Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Comtemporary Art--are you feeling it?

On my daily walk up and down Kings Road towards Sloane Square, I would pass the Saatchi Gallery and always ponder going in. There was nothing really stopping me, after all it was free, it was accessible, but a visit of a contemporary gallery never really grabbed me. Relocated last year to the beautiful Duke of York Headquarters, the gallery hosts temporary exhibitions of varying interests. A couple of weeks ago, with camera in hand on a frigid day, I stepped into this new world to check it out.

Currently, the focus is on India with The Empire Strikes Back exhibit. I consider myself an art lover, but I've got to admit, I did not know what was going on with most of the art I was seeing. Maybe it's my limited perspective, maybe I've been sheltered too long from what's going on the contemporary art world, because I found myself tilting my head from one side to the other trying to soak it all in. Take this first piece for example, Bharti Kher's mysterious fiberglass heart of a blue sperm whale...

or Huma Mulji's Arabian Delight. Hmmmm....what can I say? What would you say?

Her Suburban Dream by the same artist intrigued me--a cow extension of sorts.

This made me pause and look twice. Mansoor Ali's  Dance of Democracy--an installation of discarded chairs. Recycling into art, now there's something I can cheer about.

How do you feel about Kher's Hungry Dogs Eat Dirty Pudding?  A vacuum covered with animal skin. Now there's another recycling thought for all those discarded and broken-down vacuums. You know, by this point, I was really puzzled and a little frustrated. Just what makes art, ART?

I mean, I looked down on the floor about that time at this splat on the ground. In the eyes of the beholder, art maybe? 

As I was finishing up my tour, wrestling with my struggles about what really makes something a piece of art, I found a permanent exhibit that really touched me. Emily Prince, an American artist, has put together this collection of 5,158 sketches of American soldiers who have given their lives in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

This tribute is an ongoing project that she updates as the statistics change. Each soldier is sketched with pencil on a color coded square of paper that corresponds to the soldier's skin tone. If she knows their story, she adds it to the sketch.

I searched until I found a soldier from Houston, my home town. Analaura Gutierrez, 21 years old, who died in 2003. She joined the Army in 2002,  so she could eventually attend college.  A stirring of the heart is what I felt--I think that is what best defines art to me. It certainly spoke to me that morning.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Castle Combe

On our recent outing to Stonehenge and Lacock, we ended the day at a picturesque little village called Castle Combe. There are sometimes regrets that you have about trips, and in this case, we were so sorry that we ended up in the town around dusk, and thus missed some prime time to visit what proved to be a charming surprise. Perhaps if we had eaten a quicker lunch, perhaps if we had walked around Stonehenge just a wee bit faster, perhaps if we had spent less time chasing Harry Potter at Lacock Abbey, and perhaps if we had not stopped to take a photo at the town of Tiddleywink along the way, we would have had more time to enjoy Castle Combe--but how were we to know?

Entering the town I was reminded of what I had read. Castle Combe, only 12 miles from the city of Bath, is considered the southern most town of the Cotswolds Region.

Situated in the very center of town is the 14th century Market Cross with the old water pump beside it. It remains from the time when the privilege of holding a weekly fair was awarded. Imagine merchants coming in from all over the countryside for the big market day.

The church dates from the 12th century

and the graveyard beside it was particularly haunting that day with a sprinkle of snow and the setting sun.

Castle Combe was a center of the wool industry in medieval times

and in recent times has seen the arrival of a new industry--the film industry. Among the films shot here were Dr. Doolittle and most recently The Wolf Man.

The houses are typical Cotswold style, hundreds of years old, and spinsters and weavers would make the cottages their homes. The By Brooke supplied power to run the mills.

Truly a city lost in time, I was afraid we might not ever get back for a visit, but as we were leaving, we spotted the Manor House Hotel, and guess what spreads out behind it?
An incredible golf course! So, guess who is suddenly very interested in another weekend trip???
Maybe we will get back someday....?

Monday, February 15, 2010

And the winner is...

Thanks to all of you who stopped by with all your good wishes and congratulations on my 100th blog post. Your encouragement is motivating, believe me! When it came time to find a winner of the London tea towel, my granddaughter was more than excited to draw the lucky name.

Congratulations to Cristen, the lucky winner. Interestingly enough, Cristen is crossing her fingers that she will be transferred to London in the upcoming year with her husband's job, so maybe this is a lucky sign for her. The tea towel is on its way, and maybe it will lead her in that direction.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Time to Celebrate

This post marks a milestone for me--it is my 100th post. Little did I know when I started this blog last summer, how much joy it would bring me to share my life and my discoveries with you. I started out hoping that family and close friends would have a better idea of all the things we were experiencing traveling back and forth each month from Houston to London. Then to my delight, many more of you started telling me how much you were enjoying the stories, and with your encouragement to continue on, I've kept writing to the point that I've now reached Post 100. Many thanks to all of you--old friends and new blogging friends around the world for your interest and good wishes.

To celebrate this occasion, I've decided to give away a little touchstone of London. Pictured in the basket below is a tea towel featuring some of the major sites of London that I would love to send to one of my readers.

I hope you'll enjoy finding all the sites that you've seen or read about in the city we all love. Here's just a quarter of the map! Recognize some landmarks?

And below is a close-up of my "neck of the woods" between the area of Chelsea Town Hall and the Chelsea Physic Garden.  See the little lady carrying her groceries--that's me trudging home from the grocers with my daily load!

