Thursday, June 30, 2011

Matroushkas in St. Petersburg

Matroushkas at a local market
Wyona bought a set of matroushkas (10 dolls, one inside of the next) in the market in the same time that it took our guide to gather 20 people around her and get them walking toward the bus.   

I was nervous that she was going to miss the bus, so I was keeping my eye on her as she darted from booth to booth.

At the same time, I was keeping my eye on the guide so that I would know which corner she turned if she got ahead of us.

As well, Wyona bought a couple of Cokes from someone who only spoke Russian, and Wyona waited as the clerk to get the right change for her at another booth. 

No one speaks the international language of commerce that goes with buying and selling as Wyona does.  

Buy your dolls at Red October
I have seen her do it in China and now in Russia.

There was no time to shop on the tours.  

And the ship tour guide had lingered on the picture of the market that runs beside the Church of the Spilled Blood.

He told everyone to memorize the look of that market.  

Then he said, "Buy something here at your own risk.  

The chances of you being pick-pocketed will never be higher.

We shopped instead at a new market called Red October.  In fact, we lost each other -- or I lost her.  I didn't even see this isle of goods until we were leaving the shop.

Fables are painted on the body of the doll.
What we didn't buy in the market, we bought when the ship ran their own Russian Bazaar.

The Jewel of the Sea shops close down when we are in a port.

But at sea -- buying and selling is sweet.


Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Tallinn, Estonia

The streeet is as steep as it seems.
My sightseeing tour was a walking tour of Old Tallinn

That tour that came with a warning: a person must be able to walk over cobble stones for two miles.

A good warning, because some of the streets were original, perhaps 300 years ago.

This street was steep.

Other streets had well-rounded cobblestones. 

Old Herman
One of the city towers is called Old Herman, and a place where, in the past, townsfolk looked for the flag to see who is their current ruler.  

During the 1940’s Estonia was passed back and forth between the Germans and the Russians so many time that they didn’t know who was currently ruling them.  

They soon knew to look at the flag on that tower to see. 

Estonians have had 20 years of independence after centuries of being ruled by someone else.  

They have declared a national tree, a national flower, a national fish, a national bird – and are having trouble giving up their kroner for the euro, since they also loved their national money.

However, as the tour guide explained to us in Russia, all forms of currency are accepted.  Her words were -- if it looks like money, it is money and you can use it.

Charming Estonian Buildings
I saved my shopping dollars for Tallinn, Estonia, having read that this is the place to buy woolen sweaters.   

I spotted the central market during the morning tour.

The Marketplace
Wyona and I had plans to meet up for an afternoon of shopping.  

She choose to shop the local market on the streets outside of the old village, and it was not long before a vendor was promising her the size and colour she wanted … and then off he ran through the market, promising to be back in 15 minutes.   

He arrived just as the downpour did and we went back to the ship, fully satisfied – shopping and sight-seeing at the same time – one of life’s greatest pleasures.


The Hermitage

Hermitage Staircase
Ceiling in the Hermitage
Wyona found a bargain cruise, one we could join in seven days.

I like to be part of her adventures.

I had no idea of how large the European collection of art in the Hermitage is, and for that matter, I had no idea of what the Hermitage represents.

Rather than beat myself up too much about knowing so little about where I was going, I decided to ride on the wings of every historical movie I have seen about Russian or novel I have read, and trust that I could remember some of what I learned in that overview of European history what I had not enjoyed that much, 50 years ago.

“What is the wage of those women make who were standing  in every room in the Hermitage?”, Wyona asked?

“A good wage.  They work 2 days on and 2 days off all month for $150 for the month,” said the guide.

The women who sit in each room have a job -- to keep the crowd from stopping too long in any room.  

I was reminded of being on a moving sidewalk in front of the crown jewels – the sidewalk kept anyone in the crowd from standing and observing the jewels.  

The same thing was happening here.  

Hoards of people walk through the hermitage and for us the rule was “look straight ahead and keep walking or you (the group) will never get out of the building”.

Arched Hallway in the Hermitage
Zenada Rogers had given Janet Pilling a book on St. Petersberg. Janet lent the book to me.  I was reading it on the plane, letting my eyes linger on the pictures and trying to imagine what I would think when I saw finally saw University Avenue, the Rostral Columns, and St. Peter and Pauls Church. 

