Monday, October 29, 2012

London, Part One

The last stop on our vacation last spring was London.
It's a spot I've been before --  back in 1973 when I visited with my mom. (It was a memorable visit then, made all the more so by the fact that her cancer appeared not long after and it was the last of our long trips together.) Rick and I had about 36 hours in this large, vibrant city -- not enough!
So, we landed and hopped on the tube, which took us to Russell Square. Our hotel was a few blocks away and as soon as we checked in and left our bags, we were back out, headed to the half-price tickets booth.
Our choice for theatre as "The King's Speech." I loved the movie and wanted to see how it was performed on stage. I wasn't disappointed.It was every bit as terrific on stage as on screen (albeit without Colin Firth!)
From the minute I entered the famed Wyndham Theatre, I had a smile on my face!
The theatre, small but grand, was where the original "The Boyfriend" had played. Julie Andrews came to prominence in that musical.
The next morning it was -- you guessed it -- rainy! But neither the rain nor my fever stopped us from enjoying a delicious breakfast at our hotel and hopping the tube. This time we ended up at Buckingham Palace, just in time for the Changing of the Guard.
I had never seen this magnificent ceremony which lasts a rather long while.
Somehow or other we had great seats -- or rather, great sidewalk, with a good view of the troops entering the palace gates...
...and those exiting.
And yes, we could even see a bit inside.
I shouldn't have been surprised at the size of the palace gates, or their massive crests. I'd seen seen them before in more royal weddings than I can remember.
But I was.
There was a huge crowd despite the weather and the bobbies, or policemen, were kind and helpful and oh, so polite!
After a bit we crossed the streets to stand on the steps of the Victoria Memorial.
This was about as close as I got to the balcony of Buck House!
We meandered through St. James Park, which was just lovely.
It was early spring and despite the rain and drizzle, the birds were present and rather comfortable with people.
Our destination was two-fold. First, the hunt for a pub where we could enjoy lunch!
Then, it was off to see the Houses of Parliament and Big Ben.
For whatever reason, I got a big kick out of walking across the river and back. It was a view seen from the air in one of my favorite British television dramas, the House of Cards trilogy.
 I would have loved to enter the gates. They seemed rather secure, though.
 Even with the cloudy skies, it seemed rather bright and beautiful. I will never forget it.

And finally, we ended up doing the one thing where we couldn't take photos but perhaps was the most memorable experience of the vacation -- Evensong in Westminster Abbey. But more on that next time! 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Our Home Away From Home

In this series of posts on the Netherlands, I've spoken of some of the wonderful places we've visited, the paintings we saw, the music we heard, the towns we enjoyed. But I still haven't shared with you the best spot in the Netherlands.
I won't be too specific. Let's just say its not too far from Amsterdam, close enough for a short bus ride.
Yet you would think it was in a magical land, where nature abounds. (Click to see photos full size)
It's a place with a splendid garden, a perfect place to rest after hours of walking about. 
A quiet spot to have a cup of tea in a Delft mug. 
I am speaking of our hosts Tara and David's garden. (Their home was equally lovely, but I'll leave you to visit Tara's blog and scroll down to photos of her office and lovely interior!)
Tara and David were simply wonderful hosts. They gave us good advice on activities, walked us through the bus and tram procedures and took us to the wonderful spots you have seen in all these posts. 
Then we'd come home, enjoy a quiet moment in the garden or delicious dinners prepared by David and long, delightful conversations.
A neighbor friend stopped by, reminding me of my Gypsy-boy at home.
And it wasn't at all unusual to see people pass by, biking into or home from town.
One of the things I most enjoyed about their garden was the oft-anticipated appearance of the swan. 
I saw it once, when camera wasn't at hand, and while we were out, Tara took some gorgeous photos.
On our last day the swan returned.
Not just returned. Preened!
He (or was it a she? I'm not sure on my swan biology!) swam back and forth in front of the deck.
He'd stop in the foliage close to shore..
And at times simply looked  like a grand, floating heart.
Yes, I was smitten. What a gift.
Thank you, Tara and David, for your generous hospitality and for a sanctuary to which to return each day. We'll never forget you.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Celebrating the Light of Vermeer

If I was to make a list of wonderful small museums well worth your time, I would put Vermeer Centrum in Delft (or Vermeer Center) at the top of the list.
To call it a museum is an overstatement, because "museum" implies you might actually see some original Vermeer paintings there.

