A Quiet Place

In which I share two not-so-guilty pleasures.

Any one who has read this blog over the past twelve years knows that I have a fondness for visiting cemeteries. Not through any sense of the macabre or romantic fatalism but because they are often lovely spots of quiet in the middle of madness. They may be a hidden away in a overgrown woods (I’ve been sitting on those photos of the Yankee Hill Cemetery for too long now) or beside a small country church. Where ever they are they reflect the stories of a place, a time, and the lives, and deaths, of people.

I also love to travel both in reality and as an armchair passenger. And one of my favourite guides should it be the latter mode is my dear David over at I’ll Think of Something Later. It seems that David is forever on the go – either at home in London or in wonderful exotic places in Europe. Where ever his wandering takes him he manages to take me along with his wonderful photo essays. This past week I was able to travel with David as he took a walk through the Brompton Cemetery near his home in “West Ken”.

I thought I’d like to share that walk with my readers and a left click on the detail from Charles Booth’s 1889 Poverty map of London will allow you to join us.

We were fortunate that on our last trip to London back in 2016 – has it really been that long? – to be able to have brunch with David and J, his diplomate husband. Then we spent the afternoon wandering through Chelsea with David with our final destination the beautiful Chelsea Physic Garden – a true “hidden gem” in the heart of the city. I wrote about our visit and posted a slideshow of the pleasures of the Garden in the late fall. I made a vow then to return to see it at other times of the year and I really should fulfill it. And besides that would give me the chance to wander with David in real time.

On this day in 1907: The Mud March is the first large procession organised by the National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUWSS).

For Your Consideration

In which two blogs I follow speak to love.

I’m not sure if it’s the dull grey skies, the changeable weather or the time of year – mid-February is never a good time in Northern climes – but the last week or two has been a time of “fragility” for lack of a better word.  Emotions have been close to the surface and patience has become as spare as leaves on the mulberry bush outside the house.  Experience tells me that this too will pass – as the actress said of her kidney stones – but it does make for less than the best of times.

However yesterday two of my blog buddies published posts that touched me deeply in a very positive way.  The writers cannot be less similar, the stories more different …. and yet.  And yet their writing spoke of deep and abiding love of friends, family, and partners.

I’ve often spoke of David over at I’ll Think of Something Later.   Writer, teacher, critic, and broadcaster David lives with his Diplomate in a pleasant neighbourhood in West London.  He has taken me on many virtual journeys around Europe and England and introduced both Laurent and I to music and authors that we would have otherwise missed.  And we’ve had the good fortune to get together several times for food, music and walks on our visits to London in the eight or nine years we’ve know them.  A joy that I so hope will be repeated in the next year or so.

51ChyMOCTwLOn Sunday David wrote of the life of a close friend, the late Dame Beulah Bewley and the celebration of her life at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey earlier in the week.  As I commented to him:  A remarkable life remarkably remembered.  And I should add as always remarkably written in David’s post.  A left click on the cover of Dame Beulah’s book will take you to Beulah: perfection of the life, and of the work, David’s touching and loving remembrance of their friend.

I had finished reading David’s tribute and went on to Sooo This is Me a blog written by a gentleman that I had the pleasure of meeting only once with our friends Dr Spo and Someone.  He lives in a rural community less than an hour away from our former home in Ottawa.  Unfortunately circumstances just never aligned before we left for another meeting, something which I regret.

CactusHis Sunday post had many similarities with David’s and as many differences.  Steven speaks of dealing with a loved one who is progressively withdrawing from the world, of memories put away in a drawer, but also of living memories.  And he write, so beautifully, of the love between two people that lives on in that memory.  I don’t know what sort of cactus he is referring to in his title but he tells us why he knows Love is a Cactus.  A left click on the little cactus will take you to this remarkable story of lives remarkably remembered.

I will freely admit that both these posts brought me to tears.  Not tears of sadness but tears of thankfulness for lives lived and loved and remembered with love.

