We both simultaneously broke into Kraftwerk.
We visit museums to anthropomorphise engineering. “aiaiaiai! What are you doing? Nononono!!”
There was this moment, about 90 minutes in, when I’d unwound the bar tape, stripped out the old cables, trashed the old brakes, had a pile of new bits to install facing a gutted bike, and I thought to myself, “You know what you’re doing, right? ’Cos you can’t reverse out of this mess if you don’t, eh.”
“Nah, nah, nah, mate, she’ll be right.”
“Are you saying that for my benefit, or yours?”
”Also Frances, buy some fucking wire cutters, for fuck’s sake. You know how pliers butcher the shit out of cables.”
Lucky for me it turns out I more or less do, and it more or less did. If I don’t experience catastrophic improperly installed brake failure in the next few weeks, I reckon I’m good.
These are by far the easiest cantilever brakes to set the pads up on, and set the spring tension, and cable length, I swear, all that wasted time with shite cantis when I could have been using these. Enough time left after setup even to commit to drivetrain cleaning and swapping out the chain. Nice new Ultegra links to match Avid Shorty Ultimate braking mayhem. Finally I have cantis that I can skid the rear tyre on without doing a slight endo to de-weight the rear. Plus I swapped left and right levers, cos like driving on the left in the Empire’s former colonies, so too do we mash the rear brake by grabbing a handful with our left. I tried to be all proper German slash EU and swap to Rear is Right, but a lifetime of ingrained braking habits refused to change, and there’s nothing more confidence destroying than hammering a sketchy trail having to consciously think of which hand to squeeze.
Yay! Brakes! Yay! Still new wheels! Yay! awesome tyres! I took it for a shakedown ride this morning, plus fiddled with my saddle position. Well tasty. Gonna be putting some miles down on this in the coming weeks.
A late-afternoon, evening well mechanic-ed. And frankly, bike now has one well-sexy arse.
Once again, after some two hours of riding into Brandenburg, on country roads, cobblestone lanes, gravel farm tracks and single-track trails, just south of the new (and still unopened) airport, I reach the end of the road.
Magic end of road had a little hook through a copse, under a fallen tree, on the narrowest of barely-used paths, through a short spur of forest, spitting me out on the cleanest of new access roads around barbed wire airport fencing. Two more hours of gravel, cobblestone, track, trail, path, road, canalways, towns, fields, forests, to close the loop back in Kreuzberg.
“But were there Nazis, Frances?”
“Yes, Other Frances, there are always Nazis in Brandenburg. These ones rode crappy, old East German scooters with coal scuttle helmets through Zeuthen, and looked secretly ashamed and sad.”
They’ve always hated us. We disgust them & they want us dead. If they can’t kill us outright, they’ll hurt us for the sake of it. If you don’t understand this, you’re stupid and you will die.
“Hey Frances, whatcha got there?”
“Hey bike, oh, you know, a bikeday present.”
“What’s a bikeday present?”
“Just something I bought for you, like a birthday present.”
“Was it your birthday?”
“I’m not gonna answer that one, bike.”
“So whatcha got there?”
“Brakes. For you.”
“Brakes? For me?”
“Yup. Fukkin’ mayhem set of Avid Shorty Ultimate cantilever brakes. Cos you deserve them.”
“I love you, Frances.”
“I love you, bike.”
“Wanna get drunk and hoon?”
“You know I do.”
All the art I saw in The National Gallery.
- The National Gallery — Level 2, 1200-1500: Sainsbury Wing, Italy
- The National Gallery — Level 2, 1200-1500: Sainsbury Wing, Northern Europe
- The National Gallery — Level 2, 1500-1600
- The National Gallery — Bartholomaeus Spranger: The Adoration of the Kings
- The National Gallery — Level 2, 1600-1700
- The National Gallery — Level 2, 1700-1930
- The National Gallery — Level 2, 1600-1700: Salvator Rosa: Witches at their Incantations
- The National Gallery — Level 2, 1700-1930: Joseph Wright of Derby: An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump
- The National Gallery — Level 2, 1700-1930: J. M. W. Turner
- The National Gallery — Level 2, 1700-1930: Post-Impressionism
- The National Gallery — Level 0 Gallery A
I did not spend much time on 19th century art. I was running out of time, my camera battery was looking shaky, and I’d already gorged myself on mediæval art. But I have a soft spot for Cézanne and Gauguin. And lately one for Toulouse-Lautrec, cos he made a habit of painting queer women.
So we have the beautiful Faa Iheihe by Paul Gauguin, from his time in Tahiti. And paraphrasing The National Gallery here (cos all their works are online, so why I spent so much time photographing and editing, I’ll never know), the title is his translation of the Tahitian “‘fa`ai`ei`e’ which means “to beautify, adorn, embellish”, in the sense of making oneself beautiful for a special occasion” and uses “a horizontal format inspired by Javanese sculptured friezes.”
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec’s The Two Friends is one of his paintings from his Paris brothel visits. The National Gallery says it “belongs to a series of paintings focusing on the friendships between the women which often, as here, portrayed intimate moments or gestures of companionship or sympathy”, but having seen some other of his paintings and drawings, I think it’s quite explicit this work and many others are of queer women, and he identified with this milieu. There’s a tendency, or rather a compulsion, in art history to refuse to see what’s there, or — being charitable here — to be ignorant of signifiers. The rest of us know when we’re being spoken to. There are works of his with two women that are clearly not queer, that are, as the Gallery says, friendships between women. And there are others, some which are so similar as raise the challenge, “How can you claim this and not that?” which are obviously more. We read the signifiers, we know what we’re seeing, even while art history erases them — and there’s at least one photograph of Henri dressed in the same clothes the women he drew wore, so there’s that to read too.
