Inflicted with a moderate migraine, I’ve been distracting myself by admiring the old rings featured on the Ashmolean Museum’s online archive. I particularly enjoyed the love rings (of course). I didn’t know that clasped hands on rings as a symbol of fidelity and love goes back to Roman times (though it makes sense that it would) and that the symbolism was used all over Europe. I was only familiar with the Irish Claddagh ring. I now want one of the gloriously creepy 15th century Italian rings with boney sculpted 3-D hands clasping each other…till death..etc? I forgot all about love rings when I caught sight of the words “Magical Ring”! Clicking on the picture I discovered the ring was set with toadstone; a substance I’ve never heard of. Have a look at this example. On reading the short paragraph my throbbing head filled with snatches of fairy tales…
There’s an organization in England called The National Trust which owns lots of houses…lots of land…lots and lots of stuff! They own more stuff than any one person could see in a lifetime without one’s eyes drying up, falling out and ending in one of their collections of stuff. Sensing their hoard might be missing a trick (ie missing opportunities to make money) they’ve put online a collection of photographs of some their stuff (and offer the option to purchase large detailed photos for personal perusal). If, like me, you enjoy trawling through endless photos of antiques (because you never know what might inspire a romance novel or end up on the must have wish list) this website is for you! Some of the souls choosing items to be photographed for the collection appear to be either blind or mad (is there anyone out there in the known universe who lives to trawl through numerous photos of pewter dishes that all look alike?), but that’s part of the charm. Typing “pewter” into the search box (you have to click on the search button – pushing the enter key does nothing) on the second page I discovered a pewter bedpan from 1820… [Read more…]
It was lovely to spend two weeks with my sister. It’s been three years since we saw each other and many many more years since we spent so much time together just the two of us. We laughed ourselves sick and had some good cries. It was like one of those French movies that has no plot, but you leave the theatre feeling glad you went. It’ll probably be a long while before I see her again and that makes me sad, but at least she chose the right two weeks to come! We had some lovely weather for her visit. It’s supposed to rain all this coming week, but I love the rain…as long as it doesn’t start chucking it down while I’m taking photographs. Becky…this song is for you (you have to go listen to it)…’Aint No Sunshine’ by Bill Withers. Becky, there literally…ain’t no sunshine now you’re gone! Here are the rest of my favorites photographs of our adventures. [Read more…]
I love the weird and the bizarre and tonight I stumbled across something bizarre and lovely. I was reading the comments on an article in the New York Times and someone mentioned The Isabella Stuart Gardner Museum of Boston, Massachusetts. I’d never heard of either the woman or her museum so I looked it up.
Isabella sounds like someone who lived life at full throttle. She loved beautiful things and wanted to leave her collection to be enjoyed by everyone so built a replica 15th century Venetian palace and filled it with her treasures. When she died an old woman she left the museum in trust and one of the stipulations was that entrance to the museum was to be free forever for people named Isabella. It’s free for all people under 18 and then it costs $12.00 for the average adult…So…if you’re an Isabella…who loves art…and you’re going to be in Boston, Massachusetts (USA) any time soon…take advantage of your good fortune to have a lovely name and visit Isabella’s museum. It looks amazing! I now have one more reason to visit Boston (I have family connections with the area). To give you a sample, below is a beautiful painting she collected called The Lady in Yellow. [Read more…]
It’s the 5th of February…my favorite day of the year! The number five brings back a special memory. I’m five years old, sitting on the floor in the living room of our rented trailer looking through an art book for children. I loved that book, but I had one favorite picture. I was entranced by this fractured image around a large number 5. I must have pestered my mother to read the description more than once because I knew it was about a fire engine. It’s been more than three decades since I saw that picture, but I’ve never forgotten it. I’ve always thought it was called ‘Fire engine no 5’, but I was wrong. This morning I looked it up on line. It’s called ‘The Figure 5 in Gold’. The artist was Charles Demuth who lived from 1883-1935. Looking at it after all these years I’m still entranced. It’s like someone fractured a glass into a story and the number 5 emerges as the hero. Demuth painted the picture after reading a poem written by his friend William Carlos Williams about a fire enguine he saw passing in the rain through the city. Share my memory…have a look… [Read more…]
After another night disturbed by tooth pain, I finally (this has been going on for weeks) walked into town bleary-eyed and made an appointment to be tortured by the dentist. I didn’t even ask how much it would cost. I don’t care as long as the offending tooth is obliterated along with the attendant pain, sleepless nights, and the need to eat mushy food. The green salad I had for breakfast required far too much chewing for comfort! By the end of the week I should be half a size smaller (fortunately I have lots of sizes to spare). After getting the appointment out of the way I walked over to my favorite charity shop to see if they had anything interesting. I found a box of old magazines entitled Discovering Art. One covering Japanese Medieval art had the picture below on the back (it doesn’t make any sense to me either).
