Hampstead Heath, V&A, Royal Albert Hall

In my last blog, I forgot to mention that another outing in London David and I had was a trip to Hampstead.  It is a suburb of London proper and it turned out to be an enjoyable place to visit.  Our friends, Doug and Marie stayed in Hampstead with their friend and they said that we really needed to explore the area….especially Hampstead Heath, the park.  On their suggestion, we hopped the tube and headed north of the city to explore.

To me, London appears to be a variety of neighborhoods that are swallowed up by the growing city. It is like most cities.  When you say that you are from NYC, people ask what part…Manhattan, Queens, Bronx, etc.  It is the same here…you live in London but what part…Chelsea, Bayswater, Mayfair, etc.  Hampstead appears to be a village that was “swallowed” by the ever growing London. It had a typical downtown with stores that I have seen throughout London…some close to me on Kings Road.  However, what I was most impressed with at Hampstead was the green area that they had to offer.

My map of London doesn’t show the Hampstead area real well.  Once we arrived, we walked a little through the downtown area but soon found ourselves in a residential area.  We kept walking and soon found ourselves in a wooded area that we assumed was the “heath” that Doug and Marie had mentioned.  I just looked up the word heath and it means “an area of open uncultivated land especially in Britain”.  So there you have it, the word of the day!!

It was a nice place to walk.  The path took us through a wooded area.  It was hard to believe that just 5 minutes ago, we were in a shopping district.  This was so quiet and peaceful.  Eventually, we came upon a garden with a pergola walkway.  Wanting to know more about the place that we were at, we asked some people about it.  They told us that it was West Heath and that many people from Hampstead don’t even know about it.  We were lucky to stumble on it!

We made our way to the “original” heath and walked back into town.  It is a very pleasant park.  I just google to get more information about Hampstead Heath.  It is 791 acres of green space and is London’s premier open space.  With that much open area in a city, I would have to agree with that statement!

I really liked both the heath and the town of Hampstead.  It is definitely someplace that I will return to.  We walked back to town from Hampstead.  All in all, it was about eight miles to get back to our apartment.  London is a great walking city and when you walk, you see so much!

The Great Wave off Kanagawa by artist Hokusai

Yesterday, Sunday, November 4, I went to the Victoria and Albert Museum for the afternoon lecture and demonstration on the Japanese art form of Ukiyo-e (U-key-o-a).  I didn’t have a clue what it was about but he lecture and demonstration were free, so I went.  I just love living in London and taking advantage of all that the city offers.  It is practically a part-time job keeping up on all the events that are here!!  I found a great website that tells what is happening in London…www.visitlondon.com. It is a great resource.

The lecture was given by Dr Monika Hinkel who is affiliated the University of London in the Japanese Research Center.  Ukiyo-e is the art form of woodblock prints made in Japan between the 17th and 20th century.  Paper making and block printing originated in China and was introduced to Japan by the Buddhist monks.   Ukiyo means “floating world” in English and this is what the Ukiyo-e art represented; landscapes or moments of fleeting beauty or entertainers who were removed from the responsibilities of a mundane life. This art could be massed produced – up to 300 or 400 prints a day were made – and they were inexpensive.  One print cost about the price of a bowl of rice.  This art was for the working class.  It gave them the opportunity to purchase a piece of “floating art” that took them away from the ordinary world of their everyday life.

Later, in the 1700s, the themes of Ukiyo-e was more towards woman’s fashion, beautiful “common” women – for example, one artist chose the rice cracker shop girl and the tea house waitress as his models and also, courtesans were used.  Working class men would buy these prints of courtesans to “escape” from the reality of their lives with the help of the print and their imagination.  Not much has changed over the years, no?   Except that the pictures today show more of the model than they probably did in those days.

Landscapes became the popular theme in the 1830s.  Before, the subject would be of a famous kabuki (Japanese theater) actors.  The art with the current famous actor would quickly go out of style do to the actor’s popularity.  However, with landscapes, people would enjoy the picture for a long time.

With the introduction of printing machines, the art of Ukiyo-e was almost lost.  In 1928, the Adachi Woodcut Institute was founded to preserve this art form.  Today, there are only about 60 Ukiyo-e artist in the Tokyo area and over half of them are over 60.  The Adachi Institute is teaching young people the art form and reproducing old prints.

One of the Adachi’s artist gave a demonstration of how the prints are produced.  It takes four people to make a print.  The artist creates the design. The design needs to be simple because the cherry tree wood that is used for the carving is very expensive.  For this reason, the print needs to be produced using only 5 blocks of wood, which might contribute to the simplistic beauty of this art form.

The publisher approves the design and works with the wood carver to create the carvings on each block needed to make the print.  With the help of the artist, he coordinates the colors to be used for the print.

The carver, carves the wood for the print to be produced.  Finally, the printer does the process of spreading paint on the wood, rubbing the print to create the artist vision.

This is the printer ready to start the demonstration.  She sits on the floor cross-leg with the carved block of wood, at an angle, in front of her.  She has her supplies of brushes, water, paint, rice glue and the baren, which she rubs the paper with to get the paint on the paper.

Here she is spreading the paint over the block of wood with a cloth.  She thinned the paint with water and added a little rice glue to help the paint adhered to the paper.   The paper used is wasi with long fibers to absorb the paint better.

Rubbing the paper with the baren.  Each block used is a different color for the print, so it is important to aligne the paper in the same place with each rubbing.  This is done by indentations on the wood block.  The printer places her thumb in this each time to aligne the paper.

The blocks of wood used to create the print and…..

the final product.  Just beautiful, no?  I have a whole new appreciation for Ukiyo-e art now!

After the lecture and demonstration, I went to Whole Food on High Street Kensington, which is about a 20 minute walk from the Victoria and Albert museum.  There I had a vegetarian burrito and cappuccino at their food court before heading off to the Royal Albert Hall for a dance performance by young people throughout England.

It is called a Dance Prom.  Prom is another British term which means concert.  This more like a dance recital and I must say that I thoroughly enjoyed it.  The young people were so very, very talented.  They performed ballet, hip-hop, jazz, tap and lyrical dance.  There were a couple of the performances which I especially liked.  One was of an all male dance troupe of about 20 young men. They were so gifted, athletic and graceful in their hip-hop performance.  Another was a ballet duet of a young couple to the song by Adele, “To Make You Feel My Love”. The interpretation of the music was stunning.  Finally, there was a young boy of about 6 or 7 that was incredible…he had rhythm like I have never seen in a person so young before.  Although the rest of his group was good, he really stole the show!

The hall itself was impressive.  I had my own “box”, which I didn’t realize when I booked the ticket.  It was an excellent seat.

This is the inside of the the theater.

This was the grand finale with all the dancers on stage.   I am so glad that I decided at the last minute to go to this.  It was wonderful.

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