Archives for the month of: March, 2010

Without my glasses, sometimes Topsy looks like a goat. (How she got hold of my glasses… etc.)

The Large Hadron Collider started working again at CERN this morning for the first time in eighteen months.  You can follow the full coverage here, live from CERN.  The Guardian is putting out an edited version, here.  Not all live events are interesting, certainly not the same ones for everyone;  I prefer this to live sports coverage.  Is there a Small Hadron Collider?  Trond and Canahan report, below.

Last night we put the clocks forward.  Past the equinox, it seems quite late to be doing this.
Holly is today still in the same position as when you last saw her, still waiting for the snow to finish melting.

She is getting quite irritable.  You can see the footprints of one of the huge crows that I would dearly love to photograph.  They’ve always flown away by the time I’ve fetched the camera.

The snow is still about a foot deep:

Yesterday my daughter asked me to take pictures of her galloping.

Well, I suppose it’s Askur who’s doing most of the galloping.

At the top of the road is next winter’s pile of birch logs waiting to be sawn and split.  They are enormous, something you can’t see from this picture.

And then round the next bend are the young cows, who would also probably like to be outside by now.  I think I mentioned this greeting, where we yell MOOO! at each other as loud as we can.  My daughter pointed out that the one on the right has a 7 on her face.

And then just past the fjøs is where the horses graze, if that’s the right word; they’re eating silage and hay that have been sprinkled on the snow.  The Shetland pony is Lisa.  Beyond Gimondi, the thoroughbred on the right, is the Oslofjord in the distance.

Language Hat has a post, Millrind, about English and Russian technical terms for the parts of a millstone.  I wrote in a comment: I love that broken millstone that’s now being used as paving. It reminds me of a lovely little device Lutyens used in a garden he designed with Gertrude Jekyll. He placed small bull’s-eye decorative circles in an area of sandstone paving. He made them from the concentrically-placed rims of different-sized broken clay flower-pots, filling the gaps with sand. I can’t find any pictures on the internet, unfortunately.

But I have a picture in a book*:

Now I’m not sure if it’s Edwin Lutyens or Gertrude Jekyll who invented it, not that it matters very much.   As I thought, it’s at Hestercombe (the house is now occupied by the Somerset Fire Brigade). Jekyll & Lutyens used millstones too, here at Munstead Wood, Jekyll’s home:

and elsewhere:

I like the tile edges in the bottom one. Apparently Robert Louis Stevenson got the name of his novel Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde from Gertrude’s brother, who was a friend of his.  I suppose it ought to be pronounced “Jee-kill” like their name, but it’s too late now.  I remember a modernist professor at my architecture school complaining that another professor, a postmodernist, was preoccupied with the work of third-rate British architects (meaning Lutyens).  I thought at the time that that “third-rate” was unfair and nothing has changed my mind since.  The modernist died having produced nothing that comes remotely close in quality to Lutyens’ work.  Neither, for that matter, has the post-modernist.

*A Photographic Garden History, by Roger Phillips & Nicky Foy.

The two lower pictures are from Gardens Of A Golden Afternoon. The story of a partnership: Edwin Lutyens & Gertrude Jekyll, by Jane Brown

Robin has sent me this picture of Muntz: a beautiful cat and a perfect photograph.

If you want to see just how much he’s grown, compare it to one of the earliest pictures of Muntz, taken just after Jim rescued him, last spring:

In the last post, I mentioned the man with the marvelous name of Ravilious: Eric Ravilious. Here’s a picture of his that shows a typical pre-war train-seat pattern–apparently the late nineteen-thirties’ London art world was obsessed with train seats–he didn’t depict the light accurately (it’s much too light inside the carriage); but if he’d done it correctly, he wouldn’t have been able to show the seat fabric pattern so clearly, and that would be a shame since it covers about one-third of the picture surface.  I like the faint reflection in the glass of the seats.  Note the draught-stopping piece of moquette on either side of the door, piping with a barber’s-pole pattern.  I remember it, also the leather strap that suspended the window when it was opened.

