Wonderings In The Northwest Bulgarian Town Of Vidin

The Bulgarian town of Vidin is located in the northwest corner of the country on the border with Romania. Separating the two countries is the river Danube and a modern bridge. Vidin is an overlooked town, which not many people visit. In fact, during my stay I didn’t encounter a single tourist. Entering the town from the train station one is not immediately taken by the town. But spend a day on foot exploring what this town has to offer and one starts to view it in a whole new light. It’s jewels don’t immediately reveal themselves and require a dose of curiosity.

Arriving in Vidin was my first taste of Bulgaria. Unlike Romanian, Bulgarian is not a roman language, but a Slavic one using the Cyrillic alphabet. Fortunately I can decode most of the alphabet even if I can’t speak a word of Bulgarian. I also learn that the Cyrillic alphabet is a derivative of the Glagolitic alphabet founded in the AD 850s by the Saints Cyril and Methodius and then later introduced in AD 886 by the Bulgarian Empire. Today the Cyrillic alphabet is used in many Slavic countries including Russia, Serbia, the Ukraine, Macedonia and even in Mongolia, which is a non Slavic country.

After locating a place in the town to change my remaining Romanian Lei into Bulgarian Lev, I focus on finding the address of my accommodation with the help of the Google Maps app on my phone. I am glad I didn’t take a taxi. Not only is my accommodation located not so far away, through walking the distance to it, I develop a feel for where I am.

My accommodation is situated in an old grey Communist-era low rise building. Inside the building, it’s less austere. On the level where the flat is located there are several plants on the balcony. Plants never fail to lift one’s spirits. The hosts, a middle age Bulgarian couple, are very warm with big hearts. Their flat is homely and aesthetically tasteful. Its light and warm. My bedroom I discover is very spacious and I have a double bed. It is perfect. I am offered Bulgarian tea. Ten minutes later Krasi one of my hosts returns carrying a vintage traditional blue tray containing a cup of tea, a pot of sugar and a separate plate with a generous wedge of homemade milk cake. It is awfully good and I feel very touched to be at the receiving end of such generous hospitality.

IMG_20181105_124110620-1560x2080

Bulgarian hospitality

I’ve been up since 5.45am this morning and the temptation is very strong to go back to bed. But I want to seize the remainder of the day. After an interval of time spent in my room having my tea and trying too warm myself up, I leave my room to hit the streets of Vidin. Most of my neighbourhood is full of brutal boxy communist era flats. One could maybe be in a non descript middle Russia suburb. Yet with a smattering of more vintage architecture with an Ottoman tinge. Some of those older buildings look neglected. Vidin is not a wealthy town and is one of the poorer parts of the country yet it also has one of the richest and oldest histories.

IMG_20181106_115327499-1560x2080

Residential housing block on the outskirts of town

 

img_20181105_121404540-1560x2080.jpg

Crumbling Ottoman style architecture 

Back in the centre of town close to the train station, I aimlessly wonder the streets not venturing further than  and find a place to have some late lunch. I spot a canteen type diner with several different trays of local savoury and sweet dishes. I opt for the moussaka with a side of fried potatoes and another milk based cake for desert. After eating my food, I leave the restaurant and wonder some more before calling it a day and returning to my accommodation.

IMG_20181105_153321093-1560x2080

St. Dimitar monastery in the centre of town

 

IMG_20181106_125252317_HDR-1560x2080

In the centre of town with the Vidin Radio tower in the background

The next day is when things start to get cooking for me in this town. I walk back to the town centre and head for the old town district of Kaleto where the medieval Baba Vida fortress is located. Its the best preserved medieval fortress in Bulgaria. I approach the old town from an old walled entrance dating back to the times of the Ottoman Empire.

IMG_20181106_125110295-1560x2080

The entrance to the old town 

One of the most distinct and unusual landmarks in the old town is a derelict and abandoned synagogue. The synagogue was built in 1894 and for a time was Bulgaria’s second largest synagogue. Vidin had a thriving Jewish community for five decades since the 15th century with the arrival of the first Jews from Spain. Most of the town’s Jewish population emigrated to Israel after the Second World War. There were plans to restore the synagogue back to its former glory during the 1970s and a decade later work was in fact carried out, but it was abruptly cut short with the fall of the Communist regime at the end of that decade.

IMG_20181106_131557658_HDR-2080x1560

The abandoned Vidin synagogue 

Nearby the synagogue is a tall monument overlooking the river Danube. The so called ‘Monument of Freedom’ was built during the Communist regime. It is a structure in the Brutalist architecture genre and a relic from the Communist era of Bulgaria’s history.

IMG_20181106_145719860-1560x2080

‘Monument Of Freedom’

What is amazing though is the view of the river Danube, the second longest river in Europe after the river Volga in Russia. The river covers most of the border between Bulgaria and Romania, before discharging itself into the Black Sea in northern Romania close to the Ukrainian border. On a clearer day one can fully see the bridge in the distance connecting Bulgaria and Romania.

IMG_20181106_135449282-2080x1560

The river Danube separating Bulgaria and Romania

Only a short walk away is the town’s main landmark, the Baba Vida fortress, which literally translates to ‘Grandmother Vida’. The fortress dates back to the 10th century and was contracted on top of the site of an old Roman landmark called Bononia. The origins of the castle is based on a legend focused on a Bulgarian King and ruler of Vidin who had three daughters; Vida, Kula and Gamza. Before he died he divided his kingdom between his three daughters. His eldest daughter, Vida, was given the town of Vidin of whom the town is named after. And it is in this town that she built this fortress, where she lived unmarried and insolation. The fortress, Grandmother Vida, is named after her.

IMG_20181106_143952710-2080x1560

Baba Vida fortress

Throughout the town’s history the fortress has served as an important strategic base. During the 500 year long Ottoman rule of Bulgaria, the fortress was used as a prison and a base to store weapons. It is an impressive structure and little changed since its foundation. I spend some time walking around the complex and climbing one of the narrow stone staircases to reach the top level. At one point I almost lost my balance on the steps. There are not many protection railings as it isn’t designed for mass tourism. As a result one needs to be on their guard when inside.

IMG_20181106_135359551-2080x1560

At the top of the fortress

Other sites in the old town include the Krastata Kazarma museum, built in the classic Ottoman style. It was a military barrack during the Ottoman rule. Today it is the town’s ethnographic museum.

IMG_20181106_152528115-2080x1560

Krastata Kazarma museum 

Else where in the old town is a mosque named after Osman Pazvantoğlu. Osman was an Ottoman soldier who was the governor of Vidin in the late 18th century. There is also a library in town named after him. Very near the mosque is an orthodox church named after St Panteleymon.

IMG_20181106_161051502_HDR-1560x2080

The Osman Pazvantoğlu Mosque

 

img_20181106_160655497-1560x2080.jpg

St Panteleymon orthodox church

On the edge of the old town by the Danube, is the Nikola Petrov art gallery. Petrov was a Bulgarian painter born in Vidin in 1881. Sadly his life was cut short by tuberculosis and he died at the age of just 35. The gallery has many of his works in its collection. However when I visited only a few paintings in one room were on display.  One small painting by Petrov on display is his painting of the Baba Vida fortress.

IMG_20181106_154337895-1248x1087

Nikola Petrov painting of Baba Vida fortress

Two other paintings on display that catch my eye are a painting by Ivan Ivanov of the mosque in the old town of Vidin from 1938 and another painting by Stoyan Venev from 1960 featuring a mother and her child at the shore of the Danube by the entrance to the Baba Vida fortress

IMG_20181106_153959805-1560x1256

Ivan Ivanov’s painting of the Osman Pazvantoğlu Mosque from 1938

 

IMG_20181106_154243625-1560x1451

Painting from 1960 by Stoyan Venev located by the entrance to the Baba Vida fortress

After visiting the art gallery, I take a walk along the banks of the river Danube. During my walk I cross paths with two young men. One of them is very drunk and proceeds to give me a slurred a rambled discourse of the history of Vidin in broken English. His friends asks me, ‘What the fuck are you doing in Vidin, man?’. He then adds that he spent three years living in Derby. He looks at his friend already halfway through his drunken impromptu history lesson and says, ‘Just ignore my friend. He’s crazy. He doesn’t know what the fuck he’s talking about’. I wish them both goodbye and good luck and I head back to my accommodation on the outskirts of Vidin.

