Ten minute miracle on a cold winter’s day

The cold winter has arrived – the sky is grey, darkness spreads early in the afternoon. If you need something to lift your mood I have a solution for you. I guarantee that this 10 min experience will brighten your day.
What you need to do is simple and free – open your Internet device, browse “Danzon 2 (Marquez) conducted by Dudamel” and watch and listen. It lasts less than 10 minutes and afterwards you will feel uplifting joy. 
I speak from personal experience. Some years ago I heard this dynamic, elevating music and immediately wanted to know more about the music, the orchestra and the conductor.
 
Danzon 2 is a musical piece for an orchestra created by one of the most prominent living composers of our time, Arturo Marquez. He is Mexican and lives in Mexico City. 
 


The orchestra, performing the music, was the Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra until some years ago. Due to the growing age of the musicians it is no longer the Youth Orchestra but the Simon Bolivar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. 
The Orchestra is a wonderful result of a very successful social project in Venezuela called El Sistema. The project was the brainchild of an economist, Jose Antonio Abreu and commenced in 1975.  It involved 5 children and took place in a garage. The idea was that access to music could give children from poor, underprivileged communities a purpose in their life and keep them away from crime and drugs. If they like music and it inspires them they would naturally strive to improve  their lives. 
The Orchestra is enormously successful. Half a million children were involved in this immersive musical training over the years. They received instruments, training and academic support. Older children were mentors for the younger ones and professional teachers and musicians were engaged. The Orchestra toured around the world and worked with two outstanding conductors, Caludio Abbado and Simon Rattle. 
The charismatic conductor of the Orchestra, Gustavo Dudamel, is also Venezuelan. He was born into a musical family and got involved in the Orchestra as a violinist. One day the professional conductor of the Orchestra was late and Gustavo, who was 12 at this time, impulsively took the baton and began conducting the Orchestra. Remarkably, when the professional conductor arrived he said “You are doing a good job here” and left Gustavo to continue conducting. The rest is history.
You may already have guessed that Gustavo was a kind of Wonderkid, a Venezuelan Mozart.  Five months later he took the position of assistant conductor for the orchestra and the following year he had his own chamber orchestra. In 1999, at18 years of age, he became the Musical Director of the Orchestra.  Nowadays he is also working with the Los Angelis Philharmonic Orchestra and  the Opera National de Paris. 
If Danzon 2 helps you feel better I have another little miracle for you. Gustavo Dudamel and the Symphony Orchestra of Opera National de Paris are coming to the Barbican Centre, London on 22 April 2023. Tickets are still available. 
See you there. 

Paul Cezanne – what an apple can do?

I have seen many of Paul Cezanne’s paintings around the world – in Musee D’Orsy, The Louvre, The Metropolitan Museum of Art and recently at the Courtauld Gallery. 
It was a pleasant surprise that the Tate Modern, in collaboration with the Art Institute of Chicago, is presenting an exhibition of Paul Cezanne from 5th October 2022 until 12th March 2023. The exhibition shows 80 of his paintings and watercolours, 20 of which have never been shown in the UK.
It was a must therefore that the famous art lover Adrian (my husband) and I visit the exhibition this week. A piece of advice – visit the gallery as early as possible. The exhibition is very well attended and can become overcrowded later in the day. 
Paul Cezanne had a fascinating life.
He followed his dream and chose the uncertainty of being an artist instead of a stable career as a lawyer. However, he always had the financial support of his rich father and in order to receive the allowance Cezanne even hid his relationship with his girlfriend (later his wife) from him.
He applied twice to the prestigious Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and was twice rejected. He achieved success very late in life (in his 50s) but he was proclaimed the father of modern art.

He was an awkward figure in a refined Paris but he never forgot his Provincial roots and commuted regularly between Paris and his beloved Province.
I must admit I have always liked the paintings of Cezanne – mostly because of his palette of bold colours of Southern France. He had four main themes in his artistic endeavours: landscapes, still life, bathers and portraits/card players. 
1. Knowing all of this, I had never fully grasped how this very grounded, authentic and down to earth artist was actually a modernist, a rule breaker who expressed the complex nature of the modern world. 
2. Until I saw with my own eyes the Basket of Apples c.1893 on Tuesday.
3.The composition was created by Cezanne in his studio. A basket full of apples is inclined towards the viewer and some of the apples have fallen on a white table cloth. Next to the basket is a greenish bottle that tilts towards the basket. There is a white plate that contains very carefully structured oval biscuits. Everything looks and sounds boring and unexciting if you do not stop and look deeply.
 