On this day in 1872: The Metropolitan Museum of Art opens in New York City.

1917 and All That

A year that changed the world.

(In 1917 the Julian calendar, which is 13 days behind our Gregorian calendar, was used in Russia. In writing this post I have used the Old Style dates first with the New Style in brackets.)

Earlier this year the National Museum of American Jewish History mounted an exhibition entitled 1917: How One Year That Changed The World.  It highlighted three major events of that year that have echoed through the last century and continue to affect us today.  Within that year the United States entered the war that had torn Europe apart since 1914; the Balfour Declaration planted the seeds of a Jewish state in Palestine; and what had started in Petrograd (St Petersberg) in February reached it’s climax in the October Revolution.

A stamp to commemorate the October Revolution using Vladimir Serov’s painting of Lenin addressing the workers and soldiers on October 25 (November 7), 1917.  Interesting that the figures behind him have been altered from the original: Josef Stalin and Leo Trotsky (neither of whom were in Petrograd) have been added.

One hundred years ago today on October 25 (November 7) the Bolsheviks led an armed insurrection by workers and soldiers in Petrograd overthrowing the Provisional Government that had taken power earlier in the year.   All its authority was transferred to the soviets (committees) with Vladimir Lenin as the acknowledged leader and thus began the five year Russian Civil War that led to the creation of the Soviet Union in 1922.

Though it was a major holiday in the good old days of the USSR it seems that in modern Russia it is being underplayed.  For most Russians today is a regular working day and any celebrations are decidedly low keyed. Mr Putin’s has issued statements that have been a muted condemnation of revolution as a political tool.  A far cry from the military parades and glorious rhetoric of the Soviet Days.

It would seem the day is receiving more attention here in the West than it is in the nation that created it and that it, in turn, created.  Last weekend Sunday Edition, my favourite CBC radio programme, began a two part radio-documentary on the Russian Revolution. As usual they presented informative and thoughtful takes on it and how it and our world have changed over the past century.  A left click on the logo below will take you to the broadcast which can be listened to in full (54 minutes) or scroll through the site to hear various segments.  I am looking forward to Part 2 next week.


The year 1917 had been one that started with revolution when on February 23 (March 8) protests and riots broke out against the food rationing imposed by the war.  They were to last eight days; on February 27 (March 12) the army joined the revolutionaries and three days later Tsar Nicholas II abdicated.  Over at I’ll Think of Something Later, my friend David has posted a first person account of the chaos from the diary of composer Sergey Prokofiev.  David, a well-regarded critic, broadcaster, and writer, is the author of the definitive study of the early life of the composer.  He has created a compilation of entries from the diary which are being read by actor Sam West on BBC Radio3’s programming to mark the day.  Again a left click on the picture below will take you to David’s fascinating post and some intriguing pictures of those events 100 years ago.


Indeed 1917 was a year in which things were put into motion that would change the world.

On this day in 1907: Jesús García saves the entire town of Nacozari de García by driving a burning train full of dynamite six kilometers (3.7 miles) away before it can explode. ssss


Of Plants and Pantry

In which the poster shares a blog, a recipe and some pleasure at the little serendipities of life.

One of the joys of last September’s trip to Ireland, England and the North Atlantic was a chance to spend some time with our friends David and his diplomate Jeremy in London.  Unfortunately it was only an afternoon but as always with these two gentlemen it was one of fine food, good conversation and a great discovery.  Both Laurent and I have come to the conclusion that if David recommends something – to read, to hear, or for an exploration – then it is more than worth investigating.  In this case he suggested a trip to the Chelsea Physic Garden after lunch.

Juan poses with the statue of Sir Hans Sloane in an autumnal Chelsea Physic Garden.

