Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Counterpane for Rememberance

There is a beautiful quilt, the work of 60 employees of the Stratford Festival wardrobe department , that hangs in the upper lobby of the Avon Theatre.  I saw it last year and remarked on the workmanship that went into it - not something really surprising given who had created it.  For some reason this year it was partially hidden behind a podium that had served for some presentation earlier in the day.  I am honestly surprised that the house manager would allow this to happen but .....

The quilt was created in memory of Renato La Selva a master tailor who worked at Stratford for many years.  Each year a Gutherie Award, named after the great Irish director, is given to someone in the wardrobe department in memory of their colleague Renato.  The quilt honours both him and the recipients of the award.

The volunteers who created it choose both the Shakespearean subject and the medium that they would use in their panel.  Some choose plays, others logos or simply things that said to them:  this is Stratford.   Some choose embroidery others appliqué, silk screening, leather work or simple quilting techniques.  Six designers closely identified with the Festival - Susan Benson, Debra Hanson, Desmond Heeley, John Pennoyer, Christina Poddubiuk and Ann Curtis -  had costume sketches or block designs incorporated into the quilt.  The four corner blocks represent flowers from the gardens surrounding the Festival Theatre and the border features drifts of swans reflected in the waters of the Avon River.

I was able to get shots of many of the 39 blocks that make up this remarkable tribute to a respected friend and colleague.  Unfortunately others - particularly those higher up on the quilt - were out of proper range for my little camera.  However I've included close-ups of as many as I can.

A left click on any of the hot-spots on the picture will enlarge a goodly number of the blocks, as will a left click on any of the titles shown below the photo.

I haven't been able to find out when the Quilt was made but the small card beside it in the lobby mentions the names of Laurie Krempien-Hall and Joanne Zegers, both long-time artisans in the wardrobe department,  as the two people who led the project. They and all the others involved can be proud of a remarkable piece of work and a loving tribute to a colleague.

September 30 - 1938: The League of Nations unanimously outlaws "intentional bombings of civilian populations".

Monday, September 29, 2014

Lunedi Lunacy

Yesterday, September 28, was the anniversary of the day that Thomas Crapper was baptized in Waterside, Yorkshire in 1836.  Perhaps all the water being poured over him from great heights gave baby Thomas the idea that was to revolutionize the lavatory industry and profoundly affect the lives of so many. 

 Flushed with the importance of that event I thought I'd see what was on YouTube about this plumber of some note and notoriety.  I came across this little piece of typical BBC lunacy and thought I'd let Stephen Fry and the panel on QI (Quite Interesting) clear up a little misconception that has been going the rounds for years.

And for those of you who are of puerile mind here is Mr Crapper's ballcock:

While doing my little research project I was astounded by the number of videos out there devoted to potty training!  I can't honestly recall how my parents managed it other than the embarrassing story my mother told at gatherings about how accomplished I was at two.  Amongst the video I found this little Japanese gem - I could only imagine the outrage if this were ever shown on North American TV.  A word of warning to my more sensitive readers that this would be considered NSFW so you might not want to click on it.

Okay everyone:  LET'S GO FOR IT TOGETHER!

September 29 - 1960: Nikita Khrushchev, leader of Soviet Union, disrupts a meeting of the United Nations General Assembly with a number of angry outbursts.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Exhibition Hopping - Part II

Fabulous Fabergé, Jeweller to the Czars - Musee de Beaux-Arts de Montreal  

As I mentioned in a previous post this exhibition, which ends October 5, is a marvel on several levels.  The objects - most from the Lillian Thomas Pratt Collection in the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts - are remarkable in both imagination, design and workmanship.  And Hubert Le Gall's exhibition design is an ingenuous, imaginative and witty evocation of the bibelots and kickshaw of Imperial Russia that doesn't ignore the darker side of history. 

The first room reflects the strong Orthodox believes of Russia and her Imperial Family.   Traditional Easter eggs are on  display,  But what Easter eggs: suspended or cupped miniatures made from or encrusted with gemstones from the semiprecious to diamonds.  A golden iconostasis-like wall houses icons,  precious
both for their religious significance and the artistry in their creation. 

This miniature Easter egg pendent is only one of a glorious series
in the first room of the exhibition.  It was created in the Fabergé
workrooms around 1900 using enamel with gold accents.

