A perfect Sunday

Things around here have been pretty busy– with just two weeks until my dissertation is due I’ve been frantically typing away just about any chance I get, which is why there has been such a lull on the blog. I’ve finally gotten to a place where I’m not quite as worried though, which arrived just in time for yesterday when Cameron and I celebrated out six-year anniversary.

It’s crazy to think about how quickly the last six years have flown by. Is it just me, or does each year seem to go faster and faster? I think I listed to a podcast about this exact feeling once, which said it had something to do with the fact that as you get older there are more years, and so in comparison you have more to compare them with. Or something like that.

Anyway, after a regular morning, we spent the afternoon wandering around London. Our first stop was Buckingham Palace. I hadn’t been yet, even though we’ve lived here almost a year, and Cameron thought it would be fun to see the changing of the guards. As its summer, so did everyone else. With a little patience, and some strategic shuffling, we made it close enough to see a few minutes of what was happening. Seeing over people’s heads was the easy part, but the wall of iPhones, iPads,cameras, and kids on shoulders was another matter (does this bother anyone else?). It was still really fun, and I was glad was finally made it. If you’re in London and are hoping to see the whole thing I would aim to arrive at least an hour early to get a good spot.

After that we had a lovely walk through St. James’s park and then crossed the river to go to Southbank centre for lunch and to wander around their festival of Love. We decided to stop at the Bleeker St. pop-up which had a really delicious tofu burger. After lunch we browsed the book market, and wandered over to the Tate Modern’s Switch House to explore before our next activity. When it was time to head out I finally got to hear where we were going– the Eye!

I was especially excited about going on the eye because we’d booked a spot when we first moved, but missed out spot because of various admin things we had to get done/navigating the tube for one of the first times. The wait was definitely worth it– there view was amazing because it was such a sunny/clear day, and it was surprising fun to point out all of the buildings we knew from above. It was an even better surprise as Cameron got us tickets for the option with a glass of champagne, which made the whole thing even more festive.

After the eye we stopped at home to change before going to dinner at Uni, a super cosy sushi place with a Peruvian influence. After a celebratory cocktail (or two) and some super-yummy sushi we called it a night.

Spa Day at the Berkeley Haybarn

Last week I took a day out my (surprisingly) busy schedule to take a day off, and enjoy a morning/early afternoon at the Berkeley Haybarn Spa in Knightsbridge (massage, facial, pedicure). My family sent me a gift certificate for a half-day back in March, but I’ve only just now managed to find some time to put it to use!

For some reason I have a terrible time carving out time for myself to relax– I always feel a bit guilty, or find my thoughts wandering to all the work I need to do and emails I need to check. Definitely not conducive to relaxing. For my half day at the Haybarn I was determined to actually relax. On my way to my 10:00 am massage I opted to listen to a relaxing playlist, rather than my usual squeezing-in of extra reading for my dissertation, and even managed to arrive about 20 minutes early to give myself time to change and have a seat in the sauna to melt away any residual stress from the journey.

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My massage was first, followed directly by my facial, and both were fantastic. For my massage I opted for Bamford’s signature scent– a blend of geranium, lavender, eucalyptus and peppermint. By the time the massage ended I had successfully banished any thoughts of work to be done, and at the end of my facial felt thoroughly relaxed and refreshed.

I had a break for a bit and sat out in a really lovely courtyard filled with greenery while I sipped some fresh mint tea. The pool had some gorgeous views over Hyde Park and Knightsbridge, and I enjoyed a high lunch (and glass of champagne!) by the window, followed by some reading entirely for pleasure, which never happens as of recently.

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My last treatment of the day was a pedicure, which was an excellent way to end the day, and slowly get ready to go back into the real world. It was definitely hard to leave, but on my way out I picked up some of Bamford’s botanic body oil to extend the experience a bit, and hopefully capture some of the relaxation of the day.

Thinking about my overall experience, I was struck with the idea that a large part of why the day was so relaxing was being forced to tear myself away from my devices. Being away from my phone, as well as my apple watch, was a bit unnerving at first, but soon because wonderfully freeing. So much so, in fact, that I’ve decided to incorporate some device-free relaxing time as a regular part of my week. The best part? Not only is it totally free, but it’s also fabulously simple…if I can stick to it, that is. So, expect a post soon about the challenges and benefits of some tech-free time each week, and treat yourself to some self care at the spa or otherwise!