As well as giving us a chance to wander through the streets of Chelsea (David is an inveterate walker/hiker) it also allowed us a peek into a hidden treasure that David has mentioned several times on his blog.  And a treasure it is!  Founded in 1673 by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries it was created to train apprentices in the identification and use of medicinal plants.  The oldest botanic garden in London (and second in England only to the 1621 Garden at Oxford) it became internationally important in the study of botany and the exchange of plants.   Amongst those that used the Garden in their studies was Sir Hans Sloane who was to become the first doctor to be granted a hereditary title.  In 1712 he bought the land on the banks of the Thames that the Society had been renting from Charles Cheyne and lease it in perpetuity to the Society for a rent of  £5 annually.

Though it was late fall the Garden was still a pleasure to stroll through and view the late blooming flowers, the variety of medicinal and ornamental plants, and the quiet pleasures of a green space on a Sunday afternoon.  And I should add lavender scones with tea on the terrace of the Tangerine Dream Café and further conversation with David.

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We bid our adieus on Royal Hospital Road and as if we had not walked enough Laurent and I decided a stroll back to the Hotel was in order. I hadn’t been along the Embankment in that area since my first trip to London back in 1969. At that time the statue of Sir Thomas More – perhaps tellingly with his back to Chelsea Old Church – had just been dedicated.

The statue to Sir Thomas More before Chelsea Old Church where he built his private chapel.

Unfortunately Evensong was being celebrated so we did not go into the church.  It would have been the perfect opportunity to see some fascinating monuments and to perhaps take a peek at the only chained books in any church in London: a copy of the Vinegar Bible (1717), two volumes of Foxe’s Book of Martyrs (1684), a Prayer Book (1723) and Homilies (1683) given to the church by Sir Hans Sloane.  Many of the monuments were damaged when a parachute bomb exploded nearby in 1941 collapsing the tower onto the nave of the church.

A goodly number of the monuments have been painstakingly restored and recently a tablet to Sloane was commissioned and dedicated.  I found the Vicar’s remarks at the dedication an incredible encapsulation of the history of the church.

“We have given this great man the best spot we could find. The new plaque is beside the tomb of the family of the squire who picked up the crown at the battle of Bosworth and presented it to the knight who then handed it to the new Tudor King. The tablet is within a few feet of the tomb which Thomas More prepared for himself and his wives and opposite the capitols designed here in Chelsea by Holbein himself. It’s near the spot where Henry VIII stood with Jane Seymour, where Lady Jane Gray received communion every Sunday, where the “illegitimate” and endangered Princess Elizabeth said her private prayers and where James 1 stood as godfather. It’s a handshake away from the pulpit where Wesley preached when Anglican pulpits were closed to him.”

Just looking over the pictures from our trip and doing a bit of research into Old Church makes me think that a return visit would not go amiss – to have another meal with David and Jeremy, see the garden in spring, and explore this corner of English history.

But in my title I mentioned “pantry”.    What does a garden, Chelsea Old Church and Sir Hans Sloane have to do with food?   Well for many years now I’ve been following a blog called Lost Past Remembered by Deana Sidney – a New York based production designer who also has a passion for history and food.  Deana writes sporadically but when she does it’s beautifully researched and presented and always fascinating. As well as providing – as she always does – an interesting recipe with this posting she introduced me, and I would dare say most of her followers, to Richard Bradley and his book The Country Houſwife and Lady’s Directory in the Management of a House and Delights and Profits of a Farm.  Bradley was an 18th century botanist and one of the few of the period who had not gone to university.  His life was short but he contributed much to many of the practices that we follow to day in the name of ecology.

But back to the serendipitous connection that has me joining the Physic Garden and this obscure botanist:  Sir Hans Sloane.  Sloane was a patron of Bradley’s and seemed to be constantly getting him out of financial scrapes as well as obtaining positions for him.  Sloane was secretary of the Royal Society in 1712 when Bradley was elected at the young age of 24 to the the Fellowship.  He thought highly of the man’s work if not of his constant need for money – including after his death to take his widow and child out penury.

A click on the frontispiece and title page of Bradley’s opus for the good country women of England will take you to Deana’s fascinating post on the life of this remarkable man as well as Another Way of dreſſing Pigeons.