The Iverskaya Mother of God was particularly venerated in Russia and many legends
grew up around the healing powers of the icon.  The Virgin has a scar on her cheek
inflicted by a soldier sent to destroy the original icon.  The Fabergé setting for this copy is
mounted on silver gilt and accented withe silver, garnets, sapphires, topaz, zircon,
diamonds and pearls.

Citrine, gold, silver, enamel and a circle of diamonds create
this extraordinary egg pendant from the Fabergé workshop.

The shadows of the second room evokes the symbols and history of the Romanov dynasty.  The cases hold personal items that were meant for everyday use but still intended to show the wealth and standing of the Imperial court.  Designer Hubert Le Gall's concept captured many of the contrasting aspects of Fabergé's relationship with the Imperial Family and the beau monde of the period.

Today Fabergé is chiefly thought of as the maker of the elaborate Easter Eggs that were presented by the Csar to his wife each Easter from 1885 until 1917.  It was a tradition began by Alexander III who presented Maria Feodorovna with the Imperial Hen Egg in 1885.  After his father's death Nicholas II  continued the custom and every Easter presented one to his wife Alexandra as well as to his mother the Dowager Empress.  Of the fifty-two Imperial Eggs created by the Fabergé workshop five are in the Lillian Thomas Pratt collection.  Each of the exhibition rooms features one of the five; the most elaborate being the Peter the Great that is displayed in the second room.

The Imperial Peter the Great Easter Egg was presented to Empress Alexandra Feodorovna by Czar Nicholas II in 1903.  It was created to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the founding of Saint Petersburg.  Workmaster Mikhail Perkhin used gold, platinum, silver gilt, diamonds, rubies, enamel, watercolour, ivory, rock crystal, gilt bronze and sapphires in its creation.

The Egg features watercolour portraits of Peter the Great and Tzar Nicolas II and of the first wooden structure built in Saint Petersburg and the Hermitage - all surrounded by elaborate (and perhaps subconscious) reminders that the city was built on a swamp.  When opened a miniature of Falconet's The Bronze Horseman raises out of the shell - the Thunder Stone is carved from an unfinished sapphire.

The story of how Lillian Thomas Pratt came to acquire this  treasure has become legend and as with many legends it's a bit difficult to separate the truth from the elaboration.  The story was that she outbid many richer women and then proceeded to pay for it clandestinely out of her household money so her husband wouldn't find out is colourful if apocryphal.  Mrs Pratt's wealth was modest when compared with many of the other collectors but her husband John Lee Pratt  supported her passion for Fabergé and Russian objects.  She did indeed outbid several people for the Egg and paid À la Vieille Russie the $108,534.00 it cost in thirty-three monthly installments.  I'm not sure if - as another version has it - she paid for many of her purchases using her Lord and Taylor's credit card but it is highly possible.

This attractive hare in silver and gold with garnet eyes is a pitcher
created in the Fabergé Moscow workshop sometime before 1899.

These remarkable parasol handles were the work of two of Fabergé's
renowned workmasters: Mikhail Perkhin (left) and Erik Kollin (right).

Many households would display sets of demitasse spoons
bearing the hallmark of Fabergé; this set in silver, silver gilt
and enamel were made between 1908-1917.

I found the silver and gold Kovsh of the Worthy Knights even more remarkable than the Imperial Easter Eggs.  The enormous drinking vessel honoured the bogatyri or mythical medieval warriors who founded the first empire of the Csars.

Though the Imperial Easter Eggs may be the most famous pieces it should not be forgotten that Fabergé created all manner of objects - practical and ornamental.  Many of the pieces that came out of his workshop on Bolshaia Morskaia were available to even people with modest incomes.  And the House was famous for its enamels and silverware as well as its work in precious and semi-precious stones.

Meant to reflect the Faberge workrooms the curved tables - modeled on the worktables at  the studio - allowed a closer look at some of the trifles created to amuse and astound the Court and impress visitors.  A few of the items are from other jewellers but reflect the influence of Carl Fabergé's workshop on the art of jewellry making throughout Europe.

What can I say - even if the Romanov's sometimes when over the top with blinge they had good taste in dogs.  Many of the little knickknacks created for them and their family indicate that the dachshund was a favoured family animal.  

This French bell pull was created in the Cartier studios around 1915; 
crafted in silver, gold, silver gilt, ivory, smoky quartz, enamel, rubies,
garnets and pearls it shows the Fabergé influence at work in France.

