My job usually takes me to familiar European climes, but occasionally I get a taste of the exotic: Japan, China or, most recently, Macau. A former Portuguese colony, Macau was returned to China in 1999, although traces of its Portuguese heritage remain strong. All street signs and civic buildings bear Chinese and Portuguese names, while delicious egg-custard tarts are ubiquitous in the city’s many bakeries. Arriving by air from Taipei, I was surprised to see rocky, verdant hillsides rising from the sea, looking more like the Amalfi Coast than the smog-wreathed towers of Shanghai (my only available comparison for Chinese landings). Those bucolic hillsides were a little misleading, because what awaited me was a vibrant and frequently jaw-dropping city, where everyday life shoulders up against neon lights, all-night casinos and extravagant amounts of gilding. As the only place in China where gambling is legal, Macau has become a playground for this vast country’s rich and hopeful, with flashy hotels to match. I thought I’d give you a brisk whirl around the main things I managed to see during my busy fortnight; and fear not: there’s plenty of bling ahead. It’s a long one. Buckle up!
Things have been a little quiet at The Idle Woman recently because I was away in Italy last week on the inaugural Arezzo Summer Course. This is aimed at doctoral students, curators and others with a professional or academic interest in prints. It offers the chance to hear from scholars in the field, who present lectures on their current research, as well as including field trips to various collections and print rooms. I imagine the feel will be different every year, depending on the scholars who come to act as ‘professors’, but this year the course was perfectly aligned to my interests. One of its themes was to look at the interaction between music and printmaking – specifically the way that prints were used to record ephemeral festivities, theatrical events and pieces of music like cantatas, which until the late 17th century existed only as part of an oral tradition.
Glyndebourne’s current production of Francesco Cavalli’s Hipermestra brings an ancient tale of love and duty up to date, with a powerful contemporary setting. Being a historian, however, I always wonder what it would’ve been like to experience these operas as they were originally performed. What would we have seen if we’d been in the audience for Hipermestra’s premiere in 1658? Fortunately, we don’t have to leave it to the imagination. Extensive visual and written documentation records the costumes and sets. Even more excitingly, the theatre where the opera was first performed still exists and is still functioning. During a recent business trip to Florence, I took some time out to visit the Teatro della Pergola and its remarkable archives, in search of Hipermestra…
In my last post, I wrote about some of the famous gardens and parks of Suzhou, but here we get down to the really good stuff: the museums which preserve and record the city’s history and handicrafts. We didn’t have time to see all the museums in Suzhou, but those we did visit helped me to put things in context a little better and left me itching to find out more. I’m going to start with the place where I spent most of my time: Suzhou Museum.
Two hours west of the sprawling metropolis of Shanghai lies the city of Suzhou, which is small only in relative terms – it’s home to more than six million people – but feels very different, as it has managed to preserve the old town at its heart. Enclosed by walls and moats, the grid layout of this area has barely changed for a thousand years. Suzhou itself has existed for 2,500 years and is now one of the most popular tourist destinations for Chinese visitors. It’s famous for its canals, its silk, its tea, its opera and its gardens. I’ve just spent two weeks working in this fascinating place (hardly ever leaving the bounds of the Old City), installing an exhibition in Suzhou Museum, which is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its new building in 2016. It’s been a wonderful experience and I wanted to share some of the places we were shown by Allen and Alice, who were looking after us.
In another foray into the drafts folder, I decided it was time to finally post about my trip to Philadelphia just before Christmas. Better late than never, hmm? It was a business trip, as most of my travelling is at the moment, and it was a welcome opportunity to broaden my American horizons beyond New York and Disney World in Florida. Fortunately I enjoyed splendid weather during my stay: very mild, with gorgeous sunshine, which allowed for a lot of walking on the days when I didn’t have meetings. Philadelphia is not the most pedestrian-friendly place in the world, with its main sights rather scattered across the town, but I thought I’d share just a few of the things that really made an impression.
Following on from my post about Frankfurt itself, here’s what I managed to see on two trips outside the city, with pictures, of course. Both Karlsruhe and Würzburg are a little over an hour from Frankfurt by train and the connections are pretty regular, so it’s easy to do as I did and go just for a morning or afternoon. Right. Let’s continue…
I’ve had quite a few business trips over the last few months, but this week’s expedition to Frankfurt came together in a particularly satisfying way. I was only there for one full day, but thanks to cunning planning of my flights and a relatively brief business meeting, I had plenty of time free to explore the city’s museums and to take two very exciting trips to nearby towns. In a blissful stroke of luck my trip coincided with the Karlsruhe Handel Festival, so I even managed to squeeze in a performance: you can read about Arminio in another post. All in all, I had a wonderful time and here are a few recommendations if you should ever find yourself in that part of the world.
This was my first trip to Vienna since, at the age of fifteen, I spent two weeks with an exchange family in a nearby town. The primary reason for going was to see two shows at the Theater an der Wien, which I’ll write about separately: Francesco Cavalli’s Xerse, which was the first opera to set the libretto later made so famous by Handel; and Monteverdi’s Poppea, which re-envisaged the story as a modern morality tale about fragmenting lives played out in the glare of media celebrity. But for me this was also an opportunity to finally visit some of the city’s great museums, and I thought I’d run through a few of the sights I particularly enjoyed. There’s a couple of obvious ones, but one that will perhaps be less familiar.
Last week I was sent to Berlin for a few days on business, which meant that I was finally able to knock several major museums off my ‘to do’ list. I’d only been to Berlin once before, as part of a sixth form trip, during which our programme took us to the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie and Wansee but signally failed to consider anything pre-1933. In desperation, during a couple of hours’ free time when all the other girls went shopping, I begged my teacher and a hapless friend to come with me to the Gemäldegalerie, and my abiding memory of the entire school trip is standing in front of Caravaggio’s Amor Victorious, uncertain whether to be scandalised or delighted.