Piano, Islamic Art, Perfume and Shrek

This was an emotional week because I lost my dear doggie friend, Buddy, who was one of the three beach dogs in the Dominican Republic. I wrote a tribute to him on an earlier post.  While trying to help with his health issues from here in London, I also kept busy with activities that I had planned.  That was helpful because it got my mind diverted to something else and not focused 100% on a situation where there was little that I could do because of the distance.  For me, it was a lesson in trusting God and the people who had access to Buddy.

Tuesday night, December 4, I had plans with Leila, my landlord and Jane, her friend from Brazil.  As it turned out, Leila had another event to attend so Jane and I went together to the CD launch of Clelia Iruzun’s.  She is a pianist who just released her newest CD from the selected works of the composer Federio Mompou; neither of who I was familiar with.

Clelia Iruzun is originally from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil and came to England at the age of 17 after winning a scholarship to study music at the Royal Academy of Music.  She now makes her home in London with her husband and two children.  She tours throughout the world giving concerts and has made several CDs.  Federico Mompou was a composer from Barcelona, Spain.

The CD launch was held at Bolivar Hall which is part of the cultural complex of the Venezuelan embassy.  Ms Iruzun played the selections Cancon i Danse No. 1, Impresiones Intimas (Plany 1, Plany 4, Pajaro Triste, Secreto, Gitano) Cancon i Danse No. 4 and Cancon i Danse No. 6.  She played for about 15 minutes.  She has amazing talent but it seemed hardly worthwhile getting dressed up, traipsing across London for 15 minutes of music!  However, it was a nice evening visiting with Jane and getting to know her better.  She is a very interesting lady who has her degree in engineering and enjoys taking courses.  Sadly, she is returning to Brazil, December 20, to pursue her masters degree in management.

This week’s lunchtime lecture at the Victoria and Albert was about the current exhibition “Light from the Middle East: New Photography”.  The speaker, forgive me for I didn’t get her name, explained the way the exhibit has been set up. She also said that the V&A was the first museum to collect photographs and had been doing so since the early 1800s. They have thousands in their archives.

When organizing this exhibit, they defined the Middle East by including all the countries from north Africa to Central Asia. She said it was a very broad definition of the mid-east and included the Islamic and Arabic regions.  The exhibit is divided into three sections:  Recording – pictures that are taken to document an actual event, such as a historical moment or access to something the viewer might not have seen had it not been for the photo.  One of the photos in this section showed a man working out in a traditional wrestling gym (zurkhana), in Tehran, Iran.  The photographer was female and it is forbidden for females to be there.  To get this photograph by a female is certainly an accomplishment in itself.  Plus, it gives an outsider a view of life in Tehran.

The next section is Reframing – photos that put a new twist to an old photo.  I really liked the work by the photographer, Shadi Ghadirian from Tehran.  Through her photographs, she addresses the issues of Iranian women and how over the years they have lost so many privileges.  She took photos of women from photos that were created during Iran’s Qajar period (1786-1925).  In the older photos, women posed with items that represented their dreams.  For example, one lady posed with a piano.  The women in the original photographs wore dresses with frilly skirts above the knees and of course, the hijabs or head scarfs.  In the “reframing” photos of Ghadirian, she recreated the women in the original costumes – the frilly dresses, hijabs – but also, they were wearing loose fitting pants that were tapered at the ankles to adhere to the customs of today.  The women were also posing with a modern day item such as a can of Pepsi, a mountain bike or a stereo.  It was a statement of the conflict that women in that culture face each day between their traditional and modern lives.  I really liked the way this was presented and am grateful that I had the background to truly appreciate these pictures.

Resisting was the final section and again, this was interesting to me as well.  It was of photos that had been altered to demonstrate how fragile photos are and how easily they can be altered for censorship purposes.  One example was by the photographers Joana Hadjithomas & Khalil Joreige of Beirut, Lebanon.  In their series “Wonder Beirut” they noticed that postcards from the pre-civil war Beirut were being sold after the war ended in 1990.  These postcards portrayed a very different Beirut…water skiing, beautiful cities and scenery than what was actual reality post-civil war.  They burned these postcards and took photos of the damaged cards to relate their view of post-war Beirut.

Another interesting photo in the “resisting” section was taken in 2005 by Amirali Ghasemi from Tehran, Iran.  It is titled “Party” and is a scene from a party where people are, by Islamic tradition, scantly dressed, dancing and drinking.  However, he has whited out the images of the the participants faces, exposed arms and legs.  This is a statement of protection to the party-goers for attending a banned activity and also, alludes to the censorship of the press in Iran.  I learned that magazines imported from the west have black marks on the arms of the women and their skirts are lengthen with black markers as well.

I really enjoy art when the thoughts of the artist are explained with their work.  It just helps in understanding and appreciating the process they used to arrive in creating their art form.

