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Marseille to Marbella, Part I: Downtown City

Marseille is one of those cities that’s got a bit of a reputation. Like Naples and Palermo, (and even Barcelona before its Olympics regeneration), Marseille is characterised by an idyllic location which has been both its enemy and its friend. For with popularity has also come rapid growth, and the result is an uncontrolled urban sprawl where street crime has taken the place of riviera recreation, and the high temperatures have combined with a generalised lethargy to improve what are often grave social divides and ever evident crime and economic issues. Yet for all that, Marseille is a city with an undeniable arresting quality; which is so historically wealthy and with so vibrant and diverse a population that you cannot help but be mesmerised.

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Such is Marseille, France’s second city, and in many respects like Paris by the sea, except that in Marseille the social divide is perhaps even more visible. Here, Haussmann mansions have been given a graffiti facelift, and where the Seine would cut through Paris with all its luxuriant wateriness, in Marseille the sea, and all its accompanying ship building industrial heritage and fishing paraphernalia, predominates all.

This first look at our summer trip from Marseille down to Marbella takes the Daily Norm back a few weeks, to the sunny days of August when temperatures were at an all time high. Our arrival, on the Eurostar train from London into Marseille’s Gare St Charles, was one greeted by temperatures close to the 40s. Yet this was no blue-shuttered port or seaside retreat in which to enjoy the summer weather at ease. Marseille hit us with the full impact of its teeming urban sprawl which literally shimmered in the heat as the fumes of traffic and food and generalised humanity combined with fresh sea breezes and an awful lot of sunshine.

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From streets crammed with shops and markets, and bustling with faces from across the world, to the city’s true heart, the Vieux Port, where people milled to watch boats stride in and out of the harbour, it wasn’t hard to get to know Marseille: a city which wears its heart on its sleeve and is emotionally, viscerally real.

Marseille may be the capital of the French Riviera but St Tropez it is not. Rather, this thriving metropolis combines elements from across France and its ancient empire: it is a true world city with an evidently international demographic. What it lacks in luxury, it makes up for in spirit. And as you can see from this first raft of photos, it is a city of a not insignificant aesthetic appeal.

Bienvenue à Marseille!

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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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London, Rediscovering My City: Hampstead Heath

There are a surprising number of places in London that I have never visited. Before moving to Mallorca, I lived in London for 12 years, and yet the closest I have ever come to Notting Hill was the image of Hugh Grant’s droopy eyes in a book shop and his scantily clad lodger jumping around in front of a widely grinning Julia Roberts. I’m determined to explore the whole city, when time allows, and one place that I can now cross off the list is Hampstead Heath.

London viewed from Parliament Hill

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Located in the far North of London, the Heath is famous for many things, amongst them its bathing pools (men’s, women’s and mixed), sprawling countryside, the setting for Kenwood House, and fantastic views of London from Parliament Hill. Hampstead Heath has been the setting for various outdoor pursuits, water-sports and bucolic perambulations for years, and I’m not just referring to the less salubrious kind. It’s not difficult to see why the 700 acres of greenery are one of Londoners’ favourite places to spend recreational time: the sprawling landscape is so diverse and verdant, including vast forests, open heathland, rolling hills and various ponds, that a stroll within the park feels like a weekend away to the far reaches of the Kingdom.

Rolling countryside minutes from London

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But Hampstead Heath is not just a pasture of green and plenty. For the North-most extent hosts a grand and lavish manor house whose pearly white stucco and delicately embellished facade glimmers against its verdant surroundings. This is Kenwood House, once seat of the Earl and Countess of Mansfield, and today home to one of the UK’s best kept art collection secrets. Including one of Rembrandt’s most striking self-portraits, light-infused works by Vermeer, rococo masterpieces by Gainsborough and moody weather scenes by Turner, it is a veritable treasure-trove of art history’s greatest stars. And what’s more, the collection can be seen for free.

Kenwood House

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Less easy on the wallet perhaps are the homes which surround the Heath. Palatial, detached properties overflowing with rose-bordered gardens adjoin this leafy landscape, and are undoubtedly some of the most desirable homes in all of London. While my back pocked literally ached at the thought of what they must be worth, I dreamed myself a little dream that one day such a property could be mine. In the meantime I spent a little more within my means: on coffee in Hampstead’s other great treasure: it’s chic village High Street. One day…

Hampstead Village

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© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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.