One coffee table book on Russia is not enough.  

The question in Russia was … which of the books in the Hermitage gift shop to buy, given that I only have 15 pounds of extra luggage space to work with.

I was trying to calm an anxiety I felt as I walked through the rooms of the Hermitage, glimpsing the breadeth of the history I have no knowledge of, seing the opulence and splendor that eventually brought along the peasant Russian revolution.  

 “Which book are you going to buy, Arta?” asked Wyona.  

I reached for the biggest hardbacked volume, measuring by weight and size.  That made the walk through the rest of the rooms easier, knowing I could study that volume later in the year – when I eat lunch alone or before I go to bed at night. 

I choose Saint Petersburg: History of Architecture, Pushkin’s Fairy Tales and The Hermitage: The History of the Building and Collections.

Rembrandt's Flora in the Hermitage
All of the pictures I took in Russia can be seen in tourist books in much more detail and with text that I can't reproduce.  Still, my camera was clicking, taking images I now treasure.

That is a long way to come from thinking only a week ago, that the Hermitage was a monastery.


Looking over the Deck and Bridge at the Portofino

Testing the Safety of the Life Boats
One day Wyona and I stood at the window and watched the yellow life boats lowered into the water and then taken for test run.  Wyona said she heard the captain doesn't like how this wears out the lifeboats, but it is a safety standard and one that was fun to watch during lunch. 

There is so much to do on board -- much of it organized. There are presentations about land trips that can be taken; hour long instruction about what to buy at the markets; dance lessons occur every day -- practise the cha-cha, the tango, let your feet do the swing or line dance for a while.  I can hardly fit all of that in and get to the restaurants three times a day.

Wyona noted that there was a bridge lecture. we hadn't tried.

 ... a sailboat comes into view
Timidly we made our entrance into the Portofino Room, as yet unexplored by me for it is one of the specialty restaurants on board.   

In typical fashion, I took my daybook to take notes.  I always want to be prepared to read over my notes in the evening and see if I understood what I heard.

Carrying the book there was a waste of energy, since I had to listen.  

Really listen ... without even putting a pen to paper the man was going so fast with ideas that were new to me. 

The lecture was on Defensive Signalling.  I learned about the categories of attitude, what to lead on declarer’s lead, third-hand strategies, trump echos and suit preference.

The next day we learned how to count losing tricks in a hand and then we sat down to deal and then lay down our cards

A lovely way to end the day
The best part of the lesson was the visit afterward with the bridge master, Trevor, and his wife, Christine.  She said that they have cruised 30 times.  The first time they paid for the cruise.  Now they cruise and  teach bridge.  She added that it is getting hard to find new cruises they want to take.

Yet another reason for a person to really get good at bridge!


Early Morning Exercise

... sky over the Baltic Sea ...

... early morning ...
I can walk 2 ½ miles an hour on deck 12 when the wind is blowing and the few others on the ship are awake.  

Some people were still enjoying yesterday for when I passed the Arcade, I noticed, they had not gone to bed yet.  

But for those of us who had retired early only another fellow beat me to the track, an older fellow, a serious runner if I could judge by the look of his calves.  

I didn’t see much else, for I kept my head down, it was so windy.

I was enjoying the half of the trip when my back was to the wind, and thinking of the high wind that comes with a Chinook.  

Many people were inside at the gym, but I choose the deck, the fresh air, the sight of the clouds at the horizon and the sun streaming through breaks in the clouds above me.

Wyona gave me a swimming suit cover up to wear through the halls when I go to the hot tub.  

Never having put it on to this point in my trip, I determined to go to the hot tub, after my walk was over and then to breakfast.   

Slowly Wyona and I are getting to know the other Canadians aboard – a quiet lot for when a masters of ceremony calls out how many Canadian’s are onboard, there is scarely a voice that can be heard responding.  

But now we know a couple from Vancouver, 2 from Quebec, and a couple from New Brunswick who asked us if they could join us.  

Their accent was definitely different from ours and with her New Bruswick lilt she finally said to us, “We have noticed you on board.”   