 

By Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved 

 

Architecture Through The Ages In Budapest

The capital city of Hungary is a delightful city to wonder around. As with my wonderings around the capital cities of various Balkan capitals such as Zagreb, Sarajevo and Belgrade last year, in Budapest there are a wealth of buildings of different architectural styles. Most prominent though are the buildings dating back to the times of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire. Those are grand old buildings with fabulously opulent adornments. It’s even more satisfying to discover some of those buildings in splendid dilapidation. That’s the difference between Budapest and its nearby cousin Vienna. Vienna has an abundance of lovely buildings, but almost all are periodically maintained and saved from slipping into ruin. In Budapest its not an uncommon site to see many buildings from that time period fallen on hard times; like a beautiful woman (or man) succumbing to ferocious ageing and too broke to afford a face lift. What money there used to be squandered long ago.

The buildings featured are magnificent Habsburg Empire era structures sometimes abruptly juxtaposed next to brutal and more austere Communist era buildings. Even some Ottoman/Eastern styled buildings. After all Hungary was ruled for 150 years by the Ottoman Empire. A lot of Neo Classical architecture can also be found. Sometimes these Ancient Greece influences are blended into more severe Art Deco architecture. Most of the time I know nothing about the buildings I come into contact with. I am simply just curious about their aesthetic qualities. Its all a fascinating melting pot of different styles. The pictures below, which I took on my wonderings, are evidence of this.

 

IMG_20181023_130425556_HDR-1560x2080IMG_20181023_155447682-1560x2080IMG_20181023_133756602-1560x2080IMG_20181023_130510824-1560x2080IMG_20181023_160150262_HDR-1560x2080IMG_20181023_153303283-1560x2080IMG_20181023_160816011_HDR-1560x2080IMG_20181023_153506184-1560x2080IMG_20181023_155604211-1560x2080IMG_20181023_155818937_HDR-1560x2080IMG_20181023_161647791-1560x2080IMG_20181023_132831633_HDR-1560x2080IMG_20181023_161400815-1560x2080IMG_20181023_162317228-1560x2080IMG_20181023_132523602-1560x2080IMG_20181023_155238603-1560x2080IMG_20181023_155542814_HDR-1560x2080IMG_20181023_155946754-1560x2080IMG_20181023_132859598-1560x2080IMG_20181023_133252968_HDR-1560x2080IMG_20181023_154958241-1560x2080IMG_20181023_173841338-1560x2080IMG_20181023_132751756_HDR-1560x2080IMG_20181023_155411568-1560x2080IMG_20181023_153214176_BURST001-1560x2080IMG_20181023_154319778-1560x2080IMG_20181023_160016349_HDR-1560x2080

 

Photographs and text by Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved 

A Self-Guided Walking Tour Through Manchester’s Musical History

Manchester skyline

A lot of the music I regularly used to listen to in my younger years came from the city of Manchester. Joy Division, New Order, The Fall, The Buzzcocks, The Smiths, The Stone Roses, The Happy Mondays and Oasis all hail from this city. I would need a good few weeks to navigate the entire musical map of Manchester, but since I only had a day for this, I had to be selective.

From my modest Air BnB lodging, located in the district of Higher Broughton in the north of the city, I take a city bus towards Strangeways prison. You may think what on earth does a prison have to do with Manchester’s music scene? It was however referenced in the final album by The Smiths, Strangeways Here We Come. Located in an industrial and non-descript part of the city, the entrance to Strangeways is an architectural gem. There are not many people passing by on this early morning and I don’t feel the urge for some unfortunate to take my picture next to the gates. I am glad I didn’t.

 

IMG_20181010_095103643_HDR-1560x2080

The entrance to Strangeways prison

 

From Strangeways I walk towards the Arndale Shopping Centre in the centre of the city. I was hoping that today would be an overcast day to set the scene for the places I’d be visiting, but there’s sadly not a cloud in sight. I am truly disappointed. After purchasing a sandwich at Sainsbury’s Local, I board the city tram for Deansgate located on the southern edge of the city centre.

Close to Deansgate station I only have to walk a short distance until I am face to face with the site of the legendary Hacienda nightclub. During those heady ‘Madchester’ days during the late 1980s and early 1990s, the Hacienda was well and truly bopping with a big enough supply of ecstasy doing the rounds to fill a good few Olympic swimming pools. Today the site of the club is now home to a block of luxury apartments.

 

IMG_20181010_111709467-1560x2080

By the site of the Hacienda nightclub 

 

A brief history of the Hacienda and its origins. The club was originally established by the founder of Factory Records, Tony Wilson, in the early 1980s. Factory Records played a central role in Manchester’s music scene since the late 1970s signing Joy Division (and subsequently New Order), the Happy Mondays and many other local bands. As instrumental as the label was to the local music scene, it was also victim to a streak of tremendous bad luck in failing to sign some of the city’s most successful talent. It came very close to signing The Smiths (yet Wilson doubted Morrissey’s potential and ability to be a pop star and encouraged him to be a novelist instead), missed the boat with The Stone Roses, and, allegedly, turned down Oasis. Much of the funds for the establishment and running of the Hacienda came directly from New Order’s royalties. The Happy Mondays, despite their commercial success, contributed towards the financial downfall and bankruptcy of Factory Records in the early 1990s. Yet it was very much the irresponsibility of Tony Wilson to give the band upfront an advance of almost £1m in cash to record their final album in Barbados in 1992. Most of the money went up, literally, in crack smoke and very little towards the actual recording of the album. The Hacienda plodded on for a few more years before shutting its doors permanently. Yet in it’s heyday during the late 1980s it was the place to be and the coolest club not just in the city of Manchester but across the whole country if not the world.

Also close to Deansgate station is the original site of the Broadwalk, which was a small live music venue in the city. For me it will be forever associated with the place where Oasis played their first live gig in 1991. Back then Noel Gallagher was a roadie for the Oldham band The Inspiral Carpets. It was only when he joined the band a year later in 1992, establishing himself as the main songwriter and driving force, that Oasis began to develop. In 1993, Oasis played a brief set at the King Tuts Wah Wah club in Glasgow, where Creation records founder Alan McGee spotted the band and signed them to his record label. The rest is over documented music history.

 

IMG_20181010_113009511_HDR-1560x2080

Site of the Broadwalk music venue where Oasis played their first ever gig in 1991

 

From Deansgate I catch a bus out of the city centre to Salford. I must add that Google maps has been of great assistance in helping me navigate this city, finding the right buses and trams and, more importantly, saving me a good deal of time. After a few stops on the bus, I disembark off a busy dual carriageway close to a large Sainsbury’s supermarket. I desperately need to pee. I resist the temptation to do it near a bush close to a housing estate and duly cross the dual carriageway making a dash for the toilets inside Sainsbury’s. Returning to the bus stop, I walk a few blocks through a series of quiet residential streets until I encounter the iconic redbrick building of The Salford Lads Club. It was of course here where The Smiths posed for that infamous photo featured inside their seminal The Queen Is Dead album. I find a passer-by to take a photograph of me by this legendary site.

 

IMG_20181010_121319649-1560x2080

By the iconic Salford Lads Club; a place forever associated with The Smiths 

 

THe smiths SLC

The Smiths at that same location 

 

A couple of blocks away is a bus stop with a direct bus to the district of Stretford. The Old Trafford, the location of Manchester United football club, is located over there, yet it isn’t football I’ve come for. Stretford is where a young Stephen Patrick Morrissey once lived before finding fame as the lead singer and lyricist of The Smiths. From the bus stop where I disembark, it is a 15 minute walk to reach his house located on Kings Road. When I approach the junction with Kings Road, there is a cheap takeaway joint serving kebabs, pizza and fried chicken. The childhood home of the one of the most celebrated vegans on the planet is about a two-minute walk away. I am mighty hungry, but I resist the urge to purchase a ‘donar wrap’ en-route to Chez Moz.

