Thu 1 Oct 2009
For years I have had a gang of Berlin artists and writers who I have meant to visit and so when April Lamm, an art writer in Berlin invited me, I went. Saturday, the first day I arrived, April found me a friend’s bike and gave me an extensive smiling tour of her lovely city starting in Mitte to Museum Island. On the way, April veered into the eerie Field of Stelae, which is very unsettling especially on a bike, as one cannot see what is coming around the corner. A little girl dashed out in a red coat. We then rode through the endless Tiergarden to stop at a photographer’s cool modern house that Nina Pohl lives in designed by Arnie Jacobsen. Two massive cats protected her. She walks them daily in the gardens outside her house. We proceeded of course to a beer garden in the park. The day was sunny and cool, perfect for sitting in a beer garden drinking coffee wrapped in blankets they give you as the clouds skipped by and people came and left quietly on their bikes. Dinner of course April whipped up 15 assorted artist types to meet at a massive beer garden Prater Hall. I was amazed that she could get that many people on short notice. That is not possible in New York but it maybe helped that they are mostly artists with flexible schedules and attitudes which I enjoyed. Franz Stauffenberg, her soul mate, joined us who is a well known visual artist and generally a cool fellow. Onward, the day did not end with dinner—we saddled our bikes off after many beers and sausages, which were lovely, down Karl Marx Allee through socialist housing complexes to a massive art opening.
Eva, a German filmmaker, agreed to be my escort on Sunday. I have known Eva for years since she had lived in Bangkok making films and commercials all over Asia and Europe quite an intriguing lady. I was quite excited to see her take on the city. First we stopped at a local flea market where April bought vintage Porsche sunglasses, which she can easily pull off, a large vintage sun chair, and she discovered a shiny red camping folding table. We headed back because we knew Franz was having an egg festival brunch for us, which was tasty. Eva and I then biked over to Pergamum museum which has an amazing Hellenistic broken friezes, and the Persian gate of Ishtar, not to mention the extensive Islamic collection of tiles, carpets and glass that Eva my guide kept asking the guards if she could buy. Next over to the Neue National Gallery designed by Mies Van der Roh where we agreed the best thing were the photos of Man Ray and Frieda Kahlo posing. Then a quick coffee at Café Einstein where Eva assured me all of the politicians go. I guess she is a politician watcher? Then a quiet dinner down the street in Mitte with the gang. After dinner we were treated to Franz Stauffenberg boutique Schnapps which he just started to make at his old family estate with April as his willing assistant. She claims they drank 5 shots each night for a week and were never hung over! Great stuff. I can’t wait to buy it in the States.
Next over to London to see our showroom in Chelsea Harbor, Tissus d’Helene. Unfortunately Helen was out of service. I managed to bother her charming showroom team, then back to see my Guru in Belsize Park for dinner Pip Rau. Her shop is a must if you are a textile freak like me. Try to call ahead to have lunch with her next door at her favorite Afghan restaurant.
The next day was my museum day and of course it turned out to be a broody morning as I went for a windy jog along with well-behaved dogs seemingly walking themselves. I love the sleepy Victoria and Albert textile section. No one is around and you can pull exquisite textiles from all periods. I then found watery drawings of Owen Jones which are quite fantastic and precious. He made that amazing book, The Grammar of Ornament. Across the street I found a Lebanese restaurant for a hit of lentil soup and hummus then went to the Saatchi Collection which had a show of great massive exuberant American paintings showing off all of their colors like the plumage of a peacock mating. I was jealous since its difficult for me to print in so many colors. Last stop was the old Tate where I wanted to see the Turners which to me look like Twombly took a cutting and blew them up to make his messy elegant ruminations.
I was fortunate to have dinner with Giles Dunn who created the surf company Swami Surf. Funny, we worked on this years ago together since I was a print fellow and Giles is a graphic surfer; Giles kept the company going and is just starting to launch it in a larger way. We ate at his private club called Blacks where you deposit one pound when you come in the door and wander floors—from small sitting rooms to a little dining room with excellent food, perfect for a rainy London night.
Dropped my bag at a very small hotel in the Marais and met Antonia Hoogewerf of www.madaboutindia.com. Antonia Hoogewerf lives half the year in Calcutta and the other half in Paris. We had lunch at Ma Bourgogne in the Place des Vosges which was lovely of course. She then gave me a little tour of her neighborhood shops and we ran through the Carnavalet Museum and of course her favorite hot chocolate café. I felt honored since she gives tours of Paris also for tourists and this was gratis!
Then to my showroom, Jules et Jim where by mistake I entered an upscale brothel near the showroom but they were kind enough to point me in the right direction. The showroom is lovely and sophisticated—it is Paris after all. The ladies took me over to Colette which was crowded and silly with people in town for the fashion shows then to a small garden to sit and have a glass of champagne then to dinner with lots of wine. I discovered Vero’s husband is a master print maker so I am excited to visit him next time I am in Paris.
An old college pal from Holland came to meet me Roelof for my Paris museum day. First I had to go to see the Musee Du Quai Branly with its fantastic ethnic collections from around the world which an ethnic fellow like me lives for. The museum is a dark and spooky environment there was even an exhibit on Tarzan. Next across the river to Musee Guimet to see their Khmer collection and take a break from the meat and cheese with a bowl of noodles in the restaurant in the museum then a long walk on the sunny day to the Place de Vosges and a dinner at a local café which is always good somehow in Paris even when they don’t look like much.