Ismail Kadare Historical Nightmare- The Traitor’s Niche

 

The Traitor’s Niche was first published in Ismail Kadare’s native Albanian in 1978,  but the English translation by John Hodgson did not appear until nearly forty years later. It takes up 200 small pages of large type and in size sits on the borderline between a novel and, as Kadare described it to avoid the censors, a novella. However, there is nothing remotely slight about this work, which is both comical and awful and subverts any idea of the normal. It contains all the surreal apparatus of Kafka but expresses it on a vastly larger stage, matches the dystopia of Orwell but is set in the past, and equals the weirdness of Gogol but without his specifically Russian atmosphere. 

The story, and at first sight it appears to be just a story, is set the Ottoman Empire of the early nineteenth century, of which Albania was then a part.  It is structured around the journeys of the imperial courier Tundj Hata and incidents in the lives of those unfortunate enough to come into contact with him. Hata is charged with the safe transport of vital orders and death warrants to the outlying provinces of the Empire, often returning with the decapitated heads of executed traitors, preserved in honey and ice, for eventual display in a high niche in the centre of Istanbul. On his return journeys he presents theatrical displays of the heads in the villages through which he passes and in return for large sums of money, allows the fascinated inhabitants to watch. On arrival in Istanbul the heads terrify and awe the population into subservience.

The Emperor having finally tired of the continual rebellions of Ali Pasha, or Black Ali, the ageing governor of Albania, sends first one general to destroy him and, after his defeat, another who succeeds in his mission but is declared a traitor by his enemies at the imperial court and consequently and like the first pasha, loses his head. Who, of course, but Tundj Hata  should transport these gruesome relics back to Istanbul?

That Istanbul, although in some ways recognisable to those who know it even now, is filled with the mythical apparatus of a totalitarian state that far exceeds even the actual unpleasantness of the later Ottoman Empire. It contains not just the Traitor’s Niche, but the Palace of Dreams, responsible for interpretation of all forms of visions and symbols. The Palace of Caw-Caw is responsible for the total destruction of prohibited cultures and histories, and the ancient Palace of Psst-Psst, responsible for the creation and manipulation of rumours. It is not surprising that much of the book is filled with the dreams, visions, imaginings, recalled memories and associations of the main characters that substitute for any unknowable but objective facts about the state of the Empire. Hata day dreams of the state as a head, wondering to what animal it might belong when that head is situated in the centre of its body. He can only think of an octopus, and once he has done so, “Scared that he might have entertained a sinful thought, he banished the image from his own head”. The next night, Hata reaches out to touch the locks of the severed head he is transporting and “Then everything repeated itself as on the previous night. His brain resembled some clinging creature with the inner luminescence of a glow-worm, whose slime smeared the domes of mosques and mausoleums, banknotes and the wombs of women awaiting insemination.” That distorted persistence of nightmarish memories, while the state seeks to banish all forms of independent thought and action, is one of the underlying and unifying themes of the book.

Kadare’s book, despite its Ottoman setting, constantly references both the history of Albania and the oppressive political regime under which he wrote and whose censors he sought to evade. By the time Hodgson’s translation appeared in 2017, Enver Hoxha’s government had long fallen, leaving the arrays of crumbling concrete fortifications and pill boxes along the coast as little more than a curious memory of his paranoid fear of attack by an unknown and probably unknowable enemy and a tangible symbol of a regime that could express itself only through totalitarian control over the entire state and its inhabitants.

Direct opposition was likely to result in elimination and any form of criticism, whether in literature or otherwise, needed to be carefully disguised to have a  chance of the work, and indeed the author, surviving the apparatus of the state. Accordingly Kadare’s work tended to be distanced in time and place, making full use of political allegory and using the myths, dreams and folk tales found in his writing to create a highly effective mesh of symbols and allusions that represent the control of the state over all forms of individuality, to the extent of eliminating even memory and history.

Read it if you haven’t already, and please try to buy it from an independent bookseller for now, more than ever, they really need your support.

Chris

Each Month From my Window: June – Irises and Berries

The view from my desk is lovely – London is almost obscured by plants.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I bought Dutch irises from de Jager on a whim. I’d never grown them before but they were cheap and looked pretty. I shall certainly grow them again. I’d rather forgotten about them so when the first one popped open in the trough by the front door I was delighted. Brilliant blue and bright yellow, standing tall and sturdy, it was a delight. With hindsight I should probably have positioned them with a bit more artistic care but that doesn’t matter, there is always next year and they are now firmly on my Buy Again list.

