Sunday 27 February 2011

Tulips, cycles, cats and kitchen maids

Some images of Amsterdam - canals, flowers, bicycles - are so pervasive as to have become clichés, so it comes almost as a surprise to see quite how many there are of these at absolutely every turn ...

Thousands of tulips in all varieties at the Flower Market on the Singel canal, the bulbs (below) good for export, though perhaps not the novelty cannabis seeds.

Cycling is quite simply how everybody gets around it seems, the evidence being in the astonishingly few numbers of cars actually driving on the roads (as opposed to parked alongside them) compared to any other city I've been to.
It's a family thing ...

... a couples thing (the side-saddle technique, below, a common variation, as is cycling with dog-on-the-leash, which I saw often flashing past but was never quick enough to snap!) ...

 and a thing to do while conversing earnestly with your bezzie ...

We queued for ages at the Rijks Museum, despite it being off-season, but then years in Britain have turned us into meek and patient queuers (it's what the English do best, innit?) and besides, it was worth the wait ...

More than the Rembrandts, it was Vermeer who caught my fancy here. His Kitchen Maid (shown in detail above in the giant poster outside the museum), makes up for its diminutive size in reality with the most astonishing colours and quality of light. I can't bring myself to give a reproduction of the whole painting here, because the image searches I did only proved the point that reproductions, no matter how good the photographic quality, will always disappoint compared to the experience of seeing the original. (Though oddly, I have just once in my life had the opposite experience, and that was seeing Botticelli's Birth of Venus in the Uffizi and feeling strangely let down).
Instead, here is his Girl with a Pearl Earring, which hangs in The Hague.

Isn't she fabulous? Now I want to re-watch the film (with Scarlett Johansen and Colin Firth) of Tracy Chevalier's book - a lot of which was shot in Amsterdam, although Vermeer lived in Delft - for the visuals (if you've seen it you'll  remember how the scenery was filmed to reflect his paintings, or how the colours of light on water inspired him).

What I was not expecting to see so much of in Amsterdam, though, was cats! 

There were cats hanging out in bars ...

... cats in cheese shops ...

... and seemingly, a cat in every window ...

See how intently this one watches the road (one of the Negen Straatjes, narrow and full of interesting goings on) - from left ...

to centre ...

to right ...  what is he thinking about? (and wouldn't you like to be curled up against that cushion in the window seat next to him?)

Seems the Dutch take their cats very seriously - take a look at the wonderful 'Cats & Things' (you might even be tempted to buy something online, whether voor de kat or voor de mens). And then check out the house boat for stray cats and the cat museum, the Kattenkabinet, which we visited on the Herengracht.

Just my kind of people. 

Tuesday 22 February 2011

Prachtiche Amsterdam

A weekend break can be just the ticket for lifting late-winter spirits ... 

We flew from London on Friday - finally - after a Regrettable Incident involving forgotten passports (no, don't ask: it was mea culpa, so I don't even have the satisfaction of tutting and sighing at idiots who leave the house for the airport having remembered to pack a slew of unnecessary items but sans passports) 

... and were just in time to catch the last light of the day ...

Amsterdam was freezing, a bitterly cold wind coming off the North Sea, but the canals in winter have their own kind of beauty

and the interiors seem the more cosy and inviting ...

I love the human scale of this part of the old city, the Grachtengordel - the narrow, gabled homes, the absence of traffic (though an onslaught of cyclists can make you fear for your life) ...

(hey, there's a green pedestrian light showing!)

... the abundance of funky little shops ...

Happy Socks, above, and other quirky little shops below, in the Negen Straatjes

the perfect outfit for one's flower and food-shopping excursions by bicycle, non?

... and an amazing profusion of great little restaurants and coffee shops...

Busy chefs in the open plan kitchen at Bussia, below, where we had delicious food and a warm welcome. Thank you Tara for this recommendation!

 It's tot ziens for now, as I have some work to catch up with, but another post to follow ...

Tuesday 15 February 2011

Broken chandeliers and Italian curses

Merisi's post yesterday, over at Vienna for Beginners (go and check it out, it's a daily visual treat), on a window display of broken china in a Viennese porcelain shop, reminded me of the first time I saw this amazing chandelier at Waddesdon Manor. 

This is  Ingo Maurer's "Porca Miseria!" chandelier, constructed with broken china, commissioned by Lord Rothschild to hang in the dining room at Waddesdon. 

Photo source:

I love those moments of surprise, of seeing something so unexpected in a given context that you stop dead and look at everything differently. I love how this modern explosion of smashed plates looks in the centre of this classical 18th century French-style dining room.


German designer Ingo Maurer made this chandelier in 1994 in response to what he felt to be the slick, overly-designed look of contemporary furniture. He initially called it 'Zabriskie Point', after the slow-motion explosion in Antonioni's film, but when some Italians came to its first showing and muttered "porca miseria!" in amazement, he changed the name. 
Maurer makes about ten of these a year.  Porcelain plates are smashed with a hammer or dropped on the floor, the chance, random pieces determining the final arrangement. So yes, you too can buy one of these, providing you have the ceiling height and a Rothschild-size budget (Christie’s sold one in 2008 for a bit over £37 000). You might want to settle instead for a cute little winged Maurer desk lamp from the Conran shop, at £400-ish ...

Waddesdon Manor is the Rothschild family estate in Buckinghamshire, built in the style of a French Renaissance château. It was used for a lot of the interior and garden scenes in The Queen, with Helen Mirren.


Although bequeathed long ago to the National Trust, it is still the personal project of the current (4th) Lord Rothschild, Jacob (below, painted by Lucian Freud) who lives nearby, and thanks to him an accessible venue for an interesting mix of contemporary and traditional art.   


Friday 4 February 2011

Some places I'd rather be

Last week I was dead chuffed, as the English might say, to receive a Stylish Blogger award, passed on by Gina from Art and Alfalfa. Thank you, Gina! Gina is a very talented artist and a thoroughly nice, as well as most impressive (go and check out her array of achievements), person. And when I’m grown up I would very much like my photographs to look like hers.  

There are conditions attached to the award, however. One must first reveal seven things about oneself, and then pass on the award to ten other blogs. 

As the first of these inexplicably provoked a mild stress attack, I am bending the rules somewhat (well, a lot, actually, but what else are rules good for?) and offering instead seven places I'd rather be / things I'd rather be doing right now

1. Having breakfast in Cannes

Cannes June 2009

2. Enjoying a good book over wine and tapas in Seville

Sevilla July 2010

3. Swimming from beach to boat with collected stones and shells in Kefalonia

Fiskardo, July 2007

4. Cycling to the shops for dinner in Siena

Tuscany August 2009

5. Strolling the waterfront in Cape Town

Cape Town April 2009

6. Boarding a train, destination unknown

Gare de Lyons, Paris 2010 

   7. Or even just chilling right here at home

Toby 2010

(Could you guess that I am swamped with work right now and thoroughly sick of leaden skies and freezing temperatures?)

Selecting ten other blogs also proves tricky. How to define stylish?  Do I know enough blogs, stylish or otherwise? I read different blogs for different reasons, not all of which have to do with stylishness. Some of my regulars are listed in the side bar, and I nominate and recommend all of these, as well as the following, which I've discovered more recently and which undoubtedly have style:

my french kitchen

la pouyette und die dinge des lebens 

mais qu'est-ce qu'on mange ce soir?

Happy blog-reading! 
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