Janie was very keen to see Walk With Me – she had heard great things about Thich Nhat Hanh, the Zen master who is said to be the father of the modern mindfulness movement. Janie very much enjoyed some of his lectures on YouTube and thought the film would go deeper.
So much so that Janie was even prepared to schlep to the Curzon Bloomsbury on a Sunday evening, as that was the only slot that worked for us during the film’s opening weekend.
The film irritated us both for different reasons. In Janie’s case, because the film didn’t go deeper – in fact it didn’t really provide much insight into Thich Nhat Hanh’s ideas at all – it just showed his Plum Village community and a tour beyond…at a snail-like pace.
Mindfulness is one of those concepts I like in theory, but in practice – and I did try a mindfulness course few years ago and did stick it out – I found mindfulness itself a bit irritating.
Add to that general irritation an infeasibly slow movie, the condescending tones of Benedict Cumberbach and a young man sitting next to me who seemed to have brought a lifetime supply of noisy nosh into the cinema with him…
…you get my point.
For me, the only interesting part of the movie was when the monks go on tour to the USA, so you see the slow-moving, mindful monks up against the no holds barred, fast pace of New York City.
Janie missed much of the USA tour part of the movie because she started nodding off at that juncture.
I had done my nodding off and missing chunks of the movie during the earlier, unbelievably slow passages.
Below is an excellent trailer that will give you a reasonable feel for the film:
It is not a movie for the faint-hearted. Janie wondered immediately after the film whether Ai Weiwei had gone too far when getting refugees to relate and revisit the horrors of their experiences. One woman starts to vomit while recalling her story, while one man, showing the record cards of his decimated family sounds traumatised almost to the point of insanity while retelling their tragedy.
But it is also a movie that looks at the movement of people in the abstract, with statements by political and civil leaders expounding many different views on the causes of and possible solutions for the migration crisis facing the world.
Ai Weiwei takes us to many of the world’s trouble spots. Janie and I have been to many such places ourselves, but have never really witnessed the more extreme causes of human migration first hand.
Janie and I visited a traditional Garo Village in Meghalaya in 2005, only to learn that the village has been razed by the electricity board and the Garo people were now living in a shanty, fearful of the wet season to come.Ai Weiwei is brilliant, in my view, by showing us the many sides to the story, from the deeply human individual cases to some beautifully shot scenes, some of people on the move, others of mundane scenes such as a gigantic pile of life jackets. Janie questioned whether Ai Weiwei’s eye for artistic images was appropriate when depicting scenes related to such suffering – so many migrants are lost at sea for want of, or despite those life jackets.
It is 140 minutes long, this film. I think it is a truly superb piece of documentary cinema. I challenge anyone to watch it and not be moved by it.
It will probably also change some aspect of your opinions on this politically and socially-charged subject. If you think there is a fundamental difference between refugees and economic migrants, for example, this film might make you start to think differently.
This film doesn’t provide answers, but it certainly informs and asks the right sort of challenging questions.
This was our first time at the Curzon Victoria – very nicely done the place is too – we’ll surely go to that one again if/when it suits.
But back to Paddington 2 – superb cast yet again, with Hugh Grant doing a brilliant job as the guest villain for this particular film.
There are bits that possibly tickle me more than most people – for example the way my Notting Hill neighbourhood is depicted – so charming & quirky…almost but of not quite as it really is. Except we do have a calypso band on almost every street corner…of course we do.
Indeed I absolutely love the way London is depicted in this film – a subtle blend of modern (e.g. The Shard) and old (steam trains, telephone kiosks, Victorian prisons…umm).
Paddington 2 really did have me and Janie laughing, crying and getting excited by the action like the pair of overgrown kids we clearly are.
If you haven’t seen it yet, stop reading and start making plans to go see this film.
Reading about this Michael Haneke film in the Curzon brochure, it sounded very interesting and right up our street. Strangely, we have often noticed reviews of Haneke films and thought that they sounded like our cup of tea, but this (I think) is the first we have actually got off our butts and gone to see one.
We’ll be looking out for more Haneke films (including some of his earlier ones) after this experience. We thought this was a really superb movie.
Talk about dysfunctional families – this high-falutin’ French family really takes the biscuit. They reminded me a bit of families you sometimes find in Francois Mauriac novels – just a more modern version.
Haneke tends to work with an ensemble of favourite actors and actresses, so it won’t surprise Haneke fans to see Isabelle Huppert and Jean-Louis Trintignant, for example. A nice little cameo role for Toby Jones too.
Janie and I thought the stand-out performance was Fantine Harduin as the little girl, Eve, at the centre of the plot. Remember where you first saw her name!