 
4. It is a painting of a still life but the objects are moving – apples are falling toward the viewer, the cloth is so versatile and the bottle is leaning. All of the objects are on a moving towards the viewer table. It is a strange table – a table and not a table, some strange blocks of yellow and purple-green colours. And the apples – some are clearly falling, others appear stable but they are also falling and some are securely tacked in the cloth.
5. There is a group of apples on the right side of the picture. Next to them, but a bit distant, there is another apple that looks different than the apples in the group – the rebel, the outsider. The greenish bottle looks tall and strong but leans for support from the basket which is tilted. There is some anxiety, some nervousness in the white cloth and especially in the little apple in the middle of the picture. In the background and a bit isolated there is a plate with biscuits. The plate is white and oval and corresponds with the oval apples and the white cloth. It contains a structure but if you look closely the right side of the structure is not very secure. And what about the black path in the middle of the white cloth like a channel in which the objects will fall towards the viewer? 
Cezanne created his own reality that expressed the modern world and mentality. 

 

He said “With an apple, I will astonish Paris”.  He astonished the world! 

Keeping up with the times – what personal style do you have?

Practising the art of observation (and self-observation) reveals how well we keep up with the times. How well is a matter of degree therefore the clarity of the language will help tremendously to identify the extent.  

In everyday life we often use terms such as antique, vintage, classic, retro and, on the other hand, modern and contemporary as interchangeable and even synonyms. However, they all have more nuanced meanings which determine their place on the scale . 

“Antique” objects are those that are at least 100 years old. The age is important – it demonstrates that these items are timeless as they have passed the test of the time. Usually antiques are very expensive, not for common use and become the essence of an environment or outfit. Great examples are Edward VII’s Sapphire and Diamond ring and Victorian Circa 1860 Diamond Riviere necklace.  

Very close to “antique” quality is the “classic” style. Classic style is also timeless. It has endurance, stamina, the quality to survive the unimportant temporary changes and to shine radiantly forever. Fashion classic style involves items like a white shirt, denim jeans, a little black dress, a polo shirt, a camel coat, Chanel 5, a pearl necklace, etc. 

“Vintage” style is the style we choose emotionally. Usually vintage articles are older than 20 or 25 years and can be up to 99 years. They represent a certain historical era, art movement, literature characters that make us feel nostalgic. Vintage pieces have value because of our attachment and sentiment to them. Vintage objects can be quite expensive due mostly to their limited quantity. Think about Marilyn Monroe’s dress at President Kennedy’s birthday celebration, 70s style floral flares, the 1980s mesh and puffy sleeves or the 80s and 90s one-piece tracksuit. 

The low-budget Ryanair of “vintage” style is the “retro” style. Retro is defined as the nowadays version of vintage. Articles of this style mimic vintage but they are mass produced, accessible and relatively inexpensive. Usually the fashion houses market and sell them as pieces with vintage flavour – see fashion brands like Rixo or Free People. 

At the other end of the scale are the “modern” and “contemporary” styles.

“Modern” style is a fixed category. It points to a style that was radical, liberating, innovative and even revolutionary during the period that has just passed. This style is modern compared to the styles it overrides. Modern is the styles from the beginning and middle of the 20th century such as Art Deco style – Great Gatsby and jazz era fashion, bomber jackets, etc. 

“Contemporary” style is, on the contrary, a slippery and subjective category. It means a style “here and now” whatever that means for any of us. It represents a finger on the pulse of the world and youthful curiosity. Will contemporary styles survive the test of time?

No one can predict but as Jean Cocteau rightly said: 

 

“Art produces ugly things which frequently become more beautiful with time.

Fashion, on the other hand, produces beautiful things which always become ugly with time.”

