Nautical Elegance from the “Belle Epoque”

This is a guest post by Bertrand Godfroid.

Robin, Isaac and I wait by the water’s edge of the Jardin des Anglais at the foot of Lake Leman. We are surrounded by Geneva in full fête mode. Merry-go-rounds go round merrily spinning every possible nationality; all smiling and taking selfies. Odourful stalls tout hot dogs, donuts and candy floss. But it is not the fête that excites us. The Compagnie General de Navigation sur le Lac Leman (CGN) has invited Talking Beautiful Stuff to take an evening cruise aboard the “Savoie.”

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We watch in fascination as the most elegant of paddle steamers approaches it’s moorings to pick us up. Seagulls flap away as it gives a long, loud and steamy blast on its foghorn. We step on board. We are greeted by that delicate and unmistakable mix of fragrances of cool lake water, varnished wood and engine oil.

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The setting sun catches the glasses and bottles of a welcoming little cocktail bar. The restaurant that will soon fill with our fellow passengers is all linen tablecloths and glistening cutlery. If one is looking for for a film-set fantasy romantic interlude, there is nowhere that better fits the bill.

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We are welcomed warmly by the captain, 48 year-old Jean-Martial Mercanton. He has been in charge of this vessel since 2012. He follows in his father’s foot steps. He describes his working day and responsibilities with unfettered enthusiasm and tells us the most satisfying part of his job derives from sharing the country’s heritage with others. His only headaches come from the unpredictable weather, especially the famously vicious storms that barrel up the Rhone valley from warmer climes to crash into and over the nearby Alps. This is a man who loves his job and, by all accounts, looks after his crew.

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The Savoie, has to be high on any list scoring bygone nautical elegance and Captain Mercanton is rightly proud of his charge. It was built in Switzerland in 1914. The massive 900 horsepower high-low pressure cylinder engine was originally powered by coal. This was converted to oil in 1962. Amazingly, the boat only underwent its first full renovation in 2004. What’s more, this vessel is only one of eight of the CGN’s fleet of truly beautiful “belle époque” paddle-steamers.

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The engine room is open to view from the middle deck. It is mesmerising. It is all massive shiney whirling oily piston pumping power kept in line and running by engineer Yan Umberti and his team. The engine room tour is mesmerising. We stand amidst it all just grinning like school kids. This is so much fun!

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Twenty-five year-old Yan’s job is to keep the whole thing fired and lubricated ; he is never still. He handles the massive set of levers and controls with practiced ease taking his orders from Captain Mercanton the old-fashioned way by verbal orders. Between filling oil cylinders, checking steam and furnace temperatures he is happy to chat.

Yan patiently explains how the steam is produced from 16,000 litres of lake water, heated to 108 degree C, circulates through the two cylinders that drive the main shaft of the paddles and eventually exits having been mixed with lake water. We ask him if they have ever had a crisis on board. He tells of a day when there was a genuine engine failure with passengers on board. He was able to scavenge a part from another boat and run a temporary repair. The cruise finished albeit a little late. I note he refers to the engine as a person. Does he or she have a character? “She certainly does!” responds Yan. “She can be unpredictable. Sometimes the cylinders seem to get a bit out of synch and sometimes she just plays up and we don’t know why.” “Does she have a name?” I ask. “Yes, Josephine!” I ask where he will be in ten years time. “Right here! With Josephine!” he replies with a huge smile.

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Drenched in perspiration from the 55 degrees in the engine room, we go up to the upper level and order a cool drink. The sun has almost set whilst in Yan’s domain. We are invited to look at the dinner menu and decide on scallops and delicate mushroom raviolis washed down with a fine local gamay. Lightening strikes on distant mountains as we cruise slowly back down the lake. I am overcome with a feeling that all is well in the world. Very well.

If there is one thing you should do when visiting Geneva, it’s to take a cruise on Lac Leman aboard the Savoie. In the meantime, take a look at some more pics of our cruise.

The Lady of Lake Wakatipu

This is a guest post by Bonnie Golightly.

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I am near Queenstown, New Zealand. An American golfer admires the view of the magnificent Lake Wakatipu. “I’m just all outa wows!” he says. The golf course is truly lakeside. It is very pretty. My game does not do the setting justice. By the fifth green, I am ready to give up. Out of the corner of my eye, I notice that what I first thought was a weather-beaten tree stump is something much more interesting.