So why the picture of the rare seven-string bass viol and a name check for Hille Perl, one of the leading exponents of that instrument? Well, it is only a sub-plot but a rather full-on one; it is not all that often that you’ll see the terms sexting and viola da gamba in the same sentence…or in the same subplot. That subplot put the gilt on the gingerbread for early music lovers like me and Janie.
We booked a late afternoon preview slot for this exhibition months ago, when it was first announced.
We love Winnie-The-Pooh; we don’t love swarms of children. Simples.
We got to see this charming little exhibition in ideal (for us) circumstances. Enough people around for it to have atmosphere but a quiet slot mid-to-late afternoon, just ahead of any members who might bring their children after school.
Reviews and stuff (at the time of writing just previews) can be found through this search term – click here.
We took several photos – if you want to see more than just the few on show in this piece, either click here or the photo below:
The show is an interactive experience, but in a very analogue way – with a staircase to sit halfway up, a slide, an hexagonal spinning name generator and some drawing exercises.
No virtual reality like the Modigliani across the water, nor even any computerised games. Pooh sticks was thus, in my opinion, under-served. One senior lady member wondered out loud whether any children had been involved in the curating of this exhibition. I thought it a good question and guessed that the answer is no.
Still, the exhibition was beautifully designed – Janie thought it one of the most stylish she can ever remember – with lots of hoardings in the style of E. H. Shepard drawings emblazoned with well chosen chunks of A.A. Milne’s wonderfully crafted words and some sound effects, such as bees in the vicinity of the story about Pooh searching for honey. The simplicity, I guess, is a large part of the show’s charm.
I got to visit the North Pole. Janie, of course, now five weeks into her pole dancing hobby, found Pooh’s pole a little tame for her taste…
…yet Janie was surprisingly timid at the idea of trying out the slide, which she did attempt, eventually, rather gingerly in my view:
We had lots of fun at this exhibition and did learn quite a lot about the wider context of the works from the exhibits.
Afterwards, we tried out the new members’ room for refreshments and very much enjoyed it. A much larger, airier space than the previous room, which was rather pokey and “uti” for the V&A. The friendly staff and tempting menu come into their own in this improved facility.
As for the Pooh show, the V&A shop will no doubt do lots of business with some excellent books about the wider context and also some beautiful editions of the Milne/Shepard Pooh books themselves. But we resolved instead to stop off at the flat and pick up my tatty Methuen paperback Poohs for the weekend – by gosh they are dog-eared and falling apart but they are mine:
After dinner, little Daisy dropped off to sleep while I was reading her some of the poems. Bless.
In the end, it occurred to both of us that four exhibitions in one day is overdoing it at our age…actually WAS overdoing it even when we were younger and less discerning.
So, we resolved to visit the Tate galleries on our Wednesday off (I was so tempted to use the headline “Tate-à-Tate”), then to take in the two smaller exhibitions at the Royal Academy a couple of days later, by taking advantage of late Friday opening.
We enjoyed all four exhibitions, but the highlight for us was undoubtedly the first one we saw; Modigliani.
Just in case any Ogblog readers remain confused, I have embedded the trailer for the wonderful Modigliani exhibition below:
We both really loved this exhibition. Not only does it show a superb selection of Modigliani’s work, but you get some real insight into his working world, from his early days in Paris to the end of Modigliani’s relatively short and tragic life.
A tip for anyone planning to go to this exhibition; do make sure you bagsy a (free) ticket for the Modigliani virtual reality studio: The Ochre Atelier. Both Janie and I thoroughly enjoyed that experience. You feel that you are sitting in Modigliani’s studio from three different angles. You can’t quite smell the smouldering Gitanes in the ashtray, but you do sense the breeze coming in through the window.
Impressionists In London – French Artists In Exile 1870 to 1904
We had the car with us, making it a surprisingly short hop from the Tate Modern to the Tate Britain, via Lambeth Bridge.
This exhibition has been somewhat maligned by the critics, but we enjoyed enough of it to justify the visit.
Many of my old school friends, for example, will appreciate the scenes from suburban London where the French artist refugees seemed to congregate for a while; doing some interesting impressions of 1870s Upper Norwood, Sydenham, Lordship Lane and the like – Sarf London Ooh La La?
Cricket loving friends, d’autre part, should love the impressions of 1870s cricket, from Tissot (surely not an Impressionist) hanging out with the I Zingari lot in St John’s Wood to Pisarro’s wonderfully impressionistic crickety park scenes.
