Archive for April, 2017

Resto 24 Saki, Crouch End

April 30, 2017

Opposite the now defunct Ohba Leaf Saki is maintaining a solid Japanese option in Crouch End. The elimination of its rival has obviously not harmed business for we were lucky to get a table even at around 6 o’clock. People arriving after us without a reservation were being turned away.

The menu is standard sushi/sashimi, bentos and curries but no ramen as far as I remember. Which was good as it made me try something different for a change. We took a range of appetisers to share which arrived as they were cooked. Duck dumplings were excellent – crispy and squidgy – while the octopus balls (‘When was the last time you had octopus balls?’ badinaged across the table) were okay but not especially life-enhancing. Best of the three was the squid; fluffy batter sweet and hot chilli sauce, made for not sharing, you’ll want the whole plate.

Big food was eel on rice. How I love eel! This was well cooked in a tasty sauce on sticky rice. I wish I’d got some veg to go with it but apart from that it was perfect. Asahi on the side worked fine and for about twenty quid a head this is a good option in a fiercely competitive N8 market.

#Food #London

8/10

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2016/7 check out my GoogleMap

Saki

Sidney Nolan at the Australian High Commission

April 30, 2017

Discreetly advertised, so discreetly both on the street and in the media that it would be easy to miss it, is the best exhibition in London. I went to the Michelangelo/Sebastiano yesterday but it wasn’t the artistic highlight of my week. That honour goes to Unseen, an exhibition of a couple of dozen works by the Australian artist Sidney Nolan.

It’s the centenary of Nolan’s birth and to celebrate there is a slew of exhibitions at Pallant House, at Ikon in Birmingham, in St. David’s and elsewhere in his adopted home of Wales. There’ll also be a show at the BM in October but that will be of his drawings. If you’re a Londoner this show is the major opportunity to see Nolan’s exquisite use of colour this celebratory year. And it’s free.

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As I said, the exhibition doesn’t scream its presence in this less busy area of the Strand, though they do have a couple of boards giving you directions. The entrance is at the rear of the Australian High Commission (any Potterphiles will have to be content with a glimpse of Gringotts through some screens once inside) and by contrast to getting into the gallery at the Canadians things are very laid back.

First up take a look at the room – this is a fine building to get inside of and its grandeur is undimmed for being cluttered up by the paraphernalia of an exhibition. I particularly like the setting of the heraldic crest of Australia, familiar to cricket fans from the baggy green but here sculpted in stone. Out back (arf) you have an elaborate staircase that also is worth a peek.

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But then get stuck into the art. The staff on the desk are very friendly and will give you a substantial booklet containing a generous amount of information about Nolan’s career and the works on show. And what variety of works there are. Apparently these were Nolan’s own favourites that he kept with a couple of donations from private collections – notably a very early portrait of Arthur Rimbaud.

What I like about the show is how it highlights the range of subjects that Nolan took on. Ned Kelly is what he is famous for, and there is a head of Ned here if that is your thing, but there are also wonderful seascapes, landscapes, portraits, abstracts and religious works. In fact Australia itself, while represented, is a discreet presence.  Nolan’s art on this showing is characterised by a Turner-like wanderlust. A landscape of Spitzbergen has a jewelly blue lake that contrasts well with the muddy brown depiction of his homeland’s terrain.

Thames (1962) will be a treat for Londoners, or anyone who loves London. Because of its subject and its impressionistic style matter it brings to mind Dufy, Monet and Whistler (is that St Paul’s in the background?) but it is completely original. It is a masterpiece of vivid colour (which surely springs out of the artist’s own mind) against a very London slate grey river-sky.

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Thames to the right, Spitzbergen ahead.

Around the corner Cockerel and Crucifix has the best chicken I’ve ever seen. A glorious arrogant beast, fierce and bright. Irreverently I thought Christ’s crucifix reminiscent of an upright vacuum cleaner but then the depiction of His agony against the pyrotechnic colour of the bird stopped irreverence, its sobriety all the more striking amid the splendour of its surroundings.

So yes, go to this show, there is much more to see. Especially a Peter Grimes, his ship a shimmer against a desolate backdrop where a flick of foam is all that separates grey sea from grey sky. And the great Matissian dancing abstracts from late in his career which will be staying once the exhibition has moved on, bearing the legend ‘Sir Sidney Nolan OM AC RA’.