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I am drawn towards it and….. my O my…. how my heart thumps. Big metallic sister stuff!

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Mark Hill‘s 2015 untitled sculpture serves up a wonderful surprise in this setting. The feminine form is tall, imposing, defiant and very beautiful. I love her. In elegant gown and with hair streaming behind her, she stares out over the lake daring the elements to throw their worst at her.

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What I admire most is Hill’s technical mastery of his materials. He has used corten and stainless steels to create an astonishing impression of soft leather with bright hand-stitched piping. How he has designed, cut and put together those wind-blown locks is beyond me. This is a work of industry and passion.

I spend some minutes walking around the Lady of Lake Wakatipu. I even pose a question or two. Does she ever get cold? Does she get lonely? She ignores me of course. But encountering such a resilient woman lifts my spirits. With renewed determination, I make my way to the sixth tee.

Love the Tate Modern

This is a guest post by Bonnie Golightly.

Yes, I love the Tate Modern in London. It lifts me up and makes my little beating heart sing.

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Alexander Calder, Triple Gong c.1948 Photo credit: Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, NY

I went south of the river to see the current Alexander Calder exhibition. I now understand why people say he redefined the notion of sculpture. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful stuff. Trademark hanging mobiles turn slowly and majestically in imperceptible drafts. The lighting is brilliant; each mobile casts a complex evolving shadow on the high white walls and those equipped with mini-gongs let out the occasional calming chime.

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Alexander Calder, Antennae with Red and Blue Dots c.1953 Photo credit: Calder Foundation, New York / Art Resource, NY

I was mesmerised. As were many others. One lasting impression I have of this gorgeous exhibition is the vast Tate Modern rooms full of people, jaws agape, gazing up at Calder’s fabulous works. I would love to re-visit with a reclining chair to rest a while and soak it all up.

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Fernand Léger and his portrait, Photo: Walter Limot. © Limot / Bridgeman images 1934

Room by room, I stepped though the creative history of this fascinating man. He was one original thinker! In the 1920s, he created a toy circus comprising little mechanical people and animals hence his interest in wire and mobility as a medium. He became fascinated by abstraction after visiting the studio of Piet Mondrian. However, his most astonishing early works were his cartoony wire portraits. He described this as drawing in space. It is beyond me how anyone could consistently achieve effective three-dimensional portraiture with only wire. One such portrait is of the painter, Fernand Léger. I love the contrast between the smooth facial outlines, the tightly coiled eyebrows and the stiff little bristly moustache!

Bravo, Tate Modern! I said to myself. Then I thought I would have a look at what else was on show and I found myself in the heart of the building, the enormous “Turbine Room” O….M…..G…..!!!!

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Abraham Cruzvillegas “Empty Lot” Scaffolding and soil boxes, Hyundai Commission 2015

Now the Tate Modern blows me away with two huge scaffolding structures together supporting hundreds of what looks like triangular seed boxes. This is “Empty Lot” by Mexican sculptor, Abraham Cruzvillegas. The soil in each box is taken from parks, commons, healths or other sites all over London. They are watered and lit by a variety of whacky lamps. But not a single seed has been sown. What grows – and in some boxes nothing obvious is growing – is what is simply there. Just like an empty lot! Cruzvillegas has always had an interest in alternative means of building. He is inspired by the popular Mexican “self-construction” approach to home-making. He says “Empty Lot” is about hope and expectation referring to what may be constructed or what might grow spontaneously. The originality, grandeur and vision of the whole concept takes my breath away. I adore it.

I have a hope and expectation that somebody will send a photo of “Empty Lot” to Talking Beautiful Stuff in a few months time. Pleeeeeease!

Love the Tate Modern too!

A Letter to Tracey Emin

This is a guest post by Bonnie Golightly.

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Tracey Emin “My Bed,” Installation, 1998

Dear Tracey,

I know you’ve come in for quite some stick for “My Bed.” Is that really art? Anybody could have done that! How was that shortlisted for the 1999 Turner Prize? etc. etc. I have to admit I was a bit baffled myself. (Was it really worth that much?) But as I tootled happily around Tate Britain the other day, I happened upon “My Bed.” I found myself intrigued, then mesmerised and ultimately quite moved.

