Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Christmas 2012

Jane at Lance Hattatt at home December 2012 [picture by Carol Duke]

We wish everyone both peace and joy this Christmastide. We apologise for our absence over recent weeks and would assure you all that we shall return to normal posting and commenting early in the New Year.

Monday, 12 November 2012

Trains of Thought

We should not consider ourselves, in the true sense of the word, to be collectors. Yes, of course, we can lay claim to a stamp collection dating from childhood, a coin collection inherited inadvertently from a parent, as well as a stack - call them a collection if you will - of 'World of Interiors' which, put simply, have been bought over many years and never discarded. But when it comes to Fabergé eggs, Meissen, Aubusson, Georgian silver and Queen Anne country houses, these have all, thus far, failed to materialise in any number.

looking upwards to the roof at Art Market Budapest on the evening of the VIP Private View

It was, therefore, with no particular thought in mind that we accepted an invitation to the VIP launch of 'Art Market 2012 Budapest' at the end of last week. Directed by a friend, Attila Ledényi, this exhibition seeks to promote in his words 'Emerging Stars of the Future' as represented by galleries from around the world.

representing the Várfok Gallery, Kristina Kovács stands beside the work of Ádám Hollós

And so it was that within this glittering firmament of talent our eyes alighted on one particular spot brightly shining outwards from the stand of our favourite Budapest gallery, 'Várfok'.

Ádám Hollós' 'Hermeneutika' has a directness, a force, even for us a brutality, which demands notice. Here in the drabness of the railway carriage, so representative of Eastern Europe and in particular of Hungary, a faltering democracy, a child draws in the wet and grime of the window. He is somehow unlikeable: a set, impassive face, a look of concentration, of introspection, does not endear him to us. Seated within the train, he draws a train. In time, perhaps, he will add to the graffiti on the carriage wall. Later, maybe, he will become the artist who paints the picture of a child in a carriage and, in so doing, will reinforce, again, the perpetual cycle of life.

'Hermeneutika' by Ádám Hollós - click to enlarge image if required
A close examination of the painting reveals powerful brush strokes whereby the paint runs downwards in streams of colour. In places, such as the boy's satchel, carelessly placed on the seat, there is a tactile quality whilst throughout the whole each layer, for this work is assuredly layered, the abstract comes into play. And then there remain the series of horizontal lines, each one signifying a plane at which what is seen recedes further, even into an unknown.

packed and ready for transport on the Várfok Gallery stand, Kristina telephones for a taxi  

And should this interpretation be incorrect, then we care not at all. For on Thursday evening we had spotted a star, emptied the piggy bank, hailed a taxi and brought home the start of a new collection.

Forget the Fabergé, we say! 

Please note [16th. November, 2012]: We shall, for a week or so, be without internet connection. However, we will much look forward to catching up with all our friends and Followers in the near future.

Monday, 5 November 2012

More Games People Play

Had one had the opportunity to enquire of Mr. Khrushchev or, later, Mr. Brezhnev, as to whether or not there were significant differences between East and West in the years, now long gone, before the collapse of the 'Iron Curtain', then one would have been foolish to anticipate any other answer than that the Soviet Union and its satellites, The Peace States, of which Hungary was but one, were superior in every way.

a colourful and entertaining game for the entire family - suitable for all ages

And could this superiority be better demonstrated than to take the example of a game happily played by contented comrades the length and breadth of The People's Republic of Hungary?

everything for an evening's enjoyable entertainment is to be found here

But let us digress for one moment, and place this within a context. 'Monopoly', the board game, is today known worldwide. In it participants, capitalists to a man and a woman, acquire property and money usually in direct competition with and at the expense of their fellow beings.

'Gazdálkodj Okosan!', the Hungarian version of the 1960s, differs only slightly in that there is no accumulation of wealth, no building of a personal fortune, but rather the unparalleled joy of furnishing one's State apartment with kitchen cupboards, the latest in the way of a vacuum cleaner [no 'Hoover' here] and sewing machine, and the crowning glory of a sitting room complete with a black and white television. Happy, happy families indeed!

all the pieces complete from the 1960s including the rules to be followed

Where 'Monopoly' relies on 'Chance' and 'Community Chest' cards, so the Hungarian game seeks to promote the better qualities of socialism where the players are not exhorted to 'Pay School Fees' but to 'Read books! Reading is a pleasant, useful and cheap entertainment'. Doubtless the government of the day could suggest which books!

a 'Community Chest' card which extols the benefits and pleasures of reading 

We are reminded of all this when, a few evenings ago, friends Viktor and Zoli unearthed from the basement a splendid edition of the game in near perfect condition. And as we pushed our miniature workers around the board, we could not help but reflect on the changes of a lifetime.

