Monday, 19 December 2016

Friday peregrination: coffee, art, entertainment and chicken

It’s been an enjoyable weekend so far with some pleasant discoveries. It began on Friday, as I had taken a bit of leave. We strolled out to new place called Cafe Frei, which had opened just a week ago. On offer were a wide range if coffee drinks, attributed to different countries.

I was intrigued, and then my eye was caught by something called “Malaysian Ipoh White Coffee”. Straits coffee, the sort that you get in Malaysia and Singapore is, to the best of my knowledge unobtainable in the UK. I got a bit excited, but then I was told that it was not made with condensed milk. I realised that this was meant to be a Japanese drink. 

It sounded very nice, but not quite what I was after at the time. 

I looked around for something else and chose the Nicaraguan tobacco coffee. My companion opted for something called V60 Japanese black coffee.

Both were very good. The Nicaraguan tobacco coffee did really taste of cigars, in a nice way which I believe would appeal even to non-smokers. The V60 was a very good long filter coffee.

Cafe Frei, it turns out, is a Hungarian chain, and this is the first branch to open in London. I'm certainly going to be returning, since it's conveniently close to our flat. I'm now very curious about all their other drinks, including the "Malaysian Ipoh White Coffee", and their cakes looked very good too. I expect to be a frequent visitor.

Later that evening we went to the Leyden Gallery for their Christmas party. This superb small gallery, run by Lindsay and Adriana Moran, is close to our flat, and we drop by whenever we can. Apart from exhibitions, they also host talks, life drawing classes and entertainments (such as their Sybarite Nights)

That evening, there was a bar serving delicious prosecco cocktails designed by Adriana. The entertainments were hosted by Lindsay. Apart from being a cultured and erudite gallery owner, he is also a veteran of the stand-up comedy circuit, and an accomplished accordionist. There were talented singers, and a hilarious stand-up comic who made me literally cry with laughter (Charmian Hughes). The closing act was an extraordinary trio of two cellists and a violinist/singer (Alice Zawadzki), who played Sephardic music and sang songs in Ladino, the language spoken by the Jews of who lived in Andalusia until their expulsion in the 15th century. Haunting, intense, emotional stuff.

We walked home afterwards and stopped by to pick up a snack at our local fried chicken shop. While we were waiting, a group came in, one of whom was dressed as a Roman legionary. His helmet was of re-enactor quality and I remarked on it. He had come from Trier in Germany, a city that had been founded by the Romans, whose inhabitants were clearly proud of their heritage. They had, I was told, all the remains you might expect to see in an old Roman town: a temple, a theatre, baths, and so on. Another addition to the list of places I should visit. Excellent fried chicken, by the way.

61A Alie Street, London E1 8EB, UK
Opn daily; see website for hours

9/9a Leyden Street , London E1 7LE

129 Leman St, London E1 8EY
Always open whenever I need some

Monday, 12 December 2016

Places, Politics and Printmaking – The Artwork of Imogen Thea Humphris

Guest post by Lynn Reynolds

It’s always a pleasure to discover art I’ve never encountered before, and the recent Festival of Print held by East London Printmakers was a veritable wunderkammer of talent.

Imogen’s work was on display at the Festive Open Studios segment of the event, modestly occupying the table furthest away from the nibbles and mince pies. The first thing to catch my eye was this:


It’s a map of the strip clubs of east London, produced for the East London Strippers Collective. The collective, I was delighted to learn, is a real organisation dedicated to improving the image of and working conditions for professional strippers in the capital’s easternmost boroughs.

And of course there’s a story behind the map. “I wanted to capture a snapshot of the strip club industry in east London as it was at the time, because Hackney Council (among others) is making it harder for these venues to become licensed,” said Imogen.

As I browsed through the other prints on Imogen’s stall, it became clear that her work is all about expressing the struggles and conflicts which happen in different places. One especially striking image, a photogravure, depicted a chaotic tower of shipping container-like structures reaching for the distant sky, a Heath Robinson-style tower of Babel.


The whole thing is topped by a sign in Hungarian. Most of us can’t read it, because this is not a language we’re familiar with. This is the House of Refuge, a fictional structure created by Imogen to represent the experience of refuges travelling across Europe. It’s not clear whether the house is a sanctuary, place of hostility or all of the above. We’ll just have to wait and see.