#Art #London #Nolan100

 

Marivaux Pt. 2

April 22, 2017

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A bit of repetition of a previous post but I recently wrote this for the French History Society blog:-

Adapting Marivaux’s L’Ile des Esclaves in 2017

One of the things that never occurred to me until this year was that I might end up adapting a play by Marivaux for the stage. Marivaux’s LIle des Esclaves is a one-act play first performed by the Comédiens Italiens in 1725. It tells the story of two ancient Athenian aristocrats and their slaves who are washed after a storm wrecks their ship to discover that they have landed on an island run by the descendants of former slaves. A role reversal comedy along the lines of the 80s cinema classic, Trading Places, it sees the masters become slaves and the slaves become masters at the behest of the Island’s leader, Trivelin.

imgresI’d become interested in Marivaux having noticed a succession of reviews of productions of his work in Le Monde. In an idle moment in the library I saw Marivaux’s name and thought I’d check him out. My sole previous experience of classical French theatre was being made to study L’Avare for A-level. And I mean study in the loosest sense. The pursuit of knowledge being strangely absent from our school’s ethos, even in Sixth Form, my familiarity with Molière’s text was based solely on having watched a BBC production starring Nigel Hawthorne in the title role. I thus approached Marivaux cautiously and chose L’le des Esclavesas my introductory text, which weighs in at an easily digested 60 pages of text.[1]

The language wasn’t as difficult as I’d expected. Some archaisms apart I could follow the dialogue well enough and the classic role reversal plot was very entertaining. I was interested to see if there had been any translations and was delighted to find an edition of his plays in English in the excellent Skoob Books of Bloomsbury.[2] The Island of Slaves had been translated by William Gaskill for a performance at RADA in 1986 and I rattled through it very quickly.

imgres-1While reading it in classical French I hadn’t been especially bothered by the very eighteenth century social and gender attitudes of the text. However, reading it in modern English made it seem rather anachronistic, especially the ending. Although Marivaux’s comedy was quite radical for its time in positing a situation where aristocrats are taught to improve their morals by their social inferiors it struck me that the play’s resonance with the twenty-first century was let down by the docility of the female characters and the socially conservative message embodied in the restoration of the hierarchal status quo at the resolution of the plot. I just couldn’t see how you could play the text straight in the modern world. So it seemed odd that RADA had chosen to do so. At least on the page, it may be that their staging undermined the socially conservative resolution.

So I began to turn over in my mind how one could update the piece for a modern English audience. Firstly, I did this as a kind of academic exercise. I was commuting to Leicester for a VL job at De Montfort once a week and Stella time on the train back seemed more productive if engaged in a bit of translation for pleasure. Then it occurred to me that with members of the Crouch End Players among my circle of friends and the Crouch End Festival coming up, I might be a bit more ambitious and actually get it staged.

I began by going back to the French original, trying to put all thoughts of the English translation out of my head. Attacking the text I soon came up against a problem which has long been recognised – to what extent should I place the translation in the context of the time of its production? Should I attempt to replicate the eighteenth century terms in like for like English? Or should I rather place the translation in the context of the audience for which I intended it, a non-specialist festival crowd likely to be assembled in the function room of a pub?

At De Montfort I’d noticed that the ‘Centre for Adaptation Studies’ occupied a corridor along the way from the historians. Adaptation Studies was a new term for me so being an academic I thought this sounded like something that might be able to help me formulate a structured approach to adapting Marivaux for the English stage. I was wrong – Adaptation Studies is concerned more with the adaptation of texts from one form to another, for the most part novels to films. What I was looking for was Translation Studies, which has its home in this country at UCL and has a much longer-established methodology.

In Western culture Translation Studies’ founder (although like all firsts this is disputed) is St. Jerome, who coined the concept of sense-for-sense translation as sound practice compared to literal translation with the former using sentences rather than individual words as the basic units for making a new text. Cicero put this more pithily in his De Opitimo Genera Oratorumwhen he explained that in translating from Greek to Latin, he ‘did not hold it necessary to render word for word, but … preserved the general style and force of the language.’[3] Which seems a bit of a no brainer to me.

A more thorny issue might be that defined by Lawrence Venuti in the 1990s as the issue of whether to take a ‘domesticating’ or ‘foreignizing’ approach to translation.[4] That is, whether to keep the original cultural context or move it to that of the target language. Again, this seemed straightforward to me, I wanted to not only translate but update Marivaux and make it not just relevant but topical. Which is where I wanted to go beyond the translation that I knew, Gaskill’s, and also one that I was aware of – Neil Bartlett’s.[5] His translation was for a production at the Lyric Hammersmith and I definitely wanted to steer clear of his version as I suspected that he might have wanted to make a more radical intervention to the original than Gaskill for RADA. However, from skimming the introduction and the opening few pages it seemed that Bartlett too had largely respected Marivaux’s concept and resolution. His introduction was very informative, especially in its notes on performance style in Marivaux’s day, outlining how actors would be expected to add in their own songs and jokes to liven up a show for the audience. So I took this as carte blanche to do my own bit of embellishment for the Festival crowd.