Lastly, there’s a Degas. He’s the opposite of everything Toulouse-Lautrec lived for, and today would vote to the right of Le Pen, as well as being well suss around all those young, female ballet dancers. I can be a bit of an apologist for Wagner, who I think gets a harsher rap than he earned (largely though not entirely because of his family), but Degas gets far, far less of a thrashing than he deserves. He’s well dodgy. But his art can be sublime. Plus it’s ballett, and I’m a sucker for seeing what I’ve lived for in art.
I didn’t mention the Cézanne. As with Gauguin, I just like Cézanne. I think it’s because they’re all Post-Impressionists, and whereas Impressionism leaves me cold (there were walls of Monet and Manet, plus rooms of 19th century stuff I did not touch) Expressionism reliably does it for me, and I see plenty of what moves me in that in artists like Toulouse-Lautrec, Gauguin, and Cézanne, so enjoy Bathers, cos it’s beautiful. (There were stacks of van Gogh too, including Sunflowers. The crowd though, like getting the Metro at rush hour.)
These were the last images I edited from The National Gallery, large works by Paolo Veronese, El Greco, Jan Gossaert and others.
The same room in the Louvre that houses the Mona Lisa also contains that colossal, 10 metre wide by 6 high Les Noces de Cana by Paolo Veronese, as well as the smaller but equally superb Esther et Assuérus. The National Gallery has his The Adoration of the Kings (which required a lot of editing to deal with light glare in the top, right corner), The Consecration of Saint Nicholas, and The Family of Darius before Alexander. And I reckon there’s a lot of the same people in all of them. I think the person with dwarfism on the far left with the toy dogs might be the same person as in the Louvre works, or Veronese had a habit of including little people in many of his works I’ve seen.
Jacopo Tintoretto’s Christ washing the Feet of the Disciples is another work that suffered from glare, which I mangled until it looked passable, but the photo doesn’t convey the sublime light, which comes from both the left-front, and softly from behind, giving them all a golden halo. Sometimes it’s just the lighting in a painting that really moves me. Bronzino’s An Allegory with Venus and Cupid is quite the opposite, so stylised, posed, and far from the more photographic naturalism of Tintoretto. And same for whoever did Leda and the Swan, which is both grotesque and dreamlike, and gets an inclusion because of Orphan Black.
El Greco. My first outing with him was in the Gemäldegalerie’s El Siglo de Oro, and I would have spent the whole day just sprawling in his brilliance. Here there’s his The Adoration of the Name of Jesus and Christ driving the Traders from the Temple and pretty much I could have spent the afternoon with him (again a lot of work to compensate for glare, especially on the latter work). Beside him is Bartholomaeus Spranger’s glorious The Adoration of the Kings and it’s worth mentioning these two plus the Titian, Diana and Actaeon are not haphazardly thrown together. Spranger and El Greco knew each other in Rome, both were protégés of Giulio Clovio, and were influenced by Titian. So despite the significantly different paths they took, there’s a similarity. The use of light and the oval face of Mary, the colour and draping in the robes, there’s a lot of El Greco in Spranger.
Later there’s Quinten Massys, firstly with The Virgin and Child with Saints Catherine and Barbara, another work on cloth, and yes, I still love the soft, muted colours and delicate contrast. Beside that is his famous An Old Woman (‘The Ugly Duchess’), about which and whom so much has been said, and — as is frankly predictable for art historians — so much is shameful. So here’s what I’m seeing. The current position is she was suffering from Paget’s disease, rather than being a particularly nasty caricature of an old woman who didn’t know when to put away being a young maiden. I’ll go further and say she knew exactly what she was doing, wearing unfashionable clothes, holding the flower to signify she was available to a suitor.
Often when I read museums describing their own work, or art historians debating, there is an absence of the idea a subject has self-awareness, that they could be — with the artist — laughing not at themselves, but at those who see them as merely a constellation of disease and infirmities, as less than ideal, lacking in beauty, ugly, to be mocked. Like the Portrait of the Bearded Helena Antonia in Muzeum Narodowe we Wrocławiu, or the little people in Veronese’ paintings. Yes, there was an element of the exotic at play, as with representations of Saint Mauritius, or Balthazar in The Adoration of the Magi, yet there’s something more, just as with Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, where there’s a queer femininity that is unmistakable, one which he lived amidst. It does both the sitter and the artist a disservice to hold fast to the mean idea the latter was only there to mock the former and the former was too stupid or vain to realise. It feeds the pernicious trope that we who are not good and normal enough are not deserving of love and desire.
Here’s another version of the painting: There was no mockery or laughing at, either of her or others. She was desirable and desired, and had many lovers despite her age, and her dress and accoutrements signify this unambiguously — they were fashion in her youth and here denote her place and standing and history.
And speaking of Magi, two magnificent piece by Jan Gossaert (and Circle of ~) finish this century. And my photos don’t do them many favours. But feast your eyes on them anyway, particularly the last one, so opulent and grand. For me, this is the high point in European art until the Expressionists rolled in.