The blurb on the wall says “By virute of bringing the domestic into the public sphere without directly representing specific events, the installation is forcefully and compellingly suggestive of personal narratives.” I’ll say! I stood and looked. I walked around. I then realised that “My Bed” was boring into my heart. The mess of the soiled sheets together with the bedside scut of discarded underwear, fluffy toys, well-worn slippers, vodka, cigarettes and KY recalled a whole raft of good, bad, sad and indifferent moments of my life. So many things and times I might – or might not – want to leave behind! And then, to my surprise, I found the sad, saccharine squalor of it all quite eye-watering. In fact, it made my day. So, thank you, Tracey. I hope you’re doing OK now.

Lots of love,

Bonnie

PS I really went to Tate Britain to see the Frank Auerbach exhibition. Not my cup of tea!

PPS As you know, “My Bed” is installed next to two Francis Bacon paintings and a series of your own drawings. I’ve never liked FB’s paintings.

PPPS I need help with your drawings.

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Tracey Emin “I could feel you” Gouache on paper, 2014

Art Genève 2016…. Imagination and Class

This is a guest post by Bonnie Golightly.

Those guys from Talking Beautiful Stuff found me an invitation to the grand opening of Art Genève 2016. “Go and check it out. It was great last year. Write a few lines for us. Just say what you like….. and why you like it!!” For a girl from the country who was “good at art” at school, this was an opportunity not to be missed. So I squeezed into something that was once sleek, piled my hair up, applied scary lipstick and, on worringly high heels, teetered off to Palexpo on the number 5 bus.

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Los Carpinteros “Duo de Congas,” Mixed media, 2015

The first thing that caught my eye was a pair of tom-toms melting on the floor. Brilliant! It made me laugh. I expected some poor percussionist to come running in realising that he had left his source of income on a hot tin roof. But how do you think up something like that? Well, Los Carpinteros are Brazilians!

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Michael Geertsen “Mantelpiece,” Earthware, 2012 / 2015

The second thing that hit me was the people. Thousands of people! And not just ordinary people! This was moneyed Geneva out in force. More silicon and silken mouchoirs than you could shake your Jimmy Choos at! A tidal wave of little black dresses on long tanned legs! Somehow, Geertsen’s “Mantelpiece” caught the mood. It smacks of something domestic, seemingly superfluous and discarded but nevertheless oozing a luxury beyond any homeware that I’ve seen.

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Beat Zoderer “Lotbild,” Acrylic and wood on canvas, 91cm x 91 cm, 1998

I adore this “painting” made of coloured wood blocks by Beat Zoderer. I wanted to run my nails on it. Visually, it’s surprisingly homogenous; like an overblown pixellated photograph that’s been rained on. Chunky! Soothing! Clever! I was beginning to enjoy “contemporary art.”

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Joly Alexandre “Magnetic fish” Mixed media (including preserved Diodon Hoioanthus, piano wires and piezo speakers) 2015

A nice man with a spotted tie spotted me spilling champagne in astonishment when I spotted a dried, poisonous, spikey puffer fish pierced with piano wires each ending with a brass disc. Mesmerising! More so when said nice man invited me to lean in close to the suspended beast. Out of its mouth (the fish’s mouth, that is) came calming tinkly music!!! What a whacky clash of concepts all ending up with something that I found more than intriguing and strangely beautiful.

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Kehinde Wiley “Portrait of Jose Alberto de la Cruz Diaz,” Oil on canvas, 183cm x 152cm 2016

I guess my tastes are more or less conventional which is why I admire the realism of Wiley’s’ “Portrait of Jose Alberto de la Cruz Diaz.” The portrait itself is faultless and honest but what frys my taters is how Wiley has incorporated the subject into the lushy verdure of the wall paper design that should, but doesn’t really, serve as background. Uber cool!

Art Genève is huge and rather intimidating at the point of entry. What I expected was stuff that claimed to be contemporary with little aesthetic appeal; you know, soiled sheets pinned to the wall, half-burnt photos of children, broken glass in old boots etc. What I found was imagination, technical accomplishment and aesthetic appeal by the bucket. Like the clientele, Art Genève 2016 is very classy. I would even take my mum along. And I think she would enjoy it!