EST. 2009

June 9, 2016

That Golden Cure

IT WAS COMPOSER KARLHEINZ STOCKHAUSEN that suggested repetition as being "based on body rhythms, so we identify with the heartbeat, or with walking, or with breathing." Usually thought monotonous or irritating, repetition can in fact be very soothing in its continuity.

Bath's architecture is a testament to this. Uniform façades, crowned with equally duplicating roofs and chimneys, offer a repeating vision of classical proportions. Identical, alternating columns and windows line rows of buildings in gold-tone Bath stone. While visited widely for its spas, and said in legend to have cured King Lear's leprous father with its waters, the city's Georgian structures prove just as therapeutic to any visiting aesthete.

The Circus is a visual experience. Inspired by the Colosseum in Rome, it comprises three curved terraces forming a circle, with the entire circumferential façade growing progressively more ornate as the building rises: Doric on the ground floor, Composite on the piano nobile, and Corinthian on the top floor. Also impressive is the Royal Crescent, lined with 114 Ionic columns across 538 feet of terraced house façades. Even the weir by Pulteney Bridge consists of three concentric arches, juxtaposed with the bridge's own three arches. Bath's famed fudge, the making of which is demonstrated in-store, employs repeated, rhythmic folding to achieve a distinct creamy texture.

Leading to the Holburne Museum in Bathwick, which adjoins Bath, Great Pulteney Street is over 1,000 feet long and 100 feet wide, lined on each side by identical honey-hued buildings and street lamps. The thoroughfare is the grandest in Bath, although non-landmark streets don't really fall too far behind in appearance.

We did not bathe in the spas of Bath during our visit, though we did try drinking its spring water. We indulged in other liquids after that. At the height of our first full English winter, I found myself seasonally affected and was seeking some sort of cure. Waters did it for King Lear's father. Mine came in the form of a beautifully repetitive backdrop, for spending an uninterrupted weekend with the one whose life I share.

Thrice removed now from the places we've called home, I acknowledge the comfort imparted by repetition. Karlheinz Stockhausen associated it with such things as heartbeats, walking and breathing. Can anything be more essential?

The Circus, Pulteney Bridge, Fudge Kitchen, Roman Baths, Bath Abbey, The Queensberry Hotel and Royal Crescent, Bath.

May 19, 2016

That Field of Her Own

TO STAIN SOMETHING NORMALLY IMPLIES "blemishing" or "soiling" that thing. Wine, coffee, catsup or Bolognaise are all good things in themselves until they're on the couch, the carpet or a crisp white shirt. With stains generally carrying a negative connotation, it's noteworthy seeing them inspire a painting technique, for creating beautiful art nonetheless.

Helen Frankenthaler's invention of the "soak stain" can be said to have brewed since her childhood. Young Helen would dribble nail polish into a sink filled with water "to watch the color flow." As an artist in the 60s, she thinned paint out with turpentine, pouring the heavily diluted pigment onto a canvas on the floor. The resulting stains married paint and canvas, in light, luminous washes resembling watercolor.

Inspired by Jackson Pollock, Frankenthaller painted from all sides of the canvas and applied paint with unconventional tools, in unconventional ways. She ultimately created her own language in a more abstract form of Color Field, which deviated from Abstract Expressionism by eliminating both the emotional content of the movement and the personal or gestural application associated with it. "What I took from that was the gesture and the attitude and the floor working, but I wanted to work with shapes in a very different way. And instead of being involved in his technique, what evolved for me out of my needs and invention had to do with pouring paint, and staining paint."

Frankenthaler's paintings received much criticism, being dubbed "pretty wallpaper" or reminiscent of menstruation. They fundamentally offered an entirely new look and feel to the surface of the canvas, and beauty at a time of otherwise aggressive abstractions. "What concerns me when I work, is not whether the picture is a landscape, or whether it's pastoral, or whether somebody will see a sunset in it. What concerns me is - did I make a beautiful picture?"

Cloud Burst, Nature Abhors a Vacuum, Tales of Genji I and Sphinx by Helen Frankenthaler. Helen Frankenthaler by André Emmerich © Estate of André Emmerich.

April 21, 2016

That Finesse

"THIS BUSINESS REQUIRES A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF FINESSE." said Jake to his associate, shaking off a pocket square before stuffing it back into his breast pocket. He, like most of the characters in Chinatown, attempts to exhibit a certain amount of finesse, failing more often than he succeeds.

