Greetings From Delhi

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Back in Delhi

Last Monday night, I flew from London Heathrow to Delhi via Jet Airways. I took a random punt on this airline and it was a pretty lackluster experience. The aircraft was quite old and backdated. I had an aisle seat in the middle aisle row of seats. The two seats of the four in the middle were vacant. On the other end of my row was an old Sikh who got very drunk and disorderly and later incurred the wrath of the airline staff who refused to serve him more whisky. There sadly was nothing entertaining, charming or witty about him and he was a constant pain and drone for most of the flight. I spent the majority of my flight either taking advantage of the in-flight entertainment system or listening to my iPod.

Delhi was just as I had envisaged it to be when the plane landed at Delhi airport. The entire landscape from the runway was blurred by thick blinding smog. As everybody began to disembark from the plane, I realized that I couldn’t find my navy blue retro cotton scarf. Amongst the mess of used airline blankets and headphones, I couldn’t see it. I again looked in my bag. No luck. I broached this to the airline staff but it was a futile quest. Ah fuck it, I concluded. Lets get out of here.

I waited over an hour just to change £30 into Indian Rupees at the Thomas Cook bureau de change at Delhi airport. The recent demonetization events in the country involving the sudden withdrawal of all R500 and R1000 notes, representing over 80% of the country’s money supply, compounded with the tough restrictions on how much money one could withdraw or exchange meant that one was by law not supposed to exchange more than R5000 a week. I was with a group of other fellow travelers including a group of Peruvian tourists who’d just flown in from Hyderabad and they were equally dejected by the whole thing.

I decided to take the modern metro airport express direct to New Delhi station instead of haggling with a cab driver. At the entrance to the station there was a security check with austere Indian police in charge. The express train blazed through vacant and baron swathes of outer Delhi. The heavy smog made all the surrounding scenery translucent and vague. Many trees were either dead, dying or suffocating by the smog, pleading desperately with the gods in vain for rain. They would have to wait until at least June next year. At the top of the smogged skyline was the sun, heavily veiled to resemble one of those glowing white coated energy saving lightbulbs rather than a piercing brilliant white hot glow. People had to have lungs of steel to live in this city.

Arriving at and exiting New Delhi metro station gave me my first official taste of India since the last time I arrived here almost 10 years ago. All the famed filth and fury slowly began to unravel and reveal itself to me. As I made my way towards the entrance of the main bazaar thoroughfare of the legendary tourist ghetto of the Paharganj district via the hectic and high pressure New Delhi Railway station, I bump into two long-term travelling backpackers. Both look like they’ve allowed India to get under their skin and truly connect and flow with the rhythms and current of this fascinating, multi-faceted, mind blowing, full power wild soup. Peter is from Germany and his partner Olga is from Russia. They both met in Rishikesh. Peter had in fact traveled to India by bicycle from Germany. In Iran he was involved in a road accident and this delayed his trip as he recovered in a Tehran hospital.

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The Paharganj district of Delhi

We all walk together through the mess of the main Paharganj bazaar as Peter tries to find a Post Office and I try to find the Hotel Vivek. Not much has changed along this main thoroughfare of mayhem since I last graced this road as a fresh faced 23 year old backpacker. Back then I foolishly didn’t book accommodation for my first night. Furthermore, I got overcharged by my taxi driver from the airport with hardly any past travel experience under my belt. I had thrown myself in the proverbial deep end. Arriving in the Paharganj all those years ago was like arriving in the middle of some bombed out extra-terrestrial mess on another planet in another galaxy. I was always getting harassed by unsavory touts and constantly trying to avoid being hit by a passing motorbike or rickshaw. I carried my heavy backpack with no reservation, not knowing which hotels to enter or avoid. I remember settling on a veritable fleabag of a place which had these soulless dirty busted rooms for around the R200 mark a night. My current room at the Vivek is no great shakes and the mattress is pancake-thin but this is like the Best Western compared to that place. Before I check into the Vivek, I say goodbye to Peter and Olga. Perhaps I’ll bump into them next at a temple somewhere in Sri Lanka? Who knows.

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Back in the Paharganj after an almost 10 year absence 

Instead of going to bed, I dump my things in my room and re-enter the Main Bazaar. I walk back towards New Delhi station and onward towards Connaught Place. It is here where I discover a marvelous open air secondhand book stall. Mountains of books are piled on top of each other like mini towers of Babel. By now I find myself feeling the undesirable effects of Delhi’s air pollution. Its not only my mouth which feels like one great field of ash and dust. My eyes are stinging like I am walking through clouds of sulfuric acid. I need a bottle of water sharpish and some vitamin C tablets to phase out the carcinogenic mess of free radicals manifesting inside of me. What I’d give for an incubator of premium quality South Pacific air!

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A great secondhand bookstall by Connaught Place 

As I trudge around Connaught Place, the sun has already gone down. There are impossibly long lines of people outside every functioning ATM hoping to withdraw some limited Rupees. It doesn’t matter that the current daily limit has recently been increased from R2000 to R2500, I can see more chance of pigs flying than achieving a successful and hassle-free ATM withdrawal. Yet I fortunately have another option for getting cash in the form of my scarce supply of hard currency. I genuinely feel sorry for the locals who have been affected by this.

