Sunday, 28 June 2015

no no no

I'm extremely excited about Beirut's new record (their first in four years), No No No, which is due for release in early September. Listen to the title track below. It's all brass flourishes and skittering percussion - very jaunty.

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

two summer weekends

We've had a couple of extremely fun weekends recently, I must admit. At the end of May, D. and I spent two nights in the Basque Country celebrating our chef friend James's wedding. Arriving in Bilbao early on a Friday morning, we headed straight to the Guggenheim. We couldn't fail to be impressed by the smooth curves of the building glimmering in the early morning Spanish sun.

Excited about giving Basque food a whirl, we set off in search of lunch. James had told us about an excellent nearby restaurant months ago, serving incredible local food cooked on a firewood grill. He also advised us to book well in advance. We forgot all about this of course and simply turned up at 1pm with hungry stomachs and hopeful smiles. Luckily we were given a table in a corner of the old farmhouse building in which the restaurant is housed. The place is called Asador Etxebarri, and it's as difficult to pronounce as it is to locate among the mountains.

Mega prawns! The best in my life perhaps. Too delicious.

We enjoyed fifteen good courses over several hours and spent the rest of the afternoon wandering through the Basque countryside - stopping off by rivers, laying down in fields, that sort of thing. We'd had quite a bit of wine.

The wedding itself took place on Saturday in the charming fishing village of Getaria, about an hour or so from Bilbao. We spent a bit of time exploring the town beforehand - a fiesta was taking place - kids were lining the streets playing accordions and recorders whilst grandparents sat in plastic chairs in front of the shops selling ice cream and local wine. It was all very lovely. The wedding was a total blast and lasted from noon until 2am. Lots of dancing and gin and tortilla on sticks.

Feeling a little worse for wear on Sunday morning, D. and I headed down to the beach first thing, knowing that a healthy blast of seawater would probably help to mend our heads. I very much wanted to rent a bright yellow pedalo. We took one out - D. splashed around in the water and I lounged about on board. In the afternoon we met the rest of the wedding party for pintxos (Basque tapas) and ice cream, and were back in our beds in London by 9pm, well fed and exhausted after a delightful weekend.

The following weekend, I flew out to meet D., our friend Charlotte and her sister in the south of France. D. and Charlotte had been in situ for a week already, but (sadly) I was only staying for a single night. We took the ferry across the bay to St Tropez for lunch - giant artichokes and steak tartare. The rest of the afternoon was spent swimming in turquoise waters and dozing on the beach. It was a perfect day.

The fabulously bright red exterior of Sénéquier in St Tropez. (Flashbacks to our trip in 2012!)

Charlotte by the marina at dusk, looking very beautiful.

On Sunday we drove east to the Medieval town of Saint-Paul-de-Vence. We'd come to check out La Colombe d'Or and make a booking for supper. I've never loved a hotel or restaurant's vibe more, I don't think. The whole place was just... sublime.

Post-lunch ice cream, Provence-style.

We tried to pay a visit the Chapelle du Rosaire de Vence in the afternoon (built and decorated under a plan devised by Matisse), but it was closed. Such a shame! I managed to sneak a photograph through the gates; this colour scheme of teal, yellow and pink made my eyes pop, in a good way. Happily we managed to make time for a trip to the nearby Fondation Maeght - I enjoyed it very much and bought bundles of old posters which are now all with my framer.

The menu at La Colombe d'Or. I mean, have you ever seen a more fantastic or aesthetically pleasing menu? I'm in love. Unfortunately I had to pack up my things and leave halfway through our supper in order to catch my plane, and a very boring delay meant that I wasn't in bed until 4am, but I can't complain, I'd had another wonderful summer weekend.

Thursday, 28 May 2015

a curious friendship

I'm reading A Curious Friendship: The Story of a Bluestocking and a Bright Young Thing by Anna Thomasson at the moment and it's a real joy. Thomasson's first book is an account of the intense but platonic relationship between the artist Rex Whistler and writer Edith Olivier, set against a backdrop of the madcap parties of the 1920s.

Stephen Tennant, William Walton, Georgia Sitwell, Zita Jungman, Rex Whistler and Cecil Beaton, Wilsford, 1927.

A Curious Friendship is part dual biography, part social history, part study of the circles within which Olivier and Whistler moved, charting the ebb and flow of their relationship and their interconnected histories.

View of Daye House with Edith Olivier, Standing on the Lawn by Rex Whistler.

I was drawn to the tome (with its handsome pink and gold dust jacket) because I'm a big fan of Whistler's work, and getting to know his story has been utterly fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the description of Whistler's first impression of Stephen Tennant: 'a slender figure with extraordinary beauty, like a more delicate Shelley'. The boys shared a love of fairy tales, mythology and legends containing magic spells, as well as the romance of the English countryside. Oh how I wish I could travel back in time and discuss Pagan rituals and poetry with those two.

