to be like a featherby

a not so private tête-à-tête between sisters…

“I must have flowers, always, and always.” – Claude Monet

Dear Sarah,

I would love to go to La Scala whilst you’re still living in Italy. On Thursday I saw La traviata at the Royal opera house. This was me:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9GZoc8Chd_g

It was fabulous, the Italians know how to do parties and romance properly, don’t you agree? I’m sure you can tell me a bit more about that.

At the moment I have some narcissus jonquilla flowers in my room, they are like mini daffodils and smell amazing. Also there are daffodils blooming in Mile End. It seems like Spring is almost on its way in London. I felt very Spring like Yesterday evening when I went with Charlotte to the Painting the Modern Garden exhibition at the Royal academy. It made me think of you and your appreciation of flowers.

There was a beautiful quote early on in the exhibition from Monet; “I perhaps owe it to flowers that I became a painter”. It reminded me of Grandma’s many flower paintings and of Grandpa’s garden, which must have been a source of inspiration. In William Cook’s article on the exhibition he suggests “a garden is a sort of painting, an attempt to create the perfect picture, in the round”. The exhibition has many divine examples of how gardens and flowers were depicted by the Impressionist and Expressionist painters in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. We see how dreamy the results can be when the disciplines of gardening and painting meet; the works displayed reveal each artists’ route to escapism through nature.

Here are a few of my favourite works from the display:

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Chrysanthemums, Claude Monet, 1897

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Murnau-Garden II, Wassily Kandinsky, 1910

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Flower Garden, Emil Nolde, 1922

In the final room the viewer is presented with Monet’s triptych of immense waterlily paintings (the Agapanthus Triptych), reunited especially for the exhibition. The colours are blissful and the texture on the surface of the canvas is so soft and blurred that you can get lost in there; gravity melts away. In fact they are so immersive you can almost dive in and imagine looking up through the water at the undersides of the lily pads overhead.

After the exhibition we went to a lovely pub called The Seven Stars in Holborn. There is a little cat there who wears a special neck ruffle. A very stylish cat I think you would agree.

I hope all this tempts you for a visit to London soon.

Love,

Ellie

 

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Farming Magic

Dear Ellie,

Behold biodynamic agriculture. It is impossible for me to tell you about this type of farming without feeling like mystic meg; this is why I think you will be drawn to it. You love things slightly of the wall and I think you will delight in its wackiness. 

Rudolf Steiner

 

What is now ‘biodynamic agriculture’ started life as a series of lectures given by Rudolf Steiner. Steiner, the guru of BA, a bit like Da Vinci, wrote and theorised about several things but I think he is best described as a spiritual philosopher. In 1924 a group of farmers asked Steiner for help on how to make farming more sustainable and ecological. In response, Steiner researched the effects of chemical fertilisers on soil conditions. Unsurprisingly he found chemicals to be very harmful for the earth. He proposed alternative methods to experiment with to help the land. His approach has had dedicated followers ever since.  

biodynamic squash

Biodynamic is a constantly evolving method of farming which is difficult to summarise and is better read about or studied. In shorthand, however, it is a holisitic appraoch to farming which works in harmony with the earth. For the biodynamic farmer, mother nature is an actual force. The farm should be considered as a whole organism, seeking to be self-sustaining. The farmers do not just consider the product to be important. Rather, they think that if you take care of the earth and listen to mother nature on the way, then you have a good product. The most famed biodynamic method of creating feed for the soil is bizarre. It involves taking the horns of a cow and stuffing them with cow manure. They are then placed in the ground for six months over winter. The idea being that the cosmic forces in the soil transfer the manure into a unbelievably fertile ‘humus’ called 500. Cuckoo huh? 

 

manure horn


I have spent time on two biodynamic farms: one luxurious and one rustic. Both were wonderful. The fruit and vegetables taste fantastic and you somehow feel responsible for making sure they are handled well and given a fair treatment in the kitchen. Increasingly the process of everything becomes more and more important. Everything has the potential to be used as compost. Waste is practically non-existent. It is also brilliant being surrounded by farmers who are essenitally academics. They are so dedicated to this approach, so learned, that they are brilliant conversationalists. Farming wizards, not dissimilar to Gandalf with a rake. For instance one farmer handed me a walnut and asked me what it looked like when cut open. A brain of course! No wonder eating it is so nouishing for our minds. Likewise, how amazing is the land that gives us the gift of a huge, juicy, watermelon in the heat of summer. 

buried for winter

 
Only when you leave do you slightly ponder the absurbity of it all. Still, I am happy to divulge in the magic wisdom of biodynamics. Particulary if the food, as a result, is so delicious.