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People queuing up outside an ATM in Connaught Place hoping to withdraw some scarce Rupees 

I look for a street vendor selling bottled water. I find one offering me R20 for a liter bottle. He even says that he has change for a R2000 note as he palms me nineteen R100 notes along with the rest of my change. I am extremely grateful to him. For the most part, carrying around one of the recently issued R2000 notes is like carrying around a King Cobra. I can’t take it everywhere.

I chat to some random locals in Connaught Place. The people I speak to genuinely want to chat and the conversations never turn to money. For dinner I pay a visit to Hotel Saravana Bhavan for some delicious South Indian food. There are already people waiting outside with their names on the waiting list. I sign myself up and wait around 20 minutes before I am allocated a seat. I am seated opposite a middle aged Delhiite. When the time comes to order I go for the Thali Special. All this glorious food hits the spot. Afterwards I take a rickshaw back to my hotel to rejuvenate.

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Outside Hotel Saravana Bhavan

 

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The Thali Special at Hotel Saravana Bhavan

The next day I wake up at 11am after over 12 hours of sleep. I exit the hotel just before noon. A secondhand book shop catches my eye in the Paharganj. The owner even has another larger shop around the back bursting with books. I conclude that this must be the best stocked book shop at least here in the Paharganj. I purchase a secondhand copy of a book of teachings by the great Indian sage Ramana Maharshi.

For me the heart and soul of Delhi is its old city around the high pressure Chandhi Chowk. I took a metro train over there. It is a monumental sight, like nothing I’d ever experienced before. When I was last here, it was a mind-blowing and overwhelming experience. As soon as I exit Chandhi Chowk metro station, a bicycle rickshaw driver decides to stick himself to me like glue. He becomes a magnificent liability. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want it any other way. I’ve missed this chaos. I finally manage to break free of him by very diligently crossing the carnage of Chandi Chowk traffic where there is something resembling a pavement on the other side. I spot a peanut wallah and purchase a small bag for 10 Rupees.

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Chandhi Chowk

At the end of the main Chandhi Chowk thoroughfare is the monumental Red Fort. This exotic clay-red juggernaut of a fort was constructed during the height of the Mughal period. I enter the outside grounds but I do not go inside as I’d already visited the fort during my last trip to Delhi. Soon I get chatting with an affable local named Satish and we have our photo taken together by the entrance.

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In Chandhi Chowk

 

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With Satish outside the Red Fort

Chandi Chowk may be hectic but for an even more glorious, full powered and disheveled experience, nothing beats the labyrinth of bazaars, streets and hidden alleyways around the nearby Jama Masjid, India’s largest mosque.

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Old Delhi street scene 

Like the Red Fort (and the Taj Mahaj in Agra), it was designed by Shah Jahan, a famous Mughal emperor whose reign was often said to be the golden age of Mughal architecture.

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The magnificent Jama Masjid

The streets and bazaars around this jewel of a mosque are special to me. We may be living in the digital age, but walking these streets I feel very much connected to the past lives, energy and spirits of this part of the city. This is ancient Delhi at its finest.

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One of the streets surrounding the Jama Masjid

One particular memory of this area which never escapes me are the reams and reams of black electricity wires tangled and coiled like snakes everywhere and hanging by the most fragile of threads. Seeing these wires so naked and exposed is like seeing my body with much of my skin removed and all my arteries transporting blood around my body for all to see; I am still alive and going but mess around or damage them in any shape or form, and it’s curtains.

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Notice the mess of electricity wires

I spend a long time sat down on the steps at the top of the Jama Masjid watching this fascinating maze of life. I simply observe it and don’t attempt to make any sense of it. I am so happy to be here and the longer I sit here watching it all unfold in front of my eyes, is the moment I know that I am truly in India. It’s marvelous to be back.

 

By Nicholas Peart

12th December 2016

(All rights reserved)

Original Relics Of Medieval London

The history of London goes back to 43 AD when this city was first founded by Roman settlers and orginally christened Londinium. Yet when one visits London today, one could argue that the year zero of this city begins with the renowned architect Sir Christopher Wren who was responsible for rebuilding the city after most of it was devastated by the Great Fire Of 1666.

Today very little of old medieval London exists. Yet it is there! Mostly in the form of the few churches which survived the Great Fire and of course the mighty Tower Of London and Tower Bridge. One of the principle reasons why most of London was destroyed by the Fire was due to the fact that the majority of the city’s houses and buildings were made out of wood. The fact that the Tower of London was made of good old hard stone speaks volumes about how its bacon was saved.

To experience a decent slice of medieval London, I personally like to head to EC1 and the Cloth Court/Cloth Fair area of narrow medieval alleyways and of course the magnificent St Bartholomew’s church. Nearby you have the legendary Smithfields Market and a little further up is the Barbican. By the jungle of Brutalist architecture one can find St Giles church and surviving relics of the original London Wall. For a definitive and comprehensive history of this city, the Museum of London is right round the corner. Currently there is an excellent exhibition on there commemorating the 350th anniversary of the Great Fire of 1666. It is a very thorough exhibition with lots of information and even some original artifacts from that time. The exhibition is on display until April 2017.

