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Posts tagged ‘arts’

A Weekend in Kraków | Mariacki Sunrise

Going to sleep in a hotel bedroom when you have a stunning view outside the window to enjoy is always difficult – shutting your eyes in sleep seems somehow treacherous and wasteful, when such an awe-inspiring sight is all yours, unprecluded, to be enjoyed for a series of days. And this was no more of a problem than at our hotel room in the Wentzl Hotel in Kraków, which afforded us such an incredible panorama over the full 200m width of the majestic Rynek Główny, that I never wanted to drag myself away from the window, even when sleep was beckoning. And all of this, as well as the sheer excitement of being in a completely new place, must have made me sleep uneasily. For every so often I would wake up and open my eyes – unable to resist the temptation to take another peek at that view, just to make sure it was still there.

While a few such glimpses were met with dark skies, when I awoke at around 6am, I was greeted with a view so beautiful that I find myself compelled to devote an entire post to it –  Kraków at 6am, the dark silhouette of the iconic Mariacka Basilica against a lightening pink sky – a view  in transition that just took my breath away, and had me jumping straight out of bed to take in every detail. For the exquisite details of Kraków’s architecture were not lost despite the early hour. Even in this low light, the architectural spectacle of the Mariacka’s elaborate spires were captured against the light sky; the delicate shapes, the balls and the flags becoming even more noticeable when seen in this flattened one dimensional silhouette.

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What made the view, and my experience of it at this time even more special was first of all seeing the city, otherwise a bustling centre of tourism and a magnet for international students (who attend the famous Jagiellonian University) so quiet and tranquil, with just a few street sweepers already setting up the square for the influx of visitors due that morning, but also for my being able to hear, so clearly through the crisp morning air, the sound of the Hejnalista trumpet player ring out across the square.

The Hejnalista is a trumpet player who, every hour, 24/7 (yes, even through the night), plays the “Hejnal” – a short tune which is played on a single trumpet from the windows of the Mariacki Church lookout tower, once in each direction, north south east and west across the city. The tradition, which is one of Kraków’s most unique and defining customs, recognises the 13th century attempted invasion of the city by the Tartars. The watchman who was on duty that night had noticed a group of Tartars approaching the city ready to invade, prompting him to blow a loud, clear warning on his trumpet to alert the inhabitants of Kraków. Just at that moment, and wanting to stop him from scuppering their invasion, the Tartars shot the watchman in the throat. While the city was saved, the watchman died from his wound. The Hejnal tune which is played today finishes abruptly at the end of the melody, marking the moment in which the watchman was struck by the arrow in mid-play. It’s a touching legend, and a charming tradition, which really added magic to my awakening that morning, as I watched Kraków slowly lighten against the rosy pink sky.

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I leave you with my photos of that beautiful morning – undoubtedly some of my favourite shots of the city.

All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 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. 

The Daily Norm’s Photo of the Week – Reflected Metropolis

My camera is never far from my side, whether it be my pocket Sony Cybershot, my good old iPhone camera, or my larger SLR. This enables me to capture the random moments that life throws at us all, or the unexpected compositions which emerge from every day living. Because so many of the resulting shots form something of a miscellany of photos, not fitting neatly into a larger, neater category of photos around which an album can form, I thought that the best way to share those odd shots with you would be to pick just one a week on which to focus.

Today’s photo of the week is an interesting shot. It’s from within my home – on my coffee table in fact, which I’m so used to looking at on a daily basis that sometimes I fail to notice the beauty of the reflections which form on the surface of its black glass. Yet at the weekend, I guess I turned at just the right moment, so that my eyes caught this scene and recognised the immediate beauty in it. Grabbing my camera, I zoomed closer, thus composing an image which now resembles, rather than a modern cubist chess set, something of a Manhattan-style city skyline.

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For me, the image conjures up skyscrapers stood alongside a still river upon whose waters the buildings are reflected. The sense of landscape is augmented by the presence of blue sky which, owing to the position of my window, has become reflected on the glass of my coffee table. Meanwhile, the little glass vases bearing red buds from my geraniums are like idealised contemporary trees, something of a park within my imagined urban landscape.

They say the camera never lies, but as this photograph perhaps demonstrates, an isolated composition can certainly trick the eye, and provide the narrative, within the confines of its four dimensions, to an imagined land all of its own.

I’m already looking forward to picking out a photo for next week. See you then.

 All photos and written content are strictly the copyright of Nicholas de Lacy-Brown © 2013 and The Daily Norm. All rights are reserved. 

Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum

The stories of Pompeii and Herculaneum are renowned throughout the world. The very mention of their names is synonymous, not with the towns standing on their site today (Ercolano, in the case of the latter), but with the catastrophic volcanic eruption from Mount Vesuvius in Southern Italy which totally obliterated these small Roman cities on 24 August, AD 79. It is an eruption which has gone down in tectonic history as one of the most devastating eruptions in the last two millennia, an event whose very details were captured in the contemporary writings of Pliny the Younger, as well as in the rich geological history which the layers of ash and pumice which spouted out of the volcano can now provide. However, perhaps the greatest irony of this eruption was that in causing the total destruction and devastation of two Roman cities, and then blanketing the burnt urban carcass in several metres of dense ash and pumice, the eruption had the converse effect of actually preserving, sometimes perfectly, a imprint of Roman urban life, providing one of the largest ever discovered archaeological hauls of Roman remains so rich and diverse in its breadth that it provides 21st century audiences with a truly unique insight into societal life some 2,000 years ago.

Pompeii today

Pompeii today

It is this rich collection of excavated artefacts around which the British Museum’s latest blockbuster exhibition, Life and Death in Pompeii and Herculaneum, is centred, a singularly unique exhibition and a first of its kind, because so many of the pieces on show have never been seen outside of Italy before. The exhibition results from the direct collaboration between the British Museum and the Archaeological Superintendancy of Naples and Pompeii, and consequently some absolute gems of Pompeian and Herculenean society are now in London for the first time.

7581646784_0e07b3c010_zConcentrating on the daily lives of the Romans living in these doomed cities, the exhibition is cleverly curated so that the various items on display are grouped thematically into the rooms of a “house” in which they would have been found. In meeting this objective, the layout of the show is based on a reconstructed idea of what a real Pompeian house (the so called “House of the tragic poet”) would have looked like. Consequently, after a large cinematic presentation which provides a well-animated introduction to the show, you start off in what would have been a Roman street, where various paraphernalia of trading life can be seen. Then, heading inside, you enter the atrium, the hall way of a Roman house which would have been flooded with light owing to the skylight which plunged through the centre of most Roman atriums. In this room, the objects on show included some stunning marble statues with barely a chip or scratch in sight, mosaics which would have lined the hallway floor reminding visitors to “Beware of the Dog”, and frescoes depicting the possible Roman occupants of the houses – here what is thought to be the baker Terentius Neo and his wife.

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To the right of the atrium, a gallery set out as the bedroom included some quite incredibly preserved Roman wooden furniture, including a rocking baby crib and a stool, as well as an elaborately carved bed stead (all now heavily carbonated). Meanwhile to the left, what would have been the salon area for entertaining included an explanation of what has since become known as the “Pompeian style” of interior design, which comprises exquisitely detailed mosaic flooring, and walls painted with highly realistic and often stylised frescoes in four principal styles, all sharing common themes of richly elaborate pattern together with boxes showing pastiches and scenes from life or mythology, as well as the use of deep colours, generally rich reds and golds and blues. detailI was completely awestruck at just how sophisticated Roman art was – the shadows and tone of human skin as painted on these frescoes rivals anything done in the renaissance, and makes the art of the medieval era, which of course came along hundreds of years after the Roman empire fell, look completely childish and naïve. As for the mosaics, some of the pieces on show were nothing short of astounding, not least a mosaic depicting sea creatures, with its incredibly realistic depiction of fish and other ocean creatures of every size and variety – I love the powerful composition with a staring octopus at the centre appearing almost to enter into battle with the lobster.

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But perhaps my two favourite rooms of this “house” were the garden area, which came decked with some luscious garden frescoes, and the kitchen, which was packed with some incredibly contemporary looking cooking paraphernalia. I loved the tranquillity of the garden space, and can imagine how beautiful it must have been to stroll around colonnaded walkways, painted with these verdant green frescoes, depicting birds and lush plants, while at the centre a fountain would trickle, a sign of ultimate wealth in its extravagant use of precious water for entertainment.

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As for the kitchen, I was astounded to see what had been discovered from Pompeii and Herculaneum – actual figs, ripe on the day of the eruption, now preserved as carbon forms under the ash; and a loaf of bread, still imprinted with the name of the slave who baked it! The utensils too were fascinating to see – what looks like a colander for straining vegetables, but punctured with holes forming their own elaborate pattern into the metal; and there too was a pot ingeniously conceived just for the fattening up on dormice (which would then be roasted and ate dipped in honey).

Colander detail

Colander detail

Carbonated bread

Carbonated bread

But after this fascinating stroll through Roman life, the inevitable ending to the story follows suit, like the inescapable tide of history washing over Roman life like the pyroclastic surge catapulted down the volcano, wiping out city life in seconds. The “death” part of the exhibition is as poignant as the “life” section is revealing. Particularly startling are the plaster casts of the dead, found in Pompeii. These casts were made from filling in the gap left in the hardened ash once the bodies underneath rotted away. What we had before us then wasn’t an actual body, but a shadow of one; a poignant and again unique insight into the death of these now faceless humans, cowering away from the extreme heat at that moment of their instant death. Who could not be saddened by the sight of a whole plaster cast family, with the baby still shown laden in its blanket. And don’t forget the dog – that poor animal met his fate in the same way too. Incredibly and moving stuff, that brings us face to face with the tragedy that was Pompeii and Herculaneum, AD 79.

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This exhibition is a must see for anyone living in London or soon to visit. On until 29 September 2013, it still has a fair stretch to go, but be not complacent – it’s extremely popular and advance booking is essential. You can get your ticket on the British Museum website. Unless you’re heading Italy-way anytime soon, this exhibition comes highly recommended as a unique insight into a civilisation now dead, but not lost.