What are we cooking for Christmas?

Sarah. Xx

Favourite Bookshops

Dear Ellie,

When I find myself alone in a city, as I did last week in Milan, the first thing I do is head to a bookshop. I can spend hours getting lost in a bookshop. Indeed I often stumble out a few hours later having to remind myself where I actually am. For me there is nothing more relaxing.  So here are some of my favourite bookshops that I have discovered on my travels.

Rizzoli Galleria, Milan

Rizzoli Libreria

I wanted to visit the Rizzoli bookshop in Milan simply because I am a huge fan of their opulent coffee table books. The bookshop is a marvel itself, being located in the magnificent Galleria Vittorio Emanuele, next to the Duomo. This shop is ideal to while away some hours. They have a sort of reading room at the back where you can delve into their latest publications ranging from a vast book on Di Vinci to Kim Kardashian’s selfie book. If I ever have a house to decorate I’ll head straight to Rizzoli to draw inspiration from their interiors books. There is also an outpost of Rizzoli in London at Somerset House

Books for Cooks, London

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Maybe the best book shop in the world? Books for Cooks famously only sells cookbooks and serves the yummiest lunch in London. What more could you want? I am particularly fond of their food literature section. Every kitchen should have copies 1-10 of Books for Cooks’ own cookbooks. Some lovely people work here too.

Open Door Bookshop, Rome

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In Rome, I need a decent (english speaking) bookshop. Luckily this is owned by my Roman friends’ family. It is an eclectic little second hand bookshop in picturesque Trastevere, an area which caters to English speaking students. I like coming here because you can rediscover books which are out of print or enjoy the interesting covers of books published abroad or in the 60s or 70s. They also have a whacky cookbook selection; recommended for a food historian. The delicious fish restaurant Osteria La Gensola is around the corner, so combine a visit to both and you have a lovely evening.

Faulkner House Books, New Orleans

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I dream about this bookshop. Perhaps the most beautiful in the world? Stepping in off the street from steamy New Orleans’ French Quarter into this exquisite bookshop is a wonderful experience. Just being in New Orleans you know you are in the presence of some serious creative energy and history and thus a bookshop like this which bills itself as a ‘fine sanctuary for literature’ feels intoxicating. This was once the home of William Faulkner and now it is run by a couple who live behind the bookshop, in a house that looks equally fabulous. Indeed the shop feels as though being in an elegant private library. I remember there being quite a formidable selection of books. If the book is in here- you should have read it!

Amherst Books, Massachusettsnew-image_51

I loved turning up to Amherst Books and discovering that all the books I needed for certain courses were already arranged in piles for me. More bookshops in the UK should do this to discourage students ordering all their books from Amazon. Everytime I walked past this bookshop, which was daily, it was hard not to go in. The simple nature of the shop gave the impression of a place that really nourished education and interesting thought. They had a wonderful literature section, lovely postcards and all the Emily Dickinson you could ever need. 

Any you wish to add to the list?

Sarah xx

Green Rome

Dear Ellie,

My first few weeks in Rome have tended to be chaotic and overwhelming. Thank gooddness for cozy naps in the afternoon heat and plenty of them. I think Rome can feel overwhelming for everything feels like something you should see. It must be one of the few cities in the world where there is not a single dull site, buliding or street. So many buildings (not including the hundreds of vast churches) beg of you to ask what their spectacular splendour represents or what they indeed are. I love constantly uncovering neighbourhoods and streets, one more lovely than the next. As I’ve become more familiar with Rome it has transformed from museum to a lively modern cosmpolitan where Romans (and a lot of Americans apparently) live, work and of course eat.   I could write about so many things… the food, the beautiful Academy, the people, of which I will in due course. However I think the one aspect of Rome that has continually caught my eye as I’ve walked around is its abudance of greenery in the form of walls and draping canopays. Shades of pink and terracotta juxtaposed with sharp green shades are my enternal vision of this eternal city.    