Below I am featuring some photographs from my wonderings exploring another side to this city and unearthing some of these original relics of London, which were unaffected by the Great Fire…

 

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A portion of the original London Wall in the Barbican area

 

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St Giles-without-Cripplegate church

 

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The Staple Inn: This enourmous medieval building was built in 1585 and narrowally escaped the Great Fire by only a few metres

 

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St Etheldredas Church: this church was built in the latter half of the 13th century. It is one of the oldest Roman Catholic churches in England.

 

 

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For me, this area close to Smithfields market is a fabulous slice of medieval London around the junction of Cloth Court alley and Cloth Fair. Notice the entrance to the iconic St Bartholomew’s church in the background

 

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41 Cloth Fair: This is the oldest house in the City Of London orginally constructed between 1597-1614

 

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St Bartholomew Gatehouse: this was constructed in 1595

 

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Priory Church of St Bartholomew-the-great: close up

 

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St Bartholomew-the-great church: this magnificent church was first founded in 1123 by Rahere (a prebendary of St Paul’s Cathedral). It is adjacent to St Bartholomew’s hospital which was also founded by Rahere in that same year and is one of the oldest hospitals in the U.K.

 

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St Bartholomew-the-less church

 

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This shop built in 1567 was featured in Charles Dickens’ ‘The Old Curiosity Shop’

 

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The Seven Stars pub: This unique and charming pub first opened its doors in 1602. It is one of London’s few remaining independent pub and remains little change since it’s early days

 

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The Olde Wine Shades: first opened its doors in 1663

 

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This handsome medieval building on Fleet Street called Prince Henry’s Room survived the Fire. It was a former tavern where the London diarist Samuel Pepys liked to hang out

 

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St Katherine Cree Church

 

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St Andrew Undershaft Church: this church was originally constructed in 1532. It survived the Great Fire of 1666 an drew World War Two, but was unfortunately damaged in an IRA attack in 1992

 

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St Helen’s Bishopsgate Church: this gem of a church was built in the 12th century. It has the distinction of being the largest surviving church in the City of London. This was also William Shakespeare’s church during his time in the city.

 

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St Olave Hart Street Church: this church was constructed built in 1450. This church was saved by the Great Fire by Sir William Penn (who’s son also named William, founded the state of Pennsylvania) who instructed that the houses surrounding the church be destroyed to make a firebreak and thus save the church

 

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The Tower of London and Tower Bridge in the background. The Tower of London castle was built in 1078.

 

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All Hallows-by-the-Tower Church: Although the current facade of the church goes back to 1658, it is on the site of a church’s going back to 675. Samuel Pepys watched the city burn during the Great Fire from the church’s tower.

 

Text and photographs by Nicholas Peart

4th December 2016

(All rights reserved)

Travelling From San Cristóbal De Las Casas To Panajachel The Hard Way

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You know you are in Guatemala when you stumble upon one of these badboys 

 

The following article is an excerpt taken from my 2013-14 travel diary ‘Travel Journal Of A Lost Soul’

 

29th November 2013

I am now in the Guatemalan lakeside tourist town of Panajachel. The word “epic” would be an understatement to describe today. Hindsight is indeed a wonderful thing and I would have made my day a lot less painful if I’d just swallowed my intrepid pride and taken the tourist shuttle bus. Instead I decided to inflict fifty shades of mayhem onto myself and opt for the hard, irrational and masochistic way. Either way I had to wake up super early this morning; 5.15am.

The first leg of the journey from San Cristóbal de Las Casas in the southern Mexican state of Chiapas was perfectly fine on a comfortable and modern Marcopolo bus. Three hours after departing San Cristóbal, we arrive at the Mexico-Guatemala border. I exit the bus, cross the road and receive my Mexican exit stamp from the small immigration office. There is a line of taxis outside all waiting to take me to the Guatemalan side; 10 Mexican pesos shared or 40 solo. Since I quickly figure out that nobody is going to be joining me anytime soon, I fork out the full 40 pesos just so I can press on and leave this godforsaken place. Once on the Guatemalan side, I promptly receive my Guatemalan entry stamp and change whatever remaining Mexican pesos I have into Guatemalan quetzals without paying too much attention to maths and exchange rates. Then I hop on a rickshaw-like vehicle to take me to the bus station (if you can call it that!). And here I am having traded swanky modern Marcopolo buses for the ubiquitous, dilapidated and hair raising chicken buses which plough the roads of the most down at heel parts of Central America. When their first life as perfectly innocent USA school buses expires, their next life is less gentle on the thug life streets of Tegucigalpa. I am bundled onto a brightly coloured and ornate chicken bus heading to the city of Huehuetenango. I feel blessed to have reasonable space for my legs. Two is comfortable where I am sitting. But after only a few stops, that number doubles to four. Yet I look on the bright side; one of the advantages of being squashed like a dead skunk on the side of the bus is that whenever the bus is turning on the narrow, long and winding highland roads, I am not forever sliding form one side of the bus to the other.

We arrive at the Huehuetenango bus terminal a few hours later. This terminal has all the classic trimmings of a crazy, dishelved and chaotic bus terminal in any third world city. This is raw. I am not in Mexico anymore. Mexico may be poor but I never once in all my time in Mexico witnessed a bus terminal as dirty and rundown as this one. I have some spare time to eat a very basic lunch of well done beef strips, rice and beans. Gourmet food this most certainly ain’t, but I hadn’t eaten all day until now. I have been to Huehue before on my last trip through Latin America a few years back, but I have no reason to stop there this time. An old dilapidated Mercedes “Pullman” bus (this one is two steps up from a chicken bus) with tyres so illegally smooth will take me to Panajachel – apparently. Even though I have my own seat, the upholstery is all crumpled up, loose and looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since I was five.