 

That leads me to the other category I have not yet mentioned – “old-fashioned” style. But before writing about it I will be having an Old-Fashioned cocktail. Or may be not – refined sugar does not fit well with my contemporary health style

 

 

Vivian Maier – the fascinating story of one of the best photographers of the 20th century – Part 2

The story of Vivian Maier fascinates people. There have been many well attended exhibitions of her photographs around the globe. The documentary “Finding Vivian Maier” by co-directors John Maloof and Charlie Siskel was shown on Netflix and was nominated for an Oscar. A new book  “Vivian Maier Developed” by Ann Marks was published in February 2022. There have been countless newsletters and magazine articles, TV interviews, blog posts and videos. 

 

Undoubtedly, her narrative is thought- provoking. 

Three themes were highlighted for me:

1.Vivian’s talent was not discovered in her lifetime

 

Everyone who knew Vivian knew about her love of the camera.  There was even an anecdotal story that one of the boys Vivian used to care for was hit by a bus/car (not serious) and Vivian was engrossed in taking pictures of the accident instead of comforting the boy. 

 

Vivian worked for very wealthy families in Chicago and New York who had not only the means to support her but also the networks to promote her. Did the class and/or gender prejudices prevail or did Vivian’s personal characteristics like her difficult character and intense privacy put people off? Maybe it was a lack of curiosity about the person next door, or the darker sides of human nature – the envy of talent and devotion? Gore Vidal said it perfectly “Whenever a friend succeeds, a little something in me dies.” 

 

Vivian was looked at but never seen.

 

2.Definition of success

 

Vivian never published her photographs but she was constantly filming. It looks like her purpose in life was to document the street life of America and other countries in the 20th century. It seems that success for her was the joy of practising her art, seeing and capturing life with compassionate eyes.

 

This definition of success sits very uncomfortably with success as defined by society. Just look at the million followers of the Instagram account of Brooklyn Beckham, a young man of “no detectable talent and passion” with “humiliating public appearances” as a photographer or celebrity chef. Somehow aggressive mediocracy is much better at promoting themselves than the real talents. 

 

But practising the art you are passionate about is real success, isn’t it?

3. Devotion and practice

 

Every craft requires skills developed with time. Vivian spent all her life photographing. She took around 150,000 pictures of the streets in America and other countries around the world. She was a master of her art. But she practised every day. She was getting better and better.

It did not matter what life threw at Vivian – she stayed faithful to her art and passion, to her life’s mission. 

 

Sounds a bit harsh – yes, but there is no mystery in mastery – hard work pays off. 

Vivian Maier – the fascinating story of one of the best photographers of the 20th century – Part 1

1.Beginning of the story

My photography hobby led me to discovering the captivating story of Vivian Maier. 

In 2007 a 26-year old man called John Maloof entered one of the auction houses in Chicago. At this time he was working as an estate agent. 

 

He went to the auction looking for old photographs of the neighbourhood in Chicago where he was born. He bought a box of around 30,000 negatives for $400. They all belonged to an unknown photographer called Vivian Maier. 

 

John did not experience a “Eureka moment” regarding the photographs. He started scanning them and with time he recognised the mastery of the photographer. 

 

To cut the long story short, John Maloof (despite any legal and ethical concerns) discovered and gave the world the incredible art of one of the most talented photographers of the 20th century. 

 

 

 

2. Who was Vivian Maier?

 

Vivian was born on 1st February 1926 in New York to a French mother and Austrian father. When she was 4 year old she left the USA with her mother (her father was out of the picture) and Jeanne Bertrand, a portrait photographer. 

 

She lived with her mum in a village in the French Alps. Vivian returned to New York in 1939 with her mother and again in 1951 alone. 

 

She made a living by working as a nanny for wealthy families in New York until 1956 when she moved to Chicago. She continued working as a nanny for affluent families along the shore of Lake Michigan. 

 

Vivian died in 2009, two years after John bought some of her negatives. In her later years she was penniless and three of the children she used to care for got together some finances and bought her a small apartment where they looked after her. 

 

Some of her photographic work was put into storage lockers and due to unpaid rent on one of the lockers a collection of her negatives were auctioned off in 2007. 

 

In 2008 Vivian slipped on the ice in downtown Chicago and hurt her head. She was admitted to a nursing home where she died. 

 

She never married and did not have any children or close family or friends. People who knew her described her as an eccentric, very opinionated, strong willed, highly intellectual and deeply private. She claimed that she learned English from theatres and plays.