Ginger cakes for the onset of Autumn

Ginger Cake with dark chocolate and paprika or white chocolate and orange blossom icing

I haven’t baked for ages. Not even since I had my London kitchen revolutionarily overhauled with wonderful new Victorian green ceramic tiles which offset spectacularly against my Ferrari red accessories and frankly make cooking a joy. But two things prompted me to bake this week: First the weather, which has taken a decisive turn towards autumn; a time of cosy nights in and the comforting perfume of baking enriching the home experience. Secondly, and by no means unconnectedly, is the final collapse of all beach body hopes. At least for this year. Now, in the run up to Christmas, a little binge is surely justifiable?

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So yearning for the smell of baking, and of seasonal spices, I set about making some ginger cupcakes, which also turned into a ginger cake because of excess mixture. I creamed together 200g of salted butter and 400g of soft brown sugar. To this I added 375g of self-raising flour, 4 teaspoons of ground ginger, 1 of nutmeg and another of cinnamon, and 2 teaspoons of baking powder. To help it all mix into a fluid and creamy batter, I added 8 fl oz of black treacle dissolved in another 8 fl oz of boiling water, and also folded in two egg yolks and the whisked up whites likewise.

Batter done, I made about 18 cupcakes and a small round sponge cake, so clearly you could decrease all of the quantities above if you’re after a smaller batch. I then split my butter cream (which I made quite recklessly without measuring – but essentially it was about 1 third butter to 2 thirds icing sugar with a dash or two of water) into two batches. In one I mixed melted dark chocolate and a sprinkling of smoked pimenton (Spanish paprika) and to the other melted white chocolate with a few drops of orange blossom essence picked up from the heavily scented streets of the Marrakech souks.

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The result is frankly too much delicious indulgence, even for me. The dark chocolate icing combines magnificently with the soft ginger sponge to create a cake befitting of all the spice-enhanced warmth of the season. The white chocolate brings a promise of the summer again, and a heavy dose of buttery chocolatey happiness to get us through the cold days soon to come.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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.

Memories of Marrakech, in Abstract

It seems incredible that the summer is now drawing to its close. Why is it that time always goes so fast in the summer, yet the winter always seems to be an interminable torture without end? Yet the excitement with which this last summer season started infects me still, and I remember with what feverish anticipation we headed to the wild planes of Africa for the first time in our lives, to visit the Moroccan city of Marrakech.

In all the bustle of the new summer season, I barely had time to reflect upon the mesmerising pink tones of a city so unlike others I have visited previously. I created a few small art works, but soon my mind was focused towards Sicily. Amongst them, I painted this small study of the terracotta hued rooftops of Marrakech – a rather traditional work, but capturing something of the essence of that hodgepodge of a city. Yet when I looked upon the work the other day, sitting as it does on my bookshelf, I felt incomplete. This work, like the Windsor landscape and abstract coupling I have just completed, needed its abstract counterpart. And that is exactly what I set out to create.

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Memories of Marrakech (©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown 2017, acrylic on canvas)

Featuring the same very Moroccan palette of pinks, blues and earthy tones, this abstract seeks to reinterpret my earlier rooftop study, injecting a whimsicality into the composition. In reimagining this work, I was also able to layer the abstract with double meanings. The round arc of a satellite dish also resembles, for example, the crescent and star which is the design of many an Arabic flag, while another dish is placed so as to recall the dome of a mosque.

Abstraction, as a concept, intends to remove something of the figurative and pictorial, at least from its normal compositional placement, if not from the canvas altogether. What interests me about this piece is its clear abstract quality, while retaining an evident illustrative quality of both Morocco and Marrakech. For me, that makes it the perfect souvenir of that fantastically unique city.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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 

My urban balcony garden: revived and revisited

Back in 2012, I wrote a post on The Daily Norm extolling the virtues of my little slice of urban garden paradise. Full of mature blooming geraniums, passion flowers and the sweet smelling sensation of my tropical brugmansia, the balcony adjacent to my London flat has always been my pride and joy. Wouldn’t all of us love an extensive green space, but this close to the city, such a paradise would be hard to come by. But here, in the South West I benefit from the green spaces of Clapham as well as my own little slice of the great outdoors. It was one of the reasons I was so sad to leave home when we moved to Mallorca back in 2014.

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When we returned to London earlier this year, one of our main priorities was to return our balcony, then stripped bear, to the same little piece of paradise it had been before. The centrepiece of it all, our brugmansia, was just about holding on to dear life after a spell down at my parents’ in Sussex, but our olive tree, also moved Southwards, had prospered. As for the rest, this was a project in starting from scratch, and as Spring moved into summer, we started introducing climbers, grasses and the red geraniums which have always characterised our urban garden space.

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Now as summer moves into autumn, this little urban balcony garden is entering its leafy, flower-bursting prime: a last hurrah before the cold weather moves in and reduces it to a skeleton of its summer self. At this time of year, moments in the creamy sun of late summer are a pure joy. As I laid back in my lounger yesterday morning, book in hand a coffee in the other, I looked around me, full of pride of the restoration we have achieved in only a small number of months. Only one thing remained to be done: to share it with all of you.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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 Windsor Weekend, Part VI: The Abstract

There is often too much pressure on artists to stick to one particular style. Collectors like the work of an artist to be immediately identifiable – too much wavering from that course is never a good thing, they say. And while I suppose there is something inherently identifiable about the way an artist applies his or her brush to canvas, each is capable of doing very different things. Look at Gerhard Richter for example. He would paint vast stark abstracts one minute, and sumptuously emotional portraits the next. And good on him. For I am an artist who doesn’t like to stick to the same narrow path. As much as I have enjoyed painting more abstract scenes of late, I have also enjoyed reverting to the traditional.

Having said all of this, two very divergent painting styles needn’t be kept apart. From each traditional painting, I believe there is an abstract interpretation just waiting to emerge. And that is just what I did when I finished my traditional landscape of Windsor: I set about paintings it companion in abstract.

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Windsor Abstract (©Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, 2017 – acrylic on canvas)

So what you see here is a work which is created from the same natural palette of browns, greens and blues as used in my landscape, and which is based upon a simplified version of the same shapes of trees and paths, strata and clouds, but all set into a very jumbled abstractive composition. Its much the same as my abstract interpretation of Las Meninas by Velazquez, except this time I am interpreting my own work.

I’m not sure I can say which of my Windsor works I prefer – this or the traditional. I believe there is a place for both. And together, they are even better.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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 Windsor Weekend, Part V: The Landscape

Ravishing greens, resplendent sweeping hedgerows, and the dappled light of richly verdant, leafy trees at the end of their mighty display of seasonal prowess…such were the impressions left upon me as we strolled from the imperial statue of George III in Windsor Great Park into the wealth of bucolic pastures beyond. However what really struck me about this particular spot were the two groups of trees which accumulated to make two perfectly oval collectives, almost like green mushrooms or large rosettes of broccoli.

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Windsor Landscape (©2017 Nicholas de Lacy-Brown, acrylic on canvas)

Utterly mesmerised by the sight of these rounded groupings, together with the composition of fields, green strata, and an old fallen gate, I started collecting images which would later inform a quick painting of the scene. Painting en plein air this was sadly not, but I started this small landscape as soon as I got home, when the mesmeric joys of these idyllic Windsor pastures captivated me still.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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 Windsor Weekend, Part IV: The Park

The true might and scale of Windsor Castle is best appreciated at a distance. When approaching by train, the station at Windsor and Eton Riverside gives the appearance of a toy town construction as it sits in the shadow of the mighty castle silhouette on the skyline behind it. From the river, the great Castle pervades all watery reflections as a mirror image in the Thames doubles its impact. But best of all is the Castle viewed from the vast grounds which surround it, as the sprawling regal complex stands at the apex of a 2.65 mile perfectly straight road which cuts through Windsor Great Park: a true demonstration of its domination over the land.

Windsor Great Park is great indeed, humongous in fact. Had we wanted to explore each of its 2020 hectares we would have been exhausted indeed. And it would almost certainly take weeks to do it all. For these great hunting grounds of monarchs past are today the site of sprawling forests, vast landscaped gardens and agricultural land, and contain some of the most beautiful unspoilt countryside within the outer reaches of London.

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We restricted ourselves to the closet section of the park to Windsor town centre, namely the Long Walk and the land around it. Stretching from the Castle at one end to a grand imperial sculpture of George III upon a stallion at the other, the path is at the centre of a stunning tree and lawn lined avenue which seems to stretch as far as the eye can see. When setting off, the equine statue appears to be at the end of the world as it appears, tiny like a speck of dust on the far horizon. But as you proceed upon the Long Walk, admiring a progressively more bucolic scene unfold on either side, the true pomp and  enormity of the sculpture becomes clearer as behind, Windsor Castle shrinks in size.

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It was a hard slog, but we eventually reached George III, with the final efforts of our ascent to the base of the statue aptly rewarded by the most dazzling view of Windsor Castle far off in the distance. But turning the other way, we saw an idyllic landscape of rolling hills, woods and fields unfurl into the distance, and unable to resist a little embrace of this less landscaped scene, we delved into the forests and fields, snacking upon beautifully sweet forest berries as we did so. Here, only the unfortunate sound of Heathrow aircraft interrupted us. Otherwise the world was utterly still, and we found ourselves wonderfully at ease in this most heavenly of natural surroundings – the playground of the many Kings and Queens who have enjoyed the very rich landscapes which surround their home at Windsor.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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 Windsor Weekend, Part III: The River

We are not the most social pair, my partner and I. When it comes to the choice between a crowded room or an empty field, we will always go for the latter, finding beauty in the tranquility of nature, rather than the bustle of a hyperactive grouping. Perhaps it is the after-effect of city life – I remember sometimes feeling the opposite living in Mallorca, when the loneliness of the stark mountain scenery had us wishing for civilisation and the safety that comes with being one of a crowd.

Given that it was the bank holiday weekend, Windsor was pretty packed, and when it came to that same choice between a crowded high street and the contemplative remoteness of nature, we embraced the latter to the strongest possible degree, even when it took real efforts to do so.

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Chief amongst those endeavours was our determination to rise early and enjoy the town, and more particular the banks of the River Thames, without the interruption of crowds. And so by 7:30am, we were already to be found down by the mirrored surface of the water with only swans for company. And what a lot of swans there were. At one point, when we wandered under a bridge onto a tiny peninsular literally loaded with swans preening themselves, sleeping and feeding, we empathised perfectly with how Edgar Degas must have felt, when he walked into the dressing room of the Opera Garnier in Paris, with countless ballerinas preening themselves in preparation for their stint on stage.

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The River Thames was very much the perfect swan lake for us that golden early morning, and with very little else to disturb the silence, we enjoyed a walk of utmost tranquility before the imposing silhouette of Windsor Castle. Gradually, as the hours ticked on, more people appeared: jogging, walking the dog, and getting ready for the day. But having had our fill of nature enjoyed in the quiet peace of daybreak, we were once again ready to face those burgeoning Windsor weekend crowds.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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 Windsor Weekend, Part II: The Town

The title of this post is perhaps a little misleading. For as any visitor to Windsor by train will know, Windsor is not a town that flies solo. Rather, just across the river is the equally prestigious town of Eton, and together they make up an inseparable twosome with only a narrow stretch of tranquil water flowing between them. So today’s post will look, photographically speaking, not only at Windsor, but Eton too, for each one of them is historically important and aesthetically quaint, and both are surely the very quintessence of the picture-postcard English town.

The little town of Windsor is very much shaped by the castle which sits at its heart. The main high street encircles the vast outer walls, and every shop and business is turned towards the Castle as though they are spectators at a show. Given the size of the Castle, it is perhaps unsurprising that Windsor looks small and cute by comparison – much like Queen Mary’s dolls house which resides famously within the State Rooms of the Castle on the hill. But it is this scale which characterises Windsor as being an idyllic little urbanisation, with history oozing from its shops and houses as much as from the Castle.

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As though playing up to the English stereotype, the town is a hotpot of quaint little English pubs, sweet shops and of course fish ‘n chips – tourists must flip out when they stumble upon this paragon of Britishness. Not quite as entertained by the English ideal, I was instead enamoured by the chocolate-box quality of the place – by the houses which appeared to be leaning and creaking in every direction, as though reminding all visitors that their foundations are historical, a far cry from the modern lines and standard shapes of the 21st Century.

This charming idyll continues across the river to Eton, which is of course famous for its school, educator of Kings and Prime Ministers from across the ages. While Eton’s high street will greet you, long before the school, it is clear that Eton is very much subservient to its principal offering: hence why the shops are in business to take photos of the students, to dress them in their Sunday and uniformed best, and to boast, through souvenirs, the great educational treasure which the town holds within its midsts.

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Not far up the high street, that great bastion of refined education and privilege looms from beyond the buildings like a Tudor palace. It wasn’t possible to gain entrance, but peeks inside from the grounds betrayed a college which, like the Castle over the river, plays to the global mythology of a Harry Potter-like college oozing with age and historical significance. This is an expensive school, and the ravishing historical lines of its red-bricked building, its gardens abound with flowers, and its grounds running straight down to the river betray an establishment where students will benefit from the very best education and exposure to England at its verdant, bucolic best.

There was no hiding our pleasure at walking these grounds, smelling the fresh air and sitting back to enjoy the somniferous trickle of the calm river Thames. And even though a hint of envy might have entered our afternoon tranquility, when our own schools compared, somewhat less favourably, with this, it was largely with a sense of pride that we traversed the grounds of Eton. For as English stereotypes go, this is a ravishingly beautiful one, and something which the lucky few should enjoy to the full, never taking for granted the unspoilt beauty and prestige with which they will formerly enter the world of adulthood.

© Nicholas de Lacy-Brown and The Daily Norm, 2001-2017. 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.