imgres-2I felt the field was clear for a radical revision of L’Ile des Esclaves for the post-Crash generation. The island is now Corbyn Island and our castaways are not Athenian aristocrats and slaves. For present times I felt that a Premier League football manager and his youth team coach on one hand, and a media-savvy interior designer and her PA on the other, would have something to say about contemporary class relations. And they get washed up on Corbyn Island, the last refuge of socialism in a post-UK dominated by Theresa May.

Rather to my surprise the play is happening! It’s been the most interesting piece of writing I’ve ever done, going from a straight translation through rewrite after rewrite taking on the advice of an experienced writer for the theatre (my friend Phil Woods) and my fellow director, Anna Rogers. Speaking with my academic hat on I’d say that I’ve learnt two valuable things in the process of going from translation to rehearsal. The first is that however obscure are some of the rabbit holes I’ve been down as a historian none have so far been as obscure as wading through the literature on Adaptation and Translation Studies. Though each has been fascinating I’ll be glad to get back to the dry ground of archive-based research for the SSFH Conference in June. Secondly, I’ve never had to work so collaboratively on a piece of writing before. I’ve been through the editing process for articles and books but taking something you’ve written and then rewriting it in the light of how an actor says the line is something altogether different and quite rewarding for being a shared experience.

So I’d like to hear from other historians who have worked in the same area, whether as specialists in eighteenth century France or in doing something similarly off beam to the regular grind of being a historian. As much as I’ve strayed from Marivaux’s source material I can’t wait to get back into reading more of his work now that I’ve discovered how rich his work is.

Corbyn Island will be showing on 16th and 17th June 2017 as part of the Crouch End Festival. Go to www.crouchendfestival.org for further details.

[1] Marivaux, L’Ile des Esclaves (Folio Classique, Paris, 2000)

[2] Marivaux, Plays (Methuen, London, 1997)

[3] Cicero, De Optimo Genere Oratorum, Translated by H. M. Hubbell (Loeb Classics Library, Harvard, 2017) pp. 364-5. Although Hubbell himself is doing quite a bit of conveying meaning here himself rather than translating! Another translation I have read rendered the original, ‘I did not think I ought to count them (words) out to the reader in coins, but to pay them by weight, as it were.’

[4] Lawrence Venuti, The Translator’s Invisibility: A History of Translation. (Routledge, London, 1995).

[5] Neil Bartlett, The Island of Slaves (Oberon Books, London, 2002).

 

Resto 23 Cinnamon, Soho

April 19, 2017

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Between the library and a gig at the Wigmore we were looking for a bit of spice. Soho’s Kingly Street being on the way we took a chance on Cinnamon, which from the outside looks rather too carefully put together in the Bills/Dishoom tradition. I was wrong to have doubts.

It was early evening so the room wasn’t too busy but it soon filled up with mostly local workers and a smattering of tourists. The menu promised classic Indian dishes with a twist (eff). But my eye was immediately drawn to the drinks – £4.80 for a pint of Stella in this part of town is a definite draw! We got stuck in to that while selecting the food.

We shared a plate of lamb shami kebab to kick off – four balls of good stuff with a couple of sauces went down a treat. For main I had an ox cheek vindaloo with masala mash and a dhal to share. The ox cheek vindaloo was a star turn – a good helping of crumbly cheek in a seriously spicy sauce. The masala mash was rather blown away by it and felt a bit unnecessary. I would have preferred a bit more thickness to the dhal but it also had a seriously deep flavour. With an excellent naan to scrape up the juices I demolished the whole lot and wanted more.

The service was excellent throughout and I was completely won over from my initial scepticism. Cinnamon delivers a superior experience to Dishoom at a better price on the same street. And who wouldn’t be happy with that?

8/10

#Food #London #Soho

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 22 Dragon, Crouch End

April 15, 2017

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A Chinese restaurant isn’t the traditional venue for a Good Friday dinner I guess but when you’re in the grip of the perma-hang it’s  a good option. The last time I was in Dragon was at least twenty years ago but it’s a good sign that in a place like Crouch End it still exists. Few other restos in N8 have such staying power.

We got a mixture of starters and then a main each with some mixed vegetables. All of the starters were piping hot and cooked fresh – definitely a good sign in a genre of dining that too often (in my experience) relies on the reheat. We should have got two soft shell crabs as between four of us I was lucky to get a crabnail.