 

Vivian often worn a “floppy hat”, long dresses, woollen  coats and man’s shoes. She had a powerful stride and her camera was always around her neck.  

Vivian did not have any formal photography training.  She had her first amateur camera in 1949 in France. It was a Kodak Brownie box camera with one shutter speed, no focus control and no aperture dial. However, in 1952 she acquired a much more professional Rolleiflex camera.

Vivian captured the street life of America for more than 50 years, taking more than 150,000 photographs which she never exhibited, published or showed to anyone. You do not need to be an expert to recognise the talent, the brilliance and the mastery of the Vivian’s photographs when you see them. 

 

So, how could such a talent be among us and remain anonymous and unappreciated? 

 

All will be revealed in Part 2.

 

Coming soon.

 

Bloomsbury – the hidden bohemian face of London

London possesses so many faces and holds so many hidden gems. That makes me think of my visits to  London as treasure hunts. My latest discovery is Bloomsbury.
I heard about Bloomsbury in Courtauld Gallery. This gallery in Somerset House has a permanent (I think) exhibition of the paintings and craft of the Bloomsbury Group artists. The Bloomsbury Group was a very influential artistic and intellectual society at the beginning of 20th century. The members were living, meeting and working in the Bloomsbury district of London. Interestingly, they were very much into crafts and created beautiful “objects for common life” in the Omega Workshop such as ceramic pieces, lamps and lamp shades, rugs and even painted furniture. 


Bloomsbury is in the centre of London, not far from the Leicester Square and Covent Garden. Two tube stations give access to the area – Russell Square and Euston.


Russell Square station is the funny one. It has spiral staircase of 750 steps to the exit but if you attempt to climb them a voice loudly pronounces “Will the passenger who is climbing the stairs please go back and wait for the elevator”. I immediately felt something special in the air. 


The first breath in Russell Square brings the sense of art, intellect and bohemia. It is very fitting  that the nearby pub is called “Bon Vivant”. Gorgeous Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian buildings and beautiful squares and gardens create the character of Bloomsbury.
I love Tavistock Garden. It is magnificent and somehow intellectually charming. In the middle of the rectangular shaped garden is the statue of Mahatma Gandhi. There is always a floral tribute on its pedestal. Cherry trees were planted in the garden in honour of the victims of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. 
In the south-west corner there is a bust of Virgina Woolf who lived in the area and was a member of the Bloomsbury Group. In the opposite corner is a memorial to the first British woman surgeon Dame Louise Aldrich-Blake. One Saturday afternoon I enjoyed a strange, exotic but very entertaining celebration by Japanese people at this corner.
Tavistock Garden is an oasis of tranquility and quiet relaxation. Until a big group of American students comes along. Bloomsbury is very academic. There are many universities and cultural institutions – The University of London, the Bloomsbury Institute, the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the University College London, the British Medical Association, the British Museum and the Bloomsbury Publisher. Serious young people walk around making the area vibrant, full of anticipation and excitement. 
That brings me to the other charm of Bloomsbury – its bookshops and galleries. The famous Skoob Bookshop sells second-hand books and you can spend hours browsing and discovering  secret jewels. Next to the Skoob bookshop is The Brunswick Art Gallery that promotes pop-art. It gives a different, I will say modern and not so serious perspective to life and I think I will buy something there. 
The bookshop and the gallery are part of the the Brunswick Centre. It is a Grade II listed residential and commercial building. Brunswick Centre does not really fit in. Its design reminds me of the 1960s and I heard that the building is not very much liked by the residents due to its modernist structure. However, the shops, cafes and restaurants make the area excellent for meeting up and shopping. 
It is time to go home. On my return, my husband Adrian felt he had a problem when I confidently announced we should move to live in Bloomsbury London. That may happen one day but until then frequent doses of Bloomsbury’s charm will do. 

Happy Birthday

Many great philosophers and geniuses have applied their mind to the existential question “What is the meaning of life?” and they have given various answers. Call me big-headed but I have never had any difficulty when providing an answer to this question – the meaning of life is life itself, in other words the meaning of life is being alive. 
And there is no better time to celebrate life than on our birthdays. Birthdays are not about counting age or achievements. Birthdays are about the sweetness of life, joyful rituals of celebrating the miracle of breathing.
On my birthday I am the centre of attention of the most important people in my life – my family and friends, my colleagues. And importantly – they give me presents – expected presents and surprise presents (pleasant or unpleasant). What joy to open and appreciate them! 

