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An Extraordinary British Summer, Part 2: Provençal luncheon, Sussex setting

Everyone dreams of those typical Provençal scenes – the rustic wooden table, set out under the dappled shade of a bounteous fig tree, chairs collected from all over the house set around the table as a miscellaneous collective of dissonant styles, and upon the table pitchers of wine, large bowls of salads and platters loaded with fruits and meats set down in waiting for a large family gathering…Such was the idyll we created last weekend, but not in Provence. In England, where the country’s best summer in decades continues to bring smiles of sun-inspired joy across all four corners of the Kingdom.

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For me, the heady mix of sunshine and a lush flower-filled English country garden, is one of the very best ways to enjoy the summer. My childhood memories are full of nostalgic reflections on summer picnics on the lawn, the feel of grass between my toes, the smell of lavender wafting in the wind, the sensation of stone paths baked by the sun (I think I must have deleted the memories of the rainfall which inevitably dogged other days – who needs to remember those?). So on those occasions when the English summer bears fruit, I head to my childhood garden where the flowers still grow abundantly, and the family can still gather despite the many years that have gone by.

So all things combined, and with my family now double the size what it was in my childhood, my homage to the English summer was a table laid under an iris tree, freshly cut flowers hung overhead so their perfume imbued the air during a lunch of barbecued meats and elaborate Mediterranean style salads. The wine, of course, was flowing, and as my birthday fast approaches, a first cake and early presents were enjoyed to mark an occasion perfectly fitting for this fine English summer. And as befits a luncheon more Mediterranean than British, our afternoon was spent at the seaside, where the waters of the South Coast are easily as warm as Spain’s.

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Vive the English summer! Long may it continue.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

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An Extraordinary British Summer, Part 1: Glyndebourne

I have been to Glyndebourne, the wonderfully bucolic Sussex opera house, many times. Yet I have never, ever enjoyed the kind of idyllic summer weather which is promised by all the archetypal postcard shots. Many a year I have struggled to pin down a picnic blanket in ferocious blustery winds, cowered in marquees to avoid sudden rain showers, or taken refuse in the covered balconies of thered-bricked opera house building. This year couldn’t have been more different. For we are enjoying an exceptional summer in England, with a sustained period of heat the likes of which has not been seen for decades. Just reward, one might say, for a hellish winter that saw snow storms in March and a cancellation of Spring, but another sign that the world’s weather has all gone a bit mad.

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So finally this was the year for the sunny Glyndebourne picnic which I have long been pursuing like a Templar Knight seeking out the Holy Grail. While the concept of donning a dinner jacket in 30 degrees was far from pleasant, we were at least able to benefit from the shade of drooping willows and the light breeze rolling off green Sussex hillsides. In fact the weather was easily good enough to picnic in style, and we went all out – gone was the bobbled blanket in favour of foldable furniture, a Mallorquín tablecloth and fine china tea cups, all setting the scene for a lakeside picnic which beat the very best of Glyndebourne idylls.

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As for the opera – Pelleas et Mélisande by Debussy – it offered a suitably dreamlike fantasy whose imagery could have come straight out of a painting by the Pre-Raphaelites. Known for its highly symbolic qualities, the narrative was not always one which could be easily followed, but Debussy’s score – at times elegantly impressionistic and at others dramatically Wagnerian – was so exquisitely moving that all one had to do was sit back and enjoy the waves of rousing orchestral crescendo wash over you like water crashing over the eager Sussex shoreline.

Best of all was the the moment when the curtain fell, and we wandered out into gardens still lit by a sky tinged pink from a recently departed sunset. The heat of the sun was now dissipated and a fresher yet balmy breeze enticing us to enjoy the Sussex landscape in this most pleasant of summer hours. If only the British summer was always like this.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

A Cretan Odyssey | Part 2 – Chania’s Labyrinth

Crete is an ancient land. Its very rocks breathe a thousand tales of nymphs and satyrs, of the birth of Zeus and the anger of Pasiphaë. But the most famous tale of all is spun from the endless twists and turns of the renowned labyrinth, built by master craftsman Daedalus to house the bloodthirsty Minotaur, bastard son of King Minos’ queen. There, somewhere in the labyrinthine grounds of the great Palace of Knossos, Ariadne spun her thread to lead Theseus out of the complex maze, but only after his bravery put the Minotaur to death. Today, there remain many theories about exactly what shape the labyrinth might have taken; some even suggest it was the Palace of Knossos itself. However, one things is certain in modern day Crete: head to the utterly quaint, twisting and convoluted streets of Chania’s old town, and you will feel like you have found the ancient relics of Daedalus’ mastery.