On this day in 1976:  The Troubles: Gunmen shoot dead ten Protestant civilians after stopping their minibus at Kingsmill in County Armagh, Northern Ireland, UK.

The Magic in the Flute

Legend says that the Prince Archbishop of Salzburg himself literally kicked Mozart out of his
palace – in truth it was his Grace’s steward Count Arno who delivered the Episcopal drop kick.
In Emanuele Luzzati’s drawing the young Mozart seems to enjoy the event.  But it seems some
little success and an admonishing Emperor Josef are awaiting his arrival in Vienna.

An article on Mozart’s The Magic Flute by my friend David Nice over at I’ll Think of Something Later led me (as David’s writings so often do)  to do two things: download one of the great recordings of Mozart’s masterpiece and search for one of several books I have on the work of Emanuele Luzzati as inspired by the genius that was Wolfgang A.

Never out of the catalogue since the day it was issued, the recording was produced by Walter Legge in Germany between November 8, 1937 and March 8th of the following year in Berlin’s Beethovensaal. It featured the Berlin Philharmonic and the cream of Germany’s operatic talent – or at least those who had not been forced to leave by the Nazis; but most surprisingly it was conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.  Beecham had created some controversy in 1936 when he taken the London Philharmonic on tour to Germany and had agreed to the “request” not to include Mendelssohn’s Scottish Symphony in their repertoire – though a convert to Christianity the Nazi government still regarded Mendelssohn as a “Jewish composer”.  To the discomfort of the authorities even Der Fuehrer was not exempt from one of Sir Thomas’s comments.  When Hitler showed up late for one of the Berlin concerts Beecham was heard, in one of those mutters of his that could fill a room, to observe “That stupid old bugger’s late!”

A computer reconstruction of the Beethovensaal, home of the Berlin Philharmonic
before the Second World War.  It was destroyed in the Allied bombing raids.
It was the major recording venue for HMV between the two Great Wars.

Though not an Nazi sympathizer – Beecham refused invitations to tour Germany after 1936 – he nevertheless honoured contracts he had with the Berlin State Opera in ’37-38.  For HMV Legge assembled an all-German cast (though Danish-born Helge Rosvaenge made his career in Germany and Austria) and it seems that he audaciously replaced a few “unacceptable” members of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra strategically with players from the Berlin State Opera Orchestra.  The Queen of the Night’s aria O zitt’re nicht, mein lieber Sohn (Tremble not, my dear son) was still unrecorded when Beecham left Berlin at the beginning of March and was recorded later that month with Bruno Seidler-Winkler conducting the Berlin State Opera Orchestra.

HMV’s Mozart Opera Society issued four operas on 78s over the space of
several years. The First was the Glyndebourne Nozze di Figaro followed by
Cosi and Don Giovanni also from John Christie’s country opera house. The
Beecham Zauberflote was the only non-British recording in the set. Along
with the Cosi it was to remain in the catalogue since its first issue and is
considered one of the great recordings of the 20th century.

Despite its slightly clouded history the recording was greeted with superlatives when it was issued on 19 double-sided shellac 78s as one of HMV’s The Mozart Opera Society recordings.  As the LP era took over many other recordings were to appear but this pioneering effort was the one most frequently held up for comparison.   My own Flute of choice has always been the 1962 recording also produced by Legge under the baton of Otto Klemperer.  I recall hearing an LP transfer of the earlier Berlin recording and not being terribly impressed – it sounded as if it had been copied from the 78s clicks, pops and hisses intact.  But after several hearings of the 2001 remastering of Beecham’s historical recording on Naxos I am inclined to place it very close second in my list of favourites.   Though the two conductors could not be more different in their approach they both capture the inspired lunacy of Schikaneder that is made magical by Mozart’s music.   The surprise with Klemperer was always how jolly and warm, almost folk-like, the more comic moments sounded and with Beecham it is the sublime majesty of the more serious  – but then should I really be that surprised?  He was, after-all, a conductor of Wagner, Strauss and Delius.

