Saturday, February 6, 2016

V&A Late: Spoon, Knife, Fork

On the last Friday of the month, the V&A hosts a spectacular evening of learning, drinking and dancing. Imagine letting your hair down in the coolest museum atrium in the city after a long week at work, ice-cold beer in hand and cool music reverberating around Dale Chihuly's showstopping chandelier. It's pretty amazing - and best of all, it's free! When I discovered the January theme, I knew the revision would just have to wait til Saturday morning.

I studied history of art for two out of four years at university, and although my final dissertation was on the intersection between 19th century French poetry and painting, I really wanted to write on the point at which food becomes art (and vice versa). With a theme of 'Spoon, Knife, Fork', the V&A promised to explore the 'social politics of how we sit, how we consume and how we share'. I couldn't wait to sink my teeth into its invariably exciting programme of talks, installations and music.

Blanch and Shock constructing their 'Exploding Cake' installation in the Grand Entrance - one hundred gently swaying whisks filled with cakes, flowers, herbs and sauce, reminiscent of wind chimes or tintinnabulum in this temple of culture. 

DJs for the night Eat Your Own Ears put on an array of danceworthy music, all themed around food.

I'm pretty sure the woolly mammoth has been extinct longer than 220 years. Then again, maybe I'm just a philistine.

The 'De-Extinction Deli' - where gastronomy meets sci-fi fantasy, prompting us to think about which long-dead animals we'd like to bring back from the grave - and which we'd like to pop on the barbecue. Personally, I'd be quite interested in roast dodo. 

I was keen to go to the Eat Your Words experience in the National Art Library (which involved gustatory texts and ultimately edible paper) but sadly my bag was just a bit too large to take in with me; the other talk I was interested in, regarding the history of the museum cafe was absolutely packed by the time I rocked up. But luckily, this being the V&A, there's never a shortage of things to do and see!

I wound my way back downstairs to the ground floor galleries to explore the Far East collections - as good a way as any to pay homage to my ancestors in the run-up to Chinese New Year on the 8th February. Here are my favourite pieces:

A gilded silver jewellery box encrusted with a panoply of gems: turquoise, coral, lapis lazuli, beryl, and rubies. I'm sure this would have made a wealthy woman in Nepal very happy back in the 18th century. 

Padmapani, a 14th/15th century bodhisattva (also from Nepal) and bearer of the lotus, which you can see carved into the palm of his gilded copper hand. 

A highly regal-looking bodhisattva from the Jin Dynasty (1200 AD), hailing from Shanxi province.

An unfinished Buddhist votive stele from the Northern Qi Dynasty (about 550-577 AD). I thought the little faces emerging from the limestone were so characterful. 

A Qing Dynasty Imperial Dragon robe. The silk weave on this piece is marvellous, and this embroidered dragon is the epitome of fierce - I doubt even St. George would have stood a chance against this celestial beast. 

Thanks for a great night out, V&A - it was one that managed to be both edifying and edible! Can't wait for the next voyage of discovery. I'm particularly excited for the upcoming Botticelli Reimagined and Undressed exhibitions...

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Monday, February 1, 2016

Vagabond Wines

Spitalfields, haunt to an odd mix of Nikon-toting tourists and besuited City workers on the hunt for a spot of lunch, is a conveniently short walk away from my law school. All too often I find my purse unburdened by the siren call of the jewellery shops around the fringes of the eponymous market, while Bleecker Burger and the bars in the area are becoming so familiar that I blame them for any discomfort in the waistband region. Like me, this is a part of town that has grown a little too big for its britches. I have a memory from the nineties, coloured with glee, of riding a miniature toy train around the market. Gone is that Dickensian cave of treasures, toy train dispensed with in favour of a cleaner, redeveloped space populated by chains. And yet I still love the area. There's a few gems to be found in the sea of ubiquitous tack on the traders' stalls, and some truly cool spaces. Like Vagabond.

I'm a wine lover but not a wine lover. I did a few tastings at various societies at university but couldn't get past the aroma wheels or spittoons - oh, or the fact that little lightweight Tamsin at 19 really couldn't handle her alcohol. Now, 5 years down the line, Vagabond marks my very first trip to a bar devoted exclusively to wine. So, I repeat. I'm really not the oenologist that some of my fellow mid-twenties friends can claim to be.