That makes me more nervous than it makes Wyona.  

“Oh don’t misundersand.  It is not because you are making fools of yourselves”, she said, which makes us even more nervous.

This morning an unshaven retired policeman from Quebec who spent 45 years on the force sat by us.  

He was alone.   

“Are you a Canadian,” I asked.   

"Why in the h*ll would you say that," he responded gruffly.

Taken aback, I replied, “The tattoo on your arm looked like the one my Uncle Loran had, and he was in the RAF.”  

“So, you are right.  I joined the army when I was 17,” he replied, “too young for the profession of policeman that I wanted so I spent 3 years in the army first at Sarcee in Calgary.”

Wyona kept her head down and ate her food.   

“I’m not saying anything,” she said later, “to a man whose wife won’t eat breakfast with him.

She is fun to travel with.


Copenhagen ... and a mermaid

View from the outdoor patio of the restaurant
Wyona is a good tour leader taking a novice like me and making sure I have the opportunity to see what is available to do.

The minute we got on the boat she showed me the way to the Windjammer, a beautiful restaurant on Deck 11.  While others carry the luggage (finally).

We were alone at our table, for others preferred to stay inside.

She and I had the deck to ourselves, except for members of the crew who also found their way out to eat and enjoy both the air and the beautiful sights that can be seen when a ship docks.

Sunset on the Baltic Sea
As well, on the first night, she was quick to show me what the evenings look like as the sun goes down.

There is so much to do onboard that few people are on deck at this time of night.

Bands are playing in 4 different night clubs.

Added to that, people are at dinner, or enjoying an evening in the movie theatre or enjoying their seats live theatre (singers, dancers, jugglers, ariel artists, etc.).

And outside, the sea is going by and the sun is setting.

By the time we were loaded on buses in Copenhagen for my first adventure on land, I could see that the quicker I got to see the famous mermaid, the closer I would be to her.

I scrambled down over rocks and boulders to get this picture.

Then I walked the perimeter of the harbour, where I found a well paved path that led me to her destination as well.

I spent the rest of the morning watching the Changing of the Guard at the Danish Palace. Everyone was given two hours of free time.

I listened to the military band, enjoyed the gun salute, watched the officers change places, and stood back the horses performed a military tattoo.

Changing of Guard at Danish Palace
Wyona is skilled at running along, probably from those years when she watched Teague and Lurene play in the marching band on Parliament Hill.

I was also practising taking care of my purse.

There is no port where a general warning is not given to tourists: take care of your wallets and your passports.

Signs to that effect are posted everyone -- even in London, I might add, where at the Embankment Tub Station there is a big sign saying that this area is well known as a spot where people can loose their money or precious identity papers.

I am usually a few steps behind Wyona, since there is no use me leading the way ... given I usually don't know where I am going.

She keeps her bag close to her side.

I follow suit and away we move, having the time of our lives.


Day Two in St. Petersberg

The University Embankment
In St. Petersburg, lunch at the Last Palace on Monday was eclipsed on the second day with lunch at a new restaurant, one our Russian guide Margarita had never visited before.  

Wyona slipped over to some other tables to get the six forks that were missing at our table.  

That took care of the problem of having no utensils. There was no oil and vinegar for the salad.  We ate it as it was. 

The soup was a simple peasant soup, a texture that our friends didn’t like, the onions, carrots and potatoes grounded so finely that they were like sand and the dominant flavour was pepper as far as spices go. 

The Rostral Columns
I was interested in the soup, since it is like many soups I have eaten in the past – a cupful will help you last from lunch to supper with no hunger pangs, along with a piece of bread. 

On board ship, I have been passing on the bread tray every night, but at lunch I wanted to try a piece of this dense square loaf:  rye and whole wheat, and the vinegar under taste might have been from this being a sour dough loaf. 

Our table didn’t even get the main course when, so when the larger group was packing up to leave we still hadn’t had the fish and rice with a few boiled vegetables in it, nor the fruit cocktail that was served as dessert and that had come right out of a tin.  We did get the shot glass of vodka and the champagne that came with the meal.

