Thursday, 17 December 2009

to all the things i loved before

This is a lazy, mood-boardy sort of post. Been up to lots of interesting things this week but I don't want to write about them in any great detail. Instead, I'll just summarise (and lavishly illustrate).

First and perhaps most importantly: the snow!! I can't remember the last time it snowed in December, i.e. when it's supposed to. I don't know about anyone else, but I've certainly got my fingers crossed for a white Christmas. Edinburgh in the snow is beautiful.

I hunted down this Louis MacNeice poem yesterday as soon as it started snowing. Tis a lovely, evocative piece of writing:
The room was suddenly rich and the great bay-window was 
Spawning snow and pink roses against it

Soundlessly collateral and incompatible:

World is suddener than we fancy it.

World is crazier and more of it than we think,

Incorrigibly plural. I peel and portion

A tangerine and spit the pips and feel

The drunkenness of things being various.

And the fire flames with a bubbling sound for world

Is more spiteful and gay than one supposes -

On the tongue on the eyes on the ears in the palms of one's
hands -

There is more than glass between the snow and the huge roses.

Also, got sent pictures of these amazing Andreia Chaves mirror shoes. They feel really wintery, even if they aren't very practical and I'd love to be stomping about London town in a pair.

If I ever get round to it, I'll write a sort of 'best of' culture this year, but if I don't the single cultural consumable I'd recommend to anyone is James Salter's incredible book, Light Years. I'm giving it to pretty much everyone for Christmas after re-reading it this weekend. It's one of the most beautifully written novels I've ever read and I've read a lot of novels. Though he's as good, if not better, than Hemingway or Fitzgerald, he seems to have slipped through the cracks of critical acclaim - possibly because he was born 20 years after the two American literary giants - thus fading into their shadows. It's an elegant, elegiac piece of writing and a definite must read.

I've been to see the Nutcracker ballet nearly every year since I was a little girl. I still remember my mother taking me - just the two of us - when I was very young. It helped that we went to see the ballet at Frank Lloyd Wright's amazing Grady Gammage auditorium. Just walking up the illuminated ramps to the main hall was an amazing spectacle, but I'll always remember how thrilled I was when the Christmas tree magically grows through the roof in the first half.

The Scottish Ballet does a pretty wonderful new-fangled Nutcracker ballet, choreographed by its artistic director, Ashley Page. There are evil snowflakes and a naughty governess who turns into the mouse queen in act two: it's all good fun, but really, nothing beats the classic ballet version.

The ROH put on quite a show - you really see where all the ticket money goes - with buckets of gold glitter, fantastical costumes, and most importantly, superb dancing. The grand pas de deux between the sugar plum fairy and her prince was absolutely breathtaking. The music is also wonderful, personally I think it's Tchaikovsky's best ballet score, and the live choir was icing on the very Christmasy cake.

Finally for something I don't like. Just been reading on coolhunter that McDonald's is to open a bunch of 'boutique food stands' during the various fashion weeks. I don't care if you dress it up in Hermes, Tom Ford, or Jil Sander: McDonald's is revolting and is SO NOT fashion. Ugh. PR fail.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

The Misanthrope

Having kissed and made up, The Philosopher and I went to see the new production of Martin Crimp's The Misanthrope on Monday eve. I should be up front and say that Crimp's popularity is a complete mystery to me. His much lauded The City (on earlier this year at the Royal Court) was possibly the worst play I've ever seen. I mean walk out bad and I NEVER walk out of the theatre. I tried to forget that Molière's play had been translated by Crimp and just sit back and enjoy the show. But, yep, you guessed it: I just couldn't do it.

It should also be said, in case you're as yet unaware, that this production marks the stage debut of none other than Keira Knightley and also stars Damian Lewis. I gather Damian Lewis is rather famous for being someone or other in Band of Brothers, but I've only ever seen him reading Auden at the Josephine Hart poetry event, of which I am a regular attendee. Thankfully, for me at least, I'm rather a fan of Keira Knightley so at least I didn't start off on the wrong foot with her at least.