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(photos from the Berkeley Haybarn website because I was phone-free)

London Staycation

Last week I turned in my last essays for my MA, which means now all that’s left to do is my dissertation. No pressure. Before fully diving in I wanted to take a few days to just relax and recharge so I took last week as a mini-break, which worked out wonderfully as it was an especially sunny and warm one. The rest of this post will detail some of the things I did,  which also happen to be fun things to do generally if you find yourself with some time to spend in London.

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To kick-off this mini vacation week, Cameron and I headed to one of our favourite cocktail bars, the Portobello Star (located on the famous Portobello Road). Besides toasting the end of classes, we had a bit extra to celebrate as Cameron got a job! The Portobello Star is a bit small, but if you can grab a table it’s a wonderful place to linger. They have a fantastic cocktail menu, and a sort of speakeasy vibe that’s great for catching up with a friend, or having a date night, though the later it gets the more it fills up, so try to get there early.

I’d been wanting to rent a paddleboat on the Serpentine in Hyde Park for ages, and since Friday was such a gorgeous day we decided to finally give it a go. We brought a small picnic (and some  rosé) and paddled our way into the centre of the lake to relax and enjoy the day. While it was definitely tempting to stay our all day, our hour was up before we knew it and it was time to head back to shore. It’s definitely something I would do again, either with Cameron, or with friends–there are enough seats for 4-5 people  at least.Be warned though, that if yo go the paddleboat route that shorts/trousers are optimal, and taller people may feel a bit cramped.

On Saturday night I went to see the new ballet of Frankenstein at the Royal Opera House with a friend. There was a special student initiative, which meant that our 5th row tickets were only £25 each, and that there were some really fun talks and events before the performance. My friend and I arrived in just enough time to grab a glass of wine and a table to watch a pre-show performance in Paul Hamlyn Hall, which set the mood for the main event. The ballet was amazing, and even though it was quite long (with two intermissions), we were on the edge of our seats the whole time. If you can get a ticket I definitely recommend going to see it– it’s a familiar story with a bit of everything from romance, to a few pyrotechnics, and of course tragedy, while also absolutely gorgeous.

I definitely feel like I’ve made the most of my mini vacation, and am a bit surprised to say that I’m excited to get to work on my dissertation. I’m sure I’ll manage to make some time  for fun through the rest of the summer though.

Painting the Modern Garden

I’m so glad I made it to Painting the Modern Garden at the Royal Academy before it closes later this month. I’d been so caught up with schoolwork that I kept forgetting to book tickets. This was the perfect way to get out of the library for a few hours and do something fun to take a break from all of the essay-writing I’ve been doing for the past week and a half.

As Cameron and I were waiting in line to enter I heard a member of staff say that general admission for the show has sold out completely for the rest of the run. Luckily last month I decided to become a friend of the RA so this was not a problem. They have a pretty reasonable student range, and a bit of math involving the shows I want to see this year, and adding the price of two tickets for each, and it was sort of a no-brainer. The fact that tickets are sold out is definitely no surprise– not only is it a large show about a fairly popular subject, it’s gotten really positive reviews.

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After waiting for quite a while to enter the very crowded exhibition I can definitely say that braving the very packed galleries was worth it. You are instantly met with a riot of colours that pulls your from painting to painting, and room to room from some early garden scenes of Monet and Renoir, through the avant-garde interpretations, and finishing with a fairly immersive triptych of Monet’s Waterlilies from late in his career. Patience was definitely key, but moving slowly was certainly worth it. Chatting on the way home, we both agreed that it is a really well presented show, and had some amazing and interesting pieces. As well as paintings from the well-known Impressionists, there were some Japanese prints, and some beautifully illustrated manuals on gardening, using Monet as the lynchpin (he was an accomplished and avid gardener) to tie the two together. It was interesting to consider the rise of the impressionists alongside of the boom in gardening and types of flower and plants available at the time, as well as how gardens themselves changed through the early twentieth century.

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Because it was so crowded, and because the show was so dense  (comprised of paintings, photographs, and more) I picked up an exhibition catalogue, which I rarely do, but am really pleased I did. As well as some good reproductions of all of the works from this showing, there are pieces that are set to appear in Cleveland when it opens there in the fall. Another bonus, at least for me, are some great essays surrounding the works which I’d looking forward to reading. If you can’t make it to this show, or to Cleveland in the fall, I definitely think the catalogue is worth it. Sure, there’s nothing like seeing the real thing, but there are some exhibitions that shouldn’t be missed, even if that means seeing them through print.

