Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Strolling the canal

Returned to London from my parents' house in East Anglia on Sunday evening and saw the wonderful Abbas Kiorastami film The Wind Will Carry Us at the NFT. This funny and beautifully shot film follows a film engineer and his crew as they travel from Tehran to the remote Kurdish village of Siah Dareh on an unspecified mission to do with a sick woman.

Towards the end of the film, the protagonist meets an elderly doctor who lectures him on the glory of creation. According to him, death happens when "you close your eyes on the beauty of the world". Though I've only seen two, it seems to me that Kiorastami's movies are less about grand narrative and more about noticing the beauty of the world, from the yellow cornfields whizzing by through a car's windows to the gnarled trees standing isolated on Iran's rugged and desolate terrain.

Inspired by Diamond Geezer's excellently detailed account of his walk along the length of London's Regent's Canal -- 8.5 miles from Paddington to Limehouse -- we decided yesterday to walk along just a small segment of it, from Little Venice to Camden Lock. Despite being a Bank Holiday there were very few people on the towpath, and it had just rained before we arrived, so everything was brightly lush and green, and incredibly peaceful. At the end of our journey we ate delicious chicken kebabs and Thai squash curry at Camden Lock market. Can't wait to walk the 6.5 mile stretch from Camden to Limehouse.

Photos of our stroll

Saturday, May 28, 2005

Being nobody, going nowhere

Going to the theatre, visiting a gallery or eating out constitute a break from routine for many people.

For me, a break from routine is relaxing in my parents' garden in East Anglia, listening to the buzz of bumble bees and the whoosh of the wind through conifer trees, basking under the scent of a thousand flowers exploding from terracotta pots -- rust-red camellias, creamy marguerites, hot pink azaleas, blue lupins, orange dahlias, white lillies and purple heather.

A break from routine is also eating good home-cooked Indian food -- in this case, curried cauliflower, and spicy chicken with spinach and coconut. And watching goofy TV such as a 23 year old accountant's clapped out 1985 Ford Econoline van being transformed into a spectacularly flashy pornmobile complete with red velvet seats and a hot tub in MTV's Pimp My Ride! And need I mention Big Brother?

I've been spending a couple of days away from London and all its work and play freneticism, recharging. Sitting still, thinking no thoughts, going nowhere, being nobody.

The challenge, I realise, is to experience these feelings in the midst of the bustle of my regular life.

Other link today:

+ Gardens of Glass: Dale Chihuly at Kew Gardens. Can't wait to see this: what a perfect setting for Chihuly's exquisite work.

Friday, May 27, 2005

Pull the trigger

The pistol hairdryer (via Popgadget). I'm veering between jumping up and down feeling appalled (perhaps not one for mommy to use in front of sonny) and jumping up and down in excitement (I want, I want).

Though I must admit to loving Philippe Starck's rather gratuitous 18-karat-gold Kalashnikov lampstand.

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Histrionic gingerbread

"James Dean is a mass of histrionic gingerbread. He scuffs his feet, he whirls, he pouts, he sputters, he leans against walls, he rolls his eyes, he swallows his words, he ambles slack-kneed—all like Marlon Brando used to do. Never have we seen a performer so clearly follow another's style. Mr. Kazan should be spanked for permitting him to do such a sophomoric thing. Whatever there might be of reasonable torment in this youngster is buried beneath the clumsy display."

Thus spake the New York Times when the movie East of Eden premiered in 1955.

Having loved James Dean (one of my earliest girlhood crushes -- along with Jack Kerouac, Sam Shepard, David Bowie and other long dead or old people) and his movies (all three of them) throughout my childhood, I was excited to see East of Eden for the first time on the big screen last night at the NFT, and for the first time in widescreen.

The larger-than-life view magnified so many of the flaws I loved: the moralising script, the melodramatic soundtrack, a mumbling, barely coherent and self-conscious Dean, the naive psychoanalysis (I'm bad, because Daddy doesn't love me).

As wonderfully cheesy as I remembered it.

The cinema was packed with a far more eclectic crowd than I had expected. A good mix of young and old, from smart elderly couples to shabby students. Alas, no Dean look-a-likes...