P.S. We are grateful to Szabó Viktor for taking the photographs on our behalf, all of which may be enlarged at a click.

Tuesday, 23 October 2012

The Social Diary of Two Absentee Bloggers


R pictured by Jane Hattatt at The Four Seasons Hotel, Budapest, on the night of 3rd. October

Wednesday, 3rd. October:

Armed with sheaves of white gladioli, somewhat in the manner of Dame Edna Everage, and with an equal touch of vulgarity, we arrive for drinks at R's wonderfully stylish and uniquely theatrical apartment where we consume much in the way of champagne, possibly more than is wise. Later our party progresses to Tom-George Restaurant in the shadow of the Basilica where, seated at the best of all tables, we enjoy more champagne and the most delicious of dinners. Pudding, R announces, is to be taken at The Four Seasons Hotel, which it is, but not before a serving of yet more champagne. Meanwhile, we are informed, one B will dance [is this to be taken literally?] through the bar for our amusement. B fails to put in an appearance. Do we even notice? The Metro has long since stopped running; we opt to walk home.

Friday, 5th. October:

N and A descend upon Budapest accompanied by huge quantities of luggage [we privately question the length of their stay]. Warnings about unscrupulous taxi drivers are ignored and so they travel from the airport at considerable cost. We dine out at M's where they are charmingly charmed by the intimacy of this bohemian bistro.

A and N pictured by Jane Hattatt at Modem, Debrecen, where N is photographing her

Saturday, 6th. October:

We entrain for Debrecen to arrive in time for a VIP luncheon [the food is rather dreadful] at Modem, the city's Contemporary Art Gallery, in advance of the Private View of 'Nightfall', an exhibition which runs until February before transferring to Prague. We are met and escorted upstairs by the Director, introduced to the Curator and several artists, and decline an invitation to be interviewed for television. Afterwards we indulge ourselves with a splendid afternoon tea at the iconic Ikon.

an interior view of Ikon, a leading restaurant in Debrecen, Hungary - we took tea outside

Sunday, 7th. October:

At the State Opera House we have tickets for a performance of 'Carmen'. But first N and A generously insist on champagne at the nearby Callas Café and Restaurant where, at a pavement table, we enjoy some early evening sun which, happily, breaks through the rain clouds. Afterwards dinner is at Klassz Étterem where our favourite waiter, Tibor, welcomes us with complimentary glasses of, yes, champagne and is endlessly patient with A who, knowledgeable of wine, commences a lengthy tasting. We leave long after the kitchen has closed.

the closing of a dance recently performed by R, our affectionately styled Mad Boy
Wednesday, 10th. October:

At home where we host a Birthday Dinner for 'Mad Boy' in celebration of his coming of age at twenty-one years. Wax from the lighted candles drips heedlessly onto the cake, rendering it largely inedible. The Hungarians are somewhat dismayed. We, British, in a display of fortitude, take up our cake forks with aplomb.


K is seen sporting patriotic shoes in accordance with his new found status as a British citizen

Saturday, 13th. October:

K and N, no longer our young Russian friends for they greet us flaunting British passports having, most recently, jumped through all imaginable hoops to achieve citizenship, come for lunch. It is the first occasion on which we have seen the eight month, infant Isabelle who is cocooned in the Rolls Royce of a 'baby buggy'. Where, we wonder, are the perambulators, nannies and walks in the park of our day? They bear gifts of bouquets of heavenly white flowers which positively, and perfectly, fill the flat.

iced 'Fondant Fancies' as enjoyed by us when taking tea with our much loved neighbour, S

Sunday, 14th. October:

To tea with our neighbour, S, who delights us with a plate of iced 'Fondant Fancies', last seen sometime around the 1950s. We eat rather too many of these sweet, 'melt in the mouth' little cakes. S has put out a 1960s dolls' house, complete with original furnishings, for her grandchildren and so we have a very jolly, retro afternoon.