An art-filled end of the month

This week is quite busy one. Not only is it my last week of classes, with every day taking me one step closer to my dissertation, and eventual graduation and job search, but iso also absolutely packed with different art events which makes everything better– or at least keeps me too busy and distracted to start feeling stressed!

On Tuesday I spent the middle of the afternoon at the British Museum to celebrate the last week of classes. As much as I love going to museums with friends and/or Cameron, there’s something really nice about going alone sometimes. I don’t feel bad about lingering too long in front of one piece, and can go back to have another look at things without the group waiting for me. Recently every time I’ve gone to an art museum I feel like I’ve seen someone touching a piece of art they shouldn’t be– I don’t know if it’s a new thing, or if I just hadn’t noticed before. Either way, seeing someone reach out and touch one of the painted doorways from an Egyptian pyramid is always a bit of a shock.

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In the evening Cameron and I went to the Barbican to see a contemporary adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest, by Gerald Barry. Commissioned in 2011 by the Barbican and LA Philharmonic, this is the first staging since (it got until April 3). At first I found it hard to follow, I soon grew to like the sort of absurdity in parts, which has been one of my favourite parts of Wilde’s original play. The idea that one ‘acquire relations’ as soon as possible  is just one example, and the jig danced by Jack/Earnest and Lady Bracknell during the scene only confirms this. My favourite part, though, was the conversation between Gwendolyn and Cecily when they think they are engaged to the same man, which in the original is full of good manners and yet dripping with dislike. In Barry’s version the two women speak evenly through megaphones while just to the side plates are smashed between each word, followed shortly after by flying cake when the two sit for tea. While decidedly different from Wilde’s original, I think the spirit remains- it’s humorous, a bit dangerous, and feels like a bit of a whirlwind.

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Tonight we do a complete turnaround and head to the Royal Opera House to see Giselle. I was already excited a few months ago when we booked the tickets, but now am looking forward to it even more. Two weeks ago my Arts and Management seminar went to the Royal Opera House for class and were given a tour at the end of our session, in which we got to see a bit of rehearsals for the ballet  and some of the set pieces being moved on stage, which has made me even more excited for tonight!

With so many fun and exciting things happening, it’s hard to be too sad about classes ending. But it’s still unbelievable to think that I’m already 2/3 finished with my master’s programme. In many ways it feels like I’ve just started (insert cheesy ‘time flies’ quote here). At at rate, I’m strangely excited to get to work on my dissertation, and to see what happens next.

 

 

Ai Weiwei at the RA

Today I finally got to Ai Weiwei’s exhibition at the Royal Academy. When it first opened in September I’d just begun classes, and though I seriously considered going on opening weekend, I ended up not because of reading I wanted to get done. Last week I was looking at upcoming exhibitions and realised that this weekend is the last one for this exhibition. In a bit of a panic I booked tickets straightaway, and am so glad I did.

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Walking up to the RA you pass by a corridor of trees, not alive, but assembled from pieces of dead trees from southern China. They are just as beautiful as they are haunting; on of the most interesting features being how they came to be there. The tree’s a very large-scale installation, were made possible through crowdfunding, which I think is really interesting and pretty amazing. I’m not sure if this sort of funding will play an increasing role in the creation of exhibitions, but I really like the idea of people becoming more involved in the creation of such exhibitions. Yes, large institutions, especially those in the UK, receive funding from the government, but there is something very cool about having such a personal connection to an installation by choosing to contribute a sum of money, no matter how small.

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Straight, with the names of the earthquake victims on the wall behind

The exhibition charts a large portion of Ai Weiwei’s career, and features several of his large, recognisable works like, Grapes, Straight, photographs from his 1995 Dropping of a Han dynasty urn, a pair of jade handcuffs, and a massive bicycle chandelier commissioned for the space.

While many of his works active use humour, and display the amazing craftsmanship of artisanal techniques and historic materials- making them fun to look at and engaging to think about.  The two I found myself most affected by were Straight, and the 2012 work S.A.C.R.E.D.; Straight because of the heartbreaking source of the materials– rebar from the 2008 earthquake, and because of the unbelievable long list of names of the victims of the earthquake, largely children. S.A.C.R.E.D features six scenes from when the artist was held illegally by government authorities for over 80 days. Peeking into the large metal boxes that house them, the scenes are eerily real, yet almost unbelievable- making them all the more shocking.

I don’t usually opt for the audio guides, but I’d heard that the ones for this exhibition were particularly good, and they didn’t disappoint. With commentary about the history and background of the artist, there were clips of the artist himself featured, as well as additional photos and videos of some of the works, and a timeline of his history.