It wasn’t surprising to learn that Imogen’s background is a rich one, filled with diverse influences. She studied architecture for six years, but knew early on that practising this profession wasn’t for her. Instead, she focused on international development and conflict, and set out to explore this specialist interest as a fine artist.

This strikes me as a timely decision.

We now live in a world where it’s hard to ignore the consequences of war, climate change, oppression and poverty. Our politicians are masters of chaos, and society is becoming ever more polarised.

It seems to me that we need artists like Imogen more than ever. The beauty and virtuosity of her work connects with the viewer on a deep level, and helps us move beyond the reassuringly simple ‘us and them’ perspective sold by the people in power.

When I went to the Festival of Print I didn’t expect to find a beacon of sanity for our times, but that’s exactly what happened. That’s why I hope ever more people get to experience the work of this fascinating artist.

Imogen Thea Humphris, Artist and Illustrator

Monday, 5 December 2016

Openness at the German Pavilion, Venice Architecture Biennale 2016

A thought-provoking, moving and inspiring display

For this year's Architecture Biennale in Venice, the Germans, with the permission of the authorities, created large openings in the walls of their listed Pavilion, to symbolise openness. The theme of the display was "Making Heimat. Germany, Arrival Country", an investigation of the "urban, architectural and social conditions of arrival cities in Germany".

Dsiplays on the walls of the pavilion illustrated eight principles pertaining to how things should be set up in "arrival cities", the places where refugees and migrants live. The points they made were sensible, well thought-out, and not always self-evident.

I found it an inspiring and moving exhibit, especially in the light of recent events in the UK and the US. It was a good symbol for a country which has now been thrust into the role of leader of the liberal and decent world. A refreshing change from the poisonous, xenophobic bigoted mood in contemporary Britain.

Here are some pictures I took. It's worth reading the text.

More information on the project is available at .

Monday, 28 November 2016

Cadorin exhibition at the Fortuny Museum

Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949) was born in Spain but settled in Venice, and is best known as a designer of beautiful textiles. He was also a stage and lighting designer, painter and a designer of interiors. His house and studio in Venice was given to the city by his widow in 1956, and is now a museum. It is used for temporary exhibitions during which works by other artists are displayed alongside Fortuny's own work, fabrics, and other objects he owned and produced.

This must be one of the most beautiful interiors in Venice. It is also a nice place to be reminded that artistic production continued in Venice after the fall of the Venetian Republic in 1797.

The museum is only open for temporary exhibitions. We visited it during an exhibition dedicated to the Cadorin family, which was marvellous, as are all the exhibitions held at the Fortuny.

For more details, see the Fortuny Palace website.

Here are pictures taken during our visit, presented without any further comment.

Palazzo Fortuny
Campo S. Beneto, 3780, 30126 San Marco, Venezia VE, Italy

Monday, 21 November 2016

Flying to Venice? Try not to be posh.

We are now in Venice, having flown from London City Airport last Saturday. This small airport, which caters mainly to business travellers, is much more pleasant and more relaxed than the larger ones. For us it's easier to get to as well, and I think we'll try to use it in future if we can.

We were fortunate to be able to get seats on the starboard side of the aircraft. The flight path from London to Venice is such that you get a wonderful view of Venice from the starboard windows, while the port side windows mostly face away from the city and towards the Adriatic.

On the way out of London City Airport, you also get fantastic views of the Thames and its estuary.

It was foggy and raining as we flew in to Venice, and the city was somewhat obscured, but this served to emphasise the size of the lagoon. We could also appreciate how shallow it was, as it seemed like we could see the bottom of it.

And what about the term "posh"?

Well, it originated from the days of the British Empire, when the best cabins on ships going between England and India were on the port side going to India, and on the starboard side when sailing from India to Britain. These would be cooler as the sun shone in from the south. Hence Port Out, Starboad Home, P.O.S.H.  Nowadays, if you are flying to Venice form London, it should be Starboard Out, Port Home (not P.O.S.H.).

And just to clarify, for those who don't know the terminology, starboard is the right hand side when facing the front of the vehicle, and port is the left. There's a mnemonic for tha t: "A little red port left in the bottle". Red refers to the lights on th side of a ship. Red for port, green for starboard. Got that?