Set in 1930s Los Angeles, the neo-noir film follows private investigator Jake Gittes as he uncovers a murder within a water fraud conspiracy. Played by Jack Nicholson, Jake sees himself as suave and capable, ultimately displaying subtle sleaze and a somewhat endearing naiveté. Sharing the screen is a Greta-Garbo-esque Faye Dunaway as the newly widowed Evelyn Cross Mulwray. She looks like the classic femme fatale though she is anything but. Daughter of the wealthy Noah Cross, Evelyn suppresses fear and distress behind a faltering nonchalance.

Styling is what initially drew me to Polanski's Chinatown, with its delectable swing-era-inspired fashion and decor. Having now finally seen the film, I find myself also a fan of its style beyond the styling; from the timeless acting to the immersive camerawork and rich use of symbols. It was particularly enjoyable spotting a quality manifest in different ways. That "certain amount of finesse" slithers through the film in the form of water, gesture, smoke and saxophone.

A noteworthy style insight for when you're not feeling too suave or sultry: qualities take on many forms. If you can't look like Faye Dunaway, maybe try her bedroom voice.

Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway in Chinatown, 1974. Directed by Roman Polanski.

March 17, 2016

That Room to Grow

JIN AHN WORKED IN GRAPHIC AND FASHION DESIGN FOR TEN YEARS before deciding to study horticulture. Seeing a potential in green things, she went on to open Conservatory Archives along east London's Hackney Road. Originally intended by Jin and her partner Giacomo to be part-plant-shop, part-antique-shop, they saw the leafy side of business too quickly outgrow its counterpart since opening in December of 2015.

There's still a sprinkling of furniture and accessories, albeit overtaken by the forest of foliage. Ferns hang overhead, birds of paradise dwarf a door frame, succulents sit like trophies on tabletops, and all sorts of potted greens fill shelves and boxes on the floor. Possessing both volume and variety, the plants are well selected, purchased by Jin herself from different sellers and private collectors. She tells me that the large cacti go fast. Showing one that stood over five feet, priced at £300, she gives me an idea of just how big a recently-sold £500 cactus might have been.

The perfect hostess for a snug yet buzzing shop, Jin managed to chat with me between attending to visitors. It was a Wednesday, the shop's quietest day, and in my two-hour visit, there wasn't a period of more than ten minutes in which there wasn't at least one customer browsing. Jin says that on weekends, it gets so busy, people line up to pay.

The Telegraph's Debora Robertson calls it a renaissance. "Like so many trend evolutions, this hip green renaissance is spreading from the style hothouse that is east London. Where once they came with their cocktails, food trucks and pop-up restaurants, now they’re here with their succulents and ferns, air plants and ivies, following a nurturing continuum from pop-ups to potting up."

In existence since the early Greeks and Romans, houseplants gained popularity in colder climates by the 17th century. Benefits of keeping them have also been made known, particularly by a 1988 NASA paper determining their ability to remove trace levels of toxic chemicals from indoor spaces. The study revealed such figures as 2,592 micrograms of formaldehyde dropping to 259 micrograms after 24 hours of exposure to aloe vera. Benzene levels dropped from 18,500 to 9,000 when bamboo palm was introduced into the enclosed space.

Today, houseplants appear to be celebrated for their ornamental qualities, as unlikely style symbols. #monstera and #fiddleleaffig appear in quintuple digits on Instagram, posted by tastemakers and coolhunters alike. #cactus now appears over two million times and that doesn't even count #cactuslover, #cactusclub or #cacti.

Conservatory Archives is one such hashtag-worthy destination, in a hashtag-worthy pocket of the city no less. You might be one to sneer at trends but it's hard to vilify houseplants, which thrive on care, and inanimately care back. To take it from a a blossoming plant professional, perhaps there is indeed a potential in green things. Any trend that makes life a little less toxic must be worth cultivating.

Conservatory Archives, 493-495 Hackney Road, London. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Mónica García Koewandhono.

February 23, 2016

This Girl with a Pearl Penchant

GIRL WITH A PEWTER EARRING sounds far less poetic but far more accurate if observations made about Vermeer's painting are true. In December 2014, astronomer Vincent Icke claimed that the jewel adorning the Dutch girl's ear could not have been a real pearl. His doubt arises from the way the bead in the painting gleams on the top left corner while reflecting the girl's collar on the bottom. An actual pearl, he explains, would scatter light of different wavelengths and produce a soft, pearly sheen.

