I forgot to check with the groundhog this year. Did it see its shadow or not? To be honest, it would not make any difference. The winter never really came to England. Late fall lingered… and gradually morphed into early spring…
I will be first to admit that for a well-educated person, I am not all that well-rounded when it comes to fine arts. I am not talking about skills (it is no secret, of course, that I can’t draw, have barely finished one year of musical education, and do not play musical instruments – unless someone is charitable enough to call my recent attempts with guitar “playing”). I am talking about art appreciation. Yes, I am a self-professed admirer of architectural triumphs, but a dilettante nonetheless. Yes, I hold classical music in high regard, have favorite composers and compositions and never resist attending a concert, but lack of formal education in the subject is a handicap. The Nutcracker last week was my very first live experience with the ballet. I have been known to doze off at an opera performance…
When it comes to painting, though, I am not averse to spending time in a gallery admiring works of masters old and new. Furthermore, I rarely bypass a visit to an important art museum in any city that I travel to. Even though I do not have any formal training in this discipline either, I – quite surprisingly to myself – have a reasonable skill in recognizing a painter or a school by the style.
But I cannot say that all styles and forms of painting appeal to me. For instance, I am not overly fond of Rembrandt – I appreciate his skill of portraying the human face, but the end result is just too bleak for me. In truth, I am rather indifferent to portraits as a whole, which makes someone like Van Dyck go underappreciated by me. (I am sure he is not turning in his grave because of that.) Biblical thematic is of little appeal, so widely accepted giants such as Leonardo and Titian have little to none to offer me.
On the other hand, I adore the impressionists. But by far and large, I simply appreciate landscapes the most. And for the many years now, one of my favorite landscapists has been Canaletto. So when I came across an announcement of a Canaletto exhibition in London, we had to go.
This temporary exhibition is held until mid-April in a small gallery in Southeast London (only a few miles away from us, but you have heard me speak about London traffic – it took us almost an hour to drive there). The gallery has a nice little permanent exhibition itself, including works by Lorraine, Rembrandt, Rubens, Van Dyck, Teniers, Van Ruisdael and others. There is one Venetian Canaletto that the gallery owns, too.
But the special exhibition is simply magnificent. Over fifty of Canaletto’s English paintings (he moved to England for nine years in 1746, after the Venetian market got oversaturated with his works), including many views of London and surrounding countryside and several capriccios. Canaletto’s landscapes are almost always panoramic but precise to the last brick and flag-stone. Their vividity lends easily to imagining yourself observing the scene as it unfolds in front of you.
Natasha and I had thought the exposition excellent. Becky acquiesced, while Kimmy got involved in discovering little details that make Canaletto’s paintings so appealing.
Having satisfied our desire for fine art, we drove to Bluewater mall, to satisfy our cravings for sushi. The cravings were Becky’s, primarily, but I happily participated. Natasha has been to this mall before and saw the restaurant, which attracts people with its conveyor of various sushi plates that sneaks around every table and booth. I’ve been to one of these in New York City, and know well enough that you end up spending much more than necessary this way, by giving in to the temptation provided by the endless parade of platters. However, kids required some diversion. Plus, going to the mall always affords time away from confines of one’s home even when it is raining outside. When we were leaving the gallery, it started to rain again. So we went to the mall.
Regrettably, the sushi itself left a lot to be desired, but Becky took full advantage of unlimited miso soup by having four cups. Kimmy excitedly moved plates on, off and around the conveyor, Natasha found herself something to eat, we paid a crazy amount in the end – complete success, in other words.
Friday night, we went to another exotic place – a Georgian restaurant in London. As in Republic of Georgia. Called Mimino, no less. Our new friends invited us for a birthday celebration. It was not a Russian-American-style banquet, but rather a nice long dinner. Four couples, only one person out of eight not a Russian speaker (guess who ended up sitting across the table from him and spending most of the dinner conversing in English – yep, yours truly ).
The restaurant is nice, including authentic music. The food is not superb, just good. Traditional Georgian dishes abound (khachapuri, lobio, chakhokhbili, odjakhuri), but somehow on the whole they do not raise to the level of our recollections of youth. Kharcho was fantastic, though. There is a huge selection of Georgian wines, for those who still find them appealing (I did not want to offend the rest of the company and drank Khvanchkara and Kindzmarauli, but I had long graduated to finer things in wine appreciation).
The service was a bit amateurish, but overall, it has been a very pleasant outing. Our young ladies, as you may have guessed, stayed home and even asked us not to call them too often, so that their TV-watching could go uninterrupted…
It is not truly related, but our kids are being well-prepared for self-sufficiency. For instance, for the last week, Kimmy’s education at school revolved around pirates. She came home one day and explained to us which things the pirates liked to steal and why. She went on a school trip on Friday to some ship where her class was given a presentation on how the thieves were punished (cutting off hands and such). Who wouldn’t want this kind of knowledge when they were six years old? I shudder at the thought of what next topic they might be exploring.