Tag Archives: architecture

Naughty Mayfair, in London, England

Albany2

By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Not long ago, we noted the popularity of London as one of Student Universe’s Top Ten Party Destinations. Taking a closer look, we find that the great British capitol has always been a place where young and old could find something disreputable to pass the time, especially if they were wealthy and titled. In “Mayfair’s dark secrets laid bare,” Jasper Gerard unearths some facts and rumors about a venerable building called Albany. He says:

So savagely do Albany grandees protect their privacy that even snappers photographing the place have found themselves at the wrong end of a porter’s boot… One resident, a Mr. Gundry, was so aggressive he horsewhipped someone in Hyde Park for brushing against his shoulder a year earlier.

That revenge for bruised honor occurred, of course, quite some time in the past. But that’s the point. This structure seems to have a cumulative history of anarchic behavior well cloaked behind a veil of respectability. Remember the Chelsea Hotel in New York, when all the rock stars stayed there? Albany was, in its glory days, kind of like that — only with servants who would carry an inebriated resident to bed and tuck him in. Hookers came and went freely and,  according to a certain painter who called Albany home for a couple of years, they still do. Tradition and discretion don’t come cheap; it costs about £1,500 or about $2,500 USD per week to live there.

The reason why all this came to Gerard’s attention is an art show that includes 40 paintings by Keith Coventry. The whole series is called “Echoes of Albany” and the pictures bring back the days of chippies, tarts, absinthe, serious recreational drugs, women who wore tuxedos and courted other women, and much, much more. If you’re in the neighborhood of Burlington Gardens, the exhibit runs through August 15 at the Haunch of Venison gallery.

Gerard, incidentally, has had an interesting and varied journalistic career. It’s easy to be sidetracked into something like, for instance, his interview with novelist Ian McEwan. But no. This is about the famous old mansion where three of England’s prime ministers have lived, along with a number of titled aristocrats and upper-echelon stage actors such as Terence Stamp. Antony Armstrong-Jones, the photographer who was married to Queen Elizabeth’s sister Margaret, once lived there. So did art historian Sir Kenneth Clark. The poet Lord Byron was once a resident, as were novelists Aldous Huxley and Graham Greene, playwright Terence Rattigan, and esteemed travel writer Bruce Chatwin.mayfair mural

Speaking of London nightlife, there’s trouble in paradise as burlesque dancers take to the streets to protest unfair laws that impede their ability to make a living and entertain the rest of us. And check out this site for a handy guide to “student nights” in London clubs.

And in the daytime, be sure to observe the statues. Yes, the sculptures in public places which, as we know, are of abiding interest to Kevin Dolgin as he makes his way through the cities of the world. In London, he found plenty to write about, in “Forgotten Heroes: London, England” which of course is one of the pieces in The Third Tower Up From the Road.

Albany photo courtesy of Wolfiewolf , used under this Creative Commons license. Mayfair mural photo courtesy of danielle_blue , used under this Creative Commons license

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And What About Travel Photography?

photographerBy PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Okay, we’ve talked about plenty of cool travel writing, but let’s take a look at travel photography. Or rather, let’s look over the shoulder of Karen Walrond, who has compiled a pantheon and titled it “Through the Gadling Lens: 5 of the best travel photographers of all time.” It’s nice how she shares some of her own experience:

I’ve been diving in some of the clearest, stillest water possible, but still — the water never seems still enough to get a sharp image, it’s difficult to hold the camera steady while you’re floating, and the diffused light through the ocean totally distorts colours.

Walrond chooses Ansel Adams, who, in addition to being a photographer, was also a dedicated environmentalist. She is most impressed by the way he processed images, and by the way he shared his knowledge in a series of ten tech manuals. He was a big believer in having a picture come out looking the way he wanted it to look, rather than the way it might have really looked. He wasn’t into making documentaries. The surprising thing is that Adams didn’t take up painting instead, a form in which it’s relatively easy to make the picture come out looking like you want it to. Using the scientifically based methodology of the classical photograph as an expressive medium requires a kind of brute-force approach to art that not every creative person is comfortable with.

Remember the National Geographic cover with the Afghan girl? The one with the eyes? Steve McCurry made that picture in Pakistan, in a refugee camp. And then, many years later, he went back to find the girl with the eyes, Sharbat Gula, who was by then living in Afghanistan with her husband and their young children. In Walrond’s opinion, light and color are McCurry’s strong points.

Her next pick is Jim Brandenburg, another National Geographic photographer who specials in animals and landscapes. Julius Shulman was a very original photographer of architecture, with the ability to make buildings look their best in the same way that Hollywood studio photographers in the old days were able to make movie stars look their best. He could bring the magic. Walrond’s fifth choice is underwater photographer Chris Newbert, yet another National Geographic veteran.

Over at The Society of American Travel Writers, Bea Broda and Rich Grant have compiled a handy list of “Top 10 tips for better vacation photos from travel writers & photographers.” They advise shooting outdoors in early morning and late afternoon. Patiently wait for the right moment. Shoot in the highest resolution you can. Be creative with points of view other than eye level. Let the subject fill the frame. Remember to take vertical pictures as well as horizontal. Attend to such details as whether a human subject will appear to have a tree growing out of his head, and don’t let it happen.

There are plenty more great ideas, too. One of them is, take a lot of pictures and then later discard the losers. There are folks who go someplace and take literally thousands of pictures, and then feel compelled to load each and every one of them into Flickr. People, please, let’s use a little discrimination here!

On the other hand… maybe not. Maybe it’s good that someone should upload a dozen practically identical photos, and none of them inspired. Maybe there exists a fan for each and every one of those repetitious images.

