Friday, January 23, 2015

Musings on Museums

The museums of Montevideo are of particular interest on two counts. First, there is universal free admission when, erratically of course, they are open. Secondly, they contain very little in the way of exhibits. Sparsely furnished rooms, oddly curated ephemera, scant information, in Spanish alone, and a complete absence of other visitors is the order of the day. However, none of this should deter the contemporary traveller or explorer. Far from it since, when one does finally secure entry, these 'Museo' are hidden gems in the fascinating crown of cultural history of Uruguay.

at the entrance to the Museo de Juan Zorrilla de San Martin, Montevideo, Uruguay

the windows of the museum draped in lace curtains forming protection from the sunlight

Our guide book promised that the Museo de Juan Zorrilla de San Martin, the summer house of the nineteenth century poet and diplomat of that name, would provide a café, a shop, an air-conditioned gallery space as well as a museum. Within sight of the sea, a pretty white Andalusia style villa, built in 1904 and expanded in 1921, and set within peaceful gardens hid amongst towering modern apartment blocks waiting to be discovered.

a green oasis, the gardens of the museum, now overlooked by apartment blocks

a typical tiled fireplace to be found in the villa's principal reception room

the poet-diplomat's simply furnished bedroom on the ground floor of the villa

Simply furnished and tenderly kept, complete with its private chapel, the villa proved to be a pure delight. It was as if the poet himself had merely stepped out for a moment and we were welcome guests free to roam at will. And, all around the house, a lush green 'hortus conclusus' decorated with vivid blue tiles, provided a calm and shady sanctuary from the searing heat of the summer sun. Peace was gently broken by a gentle fountain without a café, shop, gallery or other visitor to be seen.

the two intrepid tourists of the day, camera to the ready, examine the books in the poet's library

the private chapel within the villa, an aspiration as yet, and most likely never, to be fulfilled

Also whitewashed but in every other sense completely different, Casapueblo situated between the Uruguayan coastal towns of Piriapolis and Punta del Este, is visually eccentric and stunningly beautiful in its setting. A huge Gaudi-esque house-sculpture, it was begun in 1960 by the artist Carlos Páez Vilaró around a shack in which he was living. It grew first into a studio, then a house with accommodation for friends, and then finally, as it has become today, an hotel and museum as a monument to the artist and his work.

the entrance to Casapueblo, the museum of the artist Carlos Páez Vilaró

Casapueblo, glimpsed in the background, overlooking the South Atlantic

We risked life and limb to photograph the exterior of this extraordinary building, as it clings to the rock with the South Atlantic Ocean at its feet, avoiding as we did the hordes of day trippers and tourists and the greatly overpriced museum entrance fee.

the dramatic situation of Casapueblo perched above the South Atlantic Ocean

Take us back to Montevideo, we cried. How we had loved the vintage cars in the Museo del Automovil Club del Uruguay, especially the Armstrong Siddeley and the cache of trophies won by Hector Suppici Sedes, a Uruguayan racing driver killed in a crash in Chile in 1948. And what pleasure we had had in exploring the near bare rooms of the charming Palacio Taranco, housing as it does the Museo de Artes Decorativas.

But, no matter its free admission, we had given the Museo del Fútbol a miss!

Friday, January 9, 2015

Coastal Convalescence

Let it not be thought for a single moment that your good wishes, your concern for our well being and your many, many kindnesses expressed on our last post of Friday, 31st. October 2014, as well as through emails and letters, should have passed unnoticed. We have been so very touched by your warm heartedness and generosity of spirit making our thanks so completely inadequate. But thank you we do, and from the bottom of our hearts.

Jane Hattatt within the hotel in Pocitos, Montevideo, Uruguay [January 2015]

Lance Hattatt on the cliff top at Casapueblo, Uruguay [January 2015]

So, disdaining taking the waters of the Spa towns and cities which punctuate the British Isles and much of Europe, mindful of the sanatoriums of Switzerland and fearful of the December chill winds of the Riviera, we ventured for recuperation to far flung South America and the capital of Uruguay, Montevideo.

In truth this had been arranged for the better part of a year when travel plans had been made with what now must be regarded as our erstwhile friend and guide whose behaviour, seen in retrospect, has proved to be both disappointing and alarmingly dishonest.