Made of smokey agate with ruby eyes this little fellow is said to have graced a mantel
in the apartments of the Dowager Empress Maria Feodorovna in the Antichkov Palace

Nose to the ground, tracking a prey this little dachshund is crafted in agate
again the eyes being inset rubies.  The exact provenance is unknown as the
object is unmarked.  Despite his questionable pedigree he's still a very
attractive little lad.

The fourth room is the darkest on many levels - it is crowded with memories of the Romanov family: framed portraits, the Red Cross Egg and personal items.  And lurking in the background is the unrest, the poverty, the vast inequalities of life in Csarist Russia.

The Imperial Red Cross Easter Egg was given to the Dowager Empress in 1915 in recognition of her work
as president of the Russian Red Cross.  It contained portraits of members of her family who served in the
Red Cross tending the War wounded and dying in the hospital established by the Empress in the Alexander Palace.

Workmaster Mikhail Perkhin's created numerous frames for the Imperial
photographs.  This star frame in gold, silver, enamel and seed pearls holds
a portrait of the second daughter, the Grand Duchess Tatiana.  It was taken
by the Csar and Empress to Yekaterinburg and is the only thing that is known
to have survived the events of 1918.

It has a rather chilling effect after all the light and sparkle of the geegawgery of the previous displays.  However it puts a personal face on the people for who much of these extravagances were created.  It gives the impression of a family that for all their faults and foibles cared for each other.  And it leads to final Fabergé piece in the exhibition: the Star Frame.  This is the only object taken into exile by Nicolas and Alexandra that is known to have survived. 

The room in the basement of the Ipatiev House where the Imperial Family was ruthlessly butchered on July 17, 1918.  It had become a clandestine pilgrimage site so was demolished in 1977.  In July 2003 the Church on the Blood was consecrated on the site. 

As you leave the exhibition there is one final image: the room where the family was assassinated in Yekaterinburg. History records that the jewels hidden in the corsets of the Empress and Grand Duchesses acted as body armour with bullets ricocheting but not penetrating; in the end the death squad used bayonets and gun butts.  It is not known as fact but can be assumed that some of the jewellery that prolonged their death agonies came from the workshops of Carl Fabergé.

Many of the photographs I have used in this post come from the catalogue for Fabulous Fabergé, Jeweller to the Czars published by the MBAM and VMFA and from the MBAM members publications.  I suggest looking at their website for more objects and fascinating information on the exhibition.  I am only sorry I wasn't able to get down for a second look - I know I missed things the first time around.

September 27 - 1777: Lancaster, Pennsylvania is the capital of the United States, for one day.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Comfort Me With Apples

Actually the lovesick bride in Song of Solomon requests that her bridegroom:
Stay me with flagons, comfort me with apples; for I am sick of love.
Song of Solomon 2:5
KVJ - 1611
It looks like God's Secretaries weren't quite as temperate as other translators of holy writings.  Several other versions of this passage from Song of Solomon insist that it's raisins or raisin cakes that offer strength.  Myself I rather like the First Cambridge Company of translator's idea that ferments and bottles the grape of the vine rather than just drying it then using it in cookery.  It's more like the Anglican tradition I was brought up in.

That first apple harvest as imagined
by the wonderful Emanuele Luzzati.
 When it comes to those apples it's fascinating how many translations of this verse think of them as being a source of refreshment rather than comfort.  Given that the apple became known as the forbidden fruit from the Garden of Eden it's a wonder that anything so representative of sin was asked for on a wedding night - or not!

The apple - which at one time was the name given to anything that was not a berry - has figured as a symbol in the mythology of most world religions from the Abrahimic to the Norse.  In many of these myths it seems to have been the cause of sin, strife, envy, discord and greed.  However its reputation is saved in both the Song of Solomon and in world culinary traditions where the apple does indeed become a thing of refreshment and comfort.  What could be more of a comfort food than apple pie - well okay apple pie with ice cream - or a baked apple?

So why this ramble about the Malus domestica which is appearing in abundance in the markets these days?  Well exactly that!   At the moment the market stalls have a remarkable variety of apples available and I've been madly searching for ways to include them in the recent spate of cooking I've been doing.  While looking for a recipe I had for slow cooker apple butter I came across an Apple and Almond cake that my friend Ben made for a Rosh Hashanah dinner he attended last year.  The tradition of that holiday is to eat apples dipped in honey to represent a sweet beginning to the New Year.  

