Heavenly Bodies of The Met

We finally ended up at The Met. It had been on my mind for some time and it being a bank holiday when the sky was swollen for the most part with clouds, Adi gave in. And will you get this, for not one, but two consecutive days. That is the power of love (or, a rainy weekend). A fine museum can be a salve to the soul that seeks more. Up the classic steps of The Metropolitan Museum and we were inside its august portals and soon the senses were buzzing with the wealth of art inside the maze of chambers. We were swept up by burial masks and the art of the Incas wrought in gold, smooth and veined busts of Greek gods and goddesses in marble, ancient Mayan figurines and the works. Time sped by. It was a lesson loaded with geography and history, which I appreciated way more than I would have as a teenager. For then the purpose of life was to guzzle Mills & Boon romances in the back benches and yak endlessly on the landline.

Back inside The Met, we were surprised by a line-up of sumptuous and austere figures. Catholicism and fashion! Oh, why yes, images from the Met Gala earlier this spring came back in a flash. How could I forget? The eyes had goggled at the pageantry, and details like Kim Kardashian being unable to paint her face as a girl (deprived child) because she attended Catholic school, Rihanna walking into the gala in her gown of pearls and crystals, with an equally low-key mitre, and then the revelation of a mini skirt, lest you started questioning her sartorial statement…

Riveted by this unusual exhibition, the likes of which we have never seen, I did pop my head and hands through a press of bodies, to steal a handful of images. So here’s how faith and fashion colluded at The Met. And I can promise you, it ain’t the mendicant’s cuppa.

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Habit of the clergy. The soutane.
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Angelica by Dolce & Gabbana, in black wool crepe and buttons of gold.
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Thom Browne ensemble in black cashmere broadcloth, black mink and white Persian lamb (put me in mind of a ram with concave horns).
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Moschino’s black and white canvas. That headgear!
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Sheaths with Byzantine mosaic design
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Silk taffeta dress by Pierpaolo Piccioli for Valentino
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A Thierry Mugler ivory silk taffeta ensemble, accessorised with gold-painted feathers.
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Statuary vestment for the Virgin of El Rocio, ca. 1985, by Yves Saint Laurent. An affair in gold silk brocade, silk satin and metal Chantilly lace.
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Burred vision in gold and white. An evening look by John Galliano for Dior.
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Christian Lacroix wedding ensemble in silk brocade and tulle
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Sumptuous statuary vestment in blue silk jacquard and gold metal passementerie for the Madonna Della Grazie in Palagianello, Italy, by Riccardo Tisci.
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And Alexander McQueen’s evening look for the House of Givenchy.

Romanced by Florence

I saw Florence once again through the eyes of my love. In it, I found inordinate pleasure.

That was another time it seemed when I had caught the train from Milan to Florence in the spring of 2016. Though it was not quite long ago. I had set out on a walking tour with a middle-aged artist with a long, gaunt face, dishevelled hair covered by a tweed flat cap, his ample girth covered by a capacious coat that had seen better times. He had drawled about the finer points of Florence which could not be missed by the most absent-minded person that ever existed. Mouths gaped open then at the sight of the Renaissance magnificence that reared its head in a cluster upon the Piazza del Duomo.

The wonders wrought by the compilation of bands of serpentine green, red and white stones by Renaissance architects Brunelleschi and Giotto. Sculptors of the likes of Ghiberti and Pisano whose doors retain their arresting quality so that Michaelangelo declared Ghiberti’s doors of bronze to be the ‘gates of paradise’. Those gates lead inside the Baptistery of St. John where the mosaic clad dome blinded me momentarily with its flamboyance in gold. So that when I had stepped outside and one of those street artists, a pot-bellied jocular Italian, had grabbed my hand while streaming out words in Italian, I remember feeling bewildered, amused and seized by the urge to swat his hands off mine. My blank expression made him break out into bits of English and the mixture of persistence and perseverance was difficult to escape.

But this was now and Florence had acquired an added sheen of romance. Adi’s jaws dropped visibly as we walked into the Piazza del Duomo just like mine had. Soon his face wore a hangdog look as he followed me up Giotto’s Campanile. A steady stream of climbers made sure that we had to keep climbing. By the end of it, legs reduced to a jelly consistency, my darling flatly refused to subject himself to the same torture up the Duomo. His excuse was the 5pm ticket slot we had. ‘It will be dark by the time we are up on the Duomo,’ he insisted. I felt benevolent. I relented. You have got to choose your battles after all. There was a long walk ahead. I had planned to make him walk up the hills that climb above the city. We lunched at a cutting-edge seafood restaurant where the salted codfish made me want to trill. The dopey fellow who took our orders and messed it up did not however make me want to trill. Balance was achieved.