The bus journey goes well, until I ask the cobredor (bus conductor) what time we will be arriving at Panajachel? He replies that we went past it 40 minutes ago. This is not a directly Panajachel bound bus and will be going Guatemala City (the last place on Earth I would want to arrive at night). It’s already dark and I am so pissed off at this revelation. The cobredor then tells me that in five minutes he’ll drop me off at a stop from where I’ll be able to catch a bus to Panajachel. I think it myself thank god I have at least a foothold on the Spanish language otherwise I’d really be in a veritable no-mans land. When I get dropped off, I am literally dropped off on the side of a very busy highway. It’s dark, it’s cold, the highway lacks illumination and the night sky is downing in fog. There are enormous trucks going at impossible speeds. And I have to cross this death trap to get onto the other side. My heart is beating so fast I feel like it is going to explode from my body like a high pressure jet of water from a burst pipe. I honestly haven’t a clue where the fuck I am and I begin to feel a tremendous longing to be back home with my family. By some grace of god I manage to cross the road with all my things unscathed. Once on my side there is little tienda (convenience shop) and a small bay for on-coming buses to stop. I get chatting with some three toothed viejo (old dude) on the side of the road. He re-assures me that a bus will be coming soon. Seguro? (Are you sure man?). I give him a moneda (coin). His mood duly lifts and this time he is super seguro that every little thing is gonna be alright.

And soon a bus doth come along and I am bundled in with all my crap. Alas I don’t think this one will be going directly to Panajachel. I am so depressed I think I need a shot of mezcal and a band of impeccably dressed Mariachi musicians to console me. The driver drops me off at a busy crossroad from where I am briskly transfered onto another chicken bus. Maybe this one will be the last one? I am sitting on the floor at the back of the bus swerving like a lunatic as the bus driver takes to the narrow winding descending country roads Formula One style with Spanish language power ballads turned up full blast. He seems to be in a race with another chicken bus in a never ending game of ¿quien es más macho? I am not religious but I make the sign of the cross. Thirty minutes later I am bundled off this bus at a stop where there are about six other chicken buses. I am told that the one at the end of the line is going to Panajachel and, seguro, this will be the last one. I make a dash with my things towards it like it’s some holy chariot of good fortune. Once inside the bus, I look out the window and, through the bus lights, notice a sign which says, ‘Panajachal 8kms’. I will be so low if this bus doesn’t go the full eight kilometres. No matter how reckless the bus driver may be, I rejoice when this bus finally stops right at the side of the beginning of the tourist drag of Calle Santander in Panajachal town. Even though it is a little chilly, it is nowhere near the Lapland temperatures of San Cristóbal. I find a hotel and go to sleep.

 

By Nicholas Peart

(All rights reserved)

image source:  www.amusingplanet.com

My Favourite Paintings In The Louvre

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The Louvre *

 

The Louvre museum in Paris has one of the most impressive collections of paintings by European Old Masters in the world. Perhaps the only museum to really rival it in this field is the Prado in Madrid (the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, the National Gallery in London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York are a few close contenders). But not only does it house an impressive collection of paintings and sculptures from that age, it also has a substantial collection of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, Islamic and other World artefacts through the ages.

In this post I am listing my favourite paintings from the enormous collection of paintings on display by Old French, Italian, Flemish and Spanish Masters

 

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Nicolas Poussin (1594 – 1665) – Saint John Baptising The People (1634-5) 

Many art writers and historians argue that Poussin was the first great French painter who changed the face of art in France and blazed a trail for all French artists who came after him. The art scene in France during his time was very staid (yet in a state of transition finally moving away from the traditional apprenticeship methods of working) and for this reason he spent most of his life in Rome. The American author Micheal Kimmelman goes as far as saying that Poussin was, ”the springboard for the greatest French artists from David to Matisse”

 

 

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Claude Lorrain (1600 or 1604/5 – 1682) – Port With Capitol (1636)

Claude was another great French painter who like Poussin spent most of his life in Italy. He was also a prominent landscape painter. As can be seen in the port painting, the landscape was the dominant subject. At the time, making the landscape the dominant feature of a painting as opposed to actual figures/subjects was seen as groundbreaking. Claude’s paintings were an enourmous influence on the dramatic abstract-like landscape paintings of the revolutionary British painter J.M.W.Turner.

 

 

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Adolphe-Joseph Monticelli (1824 – 1886) – The Diner 

Monticelli was a very individual painter with his own unique style. What is even more amazing is how ahead of his time he was regarding his unusual style. Like the other great French painter, Eugene Delacroix (whose oil sketches Monticelli highly admired), he predated the Impressionists by many years.

 

 

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Herman Naiwincx (1623-1670) – Baptism Of The Ethiopian Eunuch 

 

 

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Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (1803-1860) –  A Begger Counting His Money (1833) 

 

 

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Jean-François Millet (1814-1875) – The Hay Trussers (1850-51)

Millet was a huge influence on Vincent Van Gogh and this painting, as well as being a landmark work of art, perfectly encapsulates what Van Gogh first set out to achieve when he established himself as an artist. Van Gogh had a strong desire to paint the rural folk and their way of life as can be seen in his early paintings such as The Potato Eaters and many of his early sketches.