Kings Road is one wide empty street full of predominantly semi-detached suburban houses. I soon arrive at number 384. In one of the small top floor rooms of this house, an adolescent Morrissey would be furiously typing verse on his typewriter, reading Oscar Wilde and listening to The New York Dolls, Sparks, Sandie Shaw and other acts beloved by him. Oh, and the curtains would be forever closed. Morrissey often dreamt of stardom regardless of how remote the chances seemed to be for a cripplingly shy young man from greater Manchester. In fact, although Morrissey mixed with the local music scene of the city during the late 1970s and early 1980s, the consensus around that time was that he was the least likely person to make it as a pop star from that scene. And any such notion was immediately ridiculed. He was best known as the village idiot. Steve The Nutter. Bad judgement. The rise of Morrissey into one of the most iconic and influential pop stars of all time is one of the greatest black swan events ever to occur in the history of popular music. Nobody saw it coming.

 

IMG_20181010_132802003_BURST002-1560x2080

At 348 Kings Road in the Manchester district of Stretford; The home of an adolescent Morrissey

 

young morrissey

A photograph of an adolescent pre-quiffed Morrissey taken during the late 1970s

 

morrissey flowers

In the 1980s as lead singer of The Smiths

 

It was at this very address that, one day in 1982, a young guitarist by the name of John Maher (later better known as Johnny Marr), rang the doorbell to enquire as to whether Stephen would be interested in being the singer for a new band he was trying to put together. Morrissey could’ve easily just told the boy to go away, but thankfully he didn’t as this encounter would eventually change his life, propelling him from the bedroom to global stardom.

Leaving 384 Kings Road, I walk for some time towards the nearest tram metro stop, from where I board a tram all the way to the southern Manchester district of Didsbury Village. Didsbury Village is a well-heeled part of the city reminiscent perhaps of Hampstead or Muswell Hill in North London. I take a break here and order some lunch. There are some great charity shops in this neck of the woods too. Didsbury Village is the springboard for the less well-heeled district of Burnage, where the home of a young Liam and Noel Gallagher is located.

Walking away from Didsbury Village and past Burnage train station, I soon locate Sifters record shop. This is the place where Liam, Noel and their older brother Paul used to buy (or maybe, dare I say, pilfer?) their records. It is also namechecked in the early 1994 Oasis single Shakermaker in the line, ‘Mr Sifter sold me songs when I was just fifteen’. Unfortunately, the shutter is down. I read that today it was supposed to close at 5pm yet its currently only after 3pm. Perhaps Mr Sifter wanted a day off? Nevertheless, I get a young tattooed lad on his bike to take a picture of me by the shop.

 

IMG_20181010_161521485_HDR-1560x2080

By Sifters Records in Burnage; a popular haunt of the Gallagher brothers

 

Now I commence the final part of the tour towards the home of the Gallagher boys. Burnage is a rather sedate part of the city. Nothing much goes down here. Yet its in no way the craphouse that perhaps Noel makes it out to be. The only other landmark I remember is some large Chinese restaurant whose name I can’t recall. Past the busy Kingsway dual carriageway I carry on towards Burnage Lane before arriving at Cranwell Drive where their old home is located. It’s a modest nondescript semi and that is all.

 

IMG_20181010_162838253_HDR-1560x2080

The home of a young Liam and Noel Gallagher

 

oasis gallagher brothers growing up

Early photo of the Gallagher brothers (Noel, Paul and Liam) with their mother Peggy

 

Noel-Gallagher-Liam-Gallagher-pic 1

Photo of Liam and Noel taken sometime in the 1990s 

 

Many years ago, I read their brother Paul’s book on their upbringing and it was a pretty shocking read. Their father Tommy was a violent man who used to beat Paul and Noel regularly as well as their mother Peggy. Thankfully, sometime around the early 1980s, the local council were able to move their mother and the boys to another house and this is the house. I believe their mother still lives there, but I could be wrong. As with Morrissey’s childhood home, I refrain from knocking the door out of respect for the privacy of the current residents as tempting as it may have been.

I have no desire to linger longer in Burnage so I catch a bus on the Kingsway road back to central Manchester for a well-deserved pint.

 

By Nicholas Peart

©All Rights Reserved

SEE NAPLES AND DIE: Wanderings In Italy’s Most Colourful City

naples-1842509_1280

I’d been looking forward to re-visiting the city of Naples for a long time. The last time I was there was very briefly with my family almost 20 years ago in the late 1990s on the way to the Amalfi coast. The thing that I remember most from that trip was not the beautifully pristine holiday brochure perfect Amalfi coast itself. Rather what I remember most vividly from that trip was Naples train station and the streets surrounding it. Seedy, dishevelled, dirty, loud and downright dicey are some of the adjectives that spring to my mind when I look back on it now. I remember walking through the station and trying to break away from my family to read a guitar magazine on one of the vendor stands. My dad immediately pulled me back towards the family and gave me a stern look as if to say, ‘Don’t even think about wondering around here by yourself’. For my parents were on a mission to get the hell out of this station as fast as it was humanly possible like trying to escape from a building about to collapse.

From the holy Umbrian town of Assisi located in the very heart of Italy, I board a discount Flixbus, which via Rome will take me to Napoli. Six hours later I arrive in the bus station. We approach the bus terminal along a road going through a neglected part of the city. The buildings are dilapidated and lathed with aggressive graffiti. Hardly anybody is walking the streets. When I exit the bus, I make my way towards Garibaldi metro station bypassing the train station. On my way to the metro line I walk through a modern shopping mall. My initial impressions this time of the area are more sanguine as much of the filth and grime I witnessed at the train station all those years ago appears surprisingly absent. I am quite disappointed.

I take the metro to Toledo station. When I exit the station onto Via Toledo I arrive on a busy pedestrian thoroughfare. My accommodation is located a few streets away from the station. From Via Toledo I walk through one of the adjacent side streets. This area is also known as the Spanish Quarter. I haven’t been to this part of the city before. The side streets I trudge off the main boulevard is like walking through a tightly connected open neighbourhood where everybody appears to knows one another. Tall crumbling buildings. Endless washing lines. Cheap hole-in-the-wall pizzerias. Buzzing scooters. Madonna and Bambini shrines. People laughing. People shouting. People arguing. What more could I want? This is my place. I am in heaven here.

IMG_20180408_153826571

My temporary neighbourhood in the heart of the Spanish Quarter

My accommodation is located in one of those buildings on the first floor. My room is humongous. It could almost count for a studio flat with a tiny balcony overlooking one of the narrow streets. I rest for a while but soon develop impatient feet and an uncontrollable urge to dive head first into this unruly soup enfolding me. The Spanish Quarter of Naples is like a PG certificate Parharganj retaining all the positive attributes of Delhi’s notorious tourist ghetto district. Thankfully the air quality is better here and there are no aggressive hawkers relentlessly on my trail. When I venture back out I hit a nearby pizzeria and order a margherita pizza to take away for only 3 euros. It is cooked in an enormous dome shaped stone oven. On the counter there is a photograph of Diego Maradona. I already like this place.

IMG_20180408_192331775

My local pizzeria where a traditional Margharita pizza done Napoli style will only set you back a few euros

A few minutes later my pizza is bunged into a takeaway box served to me piping hot. I walk with it back onto via Toledo and try to find somewhere to sit down. I spot a side street with a row of granite seats. Unfortunately, its occupied by shifty looking folk so I keep searching. Finally, on Piazza della Carita I find a spot to sit down. I fold my pizza in half before I munch away at it. The taste is different to other pizzas I’ve eaten across Italy. I notice that the dough is chewier. The ingredients also taste fresher and the basil topping is the cherry on the Napoli cake. I wolf it down like an uncouth savage. If I were eating this thing on one of the park benches by the Houses of Parliament I would have most certainly got some funny looks. But here in downtown Napoli nobody gives a toss.

IMG_20180412_185209970

Piazza della Carita off Via Toledo 

Being a Sunday the Via Toledo is full of local families and couples wondering on their evening passegiatta. I walk past an old Baroque church where a gaggle of Bukowski bums are strewn across the steps. Close to the piazza is a small open-air market selling everything from candies and literature classics in Italian to handbags, purses and religious paraphernalia. Further down the via Toledo a vender is selling plastic swords which glow in multi colours. Towards the end of the street there is a large opulent neo-classical style shopping mall called Galeria Umberto. Its very similar to Leadenhall market in the City of London. All the time, I see and hear scooters and motorbikes on every street I walk down whether it’s a main boulevard or some dingy narrow alleyway. The last time I encountered as many scooters and motorbikes was when I was in Hanoi five years ago.