We were soon wandering around the Uffizi, staring at the imposing Palazzo Vecchio guarded by the copy of Michaelangelo’s David and Bandinelli’s Hercules and Cacus. We stood at the spot where the Renaissance preacher Girolamo Savonarola had been hanged and burnt, shivered at the thought, and Adi wondered aloud at the Rape of the Sabine Women. You see, when the first king of Rome, Romulus, came to power, the Romans wanted to marry the Sabine women. But the ancient Italic tribe did not agree and the Romans abducted the Sabine women. There might not have been sexual violation thrown into the fray, yet the event was dubbed so. The plethora of stories upon stories that lie buried within the old walls of Florence makes the mind whirl.

We found curious quiet once we had crossed the Ponte Vecchio, the old bridge populated by rows of jewellery stores spanning the River Arno. A bylane led us up and up and soon we were on cobbled paths lined by elegant old villas and olive groves, an old chiesa, an old man stooping upon a walking stick to pick his way carefully upon the cobbles. The silence of it broken only by the occasional Fiat that swept by us with great speed. The Italians are supersonic on their Vespas and Fiats.

Adi wondered if we were lost. I soldiered on with a determined look that relayed more confidence than I felt. The road not taken was taking its own sweet time. Yet how beautiful it was as it gradually opened up to a road that snaked past the gardens of Boboli and offered up views of Florence below us, framed by an army of green and golden trees. Words are always inadequate to express the beauty of any moment.

Later, after we had watched lovers embracing by the medieval defensive walls of Florence, traipsed through alleys in which leather shoemakers sat crafting hair-raisingly expensive shoes, peeked into shut antique stores and upholstery studios, gobbled up cake and coffee at a charming coffeeshop, watched a couple of men stop in their tracks to gawp at a woman running in shorts, we had a leisurely stroll by the Arno. Dusk descended upon our shoulders in rosy hues and an old man bicycled along the river with his arms entwined about his lover. There it was, that incredible feeling of love and belonging. We were caught in the bubble where nothing else mattered but that we were there together in the midst of the impossible beauty of that ancient city called Firenze.

Adi turns his back on the Renaissance magnificence of the Piazza del Duomo rather grudgingly.
Florence Cathedral and Baptistery of St. John in profile
Giotto’s Campanile
The Duomo
Baked terracotta roofs of Florence

 Fishing Lab alla Murate
Salted codfish with onion relish in chickpea puree
Grilled shrimps
Hercules and Cacus by Baccio Bandinelli at the entrance of Palazzo Vecchio. Cacus, the fire-breathing giant, was slayed by Hercules for terrorising Aventine Hill before the founding of Rome. 
The Rape of the Sabine Women
Piazza della Signoria
Hilly roads that lead above Florence

Via San Leonardo 
On the southern outskirts of Florence
Chiesa di San Leonardo in Arcetri, an 11th century church from the pulpit of which Dante and Boccaccio had preached sermons.

In the distance stands Torre del Gallo, an ancient castle belonging to the Galli family of Arcetri.
The Tuscan atmosphere of our walk

Florence 
Former defensive walls of Florence
Antique stores
Upholstery studios
Leather shoemakers off the Tower of San Niccolò
 An alley opening up to the Tower of San Niccolò
Coffeeshops of Florence
Coffeeshop residents
A slice of chocolate cake to take the sting off incessant walks above Florence
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Amore
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The Ponte Vecchio on the Arno

Bums, Beauties, Boy Scouts and Sentimental Rockwell

Two old biddies man the desk at the entrance to the Norman Rockwell museum. Shivering and nattering for it was a cold morning, the morning after it had rained incessantly the day before, and you know how it always feels colder inside these old buildings sans heating.

Down Route 4, a two-lane highway snakes its way through Rutland marking its way through the green mountains that lead you to Killington. On the sidelines of that scenic route dotted by its plethora of old and colourful houses, you spot a signage with foliage creeping up its feet announcing the presence of the museum. Rockwell lived an hour from here in the ‘heart of the shires’ in between the towns of Manchester and Bennington, in a small community called Arlington that sits upon the banks of the river Batten Kill. Southwestern Vermont, to be not so precise. ‘Now my pictures grew out of the world around me, the everyday life of my neighbors,’ Rockwell had remarked upon his move to the quiet town.