It turns out this painting is in the Louvre (Paris, France) and was one of Thomas Gainsborough’s early bucolic double portraits. No one knows who these people are. It was originally thought to be the painter and his wife. I can see the resemblance, but his wife wasn’t a blonde and her cheek bones were more pronounced. The man could almost be Thomas, but he doesn’t quite look like him. I wouldn’t be surprised if Gainsborough made the painting as a conversation piece [Read more…]
At last I have a title to the second book I’ve been working on all year. I recently started reading The New York Times to keep up with what’s going on in the States and as I was scanning it the other day for anything interesting or weird (I love the weird and bizarre) I found an article about this man who makes a good living off betting tickets other people have thrown away. Half way through the article I found my title. I swear the four words were practically flashing. My brain came to a full stop and then the light went on I’ve wracked my brains for months, but nothing seemed right. Once Upon a Wager is a perfect title and I’m so excited about getting it finished. May that be soon! If I could have anything for Christmas I’d wake up to find the manuscript finished. [Read more…]
Whenever I visit a stately home I inevitably end up with an emotional summary of my adventure. Sometimes, like at Byron’s Newstead Abbey, I feel strangely elated and happy. Sometimes I feel sad or creeped out. Sometimes, like on Saturday when I visted Calke Abbey, I feel depressed. “Calke Abbey,” as the National Trust brochure reads, “is a Baroque house built on the site of a former priory and completed in 1704 for Sir John Harpur. The family name changed to Crewe and then to Harpur Crewe and the family wealth was accumulated through clever marriage and the proceeds of land ownership. Throughout the generations the family displayed a range of eccentric characteristics from being strangely reclusive to fanatical collectors. The National Trust has decided to show Calke, as far as possible, as we found it in 1984 as a graphic example of the decline of the great country house that occured during the early to mid 20th century.” What the brochure doesn’t mention is that this decline has been heavily influenced by the sucession of crippling inheritance taxes that has brought most of these families financially to their knees and their houses and lands into the Trust’s posession in lieu of taxes they can’t afford to pay. (The trust is a seperate body of government design – call me a cynic but I’m sure that’s no coincidence). [Read more…]
On Monday afternoon memories collided with the present. When I learned a friend from highschool would be passing through Stamford with her daughter to see Burghley House I offered to put them up and I’m so glad they stopped over. It was lovely to see her, meet her daughter and talk about the past and the present. We talked about memories, writing, books and people we used to know. Yesterday morning we went up to Burghley House and I took 235 pictures. With the clouds passing quickly over bright sunshine it was one of those days where pictures seem to appear and disappear as fast as you can raise your camera, but I kept snapping [Read more…]
The Victoria and Albert museum has about seven miles of exhibition rooms crammed with beautiful stuff from all ages and corners of the globe. I can’t imagine anyone being able to see the whole thing in week let alone a day. My visits have been kept fairly short. After about two hours in any museum I start having sensory overload. My eyes start to bug out and images start to swirl into meaningless blotches of painful shapes and colours. Six hours in the V&A and I’d be done for! Can you imagine some poor security guard finding me passed out, spread eagle like some dazed votary infront of a naked Celtic warrior. Have you ever seen the sculpture, “The Fallen Gaul”? I don’t know if the V&A has a copy, but it’s one of my favorite…yes he’s naked and has a wee too much facial hair, but he’s so lovely…even if he is dying. [Read more…]