Later, he did a lot of dark 2-colour prints for London Transport, but I suppose this picture was used to advertise the railway to the west country.  If the 3 stands for third class, then it looks good value for money.

In my last post I linked Eric Ravilious to a picture of his called Chalk Paths, I think it’s a watercolour:

I would like to have painted it myself.  With its very high horizon you look down across the contours of the ground; they are very precisely shown by tone, oblique grass patterns, the road, the paths and the fence.  The fence, the windswept bushes and the diminishing size of the trees show the scale of the receding landscape; without them, in other words,  you couldn’t judge the size of the hills.

Here are some more of his landscapes of the Downs in familiarly filthy weather.  That must be the Uffington White Horse at the brow of the hill; it’s very old (800-1200 B.C.) and it’s unusual for facing right:

The Westbury Horse has a little de Chirico train puffing across the background:

This is The Wilmington Giant, framed by enough wire to weave the cables of a suspension bridge:

But the first one is my favourite.

Eric Ravilious was killed in the second world war.  His son James Ravilious died in the ‘nineties.  He was a photographer, who documented life in a north Devon village.  I love his pictures too:

I have a book of them.

All the Eric Ravilious’s work I’ve shown is Copyright of the Estate of Eric Ravilious.

I came across a blog from 2005 about Marianne Straub, the Zurich-born textile designer. I believe she studied at the Bauhaus, though her Wikipedia entry doesn’t mention it. I remember getting a guest crit from Marianne Straub when I was a student at Camberwell in the mid-1970s. She was a nice woman, rather serious, and she was introduced to us as the London Transport seat designer.   Under someone called Frank Pick, London Transport had a reputation for using high quality art and design. Man Ray did a poster:

Paul Nash and, later, Eric Ravilious did posters (these are by Nash):

and Edward Johnston made their famous alphabet.

Marianne Straub told me it was hard to get diagonal stripes to work on vertically hanging textiles, like curtains, unless they were at least as steep as 45 degrees. This inspired me to try much shallower ones. I don’t think she was right, though it was an interesting observation.

Apparently this has been around for a while, but I didn’t find out about it until today.  It’s a rap explanation of what the Large Hadron Collider’s doing at CERN.

After you’ve watched it, you can read the text again here.

See it in Portuguese here.

Or in Spanish here.

There are more physics rap videos by the multi-talented Kate McAlpine here.

This is Nikolai Boldyrev.  He’s unlocking the door of the Muromtsev Dacha Museum, which he founded.

On a wall inside is a sketch of the original Muromtsev dacha:

The dacha was on the edge of the enormous Tsaritsino park in southern Moscow.  It was situated pretty much in the park, at 3 Fifth Radial (the neighbourhood has a radial site plan) and is named for its owner, Sergei Muromtsev, legal scholar and president of the first Duma in 1906.  Here the so-called  Muromtsevsky Constitution was drafted and during its early years the house held regular underground political gatherings for pioneers of Russian parliamentary democracy.

Construction of the summer house started on 15 June 1893.  It cost 19,800 rubles, paid by Muromtsev’s wife Maria Klimentova, a singer who was Titania in Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin at its premier in Moscow in 1879. Ivan Bunin, the first Russian to win the Nobel prize for literature, spent his summers in the area and was a frequent guest at the house–in fact he met his second wife, Muromtsev’s niece, there in 1906.  In his writing Bunin commented on the dacha’s Swedish style (seen from the tower’s mansard roof) and he described its lilacs and the allé of lime trees that are still in the garden.

Muromtsev died a hundred years ago, on 4 October 1910, leaving the property to his widow and benefactress.  During the first world war she sold it to a merchant’s widow, Raisa Ivanovna Vlasova, but it was seized on 25 September 1918 by the Military Commissariat and, like many other Tsaritsyno dachas, it was nationalized.  It subsequently became an elementary school, popularly called “Vlasivka”, and after a proper brick school building was built in 1937 it was turned over to the teaching staff as housing.  During the second world war it was close to Moscow’s largest grain silo, a target of German bombing, and in 1941 a bomb exploded in the pond near the house. One wall was damaged and a corner of the house fell in, but the teachers continued living there.