My garden is so small that I cannot boast a fruit garden but I do grow Japanese wineberries, mulberries and blueberries and, like everything else in the garden, they are clearly visible from my windows.

The Japanese wineberries are beautiful plants and delicious fruits that are almost impossible to buy. The spiny red stems trail against the white walls and, as the fruit is hidden inside until the last minute, birds tend to ignore them. Possibly Matilda patrolling the garden also helps as a deterrent. They ripen successionally, meaning there are enough berries to scatter on porridge or a pudding every day from late June onwards.

The mulberry is Morus rotundiloba Charlotte Russe, ordered from the Chelsea Flower Show in 2017, when it was Plant of the Year. It sits in a pot, is 1.5m x 1.5m and this year has a bumper harvest. Like the Japanese wineberries it really deserves its space in the garden. The fruits are juicy, tasty, beautiful, impossible to buy and I have been harvesting since 30th May.

 

The same cannot be said of my blueberries. Some years ago a friend was ordering blueberry plants and, as bulk was cheaper, I went in with him. The draw was that some had pink fruits, yes pink blueberries. This was a plant I could not turn down. They arrived as the inevitable twigs and have since grown into straggly, not very attractive bushes. They occupy space on one of my precious sunny walls and, so far, have failed to fruit properly. All this could be forgiven but for the watering regime involved; they don’t like London tap water. I don’t have room for a water butt so, whenever it rains, I put out plastic trays, bowls and basins and then store the water under a bench in old milk bottles. In wet winters this is easy but in dry weather, such as we’ve had recently, I become obsessive. At the first sign of any cloud I rush out with the containers, only to be disappointed later when it turns out the promised shower has bypassed my garden. On the morning of June 5th I was woken at ten to five by the sound of rain. Proper rain: cats and dogs, stair rods, buckets, sheets, torrents. All the words that we had forgotten in May. I had left out four trays but I seriously considered leaping out of bed to collect more containers. By the time I realised this was going a bit far, the rain had stopped.

The blueberries were for the chop, until I discovered that Matilda likes to lie under them on hot days. They are safe for the moment.

  Jane

A Book in the Garden: Diary of a Modern Country Gardener

In May 2007 I started a gardening diary. The plan was that I would keep an accurate record of which plants did well, successful (or failed) combinations and what I did when. It lives on the kitchen table and I have kept it up, on and off, ever since; although I have to admit that it’s been erratic. The main plan was to learn from it so I wouldn’t repeat my mistakes but, like history worldwide, this is easier in theory than practice. I am still seduced by bulb catalogues and enticing displays in nurseries and I rarely think to consult the diary until it is too late.

Tamsin Westhorpe, author of Diary of a Modern Country Gardener, is more disciplined. Or perhaps more organised would be a better word. I can sit and ramble on for pages one evening and then write nothing for weeks. This delightful book has brief diary entries throughout the year, each followed by reminders of things to do, seasonal plants and amusing anecdotes.

She gardens at Stockton Bury Gardens in Herefordshire – a garden which is 110 times larger than mine and open to the public during the summer. (Well, open during normal summers, as I write it is still closed.) So, at first glance, the diary might not seem very relevant for my garden but Tamsin has an enticing style and the book is full of advice and recommendations that are useful regardless of the size of one’s plot. I have discovered roses and tulips that I want to grow and she has possibly even converted me to they joys of nerines, something that I thought would never happen as I find their bright pinks jarring in amongst the yellows and golds of autumn. The trick seems to be to grow them in a pot, with a green backdrop, rather than in a bed surrounded by autumn colour.

The book starts in February; it was too cold to garden so Tamsin followed the dictates of the weather and wrote rather than gardened. My plan had been to read the book following the seasons but I was enchanted and suddenly I found myself in August even though real time was only April. I felt as if I was wishing my gardening life away, rushing on too fast and missing things, so I stopped. The book now sits on the kitchen table (mostly on top of my diary) and I am reading the entries at the correct time. It requires discipline not to jump ahead but this is definitely the way to get the most enjoyment (and use) from both the book and my garden.