 

 

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Jules Dupré (1811-1889) – Sunset After A Storm (1851)

 

 

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Eugène Delacroix (1798-1863) – Pietà (1837)

This is a gem of a painting by the great French painter Eugene Delacroix. What is amazing about this painting is, stylistically, how loose and free it is and one could argue that it is a strong example of proto-Impressionism since it predates the movement by four decades (give or take a few years). Furthermore, Delacroix was an enormous influence on that generation of artists. In fact many argue that he planted the seed for the Impressionist movement.

 

 

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Jaques-Louis David (1748-1825) – Death Of Maret (1794)

This painting is of the murdered leader of the French Revolution, Jean-Paul Marat, and is one of the most iconic images of its time.

 

 

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Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806) – Rinaldo In The Gardens Of Armida

 

 

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Cimabue (1240-1302) – The Madonna And Child In Majesty Surrounded By Angels

Cimabue was a revolutionary artist. Arguably the first of the major early Italian Renaissance artists and the first artist to break away from the traditional Italo-Byzantine style art of the time. The above painting is one of his series of famous Maestà paintings.

 

 

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Giotto di Bondone (1266/67 – 1337) – The Crucifixion

Giotto was a student of Cimabue and along with him a major artist of the early Italian Renaissance movement.

 

 

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Lo Spagna (d. 1529) – St Jerome In The Desert (1531)

 

 

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Antonio Campi (1522-87) – The Mystery Of The Passion Of Christ

 

 

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Bartholomé Esteban Murillo (1617-82) – The Young Begger (1645-50)

This painting, for me, is striking for it’s gritty realism and social context. It was painted towards the end of Spain’s Siglo d’Oro (Golden Age) around the middle part of the 17th century when Spain had an enormous global empire. But what is clear is that, as evident by the acute poverty in the painting, it wasn’t a Golden Age for everyone. Much of Spain’s wealth accumulated from its former colonies was squandered on wars and in spite of its global clout at the time, the Spanish Crown filed for bankruptcy several times.

 

 

By Nicholas Peart

26th October 2016

(All rights reserved)

*image source: symmetrymagazine.org

Touring The Local Pubs Of Glasgow

Earlier this month I visited and stayed with a couple of friends of mine in Glasgow. I had an absolutely stellar time over there. Yet one integral aspect of what made my time in Glasgow truly memorable was visiting some of the city’s local boozers. In this article I will be selecting some of these pubs which I particularly enjoyed.

 

 
Kelly’s Bar

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This pub is a proper authentic Irish boozer located off Polokshaws Road south of the city centre and an important part of Glasgow’s traditional and historic Irish community. My friends both took me there on my first night in Glasgow after we had a delicious vegetarian Indian feast at nearby Ranjits Kitchen. As we all ordered pints of Tenants a stocky Irish lad was playing songs on his acoustic guitar. Many of the songs were traditional Irish songs with a smattering of pro IRA ditties thrown in for good measure. You can take it or leave it, I suppose. But I like this pub. Not many outsiders venture here. There is nothing ostentatiously hip or pretentious about this place and if you want a cheap pre or post curry pint, you could do far worse than rock up here. Most of the time the pub is refreshingly devoid of big crowds except when Celtic are playing.

 

 
Saracen’s Head

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The Saracen’s Head, or ‘Sarries Head’ as its better known to locals, is a notorious Glasgow pub directly opposite the Barras market and very close to the Barrowlands concert venue. As I was ordering our drinks, I was mulling over whether to order a separate glass of the infamous Glasgow brew called Buckfast Tonic wine. The guy serving me was three parts Billy Connolly and two parts Gregor Fisher. He gave me a strong look to break my indecision and said, ‘ya cannoe gorra Glasgow and no av a wee bita Buckfast lad’. It seemed I had no other choice in the matter.

 

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At the Saracen’s Head pub with my Tenants and Buckfast

 

My friends and I found a corner of the pub to sit down. There I was with my Tenants in one glass and deep crimson Happy Shopper cassis in the other. I approached the Buckfast like it was a glass of black mamba venom. This toxic liquor was absolutely vile. I badly needed a kale, kiwi, cucumber – you get the picture – one of those uber healthy raw juices to cleanse by desecrated internal body after this legendary assault.

 

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Not feeling the Buckfast

 

 


The Star Bar

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The Star Bar is located on the corner of Pollockshaws and Eglinton streets. On the surface this is an unassuming and nondescript place. But once you open the doors and enter you are immediately catapulted into a genuine and uncorrupted slice of Glasgow. All the Rab C Nesbit stereotypes are pungent here. Yet this place exudes warmth. My principle reason for coming here was to sample their 3 course meal for only £3! I have never heard of anywhere else offering such deal. I loved the sound of it and I thought it would be rude not to resist.

 

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I couldn’t say no

 

The landlord was monumentally friendly to an outsider like myself and even offered me a free half pint of Carling as I was about to order my drink. A salt of the earth person with a heart of gold. I was very touched. My starter came in the form of canned minestrone soup. I could handle it, almost.