IMG_20180408_191031539

Via Toledo

On the way back to my guesthouse I search for a small alimentari to buy a large bottle of water. I have little success. Whenever I do find a place that’s open its either an ice cream parlour or tourist eatery, which sells small bottles of water for about two euros a pop. I finally get rewarded down a small alleyway corner close to my guesthouse. There in a small Bangladeshi owned grocery shop where I locate a large two litre bottle of water for just one euro.

The next day I head over to Toledo metro station to take a train over to Garibaldi where the central train station of Napoli is located. I wanted to relive my experience from 20 years ago. When I arrive at the station its almost unrecognisable to the one I have those flashbacks of all those years ago. I am surprised to discover a rather modern and funky contemporary looking station redesigned by some hip architect du jour. And with security camaras! Wow!! And there was me thinking I was going to get a taste of Caracas. Even the main piazza Garibaldi outside has some trendy structure around it to make it look all modern and up with the times. I am kind of reminded of the old port area of Marseille which has a modern and hip structure to clean up the rough and tumble image of the city. But you can only fool people so much. Head down any of the narrow streets directly adjacent to it and it’s the same as it ever was. And, fortunately, this is true for Napoli. I head down one of these streets and in almost no time I arrive at a run-down piazza where there’s a small unkempt market of African vendors selling unfolded rags of second-hand clothes. What I was hoping to find is finally here. It’s thankfully midday. At night I would think twice about walking around this part of town. Even the wayward wonderer that is I has at least a modicum of common sense.

IMG_20180409_104628512

Market stalls near Piazza Garibaldi

By this rough and tumble piazza, there is a small castle like façade marking the gateway to the Quartiere Pendino. This part of the city is arguably the most busted and down at heel. Yet it’s a tantalising area to explore. I develop mental images of the La Goute d’Or district in Paris nestled within the triangle of Barbes Rouchechouart, Chateau Rouge and La Chapelle metro stations.

IMG_20180409_105345970IMG_20180409_105509324IMG_20180409_105813023IMG_20180409_105824665

Photos from the Quartiere Pendino

As well as people from different parts of Africa there’s a huge south Asian community. I spot a handful of Napoli Indian Bangla eateries. There are many outside fruit and vegetable vendors where a kilo of lemons or tomatoes can be picked up at rock bottom prices. Yet it’s the site of the seafood vendors that tickle my imagination. It is raw sight with no refined presentation. Freshly caught seafood – bosh – in white plastic water filled containers or on large crushed ice slopes ready to be bought. Here one could be mistaken for being in one of the gritty streets of Victorian London or Canaletto era Venice. Sacks of muscles, clams and mountains of prawns and mini squids are all waiting for overworked chefs to transform into a sumptuous linguini alla vongole dish.

IMG_20180409_110119949

A fish stall in the Quartiere Pendino

Leaving the Quartiere Pendino district en route towards Via Dei Tribunali in the centro historico district I spot a pizzeria and order a Capriccioso pizza – the full monty. It doesn’t disappoint, just like the pizza I had last night at my local in the Spanish quarter. Via Dei Tribanali is the heart of the historic centre of Naples. Its less off the beaten piste than Quartiere Pendino but it’s also a true slice of raw Napoli nonetheless. There are many old churches around here. My first stop here is the Quardreria e Cappella del Pio Monte della Misericordia.

IMG_20180409_135938225

On Via Dei Tribunali in the historic centre 

Inside the chapel at the main alter is an enormous oil painting by Caravaggio entitled Le Opere di Misericordia. There are also paintings by other Baroque era Italian artists such as Luca Giordano, Battistello and Fabrizio Santafede. Giordano’s Deposizione painting features Christ being….. Sadly it is difficult to fully scrutinize Caravaggio’s painting. It is located too far away and the electric light around it obscures parts of the painting.

IMG_20180409_130138008

Caravaggio (1571 – 1610) – Le Opera di Misericordia

The 7 euro entry fee is worth it though since the price also includes entry to a separate Pinacoteca art gallery on the grounds of the Pio Monte della Misericordia. There are several paintings on display by the 18th century Italian painter Francesco De Mura. He is a very skilled realist painter from the same tradition of Caravaggio who came before him. There is humanity and emotion exuding from his paintings, most notably his Cristo alla Colonna (1760) and San Paolo Eremita che adora la Croce (1760) paintings. Yet its not on the same visceral scale.

C.Fracanzano - Miracolo di un indemoniato

Cesare Fracanzano (1605-52) – Miracolo di in indemoniato

The 17th century Baroque painter Cesare Fracanzano’s Miracolo di un indemoniato painting gets closer to core of what made Caravaggio such a powerful painter of the human condition. In another corner of the pinacoteca are a number of donated works of art by a group of international contemporary artists. One of the leading figures of the Italian Arte Porvera movement, Jannis Kounellis, is featured as are two other important Italian artists of the Transavangardia movement of the late 70s/early 80s; Francesco Clemente and Sandro Chia. The 1970s conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth is in there as is the Austrian sculptor and conceptual artist Franz West. Anish Kapoor has a recent work from 2011 appearing on initial glance to be formed from bee’s wax or caramel but is most likely to be resin solution.

IMG_20180409_133015147

Francesco De Mura (1696 -1782) – Portrait from 1735

Back in the main area of the Pinacoteca, I find another painting by Francesco De Mura, which stops me in my tracks from 1735 of a portrait of a voluptuous female aristocrat. She radiates unhappiness, boredom and repression. There’s a feistiness inside of her which is wanting to explode, yet it will remain trapped. I think of the French painter Ingres’s Madame Moitessier portrait, which he made over a century later. Both exude a kind of Junoesque beauty and both look bored, yet Ingres’s subject appears less intense.

IMG_20180409_133325407

Jusepe de Ribera (1591 – 1652) – Portrait of St Antonio Abate 

A portrait of St Antonio Abate by the Baroque Spanish master Jusepe de Ribera is in the collection. The portrait has an acute Caravaggio style realism and humanism to it. The old man’s face, beard, eyes and left hand is painted unadulteratedly in all their detail. There are no embellishments or mannerisms. Caravaggio’s chiaroscuro technique is executed very skilfully too.

IMG_20180409_133523887

Giovanni Baglione – Sepoltura di Cristo

One of the highlights of the Pinacoteca’s collection come’s towards the end of my visit via a painting by Caravaggio contemporary Giovanni Baglione entitled Sepoltura di Cristo. In this painting Christ is painted in a seductive homo-erotic way. Muscular with toned olive skin, almost fully naked with an angelic face. A body and face so beautiful it’s impossible not to be moved by this painting. The people around him are full of sorrow too. It is a modern and human painting and the faces of the other figures look so contemporary they could be walking the streets this minute.

IMG_20180409_143048162

Piazza Bellini

Back on Via Dei Trubunali I walk towards Piazza Bellini. There are several vendors selling all kinds of miscellaneous knick-knacks and souvenirs. Lots of Diego Maradona related items. In Napoli he almost has the same status as the patron city saint himself San Genarro – more on him in a bit. In the 80s Maradona played for Napoli and so he has a special place in the city’s heart. At another stand I spot a column of toilet paper rolls with the faces of politicians on each sheet. The Italian politicians Berlusconi, Renzi, Salvino and De Maio make the cut as do Trump, May, Macron, Merkal, Putin and Kim Jong Un.

IMG_20180409_160630620

From one of the many of the souvenir stalls in the historic centre 

Piazza Bellini, located at the end of Via Dei Tribunali, features a statue of the 19th century Italian opera composer Vicenzo Bellini whom the piazza is named after. His statue is defaced with graffiti. By the piazza there are some vendors selling second-hand books. I spot several art books priced from just a euro yet all the text is in Italian. Nevertheless I locate a large series of A3 size booklets featuring large high quality colour photographs of works by different old master artists of the past. Corregio, Mantenga, Hugo Van der Goes, Parmagiano, Carpaccio and many more are here. Nearby I visit a couple of bric-a-brac shops selling random objects and artefacts such as figures of St Francis of Assisi, period cabinets, lamps and porcelain crockery. In one corner I spot a figure of an old saint or vagrant dressed in rags carrying a rusted metal tin.

