“I loved it! This is a great story with a wonderful concept and excellent background.” Readers’ Favorite
As they continued slowly down the centre of the aisle Omri resumed his photography taking pictures of each of the six apses, of the ceiling, of the floor and the seating and then the stairs leading up to the transept and the choir.They passed behind the raised altar and stared up at the cupola before arriving at the two marble slabs denoting the tombs of Franco and de Rivera, about ten yards apart.‘So where exactly is our object?’ asked Omri in a lowered voice.‘You’re standing on it now’ Alex said looking at the slab beneath Omri’s feet. ‘You’re right on top of it.’
THREE ARCHITECTURAL ART déco and modernist GEMS IN FINLAND’S CAPITAL CITY…
One of the ironies of preparing many of my travel-related posts is that the process of the travel itself often leaves me little time to devote to writing my pieces for these pages. Right now for example we are in Jönköping having returned from a week in Finland, and preparing for a flight this evening to London, to then catch a plane on Friday for Malaga. And that’s nothing compared to what we have coming up over the next two months (many trees have been and will be planted!).
In other words, the next several posts will return to being more picture based and less wordy (a good thing many might feel) and fortunately, our recent stay in Helsinki provided me with some excellent visual material.
In this post I wanted to show off some of the Finish capital’s superb examples of early 20th century architecture, which were something of a surprise, to me at least. While I had a preconception of elegant 19th century waterfront facades, spectacular cake-icing churches blended with hard-edged, glistening glass and steel temples of contemporary Nordic minimalism, for some reason I had arrived ignorant of Helsinki’s handful of Déco and Modernist jewels.
My being so uninformed is especially damning when one discovers that the Finish parliament house ( Eduskuntatalo in the native idiom) is itself as bold a statement of Neo-Classical lines as one is likely to see anywhere this side of the Atlantic Ocean. And while that building might prove a tad brutal for some (not for me though as I’m a sucker for “power architecture” of all eras and styles), the two other examples I highlight here should prove charming enough for most tastes…
By the final day of his visit to Dublin Simon had become aware of the lunchtime omnipresence of “soup and sandwiches” on offer throughout the city.
Soup; Hot, thick, cream-of-whatever, mostly from cans, served in ubiquitous, small, deep bowls made of chunky catering porcelain, like large handle-less coffee mugs. And sandwiches; sliced white slices (as often as not), separated by processed cheese squares and a little salty butter (as often as not). This was of particular interest, bearing in mind the ever-growing profusion of exotic eating establishments in the city, including everything from Mexican cantinas and sushi bars to Michelin approved temples of “modern Irish” cuisine. And not to mention the overflowing platters of traditional meat, veg’ and spuds available at every pub and bar. Yet, in spite of this, by far the most popular lunchtime fayre was soup and sandwiches.
it was, on this third day when Simon opted for a bowl of soup, only to be asked
by the barman if he would “be having a sandwich to go with it” that he finally
realised that this austere combination of glutinous liquid and chalky dough was
in fact, a national dish, on a par with Dublin Coddle, Irish Stew and Guinness
Like some latter-day sacrament for the wayward Irish. A subliminal jog to their collective guilt for their drifting inexorably away from their Mother Church. Amidst all the wealth and opulence of modern Dublin, lurking behind stacks of Texas ribs and Thai prawns was the frugal bowl and the modest plate. The blood and flesh of Christ at large – an omnipresent reprimand to sophisticates and a daily rebuke to trendies.
However, it was all for nought, as the process of drift had started at the very same moment of the Church’s inception on Irish soil, since when it had begun its epic yet ultimately doomed battle. To be sure, Saint Patrick’s anchor had sunk deep into the ancient fibre of the land, but this had merely delayed the drift and increased the pain as its hooks grappled hopelessly against the constant inexorable shift of the sands.
There could be little doubt thought Simon. He could see it on the pale, wind-swept faces of the young Irish girls incongruously bearing Gucci handbags. He could see it too in the ruddy cheeks of young Irishmen projecting awkwardly from their Dior suits. He could sense the awakening phoenix behind the sad and fiery eyes of a people for whom the Cross had formerly represented the only ladder from which to ascend from the bog of despair – but who now, with a tenacity borne from centuries of interminable struggle and hardship were reclaiming their pre-Christian birth-right of Celtic gold.
As he sat at the bar that fresh sunny afternoon, Simon had this thought; That the day might not be so far off for Irish men and women, when soup would be simply soup, and bread would be bread, and by which time nobody would want to eat it anyway – and Ireland would at last be replete and content.
His head was spinning with a myriad of
impressions, smells, textures and emotions.