 

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Course One: Canned minestrone soup

 

Then for my main I received a Scots pie with fat green beans and boiled potatoes. This was by far the most ‘wholesome’ part of the three course meal even if the pie and mince inside was about as processed as processed pies got but you would have to be a real wolly to complain considering the price. And besides, I would be dead offended to be served anything remotely representing ‘gourmet’ quality here.

 

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Course Two: Scots pie with potatoes and green beans

 

Finally for dessert (or ‘sweetie’ as the landlord called it) I was served green jelly, tinned fruit and cream in a small tin cup. This was more challenging. I could handle the fruit but not the rest.

 

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Course Three: Green jelly, canned fruit and cream

 

 

 

The Brazen Head

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Further up Pollockshaws road and past the Star is the Brazen Head. I was expecting a gritty, rough and tumble affair judging by some of the online reviews I’d read. The Sunday Times even wrote an article on it entitled ‘Inside the Gorbals hardest pub’. Yet I was unexpectedly surprised to discover a rather pleasant and friendly Celtic Irish pub. On the other hand it was verging on dead when I was there save for two or three long timers. Perhaps I should go there when the football is on to give this place a more realistic assessment? I found a corner at the far end of the pub nestled amongst a galaxy of Celtic memorabilia. The widescreen plasma TV was on mute as I quietly drank my pint of Guinness.

 

 

The Alpen Lodge

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Around central Glasgow station are a number of down and out local boozers which are unlikely to ever make an appearance in a Lonely Planet guidebook. The Alpen Lodge is one of those places. Here it is semi packed yet everyone mostly keeps themselves to themselves. There is absolutely nothing remarkable about this pub but if you want to visit an authentic Glasgow boozer, albeit uncomfortably voyeuristically, you can do far worse. After a while I just wanted to get the hell out of here. Out of all the pubs I had visited in Glasgow, it was here where I felt the most self conscious. Yet as I drank my pint of Tenants in haste, I discovered a very enlightened poem on the wall next to me entitled Smiling which began…

‘Smiling is infectious,
you catch it like the flu,
When someone smiled at me today,
I started smiling too…’

I read the entire poem and immediately felt more relaxed and at ease. I savoured the remainder of my pint.

 

 

The Laurieston

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Saving the best til last, The Laurieston is the granddaddy of all the pubs I’ve mentioned. An institution and a unique and untouchable gem of Glasgow. What a place! On the outside it could be mistaken for a typical council estate drinking den. This pub is similar to the Star Bar in some ways. Both places exude legendary Glaswegian warmth and are as authentic as pubs get. Yet whereas the Star Bar projected a fatigued and rather downbeat vibe, here the energy is infectious. What’s more, all kinds of people come here; long timers, football fans, students, local trendies and even a smattering of tourists like myself. It was on the awesome recommendation of my Glasgow based friends that I first became aware of this place. This pub has been in the family for decades who, amazingly, have so far resisted any offers to sell the place. The family who own the Laurie are very proud of their pub and I feel a change in ownership could potentially dent a great part of what makes this pub truly special.

 

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Inside the Laurieston 1

 

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Inside the Laurieston 2

 

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At the Laurie sipping my pint of Guinness

 

As my friends and I sip our pints, I venture over to the jukebox which is free. There is a large selection of songs much of which are from old 60s, 70s and ‘Now That’s What I call Music’ compilations. I select Blondie, Thin Lizzy, The Troggs and Status Quo before I return to my friends and my pint of the black stuff.

 

 
By Nicholas Peart

26th October 2016

(All rights reserved)

My Favourite Things To Do In Liverpool

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Liverpool waterfront*

 

Liverpool is a great city to visit. There are simply tons of things to do here to occupy you for at least several days. I was in Liverpool for only a few days and I still feel like I would like to go back and visit certain places I didn’t get the chance to visit this time around. However I did do some internet research before coming to Liverpool and already had a few specific places in mind which I wanted to visit. There are all the obvious sites such as all the Beatles related landmarks (which I could not possibly shun especially since I myself am a huge fan of their music). There are also some world class art museums such as the Tate Liverpool and the Walker Gallery – sadly I didn’t have enough time to visit the latter although I hope to visit it on another trip to Liverpool. If I do return to Liverpool I would like to explore more of the city’s local arts and music scene. There is a building on the waterfront, right by the Tate Liverpool, which houses the Liverpool Maritime museum and the Slavery museum – both definitely worth a visit to gain a better understanding of the city’s history. Like Glasgow further north, the shipping industry flourished in Liverpool during the 19th century and brought incredible prosperity to the city. At one point Liverpool was wealthier than London. Evidence of this past wealth can be seen in many of the architecturally beautiful buildings dotted around the city as well as the rows of handsome Georgian houses on many of the city’s streets.

Below I am featuring certain sites and places in Liverpool which I particularly enjoyed.

 

Beatles Landmarks

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Those Fabulous Four**

 

For me my favourite Beatles related thing to do is to visit the houses where John Lennon and Paul McCartney grew up. There are some agencies which offer tours but in reality you can visit independently. However if you want to go inside John Lennon’s house that can only be done via the tours offered by the National Trust. Both houses are located several kilometres outside of the city centre in the suburb of Allerton. I decided to check out Macca’s childhood gaff first but before I did I thought it would be rude if I didn’t break the journey in Penny Lane which is located en route via the 86 bus from the centre. The Penny Lane street sign is completely defaced just like the Abbey Road sign at St Johns Wood in London. I ask a passerby to take a photo of me next to it. Listening to the music of the Beatles and my second favourite band from Liverpool, the La’s, I develop many romantic notions in my head of the city some of which I can’t explain in words. Penny Lane is quite an ordinary street yet it’s thrust and propelled into a dauntingly significant part of history because of that song.