Monday, May 23, 2005

Weekend in the life of my feet

I put my shiny, new, pampered feet to good use over the weekend by stomping them up and down staircases with boxes and bags, helping a friend to move flats.

I'm not that much of a tyrannical taskmaster though. I allowed my feet some respite from time to time:

On Saturday afternoon I treated them to hanging out at the Beaconsfield bar on Green Lanes for the Arsenal v. Manchester United match. My feet were Gunning for Arsenal of course, even though the team didn't play as well as United. In the evening, my feet lounged around at a friend's birthday party in The Lounge in Brixton, where we got cornered by a man moaning about the reasons why he couldn't finish his PhD -- without realising that he was surrounded by three of us who had -- and about the company I work for.

On Sunday, we were still moving things, but managed to find time for a leisurely big fried breakfast, including bubble and squeak, at a cafe in Pimlico and later some delicious baklava dripping honey in the Antepilier cafe on Green Lanes. We always find time to eat.

We took the night off from boxes and dust to watch Abbas Kiarostami's wondrous Taste of Cherry at the NFT, featuring the enigmatic and morose Mr Badii driving round the barren hills above Tehran, giving lifts to men he hopes will bury him after his suicide. The film focusses on his encounter with three men with different philosophical views on suicide and death. An absorbing masterpiece of subtlety and humour.

Despite the respites, my feet and I were exhausted by the end of the weekend. I think tonight I will lie in bed all evening and catch up with Desperate Housewives and the weekend's newspapers.

Related link:

"I have too much respect for my audience to tell them complete stories," Abbas Kiarostami tells The Telegraph. "I want them to be involved in the narrative process, sharing the director's chair with me, so I leave my films half-made."

Saturday, May 21, 2005


Yesterday, I joined the throngs of London and jostled my way down to the basement of the National Gallery's Sainsbury wing to view the Caravaggio exhibition. The 16 paintings on show had been created during the last four years of his life in exile after fleeing Rome, where he had killed a man in a duel in May 1606.

Most of the paintings are Biblical: David with the Head of Goliath, The Flagellation of Christ, a young St John the Baptist, the beheading of John the Baptist, the Raising of Lazarus, for example. Under Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio's brush, however, the religious subject matter is fabulously lusty, sexy, violent and even a little profane.

Many people have criticised the show for the crepuscular exhibition space, with its oxblood and slate-coloured walls and minimal lighting. But I found the darkness enhanced the passion, violence, drama and intensity of Caravaggio's work.

Of course, Caravaggio's major legacy was a whole new vocabulary of light: the radical contrast between shadow and light, framing each dramatic moment, that created a potency unparalleled in earlier art. And it is this luxurious interplay of light and dark that struck me most today.

The luxury continued when I went to Harrod's Urban Retreat spa to replenish my energy with an indulgent pedicure, involving all the trimmings plus a wonderful foot, ankle and calf massage with aromatherapy creams.

The spa was so noisy with the babble of voices and R&B, though, that any hope I had of being able to slip into a coma of relaxation as the therapist pampered me quickly slipped away. Therapists -- male and female -- gossiped about work and play, a wedding party of three chatted excitedly about the Big Day this weekend, and a besuited man still wearing his sunglasses took business calls on his mobile throughout his treatment. At one point his pedicurist bizarrely mentioned that men rarely have pedicures unless they are gay, to which the business man equally bizarrely spent 5 minutes reiterating he wasn't gay.

The pedicure was heaven though. I now have glossy red toenails and supersoft feet.

Afterwards, I was met in Harrod's food hall and we picked out a delicious selection for our dinner, including lemon almonds, corn nuts, the sweetest and most succulent mangoes I've ever had (costing -- gulp -- £12.49 for two -- which we only realised were so expensive as they were being rung up at the till), supersweet strawberries and some pastries.

Related links:

+ He lived badly, brutally. The Guardian sets out to see every known Caravaggio in existence and discovers a brawling, philandering gangster who created some of his greatest work on the run and wanted for murder.