Below is the house that is today known as the Muromtsev dacha:

It was rebuilt in 1960 on the concrete foundation of the old building.  Timber is mutable but masonry is largely not;  the stoves and chimney stacks were reused from the old dacha and stood at 3 Fifth Radial until 7 March 2010.  Twenty years after the rebuilding, in 1979, the house was declared uninhabitable due to dilapidation.  It was handed over to the Institute of Clinical and Experimental Medicine “to accommodate special equipment” for a period of five years, after which the demolition of the building and improvement of the area was foreseen by the Soviet Academy of Medical Sciences. However, the lease was continuously renewed until 1989.

The fireman below is sitting in an antique Thonet bentwood rocker taken from the dacha on the night it burnt down in January of this year.  The chair disappeared later that morning, along with a brass microscope from 1864 and other valuables that hadn’t burned.  According to at least one tenant, the above-mentioned physicist Nikolai Boldyrev, they were looted by the firefighters.

Photo Ekaterina Deeva,

The Muromtsev dacha was wooden, and on the evening of 2 January the fire department was called to put out a smallish fire on the ground floor.  Natalya Samover works for Archnadzor, an organization formed to protect significant buildings in Moscow: “The fire started on the ground floor in an unoccupied flat where there was no electrical equipment.  The window is the one closest to the entrance, so the residents are absolutely convinced that it was arson. When they went outside, they saw that the window had been opened. It was -20c. outside; no one was going to open a window.”

The firefighters, whose station is five minutes’ walk away took half an hour to arrive, but they immediately set to work.   Soon the police and some city officials drove up and spoke to the senior fire officer.  Nikolai’s son Kyril Boldyrev, a 24-year-old physics graduate of Moscow Technical University who also lived in the house, said “Personally, I distinctly heard them say: ‘We do not want this house.'”  After that, the firemen broke all the ground-floor windows letting oxygen in to help the combustion.  They did nothing more to extinguish the flames until after midnight when the building’s roof had fallen in and the interior was gutted.

Maxim Martem'yanov, Частный Корреспондент

The dacha’s most celebrated postwar tenant was Venedict Yerofeyev who lived and wrote there on and off during the 1970s and ’80s during a period when it was an unofficial cultural centre.  Yerofeyev (sometimes he’s transcribed as Benedict Eeroveyev) wrote Moscow-Petushki. Also called Moscow To The End Of The Line in English, it’s a prose poem about a drunken journey on a suburban train in which the hero recounts the events of his life, including the declaration of war on Norway and leading a crew of alcoholic telephone-cable layers (he’s fired for making a chart of their different drinking habits).

A later tenent was Forbes magazine editor and investigative journalist Paul Klebnikov, who was murdered outside his office in Moscow in 2004.  Klebnikov was a friend of the Boldyrev family and once saved the dacha from being turned into a brothel.  In 1996, a local police officer started harassing the family, asking for half of the house to use as a brothel. After Klebnikov wrote an article about the situation the harassment stopped.

There were three families at home in the house on 5th Radial at the time of the fire, among them the Boldyrevs (family members have lived there since 1938).   Despite having qualifications in physics and optics and having been offered jobs elsewhere, Nikolai Boldyrev, who has lived there since 1959, chose in the 1980s to become the genius loci, the protector of the Muromtseva dacha.  He turned part of the ground floor into the Muromtsev Dacha Museum, with artifacts and photographs related to Yerofeyev and the building’s earlier history.  Boldyrev’s  grandmother, a former teacher of geography lived in the dacha when it was teachers’ housing. She is still alive, 103 years old.  Below you can watch Nikolai Boldyrev with his 24 year-old son Kyril and young daughter Anfisa showing visitors around in the summer before it burned (in the museum you can even catch a glimpse of the Thonet bentwood rocker).