After the lecture, I decided to visit the section of Islamic Art in the V&A museum to keep with the “theme of the day”.  Their art is very beautiful. I especially loved the colors and designs that they use on their tiles that they use to decorate their buildings. In the 7th century, the Middle East came under Islamic rule which was the merging of the Sassanian empire (Iraq, Iran and the western part of Central Asia) and the Christian Byzantine part of Syria and Egypt.  With the merging of these cultures, their art was merged and are influenced by both empires.  Early Islamic art was made up of designs from inscriptions in Arabic, geometric patterns, plants, animals and people.  Over time, in religious art, living subjects were excluded and only the use of abstract designs was developed. Islamic art is suppose to convey a balance between Allah (God) who rules all and his subjects. Non-religious art continued to use animal and human figures depending on when they were created.  There were certain time frames that only allowed geometric patterns and plant-based ornamentation on non-religious art as well.

Islamic artist are taught to use a compass and ruler to help them create geometric patterns that are so popular in their art.  Islamic art is influenced by many different cultures.  The scrolling vine pattern which is very popular was used in European art.  The use of the lotus and peony flowers was introduced after the mideast was invaded by the Mongolians in 1256-58.  Also, adopted from the Chinese after the Mongolian invasion was the use of the phoenix and dragon to express imperial power.

Throughout the exhibit, they had examples of ceramics from the different periods all beautifully decorated in rich colors and patterns.  I think that arabic writing is so beautiful and graceful. They had a variety of textiles mostly wonderful Persian carpets handwoven from wool and silk.  Their metal work of bowls and plates also were decorated in intricate designs using plants, animals and geometric patterns as can be seen on the bowl in the picture.

The Ardabil Carpet is on display.  It was from a pair of carpets commissioned by the ruler of Iran, Shah Tahmasp, for the shrine of his ancestor, Shaykh Safi al-Din.  The date of completion is 1539-40 and it is believed to be the largest and finest carpet in existence.  It is made of 10 different colors of wool and has 304 knots per inch!  Can you imagine how tiny each knot is?  To keep the colors from fading,  the lights are turned on for 10 minutes on the hour and half-hour.

I just love the use of tiles for decorating buildings in Islamic art.  I particularly loved the rich colors and inscriptions used to decorate the tiles of the Tomb of Buyanquli Khan. He was a descendant of Genghis Khan, the famous Mongolian invader.  For awhile, Byanquli Khan was a “puppet ruler” over central Asia.  When he tried to assert his own authority, he was killed by a local war lord.  He is buried in Bukhara, Uzbekistan in a great domed mausoleum covered inside and out with these tiles.  Sadly, many of these tiles have been removed from the tomb and placed in museums around the world. I just “googled” and found pictures of the tomb.  There are still some of the original tiles left on it but for the most part, the building now looks like a bare stone structure.  I say sadly in one way, however the article I read said that many of the tiles on the building have deteriorated beyond repair. So, it is good that many of the original tiles which are true pieces of art are preserved in museums, no?   

As you can see from the picture, the V&A has quite an extensive display of the tiles.  I just love the rich color.  The glazing technique used was only used during the brief period of 1350 to 1400s.

Thursday, I took Jane and Leila to lunch. They have been so kind to me since moving here to London, inviting me to their house for dinner and to do things with them.  I wanted to pay back their kindness.  We ate at a restaurant in the Mayfair area off of Oxford Street.  I had a lovely roasted vegetable salad with goat cheese.  After lunch, Leila and I walked to a couple of antique malls. Leila is a big fan of vintage clothing and fashion in general.  One of her necklaces is on exhibit right now at the fashion design museum here in London!  She rattles off something about a certain designer, which sadly, I don’t have a clue what she is talking about.  Maybe if I stay long enough in London, I will learn it all from her!

After saying good-bye to Leila, I made my way down to Regent St and went through the Liberty department store.  I wandered through Carnaby Street nearby Liberty.  Carnaby is a pedestrian shopping area 12 streets. It was made famous during the 60s during the cultural and fashion revolution.  Today, it is home to many new designers, boutiques, shoe shops and cafes.  From this area, I walked pass Piccadilly Circus and made my way down Coventry Street that goes into Leicester Square.  There I bought a ticket, at the discount theater booth, for the musical Shrek.  I am trying to see plays that I don’t think David would care to see.  Doug and Marie saw it and thought it was cute.

From that area, I continued walking east…and I walked, and I walked and I walked. I was heading to my perfume making class that I signed up for through an organization called “Amazing”. I learned about it in a local free paper.  Amazing is a great concept. People who have a hobby that they are good at and want to help others learn about, contact the organization and offer their services.  Amazing organizes the classes and puts it out there for people to sign up for. I am not certain if the teacher gets any kind of compensation but there are many interesting classes…knitting, cooking, gardening, etc.  Their office, where the class was held, is in the borough of Islington, an area of London I had never been to before.  It is near the Old Street tube station.  There isn’t much there except for office buildings and I think a nearby college.