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We adored Chania. How could it be otherwise? With cosy little streets, strung with canopies of the pinkest bougainvillea, offset against yellow, blue and dusky pink houses and white-edged cobbled streets, it is a town of picture-perfect quality. Everything about the archetype of postcard Greece is embodied here: the bright blue rickety wooden chairs set outside cafes and tavernas serving Greek salad on blue and white checked table clothes, wine in terracotta pitchers, and lazy cats strewn languidly across the streets in the afternoon sun. Unlike many places which have fallen foul of the ravages of tourism, Chania has upped its game. Its shops and restaurants are positively up-market; there is a real feeling of Capri town or the Amalfi Coast about this town. And our unbroken record of finding perfect eateries, night after night, only confirmed the consistent quality of the place.

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So while Chania’s true highlight may be its dazzling Venetian harbour, just behind the front line of seaside houses, this maze of quaint alleyways will ensnare with equal charm. This is one labyrinth to enthusiastically get lost in. 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Terracotta Collective: Chania Harbour

Those eagle-eyed amongst you might have noticed a painting in progress hidden in amongst the photos paying homage to Crete in Tuesday’s post. Perched on a little travel easel on the balcony of our hotel in Chania, a canvas, quickly filled with the sun-soaked colours and gently bouncing water which filled our view. So lucky we were to enjoy such an extensive and exclusive platform from which to enjoy Chania’s harbour at all times. It would have been a travesty not to have painted it.

So the very same afternoon I set about erecting my easel and filling my bite-sized canvas. I started with the background – a broad, roughly applied swathe of terracotta, colour of the rich soil which underpins the geography of Greece. Next, the sea and the sky, roughly applied with ultra marine, brush stroke daubings still visible across both. Then came the houses and the mosque which characterise the view – that pink blancmange dome and the gently crumbling whitewash of nearby houses. I tried to capture something of the delicate, transient beauty of the place, with roughly applied dappled paints and terracotta roofs allowing that original tone to shine through from the base of the canvas.

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Terracotta Collective 1: Chania Harbour ©2018 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas

This is the first painting in my new Terracotta Collective. Painted on a terracotta background whose rich earthy colour is allowed to shine through amongst surface brush strokes of differing thickness, it is a collection which references the rich ground which underpins the life and vivacity of the wider Mediterranean. 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

A Cretan Odyssey | Part 1 – Chania’s Venetian Harbour

You’ll excuse the long absence of The Daily Norm from your inboxes and browsers: We’ve been on an adventure; an Odyssey if you like, to the birthplace of Zeus and the land of the entrapped Minotaur, haunt of Olympian gods and roaming mystical beasts. For as the year rolls on and the summer reaches a glorious pinnacle, our 2018 travels continue – we’re off to the delectable Greek island of Crete.

Laced with mythological connotations, imbued with the smell of wild oregano, and jangling to the sound of wild goats and the sea which swishes upon its mammoth mountainous coastline, Crete is one of the longest continuously inhabited and historically relevant of all European destinations, as well as one of the Southernmost located. Yet for our summer holiday, it provided all of the luxuries, the aesthetics and the charm that could possibly be required of a modern holiday. Daily Norm readers: I welcome you, to Crete.

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We start our adventure in Crete’s second city: Chania. Sprawling along the coast on the North-Western side of the island, Chania doesn’t feel like a city at all when you’re nestled inside the ancient walls of its richly-encircled old town. The sensation is one of a quaint little village, with picturesque roaming streets winding steadily down to a waterfront which is the beating heart of the city.

This harbour, so called Venetian because of time of its construction under the dictate of La Serenissima, is understandably the focal point for the city. It is alive at all hours with the bustle of its bars and restaurants whose collective unity beguiles the visitor with a harmonious panoply of sun-drenched little buildings hugging the shore. It is a waterfront which sparkles and ripples as water bounces off the crystal clear sea and makes fun of the straight lines adjacent, and a place imbued with a historical ambience translated through the presence of ancient stone houses and cobbled pavements. But pulling focus on the harbour is undoubtedly the Küçük Hasan Pasha Mosque, a leftover from Ottoman rule, and which today looks like a perfectly balanced candy-pink blancmange which turns ever so butterscotch in the golden evening sun. 

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We were lucky: our hotel room enjoyed the most stunning balcony views over this harbour, affording us the opportunity to revel in the changing faces of Chania’s ancient heart as it metamorphosed from slow and sleepy morning village to a bustling evening spectacle whose lights sparkled across the deep inky waters. We saw its colours dance vividly in the morning sun, and bathed in the golden light of early evening. And we breathed the deliriously fresh seawater perfume which pervaded the entire harbour, morning till night.