You won't. You'll see reproductions of every painting he did, some great multimedia presentations and some excellent and very accessible analytic interpretations of his work.
If you're not a Vermeer fan, a quick overview. Johannes Vermeer was a Dutch painter who specialized in scenes of middle class life (although he also did some landscape work.As artists go, he produced relatively few paintings, and was in debt at his death in 1675.

He lived in Delft and if anything seems particularly striking about a Vermeer painting it is the color and light.
He mixed his own colors himself from items that came from the apothecary.
A splendid display at the Center outlines the colors he used and how they were mixed.
A particular favorite combination of colors were blue and yellow, which are often seen in his paintings. As an artist, this area was of particular interest to me. 
A personal anecdote -- an old Army buddy of my father was an artist and he studied how the old masters mixed their materials and tried to paint in the same ways. He did a pretty darned good forgery of The Girl with the Pearl Earring, which he gave my parents long ago. It now hangs in my guest room.

After Vermeer's death, his work went out of style and wasn't rediscovered until the 1800s. He is now considered one of the great painters of the Dutch Golden Age, with work in many museums, including the Rijksmuseum, the Louvre and the Detroit Institute of Arts.
The Center focuses in part on his family life -- his wife, Catherine (sometimes listed as Catharina), gave him 14 children. He married into money and his mother-in-law, Marina Thins, was fairly aggressive in her support of his art. It is presumed that it was she who insisted he convert to Catholocism. Fourteen children followed.
The family moved in with Maria Thins. The house is now a private residence, but is still standing on Oude Langendijk in Delft. His paintings were done in this house.
If you are familiar with his work, you'll note that there are many portraits and scenes of daily life. The Vermeer Center has copies of all his works and an area that simulates his area where subjects would pose.
Using a camera obscura (it is not certain whether Vermeer actually used this object or not), you can pose and see how the light might affect a painting.
Here's a slightly different view of the same image.
 It was fun to put yourself in the picture! I'd love to take that light home with me every day!
When you see his paintings in a museum, it might be surprising how small they are. Even framed, they were rarely larger than 20x30 and many were much smaller.

But, as the exhibits show, they were filled with symbolism. This one shows how emblems are used to convey certain meanings relevant for the time. In this case, the messages pertain to love. (Click to see full size and read the description.)
For example, this display talks about unattainable love.
The painting contains various clues indicating that the subject is reading a love letter. 
Musical instruments symbolize sensual love, the broom symbolizes living together unmarried and there are indications in the paintings on the wall that are symbols of love. According to the display, the ship refers to the absence of a traveler and the man on land is walking away on a sandy path, both unreachable.

Much is also made of his use of perspective. This drawing explained how he ued angular perspective with two vanishing points instead of one. Even the way he creates the tiled floor adds to the dimension.
(The display also noted that in Vermeer's time, perspective was known as "see-through skill" -- you have to be able to see through walls and the frame of the painting to be able to use it. He and his contemporaries used lengths of string and chalk as tool to help them "see through."

Extra Treats!

For more on the book and film "Girl with the Pearl Earring," please visit this splendid post on Arti's blog.

For more on Delft, including some lovely videos about Vermeer Center and the town, check out this link.

A Personal Note

I'm sorry I've not been around to more of you lately, but I will catch up. Rick has been in the hospital, I haven't been at my best, work is crazy. I SO appreciate your visits and your hanging in there with me. It means more than you know.

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