+ Caravaggio in pictures

+ Caravaggio gallery

Thursday, May 19, 2005

Streets of shame

A few years ago, American artist Susan Hiller was wandering through Berlin when she came across a street sign: Judenstrasse, or Jews' Street. On journeying through Germany, she discovered 303 streets preserving the memories of former residents who had only recently been killed. Judenstrasse, Judendorf, Judentreppe, Judenhoflein.

Surprised and shocked, Hiller embarked on an obsessive three year journey, photographing and filming each and every street, from bustling cities and bland suburbs to snowy farmland and leafy lanes, so that the histories would forever remain visible. She then drew an annotated map, marking every Judengasse, Judenweg, Judenpfad, Judenhain, Judenbackel and others in the entirety of Germany, from Aachen to Zerbst.

Viewed in isolation, the images are quite mundane, but packed tightly together in the Timothy Taylor Gallery on Dering Street, so many questions rise up in the viewer. Were the street names ever torn down like their namesakes? Who were these Jewish communities living in isolated villages in the countryside or the busy cities such as Munich or Berlin? What were their unique and personal experiences? What do the street names mean to current residents, if anything?

More questions arise watching the accompanying film entitled The J Street Project. For 67 minutes, the video camera focusses on different "J-streets". Some are devoid of any movement but leaves rustling in the wind or the sun setting behind the horizon; others feature people blithely cycling along, having their hats blow off as a juggernaut hurtles past them, or waiting at a railroad crossing in their cars. You wonder if they are even aware of the history of the streets they are moving through; if they look up at the street sign and reflect upon its significance to German history.

"These signs commemorate something, but who remembers it?" Hiller told The Observer. "Nobody. All of my work deals with ghosts in a way that some people see and some people don't. Now the signs are seen as respectful, but what do they commemorate? A history of racism and segregation."

Overall, the senses provoked in me were disquiet, unease and absence. However, my mood considerably perked up upon leaving the gallery when David Hockney walked in and opened the door for us. We were both stunned into silence and couldn't even say thank you! Blond and wearing a light-coloured trench coat, he looked fit, agile, tanned and much younger than in his photos.

A little shell-shocked by this fleeting encounter, and grinning like loons, we could move no further than the end of Dering Street, where we tumbled down into Fiesta Havana for a hearty meal of corn chips with red chilli, coriander and lime salsa; gaucho steak with blue cheese and fire roasted corn; steak burger bound with spicy chorizo; and Corona beers, strawberry caipirinha and raspberry mojito.

Monday, May 16, 2005

Music to my ears

My musical weekend began with a trip to Oxford to see Canadian "gay messiah" Rufus Wainwright perform at the New Theatre. Usually I love Wainwright's grandiose and melodramatic warblings, but in Oxford on Friday the sound was so appalling that Rufus' adenoidal drawl ricocheted painfully around my skull and the instruments blurred into a single, flat noise. Sack the soundman, I say.

The monotony was only relieved in the last 15 minutes, when the very cute Rufus exchanged his respectable shirt and suit for a buttless sequined thong, lipstick red stilettoes and blue stockings as Miss Oxford.

But even this frivolity couldn't beat the real highlight of my night, when I returned with my friend to her house in Summertown and she made us chocolate fondue with organic strawberries (at last, strawberries that taste of my childhood rather than of water). Scrumptious.

On Saturday, we enjoyed a moorish stew of smoked sausage, black beans and rice, followed by a gooey carrot and orange cake at the wonderful Brazilian-Portuguese restaurant and bar Canela in Covent Garden. Then we crossed the river to hear fadista Mariza sing her soulful brand of Portuguese fado at the Royal Festival Hall.

Fado ("fate") perhaps developed out of the Portuguese presence in Brazil during the 19th century, as a blend of African slave rhythms, traditional music of Portuguese sailors and Arabic influences. Linked to the word saudade and embodying nostalgia, longing, sorrow, loss, love and happiness, this mournful music typically features lyrics such as, "Why did you leave me, where did you go? I walk the streets looking at every place we were together, except you're not there." The Portuguese Blues, indeed.

29 year old Mariza is often billed as the current crown princess of fado, which is the main reason I wanted to experience her melancholia live. Born in Mozambique and of mixed parentage, she grew up in a traditional neighbourhood of Lisbon, surrepticiously listening to the amateur fadistas who sang weekly in the smoky, dark confines of her parents' cafe. She herself began singing at 5 years old.