The Mauritshuis, current home of the painting, share Icke's conclusion. Curators Quentin Buvelot and Ariane van Suchtelen posit that the "unrealistic size" of the pearl make it likely that it was a cheaper glass bead from Venice, which were common in the 17th century. "Whereas most pearls nowadays come from farms, in the seventeenth century, they were natural ones. Pearls were formed in oyster-like sea mussels. Large pearls were rare and ended up in the hands of the richest people on the planet."

Fortunately for us today, pearl earrings are much more accessible than in Vermeer's time. Still, imitation pearls persist. My current favorites, Dior's Tribale and Chloé's Darcey earrings feature pearls made of resin and Swarovski simulations, respectively. I do own a respectably authentic pair from my native Philippines but it's the trendy pairs I wear daily that have become precious to me, out of habit, and in spite of how "un-precious" their materials may be.

Vermeer's girl could in fact be dangling a pewter, glass or silver bead from her earlobe but there's no tarnishing the painting's current title. Also known in the past as Girl with the Turban and Girl's Face, the name Girl with a Pearl Earring has become immortalized in present-day consciousness thanks to Tracy Chevalier's 1999 novel of the same name. It's also the novel that inspired that delectable film with Scarlett Johansson and Colin Firth.

I am so attached to my pearls that I rarely leave home without them. By pearls, I mean the simulated ones by Dior and Chloé. "Girl with a Resin Earring" sounds accurately lame. Perhaps not all contexts call for accuracy.

What's your favorite accessory?

Girl with a Pearl Earring by Johannes Vermeer,

January 27, 2016

That Diary of Decoration

"IT'S BASICALLY THE NEW BARCELONA - minus the Brit stag and hen parties." was how the Evening Standard recently described Lisbon, the hilly coastal city that enjoys an average of 2,800 sunshine hours per year. The westernmost capital city of Continental Europe, Lisbon is also one of the most affordable, offering a standard 500 ml serving of beer at 2 Euros or less. unfortunately doesn't list an official average price for a glass of house wine but I can at least say from experience that you don't need to overspend for a decent red or white.

Having lived three and a half years in Barcelona, and visiting thrice before doing so, I did find many similarities between the Catalan city and the Portuguese capital; Lisbon's Marquês de Pombal particularly reminded me of Barcelona's Zona Alta, which is still sometimes home in my night-time dreams. But it was precisely the similarities that made the differences more apparent. Lisbon is distinct from Barcelona, and any other city I've visited, in its use of decoration. Whether embellishing surfaces or configuring the city's actual topography, adornment seems inherent to the Lisboeta, lending pattern, color or texture to every step, glance or panorama.

The hand-lain calçada portuguesa pavement decorates sidewalks and squares with patterns in black and white stone. Ceramic tiles or azulejos, in colorful geometries or religious and historical depictions, cover both building façades and interiors. Sumptuous Manueline ornamentation, incorporating oceanic, maritime, botanical and Christian motifs, texturize churches, castles, convents and the fortified Belém Tower. Even the buildings cascading down Lisbon's hillsides appear like ornaments on the slopes.

While too much embellishment can be tacky, what Lisbon seems to have mastered is harmony. In "Art: Perception and Appreciation", the authors assert that harmony may be achieved through repetition, and indeed Lisbon's colors, patterns and details are so regularly repeated that they manifest as texture rather than independent elements.

Considering that eighty-five percent of Lisbon's buildings were destroyed in the great earthquake of 1755, with a subsequent fire burning down surviving churches, palaces, hospitals and the opera house, most of what can be seen in Lisbon today are no more than 250 years old. Home to two World Heritage Sites and a plethora of hand-worked embellishments, the city is undoubtedly committed to its aesthetic aspects, with relative devotion to its crafts.

But is it in fact "the new Barcelona?" To most visitors, perhaps. Adornment after all is also one characteristic of Barcelona's Modernisme. Personally though, I have a much too superficial experience of Lisbon to compare it to a city that is still subconsciously home to me. But for imparting the familiarity I secretly long for, and for delighting me with a new perspective on decoration, I couldn't have been happier to be there.

Alfama, Chiado, Rossio Square, Praça do Comércio, Miradouro de São Pedro de Alcântara and Torre de Belém, Lisbon. Photos by Lady San Pedro and Jaime Sese.