Friends like Ivy (pictured here with Viv - aren't they such beauties?) aka birthday girl of the evening, who showed me how Vagabond works. Stroll up to the counter to rent a card for the night (or, you know, for the rest of your life) and top it up with as much credit as you desire. Et voilà: the crazy wide selection of wines on tap are yours for the taking! Volumes are also completely at your discretion - whether you're after a tasting mouthful, a full glass or an entire bottle.

A delectable Gewürztraminer, my first and favourite wine of the night. Untrained drinker that I am, I loved that I could still identify the grapes and imagine them, plump, on the vine in Alsace.

Brand new reds bottled in the past 3 years - toddlers, really.

Brushing shoulders with dustier vintages pushing their mid-thirties.

A birthday toast.

And you know what goes well with wine? CHEESE. Especially apt on National Cheese Day. This board boasted a few staggeringly delicious specimens. The blue in the middle of the platter was particularly memorable. A dolcelatte, maybe? Whatever it was, it was so creamy I could have wept. You can also order big plates of charcuterie if you get peckish - one to remember for next time.

Cute (and very '80s) Polaroids were snapped, woeful tales of less-than-perfect housemates swapped, and the unlearned (me, mainly) schooled on the sartorial distinction between full and quarter brogues.

Plentiful cheese + wine = an ideal combination for ringing in a birthday (chosen well by Ivy, as expected!) It's also a devilish thief of time. Before I knew it, I was trudging down Euston Road, having missed the last worth it. I've still got a little credit left on my Vagabond card, which I'm keeping safe for the next time I want to shed a few hours and pounds of responsibility. If you're into wine, come along with me next time and educate me on the finer points of wine tasting, please!

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Sunday, January 24, 2016

Santorini δ: Skaros Rock at Sunset

Welcome to my fourth post on Santorini! Today I give you my favourite memory from the trip: a spontaneous evening walk to Skaros Rock, and the one activity I would immediately recommend to anyone planning a trip to the island. A sweaty, sun-bleached trek may not sound all that exciting, but it culminated in one of the most incredible sunsets of my life, and was undoubtedly one of the best things I did in 2015. This is a post I was pretty much dying to sit down and write the second I got back to the hotel room. Four months later, here we are. Or I am, forlornly scrolling through budget airline price listings for Santorini, my naïve strategy to bring a little sunshine and colour into the monochrome winter months having backfired horribly on me. I can only hope that these photographs might inspire the same level of wanderlust in you!

Caper berries growing wild on the side of the road. (Also wild and native to the island: an abundance of plump, sweet green figs, which we unashamedly snacked on throughout this walk). 

Imagine waking up to this view every morning. Having been in a pathetically stunned state since we crested the ridge of the island, I could only liken it to a National Geographic shot. 

A quick pitstop at a local cafe for water later, we climbed down the cliff from Imerovigli towards Skaros Rock, a medieval fortress abandoned by its inhabitants in the 18th century. It was only a few hours earlier that I'd noticed it on Tripadvisor and indeed, it doesn't seem to be hugely well-known - with only a few other tourists making the climb down to the promontory, it's a far cry from the sunset crowds at Oia and a far preferable spot to catch the famous Santorini sunset in peace.

It was by a fluke that we noticed these cave dwellings under the main path leading up to the rock. As I gingerly climbed down from the path and peered inside, I felt like an archaeologist happening across a buried settlement. 

The sun began to dip closer to the horizon, leaving Skaros Rock awash in golden light. We took our cue to find a place to sit and eat our dinner - sandwiches and fruit - an experience that far outstripped the 'sunset restaurants'. As I sat, perched on a dusty rock and wearing dusty shorts and trainers, my attention squarely focused on the beauty of my surroundings, I felt pure and humbled.

The sun having disappeared behind Thirasia, the boats clustered around the port at Oia for sunset came streaking back across the lagoon, creating sweeping brush-like strokes that my art historian's eye couldn't help but notice.

As dusk fell over Santorini, the lights in the towns along the ridge turned on gradually, glittering and scintillating in the distance. This, the most memorable night I spent on the island, was one marked not by excess of spending and food, but by the natural beauty of the caldera and the pure pleasure of exploring with my own two feet, with not a single Euro in my pocket. If you do one thing in Santorini, please - do this. You won't regret it.

If you've missed my earlier posts on Santorini, you can catch up here: 
α | β | γ
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