 

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The Beatles song Penny Lane was named after this street

 

I get back on the 86 bus before disembarking at the junction of Mather Avenue and Forthlin Road. The latter street is where Paul McCartney’s childhood home is located. Macca’s house is very modest and nondescript. Now I am sure he can easily afford to buy up the whole street and still barely make a dent on his vast fortune. There is no one else on the street but myself until a few moments later a mammoth tour group arrives all descending on Paul’s humble childhood abode.

 

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The childhood home of Paul McCartney

 

John Lennon’s house is located about 20 mins away off Menlove Avenue. To get there I walk via the Allerton Golf club. I am using Google Maps on my iPhone and try to utilise the shortest route possible. Lennon’s childhood home is larger than Macca’s with its own front drive. A blue plaque adorns the front of the house. There is the option to enter the house if you do one of the National Trust tours yet I feel there is nothing more I need to gain. I would rather spend that time losing myself in his amazing music.

 

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Outside John Lennon’s childhood home

 

I return to the city centre from where I take another bus north east of the city to the suburb of West Durby. It is here on a leafy and seemingly affluent street with some lovely villa-like properties where the Casbah Coffee Club was once located. It was established by Mona Best (the mother of Pete Best, the original Beatles drummer who was unceremoniously fired from the band just before they hit the big time) in the celler of their substantial family home in a beautiful rural setting to provide a space for local bands to play and socialise.

 

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The Casbah Club was located in the celler of the pre Ringo drummer, Pete Best’s, family’s home

 

The club was established in August 1959. It was here where the Beatles, then known as the Quarrymen, played their first gig. This was before they would regularly play at the legendary Cavern club in the centre of town which at the time was only putting on Jazz.

 

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Outside the famous Cavern Club which was the epicentre of the early 1960s Merseybeat scene in Liverpool where the Beatles regularly played before they hit the big time

 
Chinatown and St Luke’s Church

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The famous Chinatown Arch

 

Liverpool’s Chinatown is the oldest Chinatown in Europe. I’ve already touched upon this historical part of Liverpool in a separate post which can be viewed here. The roots of Liverpool’s Chinese community date back to the 1860s with the establishment of the Blue Funnel Shipping Line by Alfred Holt and Company which employed many Chinese seamen who came all the way from Shanghai. The original Chinatown was established around Cleveland Square close to the docks. When that entire area was bombed during the Second World War, a new Chinatown was established on Nelson Street and surrounding streets where it continues to flourish today.

 

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St Luke’s church

 

At the intersection of Berry and Renshaw streets which marks the unofficial beginning of Chinatown is a bombed out church called St Luke’s, which was destroyed during the Second World War. This church reminds me of St Dunstans to the East in the City Of London close to Tower of London.

 

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St Luke’s church today resembles more an ancient negleted ruin as a result of heavy bombing during World War Two

 
The Ye Cracke and Dispensary pubs

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The Ye Cracke pub

 

The Ye Cracke pub is a great old fashioned pub on Rice Street off Hope Street, close to the Philharmonic Hall. This place is crammed full of early pre Beatles history. John Lennon’s uncle was a regular here as was John himself and his girlfriend Cynthia when they were both at art school in the 1950s. I love this pub. When I stopped by one mid afternoon there was just a mere smattering of punters and I had a whole wing of the pub to myself. I ordered a pint of Thwaites for only a couple of quid. In my corner Beatles related artwork by local junior artists adorned the walls.

 

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Inside Ye Cracke. Notice both the black and white photos on top left corner which feature a young pre Beatles John Lennon from the 1950s. John was a regular here.

 

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At the top of the photo is a very early back and white Beatles photo when Pete Best was still in the band

 

In front of me was a turquoise portrait of John Lennon by a local artist. In the portrait, John’s face appears tired and washed up; like he’s been on crystal meths for two weeks. In the entrance there are a few black and whites photos featuring a young John Lennon in the 1950s plus one of the very early Beatles line up when Pete Best was still in the band.

 

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The Dispensary pub

 

The Dispensary pub is a cracker. A proper place with all the original features, warts, shit stains and all. Something of a rarity today. And boy do they do amazing ales. Have a pint of the Plum Porters. It is one of the best and tastiest ales I’ve ever had. The songs Hush, Mr Tamborine Man and Tiger Feet seem to be on continuous repeat on the jukebox. Being here I feel like I’m in the Newcastle pub Michael Caine enters at the beginning of Get Carter where he asks for a pint of bitter ‘in a thin glass’. On various online forums there is a lot of talk about the pub’s notorious ‘volatile’ landlord, ‘Crazy Dave’. Immediately I think of the low budget 1993 US film Red starring legendary hard man Lawrence Tierney as the cantankerous and unstable landlord of some dive bar in Philadelphia. In the film he gets periodically prank called and every time ends up losing his shit at the offender down the phone. I was at the Dispensary two times and on both occasions Dave was present. In the wake of reading all the online stories about him, I felt a perverse temptation to add to the existing chain of Crazy Dave agro and order a Smirnoff Ice with a straw but I chicken out. Astonishingly, on my second visit Dave recognises me and greets me with an unusually cordial ‘alright mate’. Yet examining him further, he looks like the sort of person who wants to keep his place local and wouldn’t hesitate to crush a Shoreditch trendy like a butterfly on a wheel if they rubbed him up the wrong way. This is a place where Trip Advisor reviews mean jack shit. The Dispensary ain’t The Old Blue Last, that’s for sure

