Saturday, February 7, 2015

Snowdrops

DSC01173 (1300x975)Temperatures have grazed freezing all week across Dorset: what better time to go for a walk among the flowers?

The opportunity sprouted improbably in WhatsOnDorset, nestled against a barren winter landscape of beer markets and children’s theater.  The venue was Kingston Lacy, a manor house outside of Bournemouth listed with the National Trust.  The family home was built to resemble an Italian Villa, set into extensive parklands, so there was a chance of getting warm alongside romping through carpets of snowdrops.

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The manor house was still closed, only the stables were open, but the snowdrops were lovely.  The varieties could only be distinguished by lifting their heads: some complex, some simple inside. The challenge was to count how many: by my reckoning five on display?

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The trails were red mud, the skies grey overcast.  Nonetheless, we hiked the paths throughout, visiting the striking bamboo lines of the Japanese Garden (reminded me of Wolf Kahn pastels) and the distant, dormant Kitchen Gardens (children’s play area featuring tractors and wheelbarrows like a Chinese commune).

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The café was all lemon drizzle cakes and hearty bean soups, teas and mulled wine.  And, on leaving. there was a lacy potted snowdrop to take home, seeding a local snowdrift for spring.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Meditative art

DSC01136 (1300x974)Community galleries and art centers tend to be vanity projects, in my experience.  The showcase the base of local amateur talent, often funded by large donations to named galleries from the  families of aspiring talents.  Somewhat like community theater, the quality of work is uneven and derivative, although the artists sometimes have cunning insight into local settings and people.

DSC01150 (1300x970)The Lighthouse, Poole’s Community Centre for the Arts, is featuring the works of Dorset’s Jason Miller, an abstract painter exploring seaside light.  I decided to treat myself after completing a long rewrite of follow-on opportunities today.  The staff had some initial confusion in finding the gallery in their building, but I was finally shown to a light, airy room of colorful works behind the cafe.

DSC01142 (973x1300)Miller works around three themes, and these are intermingled around the galley.  They all simulating varieties of light, and supposed to stimulate contemplative reflection.  One set tended towards loose washes simulating light at different times of the day, intended for viewers to experience and interpret.  The acrylic Marine Light was the best of the group: I liked the texturing and shading, reminiscent of the early mornings before the sun yellows the horizon.

DSC01145 (974x1300)The second group was the Horizon series, gouache paintings that were intended for formal meditation on sea, sky, and horizon.  New Day was typical of the group, sand sharply separated from sky, deepening towards horizon and zenith.  Though less interesting, they are more accessible: I didn’t lose myself as easily in them, though.

The last set was sculptures based on discarded materials found locally.  He says that they are intended to convey thoughts of openness and vulnerability through colour, angles, and soft materials.  I kind of get it, but they felt simple and cheap, more suggestive of school projects than mature compositions.

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The display takes a half hour to traverse, contemplatively.  I like the work, would hang them on my wall, but they don’t dispel my impression of community art galleries: not much beyond the works in any seaside village gallery.

DumasAnd it leaves me looking forward to taking on more challenging fare: the Marlene Dumas at the Tate within the next few weeks.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Tuesday meanderings

DSC01114 (1300x961)The NYTimes is out with their list of 52 places to go in 2015.  I’ve been to 23, and have strong agreement with two (Yellowstone Park and Cleveland).  It’s equal parts reflection on places visited, checklist of spots overlooked, and inspiration for life’s next adventure.

But, being Tuesday, back to the mundane.

DSC01111 (940x1300)It’s VAT week, which means receipts piled high around the Lilac Room and mild cursing over the things that sneak onto my charge bills.  Tallying up the months, reconciling with the accounts, summarizing for the bookkeepers takes ages; its my least favorite, but most necessary task. each quarter.

I will honestly pay, in real (devalued) Euros, for good help.

I’m progressing through my photography course, finally sorting the triangle of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO Sensitivity.  It’s ironic that I am learning all the settings after all this time, but the series of photos with different settings is really helpful in setting the information.