Regular readers of these posts will know how fussy I am about the production of books. Unnecessarily unwieldy paperbacks, hardbacks that spring shut of their own accord and unattractive jackets can all doom a book before I’ve reached the first page. Orphans Publishing have produced a book that is a joy to look at and handle; it has an attractive jacket and charming pink flowery endpapers (of course I judge a book by its jacket and, if possible, its endpapers), it sits open in a well-behaved manner and has a perfect balance of text and pictures. In case you are wondering about their name, Orphans was set up in 1873 by Henry Stanley Newman to generate income for an orphanage and provide a trade for the orphans.  

Jane

You can order the book direct from Orphans Publishing, at the time of writing they had signed copies. Otherwise please buy it from your local bookshop, now they are reopening, they need all your support. 

A Book in the Garden: Bitter Honey

I have quite enough cookery books but my excuse is that I read them as well as cook from them. I’m clearly not the only person to do this as books by authors such as Nigel Slater, are often produced in a format that is easier to read rather than cook from. Even Nigella Lawson’s How to Eat was published in a novel-shaped paperback last year although in this case the book was so thick and heavy it might well have resulted in serious injury if someone had dropped off while reading it in bed.

Many years ago I spent a happy time working with Tish (Letitia Clark) at Slightly Foxed. I was in the bookshop they had at the time and she was mostly based in the office working on the magazine but every so often she would come to work in the shop and we would have a lovely time comparing recipes and discussing cookery books (as well as working, obviously).

My self-imposed rule of ‘no more cookery books’ didn’t apply to her new one which came out this spring. My book-buying rules are only ever guidelines, intended to curb too much excess rather than implementing a complete ban.

The subtitle is Recipes and Stories from the Island of Sardinia. I know Corsica reasonably well and have always wanted to go a little further south to Sardinia but, given the present state of affairs Tish’s book will be a welcome substitute. It is a delightful mixture of recipes, anecdotes and interesting background information. I have never seen the point of polenta, regarding it as tasteless flab or goo according to the consistency. Tish’s recipe, with a ragù of sausage meat, tomatoes and sage, topped with mozzarella, pecorino and basil, has transformed my opinion. Likewise my view of panettone has been changed. I had always viewed it as a poor relation of Christmas cake. Made into a superior bread-and-butter pudding with saffron custard it becomes a food fit for the gods – or ones friends as lockdown eases. Don’t wait till Christmas – this is perfect summer food.  

 Jane

It would obviously be great if you bought this book but, particularly in these difficult times, please remember your local bookshop. You’d miss it if it went.

Each Month From my Window: May

For the first time in years I’ve had foxgloves in the front garden. I plant them regularly but usually they just sulk. Something was different this year; I don’t know what but I’m very pleased.

It’s often the first flower to open that makes the most impact. Twenty, thirty or even a hundred blooms may be more impressive but it is the first flower to appear that stops one in one’s tracks. This happened when I looked out of the kitchen window on a wet, grey day and saw a flash of pink. The first gladiolus Communis Byzantinus. More will come but it was this particular flower that brightened my morning.

I see why osteospermums or African daisies close up on cloudy days – they really can’t risk getting their petals wet. Many flowers can shrug off a few drops of rain but not these; their pinky-white petals stain and never recover. The plant would clearly rather be in Africa than drizzly London. They were happy all through May but at the first sign of rain their beauty vanished.

Last year I planted five new roses, all from David Austin: Tess of the d’Urbervilles to climb round the front door, Tottering-by-Gently for the bed outside the kitchen window, Claire Austin to mingle with the ivy on the shady wall and climb over the summerhouse and two Ferdinand Pichards, one in the front garden and another in a pot outside the kitchen door. These and my two existing roses (an anonymous pink in the front garden and an unknown multi-coloured climber which drapes itself up and over one side of the summerhouse) all seem happy. The Ferdinand Pichard in the front garden is a bit swamped by my overenthusiastic hardy geranium but in a year or so the rose will rise above it and, for the moment, the geranium is held firmly in place with posts and restraining string. The advantage of having a small garden is that I can see them all from various windows. 