The visit wasn’t all serious– shortly before I took the photo above of Straight, a gentleman tripped over the corner, causing one of the pieces of rebar to roll a few inches away from the the whole, yet continued walking like nothing had happened. The work was virtually unharmed, thankfully, but it is interesting to think about what Ai Weiwei’s reaction would be to the incident.

The exhibition closes at the end of this next weekend (13 December) so if you are in the city and haven’t made a visit, I definitely recommend trying to fit it in before it closes.

A little bit of Japan in East London

Recently I visited an exhibition on Mino Washi paper from the Japanese province in Gifu at the Proud Archivist, a restaurant in East London featuring a small upstairs gallery space. Not knowing very much about the history of Washi paper, or Japan generally, I was excited to learn more, especially since it’s recently been listed as on of UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list (a google search told me that Mino Washi has been around since the eight century, which is an amazingly long time).

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The exhibition consists of a small section featuring the history, and how its made, which I  had no idea took so many steps. The main feature is a showcase of paper lamps from the middle of the last century through today; it was interesting to see how shapes and styles had evolved over time. Not only is the process of making the paper amazing and intricate, so are the structures which support it to create the lamps– definitely not like those you might find replicated at Ikea! One of the most gorgeous examples though, are the hanging panels of Washi over the dining space and visible from the stairs featuring intricate cuts and some amazing texture.

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It was a lot smaller than I’d expected, and after talking with one of the people working, I found out that they’d originally planned to host the exhibition in a larger, more dedicated space but faced some difficulty with scheduling, and have since had quite a few logistical issues. I was surprised to hear that they hadn’t had that many visitors after the initial opening, and learned that those who did visit were either already interested in Japan or Washi, or came to browse the gift shop a bit.

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Despite a bit of disappointment about logistics, I did enjoy the exhibit, even hearing about how it was created and all of the problems it’s had along the way. Actually, I think I may have enjoyed it because I heard about all of the problems along the way. Even if you aren’t particularly interested in Japan, or Japanese art I suggest checking out if you are in the area if only to see the impeccably designed lamps, and who knows, you may even learn a bit about Gifu’s cultural identity and heritage.

Melt-ing for Melt

This week is reading in my MA course, and it arrived just in time. While I may have classes only three days out of five, the rest of my time is by no means free. Reading weeks means a bit of a breather, and lest from attending class, as I have a bit of reading to catch up on, and two essays to finish by next Monday.

While this week isn’t vacation, strictly-speaking, Cameron and I are still going to take a short trip to Bath this week, which has meant this weekend was packed full with essay-writing and errands. As a way to de-stress we wandered over to Melt. Just off of Westbourne Grove, it’s quite close to where we live and I’ve been wanting to go since I first saw it a few weeks ago. Full disclosure- I have a pretty serious sweet tooth, and the prospect of a delicious, chocolate-filled study break was too exciting to pass up.

Walking in,you’re instantly struck by the smell of chocolate as your eyes discover the  amazing range of chocolates–  from chocolate-covered popcorn bark to small chocolate disks and, of course, a gorgeous selection of truffles and chocolate bars (there is a chocolate wall!). Happily for me, there was even dairy-free ginger truffle using coconut cream rather than milk, and featuring a lovely gold brushstroke.

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I decided on a ginger truffle, and chocolate-dipped candied orange peel, which is one of my absolute favourites. Part of me wanted to devour them right there, but I though tit would be better to wait at least until we got back home. The ginger truffle was absolutely amazing- dense, flavourful, and velvety smooth inside. The orange slice, which I saved as a bit of an incentive to finish one of my rough drafts, was equally delicious and decadent. Cameron picked up a piece of popcorn bark as well and reported that it too was amazing.

A trip to Melt will definitely be something that remains a treat, but I’m already looking forward to my next trip. Maybe during finals week? It would also be a fantastic place to pick up a gift for a friend.

Three Art Fairs, Two Days, One Rather Long Weekend

This past week and weekend were loaded with different art things, and it was absolutely wonderful. On Friday we visited the Frieze Masters art fair, then headed to East London for an evening at The Other Art Fair, and finished on Saturday with a trip to the Frieze London. It was definitely a bit hectic, but there were a lot of really interesting and lovely pieces that I’m glad I got to see.

