London’s Denmark Street

Downtown spaces change, and sometimes the results are a bit sad. This sad news is from London via the Guardian

St Giles, the patch of urban space that nudges Oxford Street and Tottenham Court Road, is to be redeveloped. In the early 1750s it was the setting for Hogarth’s Gin Lane; two centuries later, it had become an outpost of creative Soho, with Denmark Street recast as Tin Pan Alley (a name borrowed from the New York haunt of songwriters and music publishers), and the alliance of artistes, chancers, impresarios and dreamers we now know as the music industry in full-time residence.

This is just part of a much larger gentrification trend that is at work in all of the great cities. And this bit from the article brings out the unique challenge faced by champions of Soho

Since November, a group called Save Soho, co-fronted by Stephen Fry and Benedict Cumberbatch, has been pushing for something to change. Its founders want English Heritage to step in and honour Soho as a conservation area; they also want its warren of streets declared a Special Policy Area, an instrument already used to protect the tailoring trade in Savile Row and the art business in St James’s. The group’s co-founder, a musician called Tim Arnold, tells me that he is in conversations with the Greater London Authority; he has raised the latter proposal, only to be told Soho is “too diverse”. His bafflement is obvious. “So they’re telling me that what should be protected amounts to the reason it can’t be protected,” he says.

This image from the above Guardian article is of a bash Carnaby Street bohemian. Carnaby Street has already been gentrified from its swinging days

Carnaby Street, 1968

There are many stories from the area and some go way, way back.  St. Giles in the Fields is a rather old church  just nearby where the first victims of the 1665 plague were buried. From wikipedia

St Giles was also the last church on the route between Newgate Prison and the gallows at Tyburn, and the churchwardens paid for the condemned to have a drink (popularly named “St Giles’ Bowl”) at the next door pub, the Angel, before they went to be hanged, a custom that had started in the early 15th century.

It was, shall we say, a rough and tumble area.


Walter Liedtke on Rembrandt and more

The New York train wreck tragedy claimed the life of the curator in the department of European Paintings at the MET, Walter Liedtke. Who was he? Well, consider this short personal view that he offered on a Rembrandt that one can find in the MET.  Consider also this statement that he made about the potential sale of paintings from the Detroit Institute of the Arts to pay off city debt

“The important thing to say,” said Liedtke, “is that institutions like yours, like my museum—the curators in my department would all resign if the Metropolitan Museum placed a single bid for any one of your objects, even in another department. I know that’s true.”


Need a Kroketten Specialist in Amsterdam?

I love Amsterdam, but I am just a tad uncomfortable there at times because I feel that I should better understand the place. After all, it is not a small city. There is a great deal  going on with loads of folks wandering around.  And it has a rather unique history. that nastiness with the Spanish, for example. What was that all about anyway?

It helps to have a few things to  anchor your attention. Sort of like the canal thing in Venice. BTW, Amsterdam also has loads of canals which are pleasant to check out.

Sir Kenneth Clark couldn’t resist as he opined on the flowering of Dutch culture in part 8 of his Civlisation series. And I would highly recommend watching this episode as a prelude to your visit to Amsterdam. If you need a bit more of a push to watch the great man introduce your to Amsterdam, you might read this wonderful article about Clark from the Guardian.

I think Rembrandt is the key figure to keep in mind. He is your anchor! His work, of course. But also his life story. It captures what is at the root of the Dutch love of prosperity.  I do not think of this as love of ostentation, though you do find ostentation around. It is more love of comfort. And this is what I am looking for in Amsterdam hotels, cafes, restaurants, etc. Indeed, I find that The Hague is even more comfortable. But that is another story.

Lonely planet has a nice list of comfort food.  Here is a snippet

Try traditional Dutch dishes at Bistro Bij Ons, La Falote or old-school kroketten (croquettes) specialist Van Dobben; or contemporary twists at Greetje or Hemelse Modder.

It is this love of comfort that motives the Dutch love of reasonableness. They do not like a fuss. Which is why, perhaps that a Dutch artist like Van Gogh spent such a great deal of time elsewhere. And yet, you will find a brilliant Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam.