Den Haag (The Netherlands), 21/11/12: 24 hours left in Den Haag – time to take in some sights.
Starting in John & Marie’s apartment, I got to have a closer look at Marie’s recently acquired fortepiano, currently undergoing service but still playable.
It’s a very groovy instrument. Piano-like sound but with a much lighter touch and of course the inverse white-black keyboard is quite stylish.
We headed into town and met John, Marie and Zoe for our dim sum banquet (mentioned previously) and the took to the galleries with touristic zeal.
First stop was the Mesdag Panorama. Back in the late 19th century, panorama paintings (that is large-scale, 360° paintings that surround the viewer) were the attraction de jour – as it was explained to us, they once occupied a similar place in the spectrum of entertainments that cinemas do today.
There was a Belgian company that commisioned panoramas around Europe, often in purpose-built buildings. Since it was a commercial enterprise and panorama’s are typically only viewed from a distance, they did not tend to employ renowned or established painters, but Mr Mesdag was an exception, making this panorama quite unique.
The other thing that makes the Mesdag Panorama unique is that it still exists in its original location – after the Belgian company went bust, Mesdag purchased the building containing his work and it has been preserved ever since.
To be honest, not knowing what to expect, I wasn’t super-excited to see it but once we emerged from up the stairs to the viewing platform we were quite struck. First of all, it’s big – 40m in diameter to be precise. Secondly, it is a beach and town scene as seen from a pagoda on a sand-dune (the viewing platform) so the room it filled with sand which hides the bottom edge of the canvas and the pagoda roof hides the top so it is seamless to the viewer. This, plus the natural lighting creates a convincing illusion of depth so that you can’t quite judge the distance of the wall. Only the absence of parallax as you move around betrays the effect (though this does give you a neat, woozy sensation).
The building hosts a regular gallery too, which was worth a slow, hands-clasped-behind-your-back stroll through.
Next stop was the museum of one of Den Haag’s favourite sons MC Escher, and here’s the proof:
I came here on my last visit but Nicole hadn’t been and it’s worth a second look. Besides originals of his well-known pieces it also features many less famous prints and some of his graphic design / poster work.
It also sports some fancy chandeliers – a different one in each room.
By closing time at Escher it was time to get back to the apartment and get our affairs in order for an early start and long train trip the next day.
Thanks Den Haag and massive thanks to John, Marie & baby Zoe for having us!
Warwick (England), 15/11/12: Today we were touristing to Coventry.
Over the years, Coventry’s gone through its fair share of holy buildings. Early on they had a nunnery, but that got sacked by the post-Viking Danish King Canute. Next, Leofric, Earl of Mercia and his nude, equestrian wife Godiva planted a monastary, later converted to a priory and cathedral. This lasted a few hundred years before King Henry VIII got into his famous disagreement with the Pope over his desire to re-marry and had it taken apart brick by brick.
Some decades later they gave the cathedral idea another go on the same site, this time with the new Church of England branding. They got about 500 good years out of it before World War II broke out and, as a result of being next door to Coventry’s weapon factories, it became an unfortunate victim to German fire bombing. Its ruins remain and provided direction and form to the current cathedral, designed in the 60’s by Basil Spence.
We took in a tour of the new cathedral. I was underwhelmed at first but to hear it all explained added a great deal to the experience. It initially appeared to me a bit of a hodge-podge of ideas and designs. I still think it is, but it all hangs together in a funny sort of way. In retrospect, I guess most grand old cathedrals and chapels I’ve seen are just as stylistically discombobulated but you just don’t always notice from so far away on the time axis.
We ran out of time to go to Stratford – next time, as they say. For good measure, the public contributions to the arts at the park-and-ride bus shelter (which I present here as Exhibit A) were mildly inspirational but short of divine.