IMG_20180409_143937561

In a small antiques/bric a brac shop by Piazza Bellini

Most of the walls of the city are covered in graffiti and political and propaganda posters. I spot one small poster with the following slogan, ‘Napoli Non Si Vende!’ (Napoli’s not for sale). I walk aimlessly along the graffitied streets of the San Giuseppe quarter in an almost delirious state.

IMG_20180409_150701945

Yours truly at Piazzeta Casanova near the historic centre 

When I do get off my cloud I make my way to Naples’ Duomo or main cathedral. It is an outstanding and impressive Gothic cathedral dating back to the early 13th century. Yet I’ve come to see the smaller basilica of Santa Restituta located adjacent to the main Duomo. It is also the oldest building in Naples dating back to 324 AD when it was constructed by Constantine. Inside there is a small baptistery with relics and mosaics going back to 5th century and early Christian times after Antiquity and the fall of the Roman Empire.

IMG_20180409_163725977

The Santa Restituta basilica – the oldest building in Naples dating back to 324 AD

 

IMG_20180409_163256107

Inside the baptistery of the Basilica containing mosaics and relics dating as far back as the 5th century AD 

When I return to the Duomo I enter the Royal Chapel of the Treasure of St Januarius or San Genarro, dedicated to the patron saint of Naples himself. He is somewhat of a legendary figure who died in 305 AD. When his body was transferred to the cathedral two glass vials containing his dried blood liquefied. They are kept in a silver reliquary behind the alter. This ‘miracle’ has continued to repeat itself at least three times a year (on the first Saturday in May and on September 19th and December 16th). The liquefaction during a special mass on those days. To many San Gennaro is viewed as the saviour and protector of Naples and if the blood doesn’t liquefy on those auspicious dates, then catastrophic events are supposed to besiege the city.

IMG_20180409_164624437

The Royal Chapel of the Treasure of San Genarro

The following day I walk to the end of Via Toledo on to Piazza Dante lined with an ornate, albeit crumbling, crescent of attractive Baroque era architecture as well as a prominent white statue of the great poet himself. It is a seedy area and by the statue there’s a banner advertising an organised demonstration of free health care for everyone.

IMG_20180409_171622754

Piazza Dante

I re-enter the historic centre of Naples simply meandering and walking dreamily along the main thoroughfares and side streets. On one of the streets in this part of town, Via San Gregorio Armeno, I feel like I am walking through a corner of the old medina of Fez in Morocco even if its just for a fleeting moment. In this part of town I visit the classically Baroque church San Gregorio Armeno, which contains frescos by the Neapolitan Baroque era artist Luca Giordano. Inside it is a truly luxurious church with ornate and opulent walls, arches and ceilings. The Giordano frescoes crown it all.

IMG_20180410_130604069_HDR

Via San Gregorio Armeno

 

IMG_20180410_112141812

The Baroque style San Gregorio Armeno church with frescoes by Luca Giordano

I walk away from the historic centre and onto Via Forcella. This is classic unkempt Napoli where one can find outdoor vendors selling groceries for a fraction of the cost of those at established supermarkets and alimentaris. The concentration of tourists from the area around the historic centre has declined here and all that can be found are local Neapolitans going about their daily life. As I wonder through this part of town I look for a cheap and authentic pizzeria. By chance I stumble upon L’Antica Pizzeria ‘Da Michele’.

IMG_20180410_113502978

Life goes on around Via Forcella 

Little did I know that this place is something of an institution and is heaving with locals and tourists who make the effort to get here. Originally established in 1870 this pizzeria specializes in one pizza and one pizza only; La Margherita. 4 euros will get you a ‘normal’ sized pizza. 4.50 a medium sized one and 5 a large one. The boys are hard at work at the back working like the most overworked Amazon worker on a hardcore treadmill. The difference here being that they live and breath the work. Its popularity means that this place is no secret and photographs adorn the walls of the proprietors with Italian politicians Matteo Renzi and Luigi De Maio as well as a photo of Julia Roberts eating at the establishment. I don’t fancy the long wait to eat inside so I order a pizza to go. I find a bench to sit nearby to it. Most of the pizza is covered in a thick film of olive oil. I let some of it drip onto the pavement so it doesn’t get on my clothes. The pizza is heavenly. It is so delicate it melts in my mouth. Moreover, all the ingredients taste and feel fresh and not processed. The best margherita pizza I have ever had period.

IMG_20180410_115836037

Outside pizzeria ‘Da Michele’ – an institution in Naples

 

IMG_20180410_120916617

The best margherita pizza I have ever had 

I revisit the historic centre for an idle wonder and decide to walk towards Piazza Garibaldi. I walk along the main boulevard Corso Umberto I via Piazza Bovio and Piazza Nicola Amore. Continuing on from Piazza Nicola Amore and getting nearer to Piazza Garibaldi, I walk past the dinghy side streets I became familiar with from yesterday morning. The kind of streets where Caravaggio would be fighting and quarrelling with those who had the temerity to rub him up the wrong way. Jim Morrison chose to crash in Paris, but he would have felt in his place on those streets. As would have the great precocious French poet Arthur Rimbaud. Their hatred of stultified, vacuous petit bourgeois society would have made this place a paradise for them. There’s something of the Petit Socco district of Tangiers here. When I reach the central station of Naples I decide to purchase a ticket to the ancient Greek civilisation of Paestum for the next day.

I conclude my time in Napoli with a visit to two of the most well-known sites in the city, the Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte and the National Archaeological museum. Even if you have just a passing interest in art and art history through the ages, they both contain a very rich collection of important and landmark paintings, sculptures and artefacts. One of the highlights are the works from the Farnese Collection, especially the classical sculptures in the National Archaeological museum. The Capodimonte museum is located in a grand red stately home like building on the outskirts of the city centre in a park on top of a hill with some awesome vistas over the city. The building is in fact called the Palazzo Reale di Capodimonte, which was once the royal residence of the Bourbon King Charles III. It dates back to 1738 and is today home to one of the best collections of art in Italy. I walk all the way to the museum. It is a long walk but sometimes I like to take a long walk through a city to discover corners of unexpected delights and nuances. Even when I travel from one part of the city to another by public transport to reach my desired destinations, I often feel that I miss things on the way. The process of the journey is sometimes just as important as the destination itself.

IMG_20180412_125608545_HDR

The Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte

The Museo Nazionale di Capodimonte has a huge collection of Renaissance era paintings (including paintings by Simone Martini, Masaccio, Mantegna, Botticelli, Bellini, Correggio and Titian) as well as many paintings by Baroque and Napoli masters. Of those works, Artemisia Gentileschi’s Judith Slaying Holofernis (1612-13) and Caravaggio’s The Flagellation Of Christ are two distinct highlights.

Caravaggio_-_La_Flagellazione_di_Cristo

Caravaggio (1571 – 1610) – The Flagellation Of Christ

Caravaggio is well known for his brutal and gritty realism and knack for visceral and raw emotion in his work, but this painting is one of his strongest works if not his best. It’s a modern painting too. The two sinister and intimidating looking figures to the left and right of Jesus look like they could have been plucked from the set of The Football Factory.

Artemisia Gentileschi is unique for her time, since she was a female artist during an age when it was difficult to be accepted and validated. The Italian art historian Roberto Longhi called Gentileschi, ‘the only woman in Italy who ever knew about painting, coloring, drawing, and other fundamentals’. She was part of a generation of painters that came after Caravaggio and were inspired by his works. Her Judith Slaying Holofernis painting is disturbingly graphic and full of gore; the sword is halfway through Holofernis’s neck and the bed sheets are covered in blood. It’s realism and the chiaroscuro technique may be influenced by Caravaggio, yet not even Caravaggio’s most brutal paintings such as the ones featuring the severed heads of Goliath and John The Baptist reach this threshold of vivid violence.

a.gentileschi capodimonte

Artemisia Gentileschi (1593 – 1656) – Judith Slaying Holofernis (1612-13)

In this painting it is the woman who has the power over the man. Judith takes revenge on Holofernis for raping her. Today Holofernis could represent the disgraced Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein and Judith the sum of all the women accusing him of sexual assault. All their cathartic rage and pain is channelled and processed into the sword hacking away at the head of their tormentor. The museum also has a good selection of modern and contemporary art works. There’s a huge black relief installation by the Italian artist Alberto Burri as well as a room containing a work by Jannis Kounellis featuring an assortment of large terracotta vases. Elsewhere there are works by other important post WW2 Italian artists such as Giulio Paolini, Mario Merz, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Gino de Dominicis, and Mimmo Jodice.