However, such joy that we went. Staying in the Pocitos area of Montevideo we delighted in the warmth of the summer sun, the broad sandy beaches, the shade of a local park, in delicious dinners to be found in nearby restaurants, in good local wines and in all the sights and sounds so very different from the cities of Europe.

shopping abroad - always to be found as a very different experience

one of many colourful streets to be explored in Pocitos, Montevideo

a favourite local restaurant, El Viejo y Querido, in Pocitos, Montevideo

Of course there were the museums, a day excursion to Punta del Este, a rather over priced and over glamorised resort along the coast, picturesque Casapueblo, fireworks at New Year, strolls along the Rambla and endless people watching. In the main though, Lazy Tarts as we are, we did very little and loved and relished every single moment.
the beach at Punta del Este, a resort on the coast of Uruguay

before the heat of the day, a solitary figure on the beach at Montevideo

But of everything, most lasting will be the connections made and the memories of the people, old and young alike, who became a part of our daily lives and whose warmth, vivacity and friendship have found for them a very special place in our hearts.

the smiling face of the waiter at the restaurant, El Viejo y Querido

together with the staff of our local café and wine bar, La Dulcería

Now a new year stretches ahead with so much yet to happen and so much to which to look forward. But for the present we are happy once more to be back with you all and give to each one of you our warmest wishes for a peaceful and prosperous 2015. Happy New Year!

paddling in the shallows of the River Plate [January 2015]

Friday, October 31, 2014

Signs of Life

We most sincerely apologise for our recent, and continuing, absence from posting, commenting and responding to comments. At present we are indisposed but very much hope to return in the not too distant future. In the meantime, you are all, Friends and Followers, very much missed.

The image is of the Hungarian State Railway Hospital for railway workers where, somewhat strangely, we are receiving treatment. Be assured, all is well and will be so.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Bath Time

It began with a bath. Well, to be exact, the side of a bath which we happened upon, or rather which caught our eyes, when first we visited Charleston Farmhouse, the home of Bloomsbury Set members Duncan Grant and Vanessa Bell, some years ago. How jolly it would be, we thought, to have the panel of a bath painted in such a manner. And so the idea was born.

the bath panel as painted by Duncan Grant at Charleston Farmhouse

Now, as it happens, our visitors' bathroom provides an ideal subject to be 'Charlestonised' and so we set about, in the absence of Duncan Grant, to find both artist and model. Orr Máté, one of our 'Bright Young Things' or, as darling Tom Stephenson would have it, one of our 'Floppy Boys', was an excellent choice of artist and within a short time a subject was secured and we believed ourselves set to go.

Duncan Grant [1885 - 1978] photographed in his Charleston Farmhouse studio

born exactly 100 years after Duncan Grant, Orr Máté with first sketches

Alas, our model took flight, borne away as some latter day Icarus destined to fly too near to the sun and fall ignominiously to an unseeing, unknowing, uncaring world. And then the idea struck. Forget the bath, at least for the moment, and instead we should celebrate our gardening years with a painting that would not only add to our collection of contemporary Hungarian art, itself an abiding interest, but would also serve as an allegory to those distant but joyful times.

the Tower, Rill and Fountain of our Herefordshire garden, summer 2003

And now we have it. Or, to be truthful, the painting is finished, awaiting delivery, when, together with Máté, we are planning a fabulous luncheon party [Tímea, our cook/housekeeper is yet to be alerted to this fact!!] to coincide with its unveiling. Such fun!

click to enlarge 'The Painting', Orr Máté's latest work - an allegory of a garden

One thing remains. A title. We have thought of the possibility of 'The Triumph of Nature Over Man', for finally so it ever was. Máté, as the artist, has his ideas. What of yours?

N.B. We are grateful to Jim of Parnassus for his assistance with the copyright of the first two images. These are, respectively, Richard Bryant and Lebrecht Music and Arts Library/Alamy.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Edward, Teddy and Cynthia

We own two teddy bears, imaginatively named, or so we think, Edward and Teddy. Presented to one of us as Christmas gifts several decades ago, they have lived with us throughout our married life.

Edward is the stay at home type. Introspective and somewhat uncommunicative, he presides over the dining room here in Budapest with an authoritative air. Although closely witnessing the comings and goings [as well as eavesdropping on the delicious gossip] of our friends and guests at the dining table, Edward can always be relied upon to be the soul of tact and discretion.

a rather contemplative Edward sits patiently in the Budapest dining room

Teddy, on the other hand, is a gregarious bear, accompanying us to the Opera, to restaurants, and to concerts with enormous enthusiasm. 'Tosca' is a favourite, so much drama, and on one particularly historic occasion he sat through all nine Beethoven symphonies without so much as a growl. Members of the audience often will wave to him in the Dress Circle from the Orchestra Stalls, whilst concert goers will frequently take his photograph. Teddy has yet, however, to give an autograph but it can only be a matter of time before his fame spreads sufficiently for a paw print to be requested.

Teddy enjoys a performance of the St. Matthew Passion in the State Opera House, Budapest

In one of our favourite restaurants, Klassz, on Budapest's grand boulevard, Andrássy ut, a place is always set for Teddy when we arrive, a spoon considerately replacing the tricky to manoeuvre knife and fork. And as we survey the room of diners who seem to be so much more involved with texting, tweeting or emailing on mobile telephones rather than, as once one might have expected, engaging in conversation with their companions so we think, perhaps misguidedly, that there is so much more fun to be had with Teddy.

Teddy eagerly awaits the arrival of dinner in Budapest's Klassz restaurant

All of this serves to remind us of 'Cynthia'. Full of bosom, small of waist, a perfectly formed 100 pound mannequin who was not only glamorous but also as silent, so to speak, as the grave.

'Cynthia' seen at the Metropolitan Opera House, New York with Lester Gaba

enjoying a quiet restaurant dinner, 'Cynthia' with Lester Gaba in the 1930s

In 1930s New York, Lester Gaba worked in the retail display business. In the absence of suitable drinking and dining companions he created the exceedingly lifelike 'Cynthia' in honour of the New York socialite Cynthia Wells. 'Cynthia' was seen everywhere on the arm of the fashionable Gaba, but never heard. Gaba insisted that laryngitis was the reason why 'Cynthia' remained silent.

'Cynthia' had a credit card from Saks of Fifth Avenue, a box seat subscription from The Met, her own newspaper column and radio show [Gaba said what 'Cynthia' thought] and she even made it to the cover of 'Life' magazine. It was a sad day indeed that she slipped from a chair in a beauty salon and shattered into pieces. Thankfully her mould ensured that she could, and did, 'live'again.

a by then famous 'Cynthia' pictured on the front cover of 'Life' magazine on July 12th. 1937

With the demise in real terms of 'Life' magazine in March 2000, our hopes for worldwide coverage for Teddy have, inevitably, suffered a setback. Possibly someone from Condé Nast, perhaps the Editor of 'Tatler', may be reading this?

N.B. We have been unable to source the photographer(s) of the images posted here of 'Cynthia'.  We should be pleased to include acknowledgements.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Rollin', Rollin', Rolin Den Heijer

The city of Dordrecht lies just 18km from Rotterdam but, in many other respects, it is several lifetimes away. Life in this picturesque town is altogether more languid. Canals flow at a gentler pace, windmills whirr wistfully, people are unhurried, easy-going and keen to pass the time of day [in perfect English, of course] with visitors who, like us, have drifted in on the afternoon tide.

decorative tiles to be found in the Simon Van Gijn Museum, Dordrecht, The Netherlands

Dordrecht is the oldest city in Holland. Rich in culture, decorated with delightful architecture and steeped in history with a mediaeval heart, this is a charming and beguiling town. Handsome houses of the seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries line kilometres of canals, shady squares provide attractive meeting places whilst a wealth of museums, churches and some 950 monuments paint a picture of Dordrecht's past which is both colourful and significant.

a fine example of the splendid architecture which is to be seen throughout Dordrecht

And, joy of joys, we arrived in town on the very day that the preparations for 'Dordt in Steam', Europe's biggest steam event, were in full swing. Historical steam boats filled the canals, brushed and polished to perfection by their proud owners, whilst the quay sides boasted all the trappings of a bygone age.

the canals of Dordrecht give berth to the shipping of a previous age and time 

But, for all its illustrious past, Dordrecht also has its eyes focussed firmly on the future. Its noble industrial heritage has been revitalised to meet the demands of twenty-first century living.

view of the interior of The Grand Café Khotinsky, 1905, Dordrecht

The Grand Café Khotinsky, built in 1905 as a power plant, is now home to concerts, both classical and pop, a theatre, a cinema, dance studios, workshops, a café, bistro and bar. And the Villa Augustus, completed in 1882 as a water tower, today serves as a boutique hotel, a restaurant and function rooms surrounded by formal gardens, an orchard and an immaculate kitchen garden which supplies the Villa's ultra chic market café.

exterior of the Villa Augustus, in former times a water tower
a part of the formal gardens which surround the Villa Augustus

There can surely be no more sublime surroundings than these, we thought, for taking Afternoon Tea on a hot summer's day. The Lemon Pie was deliciously lemony, the tea reviving and refreshing and the waiter, Rolin, was efficient, amusing, and handsome. Perfection indeed.

Jane and Lance Hattatt at the Villa Augustus, Dordrecht this summer

"Do come for dinner in Budapest," we invited.
"I shall," he replied.

And so he did!

Rolin Den Heijer joins the sentries on duty in The Castle District, Budapest

Monday, July 7, 2014

Away From It All

Unfortunately we shall be unable to comment or to respond to comments over the next two weeks. However, we shall very much look forward to returning later in the month and, in the meantime, will miss you all.

The image is of 'Interior with Table' by Vanessa Bell, painted in 1921.