Heading in to the Frieze Masters on Friday I didn’t quite know what to expect. I knew there would be art ranging from Ancient Egyptian to Andy Warhol, but I was unprepared of the sheer scale of it. There were over a hundred galleries from around the world, interspersed with a few pop up restaurants and media spaces. It was oddly hushed as people moved through the spaces, looking at sculptures, oil paintings, and photographs. After taking a few minutes to get the lay of the land we stopped for lunch at the pop up restaurant Umu, and planned our route for the rest of the day. I think we ended up spending about five hours wandering through the galleries before heading over to the Other Art Fair.

The Other Art Fair was almost the exact opposite in feeling than the Frieze Masters. Rather than hushed conversations, the Other Art Fair featured music, lots of people talking between themselves and with the artists, and a conveniently located bar. Before entering we were asked if we wanted to participate in an interactive audio artwork which would lead un into the far itself. Of course I volunteered us to go, which turned out to be quite a bit of fun. I spoke with one of the artists for bit before I began, who said that they’d been commissioned by the Fair to make this work for the tenth anniversary.

Waiting at the bottom of a rather lengthy flight of stairs while blindfolded, wearing a set of headphones that were about to begin giving instruction was a bit unnerving, and I began to think I’d made a huge mistake. As other visitors walked normally up the steps, I listened to two disembodied voices tell me a bit about the fair, and give me a mission for once I was inside- to mark a piece of artwork, already purchased, with the pen that had been clipped to the top of the headphones. By the time I reached the top of the stairs and removed the blindfold I was unsure whether I would mark the work or not, but I was glad I’d participated in the work- it was like being in on a secret, and became a bit of a game between Cameron and I to imagine the different ways we could mark the work with no one noticing.

It was a lot of fun wandering through the different stations, talking to different artists about their work. There were many pieces we fell in love with (On of them is inserted below!) but settled on three which we purchased, and which I’m excited to find homes for on our walls.

One of our artworks!

“This is Awkward…” By Elena Garcia de la Fuente

Saturday was a bit more relaxed, although not once we arrived to the final fair of the weekend, the Frieze London. It was considerably more crowded that the Masters had been the day before. It was almost as if you’d melded the two art fairs from the previous day into one. We spend only a few hours at the Frieze, long enough to see almost all of it, but not quite enough to spend as long as I would’ve liked investigating a few of the artworks.

It was definitely a busy weekend, and Sunday was spent doing some much needed relaxing.

Tuesday Night Out at the Opera

I knew before moving to London that there were various theatres that offers tickets for students at fantastic rates, but I wasn’t sure if they were mainly in one genre, or covered many different areas. After a bit of googling, I found that a student discount is available at all sorts of performances and exhibitions. In fact, I was able to use it to get discounted tickets for the Goya Exhibition I went to last week, and for Frieze this coming weekend.

A few weeks ago Cameron and I were able to get £10 tickets to go see a contemporary dance presentation of Romeo and Juliette at the Royal Opera House’s Linbury Studio Theatre. Since we had such a good experience at our first event, we were excited to see a performance in the main opera house. When we saw tickets available to see Ariadne Auf Naxos at the student rate, we decided to snap them up. I think the student rate offered is an absolutely fantastic idea to get a wider range of audience into the theatre, especially for those who may be a bit hesitant.

Our £10 tickets!

Our £10 tickets!

The interior of the Royal Opera House is absolutely stunning. Waiting for the opera to begin, all you want to do is look around at all of the details on the different level, ceiling, and around the stage. I think a tour is definitely in the plan at some point in the future.

Ariadne Auf Naxos is apparently a rarely staged opera, which makes sense after seeing the fairly complex staging, and somewhat unusual plot line. The premise is that a nobleman has commissioned two groups of entertainment, an opera and a comedy troupe, and then decides that the two must combine their performance in the interest of time. I was a bit apprehensive going in as I don’t speak a word German, and I’d never been to an opera, but we looked it up and found that there would be subtitles. Not sure how this would actually happen, we decided to give it a go anyway and hope for the best. Luckily as the performance began a small screen appeared at the upper part of the stage and the English translation was projected.

Waiting for the performance to begin. We had awesome seats!

Waiting for the performance to begin. We had awesome seats!

The performance was wonderful, both fun and full of drama, and the performers amazing. As the piece progresses, marrying the comic and tragic, the beautiful arias and stunning set design transport you and you become swept up in the emotion and drama that unfurls onstage. The projected English was definitely helpful, but much of the emotion needed no translation.

It was a beautiful performance, and a wonderful evening I can’t wait to repeat again soon!