Saturday, 31 August 2013

Tour: Foster

Opposite the Temple in Nimes, the Maison Carrée, is a gallery given over to contemporary art, the Carré d'Art.
As can easily be seen, the gallery has been designed (by Norman Foster) as Architecture with a capital A, intending to echo the Roman temple opposite.And as the modest poster indicates, they were mounting a retrospective on Foster's architecture and Art (another big A) while we were there.

We didn't like the building.   To us it came across as the worst kind of sub-modernism; rather old-fashioned in the same way that a 1960s municipal civic centre is now old-fashioned.  Lots of glass and concrete and cantilevered stairs over voids.  A focus on Spaces (capital S) but with little real joy.  We would hate to work there.

This wasn't the only Foster gallery we encountered on the Tour.  We also visited the Museum of Prehistory of the Gorges du Verdun, in Quinson.  This had the great virtue of having real content, of course.

However, and again, the much vaunted Foster architecture, all sweeping concrete curved walls, did little for us at TANH.  It reminded us of some of those parts of Foster's Great Court, in the British Museum, that are somewhat behind the scenes and less-commonly seen.  The Education Centre in the basement beneath the main courtyard, for example, has the same love of roughened concrete and transitioning curves.  Exciting in theory perhaps, but cold and inhuman in practice.

The weekend before the Great Court was due to be opened by the Queen, we were working on some final IT stuff, and spotted some of the Foster's staff on one of the balconies.  They got some workmen together, and set them to work breaking up the stone slabs in front of the Reading Room.  They were quickly stopped by Museum senior management of course, before too much damage was done, but some slabs were broken and had to be replaced.

Their reasons were aesthetic, and about the look of things: the slabs they wanted to remove were a slightly different colour from the others, and they needed replacing with stone which was a better match.  The offending slabs were damaged, of course, before the workmen were stopped, so we suspect they got their way.  Apocryphally, we heard that the underflow heating and ducting systems were also damaged and never repaired, as a result of the designers focus on surfaces, but we don't know the truth of that.

It did amuse us, however, to see this just outside Foster's Carré d'Art:
Maybe it has become his new signature?  Along with the brutalist concrete, that is...

Finally, one other apocryphal story.
We heard that when the Chairman of the British Museum (a pompous title for a pompous man at that time) attempted to enter the British Museum for the grand opening of the Great Court by the Queen, with the then Sir Norman Foster, the latter was stopped by the gate guard.

'Do you know who this is?', asked the Chairman.
'Yes', came the reply. 'But he can't come in without a pass.  Temporary passes round the back, tradesmen's entrance.'
'But he's with me!'
'Temporary passes round the back, tradesmen's entrance. But you can come in, sir, you've got your pass.'

So the Chairman rang the duty security manager and complained about the 'jobsworth on the gate'.

'Sorry sir, but he's right.  He's doing his job. Temporary passes round the back, tradesmen's entrance.'
'But he's the architect of the whole scheme!'
'Exactly, sir.  Just a supplier.  Not even a member of staff. Temporary passes round the back, tradesmen's entrance.'

So Sir Norman went round the back to the tradesmen's entrance, and got a temporary pass.

And a couple of people from the Security team got bought free drinks on the strength of the story for weeks afterwards.....

Another Poem of the Week

Seamus Heaney

Between my finger and my thumb   
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Under my window, a clean rasping sound   
When the spade sinks into gravelly ground:   
My father, digging. I look down
Till his straining rump among the flowerbeds   
Bends low, comes up twenty years away   
Stooping in rhythm through potato drills   
Where he was digging.
The coarse boot nestled on the lug, the shaft   
Against the inside knee was levered firmly.
He rooted out tall tops, buried the bright edge deep
To scatter new potatoes that we picked,
Loving their cool hardness in our hands.
By God, the old man could handle a spade.   
Just like his old man.
My grandfather cut more turf in a day
Than any other man on Toner’s bog.
Once I carried him milk in a bottle
Corked sloppily with paper. He straightened up
To drink it, then fell to right away
Nicking and slicing neatly, heaving sods
Over his shoulder, going down and down
For the good turf. Digging.
The cold smell of potato mould, the squelch and slap
Of soggy peat, the curt cuts of an edge
Through living roots awaken in my head.
But I’ve no spade to follow men like them.
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests.
I’ll dig with it.

Friday, 30 August 2013

Poem of the Week

'pity this busy monster, manunkind'

e.e. cummings

pity this busy monster, manunkind,

not. Progress is a comfortable disease:
your victim (death and life safely beyond)

plays with the bigness of his littleness
--- electrons deify one razorblade
into a mountainrange; lenses extend
unwish through curving wherewhen till unwish
returns on its unself.