So why didn't I like the play. There were solid performances from everyone, a nice tightly knit ensemble cast, and considering we saw the show on it's opening night, that's no small feat. And while the translation wasn't an abomination, it wasn't great either. First of all, French 17th-century verse poetry does not translate very well into English so why bother, especially when a director is going to let the actors run all over the rhyming couplets anyway. Secondly, there's too much wink-wink-nod-nod meta-theatricality stuffed into the play for one to get a sense of anything other than how damn clever Mr Crimp appears to think he is. Plus he takes a swipe at Stoppard, which in my mind, is completely unsupportable especially as Stoppard is twice the playwright Crimp will EVER be. Ugh. Annoying. So maybe the blame here really lies with Molière. The Misanthrope just isn't that great of a play - or maybe it was in the 17th century when it was truly provocative and satirical - but it isn't now. Sure it has the minor moral point to make that the middle ground is the ideal place to inhabit when it comes to frankness versus insincerity but Alceste, the pseudo-hero, is tedious and Jennifer (i.e. love interest Celimene) is vain and ridiculous.

Like the whole beauty in art thing which seems to have kicked off anew recently, the application of the concept of truth in real life is far more complicated than Alceste and Jennifer and Crimp and Molière would have us believe. I can't think of anyone who practices a kind of absolute truth in their dealings in everyday life and most of us know that a white lie here or there can go a long way to lubricate social situations. In revivals of older theatrical productions, the first question everyone asks is whether the themes still strike a chord: I don't think in this case they do. There are plenty of other plays which expose the hypocrisy of human behaviour far more powerfully and beautifully than Molière's ridiculous play (there, I said it) and Crimp's reliance on self-indulgent meta-theatrical references is not enough to make this play anything other than a fairly enjoyable way to pass a few hours.

Friday, 4 December 2009

past tense

It seemed to me then, that it would always be this way. That it would always be a surprise to walk out of a party at nine thirty at night and find the sky the colour of butter, That his childish mannerisms and forlorn looks would always delight me. How reckless now, I know, was he who wrote, 'the past is a foreign country.' Perhaps for professional historians, maybe, but for those of us amateurs not protected by the armour of expertise, the past is all too real. The past is a back garden, filled with uncontrollable weeds.

Wednesday, 2 December 2009

to market, to market

I had a most enlightening and stimulating afternoon wandering around the Market Estate in North London today.

A few weeks ago, in my guise as the director of Salon (London), I received an email inviting me to come have a nosy round the estate and to submit a proposal for the Market Estate Project. The 1960s Market Estate is set to be demolished early next year and the folks behind the MEP are transforming the flats and public spaces within the estate into a spectacular art exhibition. The whole estate will be a giant, freakish, creative, insane art museum - but for one day only - before the bulldozers come in and tear the whole thing apart.

what the new estate will look like

The very nice Helmut from MEP took me round the estate this afternoon, explaining how the tour would work during the one day the artists' work would be on display and just generally showing me around. The estate is pretty grim - even though people are still living there - and incredibly imposing. But the views from the flats on the upper floors are spectacular and there's this amazing old clock tower still on site. Apparently the Estate was built on the location of an old cattle market - the Metropolitan Cattle Market - which was set up by Prince Albert in 1855 and covered 30 acres. The clock tower dates back to the original cattle market and was used as a prototype for Big Ben - pretty amazing that it's still there. You can only see it from within the estate as it's not visible from the surrounding streets even. This is one of the things I most love about London: history in the strangest of places...

But it wasn't until we went inside a few of the flats that I started to get really interested. The layout of one of the flats we went into was inexplicably bizarre. You walked in the front door and immediately went down a small flight of stairs where a kitchen occupied a room to the left with a living area in the room just next to the kitchen. To access the bathroom and the bedrooms you turned right at the bottom of the first flight of stairs and went down a further two flights of stairs to get to two tiny bedrooms, with a bathroom on the sort of mezzanine level between the living area and the sleeping area. I'm not describing it very well here, but the layout was just completely bonkers. I've never seen anything quite like it.

In any event, the MEP is a fantastic project and I'm really, really excited to see how the whole thing turns out. Stay tuned for more news. Over and out. Yeah, I'm a geek.