Who owned the Muromtsev Dacha?  The federal government previously owned Tsaritsyno but handed it over to the city in a deal in 2005. The Boldyrevs, who had been there since before World War II, have no documents of ownership. “Once the Tsaritsyno park complex became Moscow city government property, our house came under attack,” said Nikolai Boldyrev. “The city authorities were determined to make us move out.” In an attempt to protect their home, the six resident families filed an ownership application. The Civil Code allows anyone to claim ownership if they have lived in a building continuously for more than 15 years. The court rejected their appeal despite the testimonies of eight witnesses and phone-bill evidence that confirmed the length of their residency.  “After the court session, we filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, but soon afterward the Tsaritsyno police came to the house in the middle of the night, threw one of the kids out of the bath, started breaking windows and telling us to get out,” Boldyrev said. “They said that if we don’t move out, the house might ‘accidentally’ burn down.”  At the time of the fire there was a court battle being fought to obtain preservation status for the property on grounds of its historical significance.

At 6:30 a.m. on Sunday 7 March bulldozers escorted by a police unit and OMON riot police arrived  to officially “remove construction debris”.  In fact they removed the families, who after the fire had been living on the property in contractors’ cabins (two people ended up in hospital, having been thrown out of windows).

Photo Vladimir Astapkovich. Copyright ITAR TASS

Then they knocked down the remains of the dacha, including the 1893 chimney stacks.

Kyril Boldyrev said it was an “illegal operation”; police wearing masks “refused to identify themselves or show us any documents.”  Natalya Samover of Arkhnadzor also called the action illegal.  She said “the only document that we are told exists, but was not shown on Sunday, is an order from the local prefect to remove rubbish”.  The actual work, which took all day, was carried out by immigrant labourers who can be expelled from Russia any time the mayor feels like it.

This is what the site of the Muromtsev dacha looks like today:

Photo: Ilya Varlamov

Many cities in the Northern Hemisphere had a bitterly cold winter this year, it even snowed in Barcelona.  Even so, how desperate could southern Moscow be for new snow-plough storage that the authorities resort to knocking down people’s houses?  Come to think of it, isn’t the dacha on the edge of a vast piece of parkland?  Everyone in Moscow knows this property won’t get a snow-plough garage unless hell freezes over.  What’s probably going to be built here is a luxury apartment building, five-star smoked-glass vulgarity in an ancient park setting, and what scum these people are who run Moscow for their own profit.

In January, Moscow’s Mayor Yury Luzhkov dismissed opposition politicians’ calls for an investigation into the dacha fire.  He called the building a “cabin” and disputed its cultural significance.  It is Luzhkov’s ally, Deputy Mayor Vladimir “His only hobby is labour” Resin who oversees Moscow construction.  On 15 March The Moscow Times reported that Resin had hired former Moscow police chief Vladimir Pronin as an “unsalaried advisor”. Pronin was fired by the Kremlin after a drunken police officer went on a shooting rampage killing two people in a supermarket last year.

Update: Here is a very informative video I was sent.  Do take a look.  It’s translated into English from a Vesti television report:

Addendum: I’m not much use at translating the Russian language and there may be errors in this article, though I vouch for the gist of it.  From the few English-language sources that exist I gleaned the most from Languagehat’s additions to the Muromtsev Dacha’s English Wikipedia entry, from The Moscow Times and from three well-illustrated articles on the Muromtsev dacha at Poemas del rio Wang whence also came four of the photographs.

This too is a bit of filler, but I saw that the New York Times has come up with a new technique  for sniffing-out stories. They get one of their reporters to pose questions to his or her local plumber or handyman and publish the result as some of the gnus that are fit to print.  This is the second time I’ve seen this sort of article of theirs rocket to the top of their “10-most-cherished in the past 24 hours” list  (I see today it’s at number five, half way down on the right, but I promise you it was number one yesterday).  To be fair, the article does contain a very, very small quantity of useful information about washers and dryers, and I’m certainly not planning to climb inside our washing machine again.

