Sunday, 8 December 2013

The Manoogian diaspora

My paternal grandmother was Armenian-Greek. She was born in Aleppo (then in Turkey) and raised in Beirut. My dad has over 20 cousins who live in countries around the world. Back when they were all teenagers they all spent some summers in the mountains of the Lebanon, jumping in out of swimming pools, playing tennis, hiking to waterfalls and forming friendships that have lasted for life, even though they now rarely see each other. I remember dad's cousins coming to stay when we were very little, from places that seemed very exotic to us, like Cyprus and California.

One of our favourite of dad's cousins has to be Peter Roy Manoogian. I suppose we have seen more of him as he was based in London for a while, and he was wonderful to my grandmother. He had a top job in the oil industry and was flying in out of the middle east and north Africa, with little time for his own family, yet he drove up to Yorkshire to see my grandmother as often as he could. She adored him as he reminded her of her older brother, Peter Roy's father, Peter.

Peter Roy is now based in Abu Dhabi, and I haven't seen him for a couple of years, but dad and Ollie met up with him yesterday in London - over middle eastern food of course - and they were all at All Souls together today. I was sorry to miss this get-together, not least because of the food...

Christmas at Penpont

Some huge topiary elephants - we must be at Penpont! We were there for their annual Christmas fair, with artisans from Penpont and nearby selling things willow sculptures, turned wood, textiles, ceramics, winter veg, mistletoe and Christmas trees. We bumped into friends who had a saw so we had them cut down a tree small enough to fit in the boot of our Golf. Sethie asked to go back and watch a man carving birds with a fanned feather wings from a single block of wood, so he stood there watching the process and asking questions, and later asked if he could buy one to take home. Bo stuck his tongue out at me in almost every photo today, so just one of him at the end having a hot chocolate and listening to the band.

Carols by Candlelight

Mr Enthusiasm spoke to 3000+ people at All Souls Langham Place in London today. Ollie was there with his parents, and took this snap of my diminutive Pa speaking at carol service no3 of the day. 40+ years of speaking at 40+ carol services during the month of December and he is still jolly when singing Hark the Herald. He's speaking at the Clarence Hall in Crickhowell, a bit closer to home, 6pm on December 22nd. We'll be there!

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Wonderful, wonderful Copenhagen

Earlier in the year I had suggested to Ollie that we go to Copenhagen the weekend before Christmas. My birthday is Christmas Eve and, along with Christmas Day, Boxing Day, New Year's Eve and Day, it's one of the worst days of the year to have a birthday. Almost everyone is busy, preoccupied and unavailable to celebrate. Most people forget it's my birthday, and when I do have a party, I feel bad for further clogging up everyone's December diary. So I thought this year we could go away for a weekend instead. I have wanted to go to Scandinavia for a long time. We have friends in Sweden and Norway, so I fancy going there in the summer, for longer, and with Ollie looking at a Finnish company for his PhD we're likely to go out there sometime. So I pitched Denmark for our December jaunt. The months passed and quickly all the weekends leading up to Christmas were filled and Copenhagen was dropped from our conversations.

Then a couple of weeks ago Ollie was invited to go to a conference there. So he accepted and I tagged along for the ride. Other than getting to go to Copenhagen it was such a treat to be away, just the two of us, for three nights. But even better was that Ollie was in the conference all day so I literally could do whatever I felt like doing all day long! I hired a bike and spent two days pedaling around the city, loosely using a some markers on the tourist map and dots I'd added in from my Wallpaper* guide and places I've read about in design mags. They weren't really necessary though as there were so many interesting buildings and little shops and cafes and galleries that very quickly I dropped my plans and just followed my nose. 

It is much darker in Copenhagen than it is in Wales. I love brooding, moody places, and Copenhagen hit that button. By 2pm it felt like the day was already drawing to a close. Maybe that's why the Danes put such thought and care into everything - I mean EVERYTHING - because the days are short and it's better to do less things but to do them well? The city moved at the pace of a village, not a capital city. I cycled around most of the neighbourhoods in the centre but nowhere was there evidence of rushing. It was felt really well-balanced, but in a very stylish and unstuffy way. I absolutely loved it!

One of the first places unplanned places I visited was Kunsthal Charlottenborg. The huge windows of this 17th century building caught my attention, and then I saw so I parked my bike and went for a nose around inside. It had the feeling of an old university college, and in fact it is now home to The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts' Schools of Visual Arts. It is a vast place right in the centre of Copenhagen, with a central courtyard, a beautiful library, galleries for contemporary art, a cafe etc etc.

I saw a couple of interesting exhibitions there, which fed a couple of ideas that I've been working on. Best of all though was that I saw a poster advertising a lecture by Peter Clegg, of Feilden Clegg Bradley Studios, and the architect behind the Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Manchester School of Art and the controversial extension of The Southbank Centre. I've read about him, and his work at the YSP is fabulous, so I was very pleased to see that I would be in town for the lecture, especially as subject he was speaking on, 'Places for Art', was very useful for the research and development work I'm doing for Arts Alive Wales.  So I had a date and place (University of Copenhagen South Campus, which handily was just across the river from Marriot where were staying).

Buoyed up by that little discovery I cycled on, down cobbled streets, and around little plazas that were usually centred on a sculpture or a church with a unusual spire. On both my two full days cycling around on my own I was enjoying myself so much and so busy stopping at places that looked interesting that I completely forgot to each lunch. I did remember coffee though, and it would be worth moving to Copenhagen just for the coffee shops. There were some great designs and concepts, the coffees and pastries are soooo good. It's a very youthful city, with a lot of young parents jogging with pushchairs or cycling with Christiana bikes and generally looking very cool and healthy. 

There were some truly beautiful buildings and architectural contrasts.

The Koncerthuset (photo below) has such incredible harmony with the water of the canal, but standing on the waterfront opposite, if you turn 180 degrees, you are faced with Amalienborg, the classical Danish Royal Palace, set around a octagonal courtyard.

Wow! Loved this replica of David with green of the copper against the brickwork.  

The Little Mermaid really is very little! She tiny, and beautiful, and all the more beautiful because of the water and the industrial backdrop.

I found the Danish Design Museum was a little disappointing. Of course there were all the classic mid-century designs and their backgrounds, and there was an experimental exhibition which was quite interesting again in relation to some of my ideas for projects, but otherwise it was fairly conventional and small.

This was my favourite of the Arne Jacobsen textile designs:

All three evenings we went out to eat far too late for Copenhagen and stomped around hungry and irritable. Night two though we ended up eating pretty good ceviche at Fishmarket, just around the corner from Hotel D'Angleterre, which is lit up like a theatre set for Jul.

I had quite fancied eating at Geist where the chef is Bo Bech (Danish version of Bo Balch?). It looked a bit formal though for my one warm but rather scruffy-looking outfit that I could squeeze into my teeny Easyjet carry-on allowance. So we just took a photo of the fab oversized bench outside.

 Some other sightseeing shots. One for the imps:

So many great spires in that city, but this was one of my favourites:

I hope one day I get to live in a city with cycle lanes everywhere. It really is a more civilised means of city transport than cars. 

Although Copenhagen is known for its coloured houses, the rest of the city is quite neutral. Most people are dressed in black or neutral shades, the interiors are very much greys, wood, recycled natural materials, and buildings are made from brick, concrete, glass. I suppose this makes the coloured houses more striking.

Of course I love colour and my three main purchases were all brightly coloured. I bought some leather gloves from the Design Museum shop, they're black but the insides of the fingers are different colours. Then in Retrograd, which I had read about in Wallpaper* I bought three small turquoise glass candle holders and a bright yellow enamel jug, all by Jens Quistgaard.

So I made it the lecture and it was just brilliant! I could have listened to Peter Clegg talking for hours. On many different levels it was SO interesting hearing about the YSP, Manchester School of Art, and the plans for the Southbank Centre. I should probably do a separate blog post about the lecture. Unfortunately, even though he is a huge name and a very engaging speaker, only 12 people turned up! A hurricane and a huge storm were forecast for that evening, and there was meant to be a strike at the university, which ended up being postponed. So it became more like a seminar, and I was able to chat with Peter afterwards and had an email exchange with him. What a lovely bloke, and he's a Yorkshireman, so of course I like him. He told me about this article, which appeared in the New York Times that same day, about the 'Yorkshire Sculpture Triangle' of the YSP, Hepworth Wakefield and the Henry Moore Institute. The part that resonated with me most was from Simon Wallis, director of Hepworth Wakefield, who said, 'Something that Yorkshire has long been famous for is the relationship between the rural and the urban. There is little urban sprawl and there are large areas of unspoiled countryside very close to the centers of its towns and cities...' That is absolutely why I enjoyed growing up where I did, where the centre of Leeds and the open countryside of the Yorkshire Dales were equidistant. Although Leeds is the third largest city in the UK it is very compact, with a clearly marked boundary and beautiful countryside around. I am not a huge fan of Leeds, but I do love that aspect of it.  I digress! Back to Peter Clegg. If you have the chance to hear him, do. I thought he was fascinating.


After a couple of failed attempts to eat at places that had been recommended, we found ourselves walking around the Meatpacking District. Ollie spotted Mother which turned out to be just our kind of place. Great pizza, and the tables were big rough sawn trunks, great vibe and people. Loved it.

(Talking of mothers, it was thanks to my own mother that we could go on this little jaunt without the imps, so thank you v v v much mum, and also for organising everything in the house while I was gone!)

Oh and that evening Ollie said he would like to buy me a new wedding ring (five years after my original one was stolen). So had a fun little outing yesterday morning and I now have a beautiful, sparkly wedding band to go with my engagement ring. Very happy with my ring, and very happy that ten years on my Wol still wants to be married to me...

Final coffee in Copenhagen, at the Danish Architecture Centre in the covered balcony (which you can see in the first photo of this blog post, taken from the other side of the canal) in the cafe. Love that space, and glad we could squeeze that in before heading off to the airport. 

There was a magical cloud shining bright in the dark blue sky as I walked to the plane around 4pm in the bitter cold and in driving hail. My grainy photo doesn't do it justice, but it was enough to make people lose their place in the endless Easyjet queues. Sadly that was not the perfect ending to my trip, but just the start of and eight hour journey back to Clyro... but at least it felt good to be home, to a very tidy Pottery Cottage, cuddled up to my two little imps, and surrounded by the hills.