Saturday 22 November 2014

read | the art of seeing

I read John Berger's 'Ways of Seeing' this recent summer while on holiday with my very good friend and her family (who very kindly invited me to join them on their trip to France) - let me tell you, I had such a lovely time, but now I am digressing from my point!  Right now I am striving to rekindle the ideas that the book aroused in me at the time. I just hope that I will be able to reproduce some of the immediate responses I had to the book and the views expressed in it. 'Ways of Seeing' was another book on my preparatory reading list for university, and it turned out to be a very intriguing and enlightening read.

If you have read it, I'd love to know what you thought! Whether you have different ideas or similar ones, we all have something to say.

I think that Berger brings together the complex with the more simple or essential, by writing about abstract and thought-provoking ideas and inserting images throughout the text that plainly demonstrate concepts in their own right. This kind of format is also a reflection of one of the important aspects of Berger's argument, that of what we see being fundamental to what we know. The book comprising of many essays on the nature of sight, Berger further emphasises the great influence that seeing has upon knowledge by forming half of his essays solely out of images of works of art. This, as you might be able to imagine, was a challenging obstacle in the reading - but a very interesting one! 'Reading' an essay which is entirely pictorial, without the commentary of any words at all is something very different.  Your own gains from the book is only dependent on what you bring to the pictures, and that is all. The onus is on the reader to interpret and speculate, to comment and expand, and to build the narrative of what they are looking at.

Much like how it is in the real world?

"It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world; we explain that world with words, but words can never undo the fact that we are surrounded by it". 
John Berger, 'Ways of Seeing', 1972

And as we often do in the real world, the essays exclusively made up of images made me want to know how they were interconnected, to search for a meaning. We are not content with only one interpretation of our surroundings, that is, from our own perspective. We are obsessed with a common ground or objective story that explains what is going on around us. Berger added to my growing belief that this is an illusion. We brandish ourselves and our vision at the world, which is our way of seeing, but this may be completely different from the next person. In other words, we bring to the world, the world does not bring to us.

Many parts of the book would doubtless ignite debate at a feminist grouping, and, written by a man in the seventies I am sure that we can pick out some implicitly derogatory statement about women somewhere. For example, Berger expresses some very controversial ideas on the difference between masculinity and femininity, that seems to polarise the sexes in a very large way. Nevertheless, I think that he posits some very interesting meditations upon the female nude. Berger explores the female presence, which he considers to be a defining characteristic of a woman, certainly one which separates her from the male. The presence of a female, shown through her "gestures, voice, opinions, expressions, clothes, chosen surroundings and taste" is depicted as something so much a part of her physical entity, and this indeed has much to say of men and how they regard women. On the other hand, male presence, Berger suggests, must be taken as relative to how much dominance they are demanding by suggestion.

This may be an idea that has naturally emerged out of old-fashioned thought, however, I think that Berger is saying something which would have meaning in today's time. There is so much evidence of women who have developed feelings of self-consciousness by having a perception of the female presence that they believe through which they are assessed for everything they do. There is no evidence, however, to prove that men do not also entertain such ideas about their own presence in society. This may be another concept for debate.

I apologise if this post did not cover much ground.  Keeping aware that everyone has a different way of seeing, please let me know your thoughts, and if you have read the book, you probably will want to argue your own view. Berger definitely writes about so much more than what I have given reference to here. What I would say is that 'Ways of Seeing' is an inspiring collection of ideas that has challenged the way I have thought about art and sight, and inevitably, life. Berger makes you think about everything differently and aims to make you see the entire picture.

Sunday 16 November 2014

live | prague

I've just got back from an amazing trip to Prague!

It's a fantastic place to go and see.  Even though it's cold, there's so much to see, you forget about the temperatures and just get excited about all the history.

I went to Prague with my friend Nab, and she was an excellent travelling companion! We made a great team, deciphering all the Czech language signs (AKA looking for the English ones...) and converting Czech Korunas into Pounds to work out if we were getting a good deal.

Lucky enough, there's tons of great deals in Prague, even in the mega - touristy areas.  Nab and I managed to do the three days of eating and sightseeing without spending more than £60 each! So, if you want a holiday on a budget, I recommend it!