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DSC01112 (1300x966)Friends called to ask if I’d like to join for coffee over at Sandbanks Yacht Company.  It s a nice hour’s break from writing and receipts, so I jumped at the chance.  There’s an increasing UKIP cast to the group, not (at all) my cup of tea, but I’ve been honest that I’m opposed and they gave up trying to argue the points, so we’re at a gentleman’s truce.  DSC01116 (1300x974)We mainly discuss strategies for funding startups, the costs vs. benefits of membership (the same as my gym), and places to visit in Romania (don’t ask).

It’s nice to spend time with other folks  at a break in the workday : I’m convinced that an expats worst enemy is isolation.

DSC01121 (938x1300)I had business in London today, so waking to a 1” blanket of white at 5 am was a concern.  In Seattle, that would have closed schools, businesses, and buses: Everyone would take sleds to the hills.  I expected no less of my British brethren.

But, surprisingly, they ignored it all.  The buses ran late, the trains in bursts, and orange shoe covers were all the fashion.  I made all if my meetings and there wasn’t a comment or raised eyebrow in evidence.

‘Just a lot of salt / sand spreaders everywhere on the motorways.

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Sunday, February 1, 2015

Nigel and Simon

DSC01028 (1300x975)Expat weekends can be as mundane as domestic ones.  The house needs cleaning, the wash is waiting; shopping and tidying take their turns.  I’m taking my time enjoying an online photography course.  I try not to work beyond organizing notes for the coming week, instead catching up with the weekend papers and BBC television.

Which brings me to Simon and Nigel.

I once divided men into the sort that preferred Keira Knightly vs. the ones that dreamed of Kate Winslet.  The Movie Times gave the nod to Keira while acknowledging that Kate has more talent.  For me, it comes down to whether the choice is based on approachability or depth.

Nigel SlaterNigel Slater is a self-styled Cook who Writes, delivering equal parts reflection and homily in his books and television shows.  He putters about his airy kitchen, laboratory clean, and his lush, well-boxed gardens with rumpled hair and earth-tone clothes, pursing his lips and glaring over his glasses.  He doesn’t smile much.

His recipes angle towards eccentric, everyday dishes that he characterizes as ‘quietly civilized’.  He mixes equal parts ricotta cheese and ground beef to make burgers, pan-fries salmon crusted with rice wine and sesame.  Nigel Slater 2He’s always tweaking his spice and veg pairings interestingly.

But he never seems like someone who would be pleasant to join in the kitchen or over a meal.  The focus on taste and freshness is both relentless and disapproving; his numerous opinions strongly stated and unforgiving.  He signs off his recipes with a flourish of self-satisfied finality.

Paradoxically, I do like his approach to dishes.  I’ve been cooking vegetable stews all week, WP_20150201_001 (1300x732)starting with a stock base, adding leafy veg that catches my eye at the green grocer, playing with fresh herbs and distant spices, then finishing with a handful of rice noodles.  They have gotten better and better, very much in keeping with his philosophy of creating understated, handcrafted home cooking.

Simon Calder 2Simon Calder, The Man Who Pays His Way, is a travel writer for the Independent and a presenter on the BBC.  He takes a common man’s approach to travel, bundled against the wind and sun, rambling the hills and stopping to sample food at seaside shacks.  Similarly brown-haired, disheveled, and earthen-clad, he feels much more like someone you would share a meal and swap stories with. He’s always gazing straight on through rain-splattered glasses, waving his hands.  Self-effacing Simon smiles a lot.

His travel advice is usually practical and inexpensive. used to swear by Frommers guides, but usually turn to the Sunday Times Travel and Simon for first Simon Calder 3recommendations now.   I took his reassurances that it was a good time to visit Marrakech, and his small-scale recommendations for Dorset and the Lake District.

The test always come when a travel writer visits a place that I know intimately.  So I was delighted when Simon wrote about Maastricht a couple of months ago.  He got it pretty much right: things to see, places to eat, where to walk.  I would only differ in his nod to using the local airport, and his omission of TEFAF and DSC09237 - CopyCarnivale.

I follow Simon’s loose-limbed approach to travel.  I am certainly interested in where the key museums, gardens, and restaurants are.  But I also value the time to walk and look around and to meet people, letting the ambience of a new destination lead my path through it.

The weekend has room for both pundits.  But I turn to Nigel for inspiration, to Simon for motivation.

And I think I’d rather spend an evening with the latter.