Rex photographed by Cecil Beaton on the rocks at Cap Ferrat, 1927.

Only halfway through, so back in I must dive! Do pick up a copy!

Monday, 25 May 2015

beaches, flowers, afternoon naps

We spent last weekend on the north Norfolk coast, staying with twenty or so friends in a charming house a few miles from the sea. We were celebrating a good friend's 30th Birthday and had come for three days of parties and dinners and blustery beach walks. Friday night was a little wild - kimonos, glitter canons, disco ball helmets and painted faces were all involved. Several new cocktails were invented before dawn broke. Earlier in the day I came across these ornaments in a tiny sitting room which didn't really end up getting used, but was actually the nicest room in the house.

D. cooked eggs and bacon for the masses on Saturday morning, saviour that he is, and afterwards we travelled in convoy to Holkham beach. We visited Holkham for the first time a few years ago, and it was good to be back. There really isn't anywhere else like it. I love the way you have to walk through tall trees to get to the beach and when you emerge from the shady pathway, you're faced with a breathtaking expanse of white sand and sky. Most of us set up camp for the afternoon in the sheltered sand dunes, but the braver ones of the group headed straight for the sea. Not me however - I love to hear the roar of the sea, and I like to look at it very much, but I do not like to be in it. What we hadn't realised was that the tide had started creeping in, and very quickly. To get back to our cars we had to wade through a river of waist-height seawater, carrying small dogs and shoes and empty bottles of wine. Too funny.

On Sunday the group split - some of us went for a long lunch and some of us spent the day fishing for crabs from a harbour wall. Later on we played games, lounged on the lawns and explored the gardens. That night we cooked vats of crab linguine (using bought crabs, not caught crabs) and toasted our friend's Birthday by candlelight.

D. and I popped along to the Chelsea Flower Show last Thursday evening. I'd been meaning to visit for years. A slightly strange affair, but also very pleasing. The weather was excellent - patches of the gardens glowed in dappled, golden light. I liked the incredible display of daffodils the most, I think. Bright yellows, soft oranges, milky pinks. And such wonderful names! Pink Pageant! Prom Dance! Ice Wings!

I very much enjoyed the Laurent-Perrier Chatsworth Garden created by Dan Pearson. Intended to capture the essence of Chatsworth, the garden's design drew on influences from the estate's 19th century ornamental trout stream and rockery. Pretty stunning, don't you think?

This afternoon we returned from Edinburgh. A flying weekend visit to catch up with D.'s family. A few lunches, a few early nights. Eurovision, of course. Afternoon naps. That vintage clothing shop that I always like to make a trip to. The excellent Lee Miller and Picasso exhibition at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery, which made me dream about having a studio in the south of France as an old man - white walls and plants everywhere, the scent of the sea and fields of flowers. Paintings and drawings scattered on terracotta tiled floors...

To end with, a snapshot view from the train, somewhere around the English border. Like a faded postcard from the 1970s.

Monday, 11 May 2015

i am listening to...

Brandon Flowers will release his new album The Desired Effect on 18th May. I'm really enjoying all of the songs I've heard from the record so far, I Can Change in particular, which features a sample of Bronski Beat's 80s classic Smalltown Boy and spoken words from Neil Tennant (Pet Shop Boys) to boot. It's completely excellent.

Tuesday, 5 May 2015

a postcard from cornwall

A couple of Saturdays ago we caught a very early train west to deepest Cornwall. D.'s sister Carolyn, who lives just down the road from St Ives, was turning 40 and we'd come to celebrate with her. After a six hour journey (we slept most of the way) and a restorative lunch of roast chicken at Carolyn's, we drove to Godrevy and walked along its rugged cliffs in the rain.

I've been listening to a pretty rare song about Godrevy by Patrick Wolf for years and years (take a listen - it's one of my favourite Wolf songs), but funnily enough I never knew where it was. Imagine my surprise! It was delightful to be able to connect a song I love to the place that inspired it.

Across the bay the white octagonal tower of Godrevy Lighthouse glistened against the grey clouds and murky sea. The lighthouse is said to have inspired Virginia Woolf to write To the Lighthouse, although she located her lighthouse in the Hebrides. We drove back to Carolyn's, well and truly soaked to the skin, and slept for a while. Saturday night saw us and a group of locals staying up late to celebrate the big Birthday. It was lots of fun.