Simon had just finished a gentle amble through the museum and he had been aware throughout of the sensation of being screamed at by the inanimate objects on display. Walking past the perspex cabinets, crammed too full with gold, faded bronze and rotted wood; it was as if the spirits of the fashioners of these ancient artefacts were imprisoned together with their creations, within the humidity-controlled, cubed confines. The disingenuous information labels with their bland, “safe” explanations of these sexy reminders of Ireland’s colourful prehistory, appeared as anaemic, awkward interlopers – like royal visitors at a soccer match.
continued in apparent calm meditation, yet swooning internally beneath the
claustrophobic pressure of “things”. Thousands of things, silently protesting –
proclaiming their lost histories and absorbed destinies.
More than any museum he had ever visited, the National Museum of Ireland epitomised the inherent schizophrenic quality of such institutions. But, whereas places like the Louvre, the British Museum and the Met, by reason of their vastness achieve a dilution of the unavoidable coarseness in juxtaposition of exhibits, Dublin’s national house of treasure was box-like by comparison. Boxes within bigger plastic boxes, all within a greater box of stone. A sarcophagus writ large. And thus, Simon’s sensation of walking through a huge coffin among smaller coffins and his subsequent feeling of suppressed panic.
After having made good his escape out into Merrion Square he reflected on this Irish snapshot of itself; prehistory, Celtic, Christian, Viking, British, Independence and – Ancient Egypt.
As he made his way briskly along damp streets, he fancied that for a brief moment he had grasped in this incoherent arrangement the mystery of Ireland. A past whose pagan sexuality is wilfully ignored, obscured by its dazzling horde of fabulous gold. And a present whose intellectualism, violence and misery form the lifeblood of the modern state. In the middle stands the Cross – a stern and conditional bridge linking Ireland’s ancient, gilded and rural mysticism with its modern legacy of blood and books. And above all of this hover Ra and Amun in their sombre recess, as if to remind the present-day Irishman and Irishwoman of their pagan souls.
He thought that in this museum was the eternal, painful and glorious contradiction that is Ireland, laid out and entombed in restless stasis.
Simon entered the gallery together with no fewer than three large groups of primary school girls. Giggling, squealing, pushing; their teachers straining to maintain order. One group wore tartan skirts, another wore tracksuits of royal blue and the last were in grey cardigans and slacks. As they entered the vestibule all together there was a moment when the three groups intermingled in seeming chaos, but then separated like so many distinct shoals of fish.
they swam the morning long, throughout the galleries and halls, occasionally
hovering before paintings deemed worthy of consideration by their smiling,
He remembered this unchanged ritual from the days of his own youth. A ritual, like so many school customs, with the noble intention of stimulating curiosity and enthusiasm in the hearts and minds of the young, yet in reality, sure to have quite the opposite effect. The bored expressions on the children’s faces were a constant and uncomfortable reminder to Simon of his own half-hearted presence in the gallery; the presence of a professional artist on vacation in a great city with too much time to kill and no excuse not to visit its national galleries and museums.
Then it happened:
Simon found that he had drifted into the neighbouring Yeats Exhibition, and in spite of himself he was instantly hooked by its presentation of the evolution of Jack B. Yeats’ genius and his work. Traversing along the limped, fluid surfaces as they gradually, naturally evolved from grave lucidity to pulsating abstraction, he felt for a moment that his life had begun again. The graphic exposition of the artistic momentum and imminence of Yeats’ painterly development reminded him of the sublime possibilities of art.
picture in particular seemed to radiate this quality. It was of a window,
somewhere in Italy, thickly applied paint, like butter, with a half-inch
palette knife. Beyond the open shutters, a warm, summer light, primrose and
before it, Simon smiled for the first time that day, virtually squinting at the
muted brightness. The daubed light itself seemed to laugh gently, echoing his
mood, and then, as he stepped back from the painting, tartan fishes once more
engulfed him. A happy, excited shoal now, equally rejuvenated by the peculiar
power of these truly great paintings.
in the future, one or two of those little fish would return to this particular
ocean by choice? After all, he had.
On New Year’s Day 1989 I had the great good fortune to meet a beautiful ex-ballerina called Dido Nicholson. Almost exactly two years later, on New Year’s Eve 1990 we were married at Marylebone Registry Office in the West End of London, by which time I had got to know and fall in love with the extraordinary mind, personality and character behind that beauty.