IMG_20180412_170409834

Alberto Burri (1915 – 95) – Grande Cretto Nero (1978)

 

IMG_20180412_165812131

Jannis Kounellis (1936 – 2007) – Untitled (1989)

The National Archaeological museum is a vast sanctuary of classical artefacts. Some of tremendous significance. There is a sizable collection of Egyptian artefacts, Roman mosaics and many of erotic art artefacts from the Roman period. Of all the erotic art in the museum, the frescos and the sculpture of Pan having sexual intercourse with a goat are the most outstanding.

IMG_20180413_132922812

IMG_20180413_133004758_LL

IMG_20180413_132947300

Erotic frescos from the Roman period at the National Archaeological Museum 

 

IMG_20180413_133833496

Erotic sculpture of Pan and a goat from the NAM 

Yet the most important part of the museum is arguably the classical sculptures from the Farnese collection. Many of the sculptures in this collection are Roman era copies of original sculptures made during the Classical Greek period.

IMG_20180413_125605434

Venus Kallipygos sculpture at the NAM

 

IMG_20180413_121318353

Artemis of Ephesus sculpture at the NAM

Of those works the refined and elegant Venus Kallipygos sculpture, the mixed-material  Artemis of Ephesus (an oddity of a sculpture for its time not sticking to the standard rules of classical sculpture) and the giant Farnese Bull are three highlights.

Farnese Bull

The Farnese Bull sculpture at the NAM

The Farnese Bull is unique since it’s the largest piece of classical sculpture ever discovered. Yet what is interesting is that when the work was first discovered, all the pieces of the sculpture were fragmented, and it was only through extensive restoration that it was all re-connected back to its original form – quite a feat.

oscar and bosie in naples 2

Oscar Wilde and Bosie in Naples in 1897

Vedi Napoli e poi Muori indeed. It has been one hell of a banquet lapping up this raw pearl of a city. So much so I feel like I can die with a smile on my face. On my last evening in Naples, as I surf the net on my laptop, curiosity leads me to the great playwright, writer, poet and wit Oscar Wilde. I discover a few grainy black and white photograph from 1897 of Oscar with his on-off friend and lover, the poet Lord Alfred ‘Bosie’ Douglas, in this city. Having spent two years in prison on charges of homosexuality (this was Victorian Britain) brought to the fore by Bosie’s father, the Marquess of Queensbury, Oscar turns his back on Blighty. With his reputation in tatters he heads south. It is in Naples where he settles with Bosie for the latter part of 1897 before moving to Paris where he would remain until his death in 1900.

 

By Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved 

 

Investigating The Contemporary Art Scene Of Athens

For most of November 2017 I was based in Athens. During my time here I delved into the history of Athens and Greece via all the sites and museums in this city. Yet I endeavoured to set aside ample time to visit many of Athens’ contemporary art galleries. The city has a very healthy art scene. In spite of the economic and social problems facing the country and the lack of funding some artist spaces may be experiencing, there is a veritable buzz here. A number of international artists have moved to the city attracted by this buzz and more affordable rents. As Berlin (long popular with artists for its cheap rents and artistic spirit and history) has become less affordable, some artists have already been looking to other cities across Europe to base themselves in. Athens is one of those cities, seen as a compelling cultural alternative to Berlin. So much so that in 2017 the Documenta art event held in the German city of Kassel every 5 years, was also held in Athens. As a city with over 2,500 years of history and the landmark Akropolis site beaming across the landscape, that can’t be a bad thing to blossom the imagination.

 

The Exarcheia district

For a strong taste of alternative Athens, the Exarcheia district is the place to be. This is a raw and unsanitised part of the city. Its streets are caked in graffiti and there’s a heavy anarchist spirit in the air. The scars of the country’s economic problems are very noticeable as you walk the streets. Frequent demonstrations take place here and often without warning. I’ve written a separate post about this district with several photos.

nicholas_peart_1983_4___Bbha9svDNLi___

Mural of a homeless person in Athens’ Exarcheia district 

 

EMST National Museum of Contemporary Art

emst ATHENS

Athens’ National Museum of Contemporary Art (EMST) opened its doors in the hip Koukaki neighbourhood only two years ago, after a plethora of legal and political difficulties. When I visited it was only partially open. It was not possible to access the museum’s permanent collection of art works, which was a great shame. Hopefully that will be possible soon. On a positive note, I viewed two impressive temporary exhibitions. The first of those was a photography exhibition of contemporary Greek artists entitled What We Found After You Left, which was made in response to a related film, Tripoli Cancelled, by the film maker Naeem Moheiaeman about his father being stranded in Athens’ now defunct Elinikon Airport for nine days without a passport in 1977. The recent photographs created in response are taken in Elinikon Airport, which shut down in 2001. The airport is now a crumbling disused relic. In the photographs one can sense desolation, wilderness and decay. A true feeling of distressing alienation, which is what Moheiaeman’s father experienced during his ordeal. A re-visit to a traumatic period of time made even more poignant by the airport’s neglected and forlorn state.

nicholas_peart_1983_3___BbU3elqDFs3___

Photograph by Christos Kanakis from the What We Found After You Left exhibition at EMST 

The second exhibition, Chinese Xieyl, located on the bottom floor of the museum features a selection of works from the collection of the National Art Museum of China in Beijing as part of a collaboration with EMST. It is a brilliant exhibition and an excellent sampler of important painting and sculpture works from China during the 20th century.

nicholas_peart_1983_5___BbU78eoDq4x___

‘Miners’ by Li Shinan (1940-) from the Chinese Xieyl exhibition at EMST 

 

State of Concept 

nicholas_peart_1983_1___BbjPqI9jazw___

State of Concept is a not for profit space also located in the Koukaki neighbourhood not far from EMST. It was founded in 2013 by the art critic and curator Iliana Fokianaki and is an integral component of Athens’ contemporary art scene. I visited on the opening night of a solo show by the Czech artist Zbynek Baladran entitled Difficulties To Describe The Truth. On display are short films and installation works by the artist. Through his work he explores the very notions of what is often passed of as truth. This is especially pertinent in this current politically tense climate of fake news, information wars and cheap noisy rhetoric masquerading as facts. Through this deluge of corrupted information, especially in the digital world of limitless over-saturated free content, getting to the real truth and facts is mired with obstacles.  It’s less challenging to remain tranquilised with easy truths.

nicholas_peart_1983_3___BbjPqI9jazw___

Contingent Propositions (2015-17) by Zbynek Baladran from his solo show at State Of Concept  

In addition to this exhibition, in the lower level of the gallery there was another separate solo exhibition by the Russian artist Anton Vidokle comprising of a trilogy of his films entitled Immortality for all: A film trilogy on Russian Cosmism. Cosmism was a movement, which developed in Russia in the late 19th century, before the 1917 October Revolution, by the Russian philosopher Nikolai Fedorov (1829-1903), who was a champion of life extension, human immortality and transhumanism. He even believed in the resurrection of the dead. As wild as all this may have sounded back then (and even today), current emerging technologies, especially Artificial Intelligence, more than 100 years later are working towards these realisations. In fact the Life Extension industry is poised to be huge in the future. Google have a department called Calico which is focused on life extension and one of the leading visionaries in this field, Dr Aubrey de Grey, has a not-for-profit foundation called SENS, which is completely dedicated to life extension and anti-ageing. The futurist and inventor Ray Kurzweil has gone on record to state that the Singularity (the event when AI will be on par with human intelligence and when both will merge) will occur in 2045. Both Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky were influenced by Fedorov’s writings. Russian Cosmism was a transformative movement striving to transcend art and philosophy by creating a new world. A world where one is universal and not cemented to one planet – where one is fully connected to the universal cosmos and astral metaphysical world; free from micro societal constraints and mores.

nicholas_peart_1983_9___Bb1MLk7jy5T___

Still from the film Immortality for All: A film trilogy on Russian Cosmism by Anton Vidokle 

 

The Breeder Gallery

nicholas_peart_1983_6___BcAt36MDnsZ___

Located in the Metaxourgio district the Breeder Gallery is one of the city’s most cutting edge art spaces. It is a large multi story gallery. I visited one evening at an opening featuring three separate exhibitions. The first of these exhibitions, In Search Of Happiness, by the local art collective Arbit City was made up of an installation of flags on the outside front façade of the gallery.

nicholas_peart_1983_1___BcAvKpiD3W____

In Search Of Happiness – flag installation by Arbit City at the Breeder Gallery

The ground floor and lower level of the gallery featured the second exhibition, a minimalist solo exhibition entitled Nearly Inaudible Breathing by the Portuguese artist Joana Escoval. Yet it was the third exhibition on the upper floors that was the highlight; a group exhibition featuring emerging Greek artists called Athens And Its Periphery In Regards To Contemporary Painting curated by Hugo Wheeler, a young independent British curator who recently moved to Athens from London. For me this show was one of the most vital shows I witnessed during my time in the city with works by local artists projecting the zeitgeist of Athens as a developing and increasingly important and exciting global art city and hub attracting artists from around the world just as Berlin has been doing over the last several years.

nicholas_peart_1983_2___BcAt36MDnsZ___

Work by Orestis Lazouras as part of the ‘Athens And Its Periphery In Regards To Contemporary Painting’ group exhibition at the Breeder Gallery 

 

Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center

The Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center is a large warehouse space over two floors dating back to 1988. It has hosted many important exhibitions in the city. During my visit I attended the opening night of a new exhibition, Integral II, the second part of a two exhibitions themed around not just the current political and economic situation enfolding Greece, but also the situation throughout the world. In the first room I enter I am greeted by a giant installation created by the well known Greek born artist Jannis Kounellis who was one of the main figures of the Arte Povera movement in the 1960s and 1970s in Italy. The installation features a large square industrial steel plate resting on one of its edges surrounded by burlap sacks containing charcoal. In the background to the right of the installation are a series of paintings by George Stamatakis and to the left is a tall vertical relief by Socrates Fatouros comprising of bitumen sheets and elastic liquid membrane.

nicholas_peart_1983_1___Bb-gciKD3od___

Works by Jannis Kournelis, George Stamatakis and Socrates Fatouros at the Ileana Tounta Contemporary Art Center

The exhibition continued upstairs featuring another smaller work by Kournelis as well as more works by contemporary Greek artists. Of those works it is George Lappas’s Traveller (2013) work, which stands out. It is a great red sculpture made of iron and red felt. The ‘headless/dislocated’ traveller reflects Lappas’s own experiences as an eternal refugee.

nicholas_peart_1983_1___Bb-hk8Ij37x___

Traveller (2013) by George Lappas 

 

Gagosian Gallery (Athens Branch)

The Gagosian Gallery is probably the largest art gallery empire in the world. The Athens branch is quite modest in size spread over just a few rooms on one floor in a building in Athens’ Kolonaki district. On my visit there was a solo exhibition by the American artist Sally Mann entitled Remembered Light: Cy Twombly In Lexington of black and white and colour photographs of the late Cy Twombly’s studio taken from 1999 to 2012.

nicholas_peart_1983_6___Bb1MLk7jy5T___

Remembered Light, Untitled (Flamingo Profile) (2012) by Sally Mann

Twombly was a friend and mentor of Mann’s. They both grew up in the US state of Virginia. The photographs of his studio featuring miscellaneous objects, art works, paint marks on the studio floor and walls, and light and shadow tones perpetuate his memory and spirit. Cy Twombly may be gone in body, but his energy continues to radiate strongly as if he never really left.

 

Touring the art galleries in Athens’ Kolonaki district

The Kolonaki district in Athens where the Gagosian gallery is based is conveniently home to the greatest concentration of art galleries in the city. Of course it is impossible to visit every single gallery (although I almost did succeed!) but I did visit a good number. My first port of call was Gallery 7 and a solo exhibition of realist portrait and figure paintings by the Greek artist Maria Hatziandreou. Her paintings are mature, emotive and atmospheric with a gift for empathy and getting to the emotional core of her subjects. She uses the medium of paint and colour very skilfully to achieve this.

nicholas_peart_1983_4___BbWSiXxDVYK___

Painting by Maria Hatziandreou at Gallery 7

At the Eleftheria Tseliou Gallery there is a group exhibition, Conditions of Production, of mixed media works by emerging international artists. The focus of the exhibition is on materials with meditations on where they stand and how they fit in in the world of contemporary art. Of those works I am particularly drawn to Tina Tahir’s ‘Xenos (welcome mat)’ made of soil.

nicholas_peart_1983_6___BbWQx9WDtfo___

‘Xenos (welcome mat)’ (2016) by Tina Tahir from the Conditions Of Production exhibition at the Eleftheria Tseliou Gallery

The Christina Androulidaki Gallery (CAN) is a small but notable art gallery, which plays a vital role in the city’s contemporary art scene. At the time of my visit I caught a group photography exhibition of young Greek photographers entitled The Sense of an Ending. It is a strong show and the space is perfect for the works on display. Definitely a gallery to follow and keep abreast of the most promising emerging local talent.

nicholas_peart_1983_1___Bb1MLk7jy5T___

Freewheeling (2017) by Dimitris Mylonas from the exhibition The Sense of An Ending at CAN

Afterwards I head to the Kalfayan Galleries space, originally established in 1995, and with a space in Thessaloniki too, focusing on Greek contemporary art. I visited the gallery to catch a solo show called The Cheat by the established Greek artist Antonis Donef. The central part of his exhibition is a large installation work entitled Cheating In Art History comprising of 370 neatly rowed lidless black pens across four black rectangular tables ending at an open book. On closer inspection, the pens contain pieces of text from E.H. Gombrich’s book ‘The Story Of Art’ (which is the open book on the final row) engraved very small scale with a needle. This alludes to the title of the work of memorising parrot-fashion style segments of information rather than fully understanding and absorbing it.

nicholas_peart_1983_3___Bb1MLk7jy5T___

Antonis Donef’s solo exhibition The Cheat at Kalfayan Galleries

The Zoumboulakis Galleries is one of the oldest galleries in Athens dating back to 1912. Nevertheless it is an important promotor of contemporary art in Athens. When I visited there was a solo exhibition of paintings entitled ‘Future’ by the Greek artist Christos Kechagloglou. His paintings are colourful, childlike and optimistic. His dreamy impressions of landscapes and seascapes invite the viewer on a happy journey of magic colours and limitless imaginary possibilities free from social straitjackets. The artist Paul Klee springs to mind when I focus on Kechagloglou’s paintings.

nicholas_peart_1983_8___Bb1MLk7jy5T___

Painting by the Greek artist Christos Kechagloglou from his solo exhibition ‘Future’ at the Zoumboulakis Galleries

One of the biggest surprises for me though was the two exhibitions I saw at the Astrolavos Dexameni gallery. I stumbled upon this gallery in the Kolonaki district by chance not knowing anything about the gallery beforehand. It is a large space over two floors where I was rewarded with a solo exhibition of polemic paintings by a young Greek artist called Stathis Mavridis and a separate show of atmospheric experimental paintings by a female Greek artist called Iles Xana.

nicholas_peart_1983_1___BbfUai3jsKv___

Painting by Stathis Mavridis at the Astrolavos Dexameni gallery

Stathis Mavridis’s paintings are powerful and very relevant. His painting featuring the former German Federal Minister of Finance, Wolfgang Schauble, and the words ‘Schuld abladen verboten’ (Literally; ‘Guilt unloading prohibited’) is particularly prominent. Schauble’s period as Germany’s finance minister from 2009-17 coincided with the unfolding of the crisis in Greece and in other countries across the Eurozone. Schauble is a very controversial figure in Greece as he is seen by many as responsible for the draconian austerity measures imposed on the country since the crisis first erupted.

nicholas_peart_1983_1___BbfWCT7jP37___

Painting by Iles Xana at the Astrolavos Dexameni gallery

The separate exhibition of paintings by Iles Xana are a delight. Whilst Madrivis’s paintings are external and time-based, Xana’s paintings are internal and timeless. There are like dream worlds one can float and get lost in. As well as paint she incorporates other materials such as glue to realise her visions

 

Important contemporary art related places I missed

One important place I really wanted to visit was the DESTE Foundation Center For Contemporary Art. Unfortunately there were no exhibitions on at the centre when I was in Athens, which was a shame as this place is one of the beacons of Athens’ contemporary art scene. The DESTE Foundation For Contemporary Art is a not for profit foundation originally established in Geneva in 1983 by the Greek art collector Dakis Joannou who is one of the most important figures in the world of contemporary art. The exhibition space in Athens is focused on promoting emerging and established contemporary artists.