Rockwell is possibly the best known of all the artists that America would have sprung upon the world in the 20th century. The native New Yorker who was born in the late 1800s to a family that in his own words was ‘substantial, well to do, character and fortunes founded on three generations of wealth’ – Rockwell had an epiphany early on about his calling in life. He drew and drew because it took his mind off his ‘narrow shoulders, long neck, and pigeon toes’. By the age of 18, he had a full-time job of illustrating for magazines. Boy scouts and covers for the Saturday Evening Posts were probably the most important themes that his artwork revolved around in the initial years.

When this New Yorker moved to Vermont did it mean that he started painting the brilliant autumnal colours of the New England vista that unfurled before his eyes, before his very windows? Nah. It was the mid-40s when he had made the move, the crucial WWII years during which the artist painted his iconic work ‘Four Freedoms’ based upon the ideals of freedom. To speak, to worship, liberation from fear, from want. Yet he portrayed them through the common man. His neighbours. Their rituals. Scenes from an average American life and the great American dream. Those are the scenes that wooed me as I walked in ultra-slow motion through the two wings of the building, chuckling with the man and his subjects, for even though there is humour in spades there, it is gentle. For sneers do not melt the butter and empathy with your subjects can only endear you to the reader/viewer.

And then Adi, who within half an hour had zoned out, wanting to break out already into the arms of the day that was slowly brightening up under the rays of a reluctant sun. In museums, they should reserve a room for those who want to nap or take a break, don’t you think? I would safely deposit Adi there and spend hours basking in the glow of art till my brain hollers for a break. Till I start to feel the pricking of, as Emily Dickinson so aptly wrote, ‘a Funeral, in my Brain’. Adi had at any rate got there before me. But then the fates conspired with my husband. A busload of Russian tourists took over the museum and they refused to give way. Loquacious. Loud. Funeral in the brain alright. Scuttle. Unwillingly.

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Scouting is Outing. Original oil painting for ‘Boy Scout’ calendar, 1968.
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Fireman. Original oil painting for ‘Post’ cover, May 27, 1944.
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The Tattoo Artist. Original oil painting for ‘Post’ cover, March 4, 1944.

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Still Good. Original oil painting for advertisement for Interwoven socks, 1927.
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Triple Self-Portrait. Original oil painting for ‘Post’ cover, February 13, 1960.
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Thanksgiving (The Glutton). Original oil painting for ‘Life’ cover, November 22, 1923.
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Homecoming G.I. Original oil painting for ‘Post’ cover, May 26, 1945.

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Shall this museum, a small repository of Rockwellian memories, survive the passage of time? You see it is up for sale, and on the agenda of a father and son duo from Vermont eyeing it is a dispensary doling out medical marijuana. Life is a tale told by an idiot and you know the bard is never wrong.

‘What Do I Think About Art’

In between rushing to stores, gobbling up pizzas and giant cookies, while setting up our new apartment to the tune of endless cups of Lady Grey tea, I came upon this cutesy tag courtesy Angela. Interesting and innovative. An art tag! But I had to do it asap before I lost steam and let it slip to the bottom of the pile. Thank you Angela, I had fun going about this tag.

Here I introduce you to the “What Do I Think About Art” tag.

Rules:

  • Copy the piece of art given to you by the nominator into the post and these rules
  • Analyse the piece of art given to you and what it means to you (you can be as abstract as you like)
  • Nominate five people to analyse another piece of art of your choice

The lead photo is the one that I was tagged to analyse by Angela.

It is an example of going green on a whole different level, eh. You see the cityscape in the backdrop – ’tis the picture of barrenness, a leaf or two sticking out here and there. Maybe more than a leaf, but hey, I am permitted a smidgen of exaggeration surely by dint of the fact that if art allows us to stretch our imagination we can let it seep into into our words too.

Okay, so we all need green. More so in the cities.

How do we go about it? We grow a green bush on our head. That is the best way of getting your own personal bit of green on this planet where world leaders with exceptional vision denounce the concept of global warming as a weapon for hoodwinking the masses.

Right, so our man is a self-sufficient personality. But watch out for that brush in his hand. Could it be that there might be an itchy witchy feeling creeping up on him and that all is not as well as Mister Smug (just look at his expression) might claim to all and sundry?

“The streets are empty and here’s my chance to go berserk,” he sniggers as he sneaks the brush into his green pate. He is about to have a real good go at it just like a scratchy sheep makes a go of it against a fence or a highland cow rubs its massive horns against dry stone walls. You get the picture, I suppose. I shall let it rest there.

I would love to hear your take on the piece too.

Deconstructing art takes me back to the beginning of my feature reporting days when I used to be bundled off to art exhibitions to interview artists. Artists are the kind of professionals I never felt uncomfortable around. It was easy to feel gauche around fashion designers, hoity-toity actors and egoistic sport stars, but with artists, no way. It seemed to me, during those long conversations, that they were suspended in the cloudy realms of their heads from where they need time to wade out at ease. So yes, I could take my time.