The pictures of two Dido arabesques which head this post roughly frame her career – at least the travel-related episodes of her career – with the first executed on the desert dirt outside San Pedro de Atacama in 1991 and the second, just last winter (2018) on the a frozen lake in our current location of Jönköping in Sweden. Dido had been injured out of the ballet several years before we met (see: https://adamhalevi777.com/2014/12/23/before-we-met/) and, after having dabbled with things as disparate as biochemistry and estate agency she settled on a career in occupational therapy. By the time of our wedding she had been qualified only a few months, but it didn’t take long for her colleagues and employers to realise that Dido’s medical and scientific skills weren’t going to be limited within the regular parameters of her new profession.
Naturally, Dido’s background in dance and the arts was always going to make a significant and innovative contribution to her work as both a therapist and a researcher, from the outset of her career until the present day. Thus, it was no surprise when, as early as 1991 Dido won a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship to go to Chile to study the role of folk dance as a therapeutic tool to support social integration and participation for children with learning problems (see: https://adamhalevi777.com/2016/11/14/my-gal-the-fellow/). However, the ultimate acknowledgement of Dido’s unusually creative contribution to her science was when in 2014 she was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
Among Dido’s many qualities, aside from her scholarship and devotion to her work, is her academic modesty and generosity – almost to a fault. The main reason it’s taken her until now to gain tenure (apart from the fact she came into OT ten years later than most of her colleagues) is her strict professional integrity and a deep reluctance to blow her own trumpet. Happily, I don’t share that reticence; hence this visual celebration of her illustrious career. These pictures (one or two of which have featured in earlier posts) offer a fun glimpse into Dido’s remarkable progress, from clinical occupational therapist to leading child neuroscientist, from the one arabesque to the other…
If, as has recently been shown to be true, that the evolution of our human species is intimately connected with our relationship with, and domestication of, the dog, then our development from hunter gatherers to sedentary building dwellers is founded upon our mastery of the humble brick more than any other material.
We first started making and building with simple mud bricks over 7000 years ago and ever since, both in mud form and the far more durable fired clay variety they have comprised the fundamental building blocks of most urban societies across the globe.
Cheaper, and easier to shape than stone and marble, and more durable and weather-proof than timber, clay-based bricks have been mass-manufactured for over four millennia. From China in the east to Rome in the west, bricks were the chosen material to house the citizenry of the world’s mightiest empires.
While in many cultures, the brick was regarded as purely functional and considered ugly; best concealed beneath layers of plaster and cement; by the late Middle Ages, in northern Europe in particular, a skilfully laid brick rose to aesthetic acceptance.
Among the Western European cultures especially, the brick came to be the defining municipal texture of the “Anglo Saxon” / “Germanic” north, in the same way stuccoed walls evoke the “Latin / Mediterranean” south.
As a native Londoner with his main home in Spain I like my bricks both ways – proudly exposed, or peaking out from behind a peeling stucco skin. The pictures presented here are my homage to both. Please enjoy the gallery below…
In a long-lost period of art (except perhaps, for those attending Royal Academy Schools – in the UK at least), both the formal study of the human form (alive and dead) and the formal study of inanimate objects, known under the coverall of still life, formed the foundation of an art education. In exactly the same way as the great literary figures and music composers of yesteryear relied upon solid groundings in grammar and notation respectively, a mastery of observation was regarded a prerequisite for an aspirant artist.
My own time at art school, beginning in 1976, coincided with the end of that ages-old period, so that even during my foundation course it was the finished image that mattered and not so much how it was created.
How much this matters is a debate that has continued unabated since “Modernism” in art began, about the time of my birth in 1960, and not a subject I wish to go into now. However, my own opinion of the matter is well known to regular readers and followers of these pages and evidenced pretty obviously by the pictures displayed here.
Lacking any formal/traditional grounding/tuition in the skills of my trade, early on in my time at art school I began to resort to self-education. As the pictures here attest, at first, I was pretty rudderless, but gradually, over about three years began to evolve a reasonably articulate language built upon a fairly solid visual and observational grammar – albeit, and with apologies to RA Scholars everywhere – personal to me.
One of the many surprises thrown up by my recent digitisation of all my photographs of old artwork was how – once chronologically sorted – it vividly revealed the development of my painting skills – or, if not skills exactly; at least of my comfort with the medium of oil paint. Additionally, they exposed something even more interesting – at least to me – of the dramatic alteration in my spirits and emotions from that heavily pressured time at art school to my days as a confident, free painting spirit.