 

It gets even better, birthdays are a justified reason for organising holidays abroad or parties at home

But in recent years I have come to the idea of cherishing the day after the birthday. All planned celebrations are over, afterparty fatigue is overwhelming and hurrah! – happy surprises are in store. 


Happy surprises like a gorgeous sunny October morning after a thunderstorm and power cut the night before with the buzzing Avon beach and sparkling white yachts around the Needles. The best morning to have an enjoyable girly chat on the terrace of the Noisy Lobster restaurant and to receive a beautiful copal amber necklace as a surprise birthday present. 
Birthdays are the days when we loosen up and just enjoy being alive. 

The ugly head of “I am not good enough”

Practising the art of self-observation helps us to recognise the signs of self-sabotaging in everyday life. One of the nastiest is the little inner voice telling us “I am not good enough”. 
If you hear this voice shoot from the hip, kill the bastard, slaughter its ugly head. You are good, you are very good and you are capable enough. 
 
Somewhere in your past maybe your parents (with good intention), or your teachers or your friends or your colleagues told you that you were not up to a single task. 
 
Your brain (naturally hardwired to notice the negativity more than the positive) picked the statement (true or not)  and internalised it. So every time you have a little blip or setback the narrative appears. 
 
Recently, I witnessed the following story. A well-qualified professional, with more than 20-years experience of delivering an excellent standard of professional service, struggled for a brief moment with routine training at work. 
 
He was so upset and angry with himself. I guessed the deformed mind of “I’m not good enough” possessed him and he did not brush it off as just a bad moment, a case of not paying enough attention or even not a very clear training task.
 
I witnessed how harsh we can be on ourselves, expecting to be perfect.
 
 
 
  
 
How can you smash the ill-flavoured voice “I am not good enough”? It is up to you – find your way of recognising it, accepting it and eliminating it.
 
There are many sources that can advise you on that – books, videos, documentaries, podcasts. And practise the process!
 
 
Personally, if I hear this voice in my head I am ready for it.
 
I immediately recognise the horrible account and firmly say to myself “It is only my mind, it is not the reality, it is not the truth.” It works for me and I notice that the voice is materialising less and less
 
The nicest thing about being human is being imperfect.
 
Let’s celebrate the beauty of imperfection.
 

Practising regular pleasure

There are some people that find life-long pleasure in their jobs. They are the lucky ones. For many of us work is something we do to pay our bills and acquire material things, including financing our hobbies. 
Hobby is defined as an activity that we practice regularly which gives us pleasure.
How we choose our hobbies is a very interesting question, but today’s subject is how we can ensure that the excitement and pleasure we experience from our new hobby stays with us in the long turn. 
Let’s be honest – we all have done that – choosing a hobby, investing money, telling everyone about it and bang – three weeks to three months along the line the new hobby is forgotten and we are looking for another one.
 Practising the art of self-observation is the key in this scenario.
 
 
Ask yourself and look  for the answers in your everyday life:
1. Does this activity inspire me? Do I sometimes start the activity tired and reluctant but finish it in high spirits, feeling joy and contentment? 
 
2. Do I give priority to this activity? Where is it in my list of important things?
 
3. Do I manage to allocate time to this activity in my busy day?
 
4. Have I sacrificed or am I willing to sacrifice something in order to practice this activity?

 

5. Have I ever thought of making my hobby my career?
 
 Depending on your answers – press ahead with the project, drop  it without regret or leave it for another time in your life. 
It sounds very simple and we all know what to do. Yet, the experience is: 
 
I already hear the sceptic voices saying that people are so busy juggling work, families and  responsibilities that they do not have time for hobbies. 

Think again! 

The time is coming when you will not be defined by the work you do but by the hobbies you pursue. 

1. Many people have a sense of failure and feel frustrated when they invest (time and money) on an impulse that only lasts a short time.
2. They really miss the opportunity to have more pleasure in their life by not choosing a hobby that brings them joy and fulfilment.

3. They blow the chance to earn money from something they love doing.