 


Breakfast at Shiraz Café

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Full English breakfast at Shiraz café

 

Come to Shiraz, located on Williamson square, for breakfast (or lunch) and order the Full English Breakfast for £5.50. This is one hearty and powerful Full English. My only complaint about it is the black pudding ring which at times feels like you are chewing on a cooled melted ice hockey pick. Yet apart from that the breakfast is top here and great value. All stripes come to Shiraz. This is an institution and an invaluable reference point if you are ever hungry and don’t want to break the bank. The Full English aside, Shiraz also does good size portions of cheap no nonsense comfort fare dishes like Chilli Con Carne, casseroles, lasagna etc. On one of my many trips here I ordered a half roast chicken with a mountain of fries, rice and salad for a little under £6. The vegetarian Mediterranean breakfast is a healthier alternative to the full English but before you order it request that they don’t put so much sauce over the feta salad which on its own is perfectly fine. A good local cafe/restaurant which I highly recommend.

 
Zanzibar club

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The Zanzibar club***

 

Whilst in Liverpool I wanted to find a good non pretentious live indie/rock music venue similar to the Camden Barfly in London or the now defunct CBGBs in New York. There is no shortage of live music venues in Liverpool yet I hand picked this venue because of its focus on unsigned indie/rock bands and also it’s history especially regarding the city’s local music scene during the last 15-20 years. During the early 1960s the Cavern Club on Mathew Street was the epicentre of the emerging Merseybeat music scene with the Beatles it’s most successful band. Then later towards the end of the 1970s during the whole punk and new wave movements the nearby club Eric’s also on Matthew Street was the centre of that scene where local bands of that time such as Echo And The Bunnymen, The Teardrop Explodes and The Mighty Wah emerged from. The Zanzibar club located on Seel Street, which has a number of trendy bars and clubs, has been an integral part of the local Liverpool music scene for close to 20 years. Two key Liverpool bands, The Coral and The Zutons, used to gig here regularly when they were still relatively unknown. Noel Gallagher also once played a solo gig here in 2003. I came one Saturday night when four local unsigned bands were playing. I managed to catch two. Neither band was particularly original nor did they ooze much charisma or play a set that was truly memorable. On the other hand the first band where the members were around the 19-20 mark played a good tight set. Perhaps with time their musical influences will expand and they may start making some very adventurous and challenging music. It is incredibly hard and gruelling work being in a band in these digital post internet days (unless you are the Rolling Stones), especially with the collapse of much of the music industry. In a way I think local bands should be supported now more than ever before. Most bands essentially do their best whether I am a fan or not.

 

By Nicholas Peart

 20th October 2016

(All rights reserved)

 

*Image source: http://www.wikipedia.com

**Image source: http://www.bilboard.com

***Image source: http://www.mycityvenue.com

 

Photographs from Liverpool’s Chinatown

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The Chinatown quarter of Liverpool has a very interesting history. It has the unique distinction of being the oldest Chinatown in Europe. During the 19th century when Liverpool was a thriving and increasingly prosperous port city through the booming shipping industry, and when Britain was an enormous colonial power, it was trading with most of the world.

The seeds of Liverpool’s link with China go back to 1834 when the first ship from China arrived in Liverpool to trade products such as cotton wool and silk. Yet it wasn’t until the creation of the Blue Funnel Shipping line in the 1860s by Alfred Holt and Company, which employed many Chinese seamen, when the first real migration of Chinese to Liverpool began. This shipping line established robust trade ties between the cities of Liverpool, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

The Chinese seamen who stayed on in Liverpool settled by the docks on and around Cleveland Square, where the Holt Shipping Company built boarding houses for them. This was the beginning of the original Chinatown in Liverpool. Around the 1890s, some of the Chinese settlers set up their own businesses mainly for the sailors who worked on the Holt shipping lines.

When the First World War broke out in 1914, there were around 6000 Chinese seamen in the British Merchant Navy with a quarter of them in Liverpool. Much of the original Chinatown around Cleveland Square was destroyed during the Second World War. Liverpool was already by then a city in economic decline.

The Chinatown one sees today in Liverpool was only established in the 1970s on Nelson Street as its official street, although it extends along Berry Street up to where the bombed out church, St Luke’s, is located. On these two streets and some surrounding streets are a plethora of Chinese restaurants and some supermarkets such as Chung Wah and Hondo. The imposing and ornate Chinatown Arch at the beginning of Nelson Street was officially opened in the year 2000 on Chinese New Year. The arch was constructed from an estimated 2000 block components manufactured by the Shanghai Linyi Garden Company Ltd and shipped over to Liverpool from Shanghai along with twenty specially selected Shanghai craftsmen to build the arch.

 

Text and Images by Nicholas Peart 

19th October 2016

(All rights reserved)

 

 

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