A POSTCARD FROM ITALY

A postcard from Lake Garda.

Some of my friends aren’t on Facebook or Whatsapp so I like to send them holiday postcards. It’s now practically impossible to do that from Italy because of the difficulty of buying postage stamps

There are few post offices, they’re not always open, they have a complicated queuing system which requires you to go to the correct counter and when you arrive you may find that that one doesn’t sell stamps.

The old system under which licenced tobacconists sold stamps appears to have broken down as they’re in dispute with the post office. I tried six, all of which gave a curt “Finiti”.

There’s an alternative private postal service for tourists called the Global Postal Network, but it has few post boxes and if you can find one it may not be emptied for weeks.

Apparently fax is still widely used in Italy, which may be understandable.

THE DE CHIRICO MOMENT

Giorgio de Chirico’s metaphysical paintings captured the uneasy feeling of abandoned urban spaces that are uncannily full of absence.

There’s a similar feeling in the work of other artists: Eric Ravilious’s interiors and some of Munch’s and Carel Weight’s paintings. It’s also conveyed in Hitchcock’s scene in The Man Who Knew too Much where James Stewart, in search of Ambrose Chappell, walks down an empty London street with footsteps echoing behind him

Anyone who visits Italy will soon have a de Chirico moment in an empty square in strong afternoon sunlight between three and four in the afternoon, like this place (above) that I happened on in Verona.

ARMAZENS CUNHAS, PORTO


Next to the Carmo Church in Porto this fine Art Deco building dominates the Praça Gomes Teixeira. Armazens Cunhas (motto “We Sell Cheaper”) has been selling sheets, bedspreads, tablecloths, pyjamas and work wear in the same way and with the same internal layout for decades with few concessions to modern life and none to tourism.



José de Almeida Cunha founded the company in 1917 and it remains in the same family today. The facade was designed by Manuel Marques, Amoroso Lopes and Coelho Freitas, linking three earlier buildings. The same team of architects also designed the Farmácia Vitália in the Praça Liberdade.


Photo: Manuel V. Botelho (Wikipedia)

JUDD STREET, BLOOMSBURY

Walking back from the Art Workers Guild to St Pancras Station I stopped to look at this pretty shop at 63 Judd Street and was curious about the sculpture above the window of putti with a corncupia overflowing with grapes, which suggests it was once the premises of a wine merchant. (Next door, at No. 61, by the way, Alexander Herzen operated the Free Russian Press between 1854 and 1856.)

Anthony Trollope’s description of the street, from Phineas Finn, 1874, is still surprisingly accurate: “Judd Street runs into the New [Euston] Road near the great stations of the Midlands and Northern Railways, and is a highly respectable street. But it can hardly be called fashionable, as is Piccadilly; or central, as is Charing Cross; or commercial, as is the neighbourhood of St. Paul’s. Men seeking the shelter of an hotel in Judd Street most probably prefer decent and respectable obscurity to other advantages.”

Theodore Lane, ‘A Wooden Substitute’, 1821 © National Portrait Gallery London

Judd Street used to be part of the Skinners Estate. The Skinners Arms nearby and a couple of other pubs still belong to them, but nearly everything else has been sold now. One of the earliest residents of No. 63 (then numbered 79) was the artist Theodore Lane, who was well-known for caricatures of George IV and Queen Caroline. By the age of 19 he was exhibiting at the Royal Academy but his promising career was cut short by his falling through a skylight in 1828. After his death, for about twelve years, the house belonged to a tallow chandler called Paul Biddle.

Emma Biddle, the daughter of the tallow chandler Paul Biddle, who lived at 63 Judd Street, was baptised in 1829.

From the 1850s to the 1880s the shop belonged to an undertaker, then in the 1890s a tobacconist. As the population of St Pancras increased at the end of the century, the house went into multiple occupation and it’s difficult to tell from all the names in the Census who exactly is running the shop. But in 1911 Paolo Cagno, who came from Genoa, and his English wife Annie had a confectioner’s there.

So the motif of the putti with grapes is quite misleading and the shop never had anything to do with alcohol.

VALENCIA (2)

La Lonja, the elegant and spacious medieval Silk Exchange in Valencia is one of the city’s most popular attractions and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and justly so. The stonecarvers of La Lonja were given only the vaguest brief by the master mason – Ruskin would have approved of the way they were allowed to devise their own work. There are striking spiral-grooved pillars in the main hall and decorated door arches, one with a carving of the Virgin (above) with the motto Ave Maria Purissima.

But there are details at odds with the nobility of the building. Around Mary The Most Pure are men drunk and incapable, people pissing in bowls, a devil inflating a sheep’s arse, a dragon biting a woman’s tits and bums, bums and bums galore.

ADAM KOSSOWSKI

The Adam Kossowski mural on the old North Peckham Civic Centre will be removed when the building is demolished and is to be put up on the new building, but there it will be above the first floor windows and it will be less visible.

The Everlasting Ministries Church that used to occupy the building has closed and you can see the state of the mural in the picture above. Amazingly, it’s almost completely free of graffiti – the graffiti you see is on the shutters over the windows.

This is a wonderful mural. It works from a distance as a general view of The History of the Old Kent Road, it works from six feet away where you can see the characters in the story – the picture below is Kossowski’s portrayal of a sneering King Charles – and it works close to, where you can see the details and textures the artist has added. Yesterday I noticed for the first time the little Camberwell Beauty butterflies in the corners.

None of that effect will be perceptible when the mural is ten feet above the ground.

I walked to the Old Kent Road from South Bermondsey and asked the way from a young man. He was studying digital media and was intrigued by the camera tripod sticking out of my rucsac. I told him about the mural and the Civic Centre and Kossowski’s time in a second world war concentration camp. “I live in the Old Kent Road. I’ve never noticed it,” he said, and came with me to look.

LUTON/VIENNA

My recent trip to Vienna was my first outside the UK for two years and required more preparation than I’m used to. An up-to-date smartphone is essential: Kati, who went on to Budapest by train, had difficulty on the way back because her ancient device couldn’t open the Patient Locator Form.

Outbound, Luton airport was eerily quiet (above). We could spread out on the plane and pretty well sit where we liked.

But the return trip was trying. Vienna airport is large and it’s a long walk to the health centre for the lateral flow test. If I was in the right place it was on the wrong level and if I was on the right level it was an underground car-park.

The Wizzair desk, after a long wait, told me I needed my Passenger Locator Form before I could check in.

“But I need to check in first because the Passenger Locator Form asks for my seat number.”

“Oh, just put in anything.”

Back to the end of the queue.

PUBLIC ART: THE BLOKES

The row over statues seems to be dying down, but someone on Facebook posted a picture (left) that illustrates how they have been democratised – Standing Man by Sean Henry in Paddington Basin, a Bloke on the Ground sort of sculpture that Henry specialises in: anonymous, ordinary people without plinths, natural size and at the same level as the viewer.

For contrast I add The Duke of Cambridge by Adrian Jones, the 1907 equestrian sculpture in Whitehall that is so familiar that it is never looked at, representative of the 19th-century statuary that populates our cities: grand, elevated, establishment and not a little oppressive.

The latter sort is being gradually reviewed and sometimes suddenly and violently removed, but the process of democratisation that the review is part of began long ago with the Blokes on the Ground who are slowly and silently replacing them.