This evening P and N collect us in their rather swish new motor car and whizz us off to Marroco's Restaurant on Hove seafront. There we are presented with the most generous gift of the entire recordings of Kathleen Ferrier together with her 'Letters and Diaries' as edited by Christopher Fifield. Perfect. Our own renderings of 'What is life to me without thee?' are eclipsed a million or more times.

Monday, 15th. October:

Tea at Metro Deco in Brighton's Kemp Town with N, P having to appear at work! The clientele rather Marks and Spencer but the cakes surprisingly good. We discuss Vatican II, Rome and the Papacy, and the local Co-op.

Food for Friends, a Brighton vegetarian restaurant where we dined twice in one week

Tuesday, 16th. October:

With E and S, both weighed down with the trials and tribulations associated with selling houses in Britain, for a pre-arranged dinner at Food for Friends, appropriately located next to the Friends' Meeting House in central Brighton. Excellent vegetarian food is enlivened further by the presence of our fun waitress, the effervescent Patsy, who is as entertaining as she is efficient. Too late for a train to Lewes, E and S depart in a taxi.

Wednesday, 17th. October:

V and M, lately returned from the South of France where they have a house, visit for the day. Inheritance tax preoccupies them, something about which, since we have no heirs, we care not a jot. In the evening we are again for dinner at Food for Friends but this time Patsy is not, alas, on; her replacement is duller than a shop girl from Tunbridge Wells. Oh well!

C, of whom we are most fond, who runs the café attached to the local bookshop in Kemp Town

Thursday, 18th. October:

Catch up with C who, when not in Bosnia, Croatia or Cambodia, runs the café in our local bookshop.


interior view of M's Restaurant, Budapest, with our favourite table waiting in readiness

Saturday, 20th. October:

Dinner á deux!

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

On Wings of Mercury

Jane Hattatt caught on camera at Modem, Debrecen, Hungary. Image by Nigel Spalding

Tempus fugit. And now we are conscious that for some time recently we have been, shamefully, neglectful of all our many Followers and Friends within the blogosphere for which we offer our deepest apologies.

If truth is to be told, then the days have, in the real world, sped by joyously in the company of old and new friends, of visits to the opera, ballet, concerts, and numerous exhibitions, of dining in newly discovered and favourite restaurants, of dinner parties and, not least, all the excitement of fresh interests and a Mad Boy.

Later this week we travel to Brighton. On our return there will be much to tell. Until then, we crave your indulgence!

Friday, 28 September 2012

In a Monastery Garden

The sky was bluer than blue. The motor car was whiter than white, polished within an inch of its life. Picnic packed, 'Sat Nav' set, membership cards in hand and we were off!

'Olga from the Volga', as we fondly think of the disembodied, throaty voice which barks directions from our friend's smartphone, proved essential as she navigated us deep into a wooded wilderness. And then, miraculously, a clearing in front of an impressive stone portal emerged. The Camaldolese Monastery at Majk was our destination and we had arrived.

statue of Saint Romuald outside of the main gate of the Camaldolese Monastery, Majk

the bell tower is now all that remains of the original church at the Camaldolese Monastery 

Founded in 1733, the Monastery's short life was dissolved by Hapsburg order in 1781 when it became an Esterházy residence. The Camaldoli hermits were an austere and reclusive order following the teachings of Saint Romuald, an offshoot of the Benedictines. Shrouded by woodland the Monastery buildings today remain remarkably intact and do, to some degree, retain their 'otherwordly' atmosphere that must have been evident when bearded monks dressed in long white robes walked silently in the grounds.

an interior view of one of the private chapels to be found in each monk's dwelling place

an example of a coat of arms affixed to the gable end of each one of the several cottages

Patronised by a number of noble families, a grandiose church, Baroque cloisters, a library, refectory and seventeen monks' cottages were built on this site. Each cottage, bearing a bas relief of the coat of arms of its patron, consists of four rooms including a private chapel. There monks could be isolated in prayer, except for when sharing meals under the vaulted ceiling of the refectory with its frescoed depiction of The Last Supper and scenes from the long life of Saint Romuald.

the refectory currently undergoing restoration and closed to 'Foreigners' - discrimination?!!

European Union money is in evidence here and restoration activity intense but, strangely, we found it all rather soulless. A bell tower, the surviving monument of the church, emitted piped music on the quarter hour and, as it struck 12.30pm, we made our escape.

monks'cottages, blandly restored with painted cement, line a path within the gardens

Perhaps its remote location saved the Monastery from the worst ravages of foreign occupation and nationalisation. And, remarkably, an Esterházy, the grandmother of the celebrated contemporary writer, Peter Esterházy, was permitted to live in cottage number 13 until the mid 1950s.

Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Saturday Night Fever

a Saturday night fashion extravaganza outside the Opera House, Budapest

Translated from the Hungarian, The Palace of Arts has something of a Stalinesque ring to its name. And although firmly cemented in the twenty-first century, for it was opened in 2005, its architectural style does, to our eyes at least, draw heavily on the Socialist Realism of the past. But that is by the way.

Gergó Teleki plays Liszt at The Palace of Arts on a September late afternoon

So it was that last weekend saw us at The Palace of Arts, as we so often are, this time for a piano recital given in the Glass Hall by our friend, and concert pianist, Gergó Teleki. The recipient of numerous international awards, and having given his first major concert at the early age of just thirteen, Gergó delighted his audience on this September afternoon with a programme of Liszt to include two of the Hungarian Rhapsodies, No. 2 and No. 6, both played with passion and enormous technical virtuosity, as well as the wonderfully atmospheric and startling Mephisto Waltz No. 1.

dancing here as Jack o' Lantern to the music of Liszt is Richárd Gábor Szakács

But we were to be surprised further. For the Transcendental Étude No. 5, notoriously difficult to play, was interpreted in dance by the young graduate of The Hungarian Dance Academy, Richárd Gábor Szakács. We were entranced. As were we all as Richárd, now the Will o' the Wisp, moved to the music with an authority, a confidence and control which left us spellbound and in awe of such agility and grace. Afterwards we were introduced to this Jack o' Lantern; he will come to drinks this week.

self portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe 

self portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe

From the concert hall to the exhibition rooms where we had promised ourselves to revisit the work of Robert Mapplethorpe, the iconic and controversial photographer of the 1970s and 1980s. And whilst we were not disappointed we felt that, on balance, this large show was, somehow, less successful than the smaller exhibition which we saw at The Towner Gallery, Eastbourne last year. Here were the two very distinct sides to this artist, here the portraits, the flower studies, the homoerotic works but, perhaps too full of Liszt's music, we left strangely unmoved.

interior of 'M', a favourite Budapest restaurant of ours 

Dinner at a favourite bistro type restaurant was, as always, deliciously satisfying and, since we are known, there is always the pleasure of a personal greeting. The wall coverings, drawn by a Serbian artist, never cease to fascinate and amuse us with their instances of humour and the absurd.

the exterior of the Budapest State Opera House on Saturday night

But night's candles were not yet burnt out. For before the Opera House an extravaganza of light, music and fashion had drawn the crowds to an outside stage where, interspersed with arias, models, men and women, strutted the catwalk wearing the latest of Hungarian design. A fantasy of the fantastic!

N.B. Images, with the exception of that of the interior of the restaurant, are taken from a variety of internet sources. We shall be pleased to credit them.

Wednesday, 12 September 2012

Companion of Honour

accompanied by Hugh, Lance Hattatt contemplates a quiet, hidden corner of Venice

We never travel to Venice without Hugh. Intelligent, observant of the finest details, insightful, if not a little precious, comprehensive and compact, Hugh has been a faithful travelling companion for more than forty years. And what Hugh may lack in contemporary advice on the latest Venetian fads and fashions, he surely compensates for most royally in his knowledge of Renaissance art, Venetian Gothic architecture, and the many hidden nooks and crannies of Venice that continue to delight and surprise the discerning traveller.

some of the many colour washed houses of the Campo Maddalena, a quiet Venetian square

the Pensione Calcina , overlooking the Giudecca Canal, where, in 1877, John Ruskin stayed

here at the Squero di San Trovaso gondolas have been built and repaired for centuries

Without Hugh we should never have discovered the Campo Maddalena with its huddle of brightly colour washed houses, the Pensione Calcina where Ruskin lodged in 1877 or the Squero di San Trovaso, one of the few remaining yards in Venice where gondolas are built and repaired by traditional methods which have hardly changed through the centuries.

the window of Segni Nel Tempo in the Dorsoduro district of Venice - a hidden gem

surrounded by his interesting and eclectic stock, Federico Bucci patiently answers our enquiry

a strategically placed chair is an invitation to book and print lovers to while away the hours