On Saturday, she swayed across the stage in a long and black diaphanous dress, wrapped in a traditional black shawl, with her trademark helmet of bleached, cropped hair glowing out of the dark. Flanked by musicians -- also swathed in black -- playing violin, cello, Spanish guitar, Portuguese guitar, acoustic bass and an adufe drum, she sang with the strength of a woman twice her age. She doesn't quite have the depth, range and passion of a diva such as the Cape Verdean Cesaria Evora, but she is very close.

A wonderful performance that had me swinging between elation and sorrow all evening.

Related link:

+ Fado figures. Mariza and Portugal's other female fadistas.

Friday, May 13, 2005


This painting by Marc Chagal, exhibiting the sheer joy of existing, perfectly captures my mood right now. Joyously and outrageously life-affirming.

For a variety of reasons, I haven't had a chance to write much recently. I had a fabulous lamb-laden Turkish meal on Green Lanes last night where all the waiters wore Turkish football shirts, but otherwise, since returning from Spain, have simply been relaxing reading and kicking back with friends at home.

Tonight, though, I'm off to Oxford to see Rufus Wainwright in concert, and tomorrow it's back to London to see beautiful Portuguese fado singer Mariza at the Royal Festival Hall. Yipppppeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Tuesday, May 10, 2005


Seville was charming, romantic and seductive. We stayed in the Hotel San Gil, a beautiful four-star hotel in La Macarena district, complete with marble courtyard and tiled lobby.

We wandered around the monumentally Gothic Cathedral de Sevilla and the Moorish palace Alcazar. We spent an afternoon chilling in the Arabic baths, Banos Arabes, where we drank mint tea, luxuriated in a steam room, a salt pool and three other pools ranging from ice cold to hot, and basked under candlelight and Arabic music.

But mostly we meandered through the narrow, twisting, cobbled streets, stopping at whatever bar or cafe took our fancy. One of our favourite meals took place in Triana district on the Rio Guadalquivir which flows through the city. Triana is a fishing district and there we ate delicious dishes piled high with freshly grilled or lightly fried calamari, sardines, prawns, and clams, plus a refreshing tuna nicoise.

On other nights we ate gazpacho, garlic prawns, chorizo, jamon serrano (cured ham), black pudding, olives, beef steak, squid, whitebait, other fish, plus a stew of pork with dates and bacon at the tiny Cuban restaurant Habanita... In fact, mainly meat, fish and seafood.

We were rarely served vegetables to accompany our tapas or racions unless we specifically asked for them. Once we ordered a spinach and chickpea stew, and although it was tasty, the spinach and the chickpeas had obviously come out of a tin. And, despite all the orange trees growing on every street, we had to buy fruit (oranges and strawberries) from a store. An Atkins dieter's paradise!

We started our days with jamon serrano (cured ham) sandwiches, madeleines (small sponge cakes) or greasy and delicious chocolate con churros (deep-fried pastries dipped in thick melted chocolate), all washed down with freshly-squeezed orange juice and coffee.

And of course, lots of ice cold beers, mojito, caipirinha, and sangria. The best place for drinking was the run-down and buzzing Alameda de Hercules plaza of Alameda, where a younger and more alternative crowd hung out.

We didn't get to experience any flamenco or bullfighting, but then there's always next time.

Photos from our trip

Monday, May 09, 2005

Plaster casts

Cast Court at the Victoria and Albert Museum, May 02. More photos.

Wednesday, May 04, 2005


On Sunday we saw Iranian filmmaker, artist, poet and photographer Abbas Kiarostami's Forest Without Leaves installation at the V&A. We drifted through a three dimensional forest composed of huge hollow tubes wrapped with photographic images of the barks of trees -- complete with carved Persian graffiti. The rationale behind the installation is that we are so out of touch with nature in natural surroundings that we can only observe it with care when placed and framed in an artifical environment. The effect was utterly haunting and mysterious.

