Sunday, July 29, 2007

Weekend delights

My weekend began on Friday, with post-work beers with colleagues outside The George on Wardour Street. We always try not to discuss work, but after chit-chat about weekend activities and holidays, conversation always drifts back to it. I used to shy away from work socials because of this - I'm also naturally introverted - but now I realise work socials are a good way of getting to know what people are working on, of getting people to know what I'm working on, of finding out what's going on in the company, and of trying to impress on senior colleagues which upcoming new business I want to work on (it's not always a good idea to wait for projects to be handed to you; if post-work chit-chat with a senior colleague reveals a piece of new business that sounds sexy or is in an area I want more experience in then I will say, "That sounds interesting, I'd love to work on that").

Then M called me to say he was leaving work and we met in The Brunswick in Bloomsbury - one of the few remaining modernist, even brutalist, social housing projects in Britain today. The centre has undergone a dramatic transformation recently. Where once it resembled the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, with empty, condom-strewn thorough-fares, peeling paint and torn net curtains in the windows, today it is home to French Connection, Oasis, Starbucks, Carluccio's, Waitrose, et al. High street anywhere in other words. The fact that these are all chains and that the flats still look extremely run down means I've never spent much time there save for a visit to the Renoir cinema, part of the still excellent Curzon group. However, tonight we were on a mission to stock up on cheeses, breads, jams, chocolates, rocket, cured meats and wine at Waitrose for a Friday night picnic dinner at home with a DVD.

M had put in an large order at the cheap and very excellent - ten Asian DVDs in all. On Friday, snuggling into the sofa with our picnic food, we watched Japanese director of Nobody Knows and Maboroshi Hirokazu Koreeda's Distance, following the lives of the relatives of cult members slain by fellow cult members.

On Saturday, we hopped on a bus to Finsbury Circus to see the Paul Morrison exhibition at Bloomberg SPACE. Morrison had covered the walls with huge black and white stencil-like paintings of landscapes and botanical motifs that drew on a variety of influences, from classical Germanic and Chinese landscape traditions through medieval engravings to Walt Disney comics. Morrison keeps a database of found images and modifies them. As he wrote in the exhibitions notes:
"I collect imagery from a variety of sources including medieval woodcuts, quattrocento paintings, cartoons, botanical textbooks, advertising, children's illustrations, films, sixteenth century herbals and the Internet."
Expansive lakes, smoking volcanoes, densely packed trees, rocky mountains, multi-headed blooms - all painted on a grand scale that unsettled and unnerved me. Brilliant work.

We stopped in at the Japan Travel Centre again to confirm our bookings for the Kyoto ryokan - a traditional Japanese inn where we will be served kaiseki - a seasonal cuisine traditionally served during tea ceremonies and served in beautiful stoneware. They serve it here at the sublime but very expensive Umu. Whilst there, I picked up a terrific Japanese cookbook in Japanese and English that features simple recipes such as red rice with azuki beans, marinated spinach (ohitashi), Japanese egg pancakes (okonomiyaki), kakiage and tofu hotpot.

We lunched on scones, clotted cream, blueberry jam and white tea in the whimsical Moroccan-themed interior of The Parlour in Sketch on Conduit Street. Sketch spans several floors of a grade-II listed 18th century townhouse. It encompasses breakfast and lunch rooms, patisseries, bars, brasseries and fine dining rooms, each with its own personality. I last came here for dinner with clients, where we enjoyed an elegant meal on the top floor Library. The Parlour was full of ladies-who-lunch (save for a very odd 118-118 couple in sweatbands and tracksuits and leather baseball caps!) and M felt a little out of place surrounded by so much oestrogen.

We went downstairs to the very kitsch Paper Rad show in Sketch's basement. Click on the link and imagine being immersed in all that digital neo-psychedelia on twelve huge screens complete with a prog-rock, psychedelic, trance soundtrack blasting out from every surface. With influences ranging from 70s US children's programmes and cartoons to retro video games and YouTube viral movie clips - the experience had no political subtext or message and was simply fun fun fun!