We found our holiday via Wowcher - an amazing website, if you've not used it before.  Have a look at all the great travel offers they have going: here.

We stayed at a lovely hotel called the Hotel Saint George, which was really close to I.P. Pavlova station.  From the airport, you can get a three day travelcard for about £8 which allows unlimited travel on any of the city's buses, trams, trains and the funicular! Oyster seems fairly extravagant now! As the hotel was so close to the station, we were able to do lots of sightseeing, with the comfort of a warm hotel room only a couple of train stops away.

Day 1
On the day of our flight (which left super early - the taxi came at 3.30am!), we were very tired and hungry when we arrived, so we dropped off our bags and went out for lunch to a fantastic little Cafe called Bio Zahrada, which was quite close to the hotel.

It was such a lovely little shop - at the front it was a small home-run version of Planet Organic, and there were a few seats where you could sit and enjoy a delicious herbal tea, a freshly brewed coffee, or a delicious looking slice of cake - all made of fresh, organic, healthy ingredients.  There were raw confections, wonderful healthy versions of traditional Czech treats, and it all looked fantastic.

At the back of the shop, there was space for lots of people to sit down and have a bite to eat.  The cafe is open until 9pm Mon - Thurs, 10pm on Fri and 8pm on Saturday.  It's closed on Sunday.  They have a small selection of food on offer, but all of it is freshly made and delicious - so you know you're not getting anything microwaved or out of a packet.  On our first day, I had a yummy cous cous salad, and Nab had a slice of quiche and salad.  The lady who runs the shop was very friendly, and helped us decipher the menu.  She also recommended a tea for me that was not yet on the menu - limeflower!  It tasted delicious - a little like chamomile.

National Museum
At Bio Zahrada, Nab and I were also introduced to the Czech version of the Nakd bar - bring on the Life Bar.  So amazingly delicious - these bars are similarly only made of fruit and nuts, but there are some decidedly exciting flavours, including Maca, Cherry and Baobab (really zingy and a massive Vit C hit!), Fig, and Brazil Nut.

On the first day we also went and explored Wenceslas Square (named after the Good King himself!)  Here we saw the National Museum (which is closed for renovation until 2015), and then had a look at the Jan Palach memorial (where a Czech student burned himself to death to start the revolution against communism).  We enjoyed looking in all the shops that line the busy boulevard, and then checked out the little cafes at the end of the street.

The Jan Palach Memorial was little more than two bulges in the pavement that had been fashioned to look like a cross, but the story behind the memorial was quite something.  When Jan Palach was only 20 years old, he decided to take a stand against communism and try to do something to make the Czech people begin an uprising.  The plan was to burn one student every week until the communist regime was overthrown.  On the appointed day, Jan Palach doused himself in petrol in one of the most famous squares in Prague, and set himself alight.  However, he lived for three days after this.  He told his fellow students - it's not worth it! His demonstration wasn't having the effect he wanted - the Czech people weren't (yet) beginning to stand up.  Even though when he died he may have thought it was in vain, in truth, he began a worldwide movement, and eventually this fed back into the Czech psyche as people began to take their stand against communism.  A very brave and noble man.

Jan Palach Memorial
We were feeling really tired by this point, so we ended up getting an early dinner at PAUL near I.P. Pavlova station, and heading back to the hotel.  On the way there, we found the Czech equivalent of Tesco Express - and bought an array of chocolate, biscuits and other fun stuff to take home or have in the hotel room.  And then we crashed!

Day 2
Nab and I were so impressed with the hotel breakfast! Everything was on offer - cereal, toast, cake, pastries, fruit, salad (!), potato soup, porridge, eggs, sausages, meat, cheese etc.  Wow.

We spent the second day exploring the Old Town.  We crossed the historical and beautiful Charles Bridge, walked through the town and took the funicular railway up to the Strahov Monastery. Unfortunately, the signage wasn't brilliant up there, and we didn't actually make it to the Monastery.  But we did enjoy a lovely walk through the woods there, and got to see squirrels being extremely adventurous, and a woodpecker, doing what he does best, and pecking at the wood.

At the top of the hill (called Petrin Hill), there is a lookout, designed to look a little bit like the Eiffel Tower.  It's not quite as beautiful, I have to admit.  But, it did serve as a good place to stop for a bite to eat, in the warmth, and I enjoyed a mozzarella and tomato salsa panini for the first time in years!

Both Nab and I were slightly dismayed to find that we had to pay to use the toilets.  However, Nab got the better deal! As soon as we arrived at the top of Petrin Hill, I was looking for a loo.  There were signs in front of the 'Eiffel Tower' monument that indicated a WC to the right, so we walked off to find a slightly morose looking outbuilding.  Unappetising though this building was, I decided that if I was going to stay on the hill for any length of time, I was going to have to make use of it's services.  Although only asking for 20 koruna, I was expecting a slightly nicer state of affairs than that which greeted me... Nab and I also commented on the people that ran the building (literally sitting in a room between the men's and women's toilets, with the TV on) probably had the most boring job we had ever thought of.  Nab was lucky, and needed the loo later than I did.  She ended up paying half the price to use the much nicer facilities inside the 'Eiffel Tower'.  The 'WC' sign was put up to lure silly tourists like me to the outbuilding, thinking if there is a sign outside the building, there can't be toilets actually inside the building.  Don't be fooled!

We walked part way down the hill and then jumped on the funicular to take us back down to the city.  We then took a tram to get to Prague Castle, the biggest attraction in the city.  It is enormous and so beautiful.  Quite different to Buckingham Palace, so definitely a must-see.  We walked around the huge complex, and enjoyed particularly St. Vitus' Cathedral.  It's breathtaking, especially when it gets dark.  The stained glass windows were amazing, with each fragment of glass being so very tiny and precise.  The outside of the building is as pretty as the inside - there are mosaics everywhere, and one doorway we saw was entirely shrouded in gold that glinted whenever the sun peeked through the clouds.

We also had time to see Golden Lane, which is within the castle complex.  It's basically a street of Tudor looking small houses, where all the workers would have lived.  It's been turned into lots of little shops now, and we spent some time exploring these.  This is where I bought my postcards, and a magnet for Aunty Shirley! One of the shops was selling beautifully handmade cosmetics made out of Czech beer! Unbelievably, they smelled really good, and seemed to do my cold and dry hands good!

After having pondered the beauty of the city and the size of the world for a bit, overlooking Prague at night, we decided to walk back to the tram stop to head back to the hotel for a quick freshen up before we went out for dinner.

We decided to go back to Wenceslas Square for dinner, as we had spied a lovely looking restaurant called COMO serving Italian and Japanese (weird combo, I know) food.  It was really quite fancy looking, and yet the menu featured prices that wouldn't have been amiss in Pizza Express!

Nab decided she would go for the duck breast with apple puree, a fondant potato and sauteed green beans.  As for me, it was time for a big bowl of pasta - I opted for a pasta Arrabiata with olives and parmesan, and a side salad.  I was hungry from all that walking around! For dessert, we went for ice-cream, being too full to take anything else.  Nab had her favourite, strawberry (which was very fruity!), and I had my favourite (vanilla) and tried a new flavour too (cinnamon).  If anyone knows where to get cinnamon ice-cream in England, please let me know as it was absolutely divine.

Day 3
On our last day, we had to get up pretty early because we wanted to take a tour of the main sites to see in Prague.  Amazingly, it was completely free and was fantastic!

In the morning, we were pretty tired as we had stayed up late the night before.  We ended up quite rushed over breakfast and then check out.  European hotels are great in that they seem to let you keep your luggage at the hotel before and after check out so you can do some exploring without being weighed down.

Once we hit the train station, we were worried to see that part of the train line (the part that was due to take us back to the airport that night!) wasn't working.  Oh no! But, we had bigger fish to fry right then, and made it on time to the tour starting point, right in the central square of Prague.

The tour was run by Sandeman's New Europe - and I booked it before we left using their website.  We had a great tour guide called John Paul - he was really animated, and brought lots of the history of the town to life.  We spent some time in the main square seeing a church that was the inspiration for Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle, and the famous Astronomical Clock.  It's an amazing piece of machinery, and has been keeping accurate time for over 600 years! It also tells you what time the sun will rise and set, and gives you the phase of the moon.  It has a second component that tells you the season, the sign of the zodiac, and the day (along with the Name Day - which is why Europeans seem to have two birthdays!)

The story of the man who made the clock is rather more macabre.  As the King of Prague was so impressed with his new clock, he got his followers to creep up on the expert clock-maker in the middle of the night and cut out his tongue and gouge out his eyes! All this, just so that Prague would be the only place on Earth to have a clock this fabulous!

We also visited the 'Lego Preggo' - an interesting sculpture by the famous artist David Cerny.  In the spirit of Czech 'rebirth', you could physically climb up inside this pregnant lady sculpture, and then be 'reborn'.  Our tour guide had a particularly confident volunteer to demonstrate!

Our guide also took us to the Jewish Quarter of Prague, which I would have loved to have spent more time in.  Although it has now been rejuvenated, it was once in terrible condition, and very cramped.  The other people of Prague would not give the Jews any more space to bury their dead even when their graveyard became full, so they had to pile up the Earth and bury 120,000 people in 15 layers in their cemetery.  It was an awful place, in the true sense of the word - I stood their listening to our guide tell us the stories of bravery and hardship that people from this town had to endure, and I was truly awe-struck.

We took a very late lunch at Bio Zahrada once more, and then began our very long journey home.  We ended up walking, taking two trains, taking a tram, walking again, taking a bus, and then the aeroplane and finally a car ride to get home!

Once I got home, I was tired, but very happy.  The rest of the family were all up watching 'The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel', which I very much enjoy, so I sat downstairs snacking on (my favourite guilty pleasure!) Belvita breakfast biscuits before heading to bed.

A super holiday and very much recommended for anyone who enjoys culture and history.

Enjoy today!

- rosinaviolets    x

Saturday 8 November 2014

make | market salad

A delicious lunch idea that you can change up to meet your own fridge-limitations.  (Aka - you can use whatever you've got in your fridge!)

It also looks good enough to serve people too!

Our version is powered by parsley.  This fiesty herb is more than an ordinary garnish.  A couple of tablespoons give you more than your daily vitamin K requirements, which means strong bones to you and me! This salad would be delicious with a pitta bread on the side too, if you want it more substantial.  The best part is the combo of the Dijon vinagrette and the aoili.  If you manage to get some chives in there too, your getting a bit of antibacterial and antiviral action up in there, with lots of additional good antioxidants and flavanoids.  Yum!

Market Salad
(Serves 2)
- 1 big tbsp natural yoghurt
- 1 tsp lemon juice (and zest, if you've got a lemon to hand)
- 1 tbsp capers
- 1 dessert spoon chopped chives
- 1 dessert spoon chopped parsley
- 1 1/2 cups boiled salad potatoes, sliced into halves
- enough salad leaves to feed 2 people (we used a mix of finely shredded romaine lettuce and swiss chard, but you can use whatever you've got!)
- another dessert spoon chopped parsley
- 1 tomato, cubed
- 1/2 cup cooked broad beans (or whatever beans you have)
- 1 tbsp Dijon Vinagrette (see recipe below)
- 1/2 red pepper, sliced thinly (we used 1/4 red, and 1/4 yellow pepper as we had them in the fridge!)

  • Mix up the aoili (natural yoghurt, lemon juice and zest, capers, chives and parsley) 

  • Toss the aoili with the potatoes and the cooked beans.  Put this to one side whilst you make up the rest of the salad.  

  • In another bowl, combine whatever salad leaves you are using with the tomato and the parsley.  Toss with the Dijon Vinagrette.  

  • Place 1/2 of the potato mixture on each plate and top with the salad leaves.  Garnish with the pepper slices, and finish with a grind of black pepper.  Yum! 

Dijon Vinagrette 
Makes about 1 cup (will keep in the fridge for 1 week) 

-1/4 cup Dijon mustard 
- 3 tbsp olive oil 
- 2 tbsp honey (or more or less, depending on how sweet you like it) 
- 2 garlic cloves, minced 
- 1/4 cup sherry vinegar 

  • Whisk all the ingredients together.  
If you want something quicker, you can just take a spoon of your Dijon mustard and combine with your favourite vinegar.  Shake it up and pour over the salad.  Nice! 

Enjoy today!! 

- rosinaviolets    x