Enticed by Hugh into a narrow calle in Dorsoduro, we happily encountered Federico Bucci buried deeply amongst his antiquarian books and etchings. Allowed to peruse the tightly packed shelves at our leisure, we happened upon all manner of literary and artistic delights. An hour or so later, and purchases had been made. Sadly, a 'Country Life' edition of 'Gardens of Italy' had to be left behind, not able to be accommodated within the suitcase. But a hand coloured etching of the Ca' d'Oro, Palazzo Santa Sofia, 'Saunterings in Florence' by Elvira Grifi, and a most unexpected but very much appreciated gift of a limited edition print of Venetian bridges were then ours.

newly returned from our framer, etching of the Ca' d'Oro purchased in Segni Nel Tempo

"a new artistic and practical hand book for English and American tourists" (!!) 1930-31

Opened earlier in the year, Federico Bucci's shop, Segni Nel Tempo, was far too new an addition to the Venice scene for Hugh to have made mention of him. Charming, knowledgeable and deliciously Italian, we wished him well in his new enterprise and extended an open invitation to visit us in Budapest. Meanwhile, Elvira will be our companion to Florence, our next planned Italian destination, something we trust that Hugh will not mind too much.

published in the 1960s, Hugh Honour's admirable book is our constant companion in Venice

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

A Superior Double Room and a Table for Two

If one wishes to feel like a guest in the house of an aristocratic Venetian rather than an anonymous tourist in a chain hotel, then a stay at the Pensione Accademia in Venice is a must. Formerly a patrician family residence, the seventeenth century Villa Marageve, or Villa of Wonders, became the Russian Embassy between the World Wars before establishing itself as an hotel in the 1950s. We have now known it for over forty years.

water front entrance to the Pensione Accademia where we first stayed some forty years ago

the main entrance to the Hotel Accademia which continues, to this day, to be called Pensione

Quietly positioned at the end of the Fondamenta Bollani, its leafy garden, a treasure in itself in Venice, is flanked by two small canals which flow busily on into the Grand Canal. Old fashioned and elegant, the 29 rooms are well appointed and comfortable and the most delicious of breakfasts are served outdoors in the summer months under vast sun umbrellas in the Pensione's courtyard.

front facade of the Pensione Accademia - our room is to be seen top right, shutters closed

the view from our open window overlooking the garden and towards the Grand Canal

It is hard to believe when one is enjoying the secluded peace of the Wisteria covered arbour in the Pensione Accademia garden that one is literally moments away from the bustling Accademia Bridge, the seething masses of St. Mark's Square, the crowded Vaporetto, and the heaving shops selling Carnival masks, Murano glass, Burano lace and 'I Love Venice' hats. And yet, in this green oasis, one is transported back to days of the Grand Tour when the delights of this most magical of cities could be savoured at a more refined and gentler pace.

the piano nobile, bathed in sunshine, situated on the first floor of the Pensione Accademia

looking down onto the front garden of the Pensione, the arbour seen in the top left corner

'No Fish, No Sundays' are the watchwords of Ristorante La Bitta, one of our favourite places to eat in Venice. Defiantly, and rather strangely we think, carniverous, and moderately priced, this unassuming restaurant delivers flavour in every course of its limited menu. Directed by the formidable Debora, a small flotilla of black-clad waiters navigate the narrow aisles with precision and panache. The daily menu, 'Antipasti, Primi and Secondi Piatti', appears on a miniature artist's easel. Stewed rabbit, carpaccio of beef, proscuitto with melon, chicken with lemon and basil, and veal with a mixed pepper sauce were all delicious. And the 'dolci' pannacotta with caramel sauce, tiramisu, and pear cake with hot chocolate sauce did not disappoint.

tucked away in a narrow side street, Ristorante La Bitta is one of our favourite eating places 
Proximity to one's dining neighbours at La Bitta makes overhearing conversations unavoidably intriguing. Italian gossip left us largely in the dark but a discussion on the relative merits of psychotherapy and a debate about whether or not to inform parents about a secret engagement did amuse and add interest.

it would be very easy to walk straight past La Bitta, hidden away as it is off the tourist trail

On one particular late night, we were asked by a young couple at the next table if we could recommend a bar as they were planning on 'going on'. We replied that we knew of one run by a certain 'Harry', but were unsure if it was still as good as it had once been, and as we remembered it some forty years ago....