A Weekend in Wales

Montgomery Castle

Rhaedr Waterfall

Lake Vyrnwy

A singing walk

Powys Castle

Some Welsh Cheese and Lebanese Wine

BBC Modern Masters - Picasso

If you are wondering what you’ve just been reading and why, then please consult Marcus Zusak’s The Book Thief – in part of this book one of the characters (a fist-fighting Jew) creates his own picture book, which is featured in the text – made of simple sketches, it playfully interrupts the text with childlike pictures that are all the more enjoyable for their technical lack of ability. So I thought I’d have a go.

For a more accurate representation of what I saw in Wales and how beautiful it was there are some photos below.

May 31, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . architecture, art, books, Me, my artwork, travel, Uncategorized. 4 comments.

Mussels in Brussels

Don’t worry, I’m not about to do the blogging equivalent of a holiday slide show. Just thought I’d draw your attention to some fun things I discovered on a recent trip to rockin’ Belgium. Of course, I indulged in all the expected treats of the land: beer, mussels, choccies and chips but I also found some unexpected cultural gems:

Belgian Symbolist Art at the Musee Royaux des Beaux Arts: From a quick Google I can tell you that broadly speaking symbolism was a reaction against realism, focusing on spirituality, dreams and the power of the imagination. A stroll round the exhibition showed me that in the late nineteenth century these dark, moody paintings and sculptures were the order of the day in Belgium. While I’m not sure I’d want any of them hanging on my walls (think of the nightmares), they were certainly interesting to behold and very atmospheric. Here are a couple of examples:

Felicien Rops, La Buveuse d’absinthe, 1865:

And the very famous Orphee mort, (Ophelia’s Death), 1893, Jean Delville:

Some more Googling tells me that decorative elements of Belgian Symbolism had an influence on the subsequent Art Nouveau movement, bringing me to my next Brussels highlight: the Belgian architect Victor Horta’s house and the various cool Art Nouveau buildings around Brussels including the Music Museum, which reminds me of the glass elevator in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory:

Victor Horta wanted to break free from convention and redesign functional objects to make them beautiful. The interior of his house, which you can just stroll around as if you were his guest, is gorgeous and well worth a visit.

Speaking of individuals with a passion for modernity and creativity, another cool dude I learnt more about from my trip is Benedikt Taschen, a German publisher who puts out books on all things art, film,  fashion and erotica. There’s a lovely Taschen bookshop in the heart of Brussels and I spent a good deal of time browsing the pages of these beautiful books.

Which leads me nicely onto the final thing I have to say about Brussels: they have a surprisingly good shopping scene. Not blinding, in-your-face fashion saturation like London and New York, but small independent boutiques and a refreshing lack of chain stores. (This goes for their cafes and restaurants too: they just don’t do Starbucks, OK?) My favourite shopping find was a boutique store with the unusual name of Mr Ego. Its website describes it as ‘cool attitude shopping’ – I love frenglish. I picked up several nice pieces from this place, and think they will make welcome additions to my Topshopified wardrobe.

So that concludes my Belgian observations. I hope you find them useful for future trips to a land that does indeed go beyond mussels and chips. Incidentally, it is a very easy place to get to for a weekend break thanks to the legendary Eurostar! And even more convenient if, like me, you have lovely friends living out there like Tom and Laura who provided me with free accommodation, a guided tour and invaluable local knowledge.

May 16, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , . architecture, art, books, fashion, travel. Leave a comment.

And so to The Now

Or rather “The Power of Now” by Eckhart Tolle:
I often feel distanced from reality. I’m on the bus but my head is still at work. I’m out with friends but I’m thinking about a different night. I’m in my room but I’m in an imaginary conversation. This is very bad according to Tolle.
Thinking about the future, reliving the past or getting lost in an emotion is what Tolle describes as being ‘unconscious’. He suggests we’re only really ‘conscious’ when we are immersed in what we’re doing and living in the now. And he gives a whole load of reasons as to why this is so important, mostly revolving around the idea that we are only really ‘ourselves’ when we’re present in the now. This, he says, is the only way to happiness. (Reminds me of the bit in I heart Huckabees’ when they’re repeating ‘how am I not myself, how am I not myself’).

While I’m not sure I’d go along with some of the more extreme suggestions in the book, (PMS as an expression of historic female suppression, modern art as void of meaning), the book is a goldmine for finding ways to cope with stress, relax and feel more connected. For this reason, I’ve relished it. For anyone who feels like self help books are one step too far for bed time reading, I’ve taken a few key bite size pieces of advice which are worth thinking about even if you don’t agree with them. (Mr Tolle, I hope this doesn’t count as plagarism – really it is just a big advert for your awesome text). So in ‘top tips’ format here’s some advice from the Tolle:

Forget about the past: “The truth is that the only power there is is contained within this moment. It is the power of your presence.”
Live in the Now: “As you go about your life, don’t give 100% of your attention to the external world and to your mind. Keep some within.”
“Take routine activities and give them your fullest attention so you are totally present in them.”
Don’t worry about the future: “Don’t see the present as a means to an end.”
“Do not have illusory expectations that anything or anyone in the future will save you or make you happy.”
Escape your mind: “Don’t take the content of your mind too seriously, as your sense of self does not depend on this.”
Coping with challenges: “Whatever the present moment contains, accept it as if you had chosen it, then take action if necessary or possible.”
Being creative: “Do not be concerned with the fruit of your action: just give attention to the action itself. The fruit will come of its own accord.”
“Focus your attention on your inner energy and stop thinking. When you resume thinking it will be fresh and creative.”
Interacting with others: “When listening to another person, don’t just listen with your mind, listen with your whole body.”
“Surrender – inner resistance cuts you off from other people from yourself, from the world around you.”

That barely skims the surface of what he’s on about but hopefully it gives a rough idea of his attitude to life and his teaching. Incidentally, trying to ‘stop thinking’ is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done! It is a nice feeling though, even when it only lasts a second or two. And giving up waiting is also a handy tip – makes the commute more bearable because you kind of accept that’s what you’re doing at that second, rather than thinking about where you’ve got to get to or what’s going to happen when you get there.
Even if I’m not convincing you, I’d really recommend giving this book a chance. It’s powerful stuff.
Right, I’m off to make some green tea and do some yoga…

February 14, 2010. Tags: , . books. Leave a comment.

The Frey and The Tao

January’s been an interesting month for me. With all the bad weather and dark evenings, reading and thinking have been my main activities and led me to some really interesting books exploring things I’d never thought about before. These books and thoughts are the topic of this post and the next one. I hope they don’t come across too pretentiously – it’s all written with genuine curiosity, rather than any desire to be seen as a philosopher/hippy/counsellor/academic.

It all started with James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces. I read it over Christmas and was bowled over by the story of a guy with a serious addiction problem who manages to set himself free by disassociating his real self from his problems. Simple as this sounds, it isn’t and the book explores how he battles with himself to overcome his constant desire to excessively consume alcohol and drugs, which means he has to obliterate the ‘self’ he’s created, lived with and fueled for the past twenty years.

One of his best tools in doing this is The Tao, an eastern philosophical text which helps him realise that there is something, a nameless, formless thing, beyond his problems and his apparent identity that he is a part of. This is not religious – he doesn’t believe in God.

I know that is a poorly summed up insight into what is a mind-blowing book but it got me thinking and I bought a copy of The Tao, which, although somewhat mental, is very powerful. When I can actually understand what it is going on about (sometimes the analogies escape me), I find it really soothing and perceptive, with advice such as:

“Live in a good place
Keep your mind deep.
Treat others well.
Stand by your word.
Make fair rules.
Do the right thing.
Work when it’s time.
Only do not contend,
And you will not go wrong.”

Its timelessness and simple way of phrasing universal truths intrigued me.
Thinking about how things are connected, old and new, inside and outside, present and past and intrigued by applying the idea of connection to my life, I decided I wanted to learn a bit more about spirituality, something I’d rarely bothered considering before. My friend Anna recommended “The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle” and that’s the subject of the next post.

February 7, 2010. Tags: , . books. Leave a comment.