Nesting

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It’s that time to shout out again to the Cup of Jo house tours, especially as I wonder if I can bear to take on building work. I’ve not yet seen a whole house I like – this first round is as close as I got – but I love corners of lots. The tranquility (and cleanness!) of that hallway, and the calm woodwork

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this crazy wallpaper, which I looove the colours of but don’t know how I’d feel about at breakfast,

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and the feel of this place.

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Balenciaga

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Another exploration from my staycation this year – I loved seeing these dresses close up and the amazing skill that went into them. Such amazing shapes! And the details…

Bravo the V&A for encouraging photography and sketching.

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All photos by me from my visit.

A language of the gods

In those days not many language teachers played gramophone records to their class, but Mr King did. They were old and very precious to him and us, and he kept them in brown paper bags in a satchel that he put in his bicycle basket when he rode to school.

The blog’s most proflific researcher (aka my mother: sorry there’s no pay-rise this year, but I’ll give you Christmas off that zero hours contract) found me John Le Carre’s address on why we should learn German. You can hear both the novelist’s view, and also an entirely genuine pleasure at learning.

What did they contain, these precious records? The voices of classical German actors, reading romantic German poetry…And I discovered that the language fitted me. It pleased my Nordic ear.

In between musings on the connections and sympathies that come from learning language, and an appreciation for the fierce attention to truth that German can provide, there’s still time for a joke.

You’ve probably heard the Mark Twain gag: “Some German words are so long they have a perspective.” You can make up crazy adjectives like “my-recently-by-my-parents-thrown-out-of-the-window-PlayStation” And…you can turn for relief to the pristine poems of a Holderlin, or a Goethe, or a Heine, and remind yourself that the German language can attain heights of simplicity and beauty that make it for many of us, a language of the gods.

Three cheers for this speech! I’m still grateful every day for the amazing – and eccentric! – German teachers I had. They gave me so much, even when my language was learned rather than instinctive: fun, new authors, a way of understanding my own language, and friends.

Seduced by Naples

I first saw Naples when I was working as a babysitter in Rome. It was winter.

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The beginning of Rachel Donadio’s Seduced by Naples, a great piece of writing from 2013. The Instagram feed that fed this to me talked of the slap of realising it’s only an hour from Rome by train. I’m goggling at a holiday that would cover both.

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Even today, you can tell that Naples was once a Greek city. It is the quality of light, which is clearer and stronger and feels more ancient and essential here – and in all of Magna Grecia, the Southern Italian regions that were once Greek colonies – than the light of Rome, with its softer pinks, or the steady, subtle light of the Italian north, with its countless shades of grey.

paintings by James Wilson Carmichael and Renoir

The American Dream

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Currently being analysed, dissected and put on display at the British Museum in their fantastic exhibition of post-war art, from pop art to minimalism to photo-realism, and from the AIDS epidemic to artists dealing with feminist and racial issues.

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There were a few nods to Liechtenstein, Warhol and Wayne Thiebaud, but a lot of this art will be new to UK viewers, and that’s great too.

All photos my own.

Yes!

Trowelblazers, an exhibition of women scientists, currently on show at the Geographical Society┬áis such a great idea, and the idea that women can do anything is exactly what my school taught us. That it’s even an issue now, still baffles/angers me. I’m calling now for similar lights to be shone on women in finance, law, economics, anthropology, medicine, academia and politics.

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If this has inspired you, then:

1. listen to this interview between the conductors Marin Alsop and Silvia Caduff (“women cannot conduct, but you must conduct”, Karajan declared when Caduff picked up the baton for the first time before him),

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2. read this set of obituaries (the title comes from a matron who was heard saying “chin up girls, I’m proud of you all” to her nurses as they marched into the sea as Japanese prisoners of war, knowing they would be shot), and

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3. pick up a copy of this survey of women diplomats

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Arabia unbound

The British Museum has always had a strong art collection.

The Turner bequest, with his sketching notebooks, was here before they moved to the Tate and Laurence Binyon, whose famous poem For the Fallen (“they shall not grow old, as we that are left grow old…”) is recited every November, was a curator in the prints and watercolour department, where he was responsible for introducing his artist contemporaries to Chinese and Japanese prints.

All this provides good materials for furnishing small temporary, free exhibitions, like the one last spring of modern Arabic art and book illustrations:

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When I saw this poster image, it reminded me of Robert Motherwell’s “Black for Mozart”, which I passed in a Mayfair gallery this summer. It’s much bigger and more textured than it looks here.

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and it also brought home to me how the calligraphic tradition of Islamic art allows the creators to focus on structure and composition, as much as decoration.