in Europe that was meant to look "Chinese."  We also saw two interesting pieces of modern Chinese sculpture.

After that, we went to the ceramics gallery, which is filled with all sorts of ceramics from all different times and places.  There we visited an installation of an "opium den," where, in the olden days, you would smoke a decorative pipe of opium.  Inside, there were lots of comfy cushions, and you had to take your shoes off.  There was also a recording of someone screaming!  Finally, we went down to the main entrance hall, where we did a collage project using Chinese paper and fake Chinese money; this was all to celebrate the New Year.

Finally we left the museum.  I rode on the back of dad's bicycle to a Chinese restaurant not far from our flat, Noodle Oodle in Bayswater.  We ordered hand-pulled noodles with roast duck and stewed beef: delicious!  I thought it was a very well thought out and creative night!

Hand-pulled noodles on Queensway:  Noodle Oodle ("Don't drop it!")

Thursday, 17 March 2011

National Galleries and Exhibitions

Sometimes we go to exhibitions, where it is easier to learn more about one artist, one type of art, or one theme in art.  One night in mid January, mom and I walked to National Portrait Gallery, where we met Dad for an evening at the museum.  Dad and I peeled off to go to the Thomas Lawrence exhibition.  We saw many cool paintings, including one of Charles William Lambton sitting by the sea with a far-off look in his eyes, as if he wanted adventure.  There was also a painting with a boy and a group of children.  I drew just the boy, and I felt I was the boy, thought his thoughts, felt the weight of the broom he held, and wore his velvet playsuit.

Thomas Lawrence, Charles William Lambton, 1825 (private collection) ("Isn't he dreamy?")
After the exhibition, we went to a drawing session.  There we drew a sculpture of T. S. Eliot, but in different ways.  We did a hand-never-leaves-paper drawing (HNLP); a HNLP drawing not looking at our paper; a HNLP drawing with our opposite hand (for me, left); a drawing only using the top of the pencil; and a drawing using two pencils.  They all came out funny!

One week later, we went to the National Portrait Gallery again and to the drop in drawing; but this time, dad joined too.  After that, mom stayed to draw more, and dad and I went to the National Gallery (just across the street) and saw some van Gogh paintings, which I really liked.  Dad says that if you listen very carefully and it is very quiet in the gallery, you can hear a van Gogh painting:  the grass swaying, the wind blowing through the trees, and even the stars twinkling.   Next we met mom and looked at some Early Netherlandish (Dutch) and Renaissance painting.  Then, finally, I drew things from one of my favorite sets of paintings, The Four Elements, by Joachim Beuckelaer (I drew from the "Fire" element).

Conclusion:  I love Friday nights in London!

Vincent van Gogh, Long Grass with Butterflies, 1890 (National Gallery) ("Hey, where are the butterflies?")

Thursday, 24 February 2011

Another Fun Weekend

Most of my weekends in London are packed with interesting and fun things to do.  Here's how things often go, on this fairly typical weekend in January.

On Saturday, I woke up, and dad and mom went for their runs.  While I was alone, I did my blog and wrote a poem.  I have millions of projects that I do in my spare time!  Then, when dad came back, we went right out to Tony's.  Tony is our local "fruit and veg" man; he used to work in Portobello Market (he had a stall), but then moved his business to a cobble-stoned mews (a kind of alley in London; it used to be for stables) in our neighborhood.  He sells to restaurants and does some private deliveries.  On Saturday, he has his assistant named Jess, whose boyfriend is an actor.  Tony doesn't sell to most people, but my dad is a "special" customer.  As usual, Tony's "shop" was busy and bustling with fun.  Can you guess what Tony gave us?  A whole flat of strawberries, for free!  He said they were not good enough for the restaurants, so we could have them "if the Mrs. will make jam of them" (which mom certainly would!).  We did bring them home, and mom did make strawberry jam, which was delicious!

Next we went to meet Chris, dad's friend and colleague, and his wife Maureen and son Calder. We went to a cafe/restaurant, and Calder and I went on his DS, which I think is rather boring. At the cafe they had a lunch-type meal, and we snacked on french fries and calamari. Then we walked to a coffee shop in the Market. At the coffee shop we got hot chocolate.  Then we said good-bye, and Dad and I went home to do work.  "Work" means the many projects I do and, for dad, the book he is writing.

We had a 'movie night' that evening:  while eating dinner we watched the movie Oliver about an orphan.

The next day, Sunday, I woke up and had a very good, fun run with  dad.  At home, mom made scones, and we had a filling breakfast with scones and strawberry jam--made with Tony's strawberries!  Then I walked with my dad to the Wallace Collection, a museum in Marylebone; we went to a drawing class there, which is held monthly.  The drawing teacher  was very helpful and made us think more about perspective.  I drew two pictures that I really liked, including one of "The Young Cicero Reading" by Vincenzo Foppa (1427 - 1515.  We also looked around the museum:  loads of great art!

Vincenzo Foppa (1427 - 1515), The Young Cicero Reading

After the Wallace, dad and I walked to Emma's new house (Emma is a friend from Seattle, also here for the year), which is in Chelsea.  On the walk, while dad and I were having interesting conversations, we saw a great big heron land on a tree.  When we got to Emma's house, there was another family there, and we all had dinner together.  The dinner consisted of soup and sandwiches, but not just any old sandwich:  the best sandwich I had ever had!  It was a grilled panino made with ham, cheese, tomato--the usual stuff--but grilled!

These are my weekends:  usually some art, often some friends, and always fun!