Saturday, April 23, 2011

Durian Season once again !

What a joyous scene for me ! Durian season has descended upon us. Beautiful red baskets of durians delivered by lorries to the fruit stall at Geylang early in the morning. You either hate it or you love it ! There is seldom anything in between.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Royal Wedding - William and Kate 29.4.2001

There were tourist souvenirs everywhere in London to commemorate the upcoming marriage of Prince William and Miss Catherine Middleton. But I bought a Mark and Spencer's tin box containing short bread as my souvenir as I loved the blue tin and the design. I also came across some cute little designs that were up for bidding for charity in the British magazine Living Etc. The designs do look a little more refreshing than the ubiquitous tourist types.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Around London

The queen and her crown are part of the everyday landscape in Britain

With the prevalence of the mobile phone, these iconic British phone booths seem more decorative today than functional

An art installation that's both functional and beautiful

A nice day for a ride ! A row of bicycles for rent

Britain, Britain, Britain. Land of the unmistakable red phone booths and the crown that sits upon the head of the queen.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Tate Britain

John Everett Millais : Ophelia 1851-2 Wilfred Knight : The Deluge 1920
Mark Gertler : Merry-Go-Round 1934
Edward Burra : The Snack Bar 1930
Tate Britain is the home of British art. They have just recently rehung their galleries so that even repeat visitors will get a fresh look at the Tate collection. The British art displays are divided and presented in several ways, with large areas displaying historic, twentieh century and contemporary British art while special displays keep in focus individual artists or a specific period of British art. Featured here are some of my favourites from Tate Britain.

Peter Doig : Echo Lake 1998
John Singer Sargent : Carnation, Lily, Lily, Rose 1885-6
Lucian Freud : Girl with a Kitten 1947

Nebamun - the Life of an Egyptian accountant

Officials in chariots as depicted in Nebamum 's tomb chapel

Desert hares are caught as feast food for the wealthy Nebamun

Below: Nebamun hunting in the mashes of the Nile. In ancient Egypt, fertile marshes were a place for rebirth and erotism. Above: Fishes and ducks found in these fertile marshes

Above: Egyptian ladies at Nebamun's party

Livestock lined up for inspection in Nebamun's world

And little British kids lined up against the glass as they scribble the answers to their British Museum assignment The life of an accountant in ancient Egypt was by no means monotonous or simple. These exquisite well preserved drawings were found in the tomb chapel of Nebamun, the accountant in charge of grain at the Temple of Amun at Thobes (modern Karuak ) who lived lavishly in his life time and as shown, hopefully in his afterlife. Nebamun is thought to have lived at around 1500 BC. Apparently, these paintings were hacked from the tomb wall and purchased by a British collector who in turn sold them to the British Museum in 1821. The location of this tomb chapel was never revealed and the collector died in poverty without ever revealing its source location.

And at the time while I was there, there were many British school kids who were frantically scribbing the answers for their quiz assignments during their school trip to the British museum. It was such a joy to hear them speak to each other. On seeing one of the many statues, a little boy exclaimed , " Look ! He's got nipples !"

Anthropologie London, King's Road

From museums of human history and culture , I made a diversion to another form of anthropology, one that appeals to the senses in a modern way. It also gives me a much needed therapy of the retail sort. Anthropologie has in recent years established itself in London, in both Regent Street and King's Road and after an stimulating museum visit, it feels good to be visiting this lovely store. Just like how a museum curator has to visualise how an exhibit should be displayed, an Anthropologie store visualiser has to exercise great creativity and flair for the store's interior and window display. This time, a large number of green bottles hanging down in a cascading fashion, provides a lovely backdrop to the clothes on display.

Within the store, a hand written receipe for sponge cake on a blown up foolscape paper adds a nice whimsical and homely touch to the crockery which comes in beautiful colours and shapes. I bought a lovely cup with red and pink flowers and ensured that I wrapped it carefully within my suitcase. All went well till I got home. I had to drop it accidentally on the first day, breaking its handle. Hopefully, some super glue will do the trick. If you are in the vicinity of an Anthropologie shop, do drop by. As the British people love to say, "It's lovely !"

Antique Porcelain Ware at the British Museum

French porcelain plate with chinoiserie decoration in gold and platinum, Sevres 1802

British made Japanese inspired ceramics

Below : Made in Sevres 1845 for use at the Chateau de Fontaine Bleau.