The two paintings I have chosen for this piece graphically illustrate what I mean:
Soho Buildings was the first painting I ever made on canvas, and how it shows! Thin washes, tentative drawing and clumsy composition. Looking at it now, even in photographic form, I can still feel my fear of the canvas, and my hesitant application of the paint. Plus there was the added pressure of being surrounded by – at least – equally talented artists, most of whom were already familiar with painting on canvas. So, I was desperate for it to appear like I knew what I was doing and that I was at ease with the process, which clearly shows in the picture. But, for all that, the painting has some merit; some lucky accidents; like the two white painted windows on the shaded side of the near building…something quite lyrical about them. Plus, it serves now as a powerfully symbolic and accurate reminder of my gloomy mindset during those first terrifying days at Saint Martins…
Girl Fastening Sandal was painted in 1988 and is evidently, everything the Soho picture is not. By this time I was confident and comfortable with both the oil paint and the painting surface and, more crucially, unencumbered by being part of any “art scene” – I didn’t have to worry about peers and rivals watching me over my shoulder. Whereas, with the Soho painting it was all I could do to produce any kind of image on the canvas, with the Girl painting I was preoccupied with expressing the joys and thrills of both the subject and the paint itself. It should look almost as if the paint flowed directly from my mind to the palette knife; a visual stream of consciousness; like a happy, joyous thought. The two paintings here graphically represent a pretty dramatic 10-year transition from student to artist and from teenage hesitancy to adult assuredness.
To many, the idea of travelling to Delphi to ski might seem as daft as travelling to Zermat for the archaeology, but once, many years ago I went to Apollo’s sanctuary for a winter sports holiday.
Obviously, we didn’t need to consult the local oracle to know that the skiing on Mount Parnassus would be nearly as scarce as Doric temples on the Matterhorn. Fortunately, the stunning ancient Greek ruins were more than a compensation for a lack of powder-covered moguls and red runs. What had primarily been intended as a fortnight of physical thrills materialised as a fitness course for the mind.
The treated photos here were taken with my trusty old Canonet 28, but I think they get across something of the drama of Delphi and the sheer majesty of the two-an-a-half-thousand-year-old remains of one the world’s most historically influential civilisations…
These columns of the Temple of Apollo date from the 4th century BC and sit upon remains of a 6th century predecessor…
The Sea of Galilee (known in Hebrew as Kinneret, due to its having the shape of a harp – a “kinor”) is well known to most people in the “Abrahamic” world as it played such a crucial part in Jewish, and especially Christian tradition and history. For followers of Jesus it is of course famous for being the actual site and / or backdrop for several of his miracles, while for Jews, its main city of Tiberius was a post-biblical centre of learning and culture.
For the modern State of Israel, Kinneret is a major source of both pious and recreational tourist revenue, in addition to its crucial role as the country’s primary fresh-water reservoir.
Sitting as it does towards the northern tip of the Great Rift Valley; filled by the creeks and streams of the western Golan and the Upper Galilee to its north; at its southern point, spilling into the River Jordan and; surrounded on three sides by steep escarpments, the inland lake (for that what it actually is) has a geography to match its epic traditions and history.
As an artist, and a romantic it was always the stunning physical beauty of Kinneret which excited me most. To this day, I can still clearly remember my first-ever sight of it, from high up above, standing on the Horns of Hattin (where Saladin defeated a Christian army in 1187) – a dazzling smear of precious turquoise sitting deep within a heat-hazed frame of ochres and pale greens.
That was in 1967, when I was seven, and it is a view which I have never tired of since, and which I have been fortunate enough to revisit on many occasions, and never more so than during the summer of 1980…
It was in that year that I and three friends decided to walk the entire circumference of Kinneret – starting out from, and returning to, Tiberius over the course of two days.
We decided to do a clockwise circumvention and so set off heading north along the west shore of the lake, with only the clothes on our back, two rucksacks (a couple bottles of wine, cans of beer and packets of crisps and Bissli falafel chips in one, and music cassettes and radio batteries in the other) and a small ghetto-blaster…
As it turned out, these meagre provisions and sparse equipment helped generate one of the most pleasurable 48 hours of our young lives…
The fact we were two boys and two girls; the wine and beer (chilled each evening in cool water of the lake); two lingering golden evening swims; and some incredibly empathetic music provided by the likes of George Benson and Carlos Santana made for an intensely sensual experience…
…So much so, that even though it all happened the best part of 40 years ago, whenever I think back to that walk it still makes me smile.
Thanks to the fact that I made many sketches and paintings of Kinneret, and the people I witnessed playing on its pebble beaches and bathing in its refreshing waters, I get to smile on a more less a daily basis. I hope that the pictures shown here provide an equally happy reminder to those of you fortunate to have been there, and an enticement to those of you thinking of going…
Fr. Justin Belitz OFM is the founder of the Franciscan Hermitage and author of "Success: Full Living," "Success: Full Thinking," & "Success: Full Relating." His teachings incorporate spirituality, science, and art for personal growth and development.