With much regret, I sadly wasn’t able to visit BERNIER/ELIADES GALLERY, which was founded by Jean Bernier and Marina Eliades in 1977. The gallery is an important and influential promoter of Greek and international contemporary art. When I tried to visit the last exhibition had already ended. I hope to check out this gallery on my next visit to Athens

The Onassis Cultural Center is a leading arts centre located outside of the city centre, which I didn’t get round to visiting. It’s an enormous place though with a wide and diverse program of activities, exhibitions and events.

 

 

By Nicholas Peart 

(c)All Rights Reserved

 

 

USEFUL LINKS

http://www.greece-is.com/athens-art-guide/

http://athensartmap.net/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photographs From The Streets Of Venice

Venice is one of the most visited cities on earth and probably doesn’t need more attention. Yet it is a unique city whose popularity is justified. Venice was an important global trading centre and traded with corners of the globe as far as China. Like Istanbul and Sarajevo, its a place where east meets west. Venice also played an important role in the development of the Italian Renaissance and frescos and paintings by the Bellini family, Titian, Tintoretto and Vitorre Carpaccio adorn many of the city’s churches and other institutions. There are lots of important landmark sites to visit. But if you have time and are not under pressure to tick off a long list of ‘must-do’ sites, the best thing you could do is to simply lose yourself in the never-ending labyrinth of small streets not knowing where you are going. Its a very easy city to get lost in and if it weren’t for the Google Maps app on my smartphone I would have struggled to pinpoint some of the sites I wanted to visit. But not knowing where you are going and leaving things in the hands of chance can throw up surprises and unexpected delights. The following photographs are witnesses to my Venice meanderings…

DSCN8730DSCN8734DSCN8735DSCN8737DSCN8749DSCN8750DSCN8751DSCN8754DSCN8759DSCN8760DSCN8761DSCN8762DSCN8767DSCN8765DSCN8768DSCN8770DSCN8772DSCN8773DSCN8774DSCN8778DSCN8790DSCN8822DSCN8823DSCN8824DSCN8825DSCN8826DSCN8828DSCN8833DSCN8842DSCN8846DSCN8848DSCN8849DSCN8852DSCN8853DSCN8867DSCN8868DSCN8871DSCN8876DSCN8883DSCN8890DSCN8914

 

 

Photographs by Nicholas Peart

(c)All Rights Reserved 

 

 

Photographs From Novi Sad

Arriving in the city of Novi Sad was my first taste of Serbia; a country I’ve always wanted to visit. After four days in this city, it certainly has not disappointed. In fact I had a real blast. Serbia’s second biggest city, after the capital Belgrade, has been a joy to explore and get to know. The attractive city centre around the main square is full of handsome buildings dating back to the time of the Austrian-Hungarian empire. There are lots of cafes to have a cheap cappuccino or bottle of Jelen beer along with a slice of Sachertorte or a couple of scoops of delicious ice cream. And all for just a few coins. Paris also has nice cafes and are great way to pass the day…..if you have deep pockets.

There are a plethora of sites to see in Novi Sad, but I recommend simply walking around this city. One great walk you can do is to walk towards the main bridge over the Danube river and on to the old Petrovaradin fortress. On sunny Summer days you will see locals bathing on the banks of the river. Once over on the other side, you are in the old part of town full of old buildings; many of them in splendid dilapidation. I seldom go to the gym but the walk up to the fortress more than compensated for that! When you’ve reached the top, you are rewarded with an amazing vista of the city and the Danube. There are also a couple of bars at the summit.

There is a small but interesting space which holds temporary art exhibitions at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Novi Sad, which is part of the larger Museum of Vojvodina on Dunavska street. When I visited, there was an interesting exhibition by a Bosnian artist called Igor Bosnjak entitled Projekat EUtopija. Next to the space there is a small display about the history of the Vojvodina region (of which Novi Sad is the capital) from before the start of the First World War until the end of the Second World War. It providing a very interesting understanding regarding what sowed the seeds for the First World War and the conflicts between the Austrian-Hungarian empire and Serbia. Directly opposite the museum is Dunavski park, which is a lovely spot to relax and have a walk. Look out for the statue of the Serbian poet and painter Djura Jaksic. He is sitting down and wearing a hat, looking uncannily like Don Quixote.

In the evening head to Cafe Veliki (one of the best and most authentic restaurants in the city) and order the Goulash. You won’t regret it! In the evening there are lots of bars to choose from. I had the good fortune to meet an interesting Anglo-Serbian guy from Manchester and a friend of his who took me on a tour of the city. We wound up the day in some bar, which I can’t recall the name of, where we had a few Jelens and some rakija. Rakija is a fruit brandy popular throughout south eastern Europe and comes in different flavours. At the end of night we went to a snack place for a pljeskavica; one of the national dishes of Serbia. You gotta have a pljeskavica if you ever come to Serbia! And it is perfect post-drinking food. There are also a smattering of bakeries open 24/7 where you can pick up a cherry strudel whenever you are feeling peckish.

There are many places to stay in Novi Sad. I stayed at the Hostel Podbara located outside of the city centre, but only a 10-15 minute walk away. It is a very tranquil and quiet place and almost feels like you are in the middle of the countryside. What’s more, the rooms are very comfortable and it’s incredibly good value for money; especially if you are on a budget. And the family who run the hostel are very kind and welcoming.

So, walk around and get stuck in! Don’t feel like you have to “do” Novi Sad. Grab a cafe and some cake. Have a Jelen and a pjeskavica. And just have fun!

Živeli!!!

 

IMG_20170822_135141_298

Novi Sad’s main square Trg Slobode

 

IMG_20170822_135502_097

By the main city centre church 

 

IMG_20170823_091932_659

Statue of the Serbian poet and physicist Jovan Jovanović Zmaj (1833-1904)

 

IMG_20170823_105903_332

Old town of Novi Sad

 

IMG_20170823_111832_575

Old town of Novi Sad

 

IMG_20170823_112039_416

Petrovaradin Fortress

 

IMG_20170823_110631_921

View of the old town from the fortress 

 

IMG_20170823_111435_762

The river Danube

 

IMG_20170821_200251_320

Novi Sad train and bus station

 

IMG_20170821_200613_846

Outside Novi Sad train and bus station 

 

IMG_20170822_143052_559

Street art in Novi Sad

 

IMG_20170822_143450_666

Street art in Novi Sad

 

IMG_20170822_101257_777

Goulash at Cafe Veliki

 

IMG_20170823_093621_109

Projekat EUtopija exhibition by Bosnian artist Igor Bosnjak at the Museum Of Contemporary Art 

 

IMG_20170823_095040_629

Outside the Museum Of Contemporary Art

 

IMG_20170823_104152_145

In Dunavski park posing by a statue of the Serbian poet and painter Djura Jakšić

 

IMG_20170823_120016_642

Jelen beer and rakija on a night out

 

IMG_20170823_120816_619

A pljeskavica

 

IMG_20170823_113852_743

Novi Sad Synagogue

 

IMG_20170823_112652_471

Novi Sad in the early evening

 

 

Photographs and text by Nicholas Peart

©All Rights Reserved