The Beauty of Patterns (The Rabbit Problem)

Decorative tiling (azulejos) in the Plaza de España, Seville

Shells and galaxies curl in spirals, stripes run down on the sleek hide of tigers and zebras, waves and sand dunes rise in crescent shape. Some patterns – like the leaves of a palm tree – win you over with their strong, simple lines, others – like crystals and snowflakes – with their intricate geometry. And mankind copies nature: floral motifs proliferate in embroidery, decorative tiles combine into complex matrices, spiral staircases rise towards glass ceilings. The geometry of architecture, natural symmetry, repetition and variation…

The beauty of patterns seduces the eye and the mind.

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The View from the Ivory Tower

Should we admire or despair of those single-minded people who dedicate themselves to the pursuit of a pet obsession? Who put what we’d consider a ‘normal’ life on hold to disappear into the wilderness spending years in research?

I’m talking about the likes of Milman Parry, who traipsed around the remote mountains of pre-WWII Yugoslavia for a decade, recording folk songs in an attempt to gain an insight into the oral tradition as surviving since the time of Homer… Or Walter Muir Whitehill, who, similarly obsessed, spent nine years in Spain at around the same time, discovering and cataloguing Romanesque churches in the most godforsaken locations. (Both Harvard academics, I notice.) I came across this second one, Muir, while reading Roads to Santiago by Cees Nooteboom.

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Dazzling Doors (The Hungarian Parliament)

Recently I went on a visit to Hungary to spend time with family and catch up with old friends… and to introduce Young Friend of the Elephants (who caught the photography bug from me) to some of the more prestigious buildings of Budapest. In the course of which we took a copious amount of pictures, most of which proved to be a blurry failure when downloaded to the computer – but of that, more in another post…

Because today I’m contenting myself with nominating some dazzling doors from the Hungarian Parliament in Budapest (the few that came out sharp!) to Norm’s weekly Doors challenge.

Enjoy.

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The Roman Theatre of Mérida

The Extremadura region (in the west, bordering Portugal) is not a part of Spain that’s particularly overrun by tourists. But although it hasn’t got beaches, it’s still well worth a visit for anyone who’s at all interested in history, in architecture or indeed, for anyone who’d just like to holiday somewhere beautiful and atmospheric without the crowds.

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The Erotic Gherkin (Distortion)

30 St Mary Axe, better known as The (Erotic) Gherkin, is a skyscraper in the City which at the time of its building was the second tallest building in London. It was completed in 2003 and stands in the site of the former Baltic Exchange which was badly damaged by a bomb planted by the Provisional IRA in 1992.

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A beach ball of a building? The Erotic Gherkin from below.

Is this a building that – for all practical purposes  – is shaped like a globe?

Well, no.

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Hills (And What People Built On Them)

Hills are a natural choice as locations for some of the most beautiful structures mankind has ever erected: castles and temples, statues and palaces, lighthouses and crosses – I’m sure you all can think of many stunning examples. Today, in response to Ailsa’s weekly travel theme Hills on her blog Where’s My Backpack, I thought I’d share with you some of the hills I had the good fortune to climb in the Mediterranean. And I chose these particular hills for one reason: what people chose to build on them.

The Old Town of Toledo

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Toledo

The old town of Toledo was built on a hill which is almost fully encircled by the River Tajo. This view shows the Roman bridge across the river with the Alcázar of Toledo topping the crest of the hill. For this view alone, Toledo will always be one of my favourite cities.

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The Hagar Qim Megalithic Temples on Malta

I’ve lived in England for more than a decade by now but I’ve never yet made it to Stonehenge or the stone circles of Avebury. We did set off to see them once, hiring a car for the occasion, only for one of the kids to fall ill on the very day. Instead of a day out at Stonehenge we merely managed an expensive tour of London’s major roads; and we didn’t discuss visiting Stonehenge since.

The truth is that much as I like history, neolithic monuments don’t set my pulse racing. Somehow – I can’t help feeling – our stone age ancestors didn’t manage to do quite as many interesting things as the Phoenicians or leave as pretty ruins as the Greeks. Nevertheless, if you ever go to Malta, where there’s an awful lot of history crammed into a very small area, you could do worse than take a couple of hours to visit the megalithic temples of Hagar Qim. Dating from 3600-3200 B.C., they are a tad older than Stonehenge – and there’s just a bit more than a stone circle to see.

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The Admiralty Arch

Day 20 – the final – assignment called for a picture on the theme of triumph. I decided that’ll have to be the best picture I’ve taken on this course… when I actually stopped and thought about what I wanted to do, remembered the various things I was being taught, and then I managed to do what I wanted to do.

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The Admiralty Arch, London

The Mosque and the Cathedral (Double I)

Day 19 – the penultimate day! – asked for ‘double’.

Well.

I know it was to be taken literally like the double yellow line at the edge of the road. But my mind works differently.

La Mezquita (The Mosque) in Córdoba, Spain: the Catholic cathedral has been built inside the heart of the Moorish Mosque.

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The British Museum Goes B&W (A Different Point of View)

Still on the day 12 assignment… The British Museum goes black & white, part II. Turning another earlier assignment into monochrome:

A Black & White  (Different) Point of View

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And have I learned anything from the exercise?

  1. Not all photos look good in black & white.
  2. There are different black & white filters and not all of them suit all the photos. I used the one my photo program calls noir here – and I think the clouds look nice & dramatic. The same clouds almost didn’t show at all with the other two filters (one called mono, the other tonal)
  3. There was a third point, but I got interrupted and forgot what is was! (I’ll put it here when it comes back to me.)

 

The British Museum Goes B&W (Behind the Bars)

Day 12: the assignment is “to capture the beauty and complexity of architecture” and especially, by looking for elements that would come out well in black & white.

When I read this in the morning, I felt a sense of frustrated achievement. Because for last Friday’s assignment I did happen to take a picture of the back façade of the British Museum shot through some bars… which I duly posted. And when I got bored with admiring my handiwork on Saturday, I decided to turn it into black & white – and pleased with the result I posted it on my brand new Instagram account. (Well, I had to put it somewhere.)

And so now here we are. Today the British Museum goes black & white. Part I.

Behind the Bars in Black & White

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The Palace of Charles V in Granada

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The patio of the Palace of Charles V in Granada

I read this marvellous article in the Spanish cultural magazine JotDown recently (it’s been written a couple of years ago, but that’s the beauty of the internet): Si van a Granada y solo pueden ver una cosa, visiten el Palacio de Carlos V en la Alhambra (If You Go to Granada And Can Only See One Thing, Visit the Palace of Charles V in the Alhambra) by Pedro Torrijos. Even if you can’t speak a word of Castilian, I would encourage you to click through to the article to enjoy the photos accompanying it – far better than mine above.

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First Impressions of Toledo

First impressions matter – at least to me. Hugely. And it is perhaps for this reason that I remain captivated by Toledo – Toledo, the Imperial City, once the capital of Spain, a city some 70 km to the southwest of Madrid in the province of Castilla-La Mancha. Toledo, the City of Three Cultures (Christian, Muslim and Jewish), a UNESCO World Heritage city, with a long and fascinating history stretching back to Roman times.

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