Art is also supposed to be individual. You can imagine my delight that there was no censure. That I could sit there and come up with bizarre interpretations. Thus you have the logic behind my view of Angela’s street art piece.

Below is my piece for you. I clicked it in Jersey City downtown the other day. Would you care to analyse it? If yes, you can do a post on it, or just leave your interpretation in the comments section. Going beyond the stated number, I nominate you all. Humour me?

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Glass for Princes in Murano

A mile north off Venice is the cluster of islands called Murano. We crossed in a vaporetto (water taxi) from Venice to Murano on a day that was joyously sunny. The kinds that come wrapped up in a bow only once during a few miserably cold and foggy winter days spent in Venice. When we got off the boat at Murano, the first sight that greeted me was that of a bearded local dragging a sizeable carton on wheels . He looked like a fisherman, the lines of the years marked out on his weather-beaten face.

A rustic, atmospheric introduction but what lay after was anything but unassuming. Workshops, boutiques and factories cropped up in a row, flanking the grand canal. Stepping inside them, my senses were dazzled by the rich colours of delicately designed glassware — and, may I add sheepishly, the prices.

There we were at the heart of it all – Murano thrives on the art crafted by the glass blowers of the island. They have been at it for centuries. Somewhere towards the end of the 13th century, the Doge ordered the glassmakers to move their factories to Murano. Now there is a bit of dilemma about why he did so. But it sways between two schools of thought – one that the Venetian authorities did not relish the thought of their wooden buildings exploding with the danger of fire at large, and secondly this that they did not want the craftsmen to divulge their secrets to outsiders.

The glassmakers achieved exalted status soon. They could carry swords, evade prosecution by the Venetian state, and by the late 1300s, their daughters could even be wedded into blue-blooded families. The only glitch was that the glassmakers could not leave the Republic. If a glassmaker had plans of setting up shop on lands beyond his own, it would mean two things for the fellow – he would either lose his hands (sounded to me like Shah Jahan’s edict for the workers behind the Taj Mahal had travelled far – the Mughal emperor was supposed to have had their hands lopped off so that they could not replicate the glory of his tribute to his empress), or, he would be killed by the secret police.

We had to watch one of the glassmakers at work. It is quite a touristy thing to do, yes I know, but sometimes I feel that you have got to be a tourist to the hilt. We marched into one of the factories and paid up about 8 euros each to watch a third-generation glassblower go about his job with incredible ease. Within the time that we spent gaping at him twirling a long pole, the tip of it encased in a glowing cone of fiery melted glass, he had moulded a handful of pretty pieces of coloured glass including one of a horse rearing up.

Veneto-Byzantine summer palazzos and cathedrals apart, I was taken in by the iridiscent blue sculpture at Campo Santo Stefano. It was a veritable starburst in glass. I gaped more – by which time Adi was fairly tired of sulking and being ignored while I kept staring at glass. To not have your sulk acknowledged is worse than your partner shopping on the sly. My husband shall confirm both. He does the first, I do the second. At that point of time he had made the transition to Mr. Grumps. He had not been fed gelato on time.

Off we went on a gelato hunt which concluded the visit to the island on a fairly satisfied note. Not to mention the few colourful pieces of suspended, ceiling lamps that we bought before boarding the boat to Burano.

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Baked and bearded Murano locals
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Grand Canal
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Boutiques that line the canal
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Glass blowing – at the very heart of Murano is this art.
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Inside a glassmaker’s workshop
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The focal point of this shot being the horse. 
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Emerald hues of the Grand Canal and cathedral walls looming alongside.
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Blue glass sculpture at Campo Santo Stefano, the 19th century clock-tower.

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Post mint chocolate chip gelato, all is usually well.
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Murano’s lighthouse made of Istrian stone.

How to Get There: Look out for Vaporetto 41 and 42 from Piazza San Marco in Venice. You can also stop at the cemetery island of San Michele, that lies between Venice and Murano.

Where to Buy Glass: Go with your instinct. We stopped at a shop that was quiet but the owner refused to haggle (which was a bummer) but the relief was that we did not come out with products made in China.

Where to Eat:

La Perla Ai Bisatei. An Italian eatery where I stopped for cappuccino and a spinach puff pastry that delighted my tastebuds with its flakiness. The food is supposed to be good here and the prices reasonable.

Osteria al Duomo (www.osteriaalduomo.com) is a family-run affair and known for the freshness of the locally-sourced food it serves up.