Please hurry over to Poemas del rio Wang, where you will find, as MMcM says, a most  informative discussion about the Bär aus „Pisam”.  As always Studiolum, who is by training an art historian, has some wonderful photographs–this time from Vienna and Bern.

And More Bad Taste:

As a bad-taste follow up to mab’s Pictures To Make You Puke (about Moscow’s building frenzy), Julia, a sometime contributor to Poemas del rio Wang, has at her other blog, in Argentina, Meliora Latent, some really extraordinary photographs from la Pampa, in Argentina, including a peculiar International Style cathedral.  In contrast to the Moscow buildings, which are the kind of thing you can see all over the place nowadays (just worse), the la Pampan ones are very local and all the more interesting for that.

Only one child in ten in Britain believes that the queen invented the telephone.  Apparently the other nine had bizarre explanations: some said it was invented by  “a Scotsman”.  This is according to a survey of primary and secondary school children in the UK cited by the BBC.  I am shocked.

In the comments about the last-but-one post, Trond raised doubts about the construction date of the icicle building opposite mab’s.  He asked how in the world could such a building be as young as your host, AJP Crown?  It’s a reasonable question, we sure weren’t building this kind of thing in 1953.  Mab has kindly sent us this additional picture:

She says,

to prove that the building next door is a Stalinist style classic, here’s a shot on today’s overcast day. Aren’t the overland pipes attractive? They appeared a long time ago, and after about 5 years were dismantled. Then they put it all back. I’m afraid we’ll have to live with them forever.

I like the two pointless giant* columns that support tiny balconies.  They are tacked on both ends of the building like handles.

*Classical giant order = multi-storey.

If you don’t find the phrases “property developer” and “tasteless buffoon with powerful connections” completely incompatible, you might enjoy mab’s series on Moscow’s unfettered construction frenzy.  They’re called “Photos To Make You Puke “.

This ugly grey box might be located anywhere:

and look at this, across the street:

For some reason the developer wasn’t able to destroy the pink building, so they’ve just built around it.  The architect created a groovy bricolage of old and new, and thoughtfully tied it all together with grid-lines in brown brick; perhaps as a metaphor, or simply as a reminder of brown shiny unbreakable plastic parcel-tape.

Addendum by Mab:

And this is just one outrage of many. Sometimes protected buildings disappeared from the list and were torn down in the night. What I call pan-European glass office buildings went up in their place. In two cases they tore down the old buildings and “rebuilt them” according to the old plans with modern materials. Everyone thinks this was just a way to steal more money. In other cases they’ve done this kind of thing — smashing a new building on top of and around and old one. Or they leave the first and second floor walls and build up, adding “modern” glass turrets that are supposed to look “olde.”

What kills me is that they’ve destroyed what was Moscow’s “selling point.” After the Stalinist-era changes and a few under Khrushchev, the center of the city wasn’t touched. Walking down little streets was like an architectural tour of the ages: a little classical city manor house, a 19th century style moderne apartment house, a turn of the century old Russian revival mansion… lots of little squares and pocket parks, trees and bushes and flowers. And they’ve destroyed that to make it look like any European city.

In the middle of the coldest patch of the winter, mab described the ten-foot icicle dangling from the roof across the street from her desk window in Moscow.  Almost ready to crash to the pavement, needing only the warmth of the spring sun to loosen its grip, it was surely an accident waiting to happen–at least in my mind.  Well now we can see it; mab has kindly supplied pictures.

1. The nice Tadjik guy shoveling snow and ice off that building’s roof:

2. Did I hit you?

I had imagined a bigger ten-foot icicle, something more like this (artist’s impression):

However, lower down on the building the icicles are impressive:

The ones one the middle could really do damage.  They appear quite difficult to reach:

Now I see why she was talking about a man rapelling down the side of the building.  If anyone had asked me, I would have said that building was on the Upper-East side of Manhattan, somewhere around 80th Street and Fifth, or East-End Avenue.  It says “1953” in the brickwork, the year I was born and Stalin died.  Who knew Stalin was building pre-war quality New York apartment buildings about the same time that New York developers were going over to austere white-brick boxes with eight-foot ceilings?