The act is accompanied by a prayer:
Blessed are you Lord, our God, Ruler of the world,
Creator of the fruit of the tree.
(Baruch atah Ado-nai, Ehlo-haynu melech Ha-olam,
Borai p'ree ha'aitz.

An apple slice is dipped in the honey and eaten.

 May it be Your will, Adonai, our God and the God of our forefathers,
that You renew for us a good and sweet year.
(Y'hee ratzon mee-l'fanekha, Adonai Elohaynu v'elohey avoteynu sh'tichadeish aleinu shanah tovah um'tuqah.
Though there is no honey in this recipe I can vouch that it has just the right amount of sweetness for the New Year.

Apple and Almond Cake - serves 12

3 apples, peeled, cored and chopped roughly - Braeburns or Granny Smith
1 tbsp lemon juice
2 tsp sugar
8 eggs
1 3/4 cup superfine sugar
3 1/4 cups ground almonds
1 tbsp lemon juice
1/2 cup flaked almost
1 tsp confectioners' sugar

Put chopped apples, 1 tbsp lemon juice and 2 tsp sugar in a sauce pan and bring to boil over a medium heat.  Cover and cook over low heat for about 10 minutes or until you can mash the apple to a rough puree with a wooden spoon or fork.  Leave to cool.

Preheat oven to 350º F - 175c.  Oil a 10" spring-form pan with almond oil or flavourless vegetable oil and line the bottom with parchment paper.

Put the cooled puree, eggs, ground almonds, sugar and tbsp of lemon juice into a processor and blitz to a puree.

Pour and scrape into the prepared pan, sprinkle the flaked almonds on top and bake for 45 minutes.  Check after 35 minutes as ovens vary and see if a knife comes out clean when inserted.  Adjust timings accordingly.

Put on a wire rack to cool then remove the sides of the pan.  It is best served warm though it's still good cold. (Beyond good - warm or cold Laurent assures me.)
Before bringing it to the table push a tsp of confectioners' sugar through a fine sieve to give it a light dusting.

Many thanks for the recipe Ben - it's a winner.  And L'shanah tovah tikatevu.

September 26 - 1973:  Concorde makes its first non-stop crossing of the Atlantic in record-breaking time.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tizku Leshanim Rabbot * (Mercoledi Musicale)

From a 13th century Jewish Prayer Book.
*May you merit many years

Though there are many greetings for the New Year as observed by my Jewish friends I have always preferred the Sephardi greeting that is the title of this post.  Perhaps because I think the response is a particularly fitting one:
Ne'imot VeTovot  - pleasant and good ones
I was hard pressed to find any traditional music for Rosh Hasanah as most of what appears on YouTube is a little more oriented to a younger crowd so decided to go with one of the versicles set by Salomone Rossi the Hebrew, the great Jewish composer of the Renaissance.   Surely any psalm as exultant as this is appropriate for the beginning of the year 5775?

Baruch haba b'sheim Adonai

Blessed be he that cometh in the name of the LORD; we bless you out of the house of the Lord.
The LORD is God, and hath given us light; order the festival procession with boughs, even unto the horns of the altar. 
Thou art my God, and I will give thanks unto Thee; Thou art my God, I will exalt Thee.
O give thanks unto the LORD, for He is good; his mercy endureth for ever.
Psalm 118: 26-29
JPS - 1917

And as the first evening prayer of the new year ends I wish all of my friends who are commemorating this feast tonight:  Le'Shanah Tovah Tikoseiv Veseichoseim (Le'Alter LeChaim Tovim U'Leshalom).

September 24 - 1852: The first airship powered by (a steam) engine, created by Henri Giffard, travels 17 miles (27 km) from Paris to Trappes.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Lunedy Lunacy

Last Wednesday I posted a video of the Vesuvius Ensemble and the story of the marriage of the Guarracino.  As I mentioned the first story-song of this not particularly attractive fish dates from the 1700s and was probably intended as a way of teaching the names of the creatures in the waters of Southern Italy.

Here's an inspired piece of lunacy by Michelangelo Fornaro based on the original song.  He mixes live and stop action to tell the tale of little fish with big amourous aspirations and the trouble it causes in the deep.

And, like the narrator, when it's finished I feel out of breath and in need of a drink.

September 22 - 1910: The Duke of York's Picture House opens in Brighton, now the oldest continually operating cinema in Britain.