Chania’s Venetian harbour was the perfect way to commence our Cretan Odyssey, promising great things were in store from this island of plenty.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Norms in Rome | The Piazza Navona

Norms in Rome, Rome in the Norms… such has been the delicious longevity of the Norms’ devoted acquaintance with Italy’s beating heart that the Norms feel permanently wedded to this city of ancient glory and modern glamour. They’ve been in piazzas aplenty, gorged on delectable Roman food fare, explored ruins, historical monuments and strolled riverside. But as the Norms prepare to take their leave of the city, with their bags packed from some summertime travels, these blobby creatures have made one last visit – to a Piazza equal in glory to the spectacle of the Piazza della Rotonda where their adventure began some three months ago… the glorious Piazza Navona.

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Norms on the Piazza Navona ©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown 2018, pen on paper

Retaining the shape of the Stadium of Domitian which lies beneath its current day ground-level manifestation, but filled with some of the most magnificent sculptures of the Roman baroque, the Piazza Navona embodies Rome at its unique best, evidencing like a geological cross-section Rome’s complex trajectory throughout history. Whether it be those exquisite fountains, the countless cafes, or the temporary carousel which appears whenever a festival is in town, the Piazza Navona is the ideal location for the Norms to bid Rome arrivederci…until their inevitable return very soon.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. For more information on the artwork of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, visit http://www.delacybrown.com 

Compendium // Porto > The secret side of a garden city

It’s hard not to get comfortable in among the wash of blue and white tiles and the swill of a good sweet port served alongside them, but to rest on ones laurels in Porto is to miss out on one of the city’s best kept secrets: its gardens. Though not obvious from the heart of the Ribeira, even when the city is seen from the rooftops, it’s remarkable how frequently this densely packed city is punctuated by an exquisite green space. And in fact Porto’s gardens not only provide respite from the bustle of the centre: they also provide the perfect viewing platform from which to admire the city… in utmost tranquility.

The first garden on my list is the Jardim da Cordoaria. Nestled in between some of Porto’s principle sights – the blue tiled Igreja das Carmelitas and the tall, narrow Torre dos Clérigos, the Cordoaria gardens provide an oasis of calm in the city centre. There, an avenue of what look like birch trees but which seem to grow out of huge almost deformed trunks sets the scene for a garden which is dappled with filtered sunlight and which benefits from a very tranquil pond surrounded by perfectly placed benches. The park is not only peppered with pretty pink flowers and curving meandering paths: it is also a veritable outdoor art galley, filled with amusing sculptures depicting groups of men in conversation or at play. They make a perfect little selfie spot… for those so inclined.

Jardim da Cordoaria

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Next up in the garden which satisfies every element of the kind of magical secret garden you long to find in childhood dreams: the Jardim das Virtudes. Literally lining the sloping sides of a masterfully terraced valley, blink and you will miss the discrete entrance to this garden which only starts to come into view when you enter the verdant valley. Once down there, what opens up is a place of spiritual magnitude, with seemingly deserted moss-covered fountains managing only the most meagre trickle into green ponds, while all around, stone walls, topiary and wild flowers give the garden the impression of carefully constructed desertion. And best of all, look between overhanging boughs and around mighty tree trunks and you will be treated to beautiful views over the Duoro river.

Jardim das Virtudes

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Down the road from the Virtudes gardes is the biggest and perhaps the most impressive garden of them all – the Jardim do Palácio de Cristal. Because here, the visitor with time of their hands (which we sadly lacked) will be treated to not one but a whole handful of differing garden styles and topography, each sharing unbeatable views over Porto’s rooftops and the breathtaking Duoro as it widens on its way down to the sea. In these gardens, asides from a peculiar flying saucer-style construction at its centre, you will see nature at its manicured best, with knot gardens and tropical palms swaying in the breeze, a cafe next to a Monet style waterlily pond and bridge, and roaming free, peacocks and cockerels who defy any form of control on the extravagance of their coats of many colours.

Jardim do Palácio de Cristal

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My final tip would be to leave yourself time to explore these gardens and sink stupendously within their atmosphere of mesmerising stupor. It’s the only way to really experience a garden at its best, leaving thoughts of city life and travel far, far behind.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Folio // Porto from the Rooftops

When I look through my photos of Porto, one thing really stands out, even more than the blue and white ceramics which embellish the houses – the rooftops. Swathes of terracotta dominate my photographic collection, and as many will know, I do like a good rooftop, especially when offset by the colours which inherently characterise southern Europe. Porto is no exception for a city resplendent in colour, but what it has more than your average city is a most unusual topography – one which rises and falls over undulating hills so that, even if you’re not climbing up towers and high stories, you can benefit from the most glorious views of warm red roofs and green bushy treetops.

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This little collection of rooftop photos enjoys a variety of angles, from the Miradouro de Vitoria, an almost hidden street which suddenly opens up into a splendid view over the Ribeira and across to the cellars of the Vila Nova de Gaia, and the spectacular square outside the Sé Cathedral, to the stunning vistas afforded by the Ponte Dom Luís Bridge, and from the heady heights of the dominating Torre dos Clérigos. There, laid out before us, rooftops seemed to jostle for space, vying for light light trees in a forest. And in that forest, cranes seems to rise above the city like new shoots of spring – a sign perhaps that Porto is itself enjoying a new regrowth, as it repairs and reinvents itself in response to its renewed popularity.