Now all of that to tell you about getting back on the bus.  The tourists were not happy.  The members from our group from India who had caused a lot of trouble the day before had been now been ushered to a different place in the restaurant than the rest of us and given, by the Indian owner, a different (and more desirable) meal.
Bitter complaining broke out to the tour leader.  “My plate was chipped … my glass was dirty .. I am sure my goblet had not been washed … why did the Indians get a different meal … we had no dressing on the salad … we didn’t get served at all … I am so mad about this, I am going to complain… the service was so poor, … the waitresses just stood there looking at us” and on and on.  As their chagrin poured out, one complaint was fueled by another.

St. Isaac's Cathedral
Finally the tour leader said in her cross “I-am- laying-down-the-law” guide voice, “Look, this is a brand new restaurant.  The owner is probably is not going to succeed.  He will be taxed so highly that he will not make any profit.  What is a chipped glass to you or a cup that has to be wiped out?  You have a standard of living that is 10 times higher than these people.  Look around you on this trip. And don’t complain.”

There was a quiet silence.  

I took her advice and continued to look carefully at what I was seeing around me.


The Rock Church

Outside Face of Rock Church
I love rocks.  

I bend down to pick up an unusual one and put it in my pocket  I can sing Al Simmons’ “I collect rocks”.   

When I walk along paths in B.C. and see a rock that would be good for a rock wall, I can finally tell if that one is just the right size or a little too heavy for me to lift.  If it is too heavy I figure out if I can go back to my house and  get my dolly involved in moving that rock. 

Organ Pipes
So how nice was the surprise in Helskinki when I found out I was going to visit a rock church.

The organ pipes are in front of rocks.

The walls of the church are rocks.

The baptistery is rocks.

From the outside, there is no towering structure for a steeple, no flying buttresses, no ornate marble figures in the outer wall niches of the church.

This church counts on mesmerizing its congregants with the shape colour and texture of rocks in its interior.

People were preparing for a wedding when I was there, so I only viewed the church from the balcony.

Wyona's tour group got there before ours, and they walked up and down the isles and listened to a young woman practising for a paino concert. 

Pews and Baptistry
 Helsinki Lutheran religious practice rocks.


Lunch in a Swedish Manor

I couldn’t write at my computer and watch what was going on around me at the same time, so there I was on Day Six of twelve days of a Baltic Cruise, having not written a word about boarding a ship, being at sea, visiting Copenhagen, Stolkholm, Helskinki or about reading up on what I am going to see in St. Petersburg.

When strangers on board would ask how I liked my first time on board I could only say, “I feel as though I have stepped into a movie.”

I visited Porvoo on Day Six.

The guide put a map of the village in our hands while we were still in the bus.

She showed us the path we would take – a stroll over a bridge, a left turn along the river, a visit to the city hall and lastly, the candy shop we were to visit.

Brumberry Candy Shop
“Did you buy some of the candy for your sister,” someone asked at dinner.

“I knew not to do that. The sample I tasted melted in my hand before I got it to my lips,” I replied.

I couldn't help but take a picture of the candy shop sign.

Any shop that has been around since 1871 deserve lots of patronage.  But there were to many people flowing in and out of the door for free samples for me.

So I walked the cobble stone streets and looked for the typical architecture that brings tourists to this town.

I went up and down narrow alleys and read the historic commemorative plaques on many of the buildings.  Well, I tried to read them for I forget that I am in a foreign land and can't read much more than street signs and menus.

Lunch at the Manor House
Wyona and I split up for the day.

She took a half day tour in Helsinki.

I signed up for a full day rural trip so that I could see a good example of Finnish 17th century architecture.

As you can see, my tour included lunch.

I took my camera along for the first time on the trip.

Basement of Swedish Brewery
I pulled out my camera when I saw what was an example of life as it might have been in those days -- a small fireplace and a child’s rocking horse and lots of kitchen utensils.

The second floor dining room in which we ate was a converted brewery.

The manor house, a large yellow building nearby and the lands around the manor house supported the labour of 50 onsite families. There was even a school for the children in this complex.

Because there was a national ban on alcohol in those days, home brew was the drink of the day.

Angel with trumpet above barn door
The starkly decorated bar of the two floor brewery was not in service and was just a plant that ran between two of the inside supporting pillars of the building.