My main of sizzling Szechuan prawn arrived suitably spectacularly and had a good kick of fresh chilli. I should have had a beer but my mind said I’d had enough so we had wine. It wasn’t the best wine but it was quite cheap. In fact the whole meal came in at under 25 quid a head for plenty of food and drinks each.

The room was quiet for a Sunday evening and this is a shame when other places around here are bursting at the seams. The décor may be old-fashioned but the atmosphere was pleasantly calm, and the service was excellent. I think it won’t be two decades before I visit again. For a trad Chinese Dragon does a good job for which more ‘designed’ places in this area would charge you a premium.

8/10

#Food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

Resto 21 Norte by Bilbao Berria

April 12, 2017

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After a dose of cow poisoning from Paris a lighter lunch was called for back in London and tapas seemed a good idea. Norte by Bilbao Berria (irritating name) is a short stroll from the library so we went there. Declining to suck in the noxious London air on the terrace we got a table at the back of the big rustickish room next to a couple of local workers. There being few other diners around it was a bit of a mystery as to why we should be placed cheek by jowl but fortunately the tables are nice and big at Norte and so it wasn’t an issue. For a time.

They do a set menu for 20 quid with a choice of one starter, one main and a side dish. So we went for that. The starters gave you a choice of bread or bread. I went for bread. Across the way’s bread was a few slices slathered with some salty tomato paste. My bread was just bread and a bit of olive oil. The creation of such starters required all the culinary skill of a parking meter.

The mains were better – a good portion of red mullet in sauce and some smoky pork on crushed spuds. Patatas bravas were ok and the green salad was pretty good. But none of it was tempting me to go back and try the à la carte some time. A false start on the wine (we were brought red not white at first) was followed by what could have been some tiresome fiddling around with the credit card machine when it came to paying. As we weren’t in a hurry it wasn’t important but it was just characteristic of the whole dining experience.

Which brings me to the diners on our right! An elderly couple of Spaniards hove into view shortly after we sat down and squeezed in next to us. They proceeded to carry on on their mobile phones like a couple of teenagers on the night bus – completely ignoring one another and chuckling away as they spilled out tinny ‘music’ while watching some shit or other on YouTube. What a pair of old chores.

We decided to take our coffee at Fernandez & Wells in the more civilised ambience of Somerset House.

5/10

#Food #London

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

Restaurant 20 Ma Salle à Manger, Paris

April 9, 2017

Trailing back from an extraordinary double of Vermeer and his contemporaries on canvas followed by de Musset on stage we were ravenous and looking for something typically French. Somehow I’d never been to Place Dauphine before, and this seemed the perfect time to have done it. Crepuscular light, a smattering of boule players beneath the trees, Jacques Dutronc in my head.

We selected MSàM on the basis of its homely looking atmosphere. We got a nice table at the back of the room, which is hung with nick-nacks and posters of Bayonne. I wasn’t going to take a starter but was persuaded by the menu which was filled with tempting classic bistro fare.

For starter a rustic pâté went down very well with a good Côtes du Rhone and then onto the fillet steak. The steak was done perfectly and was as tender as you like. Alas the crushed spuds were less successful, a bit bland. I think chips are always a better alternative. But that was the only negative. The service was charm itself and I can imagine that on a summer’s evening this is the kind of place where you could sit on the terrasse and watch the world go by for hours. And even with a debagged pound the price wasn’t too bad for somewhere so at the centre of historic Paris.

8/10

#Food #Paris

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap

Restaurant 19 Galette Café, Paris

April 8, 2017

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We wanted a quick lunch on the way to the Louvre and galettes (or Breton pancakes) seemed a good option. Half empty when we arrived the room was soon full with students, local workers and a few tourists like us. The seating is tight with individual tables around the fringe of the room with a communal table in the middle. This gave the space a nice, informal vibe that was just right for our mood.

The menu has a good variety of galettes to suit most tastes. I had a mushroom and chicken with a Grimbergen on the side. Being Breton they go big on cider so I felt a bit guilty at not trying some (especially with pictures of the producers smiling rustically down at me from the walls) but I lost the need for cider when I was about 16.

The galette was delicious – chunky and rustic with a good helping of mushrooms and chicken on top. I think double up the carbs by adding potato to the mix was a bit unnecessary but it didn’t diminish from the tastiness of the dish. A highly recommended non-touristy spot close to the d’Orsay or the river for a quick bite.

8/10

#Food #Paris

To see which other restaurants I’ve visited in 2017 check out my GoogleMap


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