In fact, there were quite a lot of Pisarro works on various subjects, probably worth the visit alone. Monet’s foggy London scenes are also well worth seeing if you have never seen them before – as it happens we had seen them before but were very happy to see them again.
Jasper Johns – “Something Resembling Truth”
This was a far more interesting exhibition than I expected. I had a few key images in my head for Johns (flags, numbers…) and didn’t realise the diversity of his work when you see a full tilt retrospective, which this undoubtedly is.
It’s patchy; Janie and I both enjoyed some but not all of the works, but there was plenty to enjoy and I (for one) was very pleasantly surprised by the quality of the work and variety of styles. A lesser-known middle period in the 1980s, for example, yielded interesting work to my eyes.
Dalí / Duchamp
Janie and I both love Dalí’s better works and many of those were on show in this exhibition. Duchamp’s art, we felt, was less interesting. Marcel Duchamp was clearly a very interesting thinker, but perhaps not such an interesting artist.
Well worth a look at this exhibition, though, with a good selection of artefacts and photographs as well as art works.
Further, with the Jasper Johns and the Dalí / Duchamp exhibitions located next to each other, it really does make sense to see both in one go, unless you are very short of time and/or have an aversion to seeing two shows in one go.
We had a mixed juice (or non-alcy cocktail) in the RA members bar after the shows, served by a comedy combination of competent barman and clueless waiter.
Here are some link terms to reviews of the four exhibitions:
But don’t take the experts’ words for it – we’ve all had enough of experts after all. Janie and I thought all of the exhibitions were worth seeing, but if you can only see one of these exhibitions, for us it would have be the Modigliani.
Brian had mentioned the forthcoming event to me some weeks ago, when we ran into each other on the street, so I had saved the date. Brian had told me to expect Ha-Joon Chang and Yanis Varoufakis. I had read the former’s book, 23 Things…, back in the day, but had not got around to reading any Varoufakis. So I one-clicked a copy of And the Weak… , reading it a week (ironically) before the event.
I highly recommend the latter book, btw, especially the “modest proposal” appended at the end of Yanis’s book. Those nine pages should be getting far more thought and attention; they should be required reading for anyone who cares about the future of Europe and European people.
Brian hadn’t mentioned Ayesha Hazarika ahead of time so I had to look her up; a former advisor to the Labour Party and the Remain campaign, now seeking solace in comedy. Sounds like a natural progression to me.
Comedy and economics sounded like my kind of thing.
Before the main event, over pre-panel drinks, I met some very interesting postgrad/researcher types, plus several of the Economy charity’s staff and trustees. A very bright, young and friendly bunch.
Economy’s big thing is to try and make economics understandable to the general public; a very laudable aim. I tried not to bore people too much with tales of The Price of Fish derring do…
…but I do find it hard to express how I feel about making economics meaningful and comprehensible without reference to the book.
I didn’t notice anyone sidling away from me and one or two of the Economy people tried to encourage me to ask a question for the panel session, which I didn’t really want to do and in the end I was rather glad I didn’t get around to it.
As is so often the case with this type of event, the best bits were before and after the formal session. Not that the formal session was all that formal.
Ayesha set the tone for the formal session by being really quite funny when introducing herself and in her early responses. Good self-effacing stuff. Ha-Joon and Yanis picked up on the irreverent tone, but I don’t think either of them should give up the day job for comedy.
Victoria Waldersee of Economy did a superb job of trying to cram a heap of questions about important economic & political issues into a 45 minute panel comprising three people who all talk for a living.
Predictably, the answers didn’t get all that far during the panel session; it reminded me a little of Question Time on the TV – except that on this panel all of the opinion was pitched as anti-economics, anti-capitalist and anti-establishment…
…which is fine as far as it goes, but I wanted to hear what was suggested in the place of everything that is wrong and heard little in terms of alternative proposals and solutions.
More confusingly, I found the panel sometimes at variance with the charity Economy’s raison d’être, with Ha-Joon and Yanis both suggesting that it is impossible to teach economics to youngsters without indoctrinating them with neo-classical economics clap-trap. I don’t agree. We might need a significant shift of emphasis or lens for teaching young people the right building blocks, which means that we might need to teach a lot of teachers to teach differently, but ignorance of vital topics is surely not bliss. Surely it is possible (even if difficult) to change curricula?
Yanis’s big takeaway on education is that young people should be taught economic and political history and not taught that pure economics is sort-of about maths. I buy into that part.
I don’t buy Ha-Joon’s rather emphatic view that economists are to blame for the 2008 crash and each of the preceding market bubbles and failures in the past 100+ years…
…that sounded a bit like a bigot’s rant against his least favourite ethnic group, immigrants generally or some despised far-away nation. Ha-Joon is clearly not a bigot, but to attribute blame so simplistically does an injustice to the undoubted quality of his own mind.