This is Misty.  We finally got around to giving the goats a trim yesterday,

and today they are out

sunning themselves.

Bär mit Flinte aus dem XVI. Jahrhundert

Unfortunately I’ve nothing to add to this picture of a 16th century bear with a musket, from (or formerly in?) the KHM in Vienna, (the Art History Museum). I can’t find a more current picture, so perhaps it hasn’t survived the 2oth century.  MMcM found it here, in Die Kunst und Wunderkammern der Spätrenaissance: ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des Sammelwesens Volume 11 of Monographien des Kunstgewerbes by Julius von Schlosser.  I think it was part of Rudolph II‘s Cabinet of Curiosities (kunst– or wunderkammer), possibly rescued by Joseph II, long after the Prague collection had been dispersed during the Thirty Years’ War.

Update: Thanks to the remarkable erudition of Language Hat and Bruessel (who found the appropriate passage in the Schlosser monograph–you just have to press Find: Pisam), I can tell you that aus”Pisam” refers not to a place, but is an explanation that the bottle is made from a musk-oil paste.  It might possibly have been a snuff container.  Somehow the duc du Berry is part of the story; I think merely that the kunstkammer contained some pieces that had belonged to him (not this one, which is too late).

Another Update: The full story of the bear and other similar bears is told by the art historian Studiolum at Poemas del rio Wang.  As always, he has lovely pictures.

I was googling caryatids on behalf of my wife.  The word makes me think of the Erecthium  figures, but I soon began to come across lions.  I must say this is my favourite, from outside Verona cathederal:

It must be one of the oddest sequences of transferring loads of all time: from column base, to lion, to bas-relief crows, to more birds and Egyptians, to column shaft.  I would like to see the back end of it too, sometime.  There are more:

Right transept, Santa Maria Maggiore, in Bergamo.

with small lions conveniently placed to take the load, and a man doing what looks like dental work on the biggest lion.  Here are a couple more of these Romanesque Italian lions (because of their position in relation to the column and the step they’re known in the trade as stylobate lions):

Verona cathedral.

Left transept, porch by Giovanni da Campione, Santa Maria Maggiore, in Bergamo.

Actually Giovanni da Campione’s whole porch is pretty great, it’s like one of the mad buildings in a Giotto fresco:

And here’s the Colleoni Chapel, next door:

Here are a pair of 12th century stylobate lions in the cloister of St John Lateran in Rome:

Here they are again more recently; they’re roaring:

I read here:

The archway in the middle of the south side of these cloisters (opposite the one represented in our illustration) rests on sphinxes, one of which is bearded. The human-headed monsters, wearing the claft or nemes, images of Egyptian Pharaohs, were obviously modelled in imitation of ancient originals.

If you ask me, they were modelled in imitation of Snow White & The Seven Stylobate Dwarfs:

None of the Romanesque stylobate lions is terribly realistic, by comparison look at the twinned lions in Persepolis (sorry about the railings), performing the same duty.  These ones have quite good lions’ faces:

And they are the earliest version I can find; though of course there are earlier lions-and-columns, like the Minoan lionesses on the entablature at Mycenæ (they too are fairly realistic depictions):

Lions are wonderful creatures, but I’d never have chosen them for their load-bearing capacity.  Perhaps someone can point me in the right direction for  more information on this theme.

The goats are a bit of a mess these days, they’re spending so much time indoors.  They need a trim and a brush up.  My daughter has said she’ll do it.

Now that we’re back to receiving about twelve hours of daylight Tango likes to warm himself in the sun in the afternoon, sitting on his cage next to our dichroic glass samples.  I feel compelled to take pictures of the scene which seems tropical and exotic, despite the snow outside.

At the moment there’s not much to take pictures of around here except snow.  What happens when it reaches the upstairs level?  It would be an ideal time to paint the house, I suppose. No scaffolding required.  We can tunnel our way over to the goats.