I am not a huge perfume wearer.  David being fragrant sensitive has contributed to that!  However, I love the scent of lemon and have a citrus scented perfume that I use in the summer. I don’t like it for the winter as I feel it is too light of a scent and too summery.  The other scent I really like is cinnamon.  When I smell cinnamon, I think of warm kitchens, fires in a fireplace, Christmas music, snow falling outside and so on!  I associate the scent with winter and thought that would be a nice fragrance to have as a perfume.  However, I couldn’t find a spicy scent that I liked.  When I saw this class being offered, I thought I could make my own spicy perfume.

The class was interesting. The instructor, Ralph, has been making his own creations for over 10 years.  He explained about top, middle and base notes.  Top notes are the lighter scents that you smell immediately when you sniff perfume.  Those are the floral, citrus, herbal and fruity scents.  The middle notes are more floral and roses although there was one that was spicy.  For the record, I really like the scent of bergamot.  Most of the note mixtures that Ralph gave us which I liked had bergamot in them.  Finally, the base notes are the woodsy scents.

As he gave us the scent and the ingredients in each one, he put a little sample perfume smelling strips for us to smell.  We had to divide each new scent into three piles – love, like and dislike. Then, came the fun part…to combine the scents into our own creation by combining the smelling strips.  He suggested 3 top notes, 2 middle and 1 base.  It was interesting because as we were combining them and couldn’t quite get the scent we liked, he suggested to take a scent from our dislike pile.  That suggestion worked for me.

We gave him our “recipe” and he did the calculating of how much of the essential oil we needed and then mixed it together in our own personal perfume atomizer.  My scent is definitely spicy.  I don’t know if I really like it. I feel that I need to “tweak” it a little…maybe dilute it a little with some alcohol so it isn’t as strong and I would like to add a drop or two of cinnamon essential oil.  I am still working on the final outcome!

Friday afternoon, I went to the Natural History museum.  The building alone is worth going to see. I think it is my favorite building in all of London!  It is of a light blue and tan stone.  It was designed by an architect, Captain Francis Fowke who died suddenly.  Andrew Waterhouse was awarded the contract and he changed Fowke’s design from a Renaissance style to the German Romanesque that it is today.  The museum was started by the physician Sir Hans Sloane who had amassed this huge collection of natural history objects from his worldly travels.  When he died in 1753, he left his collection to England and the Natural History museum was started.

I didn’t have much time to spend as I was meeting Anna and Daniel for coffee later in the afternoon.  I mostly just wandered through to get an idea of what was in the museum.  I went through the bird collection. I was surprised to see an actual Dodo Bird. Sadly, they are extinct now. Another sad display item was a cabinet full of hummingbirds.  It was used for decoration during the Victorian era.  A lovely display of these beautiful birds but how sad that they were killed for this purpose.  There is a section on the earth, on human evolution, rocks and gems, animals….much to see and to absorb.  I hope to go back.

It is always nice to see Anna and Daniel!  I met Daniel 5 years ago in Spanish class in Santiago, Chile.  He and Anna met while attending Harvard and are now engaged to be married.  They are continuing their education here in England…Anna is pursuing law at Oxford and Daniel is adding a couple of masters to his name.  The exciting news is Daniel got a job with the Boston Consulting firm.  He will start this September in the office here in London and eventually, will transfer back to Boston when they are ready to move back there.  We had a nice visit.

After leaving them, I walked along Brompton Road toward Piccadilly Road.  It took me past Harrods which is all decked out for Christmas and was just as mobbed with people!  I was glad I was walking on the opposite side of the road!
I grabbed a quick coffee and scone before going to see Shrek.  It was at the Theater Royal on Drury Lane.

Not having children, I really hadn’t seen the movie Shrek.  I had a great seat! I was in the 10th row from the stage.  It was a cute show. I didn’t come out of the theater thinking WOW but I enjoyed the play. The donkey character and Lord Farquaad were very, very funny.  The woman who sang for the dragon had an amazing voice!  It was good and I am glad that I went.

Yesterday was Saturday and I went to Windsor to see about an apartment I found on Home Away.  I am hoping to bring my dad over for a couple of weeks to see England.  David and I feel that London would be too overwhelming for him and think that the town of Windsor would be nice.  The apartment is in a perfect location.  It is within a five minute walk from the train station, shopping area and the castle.  So, I am going to book it for about 2 1/2 weeks for when David has his turn-around so the three of us can explore together.  I am excited!

I walked back from Paddington station last night.  It took me through Hyde Park, down Exhibition Rd where the museums are located and back to Chelsea. I did some quick shopping and got home around 6:00.  After watching a little television, eating dinner, I went to bed early to fight the cold that I have felt I was coming down with all day!!!  Lots of sneezing!

It was another great week in London!

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