After lunch I went outside to looking at old door handles.

Then my eye caught angelic metal figures on the tops of barns doors.

Soon I couldn't keep my eyes off of the wooden beams that criss-crossed brick structures.

Barn at the back of the Finish Manor House
That is when I met another woman with a camera -- she too loved the lines and curves of the brick and wooden buildings.

As we drove along the highway, I saw all of the flora that I see at the lake in British Columbia.

Some tall pieces of mullen, yellow and in flower caught my eye on a hillside.

I snapped a shot of some daisies growing in the flowerbed at the feet of Czar Alexander the Great.

I was reminded again of how we are so different and yet so much the same.


Sunday, June 26, 2011

The Cherry Orchard by Chekov

Photograph: Tristram Kenton for the Guardian
When Rebecca was in London, she stayed with an old friend in Marlebone.

They compared notes on theatre they had been seeing.

Both had seen Fela, King Lear and another production, all from the National Theatre in London.  Rebecca's friend had seen them live; Rebecca had seen them in HD in her local theatre.  How cool is that!

Now a new show is coming June 30:  The Cherry Orchard by Chekov, hopefully to a theatre near you.

In the Guardian, Michael Billington reviews The Cherry Orchard, a little more acerbically than I would have wished, but that will not put me off going to see it since he also says "it is highly intelligent and richly detailed".

The fun never stops!

Love and Herrings... more on London

Even if it was only a day with arta, it was jam-packed.... after the better part of a day at the National Gallery, we decided to stick our heads in the National Portrait Gallery. This meant a short walk across Trafalgar Square, where we were treated to not only the usual series of buskers dressed as statues, and folk with their instruments, but a guy with a microphone and a powerful baritone voice calling us all to Jesus. I think the 'call and response' stuff he had in mind is really powerful when it happens inside a southern baptist church. Here, it was a lot of 'call' with nothing in the way of 'response', but he was undeterred, and seemed to be taking on both roles. At one point I was a bit worried he would pass out from the hyperventilating required by the task, but he was still there and still going when we return on the same route later in the afternoon!

So...we passed around the corner to spent some time with photos of Mick Jagger and the Stones from the 60s. We were just enjoying the portraits when my cell phone rang: steve asking me what the bank had said about getting me a new PIN for my debit card. [ooops.... i guess i had not completely finished those other tasks!] As background, my new debit card had arrived in the mail, with a note telling me the PIN would arrive a few days later in a different letter. Unfortunately, that was the same day they announced the postal strike. so there i was, with a bank card but no PIN code. The plan had been to just have them re-stripe it for me at the bank in London, but I had been too busy to get there before closing hours. Luckily, the head office was only a few blocks away, so Arta came with me and we tore off to the bank. That was an interesting experience. I explained the problem, showed all my documents and identity cards. They agreed they could help: they would cancel the PIN they had sent me, and mail me out a new one. Now, I don't really like to be judgmental re systems in other countries, but I have to say, this one baffled me a bit. ... it turns out they cannot re-stripe your card, but can ONLY give you a new PIN through the mail. Maybe they presume Mail in the rest of the world functions like Mail in England? I don't know.... but it seemed a bit odd, and am still waiting here in Canada for my PIN to arrive...

Back to our day. After learning that I would need to still stick with the Canadian banking card for a while longer, Arta and I headed off for dinner at a restaurant Wyona likes in the theatre district. The pre-theatre dinner special was an appetizer, main course, and glass of wine (I got mine AND arta's!) We both wanted the salmon for the main course, but the difficult question was whether to go with the Onion Soup or the grilled sardines. [these are of course photos of Arta and I looking pensive as we try to figure out what to order.... they are also hear to show of yet another of
Arta's new scarves, and my necklace of glass beads that Mary made!... I wore them to London!] I did ask the waitress to tell me a bit more about the soup? Was it like french onion soup? What else was in it? She seemed not so interested in the recipe, telling me, it was just onions. OK. Why not? We decided to try one of each. The soup, it turned out, was a quite delicious blended soup that I would have identified as a warm version of vichyssoise.... WAY more potato than onion, and quite tasty. And the grilled sardines? (which was Arta's choice, and which she shared). They arrived whole, their little fishy heads gazing up at us. But they were yummy. Arta said they reminded her of granddad, who loved them. We probably could have stopped there, but then the main course arrived, which was a honking big piece of salmon and a ton of vegetables. Uncle Dave might have even been satisfied!

And then... off to the theatre to see Love Never Dies. If you read the comments section under my last post, you will get a longer account from Arta about the performance itself. It was my first time, though she has seen it on many other occasions. For those of you who haven't seen it, it is Phantom of the Opera, part II. ... totally interesting from so many perspectives. It has not been as popular as the first version, and part of the fun for me is trying to think about "why"? This tale of love is far more complicated than the first version, and it is not the typical love story. It has all the elements you would come to expect from musical theatre, but it sort of unpicks some other parts of love stories. strange. and the music is fantastic. Lots of fun stuff to think about too in terms of 'fathers', and the difference between social and biological parents (oops... spoiler alert!) :-)

We headed home to pack. Wyona and Arta were to head off on the cruise in the morning, but needed to get to Liverpool Street Station, with FIVE pieces of luggage. I had only ONE, so the thought was that if I came with them that far, we could get them AND their luggage to the station. All I can say is, given that some of the lines were closed, and our connections involved stations with stairs instead of escalators,... was an adventure. I also have to say that Wyona can back a suitcase fuller than I thought was physically possible. Plus, the two of them have these new (cruise style) suitcases that are so wide that you knock people over as you pass them on the street! So....the plan was generally for one person to go to the bottom of a flight of stairs, one to stay at the top with the rest of the luggage, and then for me to run up and down and move suitcases either up or down depending on the place were were on the voyage. (so you don't have to leave your bags alone at the top or bottom of the busy traffic areas). It works. Of course, Wyona and Arta are also great at looking frail, and co-opting strapping young folk to help. Getting all 6 pieces of luggage ONTO a train before the doors slammed on us, well, that was also something of an adventure. But we made it. We arrived at the station with at least 10 or 15 minutes to spare, sweaty but triumphant. You will have to wait to hear a more fulsome account of the cruise from the women themselves!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

after the fact... London with Arta

After the better part of a week spent in London hounding the streets for a home to rent for the year, I was left with one free day to spend with Arta. The three of us headed off to Leicester Square, to the half-price booth to get theatre tickets for the last night. The plan was to head in different directions: Arta wanted to see "Love Never Dies" again, and Wyona wanted to spend her last night with "Dreamboats and Petticoats".

Ten minutes before hitting the Tube station, we'd had a long talk about how to meet up with each other if we got separated... the easy answer is of course just to look back for Rebecca's hair. :-) In a moment of irony, the two women went through ahead of me, and my Oyster card ("bus pass") denied me entry (I had run out of money and hadn't noticed).... the line up to re-nourish my depleted Oyster card was long, and the women were gone...Arta, though, in typical Arta way, had decided for fun to see how easy it was to find me, and had noticed I was gone. They came back, spoke to me through the barricade, and we sent Wyona ahead to wait in the ticket line up while I lined up for the Oyster card. Nice start to the day... way to practice finding each other after getting lost.

Just proving that different paths do not always run at the same speed, Arta and I somehow still managed to arrive at the Leicester Square before Wyona.

Go figure.

So... tickets purchased, we split up for the day: Wyona to visit her favourite scarf sellers (What?! More scarves?!), and Arta and I to visit the National Gallery.

One of the recent 'installations' at the national gallery is the "Eco Art" outside. VERY westcoast!

They have planted grasses and small mossy growing things all over one of the walls of the building.

Not sure how visible it is in the shot, but the effect from some ways back is a bit like a Georges Seurat painting... it just looks like a lovely watercolour painting. Pretty groovy!

Arta and I have not spent much time in museums TOGETHER (as adults, that is... i certainly spent time following in her path of educational exploration as a know, "fossil rock walks in downtown Calgary", "identify bat guano in fish creek park", etc).

But it was a revelation to see that she is just as bad as me in her desire to consume til your belly/brain explodes.

In between our own wanderings, we took in the 10:30 and 2:30 guided tours, each of which offered a more close exploration of 5 or maybe 6 paintings.

Christ Healing the Blind Man by Buoninsegna
We started out looking at some panels from an alter piece done by Duccio di Buoninsegna (c. 1255-1260 – c. 1318-1319), the most influential Italian artist of his time.

The first one we saw has Christ healing the blind man.

It is fun to look at the conventions for telling story through image: here, you see the blind man both before and after being healed.

The panel that goes beside this one has Christ appearing to the apostles.... when they are set along side each other, you can see that the "healed" blind man is looking up at the body of Christ in the panel along side.


We also learned that this was painted on wood, which was then covered with linen, and then covered with plaster to make a smooth surface to paint on. The paint was egg tempera, which would give you vibrant colours, albeit without tons of nuance: the paint would dry very fast, so you only had a short time where it could be pliably worked).

Annunciation of Mary
In the afternoon session, we returned to Duccio, to look at another painting of the Annunciation (Mary getting informed by the angel that she was going to have a baby....).

We listened to a nice discussion about the number of people who would have participated in making the painting.

Different artists in the studio would have done the people, and the buildings (would would have had painters specializing in buildings)

Then we moved up a hundred years, to spend time with the Spanish Bartolomé
St. Michael Triumphs Over the Devil
Bermejo's 1468 painting "St Michael triumphs over the devil" . This one is in oil, which explains the greater nuance and emotion captured in the paint. We also learned more about just how much gold leaf there was on the original. First there was a 'cartoon' of the painting... like a paper version laid over top of the prepared canvas. then someone would poke holes through it onto the prepared canvas below, so that the outline of the painting was transferred there. Then the gold specialist would be next, and would cover certain part of the painting with a red glue, over which was laid tiny pieces of gold flake. The gold would then be further pressed it into the wood with some kind of embossing tool, so that the painting would be even more luminescent when seen in the candlelight of the darkened church. Only after all the gold pieces were laid down would the artist come into to paint the figures and images in the scene. When you look at it now, there is not so much gold, and the background looks reddish... that is just the red glue stuff (which had some special name i have forgotten) showing through. If you click on this link, so will get the picture on the national gallery's website, and can zoom in to get a closeup of the monster! The feminist in me was so happy that the guide did eventually take us to a painting by a woman artist! Here were looked at a painting by Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun (1755 - 1842). This is a self-portrait of her, but she is also showing off her skills as a painter by making hers a version of a similar painting by Rubens, on the right of the gallery and which you can see beside her in this post. What she was doing here was making a 'calling card'.
Self Portrait of Elisabeth Louise Vigée Le Brun
She is showing herself AS an artist, showing off all the skills she has, letting male viewers know that she can make their wives look this good but that they needn't worry about leaving their wife alone with her. I also like how she is holding her hand out, encouraging them to give her a commission! There was more, but I am getting tired. :-) which was just what happened to us too! So.... in between the two guided tours, we went for a "Talk and Draw" session. Here, they set up 40 chairs in front of one painting.
Artist: John Constable
In this case, the painting was John Constable's "Cenotaph to the Memory of Sir Joshua Reynolds. Someone talks to you about the painting for 20 minutes, then they give you two drawing tasks, to practice some of the techniques that were used in the drawing. They hand out these nice big easels for you lap, boxes of pastels, pencils, conté, etc. So we had two tasks. First to draw a single tree from the painting by building up layers of colour (ie. start with black, go over with red, with brown, yellow, etc). Second task was to show perspective in the same way (ie. capture the darkening woods in the distance). I will confess, we both had to come to terms with some of our limits! hahaha. And yet, it was totally fun, so sit, listen, draw, and laugh. At the end, they had people set their drawings at the front to compare what people had produced. We also then had to head to the bathroom to wash the evidence of our crimes from our fingers (stained by the pastels). I felt very much like Lady MacBeth! We did bring our drawings home and showed them to Wyona at the end of the night. I will not be more specific re which of the drawings below belongs to Arta and which belongs to me... but I think Wyona was arguing that one of the paintings looks less like 'the woods', and more like a Judy Chicago plate! You can see that neither of those two women was taking my artist production very seriously.


They are never appreciated while still alive...