I'm always creatively stimulated visiting art galleries and have been ever since I used to bunk off school as a teenager and escape suburban hell to travel to London every week or so. Though I never studied art there, all my friends at Goldsmiths College,where I was an undergraduate, studied art or music. I was so lucky to be surrounded by such fine creative minds and the environment really encouraged my own efforts at writing fiction.

M loves art as much as I do. He doesn't have a creative outlet as such - he doesn't paint or write or play a musical instrument - but he thrives on an artist's vision of the world. I am more experiential - enjoying art for how it makes me feel. But M is a real scientist at heart (his previous career before law) and enjoys analysing and dissecting points of view and opinions. And he likes it when an artist makes him see things differently. Art for him can be a wonderful intellectual exercise. So we both feel something is missing from our week if don't manage to go to a gallery.

To the Haunch Of Venison we went for the Jamie Shovlin show examining recent American history through the lens of 1970s MOR rock music. Particularly engaging was the home movie footage of his parents - nondescript Midlands suburbanites whose daily lives were enlivened by a middle-of-the-road US 80s rock soundtrack. The mother talked us through her well-worn vinyl collection of Hall & Oates, the Eagles, America and Foreigner - "Nice, handsome bands to watch," she gushed. "If I was ironing, Hall & Oates would be blasting in the background. I brainwashed my children into recognising any Hall & Oates song from the intro!" The large-scale acrylic paintings of Bob Seger, the Eagles, America and Hall & Oates album covers were also a visual treat.

There's a political subtext, of course, behind these paintings - the guide says, "The exhibition presents a narrative of hope and disillusion... [It] points to the ways in which the ideals of the 1960s were alternately compromised by commercial imperatives, buoyed up by the music and then broken down and abandoned" - but the film is worth watching for the sheer enthusiasm of Shovlin's parents alone, and I always loved the bravado and optimism of those MOR rock album covers from the 70s and 80s.

Walking down Bond Street, we saw Arsenal veteran Tony Adams. Or rather M saw him. I was too busy staring at his companion who looked like George Bush, so only got to see his back as he turned the corner out of sight. M furiously texted his sister and mum as his family have been supporting Arsenal since his grandfather's days.

Our final gallery was the Spruth & Magers' show of Stephen Shore's photographs from the Warhol Factory in the late 1960s. I've always adored Shore's coloured photos of the vernacular America landscape but it wasn't until we visited his retrospective at the International Center Of Photography in Manhattan in May that I realised he had worked with Andy Warhol for two years. The Spruth & Magers show was our first opportunity to see some of the photos he took at The Factory and what a treat it was - the candid photos of Warhol eating at the formica tables of a grimy Chinese cafe surrounded by a non-plussed clientele who look like they wouldn't give a damn even if they did know who Warhol was; or swigging from a bottle of beer in his studio watching something off camera. Shore was greatly influenced by the laconic nature of Warhol's Factory movies, by the artist's use of serial imagery and by his obsession with recording every detail.

And then it was a family dinner at Strada with M's childhood friend and his Chillean wife who live in Hitchin, a pretty little Hertfordshire market town half an hour outside London. M's sister, mum and mum's friend also joined us and it was a lovely evening. Though a walk through the town late at night to catch a train back home confirmed why I am reluctant to move back to the suburbs.

And now it's Sunday. The sun is shining, M's returned from the gym, I've cleaned the house and finished the laundry, we've lunched on spelt bread, smelly Camenbert, soft goats cheese, muscat grapes, sun-blush tomatoes and salami meats. Now I'm finishing off blogging while M washes the floor and cleans the toilet and bathroom. We'll nip out to our local shops and buy some food for the week, then we'll settle in for the rest of the day and watch Asian movies from our package, perhaps with some green tea. I'll try and tempt M with some of my favourite rose and violet fondants (very girly and old-fashioned chocolates). Later he'll make a Vietnamese poached chicken with lime leaves, while I chat with my wonderful parents on the phone. I wish they lived closer to London because I do miss them loads.

It'll be good to chill at home today. I've got a busy work week ahead, topped off with a work party and a client dinner. M is always busy and works late often - more often than not these days we sit down to eat at 10pm. I could eat before him of course, but it's so nice making the effort to eat together (and we're still newly-weds!). And from this coming Friday, of course, my busy birthday weekend begins - whoop!

Anyway, hope you're having a lovely weekend too!

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