By Sunday morning the clouds had disappeared, so with sore heads and bacon sandwiches, we headed over to St Ives. First of all D. and I went to check out the Barbara Hepworth Museum and Sculpture Garden. I'd been wanting to visit for quite some time and it didn't disappoint. Hepworth first came to live in Cornwall with her husband Ben Nicholson and their young family at the outbreak of war in 1939. She lived and worked in Trewyn studios – now the Barbara Hepworth Museum – from 1949 until her death in 1975.

'Finding Trewyn Studio was a sort of magic', wrote Barbara Hepworth. 'Here was a studio, a yard and garden where I could work in open air and space.' Sculptures in bronze, stone and wood are on display in the museum and garden, along with paintings, drawings and archive material. It's a really special place - from the garden you can look out through the plants, across the roofs of St Ives and spot the sea sparkling in the distance. I felt so calm there.

Afterwards we had lunch at the very good Porthminster Beach Cafe. We ate oysters and squid and drank rosé from carafes and for the first time this year it felt like summer might be on its way...

Look at that. Ignore the clouds and it's practically the Caribbean. Before long however we were back on a train, bound for London. One night in Cornwall - it was perfect and I can't wait to return.

Saturday, 11 April 2015

venice for easter

Easter! We had lunch last Friday at Barrafina's new(ish) outpost on Adelaide Street in Covent Garden. I love the Soho branch, which opened in 2007, and have been meaning to try out the Hart Brothers' new place for a while. We ate crab croquetas and pan con tomate and tortilla and drank at least a few glasses of Cava. My favourite dish was a salad of chicory and anchovies, served with Salmorejo (an Andalusian purée of tomato and bread). Afterwards we wondered over to the British Museum to check out the Defining beauty: the body in ancient Greek art exhibition, which was quite brilliant. The show brings together around 150 items, mainly sculpture. Some are beautiful originals from Ancient Greek times, others are marble or bronze copies from Roman times or the modern era. I loved the bronze athlete on loan from Croatia the most, which was recovered from the Adriatic Sea just a couple of decades ago.

We'd planned to spend the rest of the long weekend visiting D.'s family in Edinburgh, but in the end we decided to pay a trip to one of our favourite places, Venice. A last minute change of plan. Friday evening was spent at my parents' house in Hampshire, on Saturday morning we flew and by midday we were making the journey across the lagoon to San Marco.

We'd booked into the Metropole for two nights, mainly because we'd noticed and fallen in love with the hotel's exterior the last time we were in the city. So Wes Anderson, wouldn't you agree? We checked in and went for a long lunch (prawns and polenta, pasta with duck ragu), and then for a wander. We spent most of the weekend wandering with no particular idea of where we were heading for. We'd shoot into a church or a bookshop, stop off for a slice of pizza, buy a gelato, get lost in a maze of side streets. All of the things you want to do in Venice.

Cool blue marble columns make up the exterior of the Doge's Palace. Sublime.

Pre-Saturday-night-supper spritzes and giant olives outside Florian. We had dinner at Corte Sconta, a renowned restaurant where they serve delicious seafood (swordfish carpaccio was a highlight) and great pasta. We slept well that night.

Unfortuantely, what with it being Easter Sunday, quite a few of the museums and palazzos we were hoping to visit were closed, so we decided instead to go for an early lunch on the Grand Canal. It was perfect - crisp pink tablecloths, dazzling light. I ate pumpkin flowers stuffed with ricotta and more pasta. Spaghetti, I believe. I never go for a main course in Italy, just a starter, pasta and perhaps a pudding... I mean that usually tends to do for lunch...

We spent the afternoon exploring Ca' Rezzonico, a museum dedicated to 18th-century Venice. I fell in love with these incredible chandeliers.

A brilliant palazzo! Ideal proportions and the perfect shade of pistachio green. Heaven. After a quick nap and a Bellini or two at Harry's Bar, we went for supper at Al Covo, a restaurant which is apparently 'very much on the international gourmet map', but which we stumbled upon totally by accident. I'm glad we did, because the owners (Cesare Benelli and his American wife Diane) were fantastic. I ate more stuffed flowers (courgette this time) and excellent fritto misto.

We took a boat to Murano on Monday morning. We saw a quick demonstration of a guy making a vase, which was fun. I'm really feeling Murano glass. I'd do anything for one of those enormous, ridiculous, pink glass chandeliers - the ones that look as if they've been crafted from sugar. So chic.

We zoomed around the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and then guess what? It was time for lunch. Spectacular reflections of the sun on the water plus beautiful pink flowers.

Afterwards we paid a visit to the recently opened Rousseau exhibition at the Doge's Palace. Highly recommended. This was my favourite painting in the whole show.

Before long it was time to head back across the lagoon. Thinking back now, the whole trip feels a bit like a mirage. Two nights and a few days of hazy Italian beauty.