In The Third Tower Up From the Road, Kevin Dolgin says, “I don’t take pictures. Ever.” (He can’t stand looking like a tourist.) But he likes to write about people who take pictures, for instance of each other in front of the door to hell, at the Rodin Museum in France. He says:

You have to wonder about this. It’s quite possible that they don’t actually know what the sculpture represents; there are no devils or pitchforks or anything. Or perhaps they like tempting fate, or are proud of the fact that they are on this side of the door (for now). Who knows?

Going back to Karen Walrond, her column ends with the words, “Greater minds may differ, though, so I hope you’ll challenge me in the comments.” And we feel the same way. It would be splendid to hear some opinions on the top travel photographers.

photo courtesy of cstrom , used under this Creative Commons license

Eton, Berkshire: Extra Bread for Swans, Queen

swans

By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

You won’t believe this, but the Queen of England is going broke just like the rest of us, according to Robert Booth in The Guardian. Booth, who has also been a Sunday Times reporter, and editor of the architecture publication Building Design, learned from the keeper of the privy purse that

the Queen needed to spend £4.5m redecorating the state rooms at Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle and £13m renewing lead and slate roofs at both palaces…urgent repairs are needed to the roof of the Buckingham Palace ballroom, which has leaked for the last 18 months, causing water damage to the upholstered banquettes that are used for investitures by the Queen.

This sounds serious! But if you want to see some real numbers in the astronomical range, check out the Royal Family’s travel expenses, which run to about 5.5 million pounds a year – about $9 million. Don’t you wish you had that travel budget?

Windsor Castle, one of her majesty’s many homes, is near the town of Windsor, which is right across the river from Eton. This is convenient for the Queen, who is the titular owner of all the swans in England, when she attends a special yearly ceremony called Swan Upping, which is part of the yearly swan census conducted by functionaries in red coats. Windsor is also where the home of renowned architect Christopher Wren can be found. He is famous for designing a plethora of churches and other buildings, especially after the Fire of London wiped out so many structures.

Eton is, of course, the site of one of those famous schools from which snob credentials may be obtained, for those who care about that sort of thing. The town is said to be very cute, in a Ye Olde Englande sort of way. And it has a dessert (or as the Brits say, a pudding) named after it, one so scrumptious that it traveled to Canada from the old country. In Nova Scotia’s Chronicle Herald, Nadine Fownes gives a recipe for Eton Mess, which involves strawberries, whipped cream, and baked meringue.Eton Mess

Why this sudden interest in Eton? Well might you ask! This just happens to be one of the places mentioned in The Third Tower Up From the Road. It’s not so much the town that attracted Kevin Dolgin’s attention, as the swans and the ducks, or duck-like creatures. No ornithologist, he urges the reader to “Cut me some slack… anything that has wings and says ‘quack’ is and will always be a duck to me.” Okay. They inhabit the Thames River in a very picturesque manner, and this is why you should bring extra bread – to make up for a certain travel writer not having any in his pocket that day. Tell them Kevin sent you.

swans photo courtesy of Damian Cugley, used under this Creative Commons license

Eton Mess photo courtesy of Merle ja Joonas , used under this Creative Commons license

Acropolis Museum: The House that Grudge Built

acropolis

By PAT HARTMAN
News Editor

Christopher Hitchens is a Vanity Fair contributing editor and this month in its pages, he turns the bright beams of a sharp intellect upon a brand-new museum. In Athens, Greece, there is a hill called the Acropolis, and on that hill resides a temple called the Parthenon, which is pretty much in ruins. You knew that. But – and it’s Hitchens asking this question, so pay attention –

Did you appreciate that each column of the Parthenon makes a very slight inward incline, so that if projected upward into space they would eventually steeple themselves together at a symmetrical point in the empyrean?

In his article “The Lovely Stones,” Hitchens explains how the Parthenon was originally built as a civic stimulus package, possibly with the hands-on help of Socrates himself. He traces the Parthenon’s history as a criminally abused piece of architecture, and explains why, philosophically, its conception was unlike that of any other great building, and why the new museum was, in its conception, unlike any other modern museum.

You’ve heard of the so-called Elgin Marbles. Tons of sculptured stone, more than half of the Parthenon’s original decoration, were stripped from the temple around 1800 by Lord Elgin, and removed to England. And if you thought anybody was going to just let that slide, forget it. Greece wants its national treasures back. The famous poet and juvenile delinquent Lord Byron is involved in this story, as a bitter foe of Lord Elgin. He would have loved Hitchens, who deals summarily with all “frivolous and boring objections” the British Museum puts in the way of returning the art.

The new Acropolis Museum, which incorporates nearly 13,000 square feet of glass panels, was designed by Bernard Tschumi. It is an exercise in positive thinking: copies of the missing works are on exhibit as placeholders, until such time as the originals are restored to Greece. As a public shaming tactic, this just might work.

For more on the archaeological dig that preceded the museum’s construction, we consulted The Wall Street Journal for the article “A New Way to See Ancient Athens” by Christine Pirovolakis. She quotes the head of the excavation team who says, “Almost all of the ancient homes that we found in this area contained specially designed rooms where lectures or symposiums took place.” Dig it (little archaeological joke, there) — it was what the upscale ancient Greek family had for a media room!

And what is Kevin Dolgin’s take on the Acropolis? We thought you’d never ask, but you must be 18 or older to view the answer:

Once in Athens, you shouldn’t go to the Acropolis right away. You should make your way towards it, engage in some historical foreplay before the main event.

One of our favorite pieces in Dolgin’s The Third Tower Up From the Road is “Zvouros, the Clawed Guardian of the Acropolis,” and we’ll give you a hint: Zvouros is a cat.

photo courtesy of jonmcalister , used under this Creative Commons license