Such simplistic, finger-pointing style was in part a symptom of the shortness of the formal discussion and attempts to match Ayesha for comedy. The audience (there must have been a hundred or so of us crowded into the studio) lapped up the irreverence generally; I suppose that reaction egged on the Professors to attempt greater heights of mirth.
Ayesha, in fact, cleverly switched away from unsubtle comedy when she described her experience of politicians grasp of inflation (almost non-existent) and when she explained inflation in simple, human terms – hard working care workers no longer able to feed their families without resorting to food banks because the prices have all gone up while their wages haven’t.
So by the end of the formal session I was convinced that Economy is a good cause but I was not convinced that the formal panel discussion had relentlessly advanced the charity’s cause; economists and economics had been all-but universally damned.
Indeed, so nervous was I of being thought of as having anything to do with that maligned category of people, economists, I didn’t dare mention my Keele connections – click here if you dare – which I always thought of as being “very much of the left” but with a balanced, open-minded aspect; clearly not sufficiently left in some circles.
OK, I’m now exaggerating for effect…must be catching.
I had some really interesting conversations after the main event; a real mixture of people. One very interesting fund manager who reads books but was now trying to spend the rest of the evening incognito, some more of the Economy people and a very pleasant chat with David Graeber, for the first time in a couple of years.
As always, I thoroughly enjoyed an evening at Brian’s place, meeting interesting people and having my thoughts severely provoked.
I’d like to help the charity Economy if I can; I have one or two ideas…
Diana Darke is an English writer and broadcaster who bought and restored a villa house in the Old City of Damascus some years ago. She talked about the multi-faith, multi-cultural nature of Damascus; we learned that Sunnis and Shias often intermarry in Damascus; those folk are known as Sushis. The old city in Damascus has not been badly damaged in the war, but a corrupt lawyer tried (unsuccessfully) to steal Diana’s house from her. She’s written a book about it – click here – Janie bought the book after the talk.
Zahed Tajeddin is an artist from Aleppo. He bought and restored an old villa house in the old city of Aleppo several years ago. He explained that most of the old city of Aleppo was very dilapidated when he was growing up; his grandparents were the last generation to use those houses as comfortable residences. But a restoration trend had started towards the end of the last century with a few restored and used as restaurants – Janie and I knew about that…
…but Zahed chose to buy and restore one to its former glory and residential purpose. His description of the project and his pictures were, for me, probably the best bit of the talk. Of course Zahed’s house has been severely damaged in the war; many of the neighbouring houses have been completely destroyed.
Both stories were fascinating. Zahed’s story is sadder, but both of the speakers demonstrated incredible courage and resilient determination to overcome their respective difficulties. Incredibly, Zahed has already started restoring his house again.
There wasn’t much time for questions, which was possibly just as well, because the few questions that did come up were a bit daft.
There was however plenty of time for a glass of wine and chat after the talk. Janie got to buy the book and chat briefly with both of the speakers, asking them far more sensible questions than those that came earlier from the lecture hall grand-standers. We met a couple of interesting young people; one young Oxford student who wants to go to Syria as part of her studies and one young Syrian student at SOAS.
A fascinating evening, rounded off with some fine sushi from the Sushi Shop in South Kensington…we’re talking Japanese style fish here, not a Damascene mix of Sunni and Shia people.
So we put this morning aside months ago, even deferring our tennis plans until the afternoon, in the hope that a reasonably early start would avoid crowds and queues.
In the event, Janie slowed down a bit from her original thought to start queuing about 7:30 am (perhaps she wasn’t entirely serious about that one), so we arrived around 10:20/10:25, a few minutes after opening.
Beyond the lobby, visitors are not permitted to take photographs, which is a shame really.
We were shown the stunning architecture and artwork within the building, not least the library and big meeting room on the garden level. Also the large prayer hall and also the social hall, where we were treated to coffee and biscuits.
We met some interesting Ismaili people in the social hall; we chatted for a while, learning more about the Ismaili traditions and discussing world affairs, before Janie and I headed back west to do battle on the tennis court.
I’m not sure I’d seen Fran Erdunast (formerly Weingott) since the build up to my somewhat eventful house party in 1979, but we have been reconnected through Facebook for some time and discovered that we share an enthusiasm for cricket, not least Middlesex.
Fran likes to go to Middlesex out-ground matches, so we hatched a quasi-plan to meet up at the four-day game between Middlesex & Hampshire at Uxbridge CC late season.