Jane

Making May: Bookshelves and Baking

The making that I’ve done so far this month doesn’t really warrant a post – I’ve made some rather ramshackle bookshelves (wood rescued from a skip, cut to size and balanced on bricks) and done a lot of repairing of things that I’ve decided I’m too fond of to throw out – worn-out shirts, skirts that have had disagreements with my bike chain (and come off worst) and table cloths that have suffered one spillage too many. Everything has been patched and the shelves have solved the double-stacking problem but none of these remotely qualify as artistic achievements.

I’ve done a lot of baking that I’ve been grandly calling Necessary Recipe Testing but if I’m honest most of it was fine-tweaking rather than strictly necessary, particularly since I am working on an anthology of nature writing at the moment which involves no baking whatsoever. But my chief recipe testers (the estate agents) were back at work and keen for the supply of cakes and biscuits to resume. They tested my chocolate cake recipe versus Mary Berry’s and, in a socially-distanced, blind tasting, mine won!  Then two surprise berry cakes, which reveal a hidden centre of tumbling fruits – lemon won over chocolate here. The wonderful thing about this cake is that the hollowed-out centre gives you another, mini, two-layer cake. This went into the freezer for three weeks, came out and was iced (buttercream in the centre, water icing on the top) and was voted the Best Cake by one of the estate agents. Unfortunately it also shows just how crooked my oven is. I’m made painfully aware of this every time I remove a cake but, as it will involve pulling the oven out and somehow inserting a wedge beneath its back feet (do ovens have feet?), I always manage to convince myself it’s not really a problem, until the next lopsided sponge emerges.

I also made a blackberry and apple tart which is meant to have ragged edges but came out looking alarmingly like a yeti’s footprint. It tasted okay though. Finally, now we are allowed to visit people I made a belated Easter cake for the friend I usually visit at Easter. And I made a startling discovery; strawberries and asparagus may no longer have a ‘season’ as far as supermarkets are concerned but small chocolate eggs are unavailable by the end of May. It’s nice to know that some things still abide by laws of nature but it did mean that these poor unfortunate chickens had to hatch out of circular Maltesers. Perhaps that’s why they look a little dishevelled. 

The country’s Loo Paper Crisis earlier this spring paled into insignificance compared with my impending Flour and Sugar Crisis. While it’s great that the entire country seems to have taken up baking during lockdown, it has resulted in empty shelves in the baking section of almost every shop. I mentioned the problem to the testers and they took the matter suitably seriously. 

Jane

A Different Approach

Talking to Chris (at the end of a phone), I realise my approach to lockdown has been very different to his. While we share largely common tastes and enjoy doing things together very much, for me the actual viewing of the object/garden/event in situ is much more important than just seeing it on a computer screen, however good the rendering. Looking at the objects virtually has almost no appeal for me. The same is true of visiting gardens; I want to look at the flowers close up, smell them, discuss their merits with whoever I’m with and make a note of ones I’d like in my garden. This sort of behaviour simply isn’t possible on a virtual tour; the camera always seems to stop at the wrong plant, leaving me to scroll back and attempt to enlarge the image of a small flower that was skimmed over. The photos are details from last year’s Chelsea Flower Show that I’m sure I would never have seen if I hadn’t actually been there.

I would be the first to admit that as far as I am concerned the accompanying coffee/lunch/tea, that is obviously impossible on a virtual tour, is also a hugely important part of the whole event: the wonderful tiled cafe at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the beautifully painted restaurant at Tate Britain, the delicious food at the Garden Museum (although for me the garden has lost much of its ramshackle charm since the redesign of 2016-17) and charming cafes at almost every single National Trust garden. Even sitting on the grass on a crowded bank at the Chelsea Flower Show, juggling a vastly over-priced slice of pizza and an exorbitantly expensive drink was something I missed this year. 

This is not intended, in any way, to belittle what is being achieved by the gardens, events and galleries at the moment, it’s just not for me. Apart from what I’ve needed for writing, I have been on the internet far less than usual during lockdown. What I have enjoyed, since we’ve had such an amazing spring, is sitting in my garden reading. Even on the rare wet days I’ve simply retreated to the summerhouse rather than shelter indoors.  

A Book in the Garden: Garden Design Master Class

I still have piles of unread books in the house but, to be honest they don’t really worry me;

I know there is a perfect time to read any book and one day that time will come for most of these books. For the others I’m happy to keep them ‘just in case’, a simple mention from someone whose judgement I trust could miraculously save the book from its increasingly dusty place at the bottom of the pile. Lockdown for me has been more about rereading rather than new discoveries.

