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Spring, impressionists and the map of Europe

In our many years in New Jersey, we cannot recall ever having a breakfast outside. Barbecues, parties – yes, but never a breakfast. There were several excuses for that, such as absence of a deck and complicated logistics of carrying stuff down wooden steps to the patio, but the fact remains. During our Tuscan sojourn, of course, we had breakfast in the gazebo every morning…

So now, with the spring weather in full swing, we are taking advantage of our great deck and garden. Today was the very first time that we served ourselves breakfast outside, but that will surely become common practice during the summer. Sitting in the warm morning sun prompted Natasha to remark that she would not mind spending the whole day that way. Alas, it is getting rather hot by mid-day (unless you move into the shade); the grass already started developing brown patches.

A number of people have remarked to us that this type of weather is normally reserved for May, not April. There has not been a drop of rain for probably three weeks now. As I find myself occasionally saying these days, Al Gore must be on to something.

My pragmatic wife is using the global warming to the benefit of the household. I made cursory remarks in the past that appliances in our rented house leave a lot to be desired, primarily along the lines of being small and ineffective. The drier is possibly the worst of all: You put a pair of socks in it, and in 75 minutes they come out only slightly less wet than they were right after washing. So Natasha stopped using the drier altogether, relying instead on hanging the clothes all over the house. Now, we stringed a couple of ropes across the deck, and the linen and clothes are happily flapping in the sun…

In case I never stated it that way before, London is a great place for museum- and gallery-aficionados, with many an interesting exhibition taking place at any given time. On Saturday, we took advantage of the couple of them, and came away very impressed.

The Royal Academy of Arts hosted and exhibition of pastels and drawings called Unknown Monet. There were a few less-known paintings sprinkled in (including a couple of versions of Water lilies and the magnetizing Rue de la Bavole, Honfleur), but most of the exhibits aimed at tracing Monet’s evolution as a painter as well as illustrating his methodical approach and preparation. Infinitely fascinating.

The National Gallery, in the meantime, currently holds two exhibitions centered on impressionists. The first one, From Manet to Picasso, brings together selected works of every celebrated master, such as Signac’s Cap Canaille, Seurat’s Bathers at Asnieres or Van Gogh’s Sunflowers.

The other exposition is devoted to Renoir’s landscapes, with 64 beautiful works by the painter. The entry to this last one was not cheap at £12 a pop, but worth every penny. I am a self-professed landscape admirer in general, but the use of color and light by Renoir in paintings such as The Skiff, Oarsmen at Chatou or The View of Argenteuil is absolutely breathtaking. Renoir was always at the top of my list of favorite painters and his position in my personal pantheon is now unassailable.

We bought a big political map of Europe and used pins to mark the places that we have already travelled to. There are still more pins in the former Soviet Union territories than otherwise, especially since the map is detailed enough to list towns such as Azov or Pushkin, and we feel compelled to stick a pin into any location that we remember setting a foot in, eve if we do not remember anything about the place (for instance, when I was 9 or 10, my dad and I took a car trip from Rostov to Moldova across Ukraine with his friend; we stayed overnight in Kherson, of which I have no recollection whatsoever beyond the fact itself; I am still pinning Kherson a “place visited”).

We came up with a few rules along the way (such as, an unmarked city that we purposefully visited – say, Rothenburg-ob-der-Tauber, – merits a separate pin in the appropriate location, whereas a driving trip that includes many small towns and villages merits a single pin either for the major marked town or just in the area). We ended up with 101 pins at the moment (53 in former USSR, 48 in Western Europe). Our progress will be duly reported in this space.

The look at our map is quite intriguing. It not only emphasizes the areas that we have not approached yet (Baltics and Nordics, Greece and Turkey, among others), but also makes clear that there are tons of places in countries that we covered quite well (Spain and France, especially) that we at best only drove through.

I am closing today on a very light note. Kimmy’s first experience with bidet in Tuscany has left an indelible impression on her. She has commented several times in the past few days how convenient that was, the word butt popping up every time…

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