Both the weather and my work commitments seemed to be conspiring against this idea, but the forecast for the afternoon of 13 September was, in the end, rather encouraging (sunny with a small chance of showers) and I realised that we should get to see a few hours of cricket at Uxbridge between my morning meeting and the early evening wine tasting in Southwark.
That was the plan…
…and the early part of the plan worked. I got to Uxbridge just before the start of play after lunch and saw a figure who was unmistakably Fran sitting conveniently near to the Gatting Way entrance. She introduced me to Simon, who turns out to be equally keen on county cricket, albeit a Yorkshire supporter (he hails from Leeds). They had arrived about 5 minutes ahead of me and were sorting out some well-appointed seats for the three of us.
After two or three overs, we felt a few spots of rain, which seemed to send the umpires into a tizzy and the players all came off, much to the disgust of the tiny crowd.
“I think the umpires and ground staff must know something we don’t”, I said, suggesting that we head for the pavilion before the deluge.
Deluge it was. Lashings of proper, wet rain, for about 20 minutes or so.
I was even more ludicrously dressed for slogging through the sludge of Uxbridge CC after the rain. I rolled up my trousers to avoid mud on suit misery. Jeff Coleman threatened to take my picture for the Middlesex or MTWD website, which I actively encouraged, as I thought it must look very funny, but Jeff kindly relented in the interests of my dignity.
On the way back to the slightly less soggy patch where our seats were now drying in the sun, I decided to have my one “Thatcher” 99 Whippy ice cream of the year, offering to treat Fran and Simon, who both declined politely.
Fran described the intricacies of the dental work she does while I ate the ice cream, presumably to ensure that I was not tempted to try any further sweet treats that day. Simon tried to avoid fainting during this conversation. I tried to put Simon at his ease by admitting to being squeamish when Janie talks about some of the intricacies of her podiatry work, at which point Fran demonstrated her considerable medical knowledge by explaining the difference between mouths and feet. When Simon and I both showed signs of imminent fainting, Fran stopped talking about medical procedures.
We watched the ground staff try to remove ludicrous quantities of surface water from the pitch, ably assisted by Angus Fraser and even some of the players. The efforts looked futile and indeed after about 30 minutes of sunshine and hard labour, the umpires came out and concluded that it would be impossible to get anything going again today.
Fran kindly invited me back to her place in Pinner along with Simon for some tea. It would be a chance to continue our chat about the good old days, cricket and cricket in the good old days, which is exactly what we did.
Fran hardly seemed to have changed in the decades since we last met. I am consistently surprised when I reconnect with friends from my teenage years how little they have changed in essence. Fran articulated it well in a note later that day:
…bemused by the surreal vision of grown up Ian Harris sitting on my sofa…[t]he 16-17 year old version I last saw kept reappearing ghost-like during the afternoon.
16:30 came around ever so quickly and Fran very kindly insisted on taking me to Pinner station, worrying that I might otherwise be late for my 18:00 wine tasting. Indeed, by the time she had picked a couple of pears from her garden for Charley The Gent Malloy to sample next week (I’ll report back on how the Pinner Conferences go down with pear specialist Charley), even I thought I might have cut it a bit fine for Southwark.
I had forgotten how quick the Metropolitan Line is and hadn’t thought about Southwark, on the Jubilee Line, being a simple hop of a change from the Met line. Once I entered Pinner Station, of course, my brain went back onto automatic from all those visits out that way in my youth, to see Simon, Caroline and others at the Pinner club.
Still, I was surprised when I emerged into the Southwark sunshine at 17:20, a full forty minutes early. Time for a coffee and (sorry Fran) another somewhat sweet treat for fortification (pain au raisin).
Then to the Mousse wine tasting, which this time was on Lebanese wines. Janie arrived only a tiny bit late…
…but much earlier than this photo which Janie took quite a bit later in the evening:
My favourite wines from the Mousse wine tasting evening were a couple of the Massaya ones; Le Colombier (entry level but very gluggable) and the Silver Selection wine which I thought was cracking good. I also really liked the Marsanne-based Hermitage white which Helen served by way of comparison. I have never been much taken with the Lebanese whites, whereas Leb red can hit the spot more often than not.
Janie’s attempts to photograph several of us by asking us to look natural were naturally more likely to fail than succeed. The picture above was the best of the bunch. If you want a laugh at the rest, feel free to click through here.
Helen always gathers an interesting, eclectic crowd for her wine tastings, so you don’t just learn a lot about wine, you do so in very agreeable company.
Janie and I thoroughly enjoyed our evening, which we rounded off with Maroush shawarmas and a bottle of Asti Spumante. (OK, I made up that last bit).