                 A world of made
is not a world of born --- pity poor flesh

and trees, poor stars and stones, but never this
fine specimen of hypermagical

ultraomnipotence. We doctors know

a hopeless case if --- listen: there's a hell
of a good universe next door; let's go

Thursday, 29 August 2013

Tour: Iconography

The coat-of-arms of Nimes shows a crocodile and a palm tree.  The Office de Tourisme provides a good explanation:
To understand the origin of the town’s coat of arms one has to travel to Egypt. In 31 BC, Octavius defeated Anthony and Cleopatra’s fleet in the battle of Actium, and ensured Roman control of the Empire. Caesar Augustus was born. 
A coin was struck in Nîmes to celebrate the event. On the reverse side was a crocodile chained to a palm tree surmounted by a laurel wreath, symbolizing the conquest of Egypt.
The inscription “Col Nem”, the Colony of Nîmes, suggests that victorious legionaries had been granted land near Nîmes. But in fact Nîmes was simply the place where the coin was minted. Over the centuries, the people of Nîmes became attached to these relatively common coins. 
In 1535 they were authorized by king François 1 to adopt the palm tree and the crocodile as the town’s coat of arms. Since then the inhabitants have been extremely proud of their crest. 
Redesigned in 1986 by Philippe Starck, it can be found all over the town, even in the bronze studs set in the paving of the old town.
This mural is directly above the Lacoste shop in Nimes.

And of course Lacoste logo is a crocodile, and since Lacoste originated in Nimes, it seems reasonable to suggest a connection.

However there is another story, which is that Rene Lacoste, the founder of the company, was nicknamed 'the crocodile' by the American sporting press.   "partly due to his infamous bet with the Captain of the French Davis Cup team. The Captain had promised to give Rene a beautiful crocodile skin suitcase if he wins a very important team match." - at least according to FamousLogos.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Tour: Unfortunately-Named Lemonade

There really isn't much to say about this.

Tuesday, 27 August 2013

Tour: Temple

Also in Nimes is an incredibly well-preserved Roman temple.
Which is impressive from the outside.  However within the building is one of the clumsiest and most misjudged multimedia presentations it has ever been our misfortune to witness.  In 3D.  And you have to queue to get in.

The inside of the temple is effectively hidden from view, so we would advise having a look around outside, followed by a sirop in a local cafe or a visit to the local new age-y market.

Which only goes to demonstrate how bad the film inside the temple really is, as we at the Trees have very little truck with new age-y markets in the normal run of things...

Monday, 26 August 2013

Tour: In the Arena

So we went to Nimes, in the South of France.  Not Provence, but Languedoc-Roussillon.

One of the most impressive sights in the town is the Roman amphitheatre - the Arenes.  In constant use since it was built - including as a fortress against invading Goths and as the ramparts of the medieval town - it is now used as, well, an amphitheatre again.  For pop shows and bullfighting.

While we were there 'Stars 80' - sounds wonderful - had just been staged.  And we were assured that although some Spanish bullfighting still occurred (where the bull is killed), there was also local Camarguian (sp?) bullfighting (where it isn't).

The Arenes des Nimes isn't the largest remaining Roman amphitheatre - but it is the most complete.
There is a good audio tour which tells you far more than you will ever want to know about the various types of gladiators who fought in Roman times and also about more contemporary bullfighting.

It explained how Roman amphitheatres arose from the combination of two traditional theatres placed face-to-face (which I found a little unlikely as an explanation - although clearly construction techniques and the pattern of ramped seats were common).

We also visited Arles - that strangely pastel-coloured town in Provence, which has a larger but much less-well preserved arena.

But we preferred the one in Nimes.

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

Summer Tours

We at the Trees Around Nunhead have, yet again, been on Tour. To France, Wales and the North.  So interspersed with our usual content we will feel it necessary to share out summer holidays with you.  

During which time you will find out that:-

- We discovered two very different notions of the Romans

- We compared some amphitheatres

- We criticised Norman Foster

- We went boating

- Some things underwhelmed us

- We were introduced to Barbara

- We turned down a Hamlet shirt - and a black jacket with piping

- We steamed up, and down

- We mountaineered

- We looked at some trees

- And we saw a bunch of old friends

Monday, 5 August 2013

Proposals for the Green

So, the architects had a little marquee on the Green on Saturday - TANH got there just as they were shutting up shop.  Their ideas don't look too bad - although they aren't fully-funded yet.

They said the latest design ideas would be up on the  Love Nunhead website today...

Thursday, 1 August 2013

Nunhead Regenerating Again

This weekend the architects are showing the latest plans for Nunhead Green to locals - check them out on the Green during the day on Saturday. Here is the flyer from Daisy Froud...