                   

   

Margie coming next weekend. We’ll be missing you. Love Sarah. Xxx

Show me the child at seven and I will give you the man

Dear Ellie,

How have we let this happen? Why have we not written for so long? We have become those people who start and blog and neglect it. It is time to start writing again…and regularly. I have a monumental post brewing regarding cookbooks and I’m hoping you will write a smart piece about our forthcoming trip.

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John, Andrew and Charles in 1964.

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Jackie, Sue and Lynn in 1971. 14 years up.

In the meantime I want to introduce you to the Up Series in the hope that it captures your imagination as it has mine. The documentary is an irresistible gaze into real people’s lives. Being a distinctively British experiment, an exploration of class is central to the documentary. The director Michael Apted aimed to examine how your background shaped your future by filming a group of 7 year olds in 1964 and every seven years from then on. The results are rather sadly as you expect: those with more tend to achieve more. Yet the overriding message is that happiness is not integral to your beginnings; everyone can achieve a sense of contentment. The series is amazing journey. It is impossible not to form an attachment and a sense of concern for these children as you watch them grow into adults. As they are real people, the emotional reaction trumps anything fictional…

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Watch the first episode here.

Holding my breath for next Friday. Love Sarah xxx

London in Film

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Hugh Grant walking along Southbank in Four Weddings

The BFI London Film Festival starting this week got me thinking about memorable London movie moments. I wish more movies were filmed over here; I love spotting London streets or parks on screen. It can be very beautiful when a director manages to capture the city as I recognise it, and the people who live here, at their best. London done brilliantly in a film reminds me what a great city it is. With so many films set in the US it can feel weirdly imaginative seeing movies set over here. Huge blockbuster productions suit the US more, although of course James Bond looks fabulous in London. Smaller films work in London where real locations are used. London film-sets never look right: the Boston looking version in Hook or the bizarre candy coloured Hyde Park in The Wolf of Wall Street.

It seems two distinct London’s have been portrayed on screen: romantic or slightly bleak but hopeful nonetheless. I’m sure this is more a reflection of Londoners than it is the filmmakers.mary-poppins-1964-004-mary-flying-to-banks-house

‘London’ Mary Poppins

When younger I remember watching Mary Poppins and seeing Mr Banks going to work in the mythical ‘City’. When going into London I expected to find masses of pigeons being fed and a row of houses just like the Bank’s. The reality of London can be far less glamourous but I enjoy the Disney-fied version and I think it is a perception of the city that has continued in movies.

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Curtis’ Notting Hill

Richard Curtis is often attacked for depicting an unrealistic London, focusing on a privileged cross section, succumbing to America’s ideal of the English. Of course very few people live lives similar to his characters but when I watch his films I can’t help love them for their romanticism of London. No doubt Curtis’ films are his ode to the city. His London may be west-orientated and sugar coated but it does offer the best London has to give. There are such memorable scenes: Hugh Grant waiting for his brother on the spiral steps at The Hayward in Four Weddings or the perfect house where he goes to have dinner in Notting Hill and the subsequent residential garden he and Julia Roberts break into. Bridget Jones walking across Tower Bridge with a huge grin on her face or Rachel McAdams’ delectable flat on the Golborn Road in About Time.

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Mother and daughter crossing Abbey Road in the Parent Trap

American directors Nancy Meyers and Woody Allen’s idealised view of London almost makes Curtis’ seem gritty. I couldn’t wait to see Woody’s Match Point and his portrayal of London. The sheer ridiculousness of it made me re-think my idea that all people in NY live as though in a Woody Allen film. I love his films though for creating the illusion that people can live so wonderfully. Chauffeur driven cars between Belgravia, The Royal Opera House and Queen’s Club for a game of afternoon tennis is Woody’s London. I enjoyed spotting his characters drinking at Julies in Holland Park. Similarly who doesn’t remember being envious at the little girl in the Parent Trap being asked by her if she wanted to spend the afternoon ‘getting lost in Harrods’.