Emanuele Luzzati’s set model for the 1963 Die Zauberflote at Glyndebourne.  Ten
triangular screens, each manipulated by a stagehand hidden inside moved about
the stage under the direction of a stage manager using early wireless technology.

Luzzati’s sketches suggest the positions he wanted for the screens and designs (each side had a
different colour and design theme) he wanted revealed for the various scenes as the opera unfolded.

That strange juxtaposition of the inane and the sublime has always been a problem both in the pit and on stage.  How do you reconcile the antics of Papageno with the proclamations of Sarastro; how do you handle that sudden switch of bad guys half-way through the first act.  How do you stage a work which, as Winthrop Sargeant observed, is often dramatically dull and where “in the last act – the Klu Klux Klan marches around and says “No!” while Tamino tries to become an Eagle Scout”? And Sargeant is right – it can all be very morally upright and lets admit it the stage is not really the place where moral uprightness shows to best advantage.  Often when stage directors have failed their designers have come through and found the magic in the Flute.   And an incredible array of designers have strove and in many cases found the balance between Mozart and Schikaneder;  amongst the more famous are Marc Chagall at the Met in 1967,  David Hockney at Glynedebourne (’78)  and the Met (’91),  Beni Montressor at the NYC Opera, William Kentridge at La Monnaie (’05) and La Scala (’11), Oskar Kokoschka, Maurice Sendak and again at Glyndebourne my beloved Emanuele Luzzati in 1963.

Every year, beginning in 1960, I ordered a copy of the Glyndebourne Programme Book and between those lavish publications and the marvelous recordings I had from the Festival (Le Comte Ory, Cenerentola, the 1936 Cosi)  I would armchair travel in tuxedoed splendor on the train from Victoria to the Sussex downs,  picnic by the HaHa, wander in the gardens and revel in Mozart or Rossini.  I first became aware of Luzzati’s work when I opened that 1963 Programme Book.   I was immediately captured by his strange drawings – and remember wondering how on earth they were ever realized.  But I was even more intrigued by his use of 10 three sided screens maneuvered about the stage by a stagehand inside who took instructions from the Stage Manager on wireless headphones – how modern was that?  In subsequent years I was fascinated by Luzzati’s designs for Don Giovanni, Macbeth and Die Entführung aus dem Serail.  All very different but all distinctively Luzzati.

I finally got to Glyndebourne in 1969, dined in the Nether Wallop and saw the new Luzzati-John Pritchard Cosi along with Pelléas and Werther.  But the following year was to be “the year” – as well as Janet Baker in La Calisto and Graziella Scuitti in Il Turco in Italia – I finally got to see that Magic Flute.  If in my memory book it takes second place to the Calisto (one of those truly great nights of opera that I can count on the fingers of one hand) it was still memorable for the performances of a young Illena Cortubas, Weishal Ochman and Hans Sotin – and the magic of Luzzati’s designs.  At one moment dark and glittering, the next all bosky green and in a twinkling gleaming gold they perfectly captured the shifts from whimsy to wisdom that so intrigues in this silly-sublime final work of the equally silly-sublime Mozart.

Luzzati only designed that one production of The Magic Flute for the stage but he was to use the opera as the inspiration for designs of all sorts throughout his life.  Posters, playing cards, a full length animation and a children’s book were all to give him opportunities to express the joy that the work so obviously gave him.  Though long out of print I was able to find that children’s book online and decided that I’d make a short video combining those two things that my friend David had led me to search out:  Sir Thomas’s recording from so long ago and Luzzati’s interpretation for children – so different and yet often similar to his vision for the stage. 

Many thanks David – as always you led me to something wonderful.

May 4 -1919: May Fourth Movement: Student demonstrations take place in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China, protesting the Treaty of Versailles, which transferred Chinese territory to Japan.