So...what do you have to do to be eligible to win? So, so simple--just leave a comment on my blog saying what you would love to see if you come to London. The contest will be open until midnight on February 14, after which I'll pick a winner at random and ship it off to you. Can't wait to see what your favorite places would be!

For all my friends who have given me verbal comments or Facebook comments through the months because you weren't sure how to go about leaving comments on a blog, here's a quick tutorial. You will find at the bottom of the post something like "5 Comments" or the words "Post a Comment." Click on the word Comments. You will next see a box where you can then write your comment.  Now, you must choose an identity. If you have a Google/Blogger account, you click on that option. If you have another blog service, you can click on the Open ID option. The next option would be to click on name/ URL site (for those who have their own website.) No website? Then just type in your name only. The final option is Anonymous, but for this contest's purpose, I would need you to identify yourself. You're almost done now--if you'd like to Preview it to see what it looks like, you may by clicking on that button, but when you are ready to submit the comment, you click Publish. Hope that helps.
Good luck!

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

On the Harry Potter trail

After visiting the village of Lacock, we headed over to Lacock Abbey to see what remained from the 13th century.

Even though the temperatures were hovering at the freezing mark that sunny day, the snowdrop flowers were framing the abbey gardens.

Come in and take a further look.

Founded in 1232, the abbey prospered until the dissolution of the abbeys by Henry VIII. Some 832 religious communities were disbanded between 1536-41. It is still possible today, however, to see the cloisters, the chapter house, and the sacristy, along with several monastic rooms.

After 1539, it became a country home until 1944 when it was turned over to the National Trust. Pretty special house, I'd say!

Fast forward to the 21st century, and Lacock's claim to fame is as a setting for two of the Harry Potter films--Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (known in the States as the Sorceror's Stone) and Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets. You might remember in one scene that the gardens of the cloisters were covered with snow and held a fountain.

The cloisters and the side rooms were transformed into classrooms at the Hogwarts School.

Harry, Ron and Hermione left their footsteps here in the hallways.

And in the middle of the Warming room stands the cauldron featured in the movie.

Now for confession time: I've never read a Harry Potter book.  I've never watched a Harry Potter movie, but the odd thing is that Saturday night, I was flipping channels and what came up on the screen but Harry and his classmates in this very room in front of the boiling cauldron. And I have to tell you, I was intrigued. So..., if I was to take a first dip into the Harry Potter experience (just considering it, mind you) would you recommend reading the books or diving into the movies head-first?

And a giant Thank You to sweet Jenny at Pleasant Places for her kind words and for her gift of this award. You'll be treating yourself if you check out her blog too.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Inspiration boards

Recently, I started an e-class called Blogging Your Way. It has involved a lot of "firsts" for me--first e-class, first attempt of being a part of a forum, and a first attempt at an inspiration board. You see our homework this week was to create an inspiration board which might reflect our moods, our passions, our interests, and the direction we see for our blogs. Since, I blog primarily about my life in London, I decided to make a stylized version of the Union Jack flag, and then add some snippets of things I enjoy talking about on the blog. Since being in London, I've loved sharing about the history, the pop culture, the architecture, our travels and some British "home-grown" products and their stories. Hope you're enjoying the journey with me, and if you'd like to take a look at the creative blogs of our instructors, you can find Holly at Decor8 and Leslie at A Creative Mint.
Make it a great week!

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Stepping back in time to Lacock

After seeing Stonehenge, we drove a short distance further to the picturesque village of Lacock. It was like stepping back in time to see this beautifully preserved town, which once was a thriving town during the peak of the wool trading days from the 14th-18th century.

Managed today by the National Trust,  the village has been the location for many films, since it provides such an authentic backdrop for period pieces. The National Trust has taken great care to preserve the town, and interestingly enough, television is piped into Lacock from a well-hidden aerial on a near-by hillside, to avoid seeing aerials and wires in the town.

We loved strolling through the streets, and imagining ourselves as characters in Pride and Prejudice, or in Emma, which were both filmed there. (Well, maybe I should clarify that--Mike was not doing any imagining of course, but I was, along with my friend, Cathy who was with us that day.)

After the peak of the wool trade, Lacock remained important as a staging post, and the city was left out of the Industrial Revolution, because the Talbot family who owned the village at the time, made sure that the railway lines never came near the village.

Fascinating as well, was the tithe barn which dated from the 14th century. Originally attached to the Lacock Abbey, the tithe barn would hold a tenth of each farmer's crops which were donated to the church.

Located in the center of the town, was the church of St. Cyriac which was rebuilt in the 15th century.

This black and white timbered house from the 15th century was originally a wool merchant's house, but today is the locale of the Sign of the Angel inn.

By this time of the day, we were hungry and decided to dine there and take our chances with the "resident ghost" as listed on the sign outside the door.

It was full of character inside--old beams, low ceilings, walls that were a bit crooked, but alas, no signs of ghosts. Just a good hearty lunch in front of the fireplace.

Before leaving town, we visited the Lacock Abbey. Stay tuned for its story, especially all you Harry Potter fans. I think you just might see something you've seen before!

Many thanks to Jenny at Pleasant Places for her kind words about my blog. Stop by her blog if you have a chance. She's such a great story teller about her own travels with her cute family. I love reading about her journeys!