We also viewed his Trees In Snow exhibition -- a series of photographs of stripped alpine stands of trees and their skeletal shadows silhouetted against winter landscapes that somehow manage to convey not bleakness and loneliness but beauty and serenity akin to Japanese pen and ink drawings.

Simply beautiful.

A season of Kiarostami films begins this month at the NFT and I'm very excited as it will be my first exposure to his work.

I'm off to Seville now, so won't be posting until next week!

Related link:

+ "Who is this 65-year-old Tehrani and why are the film, art, publishing and academic worlds so excited? According to the high priest of art cinema, Jean-Luc Godard: 'Cinema began with D. W.Griffith and ended with Abbas Kiarostami.' One American critic wrote: 'We don't know it yet, but we are living in the age of Kiarostami.'" The Times on Abbas Kiarostami.

Monday, May 02, 2005

Bank Holiday drifting

The long and humid Bank Holiday weekend began for us on Friday evening with drinks at Two Floors and Alphabet Bar in Soho, then dinner at the lively and packed Tex-Mex restaurant Cafe Pacifico in Covent Garden. We drank mescal and rosemary cocktails and devoured comfortingly cheesy ground beef burritos and quesadillas. The band Travis also sauntered in to eat, but I seemed the only diner to notice them.

On a hot and listless Saturday, I dragged us down to Bethnal Green and Bow for a disastrous few hours of "non-shopping", after which we had little energy but to sprawl across the grass in Green Park, along with the rest of London it seemed, and read the Saturday papers and people-watch. Rejeuvenated, we then wandered around Soho enjoying the summer evening, before devouring oysters, lobster and king prawns at the fabulous seafood restaurant Randall & Aubin on Brewer Street. We sat at the front of the restaurant by the open window, and as seafood juice dripped down our fingers we watched the very camp waiters air-kiss their friends who were passing by, and tried to work out whether the apartment opposite with the red light in the window and heavy drawn curtains was a brothel or not. We were nearly convinced when five or six Indian men leapt excitedly up the adjoining staircase, but then began to doubt when they leapt back down laughing a few minutes later.

Sunday was another chilled day, but this time largely spent working and surfing the net. In the evening, however, we headed back into Covent Garden to watch the fabulously witty Melinda And Melinda -- Woody Allen's return-to-form movie that convinced us to re-watch Manhattan, Annie Hall, Hannah And Her Sisters, and Crimes And Misdemeanors on DVD some time soon. This was followed by a filling but average Thai dinner back in Soho surrounded by male gay couples and a "suit" on a first date unsuccessfully trying to convince his female guest that affirmative action is a bad idea. Somehow I don't think she'll be putting his telephone number on speed-dial.

Today (Monday) we lazed around all morning reading the Sunday papers (bought the night before), then headed out to the V&A in South Kensington for Iranian filmmaker and artist Abbas Kiarostami's haunting and ethereal installation Forest Without Leaves and exquisite photographic exhibition Trees In Snow, more of which tomorrow. We also meandered through my favourite room in the V&A, the dank and decrepit Cast Courts cluttered with monumental and intricate Victorian plaster cast statues, altars, door frames and columns.

Afterwards, we headed back to the West End to watch the hilariously crude A Dirty Shame -- "Pope of trash" John Waters' new movie about sex addicts in the Baltimore suburbs, with Tracey Ullman, Johnny Knoxville, Chris Isaak, Selma Blair (complete with eye-knocking triple-Z cups) and Patty Hearst (yes, the one and only). Apparently, according to IMDb trivia, "When the MPAA were asked what would needed to be cut to obtain an R rating, they replied that if everything the MPAA objected to were to be removed, the movie would only be 10 minutes long." After 90 minutes of much-welcome cheap laughs, we ventured back out into the early evening sunshine to loll around the grass at St James' Park and plan our long weekend trip to Seville in a couple of days -- hurrah!

My God, when did April slip in to May?

My body senses summer approaching faster than my mind because it starts craving ice cream: anything from a cheap synthetic generic vanilla through Häagen-Dazs cookies and cream to Green and Blacks dark chocolate. So long as it's ice cream. Today at the cinema it was Häagen-Dazs panna cotta and raspberry. Bliss.