 

The exceptions are my gardening books. On a couple of occasions I have picked up an unread one and spent a very pleasant hour or so being transported to a garden or gardens outside my own. The first of these books was Garden Design Master Class edited by Carl Dellatore. The subtitle is 100 Lessons from the World’s Finest Designers on the Art of the Garden. Carl Dellatore is based in New York and it is published by Rizzoli, who are primarily an American publisher so, while I knew it would be beautiful, I also suspected that it might be a book I skimmed rather than reading straight through. It is a wild generalisation but I tend to find American gardens a bit too open, lacking the seclusion and privacy I love.

How wrong. It started with Cicero’s wonderful quote: ‘If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need’ so I instantly warmed to the editor. In the end I read the book straight through. The essays were short, just a page or two with a couple of accompanying photos but the perfect length for the writer to make their point. The subjects covered every possible aspect of gardening: Rhythm, Place, Meadows, Height, Annuals, Compost . . . There were Native Plants and Unusual Ones, Mystery & Surprise and Romance. The designers were an international mix with two things in common – they all had interesting opinions and wrote enticingly about them. At first I was infuriated that there was no information at all about the designers but I quickly realised that it didn’t matter; here it was their ideas that mattered and it is easy enough to research most people on the internet now. Many of the ideas are on a scale that is beyond my garden – I’ll never have room for borders or parterres, let alone a pool but none of that mattered, I was transported to other gardens in the company of Dan Pearson, Charlie McCormick, Margaret Brower, Matthew Cunningham and 96 others, and was inspired, not about what I could have in my garden, but by what was in those of others. 

Jane

Business, but not as Usual

Coronavirus has hit the art trade, valued at over $64 billion globally last year, even harder than we thought possible. An article in the weekend FT states that confidence is at even lower levels than during the 2009 financial crisis. Quoting a survey by the consultancy ArtTactic, it suggests the combined turnover of Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Phillips had fallen to about one eighth of their 2019 volumes for the equivalent period from the beginning of the year until 19th May. $528 million (including online sales of $174 million) this year as opposed to $4.2 billion in 2019. Figures from dealers are harder to obtain but most have been hit very hard indeed. Some, if not many, may well disappear.

This sector has always had to innovate to survive, but the crisis has dramatically accelerated a change already under way where purchasers’ initial interest was frequently kindled by online showcasing of objects. In a world where physical closeness may become a rare luxury, the transition to greater virtual contact is likely to proceed without brakes!

Christie’s for example plan a streamed relay-style rolling auction on July 10th, moving from Hong Kong to Paris, London and New York, possibly with some element of the activity in physical salerooms. The two top lots, a Picasso and a Roy Lichtenstein, are both estimated to over $25 million, so this is a pretty massive step up, even if there are guarantees in place, from the current online record of (I think) $1.3 million hammer price for a Giorgio Morandi still life. So very interesting to see how it will go.

Obviously transactions that take place entirely online will require an even higher degree of trust between the parties involved in a largely unregulated and sometimes opaque market with huge sums of money at stake and where misrepresentation, fraud and forgery are by no means absolutely unknown. Dealers’ reputation and long term client confidence and relationships will be, more than ever, absolutely crucial. Totally reliable auctioneers’ condition reports, cataloguing and images of the back as well as the front of paintings, will be essential to ensure good demand, competition and prices for high quality works of art.

One gallery that has made a long term investment in scholarship and its online presence is Robilant and Voena.  This very grand, but actually very friendly, dealer in predominantly Italian art is renowned for its strength in Italian Baroque, and especially Caravaggesque, art. Its high quality online offerings have occasioned  very favourable comments in the FT and Country Life. Its regular emails to clients, and anyone who wants to sign up, have included a series called Looking Closely. The first was appropriately entitled Painting in the Shadow of the Plague (their image of painting of a physician by Fede Galizia circa 1600-1605  is reproduced below right) and all offer very wide ranging, well written scholarship and insight into Italian art and culture across the centuries. Have a look at (https://www.robilantvoena.com/catalogues/).

Art and antiques fairs used to be crowded to a level we won’t see again until a reliable vaccine has been rolled out. Currently most are either cancelled or have moved online. The TEFAF Fair at Maastricht ran for four days in March, albeit with fewer visitors before being closed abruptly when at least one dealer tested positive for coronavirus. Many dealers put their remaining stock online and apparently did so quite successfully. The London Original Print Fair, LOPF, has been running online only (www.londonoriginalprintfair.com) this month and continues, using a very well and carefully constructed site, until 6.00 next Sunday 31st May. Each exhibitor has a viewing room for their stock.Two who deserve particular mention are Andrew Edmunds and Lizzie Collins’ Zuleika Gallery.

Andrew Edmunds (http://www.andrewedmundsprints.com/) has built up such a superb reputation amongst his many loyal existing customers for top quality prints and caricatures from the eighteenth and early nineteenth century that he should do well at LOPF.  He offers a particularly fine Gillray, The Monstrous Craw for £12,000 and an exceptional set of Hogarths’s Harlot’s Progress, exhibited at the Soane Museum last year, for £24,000.

Zuleika Gallery has carefully curated offerings at the Fair including a series of prints by Nicola Green entitled In Seven Days, based on the time she spent with Barack Obama’s campaign in 2007. Lizzie states This unique body of work is seen together for the very first time, following artist Nicola Green’s first-hand witness of Barack Obama’s meteoric ascent to power as the first African-American President of the United States. Two-colour silkscreen images, 35 x 33 cm, from a series of 20 cost £600 plus VAT; and there are several unique large originals at £12,000 plus VAT. Of these, Struggle,Glory, 2009 is reproduced below and is executed in two-colour silkscreen with gold leaf. The big ones really should end up in a public collection, although whether any institution has the budget at the moment is an open question. A significant milestone in history painting I think. On the LOPF site you can find a video of an interview with the artist in which she discusses the circumstances of her original trip and the subsequent long drawn out creation of her images.

Finally, good materials suppliers such as Jacksons  have provided a constant feed of posts on subjects such as interviews with artists as well as help  with practical matters such as materials and techniques, and I’ll turn to this and the many online life drawing sites in the final post next week.

Chris

The Virtual Museum

If we have to suffer this pandemic, we are lucky to do so with the internet and social media to lessen the inevitable limitations of distance and time under lockdown. However, the enjoyment is bitter-sweet in this new waste land of physical absence. April was indeed the cruellest month for all of us who had been prevented from attending the new crop of high quality exhibitions in London and indeed throughout Europe, for the online content was of such quality as to make us thoroughly jealous.

I missed Titian and Artemisia Gentileschi at the National Gallery, Warhol at Tate, Van Eyck In Ghent and Cecil Beaton’s work at the NPG.

All were all showcased to very high standards on the institutions’ web pages, in You Tube videos, on Instagram and many more channels. A You Tube snippet by the Beaton exhibition’s curator, Robin Muir, is fascinating about the artist’s  early years. I had also intended to return to the Royal Academy’s Picasso and Paper so the online video  (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oOOY6GbV9K) remains a great treat. 

Obviously all museums and not-for-profit organisations are facing huge challenges when deprived of their flow of visitors and funds. The major national museums and art galleries have a tremendous amount to lose from the cancellation of their vastly expensive block-buster exhibitions filled with internationally loaned exhibits, but their scale and resources are such that their survival at least seems guaranteed. Most had already developed their highly sophisticated online activity as part of their marketing and educational roles, and now that is really paying off. The British Museum, for example, offers digital tours of the building. You can go from room by room of the entire building as if an estate agent were showcasing the best features of the collection. There is also detailed access to over 2 million digitised items in the collection. Most of the major public galleries upload new images most days on Instagram with expandable content and links to take you further into the subject if you want. The NPG is, amongst others, very good.

Of course it doesn’t entirely make up for not being there. Obviously we lack the sense of occasion, snacks, cappuccinos, cakes and lovely outings in company! There’s little sense of texture or feel or of sensations such as scent. We are deprived of the complexities of binocular vision that make appreciating any object, and especially a three dimensional one, a much more satisfactory and complete experience. Nor can one easily gain any sense of scale. Those curious striped and banded rulers seen in early photographs of archaeological excavations were there for a purpose. But just imagine how little we would have had to make us jealous even twenty years ago! 

For smaller museums and galleries the current lack of public access might be overwhelming without the support of their friends and patrons. They have responded to engage with them in every way they can. Pallant House Museum (https://pallant.org.uk/) in Chichester, with its focus on twentieth-century British art in general and neo-romanticism in particular, offers an excellent series of online articles, sound-casts, talks and and lectures to its largely regional but very loyal members. Compton Verney, a major but insufficiently visited  museum and art gallery situated in a fine Georgian house and Capability Brown grounds near Stratford-upon-Avon, offers very good compensatory online presentations of its two currently closed exhibitions. These are Lucas Cranach the Elder ( to be found at https://www.comptonverney.org.uk/cranach-artist-innovator/) and Fabric – Touch and Identity accessible through the same site.

So much of this site is based on gardening and so many of our followers are keen gardeners it’s worth a quick look at what’s on offer in this field. It’s a bit early to see  how the idea of NGS garden owners’ videos for virtual visits works in practice but it’s a good idea anyway. Having garden centres and nurseries open again is lovely but doesn’t compensate for losing access to the big shows. Virtual Chelsea on the television is a fascinating use of archive footage but no substitute. However it would have been so much worse not to have tried at all. 

The Garden Museum, without the benefit of any public funding, is in a potentially serious financial condition.   It’s had to postpone its exhibitions  but has kept its members updated with a constant feed of images, catalogues and films available through email letters and its website. Content ranges from the useful, through the informative to the positively surreal. Consider for example: Object of the Week: News from the Cornish Jungle (1953). This promotional booklet was published by The British Bamboo Cane Co., a 40 acre bamboo producers near Bodmin in Cornwall. One of their marketing ploys in the booklet was “Every garden should have a clump of canes”. To add to the sense of improbability the inside front cover contains an image of the then President of the Board of Trade, and subsequently UK Prime Minister, Harold Wilson with his wife Mary. Echos of Private Eye and Inspector Trimfrittering perhaps?

Chris

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Life Under Lockdown

Nothing can take away from the horrors of the Coronavirus outbreak and its terrible impact on so many lives. However, for those of us so very lucky enough not to have been directly affected by it and to live in the country with a bit of space there have also been some consolations.

Of course there are many things things one misses. They include meeting friends and extended family, my regular life drawing classes both locally and in London, increasingly a haircut (I’m either not brave enough or too sensible to try myself), getting a watch battery fitted, and visiting museums and galleries.

The compensations have included fresher air, lots of peace and quiet and getting on with some proper vegetable gardening. The old orchard sports several rows of potatoes: after the effort of double digging through years of nettles and brambles they really had to be Pink Fir Apple!

A kind neighbour has loaned us their otherwise unused greenhouse and apart from hundreds of my wife’s Zinnia and Cosmos seedlings, I am growing tomatoes there and have germinated yellow courgettes, Painted Lady runner beans and Cosse Violette climbing french ones. Abandoned nine foot hazel rods discovered off a nearby footpath have been reclaimed (“foraged” perhaps) from the weeds that had started to engulf them and are perfect for a bean frame that really must be constructed in the next fortnight.

To my surprise, many of the unexpected pleasures have been driven by technology and social media. In the past, although I was never Luddite about these matters and was happy enough in Excel if the occasion demanded, I really thought of them as sophisticated screwdrivers. Of course we’ve been posting here on WordPress for years but since we both write books and both garden, including on occasion for other people, that has always seemed a logical choice.

From my pre-virus viewpoint I saw Zoom as an insecure contender to Skype, You Tube a means of curing a foolishly turned on child lock on the hotplate, while Instagram was for posers who wanted to show  off expensive jewellery by the pool side of an AirBandB Caribbean villa. Now these same apps have expanded my world and given me considerable pleasure. 

Instagram drove the first breach in my defences. Our new dog, Polly the wire haired fox terrier, provided the perfect justification for starting her page in lock down (pollyterrier just in case you were wondering, and she does like to be followed and liked!).

Over the coming few days I intend to put up a series of posts about those areas of social media that may also be of interest to other people. The problem in each case, when so much is available, is not what to include but what to leave out. Broadly the first will cover museums and public galleries including exhibitions. The next will deal with commercial art galleries and auctioneers. The last post will cover some of the online resources available to those of us who draw, paint or make things. 

Chris