Sunday, 8 May 2022

Back in the UK: Exhibitions and outings


We were back in England just before Easter Sunday. Our sons visited us for a few days. We were overjoyed; it was such a wonderful family gathering with my granddaughter walking around and tasting everything. We also visited my autistic daughter Valentina on Easter Sunday and decorated her garden with plastic eggs and balloons. We had lunch with her too: pasta al forno, chocolate budino and Italian Easter eggs. She enjoyed all the activities and dressed up for the occasion. I had time to visit some friends I hadn’t seen for a long time, posted cards and mini chocolate eggs to neighbours and made more crochet decorations for my Easter tree and for presents to send to friends abroad. 

Before starting school, I managed to spend two days in London visiting some new exhibitions with my daughter. In Rome I had the opportunity to attend the amazing exhibition ‘Crazy’ at Chiostro del Bramante near piazza Navona about inspiring

contemporary art. I reviewed it for London Grip, here is the link:

In London I booked three exhibitions and a show before leaving for Italy. I was extremely intrigued by ‘Fashioning Masculinities’ at the V&A, ‘Surrealism Beyond Borders’ at the Tate Modern and ‘Raphael’ at the National Gallery. I am going to review all of them and will post the links when they are out. The most impressive one was ‘Fashioning Masculinities’. The outfits and artwork on display are so unique and cover such a long period of time, from ancient Greece until today, that they really give a broad and exhaustive idea of menswear and how it was constructed and deconstructed in time. New ideas are explored in the exhibition showing how masculinity was often influenced by femininity and therefore multiple masculinities have developed. The exhibition also means to convey a sense of liberation from conventions and stereotypes.

The exhibition on Surrealism was very engaging in its exploration on how Surrealism in art expanded all over the world in the 20th century. The artworks of famous and less known artists are on display which is a good way to broaden your view about what Surrealism was and still is. I particularly liked Remedios Varo’s triptych, which is figurative and realistic but has a charming dreamlike atmosphere too, and Maria Izquierdo’s ‘Squash with Pan de Muerto’ which is almost metaphysical and reminded me of de Chirico’s pictures.

The Raphael exhibition at the National Gallery is iconic. It traces Raphael’s career which lasted no more than two decades as the artist suddenly died at the age of 37. He was very successful and very much admired not only as a painter but also as an architect, an archaeologist and curator when such figures didn’t officially exist. He worked for de Medici in Florence and for the popes in Rome. His Madonnas are famous for the harmony of the composition and the softness of the palette. The exhibition also features impressive drawings from the Queen’s collection and the enthralling portrait of pope Julius II.

I attended The Handmaid’s Tale opera at the London Coliseum on the 14th of April. It was a riveting show. The music by the Danish composer Paul Ruders is involving and perfectly describes the atmosphere of the oppressive regime of Gilead. There aren’t any outstanding songs but the whole thing is very emotional and sometimes heart-breaking. It reflects the narratives of the book with all its complex implications of love, betrayal, hope and fear. The melodies are repetitive to emphasise the monotonous and oppressive ambience of the regime.

In the UK the partygate scandal is still in the news but we are very much distracted by the Ukrainian war and the refugee issue, both the delay in issuing visas for the Ukrainian refugees and the decision to send asylum seekers to Rwanda. The government’s decision was criticised by the Church of England and honestly it seems a bit weird to send people so far away to decide if they are entitled to have a visa. I was puzzled by Boris Johnson’s Easter message that Britain is bursting with ‘new life and new hope.’ Honestly, I don’t know what he meant exactly. I think that this is a difficult moment not just for the UK but for all the world because of the continuous risk that the war might expand and because of the threat of a nuclear war. Furthermore, the rising prices, the shortage of certain products such as wheat and meat that Russia and Ukraine supply in massive amounts all over the world, make the situation even worse. Apparently, the UK is less dependent on Russian gas than other European countries; however, the effects of the war are affecting prices here too as the rate of inflation and the energy bills are rising. Hopefully, alternative electricity supplies, such as wind and solar power will help in the future.

The Conservatives seem confident that they can deal with all these issues while the Lib Dems wish to help people who are struggling in this crisis and the Labours declared that they want to support people in need with emergency plans. The local elections are not the same as the general election, which will be in two years’ time. People vote in different ways. Is it time to have a change after twelve years of Conservative government? Will people trust Keir Starmer? The choice is not so wide: one or the other. What about a coalition between Labour and Lib Dems? The coalition of Conservatives and Lib Dems between David Cameron and Nick Clegg didn’t seem to work so well in 2010 but it might work now with Starmer and Ed Davey.

The results of the local elections were depressing for the Tories especially in the south. Boris was punished and Labour gained votes. There were good results for the Lib Dems and the Greens too. In my constituency the Tories have lost five seats and the Lib Dems have gained four of them. The Lib Dems increased their control in Surrey and have an overall control in Woking. However, Boris keeps cheerful and is confident that he won’t lose his leadership.

To add uncertainty during this troubled time, the Royals are not in good waters. Prince Andrew’s involvement with Jeffrey Epstein and the trial that followed as well as the fact that he escorted the Queen at Prince Phillip’s memorial service were criticised from several sources. Unexpectedly, the visit to Jamaica of William and Kate was not considered a successful achievement, though they are usually praised for their commitment and impeccable etiquette. They were criticised as too formal and old fashioned and also faced some protests during the visit in the country. The Palace Papers by Tina Brown released last month, describe the Royals’ role as purposeless as they repeat themselves in time and don’t bring any new idea which might connect them to a larger public. The Queen has just turned 96, so she is comprehensibly increasingly frail. She has mobility problems that will probably prevent her from taking part in all the Platinum Jubilee’s celebrations. She may pass even the opening of Parliament to Prince Charles. This is a bit worrying but inevitable. She did amazingly well in her seventy years of reign deserving respect and affection from us all.

The weather hasn’t settled yet. It is grey, sometimes bright and warmer for a day or two but is still chilly in the morning. I took out lighter jackets from the wardrobe but I am still wearing my winter coat and boots at school. I bought some long dresses with flowery patterns and loose tops to match but haven’t worn them yet. We managed to reshape our garden during the long Mayday weekend. My daughter, my husband and I worked as a team and got rid of weeds and dried plants from last year and planted new ones. They are tiny at the moment but I know they will become as big as bushes in a couple of months, if the frost doesn’t come back at night in May🤞. We planted begonias, marigolds (my favourite ones), pansies and geraniums. About vegetables, I opted for courgettes (which went very well last year), tomatoes (which were a disaster because of too much rain last August) and French beans. The view of my garden is revitalising; it is so colourful and pictures the summer yet to come.

I am working on new crochet projects with new flower patterns inspired by Maria Primachenko’s artwork and I am also preparing a new post box installation for the Queen’s Jubilee. When I visited my daughter Valentina, I played with her using stencils. The idea came from the art classes at The Park School where my students are making tree houses and use stencils to decorate them. Valentina loves stencils and we made some interesting work together.

Unfortunately, when I came back from Italy the movies nominated for the Academy Awards were no longer on at the cinema. I could only watch The Power of the Dog on Netflix. It didn’t impress me at first but then the mesmerising effect of the apparently untold story and the impressive landscape of Montana captivated my imagination. The striking opposition between the paper flowers made by Peter (interpreted by Kodi Smit-MacPhee) and the tough life of the cowboys is symbolic of the fragile personality of the protagonist, Phil (interpreted by Benedict Cumberbatch). He shows a rough and strong outward attitude but is vulnerable inside. Phil disguises his homosexual desires and eventually falls in Peter’s trap. There are some surreal moments, for example in the scene when they have exotic cocktails in this luxurious huge house set in the middle of nowhere, or when they play tennis in the desert. Sexual frustration and claustrophobia contradict the apparent sense of freedom conveyed by the environment. The ending is disturbing; evil forces seem to work underfoot despite the apparent uneventfulness of the story. The title of the film quotes Psalm 22: 20: ‘Deliver me from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.’ The dogs symbolise the enemies and the quote refers to Jesus Christ’s suffering on the cross. The narration is built up on allusions and hints that the audience needs to decode rather than on explicit descriptions and clear clues. 

I was impressed by the pictures of the Abba Avatar’s transformation in Dolce & Gabbana outfits. They look gorgeous, so different from who they are today in their seventies. In the Abba Voyage concert at the Olympic Park in London (an event I would like to attend) visual effects will create this metamorphosis. I wonder how it would be if we could access a similar experience, for example, in a disco. Our younger image could be reflected on a screen or we could be transformed into our younger self while we are dancing. It reminds me of fairy tales when the ugly witch is transformed into a beautiful princess, though I find that the elderly versions of Abba look interesting too. Here are two links to video clips that publicise the Abba concert:

I also perused the Met Gala’s dresses. They were astonishingly fabulous, authentic artwork in their sculptural quality and flabbergasting creativity. Here are some links to the pictures of the marvellous outfits:

The theme was ‘Gilded Glamour’ inspired by the Gilded Age of New York between 1870 and 1890. My favourite one was Hillary Clinton’s maroon outfit embroidered with the name of sixty influential American women. It is a wearable gown that fitted her very well and might fit me too. The other impressing dress was Marylin Monroe’s Happy Birthday to JFK 1962 worn by Kim Kardashian. The beautiful simplicity of the dress and the sculptured figure of Kardashian made it look like a modern Greek marble classic piece. Apparently, she had to follow a strict diet and exercise to lose about eight kilos in order to fit in the dress. 

In conclusion, here is a perfect recipe for lemon drizzle cupcakes my students made during Food Tech lessons. I think it would work with orange zest and juice as well, but I haven’t tried this version yet.


110 g of self-rising flour

110 g of caster sugar

1 tbsp of milk 

2 eggs

110 g of soft margarine or butter

The grated zest of one lemon

1 tsp of baking powder

For the drizzle: 

60 g of sugar

The juice of a lemon

Grate the zest of the lemon. Mix the flour, sugar and eggs in a bowl. Add the zest of the lemon, the milk, the butter or margarine and the baking powder. Beat all the ingredient with an electric mixer for a few minutes. Spoon the mixture into cake cases and bake for 15-20 minutes at 180 C. Let them cool and prepare the lemon drizzle mixing the juice of the lemon with the sugar. Brush or pour the lemon drizzle on top of the cupcakes and enjoy!

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