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Porto > Port tasting in the Vila Nova de Gaia

It is a truth universally acknowledged that you cannot go to Porto without tasting the port. It would be like going to York without a trip to Betty’s, or indeed to Champagne without a glass of the bubbly stuff. So having crossed the Duoro river over the mighty Dom Luís Bridge, you will find yourself ideally located to wet your taste buds with the sweet and delectable nectar which has maybe made Porto the favourite haunt of the Olympian gods. For in the Vila Nova de Gaia, the quaint riverside zone bang opposite Porto’s Ribeira, you will find the air filled with the subtle perfume of oak barrels soaked with wine, as you wander past the headquarters of practically every of the most important Port manufacturers in the world.

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Walking away from the bustling quayside, where boats carrying barrels of port from the vineyards up the Duoro valley can still be seen (probably more for show, but still…), you will find yourself in narrow little streets filled with port showrooms and cellars. Look up, and the large illuminated lettering of each port house exhibits the most famous names in port: Graham’s, Ramos Pinto, Fonseca, Porto Cruz… they’re all there for the tasting. But being mildly patriotic, we decided to head to one of the most famous British-founded brands, and one which today still wears the seal of approval of the British royals: Taylor’s.

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Walking into Taylor’s was bit like visiting a colonial embassy. It felt very British, very sophisticated, but with all the hallmarks of a much hotter climate: plush gardens, a vine dappled courtyard with a tricking fountain, all traversed by peacocks walking haughtily around their dominion. Inside we were given a very handy self-toured audio guide which led us through a vast vault filled on all sides with barrel upon barrel of the famous fortified wine, and the heady scent of fermenting grapes. Past the barrels, a state of the art exhibition taught us more about port than we can ever have wished to know: I can now tell you the difference between a tawny and a late bottled vintage; why tawny’s are honey coloured and standard port red, and the traditions which accompany the human-trod grape harvesting process.

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All more interesting than it sounds, although the real treat came at the tasting, enjoyed in the heavenly surroundings of a perfectly tamed box-hedged garden alive with the scent of roses and accompanied by the solemn call of those same majestic peacocks. Served with chocolate truffles picked to perfectly balance the rich syrupy nectar served to use by a manicured waiter, we could quite easily have closed our eyes and followed those gods back to Olympus. Naturally we could not leave without buying a bottle of our favourite: the 20 year old tawny. And whenever it is opened the heady scent will remind me of that moment in Porto’s winey paradise – a treat not to be missed. 

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.

Compendium // Porto > Traversing the Duoro

While it may have to beat off competition from ample bottles of port, a rolling city geography and ceramic tiled houses, the Ponte Dom Luís I, aka the Bridge of Luis I, is the undisputed icon of the city of Porto. Extending across the Duoro river with a mighty 172 metre span and a boasting a double decker construction allowing trains to rumble across the top and cars to take the lower road (pedestrians can enjoy both routes), Porto’s bridge is the ultimate way to cross the river which otherwise splits the city in two.

While many assume that the 1886 iron construction was the work of the legendary Gustave Eiffel, it was in fact the design of one of Eiffel’s chief disciples, Théophile Seyrig, Eiffel’s single-story idea having been previously rejected owing to the rapidly expanding city demographic. At the time, it was the widest bridge ever to have been constructed. Today, it may have lost that epithet, but it remains one of the most recognisable bridges in Europe.

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After exploring the wonderful region of the Ribeira, next on your list should be a visit to the Dom Luis bridge which will not only provide you with some stunning rooftop views of Porto, but also take you across to the Vila Nova de Gaia region of the city, where the all important Port houses are to be found. While pedestrians can choose between the upper or lower decks, the latter being reached pretty easily from the riverbank of the Ribeira, we opted for the somewhat more vertiginous upper deck, this being reached by walking in a straight line from the wonderful tile-covered central train station. I’m not a vertigo sufferer, but I have to admit that from up there, my arms turned a little shaky as I extended my camera over the side of the bridge to capture the beautiful views it affords of the city.

But as these photos will demonstrate, those both enamoured and feared of heights should opt for the Ponte Dom Luís I – ultimate icon of Porto and the undisputed platform from which to see the city. And so long as you head over the bridge from the Ribeira to the Gaia, you can rest assured that a glass of ruby coloured port will be waiting for you on the other side. 

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2018. Unauthorised use and/or duplication of the material, whether written work, photography or artwork, included within The Daily Norm without express and written permission from The Daily Norm’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited.