Budapest to the Black Sea

Budapest to the Black Sea

Sunday, 6 April 2008

Great Shortcuts of Our Time

1. The Strand – Embankment
Should you be stuck in heavy traffic on the Strand thinking “Oh I wish I was on the Embankment”, turn into Adam St, first right into John Adam St, second left into York Buildings and then almost immediately left into what appears to be an underground car park but is a street. Lower Robert St, this will take you down to Savoy Place, near the riverside entrance to the Savoy Hotel.

2. Don’t bother to brown your meat when making stews or casseroles. This comes from the TV series Nigella Express and the kitchen goddess has got it absolutely right. Every recipe since the dawn of time has started “First fry the meat until golden brown” (not that meat ever goes golden brown it just goes ‘abattoir grey’) and you don’t need to bother. It makes no difference it doesn’t “seal the flavour in”. Apart from this gem the rest of the series was pretty dull only enlivened by Nigella looking coquettish in cardigans that are too small for her. Incidentally “coquettish” doesn’t just mean looking a bit tarty while you open the fridge door it is also the name of a 17th century dish made from partridge feet and quince, traditionally served during Advent.

3. Orange St to Trafalgar Square via the National Gallery.
The back entrance to the National Gallery (free entrance) in Orange St is unimposing and usually deserted. There is a security man behind a desk, who doesn’t disturb incomers and once past him you have the choice of going upstairs or downstairs. Downstairs (if it is open) is a large gallery packed with paintings roughly arranged by century and hung densely packed on hessian screens. The total value of the art in the room is probably several billion but it looks like a West Country auction room. At the far end of the gallery stairs take you up to the front of the building.
The upper path is definitely quicker than the lower, once you have learned the route through the Rembrandts, Poussins, Tiepolos etc, but of course the whole point of this short cut is to be distracted. If you find yourself in the vicinity of the gallery with five minutes to spare, why not skip that cappuccino and go in and see something extraordinary and amazing. My personal favourite is a self-portrait by Madame Vigee-Le Brun which normally hangs in Room 33. The fact that it is by a woman is remarkable enough in a gallery where I think that she may be the only pre 1800 female artist and she has done herself proud. A sexy self confident artist gazes back at you, palette in hand, with blue eyes, full red lips, a straw hat with a jaunty feather, nice knockers and curls of grey hair falling down her neck. She can come to tea anytime.
My other favourite is the Tale of Patient Griselda told in Medieval comic-strip form on 3 panels painted in Siena around 1490. The panels are hung in the ‘Carbuncle’ Sainsbury Wing of the Gallery which is mostly cluttered up with dreary Madonnas with Child and silly haloes. Who first came up with the idea of haloes? At some point one artist must have thought “I know what I’ll do, I’ll paint the Blessed Virgin Mary with a golden frisbee behind her head” and instantly haloes became an industry standard across Europe. Anyway I will now relate the Tale of Patient Griselda just to show you that Renaissance men certainly knew how to have a good time. The Count of somewhere or other was out hunting in the forest when he met a poor but beautiful girl named Griselda. He asked her father’s permission to marry her, which was readily given, and then he proposed to Griselda but only on condition that she swore to be utterly obedient for evermore which she duly did. The Count took her back to his court where he stripped her naked in front of his courtiers before giving her a wedding dress and marrying her. In the fullness of time they had a son and daughter. While Griselda was asleep the Count took the children away and told Griselda that had had them killed. He then staged a fake divorce, stripped Griselda naked once more and sent her back to her father. After some years the Count came back and ordered Griselda to return and prepare his house for his new bride, a young and beautiful woman with a handsome brother. Griselda did as she was told and at that point the count finally revealed that the new ‘bride’ and her brother were in fact her own children whom she thought had been dead all those years. How Griselda must have chuckled! Bizarrely they lived happy ever after.

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Cycling Down the Danube

Cycling Down the Danube
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