A pretty piece with gold plated butterflies

Chinese butterflies and sprigs, English Straffordshire, Wedgewood 1812-1829

Straffordshire, Stoke-on-Trent is the birthplace of Britain's thriving pottery industry which started in the 17th Century. And world renowned names as Royal Doulton, Wedgwood (founded by Josiah Wedgewood), Spode (founded by Josiah Spode) and Minton (founded by Thomas Minton) started at this place. The local abundance of coal and suitable clay gave it a lead start but the subsequent construction of the Trent and Mersey Canal allowed the import of china clay from Cornwall and facilitated the production furthur, cementing its position in Europe's pottery industry. Many of the made in Britain antique tea cups and saucers in the 1800s were made in this area.

Over in France, plates, cups and saucers used by the French royalty were specially made in a factory at Sevre. It supplied tableware with gold decorations to the royal households at the various palaces, bearing the monogram of the reigning monarch at the base together with the name of the place or chateau. But of course, royalty has ceased to exist in France with that chapter in French history dramatically chopped off.

I love tea cups, plates and tiles and spent a considerable time in this gallery admiring the antique pieces on display and learning of its origins. My friend once told me that he was invited to a friend's family dinner in France and prior to dinner, exquisite antique cups and plates were taken out to be admired before they were taken away. Dinner then commenced in another set of tableware. Not sure if he was pulling my leg but I would love to invited to such dinners.

The Old Royal Naval College

The painting on the Ceiling below represents triumph of Peace and Liberty over Tyrany and pays tribute to William and Mary and British maritime power.

After my visit to the Greenwich Market, I proceeded to visit The Old Royal Naval College. It was built by Sir Christopher Wren during the reign of William and Queen Mary in 1694 for the relief and support of seamen and their dependants but as the nineteenth century wore on, the numbers of Pensioners declined and the Hospital finally closed in 1869. Soon after this, it became a naval training place for officers from around the world but this soon ended when they moved out in 1998.

One of the most beautiful feature of the old Royal Naval College was The Painted Hall, probably the finest dining hall in the Western world. It is decorated with stunning paintings by James Thornhill who took 19 years to finish it. He did such a fine job that he was eventually knighted. Today, visitors from the world come to see it in the day while at night, special event dinners are organised. During my visit, the hall was spectacularly lit by electric candlelights.The visual would be complete with a grand feast like in the Harry Potter movies. Though there wouldn't be magical flying objects, the scene would nevertheless be as spectacular !

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Queen Victoria Cake

Queen Victoria's favourite cake at tea-time is made up of two layers of fluffy sponge held together by cream and strawberry or rasberry jam. It is a cake that is very simple to make though a lot does depend on how well you know your oven. Apparently, Queen Victoria being the very pragmatic queen that she was, didn't see the need to make a variety of cakes at tea time. She simply had all her favourites combined - cake, strawberry jam and cream. All in one. How brilliant !

I had the Victorian sandwich cake for tea one afternoon at Greenwich, London and took a picture of it using my I- phone. It didn't look good due to the reflection of the cake cover but that improved with the application of the instagram apps.

Greenwich Market

Maritime Greenwich is now an official Unesco World Heritage Site with a large concentration of buildings of great architectural and historical significance. Located in the South East of London, I had to take the tube out of central London to the docklands and business district, walk through the Greenwich foot tunnel which led to a steep flight of stairs (the tunnel was under repair and lift was not in service) to get to Greenwich. And as I was panting away, cylists were able to lift their bikes over their shoulders to climb the stairs without any sign of fatigue.
My first stop was the Greenwich Market as it was almost three and I needed some form of sustenance. The intoxicating smell of seafood paella was wafting through the air and the choice was clear. A man in an apron was preparing it in a huge flat saucepan right in front of the window in a quaint little cafe . For an Asian, a taste of rice would be comforting. And as I was enjoying the food with a friend, in view were open shelves of French gourmet food displaying bottled Ratatouille, bouillabaisse and soup de poisson. I couldn’t resist my favourite config de canard with goose fat and bought a tin consisting of four duck drumsticks. Not exactly healthy but you only live once. And for dessert, the very sinful yet irresistible Brazilian churros at the market, freshly made, filled with caramel and chocolate within and coated with sugar and cinnamon outside. Enough sugar overload to prepare me for more heavy walking to the National Maritime Museum, Greenwich Park and the Old Royal Naval College.