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Postman’s Park in Closer

In An Education the audience is seduced by London as Jenny is. Chic well-dressed people epitomized by Rosamund Pike’s character and smart nightclubs. White stucco apartments overlooking Regents Park. Lone Scherfig has a knack for making any city look cinematic and enticing. The truth behind what Jenny’s friends actually do however exposes a dark, seedy London. Suddenly bland but honest suburbia becomes more appealing. The same tensions are explored in Mike Nichols’ adaptation of the play Closer. Fashionable but hollow houses and attractive but deceptive London locations including Postman’s Park, which was previously a burial ground, lay bare the superficial and dishonest characters.

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domestic bliss interrupted in Leigh’s Another Year

Mike Leigh’s films have become synonymous with a more realistic and socially problematic London. He is obviously passionate about the inhabitants of London and tries to portray their lives on film. Leigh describes his films as bleak but ultimately hopeful. Another Year is a challenging film to watch as it chronicles a desperate woman’s attachment to a happy couple who plot about a lovely south london terrace house and their nearby allotment. The film explores the harsh reality of loneliness however there is a powerful sense of humanity as the couple are blissfully happy and help those who aren’t. In Career Girls there is an awareness of lives disappointments as one friend goes to visit the other in a very 90s London. The obvious fondness of the friends for each other is touching and a reminder that all is ok if you have good friends around you. Anthony Mingella’s Truly Madly Deeply is similarly tragic as Juliet Stevenson looses her partner. Yet she is able to find happiness through her beloved flat and the wacky Londoners around her. Soon her flat becomes alive and cozy and she is on a date on London’s Southbank.

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North London couple in Minghella’s Truly Madly Deeply

I’m sure you have favourite London movie moments. I think we should see Michael Winterbottom’s Wonderland. It is about three sisters trying to pave their way in London. Also you must see Jack and Sarah because your siblings have the same names.

Love, Sarah.

 

Mendieta and Woodman

Dear Sarah,

Last Winter I really enjoyed  an exhibition of Ana Mendieta’s work at The Hayward.

“Untitled” (Facial Hair transplant, mustache), Ana Mendieta, 1972 performance

“Untitled” (Facial Hair transplant, mustache), Ana Mendieta, 1972 performance

The above image is playful and amusing as Mendieta has “dressed up” as a man by glueing someone’s recently shaved-off mustache to her face. She has become a hybrid; the body of a woman and the facial hair of a man. Mendieta still manages to look striking and self-assured despite her peculiar disguise. She owns that mustache. Furthermore, it makes me think about the lengths women go to with hair-removal these days. Here Mendieta has turned conventional female beauty on its head… but I think she still looks amazing (red polo-neck, gold hoop, mustache and all)!

Mendieta explores the themes of the self, gender, and cultural displacement throughout her work. Studying her photographs is to decipher a code written in earth, fire and of course the artist’s own flesh. Nature is also a significant recurring theme.

Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance, 1972–1985

Earth Body, Sculpture and Performance, Ana Mendieta, 1972–1985

The above image shows the artist’s body overgrown with flowers, merging into the earth. The image evokes both life and death. Death because we are reminded that our bodies become part of the earth when we’re buried; life because the flowers symbolise female fecundity. Mendieta’s visual language expresses both the anguish of existence, and the ambivilance that surrounds womanhood.

As we have discussed there is currently an exhibition of Francesca Woodman’s work at the Victoria Miro gallery – it ends on 4th October so go quickly! It must have been my lucky day because when I went on my day off a couple of weeks ago I was handed a glass of champagne as I entered due to an event the gallery was holding. The show explores the zigzag motif which recurs through Woodman’s work.

from Angel Series, 1977-1978

from Angel Series, Francesca Woodman, 1977-1978

Similarly to Mendieta, Woodman uses her body as her main tool of expression. In the work above Woodman’s feet appear to spring up from tracks in the earth.

Untitled, MacDowell Colony, Francesca Woodman, 1980

Untitled, MacDowell Colony, Francesca Woodman, 1980

The above photograph was one of my favourites. Woodman is “dressed up” as a tree. Is she hiding or escaping from life? Or is she simply playing in the woods?

Ellie x x x